updated 12/11/2006 12:17:16 PM ET 2006-12-11T17:17:16

Guests: Richard Wolffe, John Dean, Mo Rocca, Paul F. Tompkins

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

The first Republican wanders away from the pack.  GOP Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon, more in sorrow than in anger, says it‘s time to bring the troops home from Iraq, whether it‘s “cut and run or cut and walk.”  Quoting Churchill‘s line that we are “living on an ungrateful volcano.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. GORDON SMITH ®, OREGON:  I, for one, am at the end of my rope.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  So too the American public.  Their approval of this president‘s handling of this war drops to an astounding 27 percent.

But they are not listening still.  Secretary Rumsfeld‘s final Pentagon town hall today, no Smithean mea culpa here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  We have every chance in the world of succeeding in both those countries, but only if—

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Only if what?  Only if we heed the Iraq Study Group?  Only if we pull out now?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUMSFELD:  --only if we have the patience and only if we have the staying power.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Richard Wolffe on the impractical, if not the imperial, presidency.  John Dean on the perhaps imperiled, if not imperial, presidency.

Take out the trash day in Congress.  The House report on the ethics of Mark Foley, if any.

So it‘s down to Laura and Barney.  She‘s got a dress disaster to explain.  He‘s got his annual video.  Mo Rocca will explain both.

And the explanation of the heroism of the late CNET Networks editor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  James Kim did nothing wrong.  He was trying to save his family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And from the honorable to the unbelievable.  Move over Nick, move over Glen.  This, this is the worst mug shot of all time.  Who is he?  What did he do?  Didn‘t anybody think he might be trouble?

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening from New York.

If you did not witness the day Hugh Scott and Barry Goldwater made places for themselves among the heroes of American history, they were the Republican Senate leaders, the pipe-puffing scholar from Pennsylvania and Goldwater, of course, the bespectacled titan from Arizona, who put country ahead of party and went to Richard Nixon in the summer of 1974 and told him he had to do the same, to submit and resign, rather than suffocate the nation he and they loved.

In our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, in breaking with President Bush‘s Iraq policy on the floor of the Senate, that is not what Republican Gordon Smith of Oregon has done.  But at a time when approval of that policy has dropped to barely more than one-quarter of this nation, it is the closest thing yet.  Mr. Smith goes to his conscience.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SMITH:  I‘ve tried to be a good soldier in this chamber.  I‘ve tried to support our president, believing at the time that we had been given good intelligence.

We have paid a price in blood and treasure that is beyond calculation, by my estimation.  And now, as I witness the slow undoing of our efforts there, I feel the speech (ph) to speak from my heart.  And I, for one, am at the end of my rope when it comes to supporting a policy that has our soldiers patrolling the same streets, in the same way, being blown up by the same bombs, day after day.

That is absurd.  It may even be criminal.  I cannot support that anymore.

And I believe we need to figure out not just how to leave Iraq, but how to fight the war on terror, and to do it right.

So either we clear and hold and build, or let‘s go home.  But we have no business being a policeman in someone else‘s civil war.

So I welcome the Iraq Study Group, but I‘d rather do it quicker than later.

Whatever it is, it will not be pretty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  An astonishing three-quarters of the American public now of the same opinion as Senator Smith, at least when it comes to how President Bush is leading this conflict, just 27 percent of those surveyed by Ipsos for the Associated Press approving of Mr. Bush‘s handling of Iraq, down from his previous remarkable low of 31 percent I November, only 9 percent now expecting the war to end in clearcut victory, the outgoing defense secretary believing all that is needed for victory in Iraq is patience and staying power, in his final town hall meeting with the employees at the Pentagon, Donald Rumsfeld blaming just about everybody but himself for the current state of the conflict, including the media.

If in August Mr. Rumsfeld was equating this president‘s leadership to that of Winston Churchill, and any critics of the war in Iraq to Nazi appeasers, today‘s analogy of choice had President Bush as George Washington on the anniversary of the day the general had the presence of mind to get out of New Jersey, and that analogy also portrayed his critics as cold war era communists.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUMSFELD:  In every conflict in our country‘s history, there have been those who said, Toss in the towel, it isn‘t working.

The Revolutionary War, by golly, George Washington almost got fired. 

He didn‘t win a battle that I can recall for a whale of a long time.

You think of the beginning of World War II, and all the battles that were lost.  You think of the cold war, when Euro-communism was in fashion and millions of people, hundreds of thousands of people were demonstrating against—not against the Soviet Union, against the United States, saying we were the ones in the wrong.

But by golly, it—something important easy.  And this isn‘t easy. 

And, by golly, it‘s important, and we‘d better do it right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Time now, by golly, to call in our own Richard Wolffe, also senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.

Richard, good evening.

RICHARD WOLFFE, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE: 

By golly, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Speaking first of Senator Smith, when you consider he‘s not a lame duck, he‘s got an election coming up in 2008, how significant were his remarks?  I mean, “It may even be criminal.”  Might this be a watershed when it comes to the politics of the war in Iraq?

WOLFFE:  Well, no question that was a powerful speech.  And it was important, not so much because Senator Smith is a sort of lion of the Senate there, but because it sends a signal to the American people about what Washington us thinking and what Republicans are thinking.

It especially is a watershed moment if you think about the rhetoric that has been used against Democrats.  It‘s going to be very hard, after the Baker report, after Senator Smith‘s speech, to re—to start up this whole rhetoric about Democrats as being the party of cut and run.

And if there are others like it, remember, look what happened when Joe Lieberman went out and attacked President Clinton about impeachment and Monica Lewinsky.  It is (INAUDIBLE), it runs counter to everything the White House is trying to do right now, which is to get Congress behind it.  Here, they‘ve lost one of their own.

OLBERMANN:  Why so little coverage of Smith‘s cri de coeur?  And he—

I understand his office has said something about there being perhaps as many as another dozen Republican senators who agree with him.  Is, but is there anybody else out on the Republican fence who might be inspired to follow him publicly?

WOLFFE:  Well, what he was expressing was actually pretty mainstream conservative opinion.  I mean, it was just the kind of things actually President Bush himself expressed back in 2000 as Texas governor, when he said he didn‘t support nation-building, and Condi Rice said hat troops in the Balkans shouldn‘t be escorting kids to school.

This is—they were expressing mainstream conservative opinion, and that‘s what Senator Smith was doing.  Doesn‘t surprise me there‘s a dozen out there.  What‘s interesting is, after this election, considering that they have a different election ahead of them, and the president, who obviously isn‘t up for election again.  There‘s a different dynamic, and we‘re seeing that right now.

OLBERMANN:  When you consider that, unlike Mr. Smith of Oregon, Donald Rumsfeld is a lame duck, that this was his final chance, perhaps, to come clean while in office, how significant were his remarks today at the Pentagon?  Petulant, belligerent, any other number of adjectives might apply?

WOLFFE:  Well, obviously, for those of us who thought there was some sort of leaker at the Pentagon with all of these memos flying back and forth, you know, clearly, he‘s trying to say he‘s not a disgruntled former employee.  Maybe he‘s some sort of apostle for the president, saying that he‘s George Washington.

You know, it‘s surprising he‘s kept this on right up to the end, because there are—there‘s very credible reporting that suggests he isn‘t happy about the way he‘s been treated.  But all credit to him, his public performance is great all the way through to the end.

OLBERMANN:  And that analogy, George Washington versus the communists.  That‘s a new one.  What should we expect?  Do we have any better idea of the tea leaves right now about this presidential internal study or his next plan for Iraq?

WOLFFE:  Well, it is extensive.  I mean, when they say the president isn‘t happy with the policy in Iraq, it‘s true.  You know, they are deeply dissatisfied with the current state of affairs in Iraq and their current policy.  So he is talking to lots of people.  Your very own General McCaffrey is going to be out in the White House next week as part of a group of outsiders coming in again.

So, you know, they are talking to people.  They‘re looking for new ideas.  But big decisions are still out there, especially what—how to reposition American forces in Iraq.

OLBERMANN:  He could do significantly worse than listen to General McCaffrey.  Richard Wolffe of MSNBC and “Newsweek.”  Great thanks, as always.  Have a good weekend.

WOLFFE:  Any time.

OLBERMANN:  For more on where the president‘s current stance places him, currently and historically, let‘s call in Nixon White House counsel John Dean, author of the books “Worse Than Watergate,” “The Secret Presidency of George W. Bush,” and, of course, “Conservatives Without Conscience.”

John, good evening.

JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Let me start with this overall assessment.  Between that opinion number, 27 percent approval on handling Iraq, to the speech by the Republican Senator Smith from Oregon, is this presidential administration in peril, not from impeachment, necessarily, but from some sort of internal revolution within the Republican ranks?

DEAN:  Well, they—Bush did a wonderful job of dragging them down in the election that I‘m sure they have not forgotten.

Keith, a president rules most powerfully with his bully pulpit.  This president has never been very good at that.  He‘s obviously got new plans in the works.  He‘s going to have to go out and sell them.  I‘m told he‘s pretty good one on one.  He may well be able to keep his party people in line.

But if he doesn‘t have something new to say to them, something that they believe and can buy into, and then they can, in turn, go out and sell it at home, he is in trouble.

So we‘ll have to wait and see what his review comes up with.  But I think he‘s got to realize, given the aftermath of the election, he‘s in trouble.

OLBERMANN:  But so far, he hasn‘t realized it.  There hasn‘t been anything new.  And about Iraq, do we attribute that kind ostrich-like stance from the president, and what we heard from the defense secretary in his kind of parting shot today, does this all tie into that prescient remark that you made before the election, that even if the Republicans lost control of both the House and the Senate, Karl Rove and the others in the White House would view that setback as nothing more than a temporary phase?  Is that—could they still be believing this is a temporary phase politically?

DEAN:  I suspect they do.  If you look at what kind of president Bush is—and I did this actually back in 2004, in April of 2004, and again in May of 2006, drawing on the very classic analysis by James David Barber, who puts presidents into various schools and categories, and he said this president would fit, on his criteria, into an active negative.

Those are people like Woodrow Wilson, Hoover, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon.  They‘re people who ride their policies right down to defeat until the very end, and their presidents don‘t do very well.

So I would—I think it‘s going to be very surprising if this president does change.  And that‘s why I think that‘s he‘s in a lot of trouble if he doesn‘t.

OLBERMANN:  Having dealt with cynical and disastrous presidencies up close, does it look to you like this one, this president, having politicized his way into Iraq, might now be going to try to hold back getting out of Iraq until it can be used to his party‘s benefit in the 2008 campaign?  Or is that too cynical even for this administration?

DEAN:  Well, that‘s a fair question, Keith, because I did work for a president who did want to take every advantage.  And I think Nixon was unable to pass the torch because he had to leave before then.  I think this president is very definitely going to try to do something where the administration that follows him will not do to him what he has done to Clinton, and that is, to blame everything on them, because there‘s a lot of blame to be pushed around in this instance.

So if he can pass the torch and help the Republican Party get somebody in there in 2008, he‘s certainly going to do that.  So that‘ll be a part of his calculation.  He‘s a very political president.

OLBERMANN:  I still retain a negative fondness for James Buchanan.  But we have talked about this White House being the textbook case of authoritarianism before.  Since the last time we discussed this, the war in Iraq has unbelievably gone to even much worse from the original bad.

If, in face of the overwhelming evidence that the plan in Iraq is not working, the public disapproval at this extraordinary high, if, even now, President Bush is not willing to change course on a real basis, and Mr.  Rumsfeld‘s not to—not expressing any remorse, might that be the deciding historical factor in declaring once and for all this president the worst one ever?

DEAN:  Well, the worst president ever is a great parlor game.  I happen to enjoy playing it, as a lot of other people do.  The interesting part of the game is, there‘s no criteria.

I‘ve often thought if the criteria were, how long does it take us, after a president who makes mistakes, to bail ourselves out and extricate ourselves from the problems he creates, and we judge them on that basis, well, then, this president well could be leaving a legacy that‘s going to take us a long time to bail out.  It would put him right down there with Richard Nixon, who we‘re still bailing out from.

OLBERMANN:  John Dean, author of “Worse Than Watergate” and “Conservatives Without Conscience.”  As always, John, great thanks for being with us.

DEAN:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The findings in the Mark Foley page scandal finally out tonight, the House Ethics Committee releasing a stinging report, following it up with punishments for no one.

And even Christmas doesn‘t seem to be going well at the White House.  A less-than-stellar Barneycam video this year, and the year of the Oscar de la Renta red dress snafu, Mo Rocca taking us inside the war on Christmas at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

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OLBERMANN:  There is outrage in the Congress today, but, in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the outrage is not directed where you think it might be.

Some Republican members of the House are outraged that presumptive speaker Democrat Nancy Pelosi is going to increase the work week there from the current Tuesday through Thursday grind up to an Upton Sinclairean five days a week.  Under Republican leadership, the Congress that gaveled to a close today worked a grand total of 109 days, 28 percent of the year, or 10 out of every 36, thanks to lengthy vacations known in Congress by names like August or the Memorial Day six-day weekend.

Democrats expect the next Congress to need more time to perform functions such as overseeing the government and to resume the job of writing legislation, which had largely been outsourced to the lobbyists.

Little outrage was to be found today as the Ethics Committee released its report on the Mark Foley scandal, including that there is no rule against not protecting pages from sexually predatory members of Congress.

Our Capitol Hill correspondent is Chip Reid.

Chip, good evening.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHIP REID, MSNBC CAPITOL HILL CORRESPONDENT:  Well, good evening, Keith.

There appears to be a bit of a disconnect here.  On the one hand, the language of the Ethics Committee report is very hard-hitting.  But on the other hand, it recommends disciplinary action against no one.

REP. MARK FOLEY ®, Florida:  The question is on adoption of the resolution.  All those—

REID (voice-over):  The Foley scandal consumed Washington for weeks.  Now, after more than 50 interviews and 3,000 pages of testimony, the bipartisan Ethics Committee finds that key House Republicans “failed to exercise appropriate diligence and oversight” and showed “a disconcerting unwillingness to take responsibility” for investigating Foley‘s interactions with House pages.

REP. DOC HASTINGS (R-WA), CHAIRMAN, ETHICS COMMITTEE:  The questions the American people were asking in the days following Mark Foley‘s resignation demanded answers.  Who knew about this?  And what did they know about it?  And what did they do once they found out?

REID:  At the top of the list, speaker of the House Dennis Hastert.  Contrary to his insistence that he knew nothing about Foley‘s actions until the day Foley resigned, the report finds “the weight of the evidence supports the conclusion that Speaker Hastert was told” last spring about Foley‘s inappropriate, though nonexplicit, e-mails.

The report also says the chairman of the page board, Republican Congressman John Shimkus, was told by a senior staffer last year that Foley was, quote, “a ticking time bomb,” and that Republican leader John Boehner and Republican Congressman Tom Reynolds both knew about Foley‘s nonexplicit e-mails, but neither “showed any curiosity” about Foley‘s behavior.

Despite the hard-hitting language, the Ethics Committee says no House rules were broken, and no discipline is warranted.

FRED WERTHEIMER, GOVERNMENT ETHICS WATCHDOG:  A number of individuals engaged in willful ignorance, and then they failed to hold any member and any staff member accountable for wrongdoing.

REID:  Some former pages are also frustrated with the congressional response.

DANIEL HUGHES, FORMER PAGE:  There needs to be better oversight over the page program.  And when pages have serious complaints, they need to be investigated carefully and taken seriously.

REID (on camera):  Now, Foley himself is still under criminal investigation, both at the Justice Department and in Florida.  But here on Capitol Hill, much to the frustration of congressional watchdogs, the Foley investigation appears to be over, Keith.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Chip Reid on Capitol Hill.  Great thanks, Chip.

Say “Cheese.”  We‘ve got your quickest installation ever into the Mug Shot Hall of Fame.  This will be the hot new look in the new year in the new jail.

And Lindsay Lohan again.  Former vice president Al Gore‘s office has to issue an official statement about Lohan‘s belief that he will be helping her with her image.  Goes a little something like, Huh?

Details ahead on COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  On this date in 1894 at Columbus, Ohio, the American writer, humorist, and cartoonist James Thurber was born.  Many of his drawings, combined with their captions, summarized the unanswerable frustrations of life, such as his depiction of an annoyed woman talking into a receiver as she said, “Well, if I called the wrong number, why did you answer the phone?”

As you ponder that, let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in Egypt, where two men with funny mustaches share a briefly passionist—passionate kiss.  Ooh, it tickles.  It‘s the annual meeting of the Distinctive Mustache Club in Cairo, five guys with goofy facial hair who meet once a year to try to figure out why women won‘t talk to them.

Men say the mustaches have many meanings.  Most importantly, they show bravery and manliness and that you had lobster bisque for lunch.

To Mexico City, where we catch up with our old friend Alain Robert. 

They call him the French Spiderman, and not because he‘s rude to Dr.  Octopus, rather because he travels the world scaling iconic structures from the Eiffel Tower to the Empire State Building.

This building, one of the tallest in all of Mexico, took Spidey just 30 minutes to climb, 23 stories without ropes or equipment of any kind.  He took the elevator down, alongside the police, who were waiting on the roof to arrest him.

More holiday headaches for the White House.  First it was a first lady, red-faced over an excess of red dresses.  Now, the Christmas trees are staging their own revolt.  Timber!

And a father‘s bravery, Oregon police detailing the extraordinary efforts by James Kim to save his family in the snowy mountains.

Details ahead.

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

Number three, everybody who bought land on the moon from any of a dozen companies around the world, and who has contacted NASA to say, You guys better pony up before NASA builds the permanent lunar base on the south pole.  “Property rights on the moon,” says an agency spokesman, “are governed by the United Nations.  Those companies are all just frauds.”

Of course, you can always go to the moon to defend your land claim there.

Number two, skier John McCartney, who, along with a friend, have been honored by the Red Cross for their lifesaving quick thinking when they saw a skier go headfirst into deep air pocket at the base of a tree in Crystal Mountain in Washington state.  Only after McCartney pulled the skier out of the potential smothering situation did he realize the skier was his own wife.

And number one, Richard Earl Melton of Van Os, Oklahoma, deliberately drove his truck into the local school his own two kids were attending.  So why isn‘t he a worst person instead of just the number one newsmaker?  Because of this.  The compensation for all the mayhem—nobody injured, incidentally—this is the all-time greatest mug shot we have ever seen.  Just like John Goodman in the movie “Barton Fink.”

How could anybody have ever guessed that this guy would someday snap?

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OLBERMANN:  If the state of Iraq serves as a macrocosm for the state of the White House these days, for our third story on tonight‘s COUNTDOWN we‘re going to look at the microcosms, the little quotidian (ph) things and what they tell us about the state of the White House.  We start with the annual ordeal that is Barney cam.  The painful, albeit ostensibly cute anthropomorphic adventures of President Bush‘s dog.  This year‘s video is particularly strained and oddly allegorical in its allusions to the problems plaguing the White House, such as lack of planning. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:     I can see from the look on your face, Barney, that you haven‘t even thought about the plot. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Oh, another joke about the lack of planning that cost 3,000 American lives in Iraq, hilarious.  Then there‘s this, the lack of fiscal responsibility gag. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There‘s no easy way to say this, but we‘re out of money. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And in the case of the education secretary, who lost on Jeopardy for real to the guy who played Lenny on Lavern and Shirley, losing once more to a guy best known for fighting dirty. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARL ROVE, WHITE HOUSE ADVISER:  I‘m in, I‘m in, I‘m in.   

MARGARET SPELLING, EDUCATION SECRETARY:  You‘ve got to be kidding me. 

ROVE:  Well, maybe better luck next year Margaret. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And finally, despite advertising alphabetical order for the credits, putting the B‘s before the A‘s.  And on even more trivial things like party planning, the White House has found itself on the receiving end of bad intelligence lately.  The first lady Laura Bush arrived at Sunday night‘s black tie White House reception wearing a red Oscar de la Renta dress, but her hopes of being greeted as a celebrator were quickly dashed when it turned out that three rival factions, other women at the party, had already laid claim to the same sartorial territory. 

The gown consisted of an embroidered jacket and floor length skirt, was widely considered hideous-ly expensive, clocking it at what sounds like a no-bid price of 8,500 dollars.  Rather than stay the course, however, the first lady cut and ran, dashing back to her private quarters to change in to something a little more comfortable. 

When it comes to the more solemn holiday observances things were a little different this morning.  Undecorated, but unmistakably a Christmas tree, the stately pine stands sentinel in the war on Christmas alongside a stoic Marine guard outside the West Wing of the White House.  And, like the office of the president itself, stands tall, proud, unshakable, unyielding, no matter how strongly it is being buffeted by reality. 

It only took a few minutes before a crack White House response team—well, this guy, moseyed in to action.  Soon he was joined by another guy, and then a third guy, who quickly uses his phone to call—more guys.  A veritable coalition of the willing.  We are happy to report that after much deliberation the ad hoc Connifer Study Group arrived at a bipartisan consensus that the best way to resolve the quagmire was to lift the tree up until it could stand on its own.  Once it stood up, they stood down. 

Joining us now with his analysis of how the White House is handling all these mini crisis, television personality and presidential historian Mo Rocca, the author of “All The President‘s Pets.”  Mo, thanks, as always, for some of your time tonight. 

MO ROCCA, “ALL THE PRESIDENT‘S PETS:  Thank you Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s start with your forte, the presidential pets, your review of Barney cam 2006.  I mean, to reinvigorate this franchise does the White House needs to write in Daniel Craig? 

ROCCA:  Or even Roger Moore or George Lazenby even.  I mean, this installment is a real let down.  As you know, originally Mel Gibson was attached as the director and he really wanted to remake Barney as a more visceral hero.  He even shot a few scenes, one at Don Rumsfeld‘s final press conference.  And here you had a muscular and glistening Barney, tricked out in war paint and with a head dress, leaping on to Rumsfeld‘s chest and ripping out his still-beating heart.  And amazingly Rumsfeld completed the press conference, answering all the questions in ancient Quechua (ph).  Now, I‘m not sure why the Bush White House removed Gibson as director, but this was a mistake. 

OLBERMANN:  I think the Aramaic subtitles might have killed that one in particular.   

ROCCA:  It could have been, but it was real action. 

OLBERMANN:  But this Barney cam includes Karl Rove.  It includes Tony Snow.  It‘s got the president and first lady, secretaries of Treasury and Education.  Do you think there are notable omissions in the cast? 

ROCCA:  Well, other than Rumsfeld, I would like to have seen more of Margaret Spellings, who also made her name attacking Buster, the animated rabbit from the PBS show.  Why wasn‘t she in it more, I suspect it‘s because maybe Barney hates her.  As for other omissions, I think that Ms.  Beasley really needs to start wearing underwear.  They are shooting her from precarious low angles. 

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s try to predict history, looking back on this.  Will this be seen as the moment that Barney became the lame duck dog? 

ROCCA:  Well, I think it will be seen, actually, as the moment when Barney ceded the spotlight to the real star of this video, the real break out star is Kitty, the hermaphroditic cat.  The cat is a big part of this video right here.  And at the end of it you see that it‘s credited as Willie, AKA Kitty.  Now this is Mrs. Bush‘s cat.  We know that she parts company with the White House on many social issues.  So this is sort of a conciliatory gesture.  But Kitty is really fantastic here and she really overshadows Beyonce. 

OLBERMANN:  I‘m terrified of that cat.  I just have to say that, having seen that one freeze for it there.

ROCCA:  It‘s the only presidential pet that has been spade and neutered. 

OLBERMANN:  To the—you mentioned the first lady, to this business about the red dress that everybody seemed to have.  How could the White House not have known.  Were they manipulating the intel.  Were they telling the first lady what she wanted to hear about dresses?  Did all of this come from that infamous source curve ball?  What happened? 

ROCCA:  Well, I think what‘s galling about it is that the dress actually comes from the Pentagon.  As you can see, it‘s a lovely, hand embroidered Kevlar.  I mean this thing could take any number of bullets.  I mean, with a helmet, the first lady could walk down any red carpet in Haditha and just go unscathed.  Our troops would be a lot safer wearing this red dress, but, of course, they can‘t afford it, because it costs 8,400 dollars. 

OLBERMANN:  We can‘t afford the Kevlar, either.  This morning‘s falling of the Christmas tree, can you imagine anything more painfully symbolic for a president who so prides himself on the rough and tumble man outdoors kind of thing?   

ROCCA:  Not much.  Look, at least it didn‘t slump over.  It fell over.  And it did get back up, I suppose.  But no, it‘s not very good, not good symbolism. 

OLBERMANN:  You mentioned it got back up, with some assistance.  Is that the resurrection there, is that the symbol of hope? 

ROCCA:  There you have it, yes.  People have to come together to help get this tree back up, as many people as possible.  That‘s the study group, right?  Is that the study group right there? 

OLBERMANN:  Well they‘re studying it and they‘re a group, and they‘re not doing anything.  So, yes, I think that‘s it.  I think I see baker on the left there. 

ROCCA:  OK, Keith, by the way, thanks for not wearing this jacket tonight.  I appreciate it. 

OLBERMANN:  I don‘t think I‘ve ever had one that approaches that. 

ROCCA:  And Scarborough‘s getting changed right now. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, well, that‘s always the case about this time.  Television personality Mo Rocca, always a pleasure having you on the newscast.  Thank you sir.

ROCCA:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, the valiant efforts of a father to save his family.  Police stringing together an even more heroic and even more sad tale of James Kim in Oregon than we previously knew. 

And Wesley Snipes back in the United States and under arrest, facing the music for tax evasion charges, but at least the legal proceedings are not going to screw up his movie production schedule.  That and much more ahead here on COUNTDOWN. 

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OLBERMANN:  When James Kim set out on foot to get help for his family, after they became snow bound on their way to the Oregon coast, he never knew what stood just one mile away.  A closed fishing lodge with enough food for months.  This after the family had turned down a remote road that would have been blocked by a gate, had it not been for a vandal cutting the lock.  In our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, there are other cruel vagaries of fate in the day-by-day account of his family‘s ordeal and Kim‘s heroism.  Our correspondent on the scene is Peter Alexander. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN ANDERSON, JOSEPHINE COUNTY UNDERSHERIFF:  At 12:03 hours today the body of James Kim was located down in the Big Windy Crick. 

PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  After a crushing end to the search for James Kim, authorities recreated a day-by-day account of the Kim family‘s journey, from when they first got lost to James‘ extraordinary efforts to save his wife and two daughters. 

It began on a Saturday after Thanksgiving, November 25, with a simple mistake.  The Kims missed a turnoff and took an alternate road on their way to the Oregon coast. 

LT. GREGG HASTINGS, OREGON STATE POLICE:  The route was confusing.  James had the driver‘s door open so he could see, because the snow was falling very hard. 

ALEXANDER:  At 2:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, the 26th, with gas getting low, the Kims decided to stop at a fork in the road. 

HASTINGS:  They stayed in the car, occasionally starting up to heat the car, to stay warm. 

ALEXANDER:  For the next three days it kept snowing and raining.  Then on Wednesday, the 29th, weather started to clear. 

HASTINGS:  Thursday, November 30th, they used a spare tire in the vehicle to start a fire. 

ALEXANDER:  The next day, Friday, December 1st, the Kims burned all four remaining tires.  Once the fire went out, for the first time they heard a helicopter, but couldn‘t spot it. 

Saturday, December 2, James made a fire for his family.  Then at 7:46 a.m. he left and began walking down the road, hoping to reach a town he mistakenly thought was just four miles away.  It was actually 15. 

HASTINGS:  He thought that there was, according to the map, this river along—by the town and he felt if he could get to the river, he could make it to the town.  Sometime during that day he told his wife that he would try to return about 1:00 in the afternoon. 

ALEXANDER:  Two days later, this past Monday, December 4th, a helicopter traced James‘ footprints to the family‘s car where Katie Kim and her two daughters were rescued.  Then the search turned to finding James in the steep and rugged canyons, with temperatures below freezing.  It ended Wednesday, December 6th, when searchers found his body. 

HASTINGS:  James Kim did nothing wrong.  He was trying to save his family. 

ALEXANDER:  The cruel twist, his ten mile trek took him on an oval loop.  James died within a mile of where he started, trying to find help to save his family, separated from the car by only canyon walls. 

Peter Alexander, NBC News, Grants Pass, Oregon. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  There‘s no segue possible into our nightly round up of celebrity and tabloid news, so we‘ll just start it with the arrest of Wesley Snipes.  The actor has surrendered to authorities in Ocala, Florida, having been indicted two months ago on charges of federal tax fraud.  At the time he was in Namibia filming a cowboy movie called Gallow Walker, but he came back on a private jet today to deal with his pesky legal dilemma, said nothing in court, was released on a million dollars bond.  Mr Snipes was charged with falsely claiming tax refunds of nearly 12 million in 1996 and 1997, though the indictment also says that his accountants have a history of filing phony returns for their own benefit.  The actor claims that prosecutors are unfairly targeting him as their scapegoat. 

Already in prison, the father of a possible groom of Chelsey Clinton.  She‘s reportedly considering marriage to her boyfriend, Mark Mazvinski (ph), as noted by ABC‘s News‘ Brian Ross, but Ed Mazvinski, the boyfriend‘s father, and a former Iowa Congressman, is in prison, serving a seven-year sentence for fraud.  Prosecutors had said that he used his connections to the Clintons to dupe people into giving him money in one of those Nigerian e-mail scams, after he had been the victim of those scams himself.  Talk about holidays with the inlaws.  The former congressman‘s release from prison slated for November of 2008, perhaps accompanied by wedding bells.

Would Chelsey‘s parents and Al Gore really help Lindsay Lohan improve her image?  Mr Gore comes up with an inconvenient truth for the starlet.  And tough love for Jessica Simpson from her mother and that Kennedy Center debacle, that‘s ahead. 

But first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.  The bronze to the city of New York.  If you‘re here in big town and you‘re wondering what that smell is, it is a pine smelling perfume from a company called Maron‘s U.S.A., being sprayed from a keg-like machine being dragged around Manhattan on a pickup truck, misted in to the air, to make everything smell more Christmasy, one block at a time.  A truck spraying an aerosol version of a liquid onto unknowing New York City pedestrians?  Didn‘t we create the Department of Homeland Security to protect us from stuff like that?

The runner up tonight, Fox‘s John Gibson, who‘s fault is the trouble in Iraq?  Bush‘s fault, he asks.  No, it‘s the Iraqi‘s fault.  They‘re killing each other, he said, while, quote, we‘re trying to fight foreign invaders.  Gotcha twice Gibby, once for being a bone head on this and once for simply reusing some of Bill-O‘s old scripts. 

But our winner, Britain‘s Sunderland football team and it‘s spokesperson Lesly Callahan.  It was not bad enough that three Sunderland players, including the starting goalie and an ex-teammate, now with another squad, videotaped themselves having sex with one woman.  It wasn‘t bad enough that Sunderland striker Chris Brown is heard giving a TV style play-by-play of the events.  It was not bad enough that the ex-teammate, winger Martin Woods, was, according to London‘s tabloid the “Sun,” quote, shown performing a sex act on himself.  All that was not bad enough, but team spokesman Callahan actually said, quote, we will be handling this matter internally.  You couldn‘t have skipped those words handling and internally.  Bad choice of words spokesman Lesley Callahan of the Sunderland Soccer team in England, today‘s Worst Person in the World.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  There is much that former vice president and 2000 popular vote winner Al Gore is willing to take on.  He has made it his personal mission, after all, to alert the world to the reality of global warming.  But in our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, when it comes to helping buff up the image of Lindsay Lohan, he‘s going to take a pass.  Ms. Lohan met Mr. Gore at the G.Q. Men of the Year dinner last week and became either convinced or deluded into thinking he would assist her. 

She sent an e-mail to friends and lawyers that read in part, “Al Gore will help me.  He came up to me and said he would be very happy to have a conversation with me.”  Lohan was interested in releasing, “a politically, orally correct, fully adequite (sic), again with the adequite, letter to the press, how our society should be educated for the better of our country, our people.”  Mr. Gore‘s response less effusive.  His publicist saying in a statement, “Mr. Gore has met Ms. Lohan once, very briefly at the GQ Men of the Year dinner last week.  There were hundreds of other guests.  I am more happy than ever that I chose to chat with David Wright of the New York Mets that night, instead of Ms. Lohan. 

Meanwhile, the hundreds of guests who saw Jessica Simpson mess up her tribute song to Dolly Parton at the Kennedy Center honors last Sunday at least did not have to deal with Ms. Simpson‘s mother.  Tina Simpson telling her daughter that the performance was embarrassing and unprofessional.  According to TMZ.com, Ms. Simpson did seem to get that at the time. 

(SINGING)

OLBERMANN:  Exit stage left.  Miss Parton has graciously said she would be happy to honor Ms. Simpson some day, quoting, but I‘ll probably be so nervous, that I‘ll probably forget my wig. 

Wigs apparently not part of the Tori Spelling yard sale, though just about everything else is.  The self-described pack-rat and alumnus of “Beverly Hill 90210” is getting rid of a lot of really good crap to prepare for a new home and a new baby.  Items for sale include “90210” memorabilia, signed scripts, as well as furniture, clothes, chandeliers, and, of course, discarded implants.  I made the last part up, sorry. 

Let‘s call in comedian and contributor to VH1‘s Best Week Ever, Paul F. Tompkins.  Thanks again for you time tonight Paul. 

PAUL F. TOMPKINS, COMEDIAN:  Thanks for having me Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  In Ms. Lohan‘s e-mail to her friends and lawyers, she claimed that Bill and Hillary Clinton would also be willing to help her, quote, if we just ask.  I was at that dinner.  I don‘t really recall seeing Ms. Lohan and Mr. Gore hob nobbing.  Do you think she‘s received this encouragement from the former vice president through some sort of telepathy, or some other form of communication we don‘t understand?

TOMPKINS:  It‘s not telepathy.  She‘s clearly referring to the coded messages that Mr. Gore put in there in “The Inconvenient Truth.”  If you remember the segment on the drowning Polar Bear, I think obviously that‘s Al Gore‘s way of saying to Lindsay, if you ever feel like this, ask me for help. 

OLBERMANN:  One more gem from her e-mail.  Let me quote it again.  I have such an impact on our younger generations as well as generations older than me, which we all know and can obviously see, end quote.  Care to fact check that, Paul.  Or do we have any idea how that rehab was going for her. 

TOMPKINS:  Well if you just take a look at any of the pictures of her partying, whenever she‘s out at those clubs, she‘s always in the company of two or three Normandy survivors.  You know, the greatest generation loves Lindsay. 

OLBERMANN:  Can we assume that Al Gore‘s chilly response is some sort of indicator that he is or he is not planning to run for the presidency again in 2008? 

TOMPKINS:  Well, you know, the guy says he‘s not going to run, absolutely not.  And then everybody says, well maybe he will.  So I have no choice but to assume if he says he‘s not going to help Lindsay with her image, that I‘m pretty soon going to see them walking out of Crunch gym together with matching yoga mats.   

OLBERMANN:  And she‘s the vice presidential nominee.  The Jessica Simpson performance, this TMZ.com report also confirmed what was already apparent there, that Ms. Simpson was singing from cue cards because she did not know all the lines to “9 to 5,” the song that she was tributing Ms.  Parton with.  And she also missed the dress rehearsal.  But if it was good enough for Dolly Parton, shouldn‘t that be the end of it.  Shouldn‘t that be good enough for the rest of us, including Ms. Simpson‘s mother? 

TOMPKINS:  Well, of course, Dolly‘s going to be thrilled with this version, because it‘s her song.  You know, if Van Gogh encountered a younger painter who could whip up a perfect version of Sun Flowers, you know, he‘s not going to thrilled about it.  And yes, I am comparing the song “9 to 5” to Van Gogh‘s Sun Flowers.

OLBERMANN:  The creators of both killed themselves shortly thereafter, is that the analogy there, or what?  

TOMPKINS:  That hasn‘t been proven.  That hasn‘t been proven.

OLBERMANN:  Ms. Simpson has reportedly retaped that song before an empty house, even though her father, who is also her manager said he thought the whole thing was cute.  Do we have any idea, did she do better the second time? 

TOMPKINS:  Well, first of all, of course, what father could help but smile watching his child fail.  But Jessica, after recording a song alone in a studio with no one else around, was heard to remark, well, wow, this what be what that lady who does my vocals for my albums feels like. 

OLBERMANN:  Wow.  All right, the Tori Spelling yard sale, before we go.  In all fairness, I supposed I should point out that the invitation to the event describes it as the “Dazzling Hollywood Estate Sale in Her Valley Home.”  Have you spoken to any attendees of the event, Paul?  Was it as dazzling as predicted? 

TOMPKINS:  Dazzling is the word, Keith.  The sale was over three card tables long.  They laid out a red carpet remnant.  And you‘ve never seen anything this lavish in any yard sale, every lamp had a shade.  Also someone who may or may not have been Harry Dean Stanton briefly took an interest in some TV trays. 

OLBERMANN:  And there was also one other quote here, which was that she‘s having this sale because we‘re moving and my taste has changed.  So I guess the headline that we close with is that, wow, Tori Spelling had taste.  Paul F. Tompkins, comedian and contributor to VH1‘s Best Week Ever, as always, Paul, our great thanks for your time. 

TOMPKINS:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Paul coming to us via satellite phone from California. 

That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,315th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night 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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