updated 1/16/2007 4:31:07 PM ET 2007-01-16T21:31:07

Guests: Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Jonathan Turley, Jack Levin, Maria Milito

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

“We are being played like a pawn,” the blunt assessment of an American military official in Iraq about how our 20,000 extra troops, supposed to go there to stop sectarian violence, will be under the command of an Iraqi general who favors sectarian violence.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I think I am a flexible, open-minded person.  I really do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  A flexible, open-minded person who says he won‘t compromise about the troop escalation, no matter how much Congress nor the people he supposedly represents want him to.

And, of course, the vice president was a little more rigid.

But is the administration rigid about the Constitution?  The deputy assistant secretary of defense in charge of the detainees insists there should be economic consequences for any lawyers or law firms willing to defend the detainees.

You know, pressure the lawyers, the way Stalin or the Third Reich used to.

Stockholm syndrome again?  After the rescue of two abducted teenagers in Missouri, it proves the older one, held against his will for more than four years, had a bicycle and a MySpace page, but could not run away.

O.J. Simpson, the inevitable.  Parts of his varied book are dug up.  Could they be suggesting, at long last, that he wants to be definitively identified as the murderer of his ex-wife and Ron Goldman?

And it‘s “American Idol” season again.  And Paula Abdul is not in playing shape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you always wiggle around that much?

PAULA ABDUL:  What?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You‘re just wiggling around there in New York (INAUDIBLE)--

PAULA ABDUL:  I‘m a dancer.  I‘m a dancer.  I‘m doing a little dances.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, all right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Uh, yes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m not really sure what you said there, but—

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening from New York.

When it comes to escalating the U.S. troop presence in Iraq, that President Bush would ignore the opposition of the new Democratic Congress was to be expected.  But that he would also ignore the opposition of his only significant ally in the conflict far more troubling.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, it appears the more people who reject the president‘s plan to send thousands more troops to Iraq, the more determined he is to see that plan through, the British prime minister, we‘ve learned, having registered his objections before Christmas.  Perhaps he, like everyone else, according to the American president, just needs to have the situation in Iraq explained to him, Mr. Bush describing himself as the educator in chief over the weekend, after the decider in chief last year.

It is his first interview since last week‘s address to the nation.  As with his failed plans for Social Security reform and with the Medicare prescription drug plan that nobody seemed to understand, the president telling the CBS newsmagazine “60 Minutes” that those who criticize him on Iraq simply do not understand what he is trying to do.

That would make it unanimous.

Educated dissent apparently not even a possibility, in Wednesday‘s speech, the president mentioning that mistakes had been made in Iraq, Mr.  Bush asked by correspondent Scott Pelley to elaborate on exactly what those mistakes were.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “60 MINUTES,” CBS)

BUSH:  Abu Ghraib was a mistake.  Using bad language, like, you know, “bring ‘em on” was a mistake.

I think history is going to look back and see a lot of ways we could have done things better.  No question about it.

SCOTT PELLEY, CBS NEWS:  The troop levels, sir.

BUSH:  Could have been a mistake.  I—

PELLEY:  Were not--  Could have been a mistake.

BUSH:  Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  While not exactly a mistake, Mr. Bush conceding that the execution of Saddam Hussein could have been handled differently.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “60 MINUTES,” CBS)

PELLEY:  Did you see the video of Saddam Hussein‘s—

BUSH:  I saw some of it.

PELLEY:  ... execution?

BUSH:  Yes.

PELLEY:  What did you think when you saw that?

BUSH:  I thought it was discouraging.  You know, obviously, they could have handled this thing a lot better.  I, I, it‘s important that that chapter of Iraqi history be closed.  We could have handled it a lot better.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Despite the mistakes, and the estimated 655,000 additional civilians who have died in Iraq since the 2003 invasion, 655,000 more than would have otherwise died had the invasion not occurred, per Saddam‘s usual rate, Mr. Bush still of the opinion that the Iraqi people owe him a massive thank-you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “60 MINUTES,” CBS)

BUSH:  I think I‘m proud of the efforts we did.  We liberated that country from a tyrant.  I think the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Here at home, Mr. Bush under fire from all sides for his decision to send those extra 21,500 troops to Iraq, and nevertheless, the president seeing his resolve as anything but stubbornness.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Do I agree that I‘m stubborn, or do I agree that people think I‘m stubborn?

PELLEY:  People think you do.  What do you think?

BUSH:  I think I‘m a flexible, open-minded person.  I really do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Thus it is apparently not stubbornness that had Mr. Bush declaring in that interview that the new Democratic Congress cannot stop the so-called surge, and it was, by the way, bad cop, bad cop, Vice President Cheney also taking aim at the legislative branch over the weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Congress

obviously has to support the effort through the power of the purse.  So

they‘ve got a role to play.  And we certainly recognize that.  But you also

you cannot run a war by committee.  You know, the Constitution‘s very clear that the president is, in fact, under Article II, the commander in chief.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Both of those interviews with the president and vice president coming too soon to obtain the reaction of either to today‘s lead story in “The New York Times,” which reported that already there are serious questions over who‘s really in charge in the war zone under Mr.  Bush‘s new plan, the Iraqis or the Americans, the first wave of U.S.  reinforcements crossing the border into Iraq today from Kuwait, General Casey having said that American forces will remain under American command, period, U.S. military commanders on the ground, however, fearful that Iraqi commanders with hidden loyalties will, in effect, be leading Americans to pick sectarian targets, Iraq‘s national security adviser today fueling those fears, saying that Iraq will not dismantle the main Shi‘ite militia, the Mahdi Army, President Bush‘s former ambassador to the United Nations on British television today calling the civil war in Iraq what it is, a civil war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BOLTON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS:  The fundamental point is whether the civil war that exists now is going to continue, or whether the Iraqis are going to decide to live together in one country.  That has not been, and is not now, a question fundamentally for the United States to answer.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Bolton now eligible to join us here at NBC News.

Time now to call in Rajiv Chandrasekaran, assistant managing editor of “The Washington Post,” who, as a former Baghdad bureau chief for that newspaper, has probably spent more time in U.S.-occupied Iraq than any other journalist, also the author of the recent book “Imperial Life in the Emerald City,” which focuses on life inside the green zone.

Thank you once again for some of your time tonight, sir.

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, WASHINGTON POST:  Good to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Given the sound bite we just heard from the former ambassador, and the questions being raised about what it is exactly that Iraqi commanders will be asking their American counterparts to do, does that not amplify the fear that the U.S. government is, in fact, now, if it wasn‘t before, it certainly is now, inserting itself and these troops into somebody else‘s civil war?

CHANDRASEKARAN:  Well, there‘s a very real concern here, according to some critics, that the United States, with this troop escalation, may well be trying—might be able to succeed in exacerbating the very civil war it‘s trying to prevent, or prevent from at least growing larger than it is.

Clearly, you know, it all hinges on the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, and his willingness to allow the American forces, along with Iraqi forces, to truly be even-handed in their security push in Baghdad, going after Sunnis as well as Shiites.

And, you know, it‘s not at all clear.  Maliki has made various commitments to the Bush administration, but he‘s made these commitments before.  It‘s all going to be a question of how this is delivered, and how this rolls out.

But the early signs are not encouraging.  The—Maliki‘s government has named a Shi‘ite general from southern Iraq to lead this entire operation.  There‘s still open questions about rules of engagement, about how U.S. and Iraqi forces will coordinate with each other, who‘s going to decide who to go after, and what role the Americans have versus the Iraqis.

There are a lot of unanswered questions in all of this.  And it‘s surprising, given the decision already to send the troops, the fact that the troops are moving in, yet some basic issues of how this is going to play out are still not decided.

OLBERMANN:  Do you buy into the quote that I quoted at the start of the newscast from “The New York Times” piece, the John Burns piece, this morning about the American commander or military official, I think, was the exact phrasing in the pace, in the piece, that we are being played like a pawn in this equation.  Is that what these troops are going into?  Are they, in fact, being thrown into one side of the sectarian battle?

CHANDRASEKARAN:  Well, clearly, Maliki wants the American troops to focus on the Sunnis.  And, you know, in his ideal world, the American troops will be operating on the outskirts of Baghdad, going after Sunni insurgents and other Sunni groups there, where—and Iraqi troops will be sort of more focused on the center of the city.

Now, that‘s clearly not something the Americans want.  It, you know, it‘s going to be very interesting to see how this all gets played out.  I mean, we‘ve already, in effect, showed our hand, because we‘re sending in these troops.  The president wants this to sort of succeed.  At the same time, the Iraqi prime minister is the leader of that sovereign nation, and could well dig in his heels.  I mean, he clearly seems to be making some initial decisions that do not seem to be in the spirit of a joint effort that goes after both Sunnis and Shiites.

OLBERMANN:  Do you see an irony to the fact that by empowering the Shiites in Iraq, we might actually be empowering Iran?  And if so, how would this threat from last week‘s speech about intervening or attacking Iran, even if it‘s just Iranian outposts inside Iraq‘s borders, which the administration is now threatening to do, how would that actually help what we‘re trying to accomplish?

CHANDRASEKARAN:  Well, you know, Iraq‘s two largest Shi‘ite parties both have close ties to the Iranian government.  Now, the American officials believe that the Iranians, or at least some elements of the Iranian security services, have been funneling technology for roadside bombs, providing material support to both Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq.

But our efforts to crack down on Iranians operating in Iraq is meeting with fairly stiff opposition from the Iraqis.  A couple of weeks ago, when U.S. forces detained some senior members of Iraq‘s Revolutionary Guards, it was Iraqi officials who let them go.  And just recently, over the past few days, this American raid on an Iranian counselor-type facility up in the northern Kurdish area, that has provoked a fair degree of opposition from the Iraqi leaders.  They don‘t really seem to be on board with the president‘s Iran strategy in Iraq.

OLBERMANN:  Rajiv Chandrasekaran, of “The Washington Post.”  As always, sir, great thanks for your time tonight.

CHANDRASEKARAN:  Good to be with you.

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Bush‘s comments about Saddam Hussein‘s hanging were broadcast at just around the same time Iraq was carrying out its follow-up executions, two more hangings, two top officials from Saddam‘s regime, including his half-brother.  American officials pushed hard to ensure that these executions went properly, unlike Saddam‘s, which was marked, of course, by sectarian sloganeering.

Today‘s hangings, however, had their own problem.  Awad Hamad al-Bandar, the judge who signed off on 148 executions, was hanged without incident, apart from the hanging.  Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, Saddam‘s half-brother, the former head of his secret police, however, was not only hanged, but, in a grisly echo of terrorist tactics there, was decapitated by his noose and the force of his fall.  Iraqi officials insisted the decapitation was unintentional, not the kind of spin control the Bush administration was hoping to hear out of Baghdad today.

The latest assault on our Constitution tonight, coming from the Pentagon, officials there leveling threats against lawyers who represent the detainees at Gitmo.  This is still America, right?

And the infamous chapter from the infamous book, the night in question, O.J. Simpson‘s so-called fictional account of the murders of his ex-wife and her friend.  But is Simpson‘s motivation for claiming there was a witness?

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Is it really still a democracy if lawyers and law firms are being pressured not to represent people accused of trying to undermine that democracy?  Or is a country defined by the rights it extends to the least-popular people it controls?

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, these apparently are not fundamental questions, but mere rhetorical wastes of time for the deputy assistant secretary of defense in charge of the detainees at Gitmo and elsewhere.  That man, Cully Stimson, can‘t be bothered with the abstract idea of everyone deserving legal defense within our system.  He wants to punish, financially pressure, law firms and attorneys providing detainees those legal defenses, which our government, indeed, our whole history as a nation, supposedly holds sacred.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

CULLY STIMSON, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  Somebody asked, Who are the lawyers around this country representing detainees down there?  And you know what?  It‘s shocking.  The major law firms in this country, Pillsbury Winthrop, Jenner and Block, Wilmer Cutler Pickering, Covington and Burling here in D.C., Sutherland Asbill Brennan, Paul Weiss Rifkin, Mayer Brown, Weil Gotshal, Pepper Hamilton Venable, Alston and Bird, Perkins Coie, Hunton and Williams, Fulbright Jaworski, all the rest of them, are out there representing detainees.

And I think, quite honestly when corporate CEOs see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those CEOs are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms.  And I think that is going to have major play in the next few weeks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  But clearly...

STIMSON:  It‘ll be fun to watch that play out.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Pentagon Saturday disavowed Stimson‘s comments, but we cannot truly know whether that‘s because Stimson veered from the Pentagon‘s thinking, or because he revealed it.

Let‘s turn to constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley, professor of law at George Washington University.

As always, sir, thanks for your time tonight.

JONATHAN TURLEY, LAW PROFESSOR, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Every time we talk, I think we have hit the new high in low.  But this administration tops itself, or bottoms itself.  Technically, he‘s not saying CEOs should boycott those law firms, he‘s just predicting that they will.  But does what he said still qualify as either intimidation or an attempt to thwart the constitutional right to counsel?

TURLEY:  Oh, it obviously does.  It‘s outrageous.  I mean, you know, this guy is some type of troglodyte.  But what worries me is that the troglodytes feel comfortable coming out and saying things like this.

It‘s horrible.  And the question is—should not be whether they‘re distancing themselves from his comments.  He should be fired.  I mean, I don‘t understand what it takes to be fired in this country—in this administration.  But he‘s in charge of detainees in a place that has become the symbol of abuse, of American hypocrisy.

And he goes out on the air and clearly tries to get companies and CEOs to put pressure on lawyers not to represent these people, not to make sure the rule of law is followed.  What does it take to get fired in the Bush administration?

OLBERMANN:  Obviously, disagreeing with the policy of the Bush administration.  That would be what the track record would suggest, but, you know, to answer your rhetorical question.  But to the cases, is there pertinence still here?  I mean, what happens regarding him?  Is there any kind of action appropriate, either from the bar, from the judges in the cases?  Who should be weighing in on this, saying, Hey, you know what?  The government just screwed the pooch on these cases?

TURLEY:  Well, I think that lawyers around the country are going to respond, particularly the ABA, to this type of statement.  I mean, this really violates a central covenant that we all have as lawyers.  And it‘s something that we learned in law school, that having representation‘s essential to our system of government.

What Stimson is saying is that clients shouldn‘t have allowed John Adams to represent them, because he represented people in the Boston Massacre, who were just as unpopular as the people at Gitmo.  So according to Stimson, John Adams should have been treated as a pariah.

It is un-American.  And it takes more, I think, more of an obligation of the administration to simply say, He‘s not speaking for us.  He is the leading official in charge of these detainees.  What he said wasn‘t just (INAUDIBLE) wrong, it was positively vile for a lawyer to say such things.

OLBERMANN:  Is that why John Adams represented the British soldiers after Lexington and Concord?  That‘s right, isn‘t it?

TURLEY:  He represented the (INAUDIBLE), or the English soldiers...

OLBERMANN:  Right, right.

TURLEY:  ... and was (INAUDIBLE), and was unpopular for that reason.  But he insisted I, on, I, on doing that so that they could show that the due process of all these individuals was upheld.

OLBERMANN:  The firm at Paul Weiss that was mentioned has actually been getting money hand over fist from some of the biggest pockets on the right for defending the former Cheney chief of staff, Scooter Libby, that the selection of the jury is beginning this week.  Is there any chance there that the Libby people are going to pull out?  Are they the ones that Cully Stimson was talking to?  What‘s going to happen there?

TURLEY:  Well, I think that what he‘s trying to do, and we also saw an editorial, I, occurring around the same time.  So this seems to be a coordinated effort.  What he‘s trying to do is to get some type of groundswell, all of the loyal Republicans in these corporations to put pressure, basically saying that if these people are vindicated, if their rights are recognized, it‘ll be bad for the administration.

And we‘ve seen this before, this (INAUDIBLE) effort to try to keep these people from the courtroom.  And now they‘re pursuing the lawyers and trying to keep them out as well.

OLBERMANN:  Boy, oh, boy.  Just another reminder to anybody in the Bush administration, the rights you take away from somebody at Gitmo today will be the ones taken away from you in 10 years.

Jonathan Turley, law professor at George Washington University.  As always, Jon, great thanks for joining us.

TURLEY:  Thanks a lot.

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, top athletes facing off in the championship of champions.  Oh, it‘s a cube-athon (ph).  Well, watch the next segment anyway.

And the championship satellite press tour.  On the eve of another season of “American Idol,” Paula Abdul slurring her way through three time zones without leaving her chair.

That‘s ahead.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  On this day in 1797, a riot erupted in London.  Women fainted.  One child broke an arm in the mayhem that ensued just because of how John Heatherington (ph) looked as he stepped out onto the street.  He was wearing a creation of his own design called the top hat.  Mr.  Heatherington was charged with wearing, quote, “a tall structure having a shining luster, calculated to frighten timid people.”  He was convicted and fined 50 pounds.  It was presumably worth it.  A top hat was worn at an American presidential inauguration as late as 1961, and in American music video for a commercial as late as about 10 days ago.

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in California with the Festival of Mechanical Brain Teasers and Dateless Wonders that is the big annual International Rubik‘s Cube Competition.  Hey, puzzles.  Dozens of competitors from around the globe showed up at the San Francisco Exploratorium for the battle for the title of world‘s fastest-solving guy.

The venue has been host to three world speed records.  But really, you guys are still using your hands?  How 1982.  It‘s all about foot cubing to (ph) these days.  Face it, boys, chicks dig the tootsies.

To Sichuan (ph) China, now, for some disturbing panda video.  I know, that‘s an oxymoron.  What could be disturbing about these furry, cuddly, lovable creatures frolicking about at the Wolong (ph) Giant Panda Reserve?  Well, let‘s just say there‘s a reason for that old saying about being out on a limb.  And for the record, the panda is just fine.

There‘s 62 pandas living in the—there‘s 61 living pandas in the -- 

Yes, just fine.  And when I say just fine, that does not mean he‘s going to be riding a unicycle any time soon.  He may need to visit the panda masseuse a few times a week for a little while.

O.J. Simpson‘s project, “If I Did It,” will not make it to a bookstore shelf, but an excerpt has leaked.  Simpson put someone else at the crime scene with him.  And if Simpson says there‘s a witness, could we somehow get a definitive answer from the witness?

And I‘m sorry we all have to witness this, Paula Abdul lights up a TV morning show, you should excuse the expression.

Details ahead.

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

Number three, the Swedish file-sharing Web site, Pirate Bay, which thinks it may have found a way around the international copyright laws it was breaking.  It wants to buy its own country.  Actually, the micro-nation called Sealand, which is an old British naval platform in the North Sea.

Number two, the 200 participants in New York‘s sixth annual No Pants Subway Ride.  The number 6 line is implied by the name, 200 people getting onto the trains, and none of them wearing pants.  As usual, from onlookers, there was absolutely no reaction.

Number one, Rich Cizik, the vice president representing the National Association of Evangelicals, after a meeting with a science group, the faithful and the scientists issuing a joint statement insisting, “We must fight global warming immediately.”  Quoting Mr. Cizik, “Whether God created the earth in a millisecond or whether it evolved over billions of years, the issue we agree on is that it needs to be cared for today.”

You know, Mr. Cizik, with that kind of thinking, sir, you are going to engender nothing but understanding, cooperation, good feelings, and progress.  How dare you, sir?  How dare you?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It is hard to imagine that after 12 and a half years, two trials of the century and a sentence in a prison of public opinion the size of the earth that anything positive or even new might come out of a tawdry exercise like withdrawn O.J. Simpson hypothetical murder manual, If I Did It. 

Yet in our third story on the COUNTDOWN, thanks to a leak to “Newsweek Magazine,” there is actually a chance, just a chance mind you, that even Simpson thinks it is time, time to identify the real killer of his ex-wife and Ronald Goldman, identify that killer as O.J. Simpson.  The nature of that small chance in a moment, first the details of the leak of one chapter, the chapter, from our correspondent Peter Alexander.  

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETER ALEXANDER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The crucial chapter in O.J. Simpson‘s book “If I Did It” was titled the night in question, and it was obtained by “Newsweek Magazine.”  “Newsweek” described Simpson‘s account as a seeming confession, crude and expletive laced, with Simpson suggesting his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson all but drove him to kill her.  He even describes her as the enemy. 

According to “Newsweek,” on the night of the murders, Simpson writes that he was angry with Nicole and went to her condominium with a knife, intending to scare her.  When he ran into her friend Ron Goldman, Simpson accused him of planning a sexual encounter with Nicole, screaming, you‘ve been here before. 

Simpson writes that Nicole rushed at him and fell, hitting her head on the ground.  In “Newsweek‘s” account, Simpson then dared Goldman to fight, before pulling back.  Then something went horribly wrong, he writes, and I know what happened, but I can‘t tell you exactly how. 

Simpson‘s account offers no description of the actual killings, but says he was drenched in blood and holding a bloody knife when he regained control of himself. 

(on camera):  The highly controversy book was marketed as Simpson‘s hypothetical version of the murders.  In fact, according to “Newsweek,” his story is virtually identical to the prosecution‘s account of the crime. 

(voice-over):  The only major difference, in Simpson‘s version he refers to an unwilling accomplice, a man he calls Charlie, who Simpson says repeatedly urged him to stop what he was doing.  Simpson says the book was created from a ghost writers research and isn‘t a confession, telling the Associate Press, I‘m saying it‘s a fictional creation.  It has so many factual holes in it that anybody who know anything about would know that I didn‘t write it. 

Fred Goldman, Ron‘s father, tells NBC News nobody knows better than a Simpson how Nicole and his son were killed. 

FRED GOLDMAN, FATHER OF RON GOLDMAN:  The bottom line is he is guilty, was guilty, still is guilty, and will always be guilty of murder. 

ALEXANDER:  More 12 years after the brutal murders, this latest chapter is unlikely to change many minds. 

Peter Alexander, NBC News, Los Angeles. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Swallow the bile rising in your throat for a second and consider the implications of a man writing a hypothetical confession to a ghastly crime and deciding to tell us that there was a witness.  We‘re joined now by Jack Levin, professor of criminology and sociology at Northeastern University.  Jack, thanks for some of your time tonight.

JACK LEVIN, CRIMINOLOGY PROFESSOR:  Of course, 

OLBERMANN:  We have to start with the assumption her—it does not make any sense to do this, that Simpson didn‘t simply sign his name to a contract, that his account at least stemmed from things he told a ghost writes.  If it‘s just a ghost writer‘s imagination at work here, Charlie and everything else there is utterly meaningless.  But what if Simpson really is saying, as so often has been speculated, somebody was there who saw him do it? 

What does that mean, not so much practically speaking, but psychologically, about him? 

LEVIN:  Well, you know, I really doubt whether there was a second person there at the crime scene.  I think it another way for O.J. Simpson to deflect some of the responsibility, some of the blame.  Now he can share it with someone else.  He did it by blaming his wife, Nicole.  I mean, she was abusive.  She was a bad wife.  She had a sexual liaison with others. 

He did it by saying that he blacked out at the crime scene and could not remember the details of the murders that were committed.  Again, maybe he was temporarily insane, which means he was not criminally responsible.  That is the way I see it.  I have seen people killed dozens in one fell swoop.  You know, in 1991, George Hennard killed 23 people within about five minutes at a Luby‘s cafeteria in Killeen, Texas. 

I can give you plenty of other examples.  You know, it happens.  It is rare, but when it does happen, we want to think that it must be more than one person.  And I think that O.J. Simpson is playing to that desire. 

OLBERMANN:  But if you‘re going to say, all right, you know, there was somebody else there, and to whatever degree that mitigates his guilt in it, does not also leave open the possibility that whether that person really exists or is just a different aspect of O.J. Simpson‘s personality, that some day that other aspect of O.J. Simpson‘s personality is going to confess to this? 

LEVIN:  I do not think that we will ever see a direct confession.  And, you know, whether or not that second person exists, look, this was a purely based on a profit motive.  O.J. Simpson could make hundreds of thousands, maybe millions of dollars on this book.  He had to inject a certain amount of accuracy and reality.  You know, even during the trial there were people who didn‘t know the difference between fantasy and reality.  “Days of Our Lives” was pre-empted and some people did not really notice. 

But, I mean, this case, there has to be a certain factual basis or people would not buy the book.  I am not surprised that there are certain things about what O.J. says that is consistent with what the prosecution said. 

OLBERMANN:  Does the “Newsweek‘s” characterization of the language that Simpson uses in here, from the excerpt, as invoking the classic language of a wife abuser?  Is that consistent with everything that we know?  Does that suggest he actually wrote this, rather than somebody else just imagined it for him? 

LEVIN:  Well, those kinds of facts were brought out at the trial.  It is amazing, but there are some women who are actually flattered by a possessive guy, especially during the courtship.  After marriage, that kind of possessiveness can become very dangerous.  O.J. Simpson had a terrible temper.  He may be the all-American sociopath, but he also was out of control at this crime scene and you can see that in so many different ways. 

OLBERMANN:  Criminologist Jack Levin, professor at Northeastern University, as always Jack, great thanks for your time tonight. 

LEVIN:  Thank you very much Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, we saw it with Elizabeth Smart.  Now we see it in the Missouri teenager rescued last week after four years in captivity.  Freedom was almost always just a step away, yet he could not take that step. 

Friday we revealed the two bunnies behind the subversive Internet song about boxes.  Tonight, they have sold the box.  Think outside the box with COUNTDOWN next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  After the euphoria over the recovery of the abducted Utah girl, Elizabeth Smart, four years ago, came the dropping realization that she had several opportunities to literally walk away from her captors but didn‘t or couldn‘t.  In our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, after the rescue of two abducted teens in Missouri last week, an even more unfathomable reality.  The older of them had been permitted by his kidnapper to learn how to drive, allowed to make friends in the neighborhood, even had access to the Internet.  Our correspondent Kevin Tibbles tries to begin to explain. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEVIN TIBBLES, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Fifteen-year-old Shawn Hornbeck, abducted in 2002, was free to use a cell phone and ride his bike right out in the open.  Now further evidence he was even more visible than that.  His picture was posted on numerous social networking websites. 

Just over a year ago, a writer calling himself Sean Devlin, which is the last name of the alleged abductor, posted this question on the Hornbeck family‘s website, “how long are you planing to look for your son?”  

CLINT VAN ZANDT, FORMER FBI PROFILER:  I would like to think that this was a cry for help.  I would like to think that this was his attempt to try to see if people still cared. 

NIBBLES:  And he, along with 13-year-old Ben Ownby, would not have been found were it not for one vital clue, provided to investigators. 

(on camera):  It was one week ago today that Ben Ownby got off the school bus here and simply vanished.  But one school mate still on that bus thought that he saw something strange and he told the police. 

MITCHELL HALTS, PROVIDED CRUCIAL EVIDENCE:  I seen a truck sideways in the road and it turned around real fast. 

NIBBLES (voice-over):  Fifteen-year-old Mitchell Halts described a white pickup truck.  That was the key.  Late Thursday, two suburban St.  Louis police officers noticed a pickup matching the description outside this apartment.  They even knew its owner.  He worked at the local pizza joint.

GARY WAGSTER, KIRKWOOD POLICE OFFICER:  The conversation intensified.  The questions got more specific.  You could tell that his whole demeanor had changed. 

NIBBLES:  Inside, police found not only Ben Ownby, but Shawn Hornbeck, and arrested 41-year-old Michael Devlin. 

Also today, Ownby spoke for the first time in an interview to be broadcast tomorrow morning on the “Today Show.”  He expressed his gratitude to Mitchell Halt, whose tip to police led to his freedom. 

BEN OWNBY, FORMERLY ABDUCTED CHILD:  Thank you for being such a great big help in this entire thing. 

NIBBLES:  Michael Devlin will be arraigned on kidnapping charges later in the week. 

Kevin Tibbles, NBC News, Beaufort, Missouri. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  To our nightly round of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs.  And we begin in the ever more tawdry, ever more sex scandal ridden world of Donald Trump‘s Miss USA beauty pageant.  One of the state champions is swapping her fancy state sash for one that reads, “one bun in the oven.”  Ashley Harder, Miss New Jersey, voluntarily turn in her tiara today, after revealing she is pregnant. 

Pageant rules prohibit women from competing while with child.  So, first runner up Erin Abrahamson will compete on behalf of the Garden State this march.  The latest scandal comes on the heels of the current Miss USA‘s sexy time party problem, for which Tara Conner got a trip to rehab, and Mr. Trump got a bunch of publicity. 

The Miss Nevada scandal, in which Katie Rees posed for a suggestive photo in a night club and lost her tiara.  the now deposed Miss New Jersey telling the “Philadelphia Daily News,” her child is due sometime in late summer and she plans to marry her live-in boyfriend. 

A quick update on a non-exclusive, non-story that we probably shouldn‘t have brought you on Friday night.  First we told you about “My Box in a Box,” the online parity of that Justin Timberlake SNL video, My, umm whatever, in a box.  And Friday we revealed that Bunny, the owner of the box in question, was actually two people, Melissa Lamb, whom you see here, and her off-camera lip-synching partner, Leah Kaufman. 

The collective bunny told us they wanted to know how much of the box would sell for, notice my dance along the syntax tight rope, on the open market.  The bidding ended yesterday on eBay, bringing in more than 1,500 dollars, proceeds going to a Philadelphia charity and to VH-1‘s “Save the Music,” which gives musical instruments to school kids in poor neighborhoods. 

How about Paula Abdul, not in a box, but in a daze.  She was supposed to get some pub for the latest series of the un-ending saga that is “American Idol.”  She sure did.  That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World. 

The bronze tonight to Patricia Marie Barlett (ph) of Mesa, Arizona.  It‘s not that she is charged with repeatedly trying to run over her boyfriend with her pickup truck, it‘s not that she admits she was on meth at the time, it‘s not that police claim she sent him sprawling over her hood when she connected at 20 miles an hour.  It‘s that when she did that she was on her way to school to drop off her nine-year-old son, who yes, was in the car with her when she whacked uncle Bill. 

The silver to comedian Rush Limbaugh, continuing to work off his GOP talking points, he accused Senator Barbara Boxer of hitting below the ovaries and trying to, quote, lynch Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, because Boxer said, since her own children were too old, her grandchildren too young, and that Rice had no children, neither of them would ever pay a personal price for Iraq.  I am assuming comedian was equally outraged when first lady Laura Bush said Secretary Rice would never be elected president because she was not married.  He wasn‘t, shocked.  I‘m shocked.

But the winner is the cast of Fox and Fiends, first, the morning show on Fox News Channel, running with this dribble Bill-O started about how NBC is all liberal.  The latest complaint that NBC News had the nerve to announce that it would refer to events in Iraq as a, quote, civil war.  Hey kids, if you missed it, the quote this morning was, the fundamental point is whether the civil war that exists now is going to continue, and it was said by the former Bush administration U.N. ambassador, John Bolton, the noted liberal.  The always behind the curve folks at Fox and Fiends First, today‘s worst persons in the world. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The latest news from the latest season of the you can‘t kill it, believe me, I‘ve tried, TV series “American Idol” is either another sad example of a celebrity in need of professional help or it‘s a publicity stunt?  Wait isn‘t “American Idol” itself either a sad example of celebrities in need of professional help, or a publicity stunt? 

Either way it‘s our number one story on the COUNTDOWN.  “American Idol” judge Paula Abdul fidgeting, slurring, gesticulating wildly, and nearly falling asleep, all on live TV.  No stranger to accusations of being impaired in some way, Miss Abdul appeared to confirm the rumors in a satellite interview Thursday morning with a local Seattle TV station.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  So, tell us, what are you looking forward to this season? 

PAULA ABDUL, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  How about a lot of you coming in.  It‘s a wild party where you are. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Simon Lithgow said the singers in Seattle were crazy, drinking too much coffee.  Simon Cowell said these were the worst, miserable singers he‘s ever seen.  Why do you think we‘re so bad here.  That‘s not true.

ABDUL:  You know, what?  Listen, any publicity is good publicity.  You‘ve got to learn to eat it up and embrace it and say, Seattle had the best delusional people. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No. 

ABDUL:  I‘m going to tell you something.  There are some excellent contestants that came out of Seattle as well. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Once that hit the Internets, Miss Abdul canceled her planned TV interviews on Friday.  Her publicist started damage control, saying that she had never drunk, that drugs were not involved, that there were technical problems, that Miss Abdul was exhausted, and that that particular interview was towards the end of a two hour long media junket via satellite. 

Of course, that argument seemed to lose all its weight once other interviews from that morning surfaced.  Here is Miss Abdul on “Good Morning L.A.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We remember back when you were going to do this goofy show—and I know I‘ve asked you this question every year, but can you imagine how this thing turned out? 

ABDUL:  Yes.  I‘m going to say everything different than anyone else.  Yes, I can, and, you know, I predicted it.  I predicted the biggest show in the history of television.  (INAUDIBLE)  I predicted that we were going to have so many stars that come out of this show. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Later in the same morning, when asked about co-host Simon Cowell on KTV-UTV, she acted so strangely that the anchor felt compelled to ask her about her behavior. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You guys seem to have a love-hate relationship. 

And I think you described him once as like a lover. 

ABDUL:  I have never said lover, brother.  Brother, not lover. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Maybe I read it wrong, maybe it was brother. 

(CROSS TALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You have had some problems in the past where there was a point there—you know, there were reports that you were going to be kicked off the show.  You say Simon Cowell really came to your defense. 

ABDUL:  Yes, but nobody from Fox—or no one was going to kick me off the show.  Those are people wanting it.  For me, it was like oh, I finally have edge, yes.  You know, but Simon does not have anyone who can play in his sand box as well as I can. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you always wiggle around that much?  You‘re

just wiggling around there in New York City

ABDUL:  What?  I‘m a dancer.  I‘m doing my little dance moves. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, all right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Joining us now COUNTDOWN‘s own “American Idol” princess, the mid day host at New York‘s classic rock station Q 104.3, Maria Milito. 

MARIA MILITO, Q 104.3:  Hi Keith.  Thank you.   

OLBERMANN:  Good to see you.

MILITO:  Good to be back, thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, here we go again.  Was she high on life or something else or did Fox send her Dr. Feel Good just to generate that kind of publicity or what? 

MILITO:  First I thought it was a publicity stunt.  But then I was watching all the different videos; she definitely was under the influence of something, happy pills, happiness, the show‘s coming back.  Something was definitely up with her. 

OLBERMANN:  But even if their explanation was legit, she was exhausted, surely she‘s done enough television by now to know not to swivel around in your chair, that that just makes you look crazy, doesn‘t it? 

MILITO:  Yes, and she did look crazy.   I don‘t know about you, but when I‘m exhausted, I fall asleep.  My eyes close.  They don‘t roll back in my head like hers did.  She was all over the place.  Her mouth was all crooked and weird.  Something was definitely going on.  I don‘t know.

OLBERMANN:  The Fox publicist here, or her publicist—we‘re not sure which—says she was alone in an interview room, just a microphone and a camera.  That‘s possible.  I don‘t about you, but I don‘t exactly have this cast of thousands in here.  But hasn‘t every celebrity you‘ve ever interviewed, even the ones who do these satellite tours, come with at least one press flack, or star wrangler, just to prevent stuff like that from happening. 

MILITO:  Absolutely, and she definitely was talking to somebody, because there was one interview, her whole head was turned during one and she wasn‘t even looking at the camera anymore.  So there had to be somebody in the room with her, and Fox said it was technical difficulties, and she was making a joke of it and everyone didn‘t get the joke. 

OLBERMANN:  Right, they had one explanation of this, that she was getting—she was doing multiple interviews at the same time.  Now, if she was doing multiple interviews at the same time and this was the result, she ought to be doing the evening news.  This is the best broadcasting performance I‘ve ever seen, right?   

MILITO:  Yes, I think so, yes.  You know, all the different spin doctoring of it, the bottom line is publicity—she even said, right, publicity is publicity.  So, we‘re all talking about it today and the show premiers tomorrow. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, but if she‘s in that shape tomorrow, you know, on Wednesday does she then follow the paths of other celebrities who‘ve had exhaustion?  Does she go to exhaustion rehab?

MILITO:  Well, you know, the next few weeks of “Idol” are going to be all the different additions.  So, technically, she can go to rehab and be back for when the show actually starts.

OLBERMANN:  If she‘s not, are you ready to take her seat at the judging table?  Are you ready to fill in for her? 

MILITO:  Oh, I‘d love to fill in for her.  Because I‘m the princess, so I should, right? 

OLBERMANN:  Um, the—Do we know—since you‘re the expert on this, maybe you know, because I sure as heck wouldn‘t, do the other judges do these tours, Randy Jackson and Simon Happy Face?  Do they also appear on satellite feeds around the country or is just Paula that gets stuck with this stuff? 

MILITO:  Well, I see them on shows.  I‘ve seen them on the “Tonight Show.”  But they‘re very straight guys.  She‘s the one who‘s the loose wire.  So, you know, Fox knows what it‘s doing when it puts her out there.  Because there‘s always publicity about her.  You know that.  With the show, with what she does, how she acts, even during the show, during “Idol” she gets up and she dances all the time and she‘s all crazy and she clasps like a seal.  I mean, she‘s crazy.

OLBERMANN:  Rather than getting angry about these difficulties, Fox said, or stopping the tour, Paula forged ahead and decided to have fun with the increasingly challenging situation.  Unfortunately because reporters and viewers were unaware of the situation, her humor was misconstrued. 

Don‘t you wish you had somebody who could issue a statement on your behalf like that after a bad show?  

MILITO:  Absolutely, yes, I wish I had that sense of humor too, that she has. 

OLBERMANN:  We can‘t see you swiveling in the chair while you‘re on the radio. 

MILITO:  Yes, I know, that‘s true.  No one can see me dancing in my seat. 

OLBERMANN:  Maria Milito of New York‘s Q 104.3, our resident “American Idol” expert, rested and ready to pinch hit for judge Paula when she swivels too fast in her chair and finally launches herself to the planet Neptune.  As always, Maria, great thanks my friend. 

MILITO:  Thank you very much. 

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll be talking again.  God, this again.  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,353rd day since the declaration of Mission Accomplished in Iraq.  From New York, 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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