updated 1/26/2007 11:12:23 AM ET 2007-01-26T16:12:23

Guests: Thomas DeFrank, Jonathan Alter, Chris Cilizza, Maria Milito

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

Yesterday, it was the Foreign Relations Committee calling the president‘s relations with Iraq foreign.  Today, it was Armed Services up in arms, with Senator McCain servicing the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CARL LEVIN (D), CHAIR, ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE:  Benchmarks which have not been complained with in the past by the Iraqis, commitments they‘ve made and have failed to keep.  Everyone agrees that they ought to (INAUDIBLE)...

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  If you want to look back, that‘s fine, Mr. Chairman.  But the fact is, I‘m trying to look forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Now, that reminds of somebody testifying before the House. 

But who?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m not here to talk about the past.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Nothing but the past, and why the defendant can‘t remember any of it, at day three of the Scooter Libby trial, Libby‘s team saying you shouldn‘t trust a prosecution witness, the one from the CIA, the one Libby and Vice President Cheney used to trust for all their daily intelligence briefings, in other words, they trusted him about war intel, but nobody should trust him to tell the truth.

Is Mr. Cheney now a liability to the president?  Are the Democrats now happier he‘s vice president than the Republicans are?

Who would the Republicans be happier to face in ‘08?  Polling by “TIME” magazine, 94 percent of us already think we know a lot about Senator Clinton.

A murder charge, seemingly straight out of an Agatha Christie novel.  The first skydiver discovers her boyfriend is having an affair with a second skydiver.  So the first skydiver sabotages the second skydiver‘s parachute, and the second skydiver falls 13,000 feet to her death.

Speaking of quick plummets, now they‘re accusing the “American Idol” judges of being too nice to the talent challenged.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Gloria, you‘re always on the run now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  What?  You had to have security escort him out?  The fact of Paula Abdul is not enough to get him to scram?

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening from New York.

Just when the president thought he knew the approximate size of the gigantic opposition to escalation in Iraq rising up out of Congress like the Loch Ness monster, it turns out the opposition has a twin.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the very same people voting almost daily against the plans to throw away more American lives in Iraq are now hoping to stop Mr. Bush throwing away more American taxpayer money there too, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today holding hearings on funding reconstruction of and in Iraq, members of both parties wearing of giving more money to that reconstruction, considering how botched and boondogglish the effort has been so far.

As committee chair Joe Biden pointed out, the State Department has spent close to $15 billion on rebuilding Iraq, and, quote, “The results aren‘t pretty,” the ranking Republican member, Senator Richard Lugar, adding that he wants more accountability from the administration about how the money‘s being spent.

Today the cudgels about the troops, meanwhile, were picked up by the Armed Services Committee.  General John Keane, the former vice chief of staff of the Army, told members he was not only defeating that—not only defeating the insurgency was never a U.S. military objective, but that the plan was to leave that up to the Iraqis.  He added that the previous two troop surges into Baghdad failed because the U.S. relied too much on Iraqi troops, who were not ready to complete that mission, and admission that prompted the former chairman of the committee, Republican Senator John Warner of Virginia, to remark that Congress has been misled by the military about the proficiency of Iraqi forces in the past.

And as far as what the Iraqis have now agreed to do in order to allow U.S. troops to get out of their country, that sparked testy words between chairman Senator Levin and ranking member Senator McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEVIN:  We surely want to see the benchmarks the Iraqis have allegedly agreed to.  Senator McCain, perhaps you and I could send a letter today to the secretary of state, expecting those benchmarks to be delivered this week.  We‘ll try again.  We‘ve been trying it very hard (INAUDIBLE)...

MCCAIN:  Well, as importantly, if we‘re going to exercise our oversight responsibilities, Mr. Chairman, we ought to have benchmarks.  Maybe we could use some of those, maybe not.

LEVIN:  Well, I think the first step would be to get the benchmarks the Iraqis have allegedly agreed to before—I have no problem in trying to work out benchmarks.  In fact, both resolutions, both resolutions talk about benchmarks which are needed, benchmarks which have not been complied with in the past by the Iraqis, commitments they‘ve made and have failed to keep.  Everyone agrees that they ought to go out (INAUDIBLE) --

MCCAIN:  Well, if you want to look back, that‘s fine, Mr. Chairman.  But the fact is, I‘m trying to look forward.  I‘m trying to stop from sending the wrong message to the men and women who are going to be at risk, some of whom are going to die, that we disapprove of their mission, but at the same time, exercise the oversight responsibilities and the expectations that we as a Congress have, and that the American people have, so they can have some comfort in what is going to happen, that we are exercising our legitimate responsibilities.

Now, if your focus is on digging up what the old benchmarks are, fine.  But I‘d like to work with you on trying to set some parameters and benchmarks that can be passed by this Congress, so that we could give the American people some confidence.  And I thank you, Mr. Chairman, for...

LEVIN:  We are not just focusing on old benchmarks.  The president of the United States, a few days ago, said that the Iraqis are going to be held to the benchmarks they‘ve agreed to.  We want to know, as a starting point, what have the Iraqis agreed to?  And you‘ve agreed that you would join with me in terms of the message.

MCCAIN:  Yes, sir.

LEVIN:  We‘re going to argue over what the right message is, but I would think our troops and their families want us to use our best efforts to try to have a successful end to this matter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  I‘m joined now by “Newsweek” magazine‘s senior editor, Jonathan Alter, also back from Washington.

Thanks for your time tonight, Jon.

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

OLBERMANN:  Senator McCain obviously has the president‘s back there, trying to preempt Mr. Levin‘s attempt to get info on the old deals with the Iraq government and the State Department.  But is McCain almost on his own now?  Is nearly every other Republican running for high ground about Iraq?

ALTER:  Not really.  Actually, the leadership in the Senate on the Republican side, minority leader McConnell and Trent Lott, his deputy, and quite a number of other Republicans who are not on that committee are hanging in there with the White House.  So this thing is not a slam dunk, but it does seem like the votes are there for John Warner‘s nonbinding resolution.

He‘s a very, very eminent Republican senator, and he‘s going to bring a bunch of them over with him.  So they will get some kind of resolution when they debate this on the floor next week.

OLBERMANN:  To that point, about the Warner thing, antiwar light, Sam Brownback of Kansas and a Republican presidential candidate says he can support that relative to at least the Warner thing.  Is that the final part of the dam bursting?  I mean, after Brownback, the deluge?

ALTER:  Yes, but remember, the deluge is nonbinding.  So this is a sense of the Senate resolution that expresses disapproval of the president‘s surge policy, but it doesn‘t, you know, cut the purse strings or otherwise, in fact, change the policy.

Where that might be starting is on this money for reconstruction, you know, where today, the Foreign Relations Committee made it pretty clear that they‘re not going to be, you know, building a lot of projects in Iraq when there‘s no security there.

One of the things that interested me was the dollar amount, $15 billion, that we‘ve been spending in Iraq on construction projects.  I saw a friend the other day from the American Society of Civil Engineers.  He said that is precisely the same number, $15 billion, that it would cost to fix our infrastructure in the United States.

You know, so I think a lot of people are wondering, Why are we over there, trying to rebuild that country, when it‘s not even safe to walk down the street?

OLBERMANN:  Did the White House anticipate the Democratic reaction to that reconstruction, or was that a big surprise to them, that they were not going to be given a carte blanche in areas that had nothing to do with the troops?

ALTER:  I think they recognize that carte blanche is in John McCain‘s past tense, that the administration is going to get hit across the board.  John—Jay Rockefeller, the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, blasted Cheney for having interfered with the Intelligence Committee‘s report on how they adopted misleading intelligence in the run-up to the war.

So the second part of that key report, which was squelched by the administration, you‘re going to see that coming out too in the weeks to come, Keith, so you‘re going to see another huge front in this assault on the administration‘s policy open up.

OLBERMANN:  But if five Democrats voted against Senator Dodd‘s troop cap resolution in the Foreign Relations Committee, is the full shape of the revolt now clear?  You the reconstruction budget, you attack the intelligence, you express anger about the troops, and maybe actually stop the surge, but that‘s as far as it would possibly go?

ALTER:  No, I think it could go further.  Hillary Clinton has an interesting proposal that would not cut off funding for the troops, but cut off some of the funding for what, you know, so far has been quite a Mickey Mouse government.  You have members of parliament who fled the country.  You know, so why should we be subsidizing some of their government operations?

And so if you do that, you could use the purse strings in some other ways that didn‘t relate directly to our troops.

OLBERMANN:  Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek” and MSNBC.  Great thanks, as always, sir.

ALTER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Meantime, the most metaphorical political trial of the decade continues in D.C., and continued to seem less and less about the defendant.  It may be Lewis “Scooter” Libby on trial for perjury, but again today, it was Vice President Cheney whose credibility came under fire from witnesses, in particular, Cathie Martin, who used to work for Mr. Cheney and is now a deputy assistant to the president.

Ms. Martin today testified that in June 2003, Mr. Cheney was deeply involved in finding out the details of Joe Wilson‘s trip to Niger to investigate whether Iraq had tried to buy uranium there, and then in spinning those details to the media, this despite the fact that months later, in mid-September, the vice president was telling the American public he had virtually no knowledge about Wilson at all.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS,” September 14, 2003)

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Joe Wilson, I don‘t know who sent Joe Wilson, he never submitted a report that I ever saw when he came back.  I guess, (INAUDIBLE) I don‘t know Mr. Wilson.  I probably shouldn‘t judge him.  I have no idea who hired him, and it never (INAUDIBLE)...

TIM RUSSERT, MODERATOR:  The CIA did.

CHENEY:  Then who in the CIA, I don‘t know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Almost as an afterthought, Mr. Libby‘s credibility and integrity also called into question today, as Ms. Martin testified about a White House meeting in which Libby merely looked down, while she took the fall for something he had actually done.

Covering the trial for us again, David Shuster.

David, good evening.

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, good evening to you.

Cathie Martin testified today that she learned from the CIA about Joe Wilson and about Valerie Wilson in June of 2003, and in dramatic testimony, she described to the jury how she immediately went to the office of the vice president and told this to the vice president and Scooter Libby.  This is crucial, because prosecutors have been arguing that Scooter Libby lied when he testified in the CIA leak investigation that he only learned about Valerie Wilson later from reporters.

Martin also testified today that the vice president wanted Scooter Libby himself to handle the media, to handle dealing with the media as far as the criticism that resulted from Joe Wilson, and yet, when one story that Scooter Libby had been involved in prompted the national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, to publicly criticize Cathie Martin in a staff meeting, Scooter Libby, according to Martin‘s testimony, sat there quietly looking at his shoes as Hadley made his point during the staff meeting, and then pulled Martin aside and yelled at her privately.

There was also testimony today that Vice President Cheney wrote out some talking points for the White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer, and that Cathie Martin was uncomfortable with one of these talking points, because the vice president had included information that she thought was classified.

All this underscores the depths to which Vice President Cheney was personally involved and essentially the strategy to undermine Joe Wilson.  But the headline today was that, for the first time, the jury has now heard a member of the vice president‘s inner circle contradicting the statements that Scooter Libby gave, statements that prompted prosecutors to indict Mr.  Libby, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And also, Ms. Martin testified today that the vice president seemed almost obsessed with the media coverage about this, even having each night‘s edition of the program you principally report for, “HARDBALL,” transcribed.  The Libby defense was that (INAUDIBLE), the whole issue was too trivial for him to remember the truth when he spoke to investigators.  This was all inadvertent.  Did that defense survive the testimony today?

SHUSTER:  No, it didn‘t, because what‘s happening now is, by the prosecution being able to introduce testimony about “HARDBALL,” for example, it shows that the vice president‘s office was almost obsessed with any sort of analysis or further look at Joe Wilson‘s criticisms of the reasons for war.

And it sets up the idea that the vice president and Scooter r Libby embarked on a very aggressive campaign to undermine Joe Wilson, and, of course, were involved in actions that later led to the outing of Wilson‘s wife, Valerie Plame.  And, of course, during the uproar over that outing, that‘s what sparked the criminal investigation where Scooter Libby is accused of lying.

Now, the defense is in the very difficult position of suggesting, no, Scooter Libby was telling the truth.  And it‘s all these government witnesses who talk about the times that they heard Scooter Libby talking about Valerie Wilson, that these government witnesses are wrong.

And there was a perfect example of the uphill struggle for Scooter Libby today, when a CIA briefer who provided testimony and evidence in this case that Scooter Libby had mentioned Valerie Wilson well before his conversations with reporters, that prompted the defense attorney for Scooter Libby to say, Look, Judge, I want to go after the credibility of this guy.  I want the jury not to believe him, even though this was the same person that the vice president and Scooter Libby trusted as far as presenting summaries of the nation‘s most sensitive intelligence matters for over a year.

OLBERMANN:  So Libby and (INAUDIBLE), yes, Libby and Cheney could believe him for international intelligence, but the jury should not believe his honesty now.  Extraordinary.

MSNBC‘s David Shuster, doing great work at the Scooter Libby trial. 

Great thanks.

SHUSTER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  If the trial looks to be just as much about the vice president as about the Scooter, is there a point at which Mr. Cheney can be convicted in a court of public opinion?  And could the administration want him out?

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, with a name recognition problem, not too little but maybe too much, 94 percent of the country thinks it knows her already.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Piece by piece, testimony at the Scooter Libby trial is dismantling the already tattered reputation of the nation‘s vice president, portraying him as consumed with retaliating against a serious, credible critic of his attempts to sell the war.

Well, actually that‘s kind of always been his reputation, hasn‘t it?

But in our number four story tonight, the circle of Dick Cheney‘s critics seems to be widening.  On Sunday, Senator Joe Biden used decidedly unsenatorial language to articulate a view widely held among the Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE:  Every single person out there that is of any consequence thinks, knows the vice president doesn‘t know what he‘s talking about.  I can‘t be more blunt than that.  He has yet to be right one single time on Iraq.  Name me one single time he‘s been correct.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But when these sentiments were echoed by a friend, a Republican quoting your conservative base, you know you‘re in trouble.  Sure enough, here‘s what Senator John McCain said this week.  Quoting, “The president listened too much to the vice president.  The president bears the ultimately responsibility, but he was very badly served by the vice president.”

Tom DeFrank is not only Washington bureau chief for “The New York Daily News,” but he‘s chronicled the vice president for quite a good time.

Tom, thanks, as always, for your time tonight.

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

Glad to be here, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Between the war, the Libby trial, the GOP critics, even the ‘08 election, if we were to stipulate that Mr. Cheney‘s departure for any reason might help the Bush presidency, would either man ever broach the idea?  And if not, why not?

DEFRANK:  Well, I think that‘s a nonstarter.  I mean, the vice president, for openers, is a constitutionally elected officer of the country, and the only way that would happen, and I think it‘s totally far-fetched, is if the vice president were charged or accused of a crime.  And nobody‘s accused him of that.

I think the vice president—this is not the best week for him, but the notion that Bush would ask him to step aside, or the vice president would step aside, is just really totally far-fetched.

OLBERMANN:  But if you put it purely politically, the Democrats would never want him out, obviously.  They prefer him in there as a fairly slow-moving target at this point.  But would not some part of the Republican Party say, Hey, this would be a chance to appoint the 2008 nominee?

DEFRANK:  Well, I don‘t think the president is interested in that either.  I mean, if the vice president stepped down for any reason, there is that theory out there.  But at one point the theory was, Oh, he should nominate his brother Jeb to take the job.  But I think that‘s just all ridiculous.  It‘s just not going to happen.

OLBERMANN:  You wrote back, though, in late of ‘05 that Mr. Cheney‘s relationship with Mr. Bush had been deteriorating, and another friend of this program, Craig Crawford, reported today that Jim Baker not only led the Iraq Study Group, he was also leading kind of a private attempt to wrench the president away from Mr. Cheney‘s influence and ideology, and ultimately failing in that, as judged by what the president is trying to do in Iraq now, in light of the Baker commission.

What is Mr. Cheney‘s current status in the administration?  Is he still calling as many shots as he used to, or just not as many?  Where is he now?

DEFRANK:  No, he‘s still calling a few shots, but he is not the president.  And there was a time when he probably was a co-president in the first year of this administration.  That was a long time ago.  The vice president still has influence.  He does not have the influence that he used to have.  But I still believe he is the—especially insofar as policy formulation is concerned.  But he is still the president‘s chief consigliere, his chief troubleshooter, and his chief liaison guy to Capitol Hill.

Now, that‘s more of a problem than it used to be, of course.  So the

notion that he is insubstantial is just not right, Keith.  But I do

believe, and I did write in November of 2005, that there was some distance

in the relationship, largely over Iraq, and I think that distance still is

still remains.

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Cheney‘s reaction during the interview with Wolf Blitzer yesterday was described in many quarters as a blowup.  Actually, it was the—it was seemingly literally the opposite, he shut down.  He stopped talking at one point, he basically iced Wolf Blitzer into almost submission.  You had an observation about this (INAUDIBLE), this exchange.  I‘d love it if you‘d share it with the audience.

DEFRANK:  Well, you know, one of the things that—there‘s this parlor game, Keith, among people who‘ve known the vice president for a long time.  Has he changed, hasn‘t he changed?  And if he is changed, why has he changed, and how much has he changed?

And I go back and forth on what I really think about that.  But there‘s one thing that I know about the vice president from personal experience, and that is, over the last three or four years, he‘s become much more concerned about his personal privacy, his privacy, Lynn‘s (INAUDIBLE), Lynn‘s privacy, and the kids‘ privacy.  And I think that question about his daughter really struck at the core of his irritation over privacy, and he really did a slow burn the whole interview.

OLBERMANN:  He sure did.  Thomas DeFrank, the Washington bureau chief of “The New York Daily News.”  Tom, great thanks for your time tonight.

DEFRANK:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, yes, it‘s all fun and games until someone loses a head.  You think this is strange, we also have an iguana with priapism tonight.

And that‘s not the technical term for the deluded who parade onto “American Idol,” but pretty close, isn‘t it?  As the contestants get weirder, why have the judges seemed to have gotten nicer?

That and more, ahead tonight on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We are happy to report that today is the 88th birthday of one of the stalwarts of television news.  Edwin Newman retired from NBC in 1984, after having done everything from coverage of the Kennedy assassination to moderating two presidential debates, to hosting “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE.”  And anytime you hear an NBC News person use grammar correctly, it‘s partially out of fear that Mr. Newman, who once headed the usage panel of the America Heritage—American Heritage Dictionary, would feel physical pain if he or she did not.

That was OK?

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in Puerto Limon (ph), Costa Rica, where a man and his pet thousand-pound crocodile frolic about in a local pond in front of a few dozen spectators.  This is no alligator wrestling show.  Gilberto Graham (ph) and his bloodthirsty best friend really do have strong feelings for one another.  Graham says he found the 15-foot crocodile wounded with a bullet five years ago.  A farmer had shot the beast to stop it from eating his cows.

It was eating cows.

Mr. Graham says he nursed it back to good health, and the two now perform their little dance twice daily.  Tune in for the big grand finale next week, when the crocodile eats Mr. Graham.

This is a completely unrelated story.  Here, we have an iguana with a problem.  It‘s tough to explain, but let‘s just say his little claw fingers are unable to dial that 800 number at the end of the Viagra commercials.  You know, if it lasts for more than four hours --  OK, you got it.  It‘s actually been almost a week since Mozart here was jilted in the act of making love by his special iguana lady friend.  And the little lizard is still—you know.

They‘ve tried everything to help relieve the poor guy, including thinking about baseball—Slide, slide! -- but nothing has worked.  Doctors say they will have to amputate.  We are reminded, however, that all is not lost, for male iguanas are actually blessed with two sexual organs.  So what the hell‘s the big deal, then?

There are once again no segues here.  The long, hard road ahead in ‘08.  Hillary Clinton leads the pack among the Democrats, but she‘s also already the candidate the people know the most about.  Can she change the minds of those who don‘t like what they know?

And could this be right?  Barack Obama trails her significantly among African-American voters?

And a skydiving accident police say is actually murder.  One man, two women, one sabotaged parachute at 13,000 feet.

Details ahead.

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

Number three, the University of North Carolina, the latest institution of higher learning that proves not everybody there knows how to use e-mail.  Twenty-seven hundred applicants were informed by the university this week that they had been accepted.  No, they were supposed to get the e-mail that said, You‘re on the waiting list.

Number two, Ken Jacobson, Washington State senator, representing Seattle.  He wants to establish dog friendly bars there.  I was sitting at the fish bowl bar, he said, looking at all the dogs outside sitting in the cold and the rain, while all the owners were warm inside.  Why can‘t we have them in the bars?  Well, have you thought about the food safety issues or just the idea that a lot of people are allergic to dogs? 

And number one, Jennifer Gordon of Chicago and this other gal, purportedly from L.A.  Jennifer is on the right.  Both started online bids, in hope of getting to see their beloved Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl.  Jennifer, on the right, is eight months pregnant.  For a ticket she is willing to put your ad on her baby filled belly. 

As to the other woman, on the left, her auction to serve as your Super Bowl date has been removed by e-Bay, possibly out of the fear that, thanks to the winning, she could end up just like Jennifer Gordon, on the right. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Yes, it‘s still 649 days until the 2008 election.  Yes, the field of candidates is not even set.  And yes, as British Prime Minister Harold Wilson pointed out, even a week is a long time in politics, and he said that five decades ago. 

In our third story on the COUNTDOWN, that has not stopped the politicians, the pollsters and the political attack dogs from spinning the presidential vote, especially when it comes to one candidate‘s relative electability. 

A new “Time Magazine” poll putting Hillary Clinton in lead for Democrats, but not necessarily winning the election, if it were held today.  According to that poll, were the primaries to held right now, Senator Clinton would win decisively, 40 percent, to Senator Barack Obama‘s 21 percent, with Senator John Edwards coming in third with 11.  But in a presidential match up, Rudy Giuliani gets the most, 56 percent, Senator Clinton 51, and Senator McCain and Barack Obama with 50 percent each. 

I know that adds up to a lot more than that.  A hypothetical outcome that might be explained by the polls other questions.  When asked how much people knew about a candidate, Senator Clinton topped the bill, 94 percent saying they know at least something about her, compared to 73 percent for Rudy Giuliani, 66 for McCain, 61 for Edwards, only 51 for Obama. 

Then when asked whether they had a favorable impression of a candidate, Rudy Giuliani with a whopping 82 percent, followed by Obama at 70, McCain and Edwards at 62 percent and Clinton with only 58 percent favorability.  A lot of numbers there and let‘s sort it out with Chris Cilizza, the political reporter for WashingtonPost.com. 

Thanks again for your time tonight Chris.

CHRIS CILIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM:  When the senator appeared on this news hour, she said she wanted to reach out to voters, because so many people seem to have the incorrect impression of her.  Did it validate that she‘s got the right angle here and how hard is it to change people‘s opinions when 94 percent already seem to have one? 

CILIZZA:  Well let me throw one more number on top of that huge amount of data you ran through: 26 percent of people in that poll said that they would like to have dinner with Senator Clinton.  That‘s the highest number out of anybody they asked.  Only 17 or 18 percent said they wanted to have dinner with Barack Obama.

You could dismiss that, but I wouldn‘t when it comes to presidential politics, because, remember, this is the most personal vote that people make.  When you vote for the House or the Senate, even for governor, you may not really know these people.  When you vote for president, you feel like you have a relationship with them.  You feel as though, OK, this is someone I‘m going to welcome into my house for the next four years. 

So that dinner question, I actually thought was somewhat telling.  It said that yes, Senator Clinton is known by almost everyone.  Most people have an opinion about her, but there is room for growth, that not everyone sees her as either all good or bad, but people maybe want to have her over for dinner for a conversation.  And that I think it helps her out in the long run. 

OLBERMANN:  As to Obama, known by half, roughly, liked, positively impressed upon seven out of ten, does that translate to seven out of ten when it gets to be closer to 100 percent, or are there some bumps along the way.  Is his ceiling much higher than anybody else‘s? 

CILIZZA:  I think there are bumps along the way.  I think the answer is both.  I am here in Washington, so let me give you an answer out of both sides of my mouth.  I think the answer is both.  I think as he gets better known, he will improve in the polls and we‘ll see that margin between him and Senator Clinton shrink.  I also think as he gets better know, we‘ll see his unfavorable rating rise. 

Remember, in a lot of ways Senator Obama is everything to everyone at the moment.  He‘s that vessel that you pour everything into.  You‘ve been waiting for a candidate like him since John Kennedy.  He‘s that guy.  Well, as he goes out on the campaign trail, as he takes positions on issues that you may disagree with, parts of that support peel away and parts build up.  So I think he‘s going to improve.  I think he‘s going to get closer as his name ID gets higher, but it‘s not going to be a curve just simply upward either. 

OLBERMANN:  A much more intelligible number coming from a survey from your own organization.  The post asked African-American voters who they would pick between Senator Obama and Senator Clinton, even bearing in mind that there is a 9 percent margin of error, clearly the balance here, I mean, it‘s overwhelmingly for Senator Clinton.  Is that all recognition or is there more in play that would hold as recognition evens out? 

CILIZZA:  Right, the number was 60 to 20.  I was struck by it.  I think a lot of people were.  Some of it is absolutely name recognition.  It goes white, black, pink, whatever it is, if you don‘t know the candidate, you‘re unlikely to support the candidate.  Again Barack Obama‘s numbers will increase there . 

But one thing with senator Clinton, I think that‘s important to remember, her husband is an iconic figure in the black community.  Tony Morrison, the African-American novelist, famously referred to him as America‘s first black president.  Senator Clinton is benefiting from some of that residual good will.  When Barack Obama gets better known, he‘s going to do better among the black community, but it‘s not going to be 95 percent of the black community is going to vote en masse for Barack Obama. 

OLBERMANN:  He clearly thinks his support would grow as people get to know him.  Clinton clearly thinks her disapproval would shrink as people got to know her, but should not Rudy Giuliani ask if they could move the election up to next week, 82 percent favorable.  How much room is there for him to drop when McCain and other Republicans, and the mayor‘s ex-wives start hammering him in public? 

CILLIZZA:  There‘s a lot of room for him drop.  I mean, when you‘re at 82, there is a long way to fall.  I think most people in the country see Rudy Giuliani as the figure of September 11th, the lasting image of that terrorist attack, the strong figure, the person who led us out of it.  As people get to know him more, especially Republicans, especially conservative Republicans, they‘re going to worry about some of his social views.  He‘s pro choice.  He‘s pro gay rights.  That‘s not going to sit well with them.  I think we‘re going to see those numbers drop.

OLBERMANN:  He is, as they say in the world of political correctness, heavily nuanced.  Chris Cilizza of WashingtonPost.com, great thanks for your time Chris. 

CILIZZA:  Thank you Keith.

OLBERMANN:  This was no sky diving accident.  A woman murdered, police say, by a romantic rival, using a sabotaged parachute.  If this sounds like a 90s movie Nicole Kidman might have been in.  There‘s enough problems with her current flick.  A driving scene sends her to the hospital.  We‘ll show you what happened next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The love triangles of fiction are always dramatic and often deadly.  In real life they tend to be mundane and cheesy, and if somebody really gets hurt, the only doctor usually called is a psychotherapist. 

But in our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, a love triangle tragedy from Europe that might have been too Hollywood even for Alfred Hitchcock or any of the Law and Order franchises.  The triangle, unfortunately, as Keith Miller reports, three sky driver‘s, only two working parachutes. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH MILLER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It happened at 13,000 feet, a routine sky diving jump turned to tragedy, as a 37-year-old mother of two fell to her death.  At first, authorities thought it was suicide.  Jump masters said main parachute failure was rare, but for both chutes to fail was virtually unheard of.  A head mounted video camera recorded her free fall to death. 

It was this video evidence that tipped off police that this was murder. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We can see on the video that Miss Als Vandooran (ph) was panicking very much when it appeared to her that her parachute would not open while going down.  And that makes us conclude that she was not intending to commit suicide. 

MILLER:  What police learned shocked them.  Among the group holding hands during the jump was the girlfriend, the mistress, and their lover.  The parachute cords on Als Vandooran‘s chute and the emergency back-up had been cut.  Now, the 22-year-old girlfriend, Els Clautomans (ph), is in police custody.   

A spokesman for the prosecutor‘s office said the arrest was made only after connecting the sabotage to a motive, jealous rage.  Belgian police say a man identified only as Marcel was having a relationship with both women, a love triangle that police believe led the younger woman to commit murder. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  To our nightly round-up of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping tabs.  And Nicole Kidman has been in a car accident and at the time there were zombies riding on her roof.  Seen here in paparazzi footage, Miss Kidman was being dragged in a Jaguar by a camera rig on the set of her upcoming movie “The Invasion.”  The rig took one of those slippery movie corners a little too hard and that was not in the script.  The Jaguar went right into a lamp post.  Miss Kidman and a young boy, believed to be a stunt person, were taken to the hospital. 

Also hospital bound, the camera crew and the men pretending to be the zombies on the roof of the car.  Everyone checked out fine, unless you count the zombies, who‘s conditions remain undead. 

Speaking of undead, there is the career of actor Isaiah Washington.  First he did call his “Grey‘s Anatomy” cast mate a derogatory term for homosexuals.  The he claimed he‘d never used that F-word.  Then he apologized for using that F-word.  Tonight he‘s in therapy. 

With the support of my family and friends, he writes, I have begun counsel, Washington says in a statement.  I regard this as a necessary step toward understanding why I did what I did and making sure it never happens again. 

No word if he is in a sleep away program or if it‘s just out-patient, but that actor did skip the show‘s taping Tuesday to meet with gay rights activists. 

And more shocking news from the world of beauty pageants.  Miss U.S.A.

Tara Conner‘s first post-rehab interview will be on “The Today Show.”  February 1st the big day for the now clean and sober American princess, to be followed by an appearance on “The Tonight Show” the next day. 

TMZ.com reporting that Today beat out Oprah Winfrey for the prized booking, shame too.  She has a tough time getting people on that show.  According to pageant sources, Miss Conner chose Today because the interview would be all about her and on Oprah she would have to have shared the couch with Mr. Trump and his hair. 

Is rehab offered for “American Idol” addicts?  This week the judges are less mean, but the contestants seem much more weird.  Change, of course, or just another clever publicity stunt from the show.  We‘re joined by our own “American Idol” princess Maria Milito up next.

First time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest of nominees for Worst Person in the World.

The bronze to Chicago‘s Spanish language radio station, La Ley, 107.9 FM.  It gave away a car to a listener, a Corvette, but only when 22-year-old Marabelle Nava Alvarez (ph) tried to claim it did the station tell her she had to present a green card or something.  She does not have one.  She‘s not here legally, although she‘s been here since she was a kid.  Now you can debate that.  Both sides have legit arguments. 

But when she threatened a lawsuit and publicity, they threatened to tell the immigration about her.  Nice touch, get your own listeners deported. 

The runner up, speaking of bad radio, Melanie Morgan of the irrational right in KSFO in San Francisco, back on there repeating the story the “Washington Times” made up about Senator Obama going to a Muslim training school, and attributing the smear not just to Senator Clinton, which also is a smear, but now to Senator Edwards as well.  Three, three, three smears in one.  For the damage she inflicts on her easily led listener, Melanie Morgan might as well work for al Qaeda. 

But our winner comedian Rush Limbaugh, he read a made-up quote from Obama, supposedly responding to an endorsement from actress Halle Barry.  He later admitted it was made-up, but fatso still said, as an Half-African-American, I am honored to have Miss Barry‘s support, as well as the support of other Half-African-Americans.  Not the first time Limbaugh has used the Half-African insult.  Listen Rush, cut to the chase here.  You want to call Senator Obama a mulatto or an octaroon (ph), or something.  Go for it.  Hell, you want to call him the N word.  It‘s in your heart.  Go ahead, come out from under your hood and just say it. 

Comedian Rush Limbaugh, today‘s Worst Person in the World.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If a security guard had to escort an “American Idol” contestant out of an audition this week, you can‘t help but wonder why did he stop with just the one?  But in our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, the judges were comparatively mild this week, even though many of the wannabes seemed to deserve more of the snideness that Simon Cowell and company dished out last week.  Not that we‘re keeping track of this nonsense, mind you. 

The man who was virtually booted has previously worked as a telephone psychic.  What, he didn‘t know this was coming then?  There is a minor controversy over why Simon Cowell was missing for some of the auditions.  The clear implication he was hung over.  Anyway, there was plenty of evidence that the judges this week were not vicious enough. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RANDY JACKSON, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  What‘s going on Frank?

SIMON COWELL, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  So, it‘s Frank Biaz? 

FRANK BIAZ, “AMERICAN IDOL” contestant:  Frank Biaz, yes sir.

COWELL:  OK, and your nickname is—

BIAZ:  Frank and beans.   

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The reason I‘m going to do this is I don‘t want my talent going to waste. 

COWELL:  That comes under the category of annoying. 

PAULA ABDUL, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  Oh, come on.

(SINGING)

COWELL:  I believe I‘ve got to stop this.  I‘m sorry. 

(SINGING)

COWELL:  It‘s just rubbish. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Rubbish? 

COWELL:  Rubbish. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s British for garbage.  Who are you? 

COWELL:  Do it outside. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do it outside?  Do you even have a working visa to be here?  (EXPLETIVE DELETED)

(SINGING)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No, I‘m going to go drink, do some karaoke and fall off the damn stage. 

COWELL:  That‘s a good place to start. 

(SINGING) 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m not a singer.

JACKSON:  Oh, wow. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I don‘t think you have to sing to be an “American Idol.”  I really don‘t.  I wanted to be the next “American Idol.” 

I have become friends with these guys.  I have become friends with Ray and Jen and Bill, the security guy, because I have been here forever! 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Time to turn once again to the princess of “American Idol,” Maria Milito of New York‘s classic rock station Q104.3.  Good evening. 

MARIA MILITO, Q-104.3:  Hello Keith.

OLBERMANN:  One week they‘re too tough, the next week the judges aren‘t too enough.  One week Abdul is missing, one week Cowell is missing.  I‘m calling pure PR on this.  Tell me I‘m wrong in questioning the above reproach pristine reputation of “American Idol.”

MILITO:  You‘re not wrong.  It‘s total PR.  We have to have fish hooks in our mouths.  We‘ve been totally had.  Of course it‘s PR.  But it works.  It works.  You know, I meant to tell you this last week, they do a video each week of a song, and they have all the people that were escorted out or that were cursing the judges out, so right there it‘s a whole PR spin.  Right, because they do that after the person auditions. 

OLBERMANN:  You mentioned this, escorting people out, seeing the Gloria guy, the one who asked Simon if he had the work visa, what hits me, it can‘t be the first time somebody was literally escorted out by security.  Where are all the other ones?  Is it a video just of the people who have been escorted out or could that be coming out separately? 

MILITO:  No, the video is the people who didn‘t make it to the next round. 

OLBERMANN:  All right, but what happens literally to the people that they have to send the police in to get off the stage? 

MILITO:  I don‘t know.  See, I think that‘s part of the whole PR spin.  Because that guy was escorted out, but then he‘s part of the video of “All Night Long” later on.  And he didn‘t do that before his audition.  So it‘s all part of the PR spin.  Look, he‘s cursing up and everything and then he comes back. 

OLBERMANN:  To answer his question, it was a rhetorical one, but does Simon Cowell have a work visa and is that why he was missing from the show, because they took it back? 

MILITO:  I don‘t know.  I have to do my homework on that one.  I‘ll get back to you on that one. 

OLBERMANN:  Thanks princess.  So let‘s run one more clip and get your reaction to this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SINGING)

COWELL:  All right, all right, all right, OK, OK, OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  So was that what we used to call St. Vitus dance or the DT‘s, or is it a preview for Paula Abdul‘s future, if she doesn‘t get on the straight and narrow. 

MILITO:  You know, that‘s a good idea.  Actually that girl is a psychic, she said.  That‘s what she said.  She was trying to read Ryan Seacrest‘s palm and she got everything wrong.  But you know the naked cowboy in Times Square, I think they could be a couple, what do you think.  That‘s a future.  It could work. 

OLBERMANN:  Lastly here, there was the girl who admitted that she couldn‘t sing, but wanted to be the trail blazer, for what exactly, drug free cures for Schizophrenia, or what was the idea? 

MILITO:  Yes, she was definitely off her meds, I think.  But then she was also in the video at the end.  So after that whole tirade that she had, she came back, and she was in the video of “All Night Long.”  It‘s all PR.  We‘re talking about “American Idol.”  They love it. 

OLBERMANN:  But what is the—has the betting line shifted who the first judge will be into rehab, Simon Cowell or Paula Abdul? 

MILITO:  I still think it‘s Paula.  Definitely Paula. 

OLBERMANN:  Is the betting line narrowed at all? 

MILITO:  I don‘t think so.  No, I just think he was hung over.  I think he was all upset, supposedly, maybe because he doesn‘t have a visa or because that first guy called him on it. 

OLBERMANN:  Work on that.  I‘m expecting answers. 

MILITO:  I will.  I‘ll get the answers for you. 

OLBERMANN:  Maria Milito, the mid-day hostess with the mostess from New York‘s Q-104.3.  As always, great thanks for your time.  I want a work force block of 10 CCs and I want it now. 

MILITO:  I know you do.  I know you do. 

OLBERMANN:  Rubber bullets.  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this 1,363rd 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   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2007 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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