updated 1/29/2007 11:40:55 AM ET 2007-01-29T16:40:55

Guests: Richard Wolffe, John Dean, Michael Isikoff, Paul Tompkins

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

The president still doesn‘t get it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  And that I‘m the decision-maker.  I had to come up with a way forward that precluded disaster.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Though the voters said he should no longer make those decisions by himself, though the Democrats keep writing resolutions suggesting those decisions are themselves disasters, it is the words today of a Republican that may again be the most telling.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL ®, NEBRASKA:  To say that the president‘s not going to listen to the Congress is astounding.  It‘s astounding.  I‘ve never heard a president say that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Does Senator Hagel have aspirations to be a president, saying something less astounding?  And would he express those aspirations as a Republican or as an independent?

The decision-maker‘s latest decision, orders to capture or kill Iranian operatives inside Iraq, this replacing his secret orders to capture, hold, and then release Iranian operatives from a year ago.

Tonight, Richard Wolffe on the decision maker, John Dean on the ever-deepening presidential disconnect, Dana Milbank on Hagel, presidential critic, presidential wannabe for both (ph).

And there has been a Michael Jackson sighting in Vegas, the first since we saw him at James Brown‘s funeral.

And where is James Brown‘s body?  Please tell me Michael didn‘t try and buy it.  The return of Michael Jackson Puppet Theater, with special guest stars Vegas entrepreneur Steve Wynne (ph), a celebrity in Vegas for the Miss America pageant, and James Brown‘s body.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES BROWN:  Waaaaaah!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening from New York.

The electorate took the House of Representatives away from him, the electorate took the Senate away from him, the electorate returned every incumbent member of the party that opposes him, a bipartisan study group to which he acquiesced told him to reverse course.  After his urgent speech to the nation, polling showed support for his position not only did not increase, it actually dropped.

Yet in our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, as late news breaks tonight that two of his top advisers, including Karl Rove, have been subpoenaed to testify in the Scooter Libby trial, apparently the only change President Bush is truly going to make about Iraq is to stop calling himself the Decider and to today start calling himself the decision-maker, using his first meeting with the newly confirmed leader of U.S. forces in Iraq, General Petraeus, to not only reword his supposed role in government, but also to define what his opponents in Congress should do.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  One of the things I found in Congress is that most people recognize that failure would be a disaster for the United States.  And in that I‘m the decision-maker, I had to come up with a way forward that precluded disaster, because I had to think about what‘s likely to work.

My call to the Congress is, is that I know there is skepticism and pessimism, and that they are—some are condemning a plan before it‘s even had a chance to work.  And they have a obligation and a serious responsibility, therefore, to put up their own plan as to what would work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  That the president is absolutely blowing smoke there can no longer be argued.  The Democrats have offered almost a menu of variations of the same plan for Iraq, from nonescalation to deescalation, the Baker-Hamilton Iraq Study Group offered a comprehensive alternative, which the president thumbed his nose at, and just today Mr. Bush went on to say he‘d already spoken with lots of members of Congress, and he‘d already picked the plan he thinks is most likely to succeed, his own, not to mention that his administration has clearly stated that his plan will go forth with or without congressional approval.

Demanding other plans would seem to be, at best, political manipulation.

In sum, the president is maintaining a position that even members of his own party find flabbergasting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HAGEL:  No American president can sustain a war policy or any other policy without the support of the Congress and the American people.  He does not now have the support of the American people on his policy in Iraq.

So let‘s begin with a little civics lesson here.  The Congress of the United States is a co-equal branch of the United States government.  We happen to be Article One of the Constitution.  And we are a partner of the president.  He certainly has powers of commander and chief, certain powers we do as well.

To say that the president‘s not going to listen to the Congress is astounding.  It‘s astounding.  I‘ve never heard a president say that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Joining us now, “Newsweek” senior White House correspondent and our own Richard Wolffe.

Good evening, Richard.

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

Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  This new phrase, the decision-maker, other than being reminiscent of the candy commercial for the fresh maker, does this somehow differ from the Decider label from last April?  Did the president give himself a promotion, or is it just the same thing?

WOLFFE:  Well, I guess there‘s a few extra syllables.  But look, this is a president, and it‘s really quite astonishing when you see him in person and what he does, but he constantly reaffirms that he is the boss.  I mean, he has a presidential seal on his mountain bike.  And it does make you wonder why he keeps needing to say this.

Because, really, it doesn‘t help solve a war to say, I‘m the boss.  What really solves the war here is him trying to make the case yet again that failure is not an option or failure would be a disaster for America.  But just to say blindly and repeatedly, I‘m the commander in chief and that‘s it, it doesn‘t really help the argument.

OLBERMANN:  And Mr. Bush‘s other repetition of another phrase, that his critics need to offer an alternative plan and explain why it would work, well, firstly, he must be knee-high in alternative plans in the White House by now.  And secondly, he‘s already said he‘s decided which plan is best, his own.  Is this as politically cynical as it sounds, or does the president not recognize that he‘s asking people to propose what he‘s already rejected and promised to reject when they propose it again?

WOLFFE:  Yes, no, yes, absolutely.  This is a blind alley, again, politically.  To say the Democrats need to come up with an option when there are so many out there is superfluous.  He‘s looked at those options, and he doesn‘t like them.

What‘s going on here is, they‘re trying to play some politics.  Democrats have taken over Congress, and they want to try and push Democrats to move from being a blocking opposition to actually having to do something, otherwise they‘ll call them the do-nothing Congress.

But that‘s not the same, again, as saying, Let‘s come together as a nation and support the troops and support this mission.  It‘s a very different, again, a political argument.

OLBERMANN:  Something I‘d like to get your reaction to specifically from the president today, something he said to the House Republican conference this afternoon, a kind of a rationalization of why his plan for Iraq actually is the best.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  If failure is not an option, then it‘s up to the president to come up with a plan that is more likely to succeed.  And I spent a lot of time on the subject, because I understand how serious the issue is.  And the plan I outlined to the American people is one that I believe can succeed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Laying aside the fact that there‘s nobody in Congress who‘s advocating a policy of failure for Iraq, in implying only he has spent a lot of time on this plan, that only he understands how serious it is, there‘s a lot of “I” in there for a president who‘s only got a—somewhere between a 28 and a 32 percent approval rating (INAUDIBLE).  Does he really believe that his word alone is enough to persuade the people that everything else that they see, hear, understand for themselves, is inaccurate, and he‘s correct?

WOLFFE:  Yes, no, this is back to the prewar position.  I have all the intelligence, I have more information than anybody else, therefore my decision is better.

The problem here is that 60 percent of the country, at least, thinks that Iraq is already a failure.  He has to go out and make the case that Iraq is more hopeful than it really seems, though, watching the nightly news.  Frankly, the White House understands that.  They think that his words alone aren‘t enough.  They need to show real progress on the ground.

OLBERMANN:  Richard Wolffe, “Newsweek”‘s chief White House correspondent and, of course, with us all the time.  Great thanks for your time once again.  Have a good weekend.

WOLFFE:  Thank you, Keith.  And you.

OLBERMANN:  The Democrats have been filing steadily and sometimes loudly out of the president‘s room on this for some time now.  Many Republicans have gone, although they‘ve often used the side doors, and they‘ve left when nobody‘s been watching.  What about the in-betweens, the independents, the politically fluid, you know, moderates?

“President Bush has lost the greatest commodity a president can possess, the public‘s trust,” that the assessment from HotSoup.com, a Web site created last year in a spirit of bipartisanship by former political strategists from both sides of the aisle in an attempt to restore balance to the political debate, the editor in chief, Ron Fornier (ph), writing a scathing op-ed today that cites the mess in Iraq, the bungling of Hurricane Katrina, the fallout from the Libby trial—on which we‘ll have breaking details in a moment—and some of the many reasons why people no longer trust George W. Bush, ending with the indictment that the president, in part due to the virtue of his office, quote, “never lost his relevancy, but that is little solace when the core value of his presidency has always been credibility.  People trusted Bush to do what was right even when they disagreed with him policy.  That bond has been broken.  Nothing could be more damaging.”

Joined now by John Dean, White House counsel under President Richard Nixon, and himself, of course, author of several books, the most recent of which, “Conservatives Without Conscience.”

John, once again, thanks for your time tonight.

JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  From your firsthand experience, from your study of the subsequent administrations, especially this one, can a president lose his credibility because others cut him off from the real world, or can he only do that to himself?  In other words, are there any victims, or are there only volunteers?

DEAN:  I think a president can only do this by himself.  When you look and sift through the polling devices for public opinion polling on presidential approval and trust, one of the things you find is, as soon as the public knows a president, what they look for is to understand whether they believe that president is doing what they think is best for them.

And clearly, the American people have decided this president is not doing what they think is best for them.  So it‘s a rough road to get back to that.

OLBERMANN:  John, as to the principal points in Mr. Fornier‘s column, obviously Mr. Bush lost the left in 1999, perhaps.  He regained it, or gained it in 2001, lost the left in Iraq.  But did he lose the middle in New Orleans?  Will we be looking back at this presidency and say, you know, despite all the politics, all the war, all the gutting of civil rights, his credibility was over as of Hurricane Katrina?

DEAN:  I think it was probably over before that, Keith.  One of the co-founders of that site you just had up, HotSoup, Matthew Dowd, did a study between the time of election day and Bush v. Gore coming down, looking through five decades of data, and decided that there was no middle any longer.  And so they immediately decided, once Bush v. Gore came down, that they would not even try to appeal to the middle.  They have ruled from the right, they have governed from the right.

And now they‘ve discovered there is something of a middle that may be out there, and this is one of the reasons they‘re so far down in the polls.  And I‘m not sure they can ever get that middle back, certainly not on the current policies can they get it back.

OLBERMANN:  Can any president, though, reconnect?  We‘ve had many examples of presidents who have, you know, rallied from extraordinary circumstances, Reagan certainly, even, to some degree, Nixon, if you judge 1970, compared to 1972.  Is there a road map for Mr. Bush, if only he knew it?

DEAN:  Well, Americans always like to give their president the benefit of their doubt.  They really don‘t like to not like and trust their president.  So, yes, there are roads.  But he can‘t do it by his continued policy.  He can‘t do it by going out and saying, I‘m the decision-maker.  He can‘t do it by rebuffing Congress.  He can‘t do it by pretending to be bipartisan.

So the cosmetics of that sort of thing wear off very quickly.  He‘s really got to move to the center, and that‘s the only way he has a hope to regain public trust and confidence.

OLBERMANN:  If trust, confidence, credibility go as obviously they did with Nixon, when do we have the proverbial political intervention?  Is there a Barry Goldwater out there to go and metaphorically slap Mr. Bush around before it‘s too late for him and for his party?

DEAN:  Keith, I think the intervention came on November 8, when the election returns came in, and he realized that the voters sent him a very serious message.  He doesn‘t seem to get it, though, as you said earlier.

I don‘t think that we‘ll ever get to the stage where the Republicans send down a Goldwater.  And you‘ve got to also understand, that was somewhat of a symbolic move.  Nixon knew exactly where the numbers were before Goldwater came down to tell him the Senate wouldn‘t support him in an impeachment proceeding.

So that was more of a ceremony for the public, not something that really would have helped Nixon one way or the other.  Bush has got to do it on his own.

OLBERMANN:  Apparently so.  John Dean, author of “Worse Than Watergate,” “Conservatives Without Conscience,” and White House counsel for President Nixon.  As always, sir, great thanks for your time.

DEAN:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And that breaking news we promised you, “Newsweek” reporting exclusively on the Web site we share with them, that White House anxiety is mounting over the possibility that the president‘s political brain, Karl Rove, and communications guru Dan Bartlett will have to testify, because they have now been subpoenaed and are likely to be called in the Libby trial.

Michael Isikoff, who‘s doing the reporting on this, will join us in just a moment.

Also tonight, when it comes to Iraq, Senator Hagel is one of the biggest thorns in the president‘s side.  Otherwise, the two always see eye to eye.  What happened here?  And where is Hagel going next with it?

And going after Iranians in Iraq.  The president issues orders to kill Iranian operatives.  Is it all a precursor for more to come?  Or is this the more to come?

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Raise your right hand and repeat after me, I, Karl Rove...

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, Michael Isikoff reporting tonight for Newsweek.com that Rove and White House communications adviser Dan Bartlett have been subpoenaed to testify in the Scooter Libby trial.  Mr.  Isikoff joins us in a moment with details.

The Libby trial began this week with the prosecution portraying Vice President Cheney as the architect of a plan to discredit Ambassador Joe Wilson after Wilson had discredited administration claims that Saddam Hussein had tried to buy uranium from Niger.

Rove and Bartlett subpoenaed.  But “Newsweek” is reporting that the defense laid out this week by Libby‘s lawyers increases the chances that one or both could actually be called to testify, and that that‘s not going over well in the White House, and that to exonerate Libby in at least one instance, Rove could, in essence, be boxed into confirming that he called a reporter and revealed the secret CIA identify of Wilson‘s wife, Valerie Plame.

As promised, joining me now on the phone with more on the Web exclusive, “Newsweek”‘s Michael Isikoff, who‘s also the author of “Hubris:

The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.”

Michael, thanks for your time tonight.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE (on phone):  Good to be with you.

OLBERMANN:  Well, when did Rove and Bartlett get these subpoenas? 

What do we know about reactions...

ISIKOFF:  We don‘t know exactly, but it was in recent weeks.  The trial, of course, began this week.  And trial subpoenas went out from the defense lawyers to a number of prospective witnesses, Rove and Bartlett, obviously, the two senior officials at the White House, who received them, as (INAUDIBLE) others.  Whether they‘re going to be called or not is not entirely clear, but after Ted Wells, in his opening statement this week, sort of startled the courtroom by suggesting a key point of Libby‘s defense is going to be the (INAUDIBLE) being sacrificed to protect Karl Rove, it increases the chances, I think, that they‘re going to use that subpoena and haul Karl Rove into court.

OLBERMANN:  Ted Wells, of course, being Mr. Libby‘s attorney here.  (INAUDIBLE) sketch out for me, I touched on this introducing you, give me this Chinese finger-puzzle that Rove has apparently gotten his fingers caught in.  If he backs up Libby, he identifies himself as somebody who, in some way, leaked Valerie Plame‘s identity?

ISIKOFF:  (INAUDIBLE), he would be asked, at a minimum, to testify about conversations he had during the critical week in early July, where the White House was working to discredit Joe Wilson.  And conversations, a conversation in particular, he had with Scooter Libby on the morning of July 11, 2003.

In that conversation, Rove tells Libby that he knows that Robert Novak is going to run a column outing Joe Wilson‘s wife as a CIA officer.  He knows this because Rove himself had confirmed that information to Robert Novak just a couple of days earlier, Novak having first learned it, of course, from Richard Armitage.

In that conversation, Scooter Libby apparently replies that he knows this too.  According to Rove, he says that Tim Russert, he, Libby says, that Tim Russert told him the information.  If Rove testifies to that on the witness stand, it might help Libby, because that, of course, is one of the things that Libby‘s being charged with, for lying by telling the grand jury that Tim Russert provided him this information, when, in fact, Dick Cheney provided him with the information.

But Rove doesn‘t want to have to testify to this, because right after this conversation, he goes and tells Matt Cooper the same information, therefore (INAUDIBLE) it further to the press.  This, of course, contradicts that White House people were saying initially, that no White House officials had any involvement in the leak of Valerie Plame‘s identity.

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Libby‘s lawyer, as you pointed out, has set this theme here that Libby would be sacrificed to spare Rove.  The subpoenas are not coming from the prosecutor, they‘re coming from Libby‘s legal defense team.  Are there other land mines besides that considerable one that you just laid out there, that perhaps lay themselves out in front of Mr. Rove as—in particular, if he does, in fact, get called to testify?

ISIKOFF:  I‘m sorry, other land mines—I didn‘t catch that, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, other land mines besides the one you just described for Karl Rove.

ISIKOFF:  Well, (INAUDIBLE), of course, you know, I think the chief one is having to acknowledge that he did publicly—that he did indeed provide this information to Matt Cooper.  But there‘s also the substance of what Ted Wells said in court, that there was a protect-Karl Rove operation going on, once the whole story broke, and in order to sacrifice Scooter Libby.

That‘s the (INAUDIBLE) between the White House staff and the vice president‘s staff is not something anybody in the White House wants to hear testimony about.

OLBERMANN:  So Rove, who avoided indictment from the prosecutor in this case, has not avoided the subpoena from the Libby lawyers.

Michael Isikoff, who‘s broken this story tonight for Newsweek.com—it‘s available through the MSNBC Web site—he‘s also the author of “Hubris.”  Great thanks for checking in with us, Michael, appreciate it.

ISIKOFF:  Any time.

OLBERMANN:  From the trial about the prewar intelligence to the effort to get out of Iraq after all the intelligence is gone, Senator Hagel at the forefront of those efforts.  Is he center stage to help prepare his own race in ‘08?  That, and late word tonight of another Republican ready to throw his hat into that presidential ring.

And does the president‘s new way forward in Iraq also include plans to take on Iran?  New developments on that front as well.

All ahead in this newshour.

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OLBERMANN:  It‘s the birthday of hockey‘s Wayne Gretzky, and if you still think of him as that teenager breaking all the games, scoring records, and putting his sport on the map, bad news.  He‘s just turned 46.  Worse still, Eddie van Halen (ph) today hit the big 5-0.

On those cheery notes, let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in Polai (ph), India, with a sport that never grows old, rickshaw racing.  Racing, racing, racing.  The I-P (ph) zone, a huge turnout (INAUDIBLE), which a half-dozen tuck-tucks (ph) haul A (ph) around the streets at high speeds without regard for their own safety or that of the other drivers, the pedestrians, and even those folks in the VIP zone.  Get out of the way!  Well, actually, this is how they normally drive.  This year‘s winner took home about $680, gave all credit to his mechanics, and, of course, to Vishnu, without whom none of his bounty would be possible.

To the Internets, where we find this video from some foreign fashion know.  Where‘d she go?  One too many steps down the catwalk, I‘d say.  Now, someone sitting in the audience could be forgiven for being districted in this situation, but what‘s her excuse?  Luckily, the young lady seemed to be OK.  And every man in the room rushed over to make sure of it.  (INAUDIBLE) see you.  And there she goes.

He was a Republican‘s Republican, voting time and time again with the Bush administration.  So what does Senator Chuck Hagel‘s extraordinary break with the president over Iraq signify?  Does he now want the top job?

At first, he stayed chillin‘ at home for weeks after his funeral.  Now James Brown is on the road again.  A cold case investigation.

But instead, before we get to that, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, Ronald Dotsun (ph) of Detroit‘s been sentenced to at least 18 months in prison for breaking into a store, oh, and trying to steal the female mannequin dressed up in the French maid‘s outfit in the window.  Seventh time in 13 years he‘s tried to steal a mannequin.

The runner-up, as you see, Al Unser, Jr., twice winner of the Indianapolis 500.  Last night, he was the loser at the Las Vegas Beltway 2.  He sideswiped another car and then failed several field sobriety tests. 

You think?  Vegas police arrested him.

Number one, Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, one of the agencies that sponsored research into the brain and smoking, and discovered that smokers who suffered injuries to a part of the brain called the insula suddenly forgot their addictions.  They had no problems quitting.  There are two problems, one, Dr. Volkow‘s quote about this discovery to “The New York Times,” to wit, “It‘s absolutely mind-boggling.”  Yes, your average brain injury is indeed absolutely mind-boggling.  Second problem, Dr. Volkow and her colleagues will now be faced with a new epidemic of smokers hitting themselves in the head with hammers.  Please do not try this at home!

byline: guest: Dana Milbanks, Paul F. Tompkins high: Can Chuck Hagel find a platform within the Republican Party for a successful presidential run?  Celebrities began Quadrennial affair with presidential candidates.  

OLBERMANN:  -- boggling.  Second problem, Dr. Volkow and her colleagues will now be faced with a new epidemic, smokers hitting themselves in the head with hammers.  Please do not try this at home. 

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OLBERMANN:  When Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel talks about senators who served in Vietnam, he draws a distinction between his friends John Kerry and John McCain, who fought from the water and air respectively, and himself and Jim Webb, both of whom saw, participated in and were decorated for combat on the ground. 

Hagel patrolled and fought among civilians and a native army that was supposed to bare the brunt of it.  Today he wears the scars of America‘s mistake in Vietnam on his face, carries pieces of it in his chest.  In our third story on the COUNTDOWN, how one of the president‘s staunchest supporters has become one of his most dogged adversaries over the war in Iraq. 

On issue after issue, tax cuts, societal concerns, social security, the environment, Mr. Hagel lines up with the rights‘s right, not just President Bush, but the Christian Coalition.  That is one reason, only one, that observers have found his dissent on the war so breath-taking, particularly with rhetoric like this, as he implored Congress to take a stand this week.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL ®, NEBRASKA:  I think all 100 senators ought to be on the line on this.  What do you believe?  What are you willing to support?  What do you think?  Why are you elected?  If you wanted a safe job?  Go sell shoes.  This is a tough business.  But is it any tougher us having to take a vote, express ourselves and have the courage to step up than what we‘re asking our young men and women to do?  I don‘t think so.

We better be damn sure we know what we are doing, all of us, before we put 22,000 more Americans into that grinder. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  In the next month or two, we will learn whether Mr. Hagel will run for president in 2008 as an anti-war Republican or as something else.  To help us sketch our portrait of this singular figure on the current American political landscape, I am joined by our own Dana Milbank, national political reporter of the “Washington Post.”  As always Dana, thanks you for your time. 

DANA MILBANK, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Good evening Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Unless the Bush escalation works, flat out stuns everybody, works, will Mr. Hagel‘s stance make him a GOP front runner or a GOP out cast because he opposed the president?

MILBANK:  Well, I think, first of all, if we are talking about the current Bush plan working, I think most analysts would say we are sort of in the pig‘s flying category of hypotheticals here.  If it does, McCain is the guy who‘s all set, of course, because this has now become the McCain doctrine. 

In the much likelier scenario that it doesn‘t, it looks very good for Hagel, not that he is positioned as a political matter.  He has been coming out against the direction this war has taken for a long time, the very first among the Republicans to do that.  So, in the likeliest scenario, he does have a lot of power as an anti-war Republican. 

OLBERMANN:  The senator reportedly has considered running as an independent, even on a split ticket, maybe with a Democrat, suggests the war is not just destabilizing Iraq, but also creating some sort of seismic shift in the political structures in this country, as that unforgettable remark about if you want a safe jobs, go sell shoes would suggest.

Is he right about any of that?  And if so, is it conceivable that the electorate will break his way? 

MILBANK:  Well, he is probably right about the direction things have taken one in the country, as we saw from the election just last November.  Where it probably hasn‘t changed very much is in the Republican primary electorate, which is still dominated by religious conservatives, who are not exactly very thrilled with Hagel right now, and are some of President Bush‘s closest supporters. 

His real threat is running as an independent.  He says he‘s not going to do that.  The notion of a split ticket, him going with a Democratic winner, or a Democratic loser going with him, is sort of attractive, but it seems rather a fantasy.  So, unless he changes his mind about being an independent, he is going to have a very tough road in the Republican primaries. 

OLBERMANN:  And what about from the other point of view, if there were some sort of draw that would get him into the Republican nomination, despite these ideological similarities to Mr. Bush, he is horrified not just by the war, he‘s also been an outspoken opponent of the unilateralism. 

He‘s been a defender of the civil liberties.  I mean, he sounds like me on

the civil liberties.  These are a lot of things that are ascribed as

liberal attributes these days, but would they be enough to endear

Democratic or sort of left of center moderates or even the moderate

moderates, towards that man

MILBANK:  well, it would be enough for the independents and for the Democrats, but I think the real question here is, is it enough for the Republicans.  And there was a time when what you are talking about isn‘t some sort of a liberal thing.  It was a libertarian strain of the Republican party that was dominant.  Now it has been entirely emasculated and it‘s really a socially conservative party, that Hagel‘s very much on the outside of.  And the sort of libertarian sentiment has shifted almost entirely over to the left. 

OLBERMANN:  Dana, while we have you here, and with about a minute left, I have to get your reaction to this news that Michael Isikoff has on the “Newsweek” website tonight, that we have subpoenas in the Libby trial for Mr. Rove and Mr. Bartlett.  Even though Rove escaped indictment, could this scenario that Isikoff painted of him having to either throw himself under the bus, or Scooter Libby under the bus, under oath, be just as bad for the White House as an indictment would have been? 

MILBANK:  It could be hugely politically.  I think it‘s important to look at this trial not really as a legal matter.  The significance of whether Scooter Libby is guilty or innocent on perjury charges is not terribly significant.  What is happening here now is we are getting a window every day into how the White House functions, how it tries to control news, how it, in many cases, tries to distort events. 

So, the notion of Bartlett coming forward, of Rove coming forward is going to pry that curtain back further.  It‘s already creating quite a spectacle here in town, and all we have had so far is Cathy Martin (ph), a relatively low level official.  Looking forward to Ari Fleischer on Monday and it‘s tremendous political theater, if nothing else, and a potential political problem. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, have you to leave Libby out of it.  It‘s a metaphor, that‘s what this trial is.  The national political reporter of the “Washington Post,” and our frequent guest here, Dana Milbank, great thanks, as always, for joining us.  Have a good weekend. 

MILBANK:  You too.  Thanks Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And because you cannot do a segment about the presidential races these days without risking the emergence of yet another contender during the segment, the Associate Press reporting that, as widely expected, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Republican, will file papers Monday to start his own exploratory committee for the 2008 campaign.  That means a majority of American citizens are now running president. 

It‘s not just candidates declaring themselves this political season, but celebrities too.  Senators Clinton and Obama both getting Hollywood shout outs.  And Iran getting a shot across the bow from President Bush, authorizing the military to kill Iranian operatives found in Iraq, but is that a harbinger of worse to come?  That‘s ahead.  You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

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OLBERMANN:  The U.S. military has been authorized to capture or kill Iranian operatives inside Iraq.  Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, this may be the silver lining inside the presidential disconnect.  When two weeks ago Mr. Bush told the American public he would interrupt any Iranian influence in Iraq‘s civil war this was widely interpreted as a threat to attack Iran, but since the speech journalistic and political sources have repeatedly said that the president was surprised that we all thought he meant another optional war. 

Today he repeated his claim that he is focused only Iranian agents inside Iraq. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It just make sense that if somebody is trying to harm our troops or stop us from achieving those goal, or killing innocent citizens in Iraq, that we will stop them. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  That part, in which he claims the right to kill people who are trying to stop him from achieving his goals has some critics worried, that if he is not pursuing another optional war, he may be trying to provoke an Iranian response that would make such a war seem no longer optional.  Today the Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, was asked to clarify exactly which Iranians are in the cross hairs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Does this authority, Mr. Secretary, extend beyond any Iranians who may be in the country that are meddling in political or economical affairs, or is it strictly confined, this kill or capture authority, strictly confined to those involved in these IED networks? 

ROBERT GATES, U.S. DEFENSE SECRETARY:  What we are looking for are people who are trying to kill us. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And is this part of a much larger anti-Iran strategy on the part of the administration? 

GATES:  No, I don‘t think so. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The lack of certainty on the part of Secretary Gates, at least, somewhat disconcerting, especially in light of a report by the “Los Angeles Times” earlier this week that not only is there little evidence of Iranian involvement with IEDs, but the political meddling by Shiite Iran, which shares 900 miles of border with Iraq, occurs primarily not with Iraq‘s Sunni insurgency, but rather with its own allies in the Iraqi government, a government which historians might note was created by the meddling of a country 6,000 miles from there. 

Two Democrats who would like the chance to be the next commander in chief topping our nightly round up of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs.  Hollywood has started its quadrennial dance with presidential hopefuls. 

Barack Obama getting help from the Dreamworks moguls, including Steven Spielberg.  He‘ll be hosting an Obama fund raiser next month for donors who give up to 2,300 dollars each.  Obama is no stranger to Hollywood.  His buddies include George Clooney, Halle Barry, Oprah Winfrey, and people who will not be in the campaign literature, second from the right. 

Not to be out done, rival Hillary Clinton has managed to lock down the coveted Liz Taylor endorsement early.  Miss Taylor forked over a 2,100 dollar donation, along with the statement, I like the way she thinks, possibly because it, in many respects, differs from the thoughts of her ex-husband, the Republican senator from Virginia, John Warner. 

Lindsay Lohan has yet to endorse a candidate in the race.  Is Jack running, Jack Daniels?  She‘s reportedly too busy turning her rehab into free-hab.  According to TMZ.com, Lohan comes and goes at will from the Wonderland Rehab Facility.  Yesterday she took some time off to check her Mercedes in for automotive rehab.  She has also reportedly taken off for trips to her condo, the grocery, a movie set, the liquor store, lunch with friends—hey, wait a minute.  Not the liquor store, somebody made that up.  But other residents at Wonderland told TMZ.com that they are ticked off at Lohan‘s special privileges. 

A spokeswoman for the Lohan family, Miss Lohan in particular, said this is not the Betty Ford Clinic.  One key difference, of course, is at the Betty Ford Clinic people focus. 

Hollywood‘s recent plagues of injuries continues, and by plague I mean two of them.  First, of course, there was Nicole Kidman suffering minor injuries on the set of “The Invasion” when her Zombie covered car slammed into a pole in downtown L.A.  Miss Kidman was treated and released. The condition of Zombies, was gradually upgraded from undead to dead and finally to just dandy. 

Now, we are learning that less than 24 hours earlier, Bruce Willis got kicked in the head during a fight seen on the set of “Die Hard”—whatever.  Willis went home, but was back on that set yesterday.  The incident was, quote, no big deal, according to a representative who had not been kicked in the head. 

The last time either one of them was seen in public they were seen together.  Admittedly it was at one of their funerals.  Where in the world are Michael Jackson and James Brown tonight?  An exclusive COUNTDOWN puppet theater investigation ahead.  But first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.

The bronze to former Pensacola, Florida police officer Sean Shields, who did what any public servant would do if he found a 16-year-old girl and a 19-year-old man in a parked car at night, only partially clothed.  He made the girl get out and do jumping jacks, topless, while he shined his flashlight on her.  The Pensacola City Council gave her a 35,000 dollar settlement and it fired Officer Shields. 

Our runner-up tonight, the Fox noise Channel, it will run the scenes deleted from the Disney propaganda film “The Path to 9/11,” produced by a right wing nut job, who has convinced himself it was all Bill Clinton‘s fault.  Of course, the scenes were deleted because ABC thought they were so wrong, that they might constitute slander.  So, heads up Madeline Albright, you could wind up owning Fox. 

But the winner, he is back, Bill O‘Reilly explains the world yet again, telling his radio listener that in Iraq, quote, the Sunni and Shia want to kill each other.  They want to blow each other up.  They want to torture each other.  They have fun?  Fun?  That‘s the word Bill-O also used to describe what Shawn Hornbeck was having while being held prisoner for four years in Missouri.  We‘re now beginning to get a clear picture of what Bill thinks fun is, torture, killing and child molestation.  Bill O‘Reilly, today‘s Worst Person in the World.

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OLBERMANN:  We will recap the Karl Rove subpoena story in just a moment.  Michael Jackson, meanwhile, has resurfaced in a conference call, but the new legal disputes over the estate of James Brown might never been settled unless Mr. Brown reaches out from the grave.  If only he had one. 

A month and a day after his death, the hardest working man in show business still has not been buried.  Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, the King of Pop and the King of Soul casting about for, respectively, a come back and a resting place. 

The current whereabouts of both performance not clear.  Brown first, his whereabouts may be the least of the problems stewing in the Brown family, now that his six adult children have filed an emergency petition claiming that the Brown trustees mismanaging the estate.  Mr. Brown‘s long-time companion Tommi Ray Heini (ph) had already filed suit on behalf of herself and her son, my Brown‘s seventh child and TV station WAGT in Augusta says that four more people may be coming forward to make their claim as Brown‘s children. 

He felt good, a lot.  Also the station reports Mr. Brown‘s body has been moved its undisclosed location to an Augusta funeral home.  It had previously been kept in a climate controlled room at Brown‘s estate in Beach Island, South Carolina. 

Meanwhile, Michael Jackson, though still shunning his old Neverland estate, is back in the US, though he will not confirm where exactly.  He did grace the Associated Press with a carefully read statement over the phone, perhaps the first salvo in some sort of come back. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL JACKSON, KING OF POP:  I look forward to visiting Japan again in March.  It‘s one of my favorite places in the entire world.  I look forward to meting and greeting all of them.  I love my fans. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Come on.  My Michael Jackson impression is better than that.  He also said he would be in Japan for a fan appreciation event, failing to mention that those fans would have to pony up as much as 3,300 dollars for the privilege, presumably, by the terminology, Mr. Jackson is saying he will appreciate the 3,300 dollars.  And even though Jackson‘s spokeswoman could not confirm his present whereabouts for security reasons, the “Las Vegas Review Journal” reports that Jackson is in Sin City. 

Jackson reportedly had dinner with casino Mogul Steve Wynn (ph).  And who knows who else might have been there, all of which set the sick minds here at COUNTDOWN to speculating, in the first time in a long time edition of Michael Jackson Puppet Theatre. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN (voice-over):  It‘s so great to see you Michael. 

Pass the salt. 

This is the most fun I have had since I put my elbow through my Picasso painting. 

I caused 54 million dollars in damage doing that. 

Michael, what is in the box? 

Look, it‘s MSNBC‘s own Chris Matthews, here to judge the Miss America pageant.  Hi Chris. 

Don‘t get up Steve.  I mean, don‘t get up. 

Oops, I think I just put my elbow through James Brown. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Who would dare follow that?  None other than comedian Paul F. Tompkins, also a regular contributor to VH-1‘s “Best Week Ever.”  Good evening and good luck Paul. 

PAUL F. TOMPKINS, VH-1:  Thank you Keith for both of those. 

OLBERMANN:  We can at least pinpoint the last time Mr. Jackson made a public appearance.  He was in Augusta, Georgia on December 30th for the funeral of Mr. Brown, where notably, between the two of them, Mr. Brown managed to look better.  It looks like Michael Jackson went from there to Las Vegas.  Is that the story?   

TOMPKINS:  Apparently.  There was still some tacky junk to buy.  I don‘t know.  I think finally saw that Martin Bashir (ph) thing and realized, oh, there was a lot of items I missed in that gift shop. 

OLBERMANN:  If Jackson and his people don‘t want his identity or his -

it‘s too late for his identity, but his location disclosed for security reasons, does that mean he is moving about incognito, under cover of disguise, or hasn‘t the way he has looked these last twenty years been a disguise by itself? 

TOMPKINS:  Well, it wasn‘t intentionally  disguise.  The problem is, as the technology of robot doubles improves, he has to keep altering his face to match the robot doubles.  Anyone who has an iPod knows that frustration.

OLBERMANN:  There are also these details coming out about this fan appreciation event in Japan.  Each fan will be charged 3,300 dollars per --  and as we mentioned for the platinum VIP party on March 8th.  And for that they get dinner, an autographed photo and a meet and greet with Jackson for between 30 seconds and a whole minute.  Is that a fair amount of time from the King of Pop for that kind of money?  Is that the ratio these days? 

TOMPKINS:  I think 3,300 dollars is a bargain for something like that.  I mean, if you go to a carnival side show it costs you what, a dollar to see the bearded lady, but you don‘t get to have a conversation with her. 

OLBERMANN:  So they say—the promoters say they have already sold 220, perhaps as many as 300 tickets, for the fan event.  You would think, if they knew it was 220, they could get us an exact number, but they haven‘t.  At that rate, there‘s 990,000 dollars already in the till.  This is how Michael Jackson is making his living right now? 

TOMPKINS:  Well, yes, it seems like a lot of money, but he is giving a lot of it back to the community of self disfigured bankrupt millionaires. 

OLBERMANN:  And we have a less exclusive fan event the next day in Japan.  Do you have any idea what that entails?   

TOMPKINS:  Yes, you get to stand in a parking lot, and Michael rides by on a giraffe and waves at you as someone in a hot air balloon drops special edition DVD copies of “The Wiz.” 

OLBERMANN:  All right, let‘s switch over to James Brown.  It‘s hard to know where to start.  Do you have any numbers on us.  How many law suits?  How many children? 

TOMPKINS:  The children, I don‘t know how many it‘s up to.  I know the Guinness people are finally getting interested.  The law suits have now taken on the form of one of those e-mail petitions and I just added my name today. 

OLBERMANN:  One thing that has not been clear to anybody here, why is the legal wrangling preventing James Brown from being buried, for god‘s sake?  How are they going to finally settle this one, do you think?

TOMPKINS:  Well, it‘s almost done, believe it or not.  What it finally is going to come down to is this last little point, will Al Sharpton legally be allowed to keep his hair style. 

OLBERMANN:  And I understand there is still a possibility that Michael Jackson may bid for the remains of James Brown, but we will see how that turns out.  Paul F. Tompkins, comedian and contributor to VH-1‘s “Best Week Ever,” and our frequent guest.  As ever sir, thanks for your time. 

TOMPKINS:  Join me in my study any time, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,364th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  Before we close the week out, let‘s recap the night‘s breaking news, that the president‘s political brain, Karl Rove, and presidential adviser Dan Bartlett, have reportedly been subpoenaed by the defense in the perjury trial of the vice president‘s former chief of staff Scooter Libby. 

“Newsweek‘s” Michael Isikoff, citing unnamed sources tonight, that Rove and Bartlett have been subpoenaed and received those subpoenas during the past week, after the trial began, and that if called to testify, Mr.  Rove could be put in the position of either undercutting Libby‘s defense, or admitting that he, Rove, leaked the covert CIA identity of Valerie Plame, the wife of Ambassador Joseph Wilson, a White House critic, to a reporter from “Time Magazine.”

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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