updated 1/30/2007 10:53:46 AM ET 2007-01-30T15:53:46

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Anne Kornblut, Lester Velez

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

Ari Fleischer today, Karl Rove later?  The Libby trial, and the former press secretary says he was horrified to learn after the fact, he says, that he had told reporters about a covert CIA spy named Valerie Plame.  And what did he do while horrified?  He got himself a lawyer.

The Bush administration on trial by proxy.  David Shuster with the latest from the courthouse, Richard Wolffe on the big picture for Mr.  Cheney, to whom he spoke.

Mr. Cheney blasts Senator Hagel and says of his other critics, quote, “I‘m the vice president, and they‘re not.”  What is this, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE” circa 1975?


CHEVY CHASE:  I‘m Chevy Chase, and you‘re not.


OLBERMANN:  Senator Clinton hits the trail in Iowa and hits the president on his legacy, his legacy about Iraq.


SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK:  We should expect him to extricate our country from this before he leaves office.


OLBERMANN:  And how to stop a raging mountain lion, a life-or-death game of, I‘ve got your nose.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I got my fingers into his nose and twisted his nose to give him pain, to make it so that he can call off the attack.


OLBERMANN:  All that and more, now...

Uh-oh, sorry.

But first, our national anthem.


CLINTON (singing):  Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave o‘er the land of the free...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing):  Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave o‘er the land of the free...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing):  Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave o‘er the land of the free—

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing):  Oh, say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave o‘er the land of the free...


OLBERMANN:  All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.


CLINTON:  I thought I was funny.


OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York.

It was four years ago yesterday that President Bush stood before Congress and the nation, and, with the help of 16 words, delivered a prologue to war, a war necessary, he told America, because Iraq had pursued the makings of that ultimate weapon, affording no warning, the nuclear bomb.

Today, in our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, Ari Fleischer, who served as the president‘s first White House press secretary, his voice, during that drumbeat before the invasion of Iraq, took the stand in the Scooter Libby trial and revealed part of the administration‘s campaign to sell the war to Americans and to take down those who dissented.

The trial pivots on one central point.  Did Mr. Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, intentionally lie when he told investigators that reporters told him that Ambassador Joseph Wilson‘s wife was a covert CIA operative named Valerie Plame, rather than that he told others about her?

The political significance of the trial pivots on another central point.  Did the administration intentionally lie when it told Americans that intelligence made the war in Iraq necessary, rather that the desire for war in Iraq made the intelligence necessary?

The trial‘s focus on first question affording us new insights today into the second one, courtesy of Mr. Fleischer.

Covering this trial, as he has covered this story for the last three years plus, MSNBC‘s David Shuster, who joins us from Washington.

David, good evening again.


OLBERMANN:  The headline of Ari Fleischer‘s testimony seems relatively clear today.  Mr. Libby had testified previously he learned about Wilson‘s wife, Valerie Plame, casually, a conversation in July 2003, July 10, with NBC‘s Tim Russert.  Fleischer basically said, No, Libby not only knew about Plame three days earlier than that, on the seventh, but Libby had treated it like a big secret that they should push to reporters.  Is that about right, and is that discrepancy damning?

SHUSTER:  It‘s about right, Keith, and it‘s also devastating for the defense, because four other government witnesses have already testified that Scooter Libby knew about Valerie Wilson before the date of this conversation that Libby had with Tim Russert.  And now you have a fifth witness, Ari Fleischer, testifying that Scooter Libby intentionally acted on that information.

In other words, Libby was acting on information that he supposedly hadn‘t learned yet, or had forgotten until this conversation with Russert.

And yet there was so much about the Libby-Ari Fleischer conversation before the Libby-Russert conversation that was memorable.  First of all, regarding that lunch, the lunch with Libby and Fleischer was the day after Joe Wilson‘s column criticizing the Bush administration.  Secondly, Fleischer testified it was the first and only time that Scooter Libby ever invited Ari Fleischer to lunch.

Third, Fleischer testified that Libby said Valerie Wilson‘s name and revealed she worked in the counterproliferation division, which is widely known in Washington as being the most sensitive at the CIA.  And fourth, Fleischer testified that during this conversation, Scooter Libby said that the information about Valerie Wilson was “hush-hush” and “on the QT.”

Fleischer testified he took that to mean that Scooter Libby wanted him to disseminate this information, essentially pass it along to reporters.

And all of this tears apart Scooter Libby‘s defense that he only remembered learning information about Valerie Wilson first coming from Tim Russert.  And it‘s also devastating for the defense notion that the media knew this information, because why would Scooter Libby want Ari Fleischer to pass information to the media, if the media already knew about it?

OLBERMANN:  And also, it reveals that there is at least one last person in this country using the phrase “on the QT.”  But what was the, David, the significance of the Air Force One flight that Fleischer testified about?

SHUSTER:  Yes, the significance here is that Ari Fleischer testified that he heard a second government official talking about Valerie Wilson, and that was during this Air Force One flight to Africa.  Dan Bartlett he heard mentioning Valerie Wilson in the context of criticism about Joe Wilson, and this underscored to Ari Fleischer that this was a talking point, the idea that nepotism, the idea that Joe Wilson should not be believed because his wife worked at the CIA, the idea that nepotism should be part of the case against Joe Wilson.

And so at the end of the week, Fleischer testified that when two reporters talked about Joe Wilson‘s criticisms dominating the president‘s trip to Africa, Fleischer felt that at leas two administration officials felt that part of the case against Joe Wilson should be this idea that Valerie Wilson worked at the CIA.  In other words, Fleischer felt he was simply repeating what top administration officials wanted him to say about this story.

OLBERMANN:  The immunity agreement under which Mr. Fleischer testified, does that factor into this, even in how he‘s perceived, and if not that way, in what way does it factor in?

SHUSTER:  Well, it factors in in the sense that after Bob Novak‘s column came out, and the CIA asked the Justice Department to launch a criminal investigation into how Valerie Plame‘s status was disclosed, Ari Fleischer testified that he was sitting at home when he read about this criminal referral, and he read online an sort of a lengthier account of the CIA‘s complaint, and he—Ari Fleischer said that he was horrified, and he said to himself, Oh, my God, did I play a role in somehow outing a CIA operative?

Fleischer testified he didn‘t think anything that he had done was criminal, but he thought that it could be perceived that way, because of his lunch with Scooter Libby and because of the Fleischer information passed along to reporters.  So Ari Fleischer, at the beginning of the criminal investigation, asserted his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.  And then he got a deal from prosecutors, an immunity deal, which essentially meant that Ari Fleischer could not be prosecuted for his actions in the summer of 2003, but that he could be prosecuted if he then lied to the grand jury or lied on the witness stand today.

The defense today, Keith, tried to get at this and say that Ari Fleischer was essentially trying to save his own skin at the expense of Scooter Libby, and that because Ari Fleischer is a former press secretary and has a lot of experience dealing with tough questions, his smooth testimony today should not be believed.

But the immunity deal also cuts for the prosecution, because it underscores the level of fear that was in the White House once this criminal investigation began, because there you had the president‘s former press secretary suggesting that he needed to get a lawyer and get an immunity deal, so he did.  Scooter Libby, of course, there was nobody above him that he could essentially pin this on, so, perhaps in order to protect the vice president, or for other reasons, Scooter Libby decided he had to testify.  He blamed it on reporters.  And for that, Scooter Libby is facing the trial of his life.

OLBERMANN:  And lastly, as we look ahead in this trial, anything further on this “Newsweek” report that there were defense subpoenas issued last week to Mr. Rove and Dan Bartlett?

SHUSTER:  Yes, we have confirmed that Rove and Bartlett have received defense subpoenas, meaning they have to be on standby for the defense in the defense phase, which could start as early as the end of this week.

Based on the testimony today about Dan Bartlett on Air Force One, it seems even more likely that he would have to testify as a defense witness, whether he wants to or not.  And Karl Rove could testify simply because the defense is trying to show, at least they argued in opening arguments, that Karl Rove was also involved in spreading information, and that, therefore, the prosecutors have the wrong guy, at least according to the defense.

OLBERMANN:  MSNBC‘s David Shuster on the Libby trial.  As always, thanks for your great reporting, sir.

SHUSTER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  As we mentioned earlier, each day of this trial threatens to bring, from both prosecution and defense, new information implicating the administration in a (INAUDIBLE) -- purposeful, rather, attempt to discredit war critics, and also implicating it in a near-Nixonian paranoia regarding what he has said about the administration in public.

Nevertheless, although the trial told us that Mr. Cheney‘s office actually transcribed MSNBC‘s “HARDBALL WITH CHRIS MATTHEWS” on a regular basis just to track coverage of the story, today Mr. Bush‘s latest spokesperson said, in essence, Trial, what trial?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Is the president following the Libby trial?

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Not that closely, really.  I mean, (INAUDIBLE), I know there‘s this perception that we‘re all sitting around buzzing about it, but we really aren‘t.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, I mean, you‘ve got Rove and Bartlett both subpoenaed, and you‘ve got the vice president to testify.  I would think there would be some interest in the White House.

SNOW:  Yes, but it‘s just—look, it is what it is, it‘s an ongoing trial.  And we‘re not going to comment on it any further.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What is the president‘s response to the White House being portrayed as being (INAUDIBLE)?

SNOW:  Well, again, as I said, as tempting as it is to jump into that, we‘re not commenting.


SNOW:  (INAUDIBLE), we‘re just not jumping into it.  I am glad I‘m press secretary now.


OLBERMANN:  As we just heard, the witness list for this trial new including Mr. Bush‘s vice president, his top political adviser, Karl Rove, top policy adviser and the man who ran the communications office, Dan Bartlett, as well as, today, former spokesperson Fleischer, and others still to come.

But Mr. Bush not buzzing about it.

Let‘s bring in “Newsweek”‘s chief White House correspondent and our political analyst, Richard Wolffe.

Richard, good evening.


Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  For—can you fact-check Mr. Snow there?  Is the White House tracking this trial?  And what is on the line for the administration at this point, from its perception?

WOLFFE:  Well, Tony Snow might be not be tuning in here, but I‘ve spoken to a lot of people in the White House who were there at the time.  Some people have left, of course.  And they‘re obsessing about this trial. 

They‘re fascinated by it.

Look, one of the problems for folks in the White House is that once this investigation really kicked into high gear, they were told not to talk about it to each other.  And their lawyers since then have told them, Don‘t talk about it.  So maybe Tony isn‘t in on the conversation, but there is one going back and forth.

And, look, what‘s on the line?  Their personal reputation.  People are worried about how they look, what everyone else is saying about each other on the witness stand, and it‘s being taken very personally.

OLBERMANN:  The trial is giving the public and the media alike an unprecedented inside view—almost any would be at this point—of just how far the administration went to use the media to spin what was out there in order to support going to war in Iraq.  Is this having, now, any material impact on the way the administration is approaching Iraq at the moment, or even Iran?

WOLFFE:  Well, the run-up to the war affects everything they talk about, although they‘re loath to admit it.  Even the vice president, when I spoke to him, conceded that they have a credibility problem.  And the credibility problem is clearly about weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the war in Iraq, which happens to, of course, be the primary concern about Iran, weapons programs.

Having said that, does that stop them making the same cases about Iran that they made about Iraq?  No, it doesn‘t.  They‘re very happy to make the same case.  And as the vice president said, he expects people to believe it.

OLBERMANN:  Over the weekend, you did the first print interview with

Mr. Cheney since the elections in November, and he wouldn‘t comment on the

trial, rather reminiscent of Mr. Snow there.  But when you asked about this

central issue of it, the credibility of the administration on threats to

the country, he said—let me quote him from your piece, “We should not

let the facts of past problems in that area lead us to ignore the face we -

the threat we face today,” now, meaning Iran.

Does that—does he—did he see any irony in saying, Don‘t let me past screw-ups stop me from—or stop you from thinking I might be screwing up again?

WOLFFE:  No, I think this was irony-free at that point.  He was

certainly talking about the broader threats in very similar, dark,

apocalyptic terms.  But look, if you talk to reasonable people outside the

administration, they see real threats, Europeans see real threats in Iran‘s

in what Iran is doing right now.  And everybody feels that something should be done.  The question is what?  An invasion is pretty much off the table.

OLBERMANN:  Your interview ended up here with another potential irony, even if it was irony-free at that point.  You asked him about criticism.  Your question was, “People have gotten quite personal, people you worked with before.  You wouldn‘t be human if you didn‘t have some reaction.”  And his answer was, “Well, I‘m vice president, and they‘re not.”  And other than the Chevy Chase similarity, was that his human reaction to it?  Or was that his version of a no comment to the premise of your assumption that he would have a human reaction?

WOLFFE:  Well, I laughed about it, and he had a wry smile on his face.  I mean, look, he was saying he wasn‘t taking anything personally, and then he laid a very personal blow on these people.  I think he obviously takes some comfort in the fact that he‘s president and none of the rest of us are.

OLBERMANN:  Well, could have been worse.  You could have gotten the Wolf Blitzer treatment.  So that‘s -- (INAUDIBLE) you could have that stare-down for a week in your nightmares.

Richard Wolffe of MSNBC and “Newsweek” and the Dick Cheney interview, of great interest.  And as always, Richard, great thanks for your time.

WOLFFE:  Any time, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, the war in Iraq, a major battle over the weekend.  Are Iraqi forces finally stepping up?  And who exactly is the enemy they‘re going after?

And later, Senator Clinton‘s coming-out party on the campaign trail.  Hillary heads to Iowa.  Her positions on the war and the war on terror are already center stage, and already have the current White House paying attention.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN:  Two and a half weeks after the president announced a planned troop increase in Iraq, five days after he reiterated that in the State of the Union, four days after a Democratic resolution opposing the plan passed a Senate committee, U.S.-backed Iraqi troops killed 200 enemy fighters in a single raid.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, the timing might instigate cynicism, the reality suggests otherwise.  The weekend‘s raid happened not where the troops are supposed to surge, in Baghdad or in Anbar Province, but rather in Najaf.  And the enemy was not al Qaeda nor Ba‘athists nor radical death squads backed by Iran, but instead a messianic Shiite cult looking to bring about Armageddon.

Our correspondent in Baghdad is Jane Arraf.



JANE ARRAF, MSNBC Correspondent:  Keith, one of those killed, according to Iraqi officials, was the leader of the group, an Iraqi Shia who believed that he was a messenger of God.  Now, his group came virtually out of nowhere, and waged one of the biggest battles the Iraqi army has fought.

(voice-over):  The group, called Soldiers of Heaven, was using the cover of hundreds of thousands of Shias on their way to the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala.  Their goal was to attack the pilgrims, the holy sites, and to kill top Shia clerics.

But before dawn Sunday, Iraqi police got a tip that gunmen planning to attack Najaf were hiding in the palm groves north of the city.  When the Iraqi troops arrived, they found 600 men armed with machine guns, mortars, and rockets, dug into trenches.

Quickly overwhelmed, they called for Iraqi reinforcements, and then U.S. air support.  U.S. and British jets, as well as U.S. Stryker brigades, were called in.

The fighting had been raging for hours when an Iraqi policeman took this cell phone video.  The smoke rising was from a downed U.S. helicopter.  Two American servicemen were killed.

An Iraqi official said the fighters appeared to be well trained and equipped.  Later, the Iraqi military found 500 automatic weapons, mortars, and Katyusha rockets.

Iraqi officials say the group included Shia cult members, Sunni insurgents, and foreign fighters.  About 200 of them were killed after U.S.  F-16s dropped 500-pound bombs.

Senior Iraqi officials tell NBC News the group planned to assassinate the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most revered cleric in Iraq.  The group believed the resulting violence would bring on the Apocalypse.

ADEL DARWISH, MIDDLE EAST ANALYST:  There would have to be massive bloodshed, by killing those who seemed to be the priests, the high priests, of the Shia.

ARRAF (on camera):  This plot has been foiled, but one of the concerns is that Iraq, with all its divisions, has become a magnet for all kinds of groups that aren‘t yet on anyone‘s radar.

U.S. and Iraqi officials tell us the area around Najaf and Karbala is calm, but tense, Keith.


OLBERMANN:  Jane, thank you.  Jane Arraf reporting from Baghdad.

President Bush continues to rationalize sending more troops into Iraq in part, anyway, by evoking the war on terror.  He did it again in last week‘s State of the Union address, president again claimed credit for the government for having stopped several terror plots, everything from an attack on the Library Tower in Los Angeles to the scheme to use liquid explosives to blow up British airplanes flying to the U.S.

Except, as in his other State of the Union speeches, the president was factually challenged to a degree large or small, terror experts openly questioning what, if anything, has really been disrupted.

Tomorrow night here, a special comment.  We are faced once again with the nexus of politics and terror.  When, if ever, will the president stick to the facts?  Tomorrow night, here on COUNTDOWN.

Here tonight, talk about a high-speed blowout.  At 288 miles an hour, you lose a tire.

And is it a close encounter of the third kind?  UFO sightings in Hawaii.  Well, if you were coming from the Planet Skyron in the galaxy of Andromeda, wouldn‘t you go to Hawaii?

That and more, ahead on COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN:  On this day in 1923, Sydney “Paddy” Chayefsky was born.  He was a screenwriter, and he did a lot of extraordinary work, from the TV play “Marty” to the movie “The Hospital.”  But nothing of his compared to almost nothing of anybody else‘s compared to his script for the movie “Network.”  Released in 1976, “Network” not only captured the early signs of where television news was going, but extrapolated from them, more or less correctly, to the way it really is 31 years later.  In short, everything in that movie‘s happened to me or somebody I know except for the anchorman getting shot from the audience.  And that‘s why newscasts don‘t have audiences.

On that note, let‘s play Oddball.

Most of the time, TV news is rather like this, scary video from Britain, where the driver Richard “The Hamster” Hammond‘s (ph) attempt to break the world land-speed record did not go that well.  The crash actually occurred in November, when a tire on the jet-powered car blew out at about 288 miles per hour.  Mr. Hammond spent a few weeks in the hospital, but he‘s made a full recovery.  He released this video to the BBC this week after he awoke from a coma to find out that the owner of the car had been blaming the crash on driver error.

Hey, pal, I know you lost your jet car on the deal, but lay off the Hamster.  The guy almost died in your death trap on wheels.

To Rome, where the hottest thing on the catwalks these days, huge dresses with the huge likenesses of your favorite female heroine.  Oh, cool, Rod Stewart.  No, I‘m sorry, that‘s Hillary Clinton.  Italian fashion label Gazzetoni (ph) unveiling the line today with dresses featuring Senator Clinton, Queen Elizabeth, Condoleezza Rice, Ali G n the glasses.  Ali G, I think it‘s fabulous.  Ali G.

And finally, it‘s another exciting episode of What‘s Happened to This Man‘s Neck?  If you guessed freak accident with a Norelco, you‘re wrong.  It seems Jesus Martinez was the loser in a Colombian bullfight over the weekend.  You‘ll find this video disturbing, but just think about how Jesus feels.  Better yet, think about how the bull feels.  It had been stabbed a dozen times before it made an amazing comeback to win the battle.  Of course, the bull always loses the war, which is why we celebrate whenever one can get a few licks in on his way down.  You done good, Bully, you done good.

It‘s become a rite of passage for any presidential hopeful, open mike night, inadvertently open mike night.

And a septuagenarian survives getting mauled by a mountain lion, only to now face a deadly infection.

Those stories ahead.

But first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.

A theme tonight, perhaps the three dumbest criminals ever presented in one grouping.  See if you can spot them.

Number three, Clenzo Thompson of Brooklyn, bank robber.  Holds up the Commerce Bank in Park Slope on the 12th, gets money, dye pack explodes in face.  Holds up the same Commerce Bank in Park Slope on the 15th, gets more money.  Another dye pack explodes in face.  Police considered him armed, dangerous, and wearing way too much foundation.

Number two, attorney Rick Patri of Madison, Wisconsin.  Formerly a prosecutor of drunk drivers there, he‘s now a defense lawyer.  On his way to the county lockup to pick up a client charged with drunk driving, he was arrested for allegedly drunk driving.

Number one, James Timothy Buchanan of Panama City, Florida.  (INAUDIBLE) county narcotics investigators there asked him to stop by the office for questioning, because he‘d been charged with obtaining a false prescription for drugs.  When he arrived at police headquarters, police say, Mr. Buchanan was carrying in his pockets prescription drugs for which he had no prescription.


OLBERMANN:  In the parallel universe that is politics, it is the equivalent of those Disney World commercials filmed right after the Super Bowl.  You have just decided to run for president, what are you going to do now?  I‘m going to Iowa. 

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, Senator Hillary Clinton hits the Hawkeye State, campaigning and singing, and further nuancing her stand on Iraq with the implication we need to be out of there or on the way out of there before Mr. Bush is on his way out of the White House.  Making her first visit as a presidential candidate to the first stop on the campaign trail over the weekends, choosing a town hall question and answer session to step up her rhetoric against the administration. 


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK:  The president has said this is going to be left to his successor.  He has said that on more than one occasion.  And I think it‘s the height of irresponsibility and I really resent it.  This was his decision to go to war.  He went with an ill conceived plan and an incompetently executed strategy and we should expect him to extricate our country from this before he leaves office. 


OLBERMANN:  The White House responding the way it often does to those who disagree with it, by labeling criticism partisanship, saying in a statement, quote, “it is disappointing that Senator Clinton is responding to the president‘s new strategy for Iraq with a partisan attack that sends the wrong message to our troops, our enemies and the Iraqi people, who are working to make this plan succeed.”

It was not Senator Clinton‘s comments on Iraq or the president that garnered the biggest reaction in Iowa, rather her response to a question about dealing with bad men. 


CLINTON:  And what in my background equips me to deal with evil and bad men? 


OLBERMANN:  That led to a flurry of media speculation that she was referring to her experience with the former president.  The senator denied that, but she did say it was just meant to be a joke. 


CLINTON:  I thought I was funny.  You guys keep telling me, lighten up be funny.  Now I get a little funny and now I‘m being psycho-analyzed. 


OLBERMANN:  She may have a point.  To help us analyze, rather than psycho-analyze Senator Clinton, I‘m joined by “Washington Post” national political reporter Anne Kornblut, who followed Senator Clinton in Iowa this weekend.  Great thanks for your time tonight.


OLBERMANN:  Maybe psycho-analyzing ourselves and the voters applies here, not her joke or what she meant, but this lingering aura in the public or at least the media mind that is her husband‘s administration, an aura for good and for ill.  Does she understand the size of that aura?  Do we understand the size of that aura? 

KORNBLUT:  I would say that she certainly does.  Her advisers certainly do.  The presence of Bill Clinton is everywhere when she is campaigning.  He wasn‘t physically there this weekend.  She went by herself, no family, juts a bunch of aides, but she referred to him all the time.  She referred this guy from Arkansas who she met in law school.  She referred to Bill, our administration, really harking back to the 1990‘s. 

What you saw with the bad men joke though was an example of the lurking potential for people to remember the bad Bill, and I can tell you the press conference was quite uncomfortable when the bad side reemerged.  So, I think their goal now is to maximize the good Bill, minimize the bad Bill, and try and get the most out of the parts of the electorate who still really car for Bill Clinton.   

OLBERMANN:  Turning to her remark about the president that would intercede between his presidency and her presidency, and Mr. Bush not leaving Iraq to his successor, is she defining her platform in little dribs and drabs, or kind of code here?  Did she mean to imply that she thinks we need to be out or going out by January of 2009? 

KORNBLUT:  Absolutely.  She has been trying to redefine her Iraq platform for some time now, ever since she voted for it, stood by her vote, and now that she‘s running in a primary has come out as a very harsh critic.  She certainly is calling for the troops, at a certain point, to come out by 2009, if necessary.  But there is another part of her stump speech that she repeated several times, which is that she would be ready to hit the ground running in January 2009. 

So she‘s raising the specter of the mess not being solved by the time she were to get there and come in and be able to fix it. 

OLBERMANN:  She really is finessing her own stand on Iraq?  Is she not?  I got to interview her last week and got her to admit that—she said a lot of us in Congress made mistakes in the Iraq authorization votes.  I couldn‘t get her to say she made a mistake by voting as she did.  Can she pull off this fairly complex position on it, or will somebody come and slam her the way that John Kerry was slammed for being too subtle and requiring a little thinking in the election of 2004? 

KORNBLUT:  Look, this is the great unknown.  I mean, she has been trying to finesse it.  She has very studiously avoided saying that she made a mistake and trying to really avoid the, I was for the war before I was against it charge that Kerry faced to his great detriment in 2004.  We don‘t know yet.  We haven‘t seen John Edwards, Barack Obama, any of the other Democrats come after her.  It‘s only been a week, after all.

It will be interesting.  We‘ll start having debates in April.  We‘ll see how they decide to go after her and whether the people who were against the war from the beginning, such as Barack Obama, or John Edwards, who has very strongly denounced every aspect of it since then, how they really attack her with that, or if they even do. 

OLBERMANN:  This trip to Texas, the reddest of the red states, at least symbolically, if not actually statistically, what is the goal there?  Is there in way for her to get those electoral votes or votes in other traditionally or recently Republican states that other Democrats could not get? 

KORNBLUT:  That‘s putting the cart before the horse, since she‘s not even through a primary, let alone a general.  Today she was on a Senate trip, not a campaign trip.  But you do see her running a general election strategy as much as a primary strategy.  One of the questions about her that she‘s trying to confront is her electability.  So she‘s stuck to a relatively centrist course, or at least that‘s been their goal, to argue that she‘s not as polarizing as she was back in the 1990‘s, that she was able to win upstate New York, when she ran for her reelection, and that she would at least be able to take some of the purple states, if not red states, states as red as Texas, which her campaign would argue no Democrats going to be able to win anyway. 

OLBERMANN:  Last thing, it just occurs to me, having heard her response to the bad men joke and this whole thing about loosening up, did she make a concerted effort to loosen up?  Did she go off to loosen up boot camp at the beginning of this year?  Did we not know about that?

KORNBLUT:  I don‘t know about the loosen up boot camp, but she certainly was trying to, you know, drop parts of her biography into her stump speech, to seem like a real human personal person out there.  That‘s been one of the raps on her, that she‘s not able to do that.  So, I think, you‘ll see her trying more and more as she goes forward. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, that‘s a strong sense I had when I got to talk to her.  Anne Kornblut, national political reporter for the “Washington Post.”  Great thanks, welcome to the program.  We appreciate it.

KORNBLUT:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Finally a quick coda to the senator‘s campaign swing through Iowa.  It may not be as starting as hearing former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert trying to sing the national anthem and not knowing all the words, but there are dangers to open mics on Saturday afternoons in Iowa. 




OLBERMANN:  Just remember at the ballpark we all get to sit there and not actually sing.  The good news for her, the 2008 election will still consist of ballots cast by all eligible voters, not merely the judges from “American Idol.” 

Also here tonight, a northern California man narrowly escapes a mountain lion attack, thanks to his brave wife.  He is in the hospital though now, fighting to beat a life-threatening infection.  And at times it has veered from being a touching story, to something more like an obsessive cult.  In any event, sad news about the horse who was the center of affection.  Details ahead, but first here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What did you say to the prince? 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Camilla made some friends too. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  She shook my hand.  I keep showing my husband my hand.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Right now I fell weak.  I‘m overwhelmed. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you know where the Big Foot is? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  For five years Big Foot marked the entrance to Village Chiropractic, but some time this weekend Big Foot disappeared, ripped from the fence he was chained to. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We called police, placed a report, you know, a missing person‘s report. 

JOHN STEWART, “THE DAILY SHOW”:  Try to go peer to peer, if you will.  Let me try and put you at ease, if I could.  Here we go.  What do we do, just sit around here waiting for old men‘s heads to fly by?  Hey, Mr.  Cheney, how is the ticker?  Doom it up a little more if you could, OK, OK. 



OLBERMANN:  One would think that surviving a mountain lion attack would be all fate would ask of a 70-year-old man in northern California, not so.  In our number two story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, Jim Hamm has been transferred to a San Francisco hospital.  An infection that found its way in through the wounds, inflicted by the animal, has now led doctors to list him Mr. Hamm in critical condition.  Our correspondent is Mike Taibbi.


MIKE TAIBBI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  The picture tells much of the story; 70-year-old Jim Hamm mauled by a hungry mountain lion and lucky to be alive after an attack on a northern California hiking trail. 

MIKE HAMM, MOUNTAIN LION ATTACK SURVIVOR:  I got my fingers in his nose and twisted his nose to give him pain, to make it so that he can call off the attack.  And then he got me in the mouth and I got my thumb in his eye. 

TAIBBI:  When that didn‘t work, Hamm shouted for help to his 65-year-old wife Nell, who used whatever was at hand, including a ball point pen and a tree branch, to try and drive the 60 pound animal away. 

MAURY MORNINGSTAR, SUPERVISOR RANGER:  She went for the pen and attempted to use it, and I understand that it broke, and then she went back to using a tree limb and that was more successful. 

TAIBBI:  The attack occurred last week on a popular hiking trail in Prairie Creek Redwood State Park, about 300 miles north of San Francisco. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The victim received severe injuries to the head. 

TAIBBI:  After he was mauled the park was closed and two mountain lions were found and destroyed, one of them the carnivore that he and his wife had fought off. 

HAMM:  Any other animal probably would be easier to fight than a lion, because you can‘t do anything, because they got their claws and they‘ll go at you with the claws. 

TAIBBI:  But amazingly Hamm and his wife kept their wits about them, when he clearly could have been killed. 

NELL HAMM, VICTIM‘S WIFE:  We love each other very much and we‘ve been together for 50 years now, and it was just a matter—his life was in jeopardy and we were fighting for his life. 



OLBERMANN:  The lead item in our round up of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs, also focusing on an animal, in quite a different way.  The concern for the winning horse at the last Kentucky Derby, Barbaro, grew from an emotional reaction to an injured into something almost uncomfortable in its idolatry.  Tonight, the reaction certainly is not over, but the life of Barbaro is.  He had shattered his right leg at the Preakness Race in Baltimore last may and failed to recuperate, despite months of treatment. 

He was euthanized earlier today.  Barbaro suffered a significant set back over the weekend, when he underwent what doctors called risky surgery after they had discovered an abscess in his right foot.  For months doctors had said they would continue to try to save the life of the animal, but only as long as Barbaro was not suffering.  The owners of the colt called the decision to put him down the right one.  Barbaro won his last race, that Kentucky Derby, by six lengths, the longest margin of victory in that fabled race since 1946. 

Potential jail time on the horizon for the singer known as Brandy.  The singer and actress facing vehicular manslaughter charges for an accident she caused last month in southern California.  Police say Brandy Norwood was driving her SUV on interstate 405, the 405 freeway.  Traffic ahead of the singer had slowed considerably, but she did not notice and slammed into a car in front of her while driving 65 miles per hour.  That initial impact triggered a chain reaction.  The driver of the car Brandy had hit survived the accident, but died the next day of blunt force trauma. 

Miss Norwood walked away from the crash and was found to not be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.  Now the California highway patrol has recommended charges be filed against her and if prosecutors follow through on that request, this actress could spend a year behind jail—behind bars rather. 

So what‘s that in the sky above Hawaii?  A blip in the sky fuels UFO fears days after another area in the country went through its own string of sightings.  Here we go.

That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.

The bronze to “Time Magazine” blogger Andrew Sullivan.  Yesterday, on national television, he says he‘s found Hillary Clinton a very sensible senator, finds it difficult to argue with her position on Iraq, but when he sees her, quote, all the cooty vibes sort of resurrect themselves.  Listen up Millhouse, let‘s just all leave our political cooties at the door. 

Our runner up Bill Shine (ph), senior vice president of Fox noise, the channel offering a sort of apology for running with that Barack Obama attended an Islamic training school nonsense.  Mr. Shine said that subsequent Fox programs corrected the story and had even run Senator Obama‘s statement on it, so the controversy should be considered closed.  Left out of that equation, the fact that while clarifying the story, Fox also reported that Senator Clinton had, quote, reportedly outed Obama‘s Madrassa past.  Some correction. 

And our winner, a two-for—they must be mighty proud—the publicity folks at the Fox noise channel.  Their latest targets, well target, CNN‘s Anderson Cooper, whom they have described in magazine ads as the, quote, the Paris Hilton of television news.  Well, not speaking for Mr. Cooper or anything, but it would seem it would be better to be the Paris Hilton of television news than to be what Fox is, the Dame Edna of television news.  Fox noise P.R. today‘s Worst Persons in the World.


OLBERMANN:  It was the masterful late and lamented comedian Bill Hicks who pointed it out in the starkest of terms, if those really were intelligent beings from another planet or even universe coming to earth in what we call UFOs why do they invariably seem to show up in out of the way places, along America‘s truck routes and rural outposts?

Tonight our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, perhaps the first true evidence of intelligence from outer space, flying saucers seen over Hawaii?  A second set of sightings in a week.  First, this was captured at Charlotte, North Carolina by an amateur photographer, whose video ricocheted around the Internets.  Witnesses described it as a blue/green ball with a tail.  The usual suspects were ruled out.  It‘s not Venus.  It‘s not an airplane.  NORAD says it‘s not a satellite either. 

Then Friday, this other image hit the Internets around 6:20 p.m. in Honolulu with witnesses describing it as two little fire balls with a stream behind it.  Also noting they changed direction a few times.  The National Weather Service and the FAA had no explanation, while the U.S.  military was conducting missile defense drills nearby, those did not occur until an our hour after those images were made. 

Joining us now from San Jose, California, Lester Velez, the assistant state director for MUFON, the Mutual UFO Network in California.  Mr. Velez, thank you for your time tonight sir. 

LESTER VELEZ, MUFON:  Thank you, good to see you.  

OLBERMANN:  Before we get to the specific examples from this past week, you‘re groups serious about this.  Tell me about MUFON and what you do. 

VELEZ:  Well MUFON, the Mutual UFO Network, is dedicated to the study of UFOs and what benefit it could possibly be to humanity.  We feel that if we understood the technology behind these unknowns, that perhaps it could be utilized in some fashion to better our lot in life. 

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s look at what your assessment is of these two sightings.  This first image that we saw from Charlotte, explained in the newspaper, the article in the “Charlotte Observer” edition, by an astronomer.  He said this was a fire ball, a meteor about 30 miles high that burned up in the atmosphere.  I know this is just a still image, but is that a viable explanation to you? 

VELEZ:  Well, it‘s one of many viable explanations.  Most of the sightings, probably 95 percent, are explainable to some degree by totally standard, you know, types of sightings, like airplanes, as you said earlier, or space junk.  But then there are those five percent that are pretty incredible and very hard to explain.  I did take a look at that photo and it‘s a remarkable photo, but I tend to agree with—I think it was an astronomer that was saying that it was probably a meteor that was coming in. 

But then again, you can‘t tell because there‘s just—you can‘t get your hands around, your arms around it.  They‘re out there, just beyond our reach.  And so it‘s difficult to get a clear understanding of what it is. 

OLBERMANN:  The second report from Hawaii, that was a little different.  It was explained by an expert there as something called a contrail.   Give me an idea of what a contrail is and also, give me your opinion on if this looks like a contrail to you. 

VELEZ:  Right.  The photograph that I saw, or the video that I saw, was a little bit difficult to see, because it was on this little square piece on my computer screen.  But basically a contrail is the exhaust from an aircraft that creates oxygen or—excuse me, water in the atmosphere and it freezes and creates this trail.  And then after a while it dissipates, either through heating or wind dispersion. 

So it‘s a distinct possibility.  The one thing that the witness said though, was the fact that he saw this thing move and change direction, which a contrail doesn‘t usually do.  However, if there was two jets going in two different directions and the contrail evaporated on one and then became apparent on the other, it could explain it. 

OLBERMANN:  I mentioned at the beginning the Bill Hicks joke about the destination of the supposed visitors.  Obviously he did that for a laugh, but do you think there‘s a colonel of seriousness in there?  Wouldn‘t intelligent beings who came here from light years away know enough about us already to visit like the capitals?

VELEZ:  Well, I tell you, we have found that the incidents of cases where not only just sightings, but people supposedly have been in contact, are pretty amazing.  And through various types of analysis we‘ve been able to determine that whether or not these people are coming from another planet, inter-dimensional, maybe time travelers, who knows. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, well, at least they chose Hawaii.  Lester Velez, the California state chair of the Mutual UFO Network.  Great thanks for your time tonight sir. 

VELEZ:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  That is COUNTDOWN for this the 1,387th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  Back here tomorrow night with you for a special comment on the president, his counter-terrorism claims, from New York, I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.



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