updated 2/21/2007 11:00:01 AM ET 2007-02-21T16:00:01

Guests: Tammy Duckworth, Jonathan Alter

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

The British are going!  The British are going.  Prime Minister Blair to pull 1,700 troops out of Iraq almost immediately, perhaps all by the end of next year.  We stand up, they stand down.  Is it the end of the line for Mr. Bush and his Iraq policy?  And what can he possibly do next?  The White House, incomprehensibly, says this is good news.

Closing arguments at the Libby trial.  If you believe Tim Russert, says the defense attorney, my client‘s life would be destroyed.  The prosecution answers, If Tim Russert were run over by a bus a month ago, and went to that Great News Desk in the Sky, you would still be able to convict.  The defense attorney chokes up.  There‘s no crying in perjury trials.

There is outrage in the wake of the NBC News-“Washington Post” report about the cockroach-infested former Washington hotel used as an outpatient center for disabled Iraq war veterans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID GREGORY, NBC CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Where‘s the outrage?

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  There‘s plenty of outrage (INAUDIBLE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Well, yes, I can hear it.

Now hear this.  Day two of the new Fox News laugh track.  We apply it liberally.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE O‘REILLY FACTOR,” FOX NEWS CHANNEL)

BILL O‘REILLY, HOST:  She goes on NBC News, and then, Ahh, very nice to see you, (INAUDIBLE).  Come on, (INAUDIBLE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  More celebrity circus.  Britney Spears to rehab, officially, and not just hair rehab.

And the great revelation from the case of the late Anna Nicole Smith and her daughter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘ll give you a chance to speak.  I just—right now it‘s sort of my opportunity.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The judge wants his own TV show.  He has a demo tape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Who‘s the father?  (INAUDIBLE).  Don‘t I need to know who her father is?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Never mind who‘s your daddy.  Who‘s your agent?

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

Mission accomplished.  In England, anyway.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, breaking news at this hour, that Prime Minister Tony Blair is preparing to announce to the House of Commons dramatic reductions in the number of British troops in Iraq, while on these shores, at the D.C. Federal Courthouse, Scooter Libby‘s defense team using closing arguments today to conclude of the Bush administration, quote, “The wheels are falling off.  The whole thing is coming apart.”

And that was before tonight‘s breaking news out of London, White house sources confirming to NBC News tonight that Tony Blair will go to the House of Commons tomorrow to announce that as many as 1,700 British troops will be out of Iraq within weeks, there are only about 7,100 there, our British partner ITV reporting another 1,500 would be home by Christmas, thereby reducing the British presence by half before the end of the year, the entire withdrawal, says ITV, largely complete by the end of next year, 2008.

Several British newspapers in Wednesday editions are headlining the term “End Game,” Mr. Blair‘s decision, of course, coming at a time when Mr.  Bush is escalating the number of American troops in Iraq, having long declared that any talk of a timetable would embolden the insurgents, giving them time to adjust.

Let‘s turn to our own Howard Fineman, of course, the senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.

Howard, good evening.

HOWARD FINEMAN, SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE: 

Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  This has been spun, this will be spun by everybody.  We‘ll get to the specifics of the spin in a moment.  But is the perception, in one of these rare cases, the reality here?  Will this not be read as, the British are going home, why aren‘t we?  And if so, how can the administration possibly answer that question?

FINEMAN:  Well, I think that‘s the way it will be read by the American public, Keith.  And the American public‘s already extremely dubious about the war in general, and the surge in particular.  Even if they don‘t want us to pull every last soldier out there tomorrow, they want us to be gone.  And they‘re naturally going to ask, If the British can go, why can‘t we?

OLBERMANN:  I mentioned spin.  The White House has responded tonight by saying this is good news, even when it includes all the buzzwords, withdrawals, timetables, home by Christmas, when it amounts to the British doing what the Democrats say they want to do here.

FINEMAN:  Well, that‘s why they earn their pay over there at the White House.  But I—Dan Bartlett, the senior adviser to the president, told me that—and I think he has a point.  He said, this is—the British are doing what we want to do.  They‘ve successfully pacified Basra and the area in southern Iraq that they were charged with overseeing, and that‘s what the administration wants the Americans to do in the rest of the country.

The only problem with that argument—and I think it‘s valid as far as it goes, that is what we, the Americans, want to do—is that so far, we‘ve been unable to do it.  And most of the American people find, shall we say, a kind of cognitive dissonance between the idea of getting out, and the idea that we‘re putting more troops in to do it.  It just doesn‘t compute to most voters.

OLBERMANN:  And the British have hinted at less for a while.  But the inference was, I mean, the surprise in this, even though the White House says this is not a surprise, is the timing.  The suggestion was, the British weren‘t going to even start doing this before May.  George Bush was heavily invested, is still heavily invested, in Tony Blair.  How can it not just look like he just lost Tony Blair and Great Britain?

FINEMAN:  I think it does look like that.  And I think it‘s possible, in addition to the domestic political calculus in Britain, where Tony Blair and his Labour Party are extremely unpopular, that I think the British army and Blair and the Labour government probably said, We‘d better start getting the troops out there now, get them out of there now, before the surge fails.  Because if it fails, it‘s going to be harder in terms of what‘s left of the coalition of the willing for the British to leave.

So the British kind of declared victory in their part of the country, in the south, Shiite-dominated south, and said, We‘re going to begin pulling out.  That way, they free themselves from whatever the destiny of the American surge is in the months ahead.

OLBERMANN:  Right.  And every report out of London tonight includes that same caveat, that this whole thing is dependent on the security situation not deteriorating, meaning we‘re going to do it now before it deteriorates.

FINEMAN:  Exactly.

OLBERMANN:  But the last question is political and domestic.  The Democrats have been stuck on the proverbial dime about Iraq basically since the new Congress convened.  Can they somehow use this to get moving?

FINEMAN:  Well, they, they—you‘d think so.  I mean, they‘ve been told by the American public, they‘ve been told by the polls, they‘ve been told by their grassroots of their own party, and even by many Republicans, that we‘ve got to change policy.

But the big sticking point is whether they‘re going to be willing to vote to cut the troops—cut money for the program.  And there, they kind of face a catch-22 politically.  As long as the troops are there, they can‘t vote to cut them—cut the money for them.  But unless they cut the money for them, they can‘t get the troops out.

So it still is up to George Bush to pursue the party—to pursue the policy.  I don‘t see the Democrats yet being willing to vote to cut off funding.  I just don‘t see it yet.

OLBERMANN:  Howard Fineman of MSNBC and “Newsweek.”  Howard, as always, great thanks.

FINEMAN:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  To the domestic symbolism now.  The defense team for Scooter Libby, the erstwhile chief of staff to the vice president, adviser to this president, using the closing arguments at his perjury trial to slam the administration as a pressure cooker of incompetence, defense lawyer Ted Wells admitting that his client made mistakes during grand jury testimony, but blaming his work environment, saying of the high-pressure White House, “The wheels are falling off,” Mr. Wells also getting his Perry Mason moment this afternoon, crying on cue, maybe closer to “Matlock,” at the end of closing arguments, prosecutors, on the other hand, scoffing at the idea that Vice President Cheney‘s former aide was the scapegoat of a White House conspiracy, or that there was any reason to doubt NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert‘s repeated denials that he knew anything about Valerie Plame Wilson at the time Libby claimed Russert was telling him about Valerie Plame Wilson, the prosecution calling the suggestions that Libby simply forgot nine conversations about the former CIA  covert operative, quote, “ludicrous.”

Tomorrow, the jury gets the case.  Tonight, we get the summary from our correspondent David Shuster, who‘s been covering the trial from day one.

David, good evening.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s begin with more of the big finish here from the defense.  Is it true that Mr. Wells, the attorney, told the jury of Mr.  Libby, Just give him back to me, just give him back?

SHUSTER:  Yes, it came at the very end of his closing when he said that—he essentially asked the jury to give Scooter Libby a fair shake.  He said, This is a man with a wife.  Libby is a good person.  He‘s been under my protection for a month.  Now I gave him back to you.  Put him back to work.  Give him back to me.

And as Wells repeated that again, Give him back to me, Wells lost his voice, and then had tears in his eyes as he walked back to the defense table.

By all accounts, this has been a very difficult case for the defense and would be a difficult case for any defense lawyer, including one as talented as Ted Wells.

And today, the prosecution got the final word.  Patrick Fitzgerald took on Wells‘s contention that the prosecution of Libby was madness.  Fitzgerald went through the eight government officials who testified that Scooter Libby knew about Valerie Wilson working at the CIA in the days and weeks leading up to the week when Valerie Wilson was outed.

Scooter Libby, of course, testified that he only first learned about Valerie Wilson during that week, just a couple of days before she was outed, and that he learned it from Tim Russert.

Well, prosecutor Fitzgerald went through all the evidence and testimony showing that supporting Tim Russert‘s testimony against Scooter Libby, and then Fitzgerald went through some of the testimony and evidence supporting Matt Cooper‘s testimony against Scooter Libby.

And then Fitzgerald ended his closing by playing off of the theme that Wells had given at the end, and that is this idea of giving something back.  Fitzgerald said, Scooter Libby stole the truth from the judicial system. 

When you return a guilty verdict, you will give the truth back.

All in all, a very dramatic day, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Now, I‘m not a lawyer, David, I can‘t cry on cue.  But it seems that cases like this do come down—at least, from what I‘ve seen on television—to motive.  Now, what was the prosecution‘s argument here in the summation about Scooter Libby‘s motive for allegedly lying to the grand jury?

SHUSTER:  They said his motive was threefold, first, to protect Scooter Libby, second, to protect the White House, and third, to protect Vice President Cheney.  The prosecution, in their closing, they played clips of White House press secretary Scott McClellan from September 2003, when the grand jury—when the criminal investigation had begun.  And Scott McClellan repeatedly declared that anybody found to have been involved in this would no longer be part of the administration.

And so the prosecution argued that Scooter Libby knew that if he told the truth to the FBI and said that he knew this information about Valerie Wilson and that he was the one who gave it to some reporters, that not only would Scooter Libby lose his job, he might also be prosecuted, because the prosecutors put into evidence newspaper articles that Scooter Libby had in his files from that time, suggesting that there was a criminal investigation and that it might have been against the law.

So the prosecutors are saying, Here‘s Scooter Libby thinking he might have broken the law, and by the way, the White House has essentially attached his credibility to the idea that nobody was involved in this.

But it was so striking, Keith, the number of times that Patrick Fitzgerald mentioned Vice President Cheney today.  He asked the jury to think about Scooter Libby‘s conversation with Vice President Cheney again, right before the criminal investigation began, when Scooter Libby was headed to the FBI.  Scooter Libby testified that he had a conversation with Vice President Cheney and essentially told the vice president Scooter Libby was going to acknowledge having learned some information from the vice president.

Fitzgerald repeatedly said to the jury, Ask yourselves, why would Scooter Libby have this one conversation with one witness, and that witness would be Scooter Libby‘s boss and the vice president.  Clearly, he was implying, Keith, that Scooter Libby was trying to protect the vice president.

OLBERMANN:  MSNBC‘s David Shuster, as we hit the grand finish tomorrow, as the jury gets the trial in the Libby case.  Great thanks, David.

SHUSTER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And the day after we all saw the shocking images from Washington, the wounded back from Iraq stuck in mold-ridden, mice-infested hospital buildings, old hotels, there is talk of urgent action.  Not from the administration, but from the Democrats.

And thank Rumsfeld, pick thumb (ph) Rumsfeld up, throw Rumsfeld under a bus.  Senator McCain, with another pirouette.  One or two more, and he might win an Olympic figure skating medal.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It is now just more than 72 hours since a “Washington Post” expose appeared both on NBC and online, revealing horrific conditions at the outpatient facilities at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where soldiers horrifically wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan are treated.

In that time, Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski and Patty Murray have called for a Pentagon investigation, which is forthcoming.  And Democratic Senators Claire McCaskill and Barack Obama have written legislation to fix the problems, and streamline the paperwork for wounded vets.

Missing in action, in our fourth story tonight, the party that claims to support the troops.  Where is the president?  Responding today, White House press secretary Tony Snow.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SNOW:  The president is somebody, again, whose passion for these forces should never, ever be a topic of doubt.

When he looks these people in the eye, there is a commitment, a strong, profound, emotional commitment to the people who serve this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  So passion, strong, profound, emotional commitment.  But is he as outraged as most Americans are?  Is he outraged enough to say something or do something?  Anything?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Where‘s the outrage?

SNOW:  There‘s plenty of outrage.

GREGORY:  Is there?

SNOW:  Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The White House doesn‘t want to be on record with a more emphatic expression of amazement and upset about this?

SNOW:  No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He‘s just going to say something about this later?

SNOW:  No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What‘s the president‘s reaction?

SNOW:  There are a couple of things.  First, it‘s not a mantra.

HELEN THOMAS:  Has he given any new orders?

SNOW:  No, I‘m not sure that you have to issue orders.  I‘m not aware that the president has cut any special orders.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  So outrage, but no public statement, no presidential order to make sure troops wounded in this war do not spend one more night in substandard facilities with substandard care and substandard assistance.

In fact, although Mr. Snow implied the president knew about the

problem prior to “The Post”‘s report, and, of course, he might have found

out about it on any of his well-publicized trips to Walter Reed Hospital,

the White House added a tiny footnote today to the transcript of that media

briefing, saying afterwards, “President first learned of the troubling

allegations regarding Walter Reed from the stories this weekend in ‘The

Washington Post.‘”

Joining us with personal, political, and professional perspective on this outrage, Tammy Duckworth, who lost both of her legs in combat in Iraq, and now serves her country as director of the Illinois Department of Veteran Affairs.

Major Duckworth, great thanks for your time tonight.

MAJ. TAMMY DUCKWORTH, DIRECTOR, ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS

AFFAIRS:  Thanks for having me here, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Tony Snow told us today, There‘s, quote, “plenty of outrage.”  Where do we see it?  Where is it having a positive effect?

DUCKWORTH:  Well, the outrage, I think, is with Senator Obama and the governors of our state.  You know, here in Illinois, Governor Blagojevich has really stepped up to fill some of the shortfalls at the federal level.  We‘ve introduced programs here in our own state, such as education, health insurance, that really pick up where the federal government is failing.

The outrage is that we went off to war without planning for the care of our soldiers after they get home for the rest of their lives.  We‘re talking the next 50 or 60 years, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  At what point do soldiers, or the Americans who genuinely care about them, stop settling for passion or rhetoric or bumper stickers, and start doing the kind of due diligence that‘s required to take proper care of these men and these women?

DUCKWORTH:  Well, I think some of that has started with the bill that Senator Obama and Senator McCaskill introduced.  I know that Senator Obama has been asking me personally about this since March of 2005, when I was still a patient at Walter Reed.  Senator Durbin picks up the phone and calls me on a regular basis.  I go back to Walter Reed on—myself, as an official from the state of Illinois, just to make sure, you know, our guys that are there are being taken care of.

So, unfortunately, it‘s coming from the state level up, when, you know, the White House should probably take some lead in this.  But I can‘t speak for the administration.  I can only speak for what we‘re doing here in Illinois.

OLBERMANN:  But does it confound you that after six years of a Republican presidency and a Republican Congress, wounded are treated like this, and the president turns around and has a statement issued on his behalf claiming he only found about it from the good old liberal media, specifically from “The Washington Post”?

DUCKWORTH:  Well, I‘ve got to tell you that the staff at Walter Reed do an amazing job.  But they‘re just so overtaxed.  And it was part of, you know, going off to war without good planning.

I stayed at the Fisher House myself, which was a superior facility.  But I remember one of the facilities written about in that article was the Malone (ph) House.  I remember seeing mice in the Malone House cafeteria.  I refused to eat there, you know.

And I think that we do need due diligence, but this is where our senators and having more of a balance in Congress will make a difference.

OLBERMANN:  Your husband is also a major in the Illinois National Guard.

DUCKWORTH:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  And is to deploy to Iraq in April.  Apart from a Tony Blair pulling our people out of Iraq, as well as his own, what do your husband and the other troops who are still going over there need right now?

DUCKWORTH:  Well, I think they need the kind of thing that you‘re doing, which is, we need greater dialogue.  You know, the best way we can support them is to make sure they get the equipment that they need to do their jobs, so that, unlike when I went over, and we didn‘t have enough armor for our vehicles, I hope my husband‘s unit has enough armor.  I also hope that the American people continue this discussion and doesn‘t just take statements at face value and question.

And that‘s where, again, having the balance in Washington, having Senator both Durbin and Obama keeping an eye on this, is important.  But also, I think we‘ve learned our lesson.  Here in Illinois, our state, we‘re stepping up.  Our governor is making sure we have post-traumatic stress disorder programs in place, so that when our troops come home, if the federal government fails, at least the state will step up and do what it needs to.

And that‘s why I have my job, is to make sure that we take care of our guys when they get home.

OLBERMANN:  And thank you for that.

Major Tammy Duckworth, also, of course, 2006 Democratic candidate for Congress from Illinois.  Great thanks for your service in the past, and now, and great thanks for joining us tonight.

DUCKWORTH:  Thanks.

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, tired of this farcical legal wrangling about Anna Nicole Smith and her daughter and her burial?  Turns out it is not just a farce, it‘s an audition.  That judge wants his own TV show.  Special coverage will give him his chance tonight.

How about one like this?  Flower power, baby!

That‘s next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  There‘s nothing to verify this with, excepting that it‘s on every “This Day in History” site on the Internets.  But on February 20, 1952, Katherine Cummins (ph) was said to be born in Clintwood, Virginia.  And on February 20, 1953, her sister Carol Cummins was born there.  February 20, 1956, their brother, Charles, February 20, 1961, another Cummins girl, Claudia, February 20, 1966, came the last of five siblings, none of them twins, reportedly each with the same birthday, Cecilia.  We‘re not sure how their parents did all that, but we‘re guessing the kids were ordered out of the house on May 20 every year.

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in Galaxade (ph), Greece, with another one of those stories we do every year.  It‘s the festival of religious intolerance, remembrance, and suspicious white powder known as the Flour War.  Each year at this time, the 3,000 residents of the town meet up for a battle at the beginning of Lent to celebrate the coming Orthodox Easter by pelting one another with cake ingredients.

This is in the Bible?  The mess takes days to clean up with brooms and shovels.  And if you‘re visiting Galaxade, you may want to avoid the bake sales for about a month.

To Indianapolis, for a report we found on the Internets, ways to have fun when the warm weather returns.  Reporter Stephanie Sobier (ph) of NBC affiliate WTHR was not injured in the filing of this story.  In the TV news business, this is called a tease.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANIE SOBIER, WTHR, INDIANAPOLIS:  You can get a taste of summer this weekend at the state fairgrounds.  And definitely the place to be thinking about summer, especially if you are the outdoorsy type.  I‘m Stephanie Sobier, and coming up, we‘ll show you some things you can do to have fun in warm weather.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Film at 11.

Ah, when comedy and news collide.

No better segue imaginable, as we continue with our new series based on that Fox News comedy show, the one with the canned laugh track.  We apply the “Half Hour News Hour”‘s winning formula to the rest of the network, with another hilarious episode of “Fox News: The 24-hour Comedy Hour.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE O‘REILLY FACTOR,” FOX NEWS CHANNEL)

BILL O‘REILLY, HOST:  Caution.  You are about to enter the No Spin Zone from L.A.

In the “Personal Story” segment tonight, more evidence that NBC News is now a committed left-wing organization.  Now, Kirsten, you‘re on with Michelle, because you‘re a liberal, and Michelle is a conservative.  You see?  That‘s fair and balanced.  That‘s what we do.

Now, you saw we talked about this crazy Amanda Marcotte, crazy (INAUDIBLE).  She goes on at NBC News and then, Oh, (INAUDIBLE), nice to see you.  (INAUDIBLE).  Come on, (INAUDIBLE).

I am Bill O‘Reilly.  We do hope to see you again next time.  Remember, the spin stops right here in Los Angeles, California.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, the Straight Talk Express has evidently been replaced by shuttle bus service till further notice.  Senator John McCain shifting, in some cases reversing, his stances on war, abortion, and the Christian right.

And Britney Spears, the John McCain of celebrities, into and out of rehab last week, back into rehab today.

Those stories ahead.

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

Number three, Judge Charles Spurlock, presiding in a medical malpractice suit by Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weiss (ph), who claims two doctors botched his gastric bypass.  As a witness defended the doctors, an audible moan went up in the courtroom.  It was a member of the jury collapsing.  Bad news, it‘s a mistrial.  Good news, the courtroom was full of doctors.

Number two, Mr. Yamazaki, manager of the new Tokyo bistro Shabu Shabu Shomuni.  He will serve you more than just beef and vegetables.  The 15 waitresses there start off the evening dressed as office receptionists.  But by evening‘s end, they‘re in sexy police-style uniforms, handcuffing patrons to their tables.  Shabu Shabu Shomuni is a fetish restaurant.  Oh, big deal.  I‘ve seen this happen at a pizza parlor in midtown Manhattan.

Number one, the Rawlings Sporting Goods Company, announcing plans at a news conference for an all-time golden glove award team for defensive excellence in baseball.  The guys, who as you‘d say it in baseball slang, really flash the leather.  The M.C. of the news conference was ESPN‘s Chris Berman.  You‘re with him leather.  You may have to look that joke up, but trust me, it‘s worth it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  There is more than one way for a presidential candidate to be both for and against the war in Iraq, and in our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, Senator John McCain may have settled on the most cynical one yet.  Choosing as his villain, as the quintessential representative of all that is wrong with the war, not the current commander in chief, but rather a man no longer in office, the former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. 

Campaigning in South Carolina, Mr. McCain continued to express strong support for President Bush‘s troop escalation, but of the former secretary of defense he said, quote, “We are paying a very heavy price for the mismanagement—that‘s the kindest word I can give you—of Donald Rumsfeld of this war.  I think Donald Rumsfeld will go down in history as one of the worst secretaries of defense in history.”

Indeed, as far back as December of 2004, the senator said he had no confidence in Mr. Rumsfeld, though when Rumsfeld resigned last November, Senator McCain managed some kind words in a statement, quoting, “While Secretary Rumsfeld and I have had our differences, he deserves Americans‘ respect and gratitude for his many years of public service.”

But McCain‘s other stances on the war are not so easily finessed.  A little more than two weeks ago he managed to say, within the span of one minute, that judging the troop escalation would be possible in a few months‘ time, but it would not be possible in a few months‘ time. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  It took us a long time to get in the situation we‘re in, and to say that we can somehow assume that in a few months things are going to get all better, I think, is not realistic. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How long are you going to give it to work? 

MCCAIN:  I think in the case of the Iraqi government cooperating and doing what‘s necessary, we can know fairly well in a few months. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Senator McCain‘s emphasis on the word government notwithstanding, he may want to review his pronouncements about the war.  In an interview with the website the Politico last month, McCain said that if the escalation doesn‘t work, one option to consider would be, quote, to withdraw to the borders of Iraq to try to keep other countries from interfering, maintaining our bases in Kuwait and other places.  There are lots of scenarios. 

But less than a week later, when asked if there were any scenarios, under which withdrawing troops would be acceptable, the senator said, quote, not until we have the situation under control to the degree that the Iraqi government can exert its influence through most of the country. 

A reminder too, that Senator McCain said in 2002 and early 2003 that the war in Iraq would be won easily.  But early January of this year he said that he knew all along that the war, quote, would probably be long and hard and tough. 

Let‘s turn to “Newsweek‘s” senior editor and MSNBC political analyst, Jonathan Alter.  Jon, good evening.

JONATHAN ALTER, “NEWSWEEK”:  Hi Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Since well before the midterms, it sure looked like Senator McCain was trying to reposition himself far to the right.  Does this latest stuff go a little further than that?  Is he now looking less like a self-redefining senator and a little bit more like a forgetful old man? 

ALTER:  Well, I don‘t know if I would go that far, but I think he‘s a maverick who‘s trapped in a straight jacket of his own making.  You know, he really wants to give reign to who he is, which is a guy who does not like President Bush very much.  That‘s been clear since 2000.  And wanted a much heavier footprint in Iraq. 

He really, from the start, wanted a lot more troops.  But instead of criticizing the policy all along, he would occasionally take little jabs at it, and because of his political ambitions, couldn‘t engage in full-throated opposition to the policy. 

OLBERMANN:  Clearly that creates a position where he‘s on a tight rope, maybe on a bicycle on a type rope, maybe a unicycle on a tight rope.  You support the president, you support the escalation, but you just damn the top president‘s top military strategist, the guy who was executing the war for hi, and you seem to try to preserve room to say later, hey, I would have ordered a greater escalation.

Is there a point at which he can no longer hold on to almost contradictory positions?  Is there a tipping points, an event that occurs, that knocks him off that tight rope? 

ALTER:  Well, I think you have to distinguish between his maverick credentials for the general public, which are in rough shape right now, and where he stands within the Republican party, where there‘s still a lot of support for this war.  You know, Chuck Hagel, who used to be a good friend of John McCain‘s has been saying that because McCain was a naval aviator and he wasn‘t really involved in ground combat in Vietnam, he doesn‘t understand what the quagmire is all about. 

So I think some of his lack of understanding of the whole situation,  even though he‘s steeped in military policy making history, is hobbling him now.  He really doesn‘t have a good handle on the whole thing and that‘s clear from all these conflicting statements that you‘ve shown. 

OLBERMANN:  What does the news from England, of Prime Minister Blair‘s plan to go to the House of Commons tomorrow and announce a series—a timetable of pullouts, what does that do, not to George Bush, but to John McCain? 

ALTER:  Well, you know, Blair was right there with President Bush, and if he‘s, sort of, parting ways with the surge policy, it might, in a funny way, make it a little bit easier for McCain to step up his own criticism, and maybe go to some of that idea of withdrawing back to Kuwait that you showed a moment ago.  There are a lot of other options that he could tact toward right now.

He still does have some running room on this.  It‘s on the social issues, the non-Iraq issues that he‘s in more trouble politically. 

OLBERMANN:  And we could go through all those, but I only signed a new four-year contract.  Let me just go through a couple of them.  It included whether Roe v. Wade should be overturned, a change on that, whether gay marriage should be allowed, Falwell and other elements of the religious right, are they agents of intolerance, tax cuts for the wealthy, are a good idea, maybe not, the torture detainees, which he opposed before he essentially gave the president free rein on it, South Carolina‘s use of the confederate flag, even elements of his own issue, campaign finance. 

Even if this is all deliberate, how much stretching can anybody‘s credibility take? 

ALTER:  Well, he‘s flopping around on the ship like a mackerel at moonlight.  You know, it‘s just not happening for him right now because he doesn‘t seem to have a consistent course on any of these issues.  And particularly on abortion and some of those other social issues that the rank and file of the Republican party doesn‘t trust him.  And as for the larger public, they have liked this maverick quality, but when they see him say opposing tax cuts in 2001, and now supporting them, when the country can afford them much less, when we‘ve got this war to pay for, it makes people wonder how much of that Straight Talk Express got derailed on route to the White House. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, as we suggested, service has been suspended until we seek alternate routes.  Jonathan Alter, senior editor of “Newsweek Magazine,” great thanks for your time. 

ALTER:  Thanks a lot Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, this looks like the silliness of just another troubled celebrity: shave your head, go into rehab twice in a week, but does that same thing that drives somebody to fame also have the potential to drive them to rehab? 

And Rocky on roids.  Just what did Australian customs find in Sylvester Stallone‘s luggage?  These stories ahead, but first here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bytes of this day.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Meet Robert, a German giant.  Weight, 19 pounds, ears, eight inches, teeth, scary. 

Pictures of his pride and joy reached all the way to the reclusive communist state of North Korea, a country with a chronic food shortage and soon officials from the embassy were thumping on his door. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The first thing they thought was not cute and cuddly, which is what we think, they thought meat, meat, meat. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The cow, now back safely in her yard in neighboring Grafton, escaped through a barbed wire fence.  But the real drama took place when they tried to bring her in.  The one-ton animal slammed into a police cruiser.  Her caretaker clearly not happy. 

DAVID LETTERMAN, “THE TONIGHT SHOW”:  Watch this, here‘s an announcement from Mitt Romney, ladies and gentlemen. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mitt Romney believes he has the vision and courage to be our next president, and he‘s a proud Mormon.  He believes his faith has emboldened him with a steely inner strength, which will serve him well in office, and that his faith is a trifling issue, compared with our current president‘s main liability. 

Paid for by Team Mitt. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  What is it that drives people to seek public notice, attention and fame?  Could there be something a little unhinged about the desire to have hundreds of thousands of people watch you do something, anything, every day?  How would I know?  It certainly wouldn‘t apply to news casters. 

Ask the subject of our number two story in the COUNTDOWN, Britney Spears.  First she shaved off her hair.  Now her family is telling “Access Hollywood” she has been checked into rehab, and not for the first time this month.  A previous stint on Valentine‘s Day, reportedly spurred by an intervention led by the family, which is deeply concerned about Spears, but no concerned that they‘ve stopped talking to “Access Hollywood.”

Before you dismiss this ceaseless saga as utter fluff, it is only mostly fluff.  Does fame destroy people?  Or do people predisposed to self destruction get rewarded with fame?  Our correspondent, John Larson, found out someone has now done research on that exact question. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN LARSON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Why is it when you get right down to it many celebrities seem so whacked? 

Are they born this way?  Britney spears may want the paparazzi to cool it, as she told Matt. 

BRITNEY SPEARS, SINGER:  I would like for them to leave me alone. 

LARSON:  But after her latest shave, even the hair stylist involved wants to talk to Britney‘s mom. 

ESTHER TOGNOZZI, HAIR STYLIST:  I think you need to be with your daughter.  She needs some love and some attention and she needs her family by her, I think. 

LARSON:  You think? 

DR. DREW PINSKY, TV TALK SHOW HOST:  People that are driven to be celebrities often have a very narcissistic internal personality structure.  They feel very empty, they feel out of control. 

LARSON:  Doctor Drew Pinsky has interviewed and studied 200 celebrities.  He‘s seen the excesses of fame threaten the lives of some and take the lives of others.  But in the first study of its kind, of celebrity personality types, Pinsky found celebrities in general really are more insecure than average, and they were that way before they got famous. 

PINSKY:  And they need that constant input from the environment to feel OK about themselves.  They need to feel special.  And the extent that you give them special care, you reinforce their pathology. 

LARSON:  Meaning the more celebrities are treated like they‘re god‘s gift, the weirder they may get. 

CINTRA WILSON, “A MASSIVE SWELLING”:  This seems to be what happens with celebrities.  If you stare at them too long, they blow up. 

LARSON:  Cintra Wilson wrote a book on celebrity ego called “A Massive Swelling.  She says obsessive fans add fuel to the fire. 

WILSON:  We make the celebrities what they are with our gaze.  If our gaze is kind, they flourish, and if their gaze is unkind, they wither and explode and perish. 

LARSON:  In other words, it‘s like watching a car race.  Fans can scream faster, faster, but shouldn‘t be surprised when there‘s a wreck. 

John Larson, NBC News, Los Angeles. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of bald celebrities, a phrase I never, ever dreamt I would say, time for our nightly roundup of tabloid news, Keeping Tabs.  Donald Trump has put his mane where his mouth is.  He‘s got a bet with the World Wrestling Ogre Vince McMahon.  Each of them will name a proxy wrestler for a match in April, and whoever‘s proxy loses will have to shave his head.  Not immediately clear why winning a bet would involve keeping the hair, but this would reportedly be the first time Trump will get bald without paying for it. 

What, bald, B-A-L-D, bald.  Turning now slowly inexorably to news of Sylvester Stallone.  While in Australia to promote Rocky Balboa, AKA Rocky V, II, the sequel, Stallone and his entourage were stopped by customs officials who reportedly seized unidentified contraband items.  Asked about the reports, Mr. Stallone gave some contradictory accounts, suggesting a cover-up. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What was in your luggage at Sydney airport? 

SYLVESTER STALLONE, ACTOR:  Oh, a giant cheetah.  Actually, it was a minor misunderstanding.  They were doing their job.  I just didn‘t understand some of the rules here.  It‘s nothing.  They‘re good guys. 

There‘s not an investigation.  Everything is fine.  I just had a misunderstanding.  They‘re doing a great job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Can I ask, what was in your luggage? 

STALLONE:  My wife. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  No truth to the rumor that custom officials insisted Stallone check one especially beat-up leather bag until he explained that was no leather bag, that was his chest. 

Also tonight, Anna Nicole Smith upstaged in her own post-mortem lawsuit by the judge, a judge who is literally trying to get himself a television show.  We will let you listen to this nonsense uninterrupted.  That‘s ahead. 

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

The bronze to Neal Boortz, one of the right wing water carriers on radio, explaining now that American teachers‘ unions are, quote, much more dangerous than al Qaeda. 

Only two possibilities here.  Either you‘re right, pal, and al Qaeda is thus less of a threat than you preached on the air, or you‘re wrong, and you are more dangerous than al Qaeda. 

The silver medal regrettably to Representative Sam Johnson of Texas.  The Vietnam POW now badgering for a vote on a, quote, binding measure to prevent cutting or restricting money for the war and accusing Congressman Murtha of planning such cuts and restrictions.  Unfortunately, a quick search of the Congressional records brands Mr. Johnson is a high octane hypocrite. 

On December 13, 1995, after U.S. troops had been sent to Bosnia, Representative Johnson said, quote, I wholeheartedly support withholding funds.  This is the last best way I know how to show my respect for my American servicemen and women.  They are helpless, following orders, but we are in a position to stop this terrible mistake before it happens, unquote. 

And thus, we are here again, sir. 

But our gold medallist, Congressman Adam Putnam of Florida, chairman of the House Republican Conference Committee, one of the guys who ran with and pushed to the media the phony Nancy Pelosi, I requested a plane story.  He has now admitted to the “Tampa Tribune” newspaper that he not only does not know if the story was true, he doesn‘t care.  He read it in the Moony Paper in Washington and that was enough for him. 

Don‘t know if it‘s true, don‘t care if it‘s true.  Watch this man, he could be nominated for president someday.  Congressman Adam Putnam of Florida, today‘s Worst Person in the World.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It does not happen every night, but when a story tells itself, we like to try to stay out of the way.  To invoke the catch phrase of the old CBS News program, you are there.  Our number one story on THE COUNTDOWN, this is one of those nights.  If the court hearing about who should get to bury Anna Nicole Smith looks to you like the judge is auditioning for his own TV series, that may be because the website TMZ.com is reporting the judge has a demo tape, and wants to audition for his own TV series. 

Three minutes of this in uninterrupted, you are there, fashion with just this brief identification of today‘s cast.  That‘s the judge, Larry Seidlin, the look alike for the old cartoon character Dr. Katz, professional therapist, with Howard K. Stern, as the self-professed husband on the stands  He said today that Miss Smith had bought two burial plots in the Bahamas, one, after he died, for her son Daniel, and the other for herself. 

And the late Anna Nicole Smith as a clown.  Mr. Stern taking the opportunity to say that certain videos were stolen from the Bahamas, a home that he shared with Miss Smith, and that one of them, the one you see here, wound up somehow on the Greta Van Susteren show on fox noise.  With all that out of the way, Judge Seidlin is ready for his close-up, Mr. DeMille. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Waiting for this crucial hearing to begin any minute now in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

RITA COSBY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Howard Stern, how are you doing? 

Are you ready for what could be a tough day?

Do you think that you‘ll get a decision today? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I expect a lot of fireworks, but other than that -

LARRY SEIDLIN, JUDGE:  How‘s everybody?  Hello.  Everyone being treated well?  Are you doing all right?  We have water, soda, all right?  Good, nice to have you. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  All rise, please. 

SEIDLIN:  Let‘s go around the room. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Good morning, your honor.  (INAUDIBLE)

SEIDLIN:  Sounds like you‘re getting a little bit of a cold. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I am, thank you. 

SEIDLIN:  Get him an orange juice, later on. 

I‘m a product of a college in the Bronx, Hunter College, that produced school teachers.  I guess it was no accident that I did this, I have a love of students. 

I‘ll give you a chance to speak.  I remember when I was in Hunter College, I was taking a psych—it was philosophy. 

They said, Seidlin, I don‘t know whether to give you an A or an A-plus.  I never gave an A-plus before.  I kidded him, I said, set precedent. 

The first rule of a lawyer is don‘t call a witness unless you know what the answer is going to be.  People just get worn out.  It‘s like a Muhammad Ali fight.  Sometimes you have to wait the whole 10 rounds.  Sometimes it was one round. 

You can‘t win with A, you‘re going to want to win with B, or you want both of them.  A little bit from A and a little bit from B.  You know I‘m right on the money. 

I jogged almost four miles this morning.  My head is as clear as a bell. 

I‘m going to have everyone sit for a minute.  Have a seat.  I want to move on.  You can all be seated.  Have a seat.  I appreciate it, Texas, have a seat.  Have a seat. 

You guys can have a seat.  You can all be seated.  I ask you to sit now, Texas, I‘m moving on.  So you can have a seat.  Howard, you‘re getting hungry for lunch.  I‘m going to let you take a break.  

You have a seat.  Everybody have a seat.  I‘m going to ask you to have a seat.  I‘m going to stay seated.  And you can stand up if you want. 

I agree. 

Unfortunately, he‘s a great lawyer. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank you. 

SEIDLIN:  He‘s got a cold today, a stress cold probably.  Millstein, is your cold getting any better? 

The natural father would speak for the child under the probate statute.  See, it‘s true.  You sneezed. 

I‘m going to get you some juice.  Have a seat.   

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Oh, oh, it‘s Brackman from “L.A. Law,” Alan Raykins (ph), only not as convincing.  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,409th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck. 

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

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