updated 3/12/2007 11:03:57 AM ET 2007-03-12T15:03:57

Guests: Jonathan Turley, Craig Crawford

ALISON STEWART, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

The confession.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

JAMES DOBSON, FOCUS ON THE FAMILY:  I asked you if the rumors were true, that you were in an affair with a woman, obviously who wasn‘t your wife, at the same time that Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky were having their escapade.

NEWT GINGRICH ®, FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER:  Well, the fact is that the honest answer is yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Newt Gingrich comes clean on conservative Christian radio.  Is this some sort of shrewd prepresidential runaround, or a those who live in glass houses moment?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIMMY SWAGGART:  I have sinned against you, my Lord.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Don‘t worry about him.  It‘s about your wives, guys.

The FBI admits to abuse of the PATRIOT Act, obtaining thousands of records of your telephone, business, and financial matters, in some cases, illegally.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No gravity in flying (ph).  Everything is easier.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Think your life stinks?  Have you ever fantasized about becoming a pirate?  We‘re so glad you tuned in.  We‘ll introduce you to one cybercompany‘s own version of virtual reality.

And from one form of reality to another—

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m specious (ph).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  ... America votes in favor of the feathered hair fella, but sent the bodacious Barba packing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I just blew my chance.  I just blew my chance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Well, that‘s one way of putting it.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  America not that one wrong, I think.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  And good evening.  I‘m Alison Stewart, in for Keith Olbermann.

You know that old saying, people in glass houses shouldn‘t throw stones?  Well, apparently Newt Gingrich has lobbed a boulder or two while living in a Baccarat crystal chalet.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the former Republican House speaker admitted yesterday that he‘d been having an extramarital affair pack in 1998, even as he was leading the charge for impeachment proceeding against President Bill Clinton, who had an eye for the ladies as well.

The confession could raise all kind of problems for the would-be presidential candidate, most of them involving the words “hypocrisy” and “family values.”  We‘ll look at how the admission may even have an impact on the whole brouhaha over a potential presidential pardon.

But we begin our coverage tonight with more of the details of what Gingrich said, when, and, most importantly, where he said it.

Here‘s Andrea Mitchell.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 

He‘s showing all the signs of testing the waters for a presidential campaign, a star among party conservatives.

But now, confessing past sins on Christian radio to see if religious leaders will forgive him.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DOBSON:  I asked you if the rumors were true that you were in an affair with a woman, obviously who wasn‘t your wife, at the same time that Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky were having their escapade.

GINGRICH:  Well, the fact is that the honest answer is yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Gingrich now admits that while he was leading the impeachment against Bill Clinton, he was having an extramarital affair of his own with a congressional aide, now his third wife.  Tonight, Gingrich‘s past behavior is still a big problem for one prominent conservative religious leader.

RICHARD LAND, SOUTHERN BAPTIST CONVENTION:  Was there hypocrisy involved?  Of course there was.  And it needs to be called for what it is, hypocrisy.

MITCHELL:  As long as two years ago, Gingrich was plotting his return, but then refused to talk about his personal life.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, January 2005)

MITCHELL:  Well, what is your answer about the divorces...

GINGRICH:  I‘m not, I‘m not going to (INAUDIBLE)...

MITCHELL:  ... the personal life...

GINGRICH:  I‘m not going to get into all that.

MITCHELL:  ... ethics?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MITCHELL (on camera):  So what has changed?  Supporters say he sees an opening.  None of the other leading Republicans have caught fire with conservatives.

(voice-over):  The latest NBC News-“Wall Street Journal” poll shows 26 percent of Republicans are not satisfied with their choices.  And without even running, Gingrich already ranks third behind Rudy Giuliani and John McCain.

NEIL NEWHOUSE, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER:  None of the leading Republican contenders really has, I guess you would call it a 100 percent Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval from conservatives.

MITCHELL:  But tonight, religious leaders say Newt Gingrich in three marriages may be one too many for pro-family voters.

Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  I guess it all depends on what your definition of hypocrisy is.

Let‘s call on our own Craig Crawford, who also holds down a day job as a columnist for the “Congressional Quarterly.”

Hi, Craig.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, “CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY”:  Happy Friday.

You know, if hypocrisy was a deadly virus, this would be a lonely planet.

STEWART:  A lonely city in D.C., anyway.

CRAWFORD:  Yes, (INAUDIBLE).

STEWART:  A politician wouldn‘t make that kind of confession unless he was forced to, or he or she had an ulterior motive.  This is a man who was voted most intellectual in his high school class.  So what is Newt Gingrich doing here?

CRAWFORD:  Newt Gingrich is one of the most clever political strategists, other than Bill Clinton, I know of in this country.  And I see this as a very clear sign, maybe the clearest of all so far, that he is running for president.

This was a preemptive confession.  He wants to get it on the table, let everybody argue about it, call him a hypocrite, everything they‘ll say what they want to do, but do it now.  It‘s like a bit of early spring housecleaning, because he‘s not planning to announce a campaign for president, if he does that, until the fall.

STEWART:  I‘m interested, though, in the audience that he spoke to, James Dobson‘s “Focus on the Family,” as evangelical, as conservative as they come.  Why doesn‘t this betrayal of his wife raise any problems with followers like this?

CRAWFORD:  Well, because they agree with him on the issues.  I listened to that whole interview, Alison, and it was a pander, pandering like I‘ve never seen.  I mean, he went even into talking how the nation was founded on Christian theology, basically making the case that this country is a Christian theocracy, and we‘ve gotten away from those roots, and he, among others, should take us back to that.

I mean, those are the kind of things that they want to hear.  So they‘ll overlook some of the things.  Just listen how Dobson asked the question, saying, Did you—you had an affair with a woman, obviously, who wasn‘t your wife.  I think if that had been somebody he was a little more hot (INAUDIBLE) -- more hostile toward, he would say, You committed adultery.

STEWART:  It‘s interesting, though, when you look at the top candidates among GOP voters in that NBC-“Wall Street Journal” poll mentioned in Andrea‘s piece.  Giuliani, McCain, Gingrich, they‘ve had eight wives between them.  So bottom line, should we just not expect family values to be an issue?

CRAWFORD:  Well, it‘s the new twist on family values.  Have lots of families to talk about.  Dobson‘s group could be called “Focus on Families” now, I guess, instead of the singular.

And it is odd that, you know, if you throw Mitt Romney and Gingrich and Giuliani, all of them, into the mix with McCain, you‘re talking about four presidential candidates with nine wives.  And the only one with only a single wife is the Mormon.

STEWART:  There you go.  Hey, when it comes history of the way Christian conservative voters (INAUDIBLE), way they roll, is there a difference between personal family values, i.e., infidelity, versus the political family values issues like gay marriage?

CRAWFORD:  Certainly.  I think we‘ve seen it going all the way back to Ronald Reagan, who was really the father of bringing Christians into political activism.  There was talk then that there would be concern over the fact that he had been divorced.  They overlooked that very easily, actually, and they‘ve been looking for another Ronald Reagan ever since.

So I think when it comes to the issues, they‘re not unlike other political groups, who will often compromise certain values in order to get the political issues on the table and find candidates who agree with them.

STEWART:  And finally, Craig, is there anything the Democrats in this race should do or could do to capitalize on all of this?  Should they respond at all?

CRAWFORD:  Oh, why stir the pot while it‘s boiling?  I think the Democratics attitude.  If they were to bring it up, it would be later.  This is great stuff for the Clintons, however, Alison, because any thought that the Clintons‘ personal life, or Bill Clinton‘s personal life, was going to be front and center in this campaign, really defuses that when you have so many Republicans caught up in similar activity.

I should point, Gingrich makes the distinction that Clinton lied about it, and he didn‘t, therefore he‘s not a hypocrite.  But he certainly kept quiet about it.  I would say a sin of omission there, at the very least.

STEWART:  Craig Crawford, thanks so much.  Have yourself a great weekend.

CRAWFORD:  You bet.

STEWART:  In defending his actions in the Clinton-Lewinsky imbroglio, Mr. (INAUDIBLE) -- Gingrich, excuse me, positioned himself in a direct contrast in many of his conservative colleagues over what President Bush should do, if anything, about convicted perjurer Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GINGRICH:  You cannot accept felonies, and you cannot accept perjury in your highest officials.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

STEWART:  He, however, appears to be among the minority on the right, as pundits and politicians alike have begun to call on Mr. Bush to pardon Mr. Libby, without even waiting until after he‘s free from prison, which is customary.

Senator Lindsey Graham, who helped Mr. Gingrich pursue the Clinton impeachment, told “The Washington Post” that Libby‘s perjury is, well, different, saying, quote, “Mr. Libby is a good candidate for a pardon.  I‘ll put it that way,” end quote.

Unlike politicians, pundits on the right have put it a little more bluntly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “HARDBALL”)

KATE O‘BEIRNE, “NATIONAL REVIEW”:  Well, “National Review” said yesterday editorially, we think the president ought to pardon Scooter Libby.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  What is this Democratic centralism?  Is it the Communist Party?  Do you have to speak their line?  That‘s editorial because you‘re a journalist...

O‘BEIRNE:  No, (INAUDIBLE) that line.

MATTHEWS:  OK, you believe he should be pardoned.

O‘BEIRNE:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Right now.

O‘BEIRNE:  Yes.

FRED BARNES, “THE WEEKLY STANDARD”:  They didn‘t seriously impede the investigation.  He‘s been a loyal and effective member of this administration.  There‘s every reason to pardon him.

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) the case for pardoning Scooter Libby now, not waiting till the end of the term, I assume, but now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think it would be a good thing to do.  This is a very unfortunate prosecution.  It shouldn‘t have gotten to this.  It‘s heavily politicized.  I think the jury does not always issue a correct verdict.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Well, pardon me while we welcome constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley.

Nice to see you, Jonathan.

JONATHAN TURLEY, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW PROFESSOR:  Thanks, Alison.

STEWART:  Let‘s start with Senator Graham‘s point.  If the law does not distinguish between fruit-flavored kinds of perjury, is there a valid moral distinction to be drawn here?

TURLEY:  There is no moral distinction to be drawn.  Lying under oath is the same creature, no matter what the subject is.  As you know, I testified in Congress in support of the Clinton impeachment, even though I voted for him.  I thought he should be impeached because he lied under oath.  He wasn‘t impeached because he had an affair.

The same could be said about Scooter Libby.  And it‘s very distressing to see some of the people that, frankly, were on that same side during impeachment coming to a different view.

You know, perjury, you lift your hand and you take an oath to God.  It‘s the same oath, by the way, you take when you get married.  But it‘s in a courtroom.  And you can violate the one with regard to marriage, that‘s just a political question.  But when you into a courtroom and you lie, and you‘re a high-level official, who either makes the laws or enforces them, our system treats that very, very harshly, because we must.  You cannot have that, you can‘t tolerate that, in a system committed to the rule of law.

STEWART:  Jonathan, opponents of a pardon say it would be hypocritical.  But isn‘t it possible to honorably support a pardon?

TURLEY:  Well, I‘m not too sure how honorable a pardon would be for Scooter Libby.  First of all, he doesn‘t meet the criteria and the guidelines for a pardon.  That doesn‘t mean he can‘t get one.  You know, the—there are no restrictions or rules for pardons in the Constitution.  The president simply has the power.

But this is a president who‘s always said he‘s gone by the book.  Well, the book says that you should wait five years after a conviction.  It says it‘s much harder to get a pardon if you‘re a high-ranking official.  And you have to accept guilt.  All three of those go against Scooter Libby.

STEWART:  You threw out a lot there, so I want to break them down a little bit.

Let‘s talk about the (INAUDIBLE) the crime itself, and list of things that people have been pardoned for, everything from bank fraud to submitting false statements to federal housing administration, to one guy‘s sentence in ‘47 for possessing an unregistered whiskey still.

TURLEY:  I agree with that one.

STEWART:  It‘s a (INAUDIBLE).  Yes.  In the range of pardonable offenses, how do you rate Mr. Libby?

TURLEY:  Well, you know, there is no range of pardonable offenses.  If there‘s a definition of pardonable offenses, it‘s all offenses, all offenses are pardonable.  It‘s all up to the president.

But there are some offenses that are a lot more sort of dangerous for society than a whiskey still.  And while people in this country seem to think perjury is a minor crime, it‘s not.  In my view, it‘s one of the most serious crimes, because it undermines the entire legal system.  That‘s why prosecutors hate it, because you can‘t have a legal system, particularly with high officials who engage in that conduct.

You can live with a few more whiskey stills, but it‘s much, much more difficult to live with high-ranking officials who lie under oath and get away with it.

STEWART:  All right, let‘s talk a little bit more about those guidelines.  I want to put this full screen up, talking about prominent individual.  “In the case of a prominent individual or notorious crime, the likely effect of a pardon on law enforcement interests, or upon the general public, should be taken into account.”

What effect on law enforcement are they talking about, Jonathan?

TURLEY:  Well, ultimate (ph) law enforcement concerns, you‘re talking about kingpins (ph).  But also, with high-ranking officials, the concern is the creation at least of the appearance of a two (INAUDIBLE) sort of system, a legal system in which certain people are above the law.

That‘s one of the reasons why prominent officials, public officials, generally get longer sentences, because they betray a public trust.  And it‘s important to tell the public that we don‘t have two systems.  There aren‘t untouchables in our system, even if you are Scooter Libby, and the next guy above you in the pay grade is the vice president of the United States.

STEWART:  And I want to flesh out one more thing in terms of timeline.  The pardon guidelines also say that for serious crimes such as breach of public trust, a, quote, “suitable length of time should elapse before granting the pardon in order to avoid undermining the conviction‘s deterrent effect.”

Flesh that out for us a little more?

TURLEY:  Well, you know, because this is a real problem with Scooter Libby, because if he waits the five years, he‘ll be out of jail, simply because he‘s likely to get, under the guidelines, between one and a half and three years.

You‘re supposed to go to jail for some time to taste the penalty.  But for Scooter Libby, he‘d have to be pardoned at some point before the president leaves office.  And there are many people that says he should (INAUDIBLE) be pardoned right after sentencing.  That would be almost unprecedented in our system, and it would send a very clear message.

In my view, it would be an great abuse of the pardon power, because he‘s accused of covering up, obstructing justice, protect the administration.  For the president to use his unique authority to give a pardon to such a person before jail, in my view, would be disgraceful.

STEWART:  Pardon, but pardon wisely, according to Jonathan Turley. 

Thank you so much.

TURLEY:  Thanks, Alison.

STEWART:  And a quick update on Ann Coulter.  Maybe that should be a downdate.  One week after she publicly referred to presidential candidate John Edwards using a gay slur, Coulter‘s syndicated column has now been dropped by, at latest count, seven out of the 100 papers that carry her.  That‘s an average of one a day.  And by our calculation—if 10, is 10 percent of 100, and --  That‘s 7 percent of her outlets gone.

Coulter has declined to apologize to Edwards or gays or anyone else for her remarks.  According to Editor and Publish, as well as the media Web site Media Matters and Talking Points Memo, Coulter has now lost readers in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Tennessee, Louisiana, and North Carolina.

The editor of “The Oakland Press” told Editor and Publisher that Coulter, quote, “no longer represents conservatism.”  At least, however, she still seems to have support of Matt Sanchez, fellow Republican and gay porn actor, who, after you heard (INAUDIBLE) appearance on COUNTDOWN earlier this week gave me a shout-out on his MySpace page as the, quote, “hot-looking cafe-au-lait woman.”  Thanks, I think.

The FBI admits to abuse of the PATRIOT Act, and in some cases, even breaking the law to get private information secretly.  Some in Congress say it‘s the latest example of abuse of power.

And the “American Idol” jaw-dropper, another final (INAUDIBLE) and go figures (ph), bad fingers (ph) got through, but not that wet T-shirt chick.  America finally sent her packing.  Complete analysis ahead.

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Ever since it was signed into law on October 26, 2001, the PATRIOT Act engendered concerns that it could be abused, that the powers it gave law enforcement to fight terrorism, in the wrong hands at the wrong time, could be used to violate our constitutional rights.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN sees some of those fears realized, the Justice Department reporting that the FBI misused the PATRIOT Act in some cases to illegally obtain records on Americans who were not suspected of any crime.

Our chief justice correspondent, Pete Williams, has details on just what happened, and what is being done to stop it from happening again.

Pete?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC CHIEF JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT:  Alison, this report from the Justice Department‘s own inspector general is a blistering accounting.  It says that the law was broken and calls that a serious abuse.  It says FBI agents used this authority, under the PATRIOT Act, which allows them to get phone and other kinds of financial records.

But they used it five times more often than before 2001, but in spite of that, failed to accurately account for it.  And it says agents sometimes cited an emergency need when there wasn‘t one, and sometimes got the information about the wrong people.

The FBI director, Robert Mueller, said today it‘s his fault, that he‘s to blame for not setting up a system to keep better tabs, but he says he has done that now.

ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR:   I am the person responsible, I am the person accountable, and I am committed to ensuring that we correct these deficiencies and live up to these responsibilities.

WILLIAMS:  This is a powerful tool that the FBI has, and some senators today say people were bending the rules, acting as free agents, in going after sensitive personal information without following the law.

The attorney general himself has even said that it bothers him, and he has declined to rule out that some agents could be prosecuted, although the report today says it doesn‘t find willful violations of the law.  (INAUDIBLE) said that this is simply a matter of being sloppy, Alison.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  Pete Williams, thanks so much.

Turning to another scandal, the administration is still trying to defend its decision to fire eight U.S. attorneys.  Speaking in Little Rock, Arkansas, Karl Rove said dismissing the eight prosecutors, one of whose former district is Arkansas, for apparently no good reason, was normal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARL ROVE, BUSH SENIOR AIDE:  Clinton, when he came in, he replaced all 93 U.S. attorneys.  When we came in, we ultimately replaced most all 93 U.S. attorneys.  And there are some who are still left (INAUDIBLE) in place.  We‘ve appointed a total of, I think, 128 U.S. attorneys.  That is to say, the original 93, plus replaced some over the—some have served four years, some served less, some—most have served more.

Clinton did 123.  I mean, this is normal and ordinary.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  Well, it‘s not normal and ordinary, according to many, among them former U.S. attorney Mary Jo White, Clinton official John Podesta, and Congressman Fatah (ph), who is helping to lead the investigation.

After all, there‘s a reason why the United States Congress is investigating the firing of eight, of eight prosecutors in the middle of a presidential term, several of whom had apparently bucked Republican pressure over certain cases, and at least one of whom was shunted in favor of one of Mr. Rove‘s own former aides.

It‘s been quite a week for former administration aides, hasn‘t it?

Ever get tired of our scandal-plagued world?  Just wish you could start over?  Well, log on and be all you can be.  How you too can enjoy a Second Life.

And this isn‘t cyber-make believe.  Do not adjust your set, but do adjust your rearview mirrors.  Where is (INAUDIBLE) pick up (ph) that Crate and Barrel anyway?  Left at the food court, left.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  I‘m Alison Stewart, in for Keith Olbermann.

Coming up later, we‘ll have a special encore presentation of the Oddball Plays of the Month of February ‘07.  But now, the very best of Friday, March 9.

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin at the Mall of Augusta, Georgia, where it‘s pretty busy during the day, but at night is when they get the really heavy traffic, so to speak.  This security camera video, shot at the closing time Wednesday night, a drunk driver (INAUDIBLE) in an SUV plowed through the front doors of the place and did the Blues Brothers thing for a while before exiting through another set of doors.  For some reason, the police had something to say about all of this in the parking lot outside.  And that‘s when Mr.  Stevelo (ph) really got angry.  Oh!  (INAUDIBLE) window shopping without being hassled by the man?

To Sonnenberg (ph), Germany, where this is half a house.  It is the unfortunate result of one of nature‘s most furious phenomenons, not a tornado or earthquake, a nasty divorce.  A 43-year-old German man apparently took the whole splitting the assets thing quite literally, and chainsawed his house exactly down the middle.  He left one half of the lot for his ex-wife, and used a big forklift to his half off away to his brother‘s place.  But I still think there‘s a chance these lovebirds can work it out.

And finally to Lakewood, Colorado, where you know those TV stations have all these cameras sitting around sometimes that just need to make up ways to use them.  That‘s the only reason we can think of why this woman is on a newscast, except that she knitted that sweater out of cat hair shed by her pet, Smoky.  Because, I mean, really, who need cashmere, when you have cat hair, right?  Suzanne Owens (ph) says it took five gallons of Smoky‘s hair and spun it into yard to make the sweater.  She wears it herself, but not outside, because dogs keep chasing her.

As we mentioned, it‘s Oddball Palooza night, the (INAUDIBLE) return of Keith for your Friday night funnies.  Four out of five doctors agree, the best way to start your weekend.

And then there were 12, the good, the bad, and the pretty but booted.  “American Idol” says, Farewell, Ms. Barba.  But you can still her online, boys.  “Idol” chatter ahead.

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

Number three, 13-year-old Kunal Sah of Green River, Utah.  He‘ll be headed to Washington, D.C., to represent his state in the National Spelling Bee for a second straight year.  Unfortunately, his parents won‘t be in the audience this year.  They‘ve been deported to India after living here legally for 16 years and building two large hotels.  They could not get around those new and improved post 9/11 immigration regulations.  How do you spell O-V-E-R-K-I-L-L.

Number two, the poor spellers of Hagerstown, Maryland.  The city has just taken down and replaced a misspelled road sign directing drivers to the Municpal Stadium.  The sign had been there 20 years before anyone did anything about it.

And at number one, Johnson Zaletel of Chandler, Arizona.  Police say the 19-year-old was using a toaster oven in his apartment closet to cook Methamphetamine, when the appliance suddenly caught fair.  Zelatel snapped into action immediately.  With flames sprinting, left the apartment, drove to Wal-Mart, bought a fire extinguisher.  When he got home, the fire department and police waiting for him.  And once again, that is why they call it dope.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  The Sweet 16 can be basketball or a show on MTV that shows super spoiled boomer kids who make salt look like a candy striper, or the week when the “American Idol” final 16 contestants battle it out for the coveted top 12.  In our third story on the COUNTDOWN, we‘re not sure if all those 16 singers were entirely sweet.  Some, in fact, hit a sour note or two, or all of them, but when the top 12 were revealed, the judges expressed surprise at some of America‘s choices.  Our correspondent is Maria Menounos. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARIA MENOUNOS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  More than 37 million people voted this week on “American Idol” and some of their decisions left the judges stunned. 

PAULA ABDUL, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  I‘m speechless. 

MENOUNOS:  That‘s because Sanjayah Malacar (ph), considered one of the weakest singers in the competition, made it into the finals. 

RYAN SEACREST, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  Simon, what happened?

SIMON COWELL, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  The volume was turned up down.

MENOUNOS:  When Hailey sang on Wednesday—

COWELL:  Do you know I said to Paula halfway through the song, I don‘t know your name. 

MENOUNOS:  He knew Sabrina, though. 

SEACREST:  The question is, does she deserve to be in the top 12?

COWELL:  Yes. 

MENOUNOS:  But what a difference a day makes.  The vote went the other way. 

SEACREST:  Hailey, you have made it in to the top 12.  Sabrina leaves us tonight. 

RANDY JACKSON, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  America got that one wrong, I think. 

MENOUNOS (on camera):  After the controversy surrounding her racy Internet picture, the voters decided they had heard an seen enough of Antonella Barba, at least on this show. 

SEACREST:  Antonella, the journey ends for you tonight. 

MENOUNOS (voice-over):  And while the road seems to be leading toward Melinda Doolittle and Leticia Jones, the voters have shown that they have a voice of their open. 

RICHARD RUSHFIELD, “LOS ANGELES TIMES”:  The thing we can be certain of is there will be some sort of surprise.  One of them will be knocked out undeservedly, and one person will rise up from nowhere. 

MENOUNOS:  It is “American Idol.”  You just never know. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  Maria Menounos, thanks to you.  Let‘s bring in our own Maria, COUNTDOWN‘s very own “American Idol” princess, Maria Milito, also the mid day host at New York‘s classic rock station, Q 104.  I do listen to you Maria.  Thank you so much.   

All right, let‘s talk about Antonella Barba.  What did her in?  Was it

the softcore online pics, her voice or Simon Cowell basically reviewing her

vocal performance and saying, well, you‘re good looking? -

MARIA MILITO, Q 104:  I think, all three.  First of all, she can‘t sing.  She was better in the auditions than she had been in the past few week.  So I think it‘s all three.  I think it‘s the fact that she can‘t sing.  I think it‘s the photos.  You know, everybody‘s over her. 

STEWART:  Yes, you do get over her really fast. 

MILITO:  But, you know what, she‘s going to have the last laugh, because I heard on some radio interview with Ryan Seacrest today, she said she‘s going to stick around L.A. for two weeks to see what she gets offered.  She was offered one half a million dollar contract with an adult DVD company, and Girls Gone Wild, 250,000 dollars. 

STEWART:  Stay classy, Antonella.  Stay classy, right?  But she really became news when charges of this whole double standard were lodged, because the Idol producers didn‘t reject her, but they did get rid of Frenchie Davis over her racy pictures.  Lets show a clip of that protest that was made because of this. 

OK, it was as big as that Brazilian protest over President Bush.

MILITO:  Yes, they wish.

STEWART:  This was the real protest over the Frenchie Davis issue. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No double standards.  No double standards.  No double standards. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  I‘m not sure two people make up a protest. 

MILITO:  Where was she?

STEWART:  Antonella sticking around, was it a races, weightiest issue, as some had claimed?   

MILITO:  I don‘t know.  At first I said yes, it was a double standard.  But you know what, two people showed up at the rally, and Frenchie didn‘t even go to her own rally. 

STEWART:  Enough said. 

MILITO:  Enough said. 

STEWART:  The two guys who were bounce, they seemed a little bit surprised.  You had the good looking R&B Crooner (ph), and the little fire plug of a soul singer, Sundance.  There Sundance.  But when you have this weak voiced 17 year old kid who—I just expect him to come screaming out of the closet any moment on the show. 

MILITO:  I know.

STEWART:  Were you as surprised as they were? 

MILITO:  Yes, definitely surprised.  But I kind of think people are feeling bad for him, because every time they show you him, he‘s a kid.  He‘s 17.  He‘s like a deer in the headlights.  He always looks like he‘s so shocked, like he‘s even shocked that he‘s still there. 

STEWART:  And Sanjayah, it‘s OK if you come screaming out of the closet.  I just want to put that out there.  But I have a theory about him.  They are so mean to him, and he stands up there, and the guy, he takes it.  But he does look like he‘s about to cry.  They‘re basically saying, hey kid, you suck.  I think America might feel for him.

MILITO:  Feel bad.  I totally agree 100 percent.  I definitely agree, because I feel bad for him.  He‘s 17 years old.  He‘s a kid.  He looks lake he‘s about to cry.  The judges are mean about him.  They can‘t be any more brutally honest about him.  So yes, maybe America feels bad for him. 

I think so, because why else?  He‘s not a very good singer. 

STEWART:  Yes, I was really surprised at how emotional all these people are.  They cry if they stay.  They cry if they get voted out.  You work in the music business.  I worked in the music business.  It‘s not for wimps.

MILITO:  I don‘t think I have ever cried for anything workwise.  You know, I was thinking about it, a lot them, they‘re students maybe, they‘re young.  This is like huge pressure.  They‘re on live television.  They‘re in front of millions of people.  Maybe it‘s pressure that they‘ve never had in their life before, or maybe the producers torturing them backstage.  I don‘t know.  It makes them cry on camera.  I don‘t know.

STEWART:  I say, toughen up kids if you want to be in the music business.   

MILITO:  Absolutely.  You‘re right. 

STEWART:  Maria Milito, thanks for being with us. 

MILITO:  Thanks Allison, take care.   

STEWART:  And you don‘t like your the current life?  There you go.  Not enough intrigue and excitement?  Get a second life.  You can be all you want to be in cyberspace and never have to leave your home. 

And divorce, Liverpool style.  Rumors of a giant alimony down payment between Paul McCartney and Heather Mills.  Details ahead, but first here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  The ties that bind us and the importance of this region for the future of the United States.  And I‘m glad to be here and I appreciate the hospitality.  Get another question moving. 

TRACY MORGAN, ACTOR:  Lauren Michaels is like Obi Wan Kinobe to me.  So, I‘m good looking—look at me on that.  I‘m handsome.  I can see why I‘ve got so many kids.  I‘m telling, I went the jaguars last night.  I‘m going to have to baby sit.  Oh my god.  Somebody going to get pregnant while I‘m town.  Two days, watch.  Two days, somebody‘s going to get pregnant.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Isabella Murray got an unwanted bonus in this box of Raspberries.  When she passed the berries to her family, something strange was wiggling around. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I gave them to my daughter, and I noticed when I started getting down to a few left that I noticed something in the corner. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But amazingly, Isabella wasn‘t all that freaked up. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I would love to be on “Fear Factor” and stuff like to that, so probably it‘s a good thing that I was the one that discovered the scorpion in the raspberries. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  At the end of last month vandals attacked John Edwards‘ presidential election headquarters.  Now, before you start to go down that road to the Watergate, instead, hang a right on the information highway.  It wasn‘t John Edwards headquarters in the real world that got trashed, but his headquarters in a virtual world, one that exists because of the interactive gaming system Second Life. 

As our correspondent Keith Miller reports in our second story on the COUNTDOWN, Edwards isn‘t alone.  For the past few years, many people have been getting a second life. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH MILLER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  On any street in any city, our world is physical, often overwhelming.  But there is an alternative, another world.  And it‘s virtual.  The film “The Matrix” made it look like science fiction.  But this is no movie.  You can now log on and get a second life. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I would like to go in as a pirate, along the lines of a Johnny Depp sort of character. 

MILLER:  In cyber world, there are no limits on who you can be or what you can do. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No gravity, you can fly.  Everything is easier. 

MILLER:  You can hang out with a cyber buddy.  A virtual drink will never give you a hangover.  

But you better polish up your pickup lines. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  She just said get lost. 

MILLER:  The virtual world is built by its users.  This state of the art office overlooking the sea cost 15 dollars.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘ve got a see view here.  This is a Frank Lloyd Wright style building. 

MILLER:  Currency made in the virtual world can be converted into dollars, three million last month.   

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  People want virtual things so much that they are willing to pay real money to get them. 

MILLER:  The average age of second lifers is 32, but teenagers are increasingly logging on. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If you‘re a 15-year-old who‘s being bullied, and maybe can‘t get a lot of respect in every day life, you‘re going to find Second Life far more attractive. 

MILLER:  Navigating the cyber world is a lot of fun, but I still prefer the real thing. 

Keith Miller, NBC News, London. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  On to our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Taps, begins with Paul McCartney.  Sir Paul has reportedly given his estranged wife, Heather Mills, 2.6 million dollars to tide her over until the final divorce settlement is finalized.  He did it as a, quote, good will gesture, according to the British tabloid “The Sun.” 

Good will, he can‘t stand her and she gets 2.5 million dollars, is this the work of bizarro McCartney?  No, the real McCartney and Mills are still in the midst of an extremely public and bitter divorce and Sir Paul‘s offering has nothing to do with the ultimate deal, nor was it a bribe to keep her of “Dancing With The Stars.”

And you can add another name to the celebrity rehab list, a Mr. Eddie Van Hailen.  Although he would not specify the reasons, the guitarist said in a statement on his website that he is seeking treatment because, quote, at the moment I cannot give you my best, end quote.  Continuing, that‘s why I‘ve decided to enter a rehabilitation facility, to work on myself, so that in the future I can deliver the 110 percent I feel I owe you and want to give you. 

The band of the same name is being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Monday, but it looks like Eddie Can Hailen won‘t make it unless he gets one of those day passes, like Britney. 

And a big victory in the name of women of substance.  The proudly curvaceous Academy Award nominated actress Kate Winslett has own a substantial amount in libel damages in a British court after a magazine wrongly stated that she had visited a diet doctor.  Miss Winslett has been very vocal that, quote, curves are natural, womanly and real, end quote.  So when the British magazine said she had visited a Chinese herbalist for her weight, she sued them. 

Her lawyer said she went to the medicine man for a neck injury.  London‘s high court agreed.  The magazine now offered a full apology in print, and now Miss Winslett is going out for pizza.  No, she is actually giving the money to charity. 

To the top of the COUNTDOWN, our look back at the February Oddball Plays of the Month.  From stupid guys out in the cold to super heroes who don‘t do their job.  Keith and your Friday frivolity next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  It‘s been a long week full off serious news, the important event that shape the world around us.  Scooter Libby became a convicted felon, the tragic conditions some soldiers faced at Walter Reed‘s Building 18 were explored in Congress, and most importantly, the incredibly hot but annoying Antonella Barba was dismissed from “American Idol.”

But in our number one story, an escape from all of that.  Tonight, four solid minutes of wacky video featuring zany antics.  Yes, it‘s an encore presentation of our Oddball plays of the month for February.  And it all begins when I say, Keith Olbermann, let‘s play Oddball. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC ANCHOR:  We begin in Beijing, China.

We begin in Indoor, India.

We begin on the mean streets of Williamsville, New York, a town so tough, even the fish have tattoos.

We begin at the hair and hound fair in Dortlund (ph), in Germany, home of the ninth annual Championship of Deer Callers.  That‘s crazy talk.  Dears don‘t wear no collars.  Well, there was that one with the garbage can lid stuck on his head.  Oh, callers.

We begin with politics in Carson, California, with a shocking assault caught on tape.  A brutal attack or the worst dive since Sonny Liston?  You make the call.

We begin in Cleveland, Ohio, where the big story is this wild and wacky weather.  Let‘s get a report that we found on the Internets from the intrepid John Lokeman (ph) of channel 19, Cleveland‘s Action News.  And we‘ve got action.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Would you chat with us for a second?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How long have you been out here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘ve been out a couple of hours, getting the building clear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s cold out here.  Some people are just out of their minds.  What are you going to do?  It‘s nuts.

OLBERMANN:  The Italian island of Stromboli, where the local volcano has erupted and piping hot red sauce is oozing out of the crevices, mmm, hot Stromboli.

In New Zealand, where fisherman have caught an extremely rare giant squid in the antarctic waters off the southern coast, extremely rare when they caught it.  It will be medium rare by later tonight.

Ways to have fun when the warm weather returns.  In the TV news business, this is called a tease.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And definitely the place to be thinking about Summer, especially if you are the outdoors type.  I‘m Stephanie Silviar (ph) and coming up, we‘ll show you some things you can do to have fun in warm weather.

OLBERMANN:  Film at 11.

We begin on the Internets, where we are constantly following the latest trends in the whole Diet Coke and Mentos movement.  Dorm room Coke and Mentos booby traps.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Want some ice?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No.  That‘s all right.

OLBERMANN:  I don‘t know about the first one.  I‘m not buying the second one.

Deerfield Beach, Florida, hello.  You may remember this story from a couple of weeks ago.  An 80-year-old woman on her way to take the driving test crashes through the front window of the DMV.  What if we told you the real irony was that Superman himself was there that day and did nothing to help.  It‘s tough to see in all the commotion.  There is clearly a guy in a Superman costume, who enters the office in the upper right portion of the screen.  Does he use his super powers to begin saving people, maybe lift up the car and toss it back out into the parking lot?  No. 

He stands there and watches as others jump into action.  You sir, you are not fit to wear this uniform.

To Pennsylvania, where we find the early front runner for dumbest criminal of 2007.  He smashed the door on the left to get in and tried to go out on the right.  Wait for it.  A video of a woman having a little bit of trouble with the manual shift transmission.

Now here‘s a man in Thailand doing squats on the back of a giant

elephant, and I heard about the whole sex tourism thing, but this is just -

Once again, we have a big black bear in a back yard tree, who just won‘t cooperate with the authorities, so the authorities brought out the tranquilizer gun.  Speaking of when the lights go out in Beijing, hello.  Yay, watermelons.

This elephant, she don‘t like minivans.  OK, now everybody, spit!

Supposedly this shows some Canadian soldiers test firing a new shoulder-fired anti-tank missile.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  It‘s all good.  That does it for the Friday edition of COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Alison Stewart, in for Keith Olbermann.  Keith will be back on Monday.  I hope you can catch me on “The Most” on noon eastern.  If you‘re up early tomorrow, I‘ll be some news reading on “The Today Show.”  Have a great weekend.

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

END   

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

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