updated 3/23/2007 11:22:50 AM ET 2007-03-23T15:22:50

Guests: Patrick Leahy, John Dean, Chris Cillizza

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

Subpoena approved for Karl Rove.  Subpoena approved for Harriet Miers.  Subpoena approved for William Kelley.  Voluntary testimony coming from Kyle Sampson.  The Senate Judiciary answer to the president, the attorney general, and Gonzales-gate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER ®, PENNSYLVANIA:  What, no, well, we—

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT:  What we‘re told we can get is nothing, nothing, nothing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The attorney general‘s answer to everything.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I‘m not going to resign.  I‘m going to stay focused on protecting your kids.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Tonight, John Dean on another White House in crisis.  And Senator Patrick Leahy on the subpoenas, and on the voluntary testimony of the attorney general‘s former chief of staff.

Cancer again for Elizabeth Edwards.  And you wouldn‘t know it from her attitude, or her husband‘s.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Both of us are committed to the cause, we‘re committed to changing this country that we love so much, and we have no intention of cowering in the corner.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Applause and prayers and partisanship deemed irrelevant, from all sides, for one of the most admired figures in politics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Now, as somebody who‘s been through this, Elizabeth Edwards is setting a powerful example for a lot of people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  From the unanimously admirable to the totally unbelievable, murder, murder most matter of fact.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I shot my wife in the stomach with a .38.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Is she still there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, she‘s lying there on the floor.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And the inevitable day after, in the latest “American Idol” scandal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  America voted and you are not the bottom three.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Good luck, Sanjaya.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Yes, it‘s the latest on waterworks-gate.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  (INAUDIBLE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Good evening from New York.

Nothing more dangerous to a presidency, perhaps, than a scandal evoking Watergate and executive privilege, and attorneys general in trouble.  Thirty-four years ago today, Richard Nixon said to his White House and legal staff, about scandal and congressional investigations and subpoena, quote, “I want you to stonewall it, plead the Fifth Amendment, cover up, or anything else,” unquote.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, tonight, John Dean joins us for a Watergate comparison worthy of the name.

But first, in a moment, the senator who signed the subpoenas today.  We‘ll be joined by Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, whose panel today joined one in the House in authorizing subpoenas for Karl Rove and others in Gonzales-gate.

First, the details.  While Washington faces off with the president, the man at the center of the scandal, the attorney general himself, is on a goodwill tour across the country, promising to not only go to Congress and explain himself, but also to stay in his job.  Apparently for the sake of the children.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GONZALES:  I‘m not going to resign.  I‘m going to stay focused on protecting your kids.  No United States attorney was fired for improper reasons, and that‘s the message that I‘m going to deliver to the United States Congress.  Thank you very much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  While Mr. Gonzales was out protecting the kids, the presence of his former chief of staff was being cordially requested on Capitol Hill, the Senate Judiciary Committee asking Kyle Sampson to voluntarily submit to testimony before them next Thursday, Mr. Sampson‘s lawyer asking for more time to read all the e-mails released by the Justice Department, and also because of the possible release of further e-mails, saying, in a letter to the committee, that, quote, “We believe it would be unreasonable and counterproductive to expect Mr. Sampson to furnish testimony before he has had an opportunity to review and analyze the full documentary record, which may be critical to refreshing his recollection of the matters under examination by your committee.”

As far as the White House, the Senate Judiciary Committee authorized subpoenas for three aides, Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, and her former deputy, William Kelley, though, like the House, the Senate is yet to actually issue those subpoenas.

In an attempt to stop that yes vote, former chairman Arlen Specter offered two alternative suggestions to the committee, first submitting to the White House offer, leaving open the possibility future action if the off-the-record interviews were unsatisfactory, even though the White House deal specifically states that no subsequent subpoenas would be allowed.

Second option form Mr. Specter, potential compromise suggesting that perhaps White House officials could testify in public, but not under oath.  Why not have them stand on their heads, sir?

Both suggestions were rebuffed by the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, citing the president himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

SPECTER:  If we don‘t like what we get, we can always issue a subpoena, and move with the subpoena if we don‘t like what we get.

LEAHY:  That‘s not—

SPECTER:  Why not, why not take what we can get in the interests of (INAUDIBLE)--

LEAHY:  No.  No, what, no, what—

SPECTER:  ... (INAUDIBLE)...

LEAHY:  ... no, what we, we‘re told we can get is nothing, nothing, nothing.  We‘re told that we can have a closed-door meeting with no transcript, not under oath, limited number of people, and the White House will determine what the agenda is.

That, to me, is nothing.

And why waste our time bidding against ourselves, when they‘ve already said no?  I mean, the president said, This is what the Senate must do, or nothing else.  And it doesn‘t leave much room.

SPECTER:  Rejections in news conferences don‘t count.

(CROSSTALK)

LEAHY:  ... the president of the United States, when it‘s the president of the United States say it, I take the president at his word.

SPECTER:  Rejections eyeball to eyeball count.

LEAHY:  (INAUDIBLE)...

SPECTER:  Rejections in news conferences don‘t count.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  It is unclear if or when Senator Specter might get any eyeball-to-eyeball opportunities with this administration.  But as he anticipated, his offer was indeed rejected by the White House in its daily news conference.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Arlen Specter suggested another version of the deal today, which is, he said, testimony that would be open to the public, with a limited number of senators, and with a transcript, but no oath.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Well, I don‘t—I—again, our offer‘s our offer.  And we know that Senator Specter‘s trying to play a constructive role here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Wait, wait, wait.  Is that a no?  Or...

SNOW:  Wait, it‘s a no.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  But why?  You say...

SNOW:  (INAUDIBLE), because...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  ... you‘re open to compromise.  In what way (INAUDIBLE)...

SNOW:  No, I didn‘t, I didn‘t say we were open to compromise.  I said we opened with a compromise.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  As promised, we‘re joined now by the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

Great thanks for some of your time tonight, sir.

LEAHY:  Glad to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  With the subpoena authorization, Senator, are the gauntlets thrown down?  Is there any chance for a compromise at this point still?

LEAHY:  Well, what my basic interest is to get the information, get the truth, find out what happened, and get it before the American public.  The White House has said they‘ll let some of these people come up, but only behind closed doors, with no transcript of what they say, not under oath, a limited agenda, and limit who‘s even going to be there.

That‘s a nonstarter.  This is a—I realize U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president, but the U.S. justice system does not serve at the pleasure of either this president or any other president.  And we intend to find out just what happened.

OLBERMANN:  The Democrats on your committee sent a letter to the White House counsel, Mr. Fielding, asking him whether the president‘s offer is utterly nonnegotiable.  Have you gotten a response to that??

LEAHY:  Have not.  I mean, the president has said it‘s not negotiable. 

Mr. Snow has.  We‘re going the extra mile to make sure that‘s so.

If it‘s not, fine, that‘s his position.  We will start hearings next week.  We‘ve already notified Mr. Gonzales‘s former chief of staff to come in.  And we have a subpoena (INAUDIBLE), I would hope he‘d come voluntarily.  But the position I take, every one of these people can come voluntarily, but if they don‘t, I will subpoena them.

OLBERMANN:  Do you have any expectation on Mr. Sampson?  There‘s a lot of discussion of voluntary appearance, or perhaps postponing his appearance.  Is there any indication of whether he‘s going to come in voluntarily?

LEAHY:  Well, I would hope he would.  I have not heard back from his attorney, and they have some conflicts in their scheduling.  I‘m willing to move it around a little bit to accommodate them.  But there‘s an awful lot of people we have to hear from.  He‘s sort of a key one.  A lot of people point the finger at him, and he‘s saying, Hey, wait a minute, I‘m not going to be a scapegoat here.

Well, let‘s hear it out.  Let‘s have both Republicans and Democrats ask him questions in an open hearing.  Let‘s find out what‘s going on.

Now, I don‘t want to take—I have a lot of other things before the Judiciary Committee.  I‘d like to get this wrapped up as soon as I can.

OLBERMANN:  With that kind of level of speed required with the other commitments for the committee, you have the authority to issue the subpoenas to Mr. Rove and Harriet Miers and to her former deputy, Mr.  Kelley.  Are you holding that bullet back in the gun in hopes that the White House is going to budge?  Or how long can you hold that, the actual issuing in the gun?

LEAHY:  I can hold these throughout this Congress, which is almost two years to go.  But I will—they‘re not the first people I want to have testify anyway.  I want to hear from some of these other people.  We have Attorney General Gonzales coming up next month.  We have Mr. Sampson coming.  We have some others.

So far, nobody has asked for a subpoena, although I have subpoenas for all these people, and will subpoena them if necessary.

I know that the director of the FBI, others are coming.  So we have a number of key witnesses coming.  And frankly, if I was the White House, I think I‘d rather have my people come in and testify first, rather than be at the end, when there‘s a long record.

You know, the reason I want to do it under oath, remember in the Valerie Plame thing, nobody had anything to do with this, nobody outed her name, nobody said she was a CIA operative, nobody at the White House did, until suddenly, people were under oath, and then we find, gosh, they did.  It‘s amazing how that focuses one‘s attention.

OLBERMANN:  Perhaps that‘s why there is an oath.  I always wondered what the reason for it was, and I think you may have just underscored it.

LEAHY:  Well, you know, the thing is, thousands of Americans every day, all over this country, in courtrooms all over this country, stand up proudly to take an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and then they do.  That‘s why the justice system works.  And that‘s why people expect you to.

I‘m not—I just don‘t want to have these backroom meetings, where you get half the information, and two days later, you pick up the newspaper or turn on the TV and find all the things that were left out.

Let‘s just get it out.  Let the American people see what‘s going on. 

Let Republicans and Democrats both ask the questions.  I‘ll be very fair.  I‘ll make sure that every Republican on the committee is allowed to ask any questions they want, as will every Democrat.

OLBERMANN:  You mentioned the sequence of the—of testimony of the witnesses.  Your colleague, Mr. Schumer of New York, was with us last night, made a very interesting observation, I thought.  He said that he hoped that the White House would let Mr. Rove and the others testify on the record.  But if they did not, there really were enough really angry career employees, prosecutors in the Justice Department, who would ensure that this information, the actual facts of the case, would get out anyway.

I‘m wondering what we should infer from that.  Are there rabbits in hats that you have that we don‘t know about?

LEAHY:  Well, Keith, I—you know, I was a prosecutor for eight years.  I‘ve always tried to have a few witnesses holding back in case we need them, and I suspect we will have.

You know, you‘re hearing a lot of things.  We saw in the paper this morning people saying, you know, we had $130 billion case against big tobacco companies, until the White House said, No, no, no, no, you can‘t, you can‘t hit them with any kind of a fine like that.  Now, that‘s awful, they‘re friends of ours.  Cut it down to $10 billion.

And, in fact, a career member of the Justice Department was given a summation that she was required to read word for word.  I‘ve never known of a lawyer giving a summation to the court where somebody else wrote it, and they had to read it.  It‘s never happened in my experience.  And she‘s very upset about this, and a lot of other people are.

OLBERMANN:  Well, that leads to the final question, sir.  I mean, is there, is there any serious evidence at this point that suggests that the administration might not have been acting merely improperly, but in, but in at least in some cases, illegally?

LEAHY:  Well, that‘s what we want, that‘s what we want to find out.  We know that at least one of these U.S. attorneys have been involved in high-profile cases against public officials, actually sent one congressman to prison, and was looking at others.  Why was this stopped?  Was the next person told to continue the investigations, or told, If you want to keep this appointment, go a different way?

These are things I want to ask.  I mean, there are so many—we‘ve been given so many changing stories, and we‘ve been talked to a lot of people already.  And the stories keep changing.  I‘d like to get one story where we know what happened.

OLBERMANN:  Hence the use of the oath.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont.  A pleasure, sir.  Thank you for your time tonight.

LEAHY:  Good to be with you too.

OLBERMANN:  This White House in crisis, as compared to past ones.  John Dean had a front row seat for Watergate after spending the early part of it on the field.  He‘ll be our special guest, analyzing the burgeoning Gonzales-gate.

And the inspiring example of Elizabeth Edwards, she and her husband announcing the return of her cancer, saying they will fight on together for her health, and he will continue his campaign.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It is not hyperbole that gives rise to comparisons between the U.S. attorney scandal and Watergate.  The mitigating incidents may be different, but as we hear so often, it‘s the coverup and not the crime that does you in.

And so, in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, the parallels, missing information, 18 minutes of tape then, 16 days of e-mails now, and literally some of the same players, Deputy White House Counsel Fred Fielding then, lead White House counsel Fred Fielding now, brought in, apparently, in anticipation of battles exactly such as this one.

But no matter how great a crisis this may be for the current White House, Gonzales-gate will not rival Watergate as a constitutional crisis unless Congress actually lets fly the subpoenas it has pulled from its quiver.

And even Watergate failed in definitively establishing the limits of presidential power and the reach of congressional oversight.

Let‘s turn to John Dean, whose experience as Nixon‘s White House counsel affords him a rare perspective, one he shared in his book, “Worse Than Watergate.”

Great thanks, as always, for joining us tonight, sir.

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

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s start with these current negotiations over questioning Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, and other White House staffers.  Why are the specifics of the nature of these either interviews or testimony so crucial to this process?

DEAN:  Well, I—when I read Fielding‘s letter, my first reaction was that he put a lot of barriers up, so he might drop a few in negotiations, because most of them make no sense.  The only one—the only conversations that are really protected are those that are with the president himself.  They have limited it to only external conversations.  Two White House staffers talking does not create executive privilege.

So I think this is part of a negotiating tactic at this point.

OLBERMANN:  So what is the point of this, then, if they say that they did never—that nobody ever counseled or went to the president about the particular issue of firing the U.S. attorneys?

DEAN:  Good question.  Fair question.  And I think is, again, it‘s part of their tactic to just put up hurdles, to try to protect the sanctity of the conversations between the president and his staff.  And I—apparently those even leading up to.  Maybe Karl Rove‘s conversations with his wife are covered by Mr. Bush‘s concept of executive privilege.  I‘m not sure.  It‘s a little (INAUDIBLE) -- very fuzzy, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  You and I spoke not long after Fred Fielding went back to the White House as counsel.  He was, of course, your deputy when you were White House counsel.  And I recall we were wondering why him, why now?  Given that this debate over executive privilege was obviously already in somebody‘s screen ahead of them, do we now know why?

DEAN:  Well, I think we do know, and probably did know, that they felt they had some serious problems in front of them.  And Fred is somebody who‘s an experienced hand.  How much weight he has to swing around inside the White House with his experience, I don‘t know.

I can‘t believe right now where it is that it‘s fully Fred speaking.  The current negotiation is not dissimilar from one that Fred and I talked about when he first came on the staff with Henry Kissinger, and we arranged a compromise for Henry to testify over at the Blair House, with no oath, off the record, and to talk to the Foreign Relations Committee.  So he really is sort of spinning the old theory again all these 30 years later.

OLBERMANN:  In your latest column at Findlaw.com, you‘re arguing that the Bush administration wants to establish a new kind of presidency, not just separate from, but superior to the other branches.  How does all of this, from the issue of firing these attorneys, to this debate over whether or not anybody from the White House can testify to conversations they had amongst themselves, how does that all fit into that theory, in your mind?

DEAN:  Well, I think it all kind of does fit.  When I first got interested in conservatism, Keith, the presidency was viewed as something that was dangerous when it was strong.  A decade later, when Nixon came in, it started to swing.  Then with Reagan, Bush, and Bush, it has now gone 180 degrees, where the conservative canon calls for a strong president.

And one of those criteria is to protect the prerogatives of the president, theoretically being not to invade his sanctity of his conversations with his aides.  This appears to me to be an exercise of that nature, where they‘re really making the point, just to make the point.

It‘s also an excellent diversion from some of their other problems, for them to get into a nose-to-nose with Congress on something that‘ll take the attention away from Iraq.

OLBERMANN:  But do you sense, as I do, that this might be a higher tightrope than the president and his political advisers, and maybe his legal advisers, understand?  I mean, Senator Schumer last night talked about the information coming out one way or the other, due to the irritated career employees at the Department of Justice.  Senator Leahy just said that, you know, if you‘re the White House, you want your guys on the record first.

Does this sound to you like they have more information than the White House understands they have?

DEAN:  It could well be.  I think we‘ve just seen the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, on this whole investigation.  I think more and more U.S. attorneys and prosecutions are now being looked at with a different perspective, given the influence the White House has had on this Justice Department, and particularly on prosecutions or lack of prosecutions.

So they may well be playing a very dangerous game.  But I think, again, that Bush has got his manhood involved in this, and he‘s not likely to back down, Keith.  So it could get thrilling.

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, John, given how often we‘ve been talking about presidential powers and parameters, and the outreach and the imperial presidency, and the superimperial presidency, should this be the first question we ask of every candidate for office in 2008, How important do you think and how powerful do you think this job really is?

DEAN:  Well, I think that‘s an absolute positively essential question that be asked.  In fact, I think it‘s so important, I happen to be writing a book about it right now, so your question is very timely.  And I‘m on the last chapter, and I think it‘s an essential question that these process questions, which typically are never addressed by candidates, that they are addressed.

Because I‘ve found some very solid research that shows that the American public cares a great deal about this kind of process.  They understand it, they‘re interested in it.  And when they think they‘re getting short shift, they really get very upset.

OLBERMANN:  All right, well, send us some of the questions.  And as we get the candidates in the next year and a half, we‘ll ask them one at a time.

John Dean, contributor to Findlaw.com, author of “Conservatives Without Conscience” and “Worse Than Watergate.  As always, sir, great thanks for your time and your insights.

DEAN:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, murder was bad enough.  The murderer calling 911, then asking the dead body if she was alive or dead is far, far worse.

And “American Idol” is not just destroying our brains, now it‘s destroying our prisons.

That and more, ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  On this date in 1924, William Joseph Wenzel (ph), Jr., was born.  When he went into broadcasting, he made a minor alteration to his name and called himself Bill Wendell (ph).  He was David Letterman‘s announcer and sidekick until 1995, but he also filled the same role for Ernie Kovacs in the ‘50s, and he hosted or announced or appeared in everything from Steve Allen‘s “TONIGHT” show to “Car 54, Where Are You?” to “To Tell the Truth,” to the first series of those utterly impenetrable Old Navy commercials.

In the late Bill Wendell‘s memory, let‘s play Oddball.

We begin inside the Maricopa County Jail in Arizona for another exciting episode of Inmate Idol.  The latest brainstorm by notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the man behind the Tent City Prison and the pink jail uniforms and all the other crap.  This one, he says, is good for morale.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing):  I‘ve got sunshine on a cloudy day...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing):  (INAUDIBLE)...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing):  Sometime I feel you I‘ll be sitting when the evening comes, a glass of champagne...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing):  (INAUDIBLE) when you said to me about life (INAUDIBLE) being free, (INAUDIBLE)...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Wow, keep singing like that, you‘re going to find yourself with a shiv in your side.  No, seriously, that‘s how get voted off Inmate Idol, a guy dressed as the little girl cries, then out comes a shank, and you‘re out.

To Kanagawa (ph), Japan, for some real talent.  It‘s the synchronized Beluga whale swimmers.  Ayyy.  And a mighty roar went up from the crowd.  Hundreds of fans show up each day for the big performance, thought to be the only show of its kind in the world.  Officials say it took months to train the whales to dance like this.  You guys in Kanagawa have a lot of time in your hands, don‘t you?

Also tonight, disconcerting news about the health of Elizabeth Edwards and how she and her presidential candidate husband seem to be the least disconcerted about it among all of us. 

And this stupid story just won‘t go away.  Girl cries at Sanjaya.  Sanjaya isn‘t eliminated from “American Idol.”  Oh yes.  That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day. 

The theme tonight, municipal failure.  Number three, the city fathers of Newport News, Virginia, bought themselves a brand new $385,000 state-of-the-art fire boat.  They hadn‘t even had a chance to use it yet when they found it yesterday at the bottom of the harbor.  It had sunk while tied to the dock.  Nobody knows why. 

Number two, fire chief Brad Williams of West Licking Joint Fire Department, serving Pataskala (ph), Ohio.  A house there nearly burned to the ground thanks to the dog house.  The owners evidently wanted to warm Fido up.  They put a space heater in the dog house.  Dog house catches fire and then human house does to.  Nobody hurt, not even the dog. 

And number one, the West Licking Joint Fire Department, wait, wait, the local fire department in Ohio is called West Licking Joint?  I‘ll bet they get all kinds of volunteers.  Not as many as the South Licking Joint Department, but still. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If you sense that the emotions in Washington and other political capitals seemed 100 percent more sincere today, if there really was bipartisanship and a general mixture of admiration and sadness, there is a two-word explanation, Elizabeth Edwards.  Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, her cancer is back, manifesting itself in bone on her right side.  It is not curable.  It is treatable, evidently contained and manageable.  And neither she nor her husband, the presidential candidate, will change any political plans, at least not unless they have to at a later date. 

The details of this in a moment, but first a quick personal story that may explain why Mrs. Edwards is so highly esteemed, even viewed with awe.  She contacted us here three years ago, volunteering for an interview because she had something she wanted to tell me.  It turned out that she and her son, Wade, had sat there together as nightly viewers when Dan Patrick and I used to host Sports Center on ESPN. 

Wade Edwards died in a one-car accident in 1986.  He was 16-years-old.  What his mother had wanted to tell me was that she always thought of her son and thought happily of him when she would see me on television.  And she wanted to thank me for that memory.  Who do you know who could do that?  Who do you know with that strength and that generosity?  Here are John and Elizabeth Edwards today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The campaign goes on.  The campaign goes on strongly.  Elizabeth and I have talked at length about this already, talked with our children about it.  Basically, as I mentioned earlier, we‘ve been confronted with these kind of traumas and struggles already in our life, and we know from our previous experience that when this happens, you have a choice.  You can go cower in the corner and hide or you can be tough and go out there and stand up for what you believe in. 

And both of us are committed to the cause.  We‘re committed to changing this country that we love so much, and we have no intention of cowering in the corner. 

ELIZABETH EDWARDS, WIFE OF JOHN EDWARDS:  It‘s the people that I met in 2003 and 2004, I described at one time, every event I ever did, someone cried on my shoulder about the state of their life.  You know, is this a hardship for us?  Yes, it‘s yet another hurdle.  But I‘ve seen people who are in real desperate shape, who don‘t, first of all, have the wonderful support that I have, and have no place to turn. 

And it‘s unbelievably important that we get this election right.  It‘s important that the American people have the opportunity to have a president like him.  I can‘t deprive him of that just because I want to sit home, feeling perfectly well, but wanting his company. 

J. EDWARDS:  This is the most extraordinarily unselfish woman I have ever known and I just can‘t tell you how proud I am of her today.  Anytime, any place that I need to be with Elizabeth, I will be there, period. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Mrs. Edwards emphasizing her husband‘s public health care plans there.  Let me turn to Chris Cillizza, who, of course, writes “The Fix” political blog at WashingtonPost.com.  Chris, good evening.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Back me up on the regard with which Elizabeth Edwards is held within politics.  Is there anybody else thought of that way currently or even recently? 

CILLIZZA:  No, you what is interesting about Elizabeth Edwards is a lot of people say that the best thing John Edwards did, either personally or politically, was marry Elizabeth Edwards.  He mentioned they had been married for 30 years.  I think everyone has some kind of story like you related there.  There is a sense that Elizabeth Edwards is a genuine real person. 

In politics, the reality is that a lot of times you don‘t get that sense.  You feel as though you‘re talking to a politician, not to a person.  She is able to get beyond that.  And I think she‘s done her husband a whole lot of good over his political career because she‘s smart.  She‘s funny.  She‘s got a biting sense of humor.  And I think she‘s endearing in a way that lowers the defenses that reporters and other people might have to her husband. 

So, you know, just a real genuine person.  I think you saw that reflected, both in their relationship that you saw on display today in that announcement, as well as in the way in which they‘re going to move forward. 

OLBERMANN:  Senator Edwards had said that running for president for 2008 depended on his wife‘s health.  Now she has this health issue, once again.  Obviously it‘s the foremost concern of those who care about either one of them.  However, in what he has said, and the decision to go on, is there an inconsistency there?  Would there be a perceived inconsistency?  What is the impact of that going to be?

CILLIZZA:  I think there are two story lines, two narratives that can come out of this.  The first was on display today.  You saw Elizabeth Edwards say, if this was about John and I, it would be easy for him to get out of this race.  But it‘s not.  It‘s about something bigger.  This is about the future of the country.  And I think he‘s the best person to lead the country forward.  That‘s one story line. 

The other story line is that this is a man in a family who has considerable financial success.  He doesn‘t need to work another day in his life, nor does she, someone who has run for president before.  He‘s been there, done that.  And he did, as you rightly point out, say that the only thing that would keep him out of the race is a decline in her health.  Well we now have a decline in her health, so I do think there is going to be a narrative out there, and I‘m not endorsing this, but I do think there will be a narrative out there that is why is he doing this?  Why doesn‘t he just go and take care of her? 

And so I think you‘re going to see those dueling narratives fight back and forth over the next few months, as you see both of them out on the campaign trail. 

OLBERMANN:  A question about the mechanics, the timeline of this today.  The story that something adverse had happened to her has been out there since Tuesday night at least.  Most news organizations were restrained in their reporting, at least until today.  But today, several of them got the story wildly wrong.  There were reports that John Edwards was dropping out or suspending his campaign or both.  Was that necessarily poor reporting or was there—might there have been a lot of last minute decision-making within the Edwards family?  Did this go back and forth over the last 48 hours? 

CILLIZZA:  Well, let‘s be clear, what‘s hard about a story like this is there are very few people who know the exact situation that‘s going on.  This is one of the most intensely private, closely held things.  The release that said they were having this press conference went out at 9:45 last night and no one really went with it for most of the day, frankly, because it‘s hard to nail down. 

Now look, reporters are human beings and they make mistakes.  I‘ve made plenty of mistakes before and I‘ll make them again, so I don‘t want to cast aspersions.  I think that what happened is a lot of people, people who I talked to, people who other people at “the Washington Post” talked to, a lot of people thought they knew what was going on.  Now, you have to, sort of, as a reporter, muddle through that, and try and figure out, do these people really know what is going on.  Are they acting like they‘re closer to the Edwards than they are?  Have they been given some sort of misinformation, either on purpose or accidentally? 

What winds up happening in these situations is it‘s best left to let them make the announcement and then move forward from it. 

OLBERMANN:  Chris Cillizza of WashingtonPost.com, making a great point at the end there, particularly.  Great thanks for your time, as always, sir. 

CILLIZZA:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Bill Clinton has done his best to let his wife shine on her own on her campaign trail.  So how is there a book coming out about him next year?  What on Earth does it have to do with wrestling? 

And the 911 call, chilling not for being chilling.  It‘s an admission of murder like none you have ever heard before, next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Scottish poet Robert Burns said it all, “Man whose heaven erected face the smiles of love adorn, man‘s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn.”  Just when you think you‘ve heard it all comes our number two story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, from North Richland Hills, Texas. 

Robert Burns could not have conceived of the 911 phone call, but the inhumanity of this story he apparently knew all too well.  Our correspondent is Don Teague.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DON TEAGUE, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In suburban Fort Worth, a chilling phone call.  A Texas man, matter of factly, tells police dispatchers he‘s just shot and killed his wife. 

FREDDIE WILLHITE, CHARGED WITH MURDER:  This is Freddie Willhite. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  How can I help you? 

WILLHITE:  I shot my wife in the stomach with .38.

TEAGUE:  It happened Monday night. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Is she still there?

WILLHITE:  Yes, she‘s lying on the floor.

TEAGUE:  Sixty seven-year-old Fred Willhite told dispatchers he shot his wife Donna, but said she brought it on herself. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Why did you do this? 

WILLHITE:  She enticed me.  And she was ridiculing me throughout my lifetime. 

TEAGUE:  Neighbors say Willhite has a long history of causing trouble, tormenting his wife and others on this street for years. 

CURTIS SIMMONS, NEIGHBOR:  They was a strange couple.  There was things going on.  It was just a matter of time.  He‘s like we call the village idiot out here. 

TEAGUE:  And police too knew Willhite was trouble. 

LARRY IRVING, NORTH RICHLAND HILLS POLICE:  That address is not unknown to the agency over the years.  We‘ve had some dealings with Mr.  Freddie Willhite.

TEAGUE:  They‘ve arrested him before and had been called to this house several times in the past, but never for anything like this. 

WILLHITE:  I‘ll see if she‘s alive. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Sir? 

WILLHITE:  Are you alive or are you dead?  Are you there? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Sir, I‘m here. 

WILLHITE:  I think she‘s dead. 

TEAGUE:  Willhite surrendered peacefully to police.  Today he‘s in jail, charged with murder. 

Don Teague, NBC News, North Richland Hills, Texas. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Somehow, on to our nightly round-up of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs, and a new book about, though not written by, former President Bill Clinton.  This time by historian Tailor Branch (ph), based on hours of interviews conducted with Mr. Clinton during both terms of his presidency.  Mr. Branch said, quote, I‘m not calling this a biography of Clinton or a history of the administration.  It was what it was like to live through it that way, sitting alone with him, talking about the presidency as he saw it right in the moment. 

“Wrestling History, the Bill Clinton Tapes” will be published in late 2008.  Simon and Shuster publisher David Rosenthal said the book will not reveal deep skeletons in Mr. Clinton‘s closet but neither will it, quote, polish the apple.  Wrestling?  He was never a wrestler, he was the president. 

Meantime, for Paul McCartney, it‘s the big switch from apples to coffee, now that Starbucks will be peddling his next album.  I‘ll take it with skim milk please.  Sir Paul is the first to sign a deal with the company‘s new record label, Hear Music.  The former Beetle said he was impressed with the label‘s dedication to music and also with the fact that it would push sales through Starbucks‘ 13,500 outlets. 

The coffee house chain has already been selling featured albums in deals with other labels, so creating its own record company may have been inevitable.  But Sir Paul was cautious.  It‘s a one-album deal and Starbucks gets no rights to his previous catalog.  And neither does this guy. 

It‘s Sanjaya Mania, or at least the influence of a girl who cried for him.  Now she‘s interviewed and the rest of us are crying.  That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World. 

The bronze to Steven Tibido (ph) of Manchester, New Hampshire, accused of voyeurism, high-tech voyeurism.  His five roommates, including two women, kept wondering why his bottle of shampoo always seemed to be in the same place in his basket in the shower in the bathroom.  Now they have their answer.  The shampoo bottle was empty.  There was a tiny whole in it and a tiny camera inside it. 

Our runner-up tonight, the rapidly unhinging Glenn Beck of CNN and ABC, convulsing on the radio at Rosie O‘Donnell of “The View”.  Quote, what the hell is this show all about you fat witch, because the whale jokes and the blubber that she has just poring out of her eyes—do you know how many oil lamps we could keep burning just on Rosie O‘Donnell‘s fat, unquote.  

OK, sexism, waste phobia and bad taste aside, really pal, do you think you should be criticizing the way anybody else looks on TV while you have that haircut?

But our gold medallist tonight, comedian Rush Limbaugh, suggesting in the hours immediately following the announcement that Elizabeth Edwards has again been diagnosed with cancer that her husband‘s presidential campaign will continue or end based on whether or not he gets a, quote, bump, unquote, in the polls because of her illness.  Quoting him, “what the Edwards campaign is going to do here is see what the reaction is within the ranks of Democrat voters, as far as this announcement is concerned, and then go on from there.  If there is not a big jump, if this doesn‘t cause a breakout, if this doesn‘t cause a big up-tick, then, at some point, Senator Edwards will probably have to suspend the campaign. 

Do you suppose, sir, you could summon the decency to delay injecting your cynical venom into this woman‘s illness until just the day after.  Maybe that decency comes in pill form.  Rush Limbaugh today‘s Worst Person in the World. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If any of the world‘s religions are correct, the best for which the creators and producers of “American Idol” can hope for is probably a few millennia in purgatory next to Dr. Robert Oppenheimer and that guy who invented novelty ring tones for cell phones.  But in our number one story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, they don‘t have to wait for judgment day to start atoning for this.

The young lady who cried on national TV over that show‘s worst singer, after being placed in the front row seat by conniving producers.  She is now being placed on a front row seat on morning talk shows.  Little 13-year-old Ashley Ferl displayed some kind of emotion when she was watching that Sanjaya kid sing a tune on Idol, and in so doing, she touched the hearts of all of us, like she was using a blow gun. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SINGING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  It stinks.  And as all those Idol lovers kept predicting, the object of her affection was somehow saved elimination.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

RYAN SEACREST, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  Sanjaya, you sang “You Really Got Me.”  Haley, you sang “Tell Him.”  Gina, you sang “Paint It Black.”  America voted and you are not our bottom three. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Oh, not even in the bottom three.  It spelled P-U-R-G-A-T-O-R-Y.  Sanjaya Malakar‘s non-elimination leading to the bitterly broken dreams of another contestant, who in later years may be forced to look back at this time and wonder why, why. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEACREST:  After 30 million votes, Chris, you are staying.  Stephanie Edwards heads home tonight on Idol. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  As for Ashley Ferl, after attending a taping of “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader,” she also got into the rehearsal for “American Idol,” the rehearsal where she began to weep.  Nobody has connected this yet to the host of fifth grader, Jeff Foxworthy.  Her date with destiny was then set with a seat in the front row, convenient to the camera.  Then there was Mr. Ferl on “The Today Show” this morning. 

She might have had a change of heart and denounced those Idol producer‘s cynical use of her tear ducts, or she might have given us more of the same and cried like a girl who has been told she can‘t go to her middle school prom.  But, as Meredith Vieira tried to blow the lid off the water works-gate, she held her ground. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEREDITH VIEIRA, “THE TODAY SHOW”:  Go back to that night when Sanjaya gave you the hug, what was that like? 

ASHLEY FERL, “AMERICAN IDOL” FAN:  It was like the best day ever. 

VIEIRA:  It was? 

FERL:  Yes. 

VIEIRA:  I know that you were supposed to be at the dress rehearsal.  You had tickets for the dress rehearsal.  You went to that.  How did you end up at the actual show? 

FERL:  Well, I just cried.  They liked me so much that they let me stay.   

VIEIRA:  OH, you cried so much at the dress rehearsal. 

FERL:  Yes.

VIEIRA:  What brought out the tears.  I was telling you in the break, I remember when the Beatles started in this country, and I was your age, and I would cry like crazy for Paul McCartney.  What is it about Sanjaya that makes you cry? 

FERL:  I just think he‘s so phenomenal.  I just couldn‘t believe that I got to see him live.  And it was just like a dream come true. 

VIEIRA:  You know, a lot of people don‘t think he is that good.  What do you say to them? 

FERL:  I just say they‘re wrong and just ignore them. 

VIEIRA:  People, they feel that he was not voted off in large part because of you.  The audience fell in love with you and your tears.  Do you think your tears had anything to do with the fact that Sanjaya survived? 

FERL:  I have know idea. 

VIEIRA:  And I know that Ashley is a huge “American Idol” fan, almost obsessed.   

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I would say her room is half Sponge Bob and half “American Idol.” 

VIEIRA:  Caught between little girl and teenager at all times.  Are you a singer yourself?  Could you ever see yourself on “American Idol?” 

FERL:  I probably wouldn‘t make it far. 

VIEIRA:  No, don‘t think so. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No, I don‘t think so either.

VIEIRA:  What, to you, is the appeal of the show itself? 

FERL:  Just like all the contestants and their personalities and the judges. 

VIEIRA:  Do you vote every time? 

FERL:  Yes. 

VIEIRA:  Always just for Sanjaya. 

FERL:  No, I vote for Sanjaya, Melinda, Gina and Jordan. 

Good luck Sanjaya. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Never mind wishing him good luck.  What have you got for the victims of the influence of your tears, Little Orphan Annie?  And, of course, by that I mean, the audience.  That‘s COUNTDOWN, for this the 1,439th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  From New York, I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.

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

END   

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