updated 4/5/2007 11:17:33 AM ET 2007-04-05T15:17:33

Guests: Paul Rieckhoff, Richard Wolffe, Maria Milito

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

Bush‘s brain gets a big headache.  A dozen protesters, as he leaves a speech to college Republicans in Washington.  They pelted him with stuff, mostly verbal.  Nobody arrested, and nobody‘s Turd Blossom got hurt.  But wow, actual protests in Washington, D.C.

His boss bashes the Democrats again today.  His boss invokes 9/11 for political gain again today.  His boss gets the lessons of 9/11 wrong again today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  See, what changed on September the 11th is, oceans can no longer protect the people of the United States from—from harm.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Ever heard of Pearl Harbor or the Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles from the cold war?  Guess not.

President also two-faces on the guy who goes from the Swift Boats to ambassador to Belgium.  Knowing the Senate would never approve Republican fundraiser Sam Fox, he makes him a recess appointment, not subject to Senate approval, a day after criticizing the Senate for being on recess.

It‘s a fun day at the playground for Senator Obama.  The count and the amount, $25 million in campaign funds raised, $23.5 of it for the primaries alone, nearly $7 million just from the Internet.  But he still wants to be the underdog.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We‘re always the underdog.  When your name‘s Obama, you‘re always the underdog.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Just like Sanjaya.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Let‘s try a different tactic this week. 

Incredible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The bad news, it‘s still alive.  The good news, Simon Cowell has vowed to quit if the kid wins.  Go, Sanjaya.

And Keith Richards did not snort a mixture of cocaine and his own father‘s cremated ashes.  That‘s his spokesman‘s statement today, anyway, his latest, as it were, line.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I thought it was pretty great.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.

Had the White House been harboring any possible doubt about whether it was justified in keeping the president and other administration officials from appearing in anything other than highly controlled public situations, any fears tonight seem to have been confirmed.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, less than 48 hours after Mr. Bush failed to throw out the ceremonial presidential first pitch at any one of 13 different ball games on opening day, his brain, Karl Rove, got beaned.  And he himself, though speaking to a military audience today in California, did not get interrupted by applause, more than a dozen protesters throwing what was described only as debris at the White House adviser and blocking his car, lying down in front of it as he tried to leave a speaking engagement at American University in Washington last night.

Mr. Rove had been speaking to college Republicans.  We‘re guessing these 12 were not members of that group.

Mr. Rove probably relieved that the only audience the president was facing today was the military one, one that is not allowed to protest, by design.  It never interrupted him with applause, either, the commander in chief eating lunch with the soldiers at Fort Irwin, California, before telling them that the war they are fighting on his behalf in Iraq is not a civil war.  Instead it is, quote, “pure evil,” President Bush, it seems, also just about the only one who still believes Iraq has or had something to do with the 9/11 attacks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Part of our doctrine is if you harbor a terrorist, you‘re equally as guilty as the terrorists.

Another part of the doctrine is, when you see a threat, we must take threats seriously before they come here to haunt—hurt us.  See, what changed on September the 11th is, oceans can no longer protect the people of the United States from—from harm.

I saw a threat in Saddam Hussein.  The world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power.  And so are the citizens of Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The president, when he was not historically blowing past Pearl Harbor, German U-boats forays in both world wars, and the British invasion in the War of 1812, also urged Congress to rubber-stamp his funding request for troops in Iraq without any restrictions, chastising the lawmakers, as he did yesterday, for being on, as he put it, spring break, never mind that he immediately departed Fort Irwin for his own break in Crawford, Texas, or that he used the congressional recess to his own advantage, Mr. Bush today giving Sam Fox a recess appointment to become ambassador to Belgium, the White House having withdrawn the legitimate nomination last week because it was feared the votes were not there to confirm him, the now-Ambassador Fox having made a $50,000 donation to the self-named Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, the group, of course, which smeared Senator Kerry in its advertising during the last presidential election.

Senator Kerry, who serves on the committee before which Mr. Fox testified in February, confronted Fox about his contributions, for which Fox had no answers, tonight, Senator Kerry saying, quote, “Our country would be stronger if this administration spent more time getting body armor for our soldiers in Iraq than it did helping their powerful friends.”

Others might argue our country would be stronger if this administration spent more time engaged in direct talks with our adversaries, like Syria, something the State Department will not do, but the Democratic Speaker of the House actually did early today, among other things, Syrian President Assad telling Speaker Pelosi that his country would be willing to hold peace talks with Israel, Mrs. Pelosi saying she did not tell the Syrians anything Mr. Bush would not have said himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER:  While there may have been some question about the timing of our visit to Syria, there is absolutely no division between this delegation and the president of the United States on the issues of concern that we expressed to President Assad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s now call upon Richard Wolffe, the senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.

Richard, good evening.

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

Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Back to flogging a link between 9/11 and Saddam, the one that his own administration said wasn‘t true, the refusal to infer any rejection of his own handling of Iraq from the election last year, the stony silences during the applause breaks today at Fort Irwin.  Is none of this registering with the president?

WOLFFE:  Well, it‘s funny you‘re talking about Keith Richards later on, because it strikes me this is the Rolling Stones‘ version of Bush speechmaking.  It‘s the greatest hits.  It‘s a bunch of lines that they cooked up before, and he‘s wheeling them out again just because he thinks the crowd likes it.

I just—you know, I listen to some of these lines, and being in the time warp you find yourself in, you wonder whether he actually can believe them anymore.  The idea that they‘re going to treat the same, the terrorists and those who harbor terrorists, really is not squarable with the policy towards Pakistan.  I mean, by his own intelligence director‘s admission, they know where Osama bin Laden is, roughly, and they know who‘s harboring him, roughly.

But they‘re—this doctrine that he wheels out doesn‘t exist any more.  Then again, the Rolling Stones (INAUDIBLE) done their farewell tour for many years, and so has he.

OLBERMANN:  No farewell tour for Sam Fox, appointed on a recess appointment.  Does the White House think the media or the public can‘t connect the dots between its criticism of the Senate for going on spring break, as the president put it today, and this spring break appointment of a controversial nominee?  Or does it not care at this point what the media or the public think about things like this?

WOLFFE:  I don‘t think they care, and I—obviously they‘re using the spring break line, as you pointed out earlier, as the president was heading off to his ranch in Crawford.  On the other hand, they‘ve never been very good at diplomacy with a country like Belgium.  I remember in the run-up to the war, a prominent administration figure described Belgium as one of the chocolate-making countries.  So maybe this is just a continuation of what they‘ve done before.

OLBERMANN:  Regarding the Karl Rove incident last night, it‘s interesting to see some political protest in the country after, after a long interval without many of them.  Obviously, people should not throw things, we don‘t want to get into violence in any way, shape, or form in politics.  But (INAUDIBLE) what‘s the—is there an impact to something like this?  Is this going to (INAUDIBLE) be an excuse or a reason for the White House to control the president‘s appearances even more than before, to argue that Mr. Rove should not be seen in public?  What kind of impact will this thing have?

WOLFFE:  Well, look, Karl is obviously a divisive figure, he‘s very partisan.  But there‘s no excuse for violence at this kind of thing at all, for anyone.  I‘m sure it‘s going to put the Secret Service on edge.  Karl Rove wouldn‘t probably have any security with him.  But, yes, I‘m sure they‘ll ramp up security for the president in the light of this.

OLBERMANN:  The Pelosi visit to Syria, it does not appear to have helped the administration from a PR point of view when it comes to the diplomatic doctrine, whatever it is this week.  But they condoned a visit by three Republican congressmen to Syria earlier this week.  Did the (INAUDIBLE), did the White House again sort of box itself into a corner without the help of the Democrats or the media or anybody else who has doubts about the White House?

WOLFFE:  Totally.  I mean, they‘ve done this as well when it came to Democrats going to Iraq.  They actually welcomed the Democrats going to Iraq and talking about a timetable.  They said that this would be helpful in teaching the Iraqis that their patience wasn‘t unlimited, there was pressure, political pressure on the administration, and on the Iraqis to perform.

Suddenly when it‘s Nancy Pelosi in the middle of a very heated debate about the war in Iraq, all bets are off.  You know,, it‘s just not consistent, and it‘s obviously about positioning Pelosi as a sort of modern-day Newt Gingrich.

OLBERMANN:  Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds, I believe was the original quote.

Our own Richard Wolffe, chief White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine, of course.  And great thanks, Richard.

WOLFFE:  Any time.

OLBERMANN:  Fort Irwin, where the president chose to sell the war today, the premiere desert training center for Army combat units, a place for troops to learn how to fight in desert conditions before they ship out to desert country of Iraq.  Key word here is desert.  Mr. Bush got to see it, but because of the policies of his administration, at least two Army brigades will not.

As we reported a month ago, the 4th Stryker Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division and the 2nd Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division are leaving for Iraq as part of the troop increase without first being trained in desert warfare at Fort Irwin, though maybe that kind of military training for the military is no longer necessary, if the president‘s new rationale for the troop increase is to be believed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  The solution to Iraq, an Iraq that can govern itself, sustain itself, and defend itself, is more than a military mission, precisely the reason why I sent more troops into Baghdad.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Joining us at this juncture, Iraq war veteran Paul Rieckhoff, the executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, and author of “Chasing Goats—Ghosts.”

Paul, thanks again for your time tonight.

PAUL RIECKHOFF, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF

AMERICA:  My pleasure, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  I‘m still, 24 hours after that quote, I‘m still not sure if I have any idea what the president meant by that.  If it‘s, if it‘s not just a military mission that the troops are on, what is their mission?  Do the troops actually know any more?

RIECKHOFF:  That‘s a great question.  I mean, Bush says there‘s no military solution, so he‘s sending more troops.  I mean, it‘s an ultimate Bushism there.  And I think what it shows is that he continues to have a lack of understanding about what it is we‘re fighting in Iraq.  It‘s why he continues to offer only a military solution, when even General Petraeus has said we have to use all the tools in our arsenal in addition to our military.

He‘s never really been sincere about offering diplomatic, economic, and political solutions to this problem, and it‘s part of the reason we‘re in the mess we‘re in right now.  So over and over again, he shows that he doesn‘t understand the type of combat we‘re facing in Iraq, he doesn‘t understand the military‘s capacity or limitations, and he quite frankly doesn‘t understand the enemy that he talks so much about.

OLBERMANN:  And then there‘s that silence at Fort Irwin today.  Quoting the president, “Congress should not shortchange our military,” but not only are two Army brigades going without the sort of desert training they get at Fort Irwin, but two other combat brigades are going to be redeploying before the troops have had the requisite full year at home.

Shouldn‘t the president really be saying to Congress, Leave the shortchanging to me, I‘m the shortchanger?

RIECKHOFF:  Well, he‘s definitely the one that‘s driven us into this ditch, and now the finger pointing begins.  And if he‘s really concerned about ensuring that our troops get all the funding and all the resources that they need, then don‘t veto this.  Let it go through.

But now we‘re going to get into this political tennis match, where he‘s going to veto it, and the Democrats don‘t have enough votes to overturn the veto.  So while they go back and forth, our troops are caught in the middle, going back for a third and fourth tour.

And there‘s a bigger point here.  We‘re trying to tell the Iraqis that they need to learn about political reconciliation and cooperation.  And in our own country, our political leaders can‘t demonstrate that same thing.  So it really looks like hypocrisy, not only Stateside, but to the Iraqi people and their political leaders as well.

OLBERMANN:  Did anybody suggest, do you suppose, did anybody, any of the troops in the audience at Fort Irwin today, feel, do you suppose, some level of discomfort at the fact that the president visited the training facility where two actual combat units will not get to train, because of his surge?  But he goes and speaks there?  Did any—would that have registered?

RIECKHOFF:  I know it bothers a lot of people within the military, because there‘s a pattern here.  Bush continues to use our troops as political backdrops for his political rationale for war, and we‘ve spent a generation in this country separating the war from the warriors, and the people from the politics.  Yet this administration continues to link the two.

And I think that‘s a very dangerous path for us to go down, and it‘s extended by John McCain‘s recent parade through downtown Baghdad.  I‘m worried that Baghdad has become—going to become the next political stop for our presidential candidates.  We are not a political toy.  We‘re not a backdrop, and we‘re not a cardboard cutout that politicians can use to make their case for a rationale for war.

OLBERMANN:  The president‘s assessment that it‘s the Democrats cutting off funding when it‘s actually obviously the president who wields a veto pen, soldiers that you‘ve spoken to, do they have an assessment of that?

RIECKHOFF:  I think they‘re sick of all this bickering, to be honest with you.  I think that‘s why we‘ve seen more soldiers registering as independents than any other party, because they seem dissatisfied with all the political bickering in Washington.

In the military, there are no Democrats, no Republicans.  We‘re all soldiers, we‘re all troops together in a common fight.  And if we‘re serious about fighting our nation‘s enemies, I think the president needs to drop this partisan rhetoric.  But the Democrats do as well.  We‘ve all got to figure out a way to work together against our common enemy, because they‘re turning off the soldiers, but they‘re turning off the American people as well.

And they‘ve got to understand and appreciate the urgency of the situation here.  If we‘re at war, let‘s get together as Americans and act like it.

OLBERMANN:  The author of “Chasing Ghosts,” Paul Rieckhoff, head of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.  As always, Paul, great thanks.

RIECKHOFF:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Iran released the captured British sailors.  Did this country blink in some way to pave the way for their freedom?

And shock and awe in the war for campaign cash.  Senator Obama matches Senator Clinton dollar for dollar, huge implications for next year‘s race.

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  What, the joke used to go, does that have to do with the price of tea in China?  Once that made geographic sense, but not anymore.

In our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, you have been getting gouged at the gas pump recently as a direct result of an angry standoff between Iran and Britain over the capture of 15 British sailors, and an increasingly nasty war of words between the U.S. and Tehran over accusations that the Iranians are sending Iraqi insurgents more powerful weapons with which to attack American troops.

Tonight, those British sailors and other service personnel are freed, and so is an Iranian diplomat.  Did we blink?

The story behind the story from our correspondent Jim Maceda in London.

Jim?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM MACEDA, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Hi, Keith.  Well, the crisis ended as surprisingly and dramatically as it began, certainly catching the British government, all the pundits and journalists both here and over there, as well, of course, as the captives, all of them off guard.

(voice-over):  This was the moment the 15 British captives heard the news, now in ill-fitting Iranian suits, not camouflage.  It was announced at what had looked like a vintage press conference by Iran‘s hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

After blaming the West for the 13-day standoff, and blasting Great Britain for sending a young mother, sailor Faye Turney, to war, he pinned a medal of bravery on the Revolutionary Guard commander who had seized the British crew, and then dropped his bombshell.

“I hereby announce that the Islamic government and Iranian people forgive the 15 British captives,” he said, “and we release them as a gift to Britain.”

Ahmadinejad insisted there were no secret concessions from Britain, though in an official letter, he said Britain had promised never to violate Iranian waters in the future.

But the theater wasn‘t over.  Minutes later, there was Ahmadinejad, exchanging greetings with the British crew.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘d like to thank yourself and the Iranian people...

FAYE TURNEY:  Thank you for letting us go, and we apologize for our actions.  But many thanks.

MACEDA:  Today, British Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed the release, which he called the fruits of diplomacy.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER:  Throughout, we have taken a measured approach, firm but calm.

MACEDA:  What really happened?  Some analysts call the whole incident staged by Ahmadinejad, who has lost some popular support at home.

NAZENIN ANSARI, IRANIAN AFFAIRS ANALYST:  An attempt externally by the hard-liners, by the ideologues in the regime, to try to boost their confidence.

MACEDA:  Until, threatened by more economic sanctions, especially by big trading partners like Germany, he realized he had played his hand.

RICHARD DALTON, FORMER BRITISH AMBASSADOR TO IRAN:  They had gained all they were going to gain domestically by showing that they were tough and resolute.

MACEDA:  Whatever the reason, the families back in Britain were overjoyed.

(on camera):  So if, in fact, all goes well, the end for them and so many Britons here, especially family and friends, who have just been counting the minutes over the past 13 now, soon to be 14, days, it‘s the end of a nightmare.

Back to you, Keith.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Jim Maceda in London.  Jim, thanks.

Celebrity detox.  If it really looks like this, why in the world did Britney Spears keep leaving all the time?

And if your face looks like this, get to rehab quickly.  Our version of the more you know.

Next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Actor, comic, and baseball expert David Cross turns 43 today.  His most intriguing movie credit, reporter at dock number two in the 1994 TV masterpiece “The Amelia Earhart Story.”  Celebrations of the event will include visits from Jim Belushi, Troy Tulowitzki of the Colorado Rockies, and that what‘s-his-name, the cable guy guy.

Let‘s play Oddball.

Oh, and it‘s Jim Belushi‘s band.  No, no, I‘m sorry, we‘re in El Salvador, where roving gangs of men carrying whips and dressed as devils are assaulting strangers in the streets.  You know it must be Holy Week.  It‘s the Via Crucis Festival of (INAUDIBLE).  (INAUDIBLE) demons roaming the streets, whipping the sins right out of the faithful until they are finally (INAUDIBLE) the town square by none other than Jesus himself.  For the record, Jesus was not armed.

To Hickory, North Carolina, where it‘s happened again.  Once again, the SmokingGun.com is there.  That‘s 36-year-old Michael Edward Thompson, arrested and charged in Catawba (ph) County, North Carolina, with inhaling toxic vapors.  We‘re not exactly sure what he was huffing, but we‘d have to guess silvery blue spray paint.  Rustoleum.  And, you know, with the red eyes in that photo, it looks like the stuff actually works.  Of course, we‘re going to need to make some adjustments to our Mug Shot Hall of Fame now.  Mr. Thompson will be given a place of honor and will, in fact, complement nicely colorwise right next to the original caught gold mouth paint-huffer, Patrick Trebeque (ph).

(singing):  Silver and gold, silver and gold...

You were not huffing chemicals when you heard Barack Obama had raised $25 million in campaign cash, the new kind on the block sending shock waves through D.C. and beyond.

Nothing shocking from the Sanjaya.  He‘s still weak (ph), Cowell‘s still angry, “American Idol” still isn‘t fixed.

Details ahead.

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

Number three, country singer Doug Supernaw—Supernaw—Supernaw undergoing psychiatric evaluation after he started telling it to the judge at a hearing on charges of evading arrest.  He explained that for years, he‘s been the victim of a, quote, “political, economic conspiracy.”  He‘d been held hostage in in Paris in 2002 in a, quote, “mentally retarded home for terrorists,” and that he had been the government‘s, quote, “test monkey” to see if anybody could play baseball and smoke marijuana at the same time.  Yes, like that hasn‘t been proved repeatedly at the big league level.

Number two, Katherina Galatro, charged as an accessory in the murders of her boyfriend‘s parents in suburban New York City, already convicted of a kind of fashion faux pas.  Never wear this to a murder or an arraignment, a T-shirt depicting the, quote, “Killsbury Doughboy.”

Number one, Tory Schaff, a newly elected shared governments director at the student senate at the University of Wisconsin at River Falls, also newly listed in the police blotter in the campus newspaper “The Student Voice” after blowing a 0.11 on a blood alcohol test.  He didn‘t want others to know, so, according to the president of his fraternity, he did exactly what anybody else would do in that situation.  He stole thousands of copies of “The Student Voice” newspaper and burned them.  Now, no one will ever know.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  When is the number 25 million greater than the number 26 million?  When you apply political calculus to the money raised so far by Senators Clinton and Obama for their presidential campaigns. In our third story tonight, we learned today that Obama pulled in 25 million, just shy of Clinton‘s 26 million.  But it‘s still a victory just about any way you look at it. 

For one thing, Senator Clinton took three weeks longer to raise her cash.  She launched her campaign January 20th.  He only launched on February 10th.  By law, all donations are split between primary donations, which can be spent now, and general election donations, which can only be spent later, if the candidate wins the nomination, obviously.  And while we still don‘t know how much of Clinton‘s take is primary money, she is not expected to beat the 23.5 million Obama has now for that primary fight. 

Then there are the donors themselves.  Senator Clinton reported 50,000 different donors, Obama 100,000.  He says he is refusing donations from lobbyists and political action committees.  He also had as many online donors as Senator Clinton had total dollars, giving 6.9 million in online donations, compared to her 4.2. 

Inside the numbers, Obama has a larger base of financial supporters, and, on average, their donations have been smaller, meaning they are legally able to give more money in the future than those who donated to Clinton can.  Factor in Clinton‘s so-called burn rate, she spent 37 million dollars beating basically no one in New York last year.  And it becomes very hard not to count Senator Obama as the winner of the so-called money primary. 

Let‘s turn to our own math wiz, David Shuster, covering the campaigns and the campaign financing.  David, good evening.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  I want to play a quick sound bite that was snagged from Senator Obama today after his numbers came out.  Listen to this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS:  We are always the underdog.  When your name is Obama, you‘re always the underdog.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  That‘s a nice thought.  But if you have 25 million in the bank, I don‘t care if your name is Liberal Q. Limbaugh, are you necessarily a front-runner now? 

SHUSTER:  Well, he is a front-runner, certainly, in terms of money, in terms of organization, online support, as you just demonstrated.  The only place where he is not the front-runner, I suppose, would be in New Hampshire, Iowa, and California.  The polling there still shows that Obama is behind Hillary Clinton and also John Edwards.  But, of course, all of these polls were conducted before the big news of Obama raising the 25 million dollars. 

So what the Obama campaign is hoping is that people will now suddenly take a look at him and try to figure out why is it that he has been able to get this incredible support.  So far a lot of Democrats have suggested the reason Obama is behind Hillary in the polling is because of perceptions of Hillary having all of the experience, having been in the White House for eight years.  She knows what works and doesn‘t work. 

And Obama, two years ago, was just trying to figure out his way around the Senate.  But a lot of Democrats suggest, because of the atmosphere in Washington, because of everything that has gone wrong in this administration, a lot people are suggesting experience is not as important as fresh ideas and somebody who has a very broad intellect. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, so does that construction, David, change now to not experience versus inexperience, but rather, because of the online donations, the political machine versus grass roots swelling? 

SHUSTER:  Well Keith, even more than you think.  Because in addition to the online demonstration that Obama just put forward, the idea that he has so much support online, so much grass roots support, when you think about it, Hillary Clinton, a lot of her money, that she was raising, was from Bill Clinton‘s fund-raising apparatus that he honed in the eight years that he was president.  You‘re talking about Harold Ickes and Terry McAuliffe, the former DNC chairman. 

These are people who know better than any Democrats in the country how to raise money.  And so the fact that Barack Obama, through his online donations, through essentially this grass roots organization he‘s put in just the last two months, the fact that he either matched Hillary Clinton or exceeded it, in terms of the that he can spend in the primaries, that is what has astounded so many Democrats today.   

OLBERMANN:  And about the Republicans, David, Senator McCain says he is now revamping his fund-raising operations, which apparently means he‘s starting them.  As with the political policies, am I summarizing this right, he is the dropping what would be amounting to a principled stand that he once took, to try to emulate President Bush, even in terms of fund-raising? 

SHUSTER:  Yes, that‘s right.  Seven years ago, in the 2000 Republican primaries, McCain was a bitter critic of then Governor Bush for using things like pioneers and rangers, the people who would signify that they had collected donations of either 100,000 dollars or 200,000 dollars.  Now John McCain following the same process.  He has decided to help boost his fund raising.  He‘s designating people as McCain 100, if they can organize people to raise 100,000 dollars, or a McCain 200 if they raise 200,000 dollars.

These are the very sort of designations that McCain took such great issue with just seven years ago. 

OLBERMANN:  Or if they‘re more than 100 or 200 years old.  Last thing here, with McCain opting out now of the McCain/Feingold spending limits, the issue of campaign finance reform, is this officially now out of the ballpark?  Is this like an ancient term like the Macarena? 

SHUSTER:  Yes, I mean, the intentions of that dance, I suppose, that John McCain and Russ Feingold had, certainly that died a long time ago, because of all the money that is in politics.  The one thing though that still sticks around, and that is, remember, a candidate can get up to 2,300 in a primary, and a 2,300 dollar donation for a general election.  And that may sound like a lot of money, especially when you have one person bundling all of their friends and having these huge fund raising dinners. 

But the fact of the matter is, because of McCain/Feingold, journalists, we‘re still able to find out in relatively short order who is giving the money.  In other words, even though the system is awash in money, at least there is still a lot of sunshine being focused on this, at least because of McCain/Feingold, we can find out who these people are, how much money they are giving. 

OLBERMANN:  MSNBC‘s David Shuster in Washington.  Thanks David.  Good night. 

One final fortuitous note from the campaign trail today, Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of candidate John Edwards, revealing that new tests have shown her cancer is of a form that is more likely to be controllable using a wider array of medications, specifically anti-estrogen drugs.  The couple announced two weeks ago that her breast cancer had returned, spread to her bones, making it now incurable but treatable, a condition she may be able to live with for years, if not decades, especially with this latest news about her treatment options. 

Celebrities kicking the habit, this is not Buster Keaton desperately struggling against the DTs in the 1930s.  But is Hollywood rehab of the 21st century any use?  And day two of the Keith Richards family drama.  Did he or did he not snort dear old dad? 

These stories ahead, but first here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day. 

NEWT GINGRICH, FORMER SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  (SPANISH)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I was trying to scale the tree until I got up to the top of the willow tree, and I rocked it and I jumped over to the big one. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s right.  William Hart went from tree to tree to rescue his pet bird, Geronimo.  It took about four hours, three fire departments and two helicopters to rescue Hart. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It was a sucker punch, according to attack victim, 77 year old Jerry Schwartz.  The GNZ employee was helping one final customer before the store closed and this is what happened. 

JERRY SCHWARTZ, CRIME FIGHTER:  He thought he would knock me out with one punch.  It didn‘t happen.  Did it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Instead, the Korean War veteran fought back as the criminal dragged him into the back room. 

SCHWARTZ:  I tried to kick him in the balls, to be quite frank about it. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  She was 26 years old, the toast of Hollywood, a star of indescribable popularity, in love with one of the industry‘s creative giants, and unfortunately, she was hooked on cocaine.  A stunning revelation from our times, a dark story from the ‘70s?  Nope, Mabel Normand (ph), 1918.  They put her in what we would now call rehab, without fanfare and without success.  She would be dead by 1930. 

Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN.  It is all different now, nothing but fanfare it seems.  And as correspondent John Larson reports about rehab, it may be just as useless. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN LARSON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  When former Miss USA Tara Conner checked out of treatment center in Pennsylvania, clean and sober, she said it had been fun.  When Britney Spears entered Promises Treatment Center in Malibu, many though, about time.  When Lindsay Lohan sought help at Wonderland in Hollywood, the press almost hurt themselves. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Lindsay checked in here, Wonderland Central, about 2:30 yesterday, wearing black tights, a leather jacket and holding (INAUDIBLE) in her hand. 

LARSON:  What‘s inside?  Many look like five star resorts, swimming pools, private tennis lessons, organic world-class meals, but some say for super rich addicts, it‘s necessary. 

DR. HOWARD SAMUELS, EXEC DIRECTOR WONDERLAND:  It‘s a way to seduce people to come into treatment.  Because coming is going to be the hardest thing anyone has ever done in their life when they‘re addicted to drugs or alcohol.   

LARSON:  Still, seeking soft accommodations at 30,000 to 50,000 dollars a month, when you are trying to accomplish something very hard, makes some in the field skeptical. 

JOSEPH CALIFANO, EXPERT:  You are a Hollywood star.  You are living in the same luxurious way you did in your Beverly Hills mansion when you go into the treatment center.  That is not a recipe for success. 

LARSON:  Nonetheless, the list of Hollywood celebrities going in and coming out reportedly sober grows.  Proof, some say, to the serious healing going on inside. 

PATRICK WESTON, EXPERT:  It is not just, I want to say, massage, acupuncture, going to the gym and manicures.  That is not at all our treatment.  That would not provide a good outcome. 

LARSON:  Glamorous?  Only to those who know nothing about the hell of addiction.  Stars are pampered, but only to a point.  Just ask the chef.

CHRIS WILSON, EXEC. CHEF WONDERLAND:  Somebody will come up and say, I don‘t do dairy, or I only eat kosher.  So what are you using.  Then I ask them what got you here.  Crystal Meth.  I go, was that crystal meth kosher?  Was that organic?  They shut up right away. 

LARSON:  John Larson, NBC News, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Once again, the almost grotesquely appropriate segue tonight into our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs.  Keith Richards may like old grand dad, but he now claims he never snorted papa.  Chapter, possibly not the last, after Mr. Richards told a British music magazine that the strangest thing he ever put up his nose was the ashes of his father, mixed with cocaine.  Here, have a pop.

Today, a spokeswoman for Richards says he wants us to know he was only joking.  No such claim from the Rolling Stone himself.  He is, however, said to be standing by his description of brain surgery when he fell out of a tree in Fiji last year, quote, they cut me skull open, went in and pulled out the crap and put some of it back in again. 

Shocking report from Los Angeles tonight, movie director Bob Clark, who‘s vision of the short stories of Gene Sheppard became the modern classic “A Christmas Story” has been killed by a drunk driver.  Authorities say Mr. Clark and his son Ariel were driving the Pacific Coast Highway in Pacific Palisades, California early this morning when a man with neither sobriety nor a license, driving on the wrong side of the road, crashed into them, head on. 

The driver is to be booked on gross vehicular manslaughter.  Clark‘s pallet was extraordinarily varied.  Before directing “A Christmas Story” in 1983, he had done the two “Porkies” films.  After it “Turk 182,” and the Dolly Pardon “Rhinestone.”  Bob Clark was 67 years old.

Back to the cartoons.  Which would you prefer, no Sanjaya on “American Idol,” no Simon Cowell on “American Idol,” or just no “American Idol?”

That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.  The bronze tonight to John Derbishier (ph), contributor to the “National Review Online.”  The latest right wing water carrier to complain that the British servicemen captured by the marines displayed, quote, cowardice and should have fought to the death. 

First he called for a dishonorable discharge for them, now he writes, I wouldn‘t shed a tear if some worse fate befell them.  Think of it, our servicemen and England‘s risking their lives to preserve everybody‘s freedom, even nitwits like this guy. 

Your runner, Bill-O.  When a Republican guest pointed out that we are in the middle of what could easily become a prolonged war between the Arab world and the Persian world, the idea that we‘re in the middle of that seemed to allude him.  “Well,” Bill-O said, “I would like to see that fight with us out of it.  That‘s what I would like to see.  Let them kill each other, you know.” 

Guests Nancy Soderberg explained, unfortunately, right now we are in the middle of it.  Bill-O said, I know.  She repeated herself, right now we‘re in the middle of it.  He repeated himself, I know.  She spoke slowly, as if speaking to a child.  And that is one of the big problems.  He then explained the world to his self satisfaction, unintended consequences galore, mucho dommage to Bill-O.

But our winner, Eric Taylor of Portland, Maine.  He is in jail for not having paid alimony to his wife, his wife who is being treated for cancer.  He owes her $94,839 in alimony.  It actually gets worse.  Mr. Taylor said he only agreed to his divorce settlement because his lawyers had told him his wife was going to die soon, so he wouldn‘t wind up paying her that much money.  Let‘s go through this again.  Lawyers know about laws and stuff.  Doctors know about feeling sick and feeling better and stuff. 

Eric Taylor, if he had known she was going to live this long, he would have taken better care of his finances, today‘s Worst Person in the World. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It is the promise of redemption, being on the plus side of the bromide, the enemy of my enemy is my friend.  Having the good old win-win in your pocket.  Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, if Sanjaya Malakar prevails in the current addition of “American Idol,” he may not only destroy the pestilence that is that franchise, but apparently he will also save us from further exposure to Simon Cowell.  Last week Mr.  Malakar‘s pony hawk became the talking point regarding his performance. 

He must of known that, short of setting his hair on fire or tying it in a bow, he thus could not have topped that.  So this week the 17-year-old took a different tack. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SINGING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  He stinks.  All of which left the increasingly flummoxed judges perhaps searching for ways to neutralize Sanjaya‘s sympathizers. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RANDY JACKSON, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  I can‘t even comment on the vocals anymore, whatever, but what I like about you now is you‘ve turned into a great entertainer. 

PAULA ABDUL, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  I don‘t know if it was Dancing With The Stars or “American Idol,” but thank you for the dance. 

SIMON COWELL, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  Let‘s try a different tactic this week, incredible. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Meanwhile, one of Idol‘s executive producers has responded to a reported threat from Mr. Cowell.  The Brit had recently told the TV show Extra that what he would do if Sanjaya actually managed to win the competition, quoting, I won‘t be back if he does.”  But executive producer Ken Warwick has told the “New York Daily News” that Cowell is contractually bound to Idol, no matter the outcome.

Mr. Warwick predicted that Mr. Malakar would not win, by the way.  But he said he was good for the show.  Warwick also claimed that not only does Idol have mechanisms to stop mass electronic voting, it also has the ability to trace of the millions of calls it gets on a weekly basis.

Oh, I see, do you have Bill-O doing that for you, or Fox security perhaps?  Joining me once again, COUNTDOWN‘s very own “American Idol” princess, also the mid day host of New York‘s classic rock station Q104.3, Maria Milito.  

MARIA MILITO, Q104.3:  Hi Keith, thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Hi there Princess Maria.

MILITO:  Thank you.  First of all, Tony Bennett should have come out with a big hook and taken that kid off the stage.  It‘s horrible, horrible.

OLBERMANN:  OK, good, we agree on that.  Further reality checking the Cowell threat, first off.  He‘s worth millions.  He could conceivably be a contract breaker.  So if this Sanjaya kid wins, does he go?  Does he leave?  Do I have something to look forward to?

MILITO:  I think he said that just because he knows the kid has no talent.  He‘s the weakest singer they have.  But, you know what, “American Idol” wouldn‘t be “American Idol” without Simon Cowell.  I mean, he‘s my favorite.  I live vicariously through him.  So I don‘t think the show would be the same without him.  So I don‘t think he would leave.

OLBERMANN:  Well, they have to test the other two judges and the host for pulses every show.  They don‘t seem to be apparently breathing. 

MILITO:  Right.  But people always say that he says what they think.  I don‘t think the show could work without him.  It wouldn‘t for me.  I wouldn‘t watch it if Simon Cowell wasn‘t on.

OLBERMANN:  Now, I can‘t believe I‘m saying this with regard to a marginally talented teenager but has this guy peaked?  I mean, we were ready to put him squarely in the category of so bad he‘s good, or he‘s Machiavelli, he knows about this.  This week was he bland? 

MILITO:  He was bland.  But he‘s bland every week.  But I bet he‘s not going to be in the bottom three.  This whole thing has really snowballed, I‘ve notice.  He actually said to Tony Bennett, I want America to see that I really can sing.  But he really can‘t sing, so he comes out with a gimmick, a different outfit, his hairs different.  I don‘t know.  He was bland, but he‘s been bland every week.  

OLBERMANN:  He has Steve Martin‘s old suit too. 

MILITO:  Exactly.

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Malakar alluded to the glory days of two whole weeks ago by briefly singing to a little girl in the audience.  He‘s apparently lost his ability to make them cry.  Is he out of tricks now? 

MILITO:  Maybe he is, but, you know what, I‘m telling you, I first predicted he‘s going to be top five.  And I know he‘s your pick in the office pool.  I think he‘s going to go to the top two now.  That‘s my new prediction.  It‘s insane, but people are voting for him because they think it‘s a goof and it‘s fun and why not?  It‘s kind of like spun out of control.  That‘s my gut on it. 

OLBERMANN:  You can practically read the judges‘ minds.  They don‘t think he‘ll be gone this week either.  In fact, they still don‘t know what to do with him.  They‘ve stopped criticizing him.  Now it‘s as if they‘re experimenting with their comments.  They are preparing for this guy to take over the government or something?  They seem to be afraid of him now.

MILITO:  I guess they just don‘t want to be brutally honest and say, you know, you were horrible, because I think it gets sympathy votes.  So that‘s why Simon Cowell last night said, well, that was incredible, when it was anything but incredible. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, incredible also means not credible.  So there you have it.

MILITO:  That‘s a good point.  I didn‘t think of it that way.  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  The other quote from the executive producer, Mr. Warwick, he doesn‘t expect Sanjaya to win, but, quote, it‘s not up to me.  It‘s up to the public.  He also said that all of Howard Stern‘s listeners combined could not change Malakar‘s standing one way or the other.  And oh, by the way, Idol can trace your calls.  Do you smell a rat there? 

MILITO:  Yes, I smell a big rat there.  I think the Howard thing has definitely contributed.  I think VoteForTheWorst.com has contributed.  Like I said, I think it has snowballed.  But, yes, the producer has to love the fact that this kid makes “American Idol” in the news every week.  And there‘s always something about him.  They love it.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, but this latest thing her, are you as worried, as a final though, are you as worried as I am that it‘s a battle to see who can invade your privacy and trace your phone number first, the federal government or Paula Abdul? 

MILITO:  I‘m more worried about the federal government.  Because, you know what, if Simon Cowell wants to call me, I would like that actually.  Well, because we could be nasty together, that‘s all.  Not what you‘re thinking.  But I‘m more worried about the government actually.

OLBERMANN:  Nasty together?  COUNTDOWN‘s very own Princess Idol of American princesses, Idols, whatever, Maria Milito from Q104.3 in New York City.  Great thanks Maria. 

MILITO:  Thank you very much.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,452nd 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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