updated 4/6/2007 11:23:01 AM ET 2007-04-06T15:23:01

Guests: Jonathan Alter, Jonathan Turley, Rachel Maddow, Wendy Sherman, Maria Milito

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

Only this president blasts Congress for taking a week-long recess, then uses the Senate‘s break to sneak through the appointment of an ambassador to Belgium, and now says Sam Fox may not be paid, though ambassadoring for free may be illegal.  Is the saga of the Swift Boat fundraiser and the administration‘s other dirty fights with Congress killing Republican fundraising?  Why is the GOP so far behind the Democrats for ‘08?

How do you get to Carnegie Hall, or to testify to the Senate? 

Practice, practice, practice.  The central figure in Gonzales-gate skips his vacation to instead rehearse his testimony.

And do as I say, not as I‘ve done.  Republican speaker Hastert went to Colombia and told its government to ignore President Clinton and negotiate directly with Congress.  But when Democratic Speaker Pelosi goes to Syria to just open dialogue with the Congress and the president, Dick Cheney goes ballistic.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I think it is, in fact, bad behavior on her part.  I wish she hadn‘t done it.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  From the vice president to the other guy whose continued appearance on the public stage seems, at best, improbable.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “AMERICAN IDOL”)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You are safe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Sanjaya lives, amid rumors his main support is from the telemarketing crowd in India.

And day three of the have-a-pop scandal.  The British magazine insists Keith Richards was not kidding when he said he had mixed some of his father‘s cremated ashes with cocaine and snorted them.  He was too serious.  Disney apparently doesn‘t care either way.  It won‘t cut Richards‘ cameo from the next “Pirates of the Caribbean” flick, but, quote, “Keith won‘t be doing a lot of publicity for this movie.”  Thumbing your nose at him, I gather.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEITH RICHARDS:  I always thought it was my fault.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening from New York.

Amid late-breaking news about massive National Guard callups caused by the war in Iraq, which we‘ll detail in a moment, all you need to know about how sincere President Bush really is about reaching a consensus with Congress over funding for the conflict in Iraq can be found in his decision to bash the Senate for taking a recess during the Iraq fight, while bypassing the Senate and using a recess appointment to name a controversial Republican Swift Boat fundraiser as ambassador to Belgium.

In doing so, in our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, Mr. Bush all but declared war on Congress itself.  Not that bipartisanship has ever been more than a brand name for the 43rd president of the United States, but now it appears it may no longer even be that, on the one hand, Mr. Bush chastising lawmakers for being on spring break, as he termed it, while the White House and Congress argued over the best way forward in Iraq, on the other hand, Mr. Bush using that break to make a recess appointment so controversial it was akin to telling the lawmakers, in the immortal words of Vice President Cheney to Senator Leahy, to go F—themselves.

The presumptive ambassador in questions, wealthy Missouri businessman Sam Fox, who headed the president‘s 2004 reelection effort in that state, and who, in addition, donated $50,000 to the self-named Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, truth, of course, also having been only a brand name in terms of the ads produced by that group to smear the president‘s opponent, John Kerry, during that campaign.

Senate Democrats, including, but not limited to Mr. Kerry, now outraged over the appointment, even questioning its legality, Senator Dodd of Connecticut announcing plans to ask the Government Accountability Office to investigate on the basis that the Bush administration plan to have Mr.  Fox serve in a voluntary capacity would clash with the State Department‘s own guidelines, the limitation on voluntary services prohibiting employees from accepting voluntary services even from presumably pro bono ambassadors.

Time now to call in our own Jonathan Alter, senior editor at “Newsweek” magazine.            

Jon, good evening.

JONATHAN ALTER, SENIOR EDITOR, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  You don‘t have to be clairvoyant to anticipate that the Sam Fox appointment will cost Mr. Bush on Capitol Hill.  But is this because, I mean, does the president figure he‘s got nothing left to lose with Congress, or he no longer cares, or, frankly, he never cared in the first place?

ALTER:  You know, it‘s probably some combination of the three.  You were talking about Keith Richards thumbing his nose.  When you make a recess appointment, this is the ultimate thumb in the eye of the opposition, and it‘s not something that happens very often.  And it‘s clearly a sign of war between the two branches of government when you do this, because it‘s extremely obnoxious to the prerogatives of the other branch.

So basically what President Bush is doing in this situation is he‘s saying, Look, OK, for the next nearly two years that he has left in his presidency, he‘s not going to get anything done, and to me, that‘s just irrational at this point.  What kind of wings is he going to put on his library if he can‘t get anything accomplished?  He hasn‘t put a lot of points on the scoreboard in the last six years, Keith.

So, you know, this, to me, is his playing to the base when the base is no longer relevant to getting achievements for his presidency.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, there‘s a holding your breath quality to it at this point.  But with Senator Dodd going to the GAO, from the Democrats‘ standpoint, is the strategy now fight everything, fight hard, whatever your odds of success are?  Because the past rulings from the Government Accountability Office, and the courts, show a very broad interpretation of the president‘s recess appointment power, even if, as in this case, this was not, this had not lingered, this was not in any way filibustered.  They just—they had withdrawn the nomination because he was not going to get approved.

ALTER:  No, recess appointments are legal, and that‘s just a lot of, you know, technical mumbo-jumbo that Senator Dodd is getting involved in.  This will be upheld.  Bill Clinton did it on a very rare occasion when the Republican Congress blocked his appointment of James Hormel to be ambassador to Luxembourg because he was gay, and Clinton was offended by that, so he made a recess appointment.  But he didn‘t go around doing it just to be, as you said, holding his breath and picking a fight with the other chamber.  He did it out of a matter of principle.

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of parallels to the Clinton administration, does it appear that the President Bush is hoping some sort of showdown with Congress might break down in the same way that Mr. Clinton‘s standoff with the new Republican Congress did in ‘95?  I mean, when the government shut down, the infamous—the shutdown that resulted, then, from those, those loggerheads, public opinion overwhelmingly blamed Congress, and not the president.

ALTER:  Well, there is a danger of the Democrats overreaching.  And you see a lot in the conservative press now about maybe creating a showdown that could then help revive President Bush‘s popularity.  The problem, Keith, is the Iraq war is so unpopular, his numbers are so far down, lower, much lower than Bill Clinton‘s, that the chances of the president winning such a showdown, I would say, are minimal.

OLBERMANN:  So we are faced, basically, here, with the Sturm und Drang for the rest of the presidency as to which branch of the, of the government is going to have the upper hand?

ALTER:  Well, just this kind of pettiness that you‘re going to see, and then I think the Democrats will respond in kind.  The Republicans are getting very upset because finally we‘re getting some oversight from the congressional branch, and these guys are being called from the White House up on Capitol Hill to testify under oath, in terms of looking into some of the really questionable things that have been happening and that you‘ve been reporting on.  And when you start doing that, you‘re going to create bad feeling that‘s just escalating now.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, fortunate, you—there‘s nothing like an attorney general going up to testify under oath about a controversy right at the moment.  That‘s a good thing for the administration at the moment.

Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek” and MSNBC.  As always, sir, great thanks.

ALTER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  What the administration has been saying about its escalation of the war in Iraq, and the reality it is facing with an Army stretched to the breaking point, vastly different things.  Our Pentagon correspondent, Jim Miklaszewski, reporting exclusively tonight that the Pentagon has again been forced to tap into the National Guard, sources in the Pentagon telling NBC News that new orders to be signed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates will put 12,000 National Guard troops on alert to prepare to deploy to Iraq.

It goes without saying the mobilizations are involuntary.  The one-year combat deployments could begin early next year, this callup only adding to the Guard and Reserve troops who made up half of the U.S.  fighting force in Iraq at the start of this war.

And an equally unexpected quick turnaround for the attorney general.  He was supposed to be on vacation this week, but Alberto Gonzales is now reported to be hard at work, cramming for his Senate hearing, spending hours practicing  testimony, it is said, with three days of rigorous mock testimony sessions next week, all this, presumably, either an attempt to perfect the phrase “I cannot recall,” or to actually recall what happened at an agency he was ostensibly running, thousands of pages of e-mails written by administration officials having already been released in the investigation of the firing of those eight federal prosecutors for political reasons, all of the messages having been sent on official governmental accounts, House Democrats now intensifying their efforts to get copies of any correspondence sent via the Republican Party‘s e-mail server, in a letter, Congressman Henry Waxman telling the Republican National Committee to turn them over to his committee, several deputies to senior White House adviser Karl Rove having limited their correspondence to the RNC server in order to keep them from becoming public.

And that is a move that could, probably will, run afoul of the Presidential Records Act.

Let‘s turn now to the constitutional stylings of Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law expert, professor at George Washington University as well, of course, as a friend of COUNTDOWN.

Jonathan, good evening to you, sir.

JONATHAN TURLEY, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW EXPERT:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Based on the mock-testimony schedule of Mr. Gonzales, it would appear either that he is engaged in rewriting the truth, or he is cramming on what actually happened at the agency when he was supposed to have been running the agency.  In either event, does any of this bode well for him and his chances?

TURLEY:  Well, I guess it‘s Drama Class 101, that if you don‘t have many lines in the script, you got to learn to say them really, really well.  And he doesn‘t have many lines, except, I can‘t recall, and, I really wasn‘t lying.

The problem is that when he has spoken in the past, he hasn‘t done very well, because everything he has said has been contradicted in general by the facts brought forth by his own aides.  And there is a very compelling case to suggest that the attorney general intentionally misled Congress and the public in its statements, and that, worse, may have intentionally lied.

OLBERMANN:  And obviously, even in the small details, (INAUDIBLE) this gets worse and worse for him.  Senator Leahy again from the, from the Judiciary Committee, its chair, sent Mr. Gonzalez a letter today, said that he had failed to respond to prior questions from the committee.  He requested that Gonzales prepare a written statement in advance of the April 17 hearing.  Why on earth would Mr. Gonzales not have already done this?  Is it a delay tactic?  Or does he—is it, is it going back to try to figure out, you know, what it is he can say and what it is he can‘t say?

TURLEY:  Well, they‘re desperately trying to turn a sow‘s ear into a silk purse, because they‘ve got a rather bad record of statements that are hard to explain.  The best he could say, again, is that, I just misspoke, or, I failed to be clear enough, or, I didn‘t know what was happening.  Those aren‘t very compelling arguments.

And so they don‘t want to put a formal statement out there too soon that would allow them to get ready for his testimony.  But he‘s not going to have a good testimony.  They‘re just trying to make sure that he doesn‘t make another mistake.

OLBERMANN:  Wow.  Speaking of mistakes and developments, this Monica Goodling situation seemed bizarre enough as it is, still employed Justice Department official pleading the Fifth because she fears self-incrimination.  But Congressman Conyers has written a lawyer—a letter lawyer—a lawyer letter to her lawyer, now saying, Well, how, how can she be worried about being prosecuted for perjury by the Justice Department when she still works for the Justice Department?

Can you explain that?  Where do you come down on that, on that stance?

TURLEY:  Well, I have to say, I may be wrong, but I have looked to see if I could find any sitting Justice Department official in the history of this republic that‘s taken a Fifth before Congress.  I can‘t find one.  She may have created new precedent for this country.

But it certainly is incompatible with her status.  She can‘t hold a high-ranking Justice position and say, I‘m not going to speak to a co-equal branch because I might end up going to jail.  And particularly after the president said that the Justice Department officials would testify.

So I think it‘s a very good question as to why she‘s doing this, but also it‘s incompatible with her position.  She‘s burning the bridge.  She was the lynchpin between the White House and the Justice Department.  And the president said, You can ask anything you want of the Justice Department.  She‘s it.  She was that bridge.  By taking the Fifth, she punches a big hole in the ability of Congress to find out the truth.  And she may, in turn, force subpoenas on people like Karl Rove, because they‘re going to have to go to the source if she‘s not going to testify.

OLBERMANN:  And the other news development of the day, does the Republican National Committee, would it have any legal footing to deny Congress any e-mails that were sent that actually related to the use of federal resources for, for partisan purposes?

TURLEY:  They have some claims to make.  I don‘t think that they would trump Congress.  You know, there‘s a very strong suggestion here that people like Karl Rove and his aides have been using other e-mail systems to evade the Presidential Records Act, to avoid those being reported and preserved.  One aide said that as much as 95 percent of his e-mails might be on these, these sort of shielded e-mail systems.

That would be a violation, clearly, of the spirit of the law, and Congress clearly can seek that information.  Remember, Congress previously got information from the Clinton campaign.  And if the Republican refuse, I think it would be disastrous politically, and I don‘t think it would work ultimately legally.

OLBERMANN:  As somebody once entitled a mock soap opera, “It Never Ends.”

Constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley.  Great thanks for being with us, Jon.

TURLEY:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Are the current occupants of the White House hurting the fundraising chance of the wannabe future Republican occupants?

And apparently, it‘s OK for Republican delegations to visit Syria, but if Speaker Pelosi does it, she gets accused of lip-locking the terrorists.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Republicans mark the birth of their conservative revolution to be the first full-scale run by Ronald Reagan for the presidential nomination in 1976.  Since then, a Republican has always attracted the largest amount of campaign donations, a measure of voter enthusiasm that often brought victory.

But the 2008 campaign is showing signs that the conservative cash machine, along with conservative enthusiasm, may be running low.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, the Bush fatigue.  Is it behind a tectonic shift in the politics of money?  Although the Republican Party still has larger cash reserves, individual Democratic candidates are now raising more, nearly $80 million in the first quarter of the year, compared to the Republicans, expected $50 million, a sizeable difference, and a stark reversal of campaign fortunes so far.

Individually, Mitt Romney accumulated the most cash of any Republican, keeping personal pace with Democrats Clinton and Obama.  But Romney‘s war chest comes from a small Mormon base and a $2.3 million loan to himself, all this setting off alarm bells in a party still reeling from defeat in the midterms, alarm bells that are music to the ears of Air America Radio‘s Rachel Maddow.

Rachel, good evening.

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW”:  Hi, Keith, nice to see you.

OLBERMANN:  This is the only first round of fundraising for the primaries.  But the GOP have reason to be running scared?  Is it Bush fatigue?  Is it war fatigue, angry Democrats sensing blood, lack of an obvious Republican frontrunner, or, or, or what?

MADDOW:  Well, I think that it‘s early days for there to be any wholesale Republican soul-searching at this point.  If numbers for first-quarter fundraising were really predictive, then the idea of President Phil Gramm would be more than a Halloween costume.

I mean, the political history is littered with people who did very well, for example, in first quarter fundraising, and then didn‘t go on to win.

And so I don‘t think that there‘s any reason that the Republican Party should be panicking at this point.  But if I were a Republican strategist, I think I would feel pretty comfortable concluding at this point that Republicans are not going to have their traditional cash advantage.  A $30 million split between Republican and Democratic candidates, in favor of the Democrats, is unheard-of in modern political history.  And they can‘t count on that advantage any more.

OLBERMANN:  Is there any way to measure or even reliably estimate what percentage of that fundraising lead could be attributed to the middle ground of the people who really have looked at the world not through any kind of tinted glasses or angle, but are supporting Democrats not because they‘re Democrats, because they were truly disturbed by, say, the president‘s dismissal of Congress, or the war, or what are ultimately nonpartisan issues?

MADDOW:  Well, again, it is, I think it‘s early just be able to very tightly parse why it is that people are donating the way they are when they are and to whom.  But when you just talk about the broad stokes of what we know thus far, in early days, what we can say is that there aren‘t a lot of people rushing for their pocketbooks because they want to donate in support of the way that President Bush has governed.

Thirty million dollars more being raised by Democrats than Republicans says to me that until the Republicans find a candidate who they can really get unequivocally enthused about, they can‘t count on enthusiasm for how Bush and Cheney have governed to be something that drives donations.  Republican donors, it seems to me, are sitting on their hands.  They are not enthused about what they‘ve got to donate to right now, and that must be a legacy of the way that Bush has governed.

And I think that may be what‘s continuing to drive the Republicans to ask for more people to get into the race.  They haven‘t found their perfect candidate yet.

OLBERMANN:  Now, maybe this is the guy.  “The New York Sun” reported that Dick Cheney has been using this same line lately when he gets applause at a speech in front of Republicans.  He‘s been saying, “A reception like that is almost enough to make you run for office again.”  Is that the way to fire up the Republican donation base or the Democratic donation base, perhaps?

MADDOW:  Yes, more likely the Democratic base, I would guess.  There are Democratic fundraisers across the country who are wetting themselves with excitement about that prospect.  There‘s really not much else that you could imagine the Republicans saying, other than, We want President Cheney, to really get Democratic coffers filled.

So let it be true.  Let him be their nominee.  It would be a great day for liberals.

OLBERMANN:  A devil‘s advocate question.  Is it discouraging to see liberals excited about fundraising, as opposed to pushing fundraising reform?

MADDOW:  Yes, absolutely.  I mean, it is, it‘s almost weird to see Democrats and liberals excited about being able to afford a really expensive candidate this year, instead of working to try and get into a new system, where we express our political preferences with our votes rather than with our credit cards.

Barack Obama has made some very aggressive, positive noises about public financing of elections and wanting to get out of this system where they‘re constantly fundraising.  But then, you know, he also raised $25 million in 50 days in order to be competitive in this race, so...

OLBERMANN:  (INAUDIBLE), yes, it‘s something that can always be done in the future.

Rachel Maddow, the host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America. 

As always, great thanks for being with us.

MADDOW:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Police standoff in America.  Talk the man down.  Police standoff in China, bring out your hose.

And for some reason, after Keith Richards said he snorted a line of his dad‘s ashes mixed with cocaine, Disney doesn‘t want him to promote the movie “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

Ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Twenty years ago tonight, the three-network system that had dominated over-the-air television since the demise of Dumont TV in 1955 came to an end.  On Sunday, April 5, 1987, the first primetime night of programming was shown on the Fox Network, or, as it was often called then, the Fox (ph) Network.  That lineup included “Married with Children,” “The Tracy Ullman Show,” “Duet,” and “Mr. President,” an Oval Office situation comedy starring George C. Scott.  Wow, the things you forget, or try to.

Let‘s play Oddball.

Here‘s something you will not forget.  We begin with crazy video from China.  Chen-yang (ph) City, hello.  The 55-year-old man in the window is a murder suspect believed to be armed with a knife.  He‘s barricaded himself in a room on the eighth floor of a hospital.  They‘re afraid he might jump.  You‘ve seen the Sam Jackson movie.  This is where they call in the smooth-talking negotiator.

Of course, that‘s Hollywood.  This is how they do it in China.  Whee.  Free shower for you, sir.  What a stroke of luck that the huge inflatable air cushion just happened to be there.  Police on the street caught the man easily—well, not caught—took him into custody easily.  They say he was uninjured.  We‘re just going to have to take their word for that one.

Returning home for some American justice, it‘s been a big week for the Oddball Mug Shot Gallery.  Just last night, we brought you this guy, busted for huffing paint with guilt written all over his face, as it were.  Tonight, oh, boy.  Oh, oh, oh, no, no, no.  Forty-six-year-old volunteer firefighter Steven Cole (ph), arrested in Ohio on drunk driving and public indecency charges, to say nothing of not knowing when not to wear that particular suit.

Police say he was intoxicated and doing strange things in a local park, those police making sure to get plenty of snapshots for posterity.  Mr. Cole, we‘re really sorry to have been showing these on TV.  This, I‘m sure, is the last thing you need right now.  But when a firefighter is caught wearing a blonde wig and a bikini, with two water balloons duct-taped to his chest to look like breasts, well, it is our duty to put this on Oddball.  I hope you understand.  Good luck.  Nice locks.

The right wing attacked Speaker Pelosi for visiting Syria.  Where was the outrage when the Republican delegations just visited there?

And the ever-growing outrage surrounding Sanjaya.  Just what will it take to get this kid kicked off “American Idol”?

Those stories ahead.

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

Number three, Tyler Tillung of Palm Harbor High School in Clearwater, Florida.  In February, he mooned a teacher.  As punishment, he was ordered to finish his senior year at a different high school.  Nothing else?  Sounds like a light sentence.  Not to him.  He‘s suing.  The family‘s attorney says, We‘re talking about his graduation, and his baseball season.

Number two, the Idaho Army National Guard.  It says it is taking incoming fire in the Boise area.  An invasion?  Terrorists?  Men from Mars?  No, local residents who like to go to the Snake River National Conservation Area and shoot at squirrels and birds, and now tanks.

Number one, a Japanese navy petty officer based on a destroyer at Yokosuka (ph) in the mouth of Tokyo Bay.  He has been accused of leaking top secret data about the advanced U.S. military Aegis system, including state of the art radar specifications.  But he only did it apparently inadvertently, because it gets lonely at the mouth of Tokyo Bay. 

Authorities are convinced he accidentally attached the Aegis computer files to an email he sent to another Japanese naval officer during a swap of their computer pornography.  Torpedoes ready captain. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  In the past five days, 11 members of Congress have met with the Syrian President Assad in three separate groups.  Six were Democrats, including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi; five were Republicans.  In our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, try to guess which of those 11 is being attacked by the administration as out of line, detrimental to U.S. diplomacy, and, of course, aiding the enemy?  Cue the vice president, please. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  By going to Damascus at this stage, it serves to reinforce, if you will, or reward Bashar Assad for his bad behavior.  He‘s done all kinds of things that are not in the interest of the United States, including allowing Syria to be an area from which attacks are launched against our people inside Iraq.

I think it is, in fact, bad behavior on her part.  I wish she hadn‘t done it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Then there was Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner, honest to enough to say outright what others only imply, that the problem is not the trip, but Pelosi.  Quote, “it‘s one thing for other members to go, but you have to ask yourself, why is Pelosi going.  She‘s going for one reason, and that is to embarrass the president.”

Lord knows, the president should the exclusive right to embarrass himself, damn it.  In fact, Republican Congressman David Hobson accompanied Pelosi and said the speaker reinforced Bush administration policies and goals regarding Syria, pressing Assad on his support for militant groups, pushing for tighter control of the border with Iraq. 

Of course, the administration‘s real sticking point being President Bush‘s insistence that diplomacy is not a method of achieving peace, but a reward for acquiescing to it on his terms, a viewpoint rejected not just by the Democrats,  but also by those five Republicans also in talks with Assad this week. 

Let‘s turn now to Ambassador Wendy Sherman, currently with the Albirght Group, and former counselor of the Department of State, the Department of State which used to dabble in this whole diplomacy thing.  Ambassador, great thanks for your time tonight. 

AMB. WENDY SHERMAN, THE ALBRIGHT GROUP:  Good to be with you Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Technically, how unfamiliar this position might be for the White House, the law seems to be on its side in this case.  Diplomacy, foreign policy are the purview of the executive branch, are they not? 

SHERMAN:  They are indeed the purview of the executive branch, but the United States Congress has an oversight function.  They take it pretty seriously.  I don‘t know any president who doesn‘t want complete and utter control over all foreign policy and diplomacy.  And I don‘t know of any president who has had it. 

OLBERMANN:  And have not Congressmen, even Congresses, or most of them, ventured out on their own diplomatically in the past?  Didn‘t Denny Hastert, in his pre-speaker days, try do this end run on President Clinton in Columbia? 

SHERMAN:  Absolutely.  Then Congressman Hastert, soon to become speaker, tried to do negotiations on his own with the police in Columbia, about how to go after the drug dealers, and how to go after the guerrillas.  There have been many other members who have done likewise.  As you pointed out, many Republican members have gone to Syria, and that has not drawn any criticism. 

OLBERMANN:  Was Mr. Boehner‘s point that he had a problem with Speaker Pelosi personally, or was it more that they are worried that the trip by a speaker, by someone who is third in line that to the presidency, conveyed too much credibility upon Assad and the Syrian regime? 

SHERMAN:  Well there is truth to the fact that a speaker does convey more authority and credibility.  But I think that‘s very important here.  If the White House had been smart, they would have said Speaker Pelosi is going to go.  We are glad she is going.  She is going to deliver a tough message. 

Her goals are our goals, as she herself has said.  And although we believe it‘s not appropriate for the United States executive branch to be negotiating, though I think they are wrong on this score—not negotiating, but at least opening some channels—we think it‘s important for the speaker to deliver a tough message and know that whether you are a Democrat or Republican we are altogether in how we see Syria.  Nobody has rose colored glasses.  But they did not take the smart way out. 

OLBERMANN:  Exactly, why miss that opportunity?  Even if you are angry at the speaker for doing this, you have all three delegations this week, Republican and Democratic.  They stuck to the party line, the Bush party line, the U.S. government party line about Syria.  Wouldn‘t it have helped the administration to show Assad, to show Syria that he cannot count on exploiting whatever the political divisions are between the two parties here? 

SHERMAN:  Absolutely.  It would have sent a unified message, which is quite critical.  It would have been someone with authority delivering that message, but not the executive branch, per se.  It would have been a very good two step for the administration to have gone that route.  And, in fact, in other situations, unlike what Congressman Boehner says, even the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, in the last few days, said that in the right circumstances, she would have a bilateral meeting with the Iranians. 

We now have direct conversation with the North Koreans.  The president is supporting Governor Bill Richardson going to North Korea, even though we don‘t have diplomatic relations.  So the world is pretty complex these days, and we need all the friends and all the help we can get. 

OLBERMANN:  To that point, when President Bush decides a nation or leader is evil or insane or part of an axis, or whatever the label that he‘s going to use that implies negotiation is impossible, diplomacy is right off the table.  Obviously, for periods in time in history, that worked for say Napoleon, or Attila the Hun, but are there any long-term examples in which that kind of approach to diplomacy, just ignore it, use it as a reward of some sort, any indication that that works long term anywhere in history? 

SHERMAN:  Well, diplomacy and lending American credibility is a carrot, but it‘s a carrot that can be used in different stages and different layers until you get to the top of the heap.  It doesn‘t mean you don‘t do it at all.  We saw just this week that Tony Blair‘s quiet diplomacy freed the Iranian hostages in less than two weeks.  That was pretty critical. 

OLBERMANN:  Ambassador Wendy Sherman, great thanks for your time tonight. 

SHERMAN:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  The Internet ad said everything inside the home was free for the taking, except nobody told the home owner. 

And a British interviewer now says Keith Richards was dead serious about having snorted his dead father‘s ashes.  That‘s next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  You see ads like it on classified message boards across the Internets all the time, people moving out, moving away, offering to give away their extra stuff on a first come, first served basis, kind of a charitable free for all.  But in our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, one such online ad in Takoma, Washington had no such intention behind it.  As our correspondent John Larson reports, everybody who saw the post knew that people were being invited to show up and take a home owner‘s stuff, only the home owner did not know. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAURIE RAY, VICTIM:  This can happen to anybody, but look what happened to me. 

JOHN LARSON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  What happened to Laurie Ray is shocking.  The Takoma resident had renovated this house, having recently evicted the tenant.  She hoped to sell the house, but before she could, it was cleaned out and nearly destroyed. 

RAY:  By placing an ad and having people come and take everything.  It stops you in your tracks. 

LARSON:  Police investigated and found that an ad had been placed on CraigsList, the popular online classified ad service, inviting people to come and take whatever they wanted for free.  And they did.  Ray‘s renovations included installing new vinyl windows.  Now they are gone, along with the water heater, light fixtures, everything, including the kitchen sink.  The only thing left was garbage. 

RAY:  They wanted to not only destroy it and steal, but they wanted to just make it feel like it‘s impossible to even consider cleaning up. 

LARSON:  Takoma police say they are trying to track down the person who placed the online ads, as the investigation continues. 

John Larson, NBC News, Los Angeles. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  The segue into our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, and if Keith Richards really was joking when he claimed to a British magazine that he snorted some of his dead father‘s cremated ashes, the magazine is still falling for it.  Or the ancient and so far indestructible rocker was not kidding.

MME Magazine‘s interviewer Mark Bomant says today, quote, he did not come straight out with that.  He did not offer the information.  I had to ask him a couple questions to get the information out of him.  Either way, the imagery is not sitting well at Disney, which is about to release the latest “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie, featuring a much publicized cameo by Richards as Johnny Depp‘s pirate father.

Says Disney publicity mogul Dennis Rice, Keith won‘t be doing a lot of publicity for this movie.  A kind of strident stance, considering the Caribbean movies have made frequent jokes about cannibalism.  Can a public figure kidding about how another public figure never shows up for an event, use the phrase, quote, you always fag out on that one for me, and not mean it as a homophobic slur? 

CBS Sports college basketball announcer Bill Packer says indeed you can.  He did, and he would do it again, and, quote, won‘t think twice about it.  During their interview, PBS host Charlie Rose volunteered to serve as Packer‘s gopher if packer would get him into the college championship weekend, the Final Four.  Packer replied, quoting, “you always fag out on that one for me, you know.  You always say, oh, yes, I am going to be the runner.  Then you never show up.” 

Packer says he meant the word in it‘s older, asexual, chiefly British meaning, to tire ore weary by labor, exhaust, accept, of course, substituting any of those words in Packer‘s sentence, that would make it you always get exhausted or you always tire me or something like that.  When the rest of Packer‘s remarks clearly refuse to Rose never showing up, as in wimping out or bailing out.  CBS Sports says it has no plans to discipline Mr. Packer. 

Talk about not disciplining the guilty, Sanjaya survives another week on “American Idol.”  That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s first ever list of nominees for Worst Person in the World, three guys who all said basically the same thing. 

The bronze to Mike Allen, chief political correspondent at the website Politico.com, responding to the news that the House Armed Services Committee and Democratic Chairman Ike Skelton asking that the phrase global war on terror not be used in the 2008 budget, because it‘s too genetic.  This does have a sort of 1984 quality to it.  You bet it does, Mike.  But in exactly the opposite way that you are thinking. 

The silver, water carrier Glenn Beck, same issue, says he doesn‘t believe the Democrats want to lose the war on terror, but since they are arguing this terminology, quote, Democrats are holding on to a thread here.  I mean, everything that they are doing now is proving me wrong.  What are you doing?  Why don‘t you do some real work, instead of all this political garbage?”  Hold the phone, Glenny, are you in for a surprise. 

Our winner, Vice President Cheney, in that radio lovefest today with comedian Rush Limbaugh, the Veep said, in refusing to use the phrase global war on terror Chairman Skelton showed flawed thinking, and added, he is, quote, dead wrong on this. 

Mike, Glenn, Dick, on July 25th, 2005 a prominent American said he objected to the term war on terror, because it implied that people in uniform were the only solution.  And at the same time another prominent American said war on terror was too gloomy, and the country needed a more positive alternative. 

Two days after that, a still more prominent American agreed, saying that from then on he would be calling it the global struggle against violent extremism.  The first prominent American was General Myers, the then chairman of the Joints Chief of Staff.  The second prominent American was Stephen Hadley, President Bush‘s national security advisor.  The even more prominent American was then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.  And he just reiterated his objection three months ago. 

Mike, Glenn, Dick, and who ever wrote your talking points this week, it was the Bush administration who asked everybody to stop using the phrase war on terror.  You guys have just shot at your own side.  Vice President Cheney, foremost of this group, today‘s Worst Person in the World.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  One wonders why Fox just doesn‘t cut to the chase and launch an all “American Idol” network.  I mean, it would be a bigger draw than another business channel, no doubt.  Perhaps the only hesitation is that the show is being covered 24 hours a day on every other television outfit in the country, to say nothing of radio and the Internet.  And why spend money to get that kind of promotion, when you‘re getting millions of dollars worth of it for free. 

Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, the leading all news radio station in New York City was today running as a regular news story, the possibility that voting support for Sanjaya Malakar is coming largely from telemarketing centers in India.  Sanjaya Malakar is barely even mentioned in Indian newspapers or TV shows, according to the Associate Press.  That country‘s billion plus population apparently does not much care. 

Plus, “American Idol” broadcasts one day later in India.  So using the show‘s call-in numbers at that point would be useless.  As for the Sanjaya protests over here, a Philadelphia DJ has been camping out on the roof of a car dealership for a week, saying he will stay up there until Sanjaya is voted off.  Do you think, pall, that that kind of publicity stunk shocks or scares this guy?  Think again.

A supposed hunger strike did not work by a woman on MySpace, who identified herself only as J.  She had to start eating again.  Meanwhile, a Sanjaya fan says he will binge eat until the contestant wins, according to TMZ.com.  He might have better luck on that.  For three weeks running now the 17-year-old has not been even in the dreaded bottom three. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN SEACREST, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  And this group, you know you are not the top three, but you‘re also not the bottom three.  You are safe.  Enjoy another week.  Congratulations. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And as for last night‘s booting—

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEACREST:  American voted, after the highest vote so far this season, just under 33 million votes, Kalee (ph), you‘re staying for another week.  Which means Gina leaves us tonight on “American Idol.” 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Wow, it‘s like watching a presidential inauguration.  Let‘s check in once more with COUNTDOWN‘s “American Idol” princess, also the mid-day host at New York‘s classic rock station Q104.3, Maria Milito.  Hello Maria. 

MARIA MILITO, Q104.3:  Hi Keith.

OLBERMANN:  I will try to stay away from the Simon Cowell questions tonight.   

MILITO:  Thank you very much. 

OLBERMANN:  Are true Idol lovers just coming apart at the seams here?  I mean, it seems to be a whiff of desperation trying pin some of this on telemarketers on India. 

MILITO:  Well, I think people are freaking out a bit.  Because now there‘s a VoteAgainstTheWorst.com.  That‘s like a new website, that they‘re telling to vote from their state for a particular performer, but not Sanjaya.  You have VoteAgainstSanjaya.com.  So I do a blog on the website at the radio station and all these people have been writing in to me that they are over the show.  They will never watch it again, if he wins.  So I guess, yes, true Idol lovers are freaked out by this.

OLBERMANN:  All right, let‘s game it out a little.  The Sanjaya kid was in the middle three, which puts him in the top six out of the eight remaining contestants.  But I‘ve been told this is the first time in the past few weeks that the show even singled out the top three.  Was that a sign of the producers of the show being desperate enough to try make some sort of statement, you know, look, he‘s not in the top three.  So don‘t worry, he won‘t be around forever? 

MILITO:  Well, you know, it could be, but it could also backfire on them.  Because it always seems like—you know, if Simon Cowell is nasty to him, people vote for him.  If producers are giving hope to Idol lovers that don‘t worry, he‘s not in the top three, people might vote for him even more.  So that might actually backfire on them.  So I‘m not sure.

I don‘t think they thought that through.  I think it could backfire. 

OLBERMANN:  The interviews that these producers have done, they made a point of saying ha ha, Sanjaya, he‘s good for the show.  We‘re not worried.  But don‘t you think they are getting a little teed off that the program has pretty well been hijacked by some coalition of the unwilling here? 

MILITO:  Yes, and they should be.  And I find it hard to believe that they never thought this through.  I mean, it‘s not the first season of the show.  It‘s the sixth season.  They should have thought this through, that at some point people are going to be annoyed, and just vote against the good people, and vote the good people off, and vote for the worst person. 

I mean, this is like the William Hung syndrome to the umpteenth factor.  I can‘t believe they didn‘t think it through. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, and also, they can stay away from that term, worst person.  That‘s mine.  

MILITO:  OK, sorry.

OLBERMANN:  Just for that, you get a question about Simon Cowell.  I‘m not sure I agree with this idea that you had, that he‘s not actually going to leave the show.

MILITO:  I don‘t think he‘s going to leave.

OLBERMANN:  But could he at least protest by calling in sick or something? 

MILITO:  You know what?  I don‘t think it‘s going to make a difference.  Because I know you don‘t watch the auditions, but he wasn‘t there for some of the auditions, and they still did OK.  I don‘t know.  I don‘t think it would make that much of a difference.  I think he has to do something a lot more drastic than just not coming in one time to judge. 

OLBERMANN:  Just pour gasoline over his head and light himself on fire, one of those old self immolation protests. 

MILITO:  Exactly. 

OLBERMANN:  I posed this at the beginning.  Why do you suppose there isn‘t a Fox “American Idol” news channel. 

MILITO:  Because they don‘t need that.  They don‘t need it.  You said at the top of the show, we‘re talking about it.  Radio stations are talking about it.  Other cable channels, news channels, everybody‘s talking it.  So they don‘t need it.

OLBERMANN:  And, lastly, I‘m going really big picture on you, after this experience, does the fact of this show‘s success, even with all this this year, suggest that we don‘t have good enough professional sports or religions in this country for people to get obsessed with anymore? 

MILITO:  No.  I think people are bored.  Maybe they‘re bored.  They have nothing to do.  Let‘s watch “American Idol.”

OLBERMANN:  We‘ve got the Internet.  You‘ve got 400 channels on every damn television in America.  Your show is on.  There‘s 17,000 radio stations.  I keep hearing these promos about the radio stations in between the radio stations, what about that? 

MILITO:  I guess they‘re a little clueless and they‘re bored.  So they watch American Idol.  You know, it‘s comfortable.  It‘s there.  They don‘t have to get off their couch and lift the remote too high.  I don‘t know.  That‘s a good question, but I think people are just bored. 

OLBERMANN:  Our “American Idol” princess Maria Milito, who has just accused you of being bored.  Thanks for helping me through yet another segment my producers have forced me to do.

MILITO:  Thank you.   

OLBERMANN:  Good night.  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,453rd 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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