updated 4/25/2007 11:32:11 AM ET 2007-04-25T15:32:11

Guests: Jon Soltz, Howard Fineman, Chris Cillizza, John Mellencamp

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

The war on reality.  The president says he hears the American people.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Last November, the American people said they were frustrated and wanted to change in our strategy in Iraq.  I listened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  But Democrats wonder if Mr. Bush has selective hearing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER:  For the first time, the president will have to be accountable for this war in Iraq, and he does not want to face that reality.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  The escalating fight about the way forward or the way out of Iraq.

The death of Pat Tillman, and the rescue of Jessica Lynch, both stories falsely portrayed by military and administration officials.  Both stories distracted citizens and the media from the mistakes in Iraq.  Both stories set straight before Congress today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

SPEC. BRYAN O‘NEAL:  I was ordered not to tell what happened, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You were ordered not to tell him.

O‘NEAL:  Roger that, sir.

JESSICA LYNCH:  It was understaged (ph) by media all repeating the story of the little girl Rambo from the hills of West Virginia who went down fighting.  It was not true.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

STEWART:  Supporting the troops without supporting the war.  Tonight, singer, songwriter, and troop supporter John Mellencamp, and his efforts to get American service men and women the respect and care they deserve.

Is Karl Rove getting the attention he deserves?  An investigation is announced, not by congressional Democrats, but by the White House Special Counsel‘s Office.  Did Rove use the People‘s House for political purposes?

And two days out from the first Democratic presidential debate.  Just what are the stakes for Hillary Clinton as Barack Obama continues to grow the mo?  Momentum, that is.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  There‘s something humming down here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

Amid harsh new accusations tonight of a military cover-up in the death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman, and in the rescue of Private Jessica Lynch, after a day of compelling testimony from Tillman‘s family and from Private Lynch herself, what the country‘s highest elected officials had to say about the funding fight over the conflicts our nation is fighting in amounted to lots of high-falutin name-calling.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, your tax dollars in action, with only 24 hours or so to go before Congress is set to vote on its war funding measure, all sides getting in their last licks.

On his weekly visit to the Capitol, Vice President Cheney today accused the Democrats of pursuing a defeatist strategy in Iraq in order to win votes here at home.  Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that remark was just the president‘s chief attack dog lashing out, a vice presidential woof, if you will.

As for the president of the United States of America, he says the Democratic plan for a gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq would embolden America‘s enemies.  And Mr. Bush seems to believe that the escalation of U.S. troops in Iraq has given the American people exactly what they were looking for when they voted for change in the 2006 midterm election.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  No matter how much we wish the war was over, the security of our country depends directly on the outcome in Iraq.  The price of giving up there would be paid in American lives for years to come.

It would be unforgivable mistake for leaders in Washington to allow politics and impatience to stand in the way of protecting the American people.

Last November, the American people said they were frustrated and wanted a change in our strategy in Iraq.  I listened.  Today, General David Petraeus is carrying out a strategy that is dramatically different from our previous course.

The American people did not vote for failure.  And that is precisely what the Democratic leadership‘s bill would guarantee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  On the floor of the Senate, Democrat Joe Biden among the first to say, I know you are, Mr. President, but what am I?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE:  This president, divorced from reality, is accusing us of emboldening the enemy and undermining our troops.  Well, Mr. President, I have a message for you.  The only thing that‘s emboldening the enemy is your failed policy.  Mr. President, the only mission you‘ve accomplished is to embolden the enemy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  When it comes to the men and women fighting those two different wars on different fronts, two names that just about everyone knows by now are Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch.  Every American became aware of Private Lynch a few years ago, after she was captured and rescued not long after the war in Iraq began.

Well, Corporal Tillman initially earned his fame on the football field, long before he had further distinguished himself with his bravery as an Army Ranger on the battlefield of Afghanistan.  And as you recall, Corporal Tillman was killed by friendly fire three years and two days ago, on April 22, 2004.  The Army first reported that he‘d been killed by the enemy.

At a congressional hearing today, Tillman‘s family accused the Army of intentionally hiding the truth about his brother‘s death.  In the most explosive testimony, the last Army Ranger to see Tillman alive, Specialist Bryan O‘Neal, said he was ordered by his commanding officers not to tell anyone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O‘NEAL:  I wanted right off the bat to let the family know what had happened, especially Kevin, because I‘ve worked with him in the platoon, and I knew that him and the family both needed—or all needed to know what had happened.  And I was quite appalled that when we were—I was able, actually able to speak with Kevin, I was ordered not to tell him what happened, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You were ordered not to tell him.

O‘NEAL:  Roger that, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  By whom?

O‘NEAL:  At that time, it was by our battalion commander, Lieutenant Colonel Bailey, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And did he give you a reason, or just an order?

O‘NEAL:  He basically just said, sir, that, Do not let Kevin know, that he‘s probably in a bad place knowing his brother‘s dead.  And he made it known that I would get in trouble, sir, if I spoke with Kevin on it being fratricide, sir.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  If that may have been the most damaging testimony of the day, perhaps the most compelling came from Private Lynch, as well as from Tillman‘s own family, his brother, Kevin, and his mother telling their own story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

KEVIN TILLMAN:  Revealing that Pat‘s death was a fratricide would have been yet another political disaster during a month already swollen with political disasters, and a brutal truth that the American public would undoubtedly find unacceptable.

So the facts needed to be suppressed.  An alternative narrative had to be constructed.  This freshly manufactured narrative was then distributed to the American public.  And we believe the strategy had the intended effect.  It shifted the focus from the grotesque torture at Abu Ghraib, and a downward spiral of an illegal act of aggression to a great American who died a hero‘s death.

The most despicable part of what General Kensinger told the American public was when he said, quote, “The results of this investigation in no way diminish the bravery and sacrifice displayed by Corporal Tillman,” end quote.

This is an egregious attempt to manipulate the public into thinking that anyone who would question this 180 degree-flip in the narrative would be casting doubt on Pat‘s bravery and sacrifice.  Such questioning says nothing about Pat‘s bravery and sacrifice any more than the narrative for Jessica diminishes her bravery and sacrifice.

LYNCH:  The bottom line, that the American people are capable of determining their own heroes—ideals for heroes, and they don‘t need to be told elaborate lies.

I‘m still confused as to why they chose to lie and tried to make me a legend when the real heroes of my fellow soldiers that day were legendary.

My hero is every American who says, My country needs me, and answers that call to fight.

I had the good fortune and opportunity to come home and to tell the truth.  Many soldiers like Pat Tillman did not have that opportunity.  The truth of war is not always easy.  The truth is always more heroic than the hype.

MARY TILLMAN, PAT TILLMAN‘S MOTHER:  By making up these false stories is exactly what Jessica said.  It‘s you‘re diminishing their true heroism.

It may not be pretty.  It may not be like out of a John Wayne movie.  But that‘s not what war is all about.  It‘s ugly, it‘s bloody, it‘s painful.  And to write these glorious tales is really a disservice to the nation.  And the nation needs to realize, this is an ugly war.  Everyone should be part of it.  Everyone should understand what‘s going on.  And we shouldn‘t be allowed to have smokescreens thrown in our face.

KEVIN TILLMAN:  Pat‘s death at the hands of his comrades is a terrible tragedy.  But the fact that the Army, and what appears to be others, attempted to hijack his virtue and his legacy is simply horrific.

The least this country can do for him in return is to uncover who was responsible for his death, who lied and covered it up, and who instigated those lies and benefited from them.  Then ensure that justice is meted out to the culpable.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

STEWART:  Joining us now is the chairman of VoteVets.org, Jon Soltz, who served in Iraq from May to September of 2003.

Thanks for being with us, Jon.

JON SOLTZ, VOTEVETS.ORG:  Oh, thanks so much.  My pleasure.

STEWART:  Want to know what you do—what you thought as Tillman‘s family was just giving this heartbreaking testimony on Capitol Hill about having been lied to, and accusing politicians of being concerned with their images than telling the truth.  Well, the politicians of all stripes were spinning their sides on this budget battle.  What did you think about that?

SOLTZ:  Well, the first thing I thought was, it really broke my heart.  April 2004 was a very difficult month for me.  I had just come home from Iraq.  It was a very hard time in the war in Iraq.  The Sadr army had just sort of revolted.  My unit, 1st Armored Division, had been extended four months.  We had contractors burned at the stake in Fallujah.

And now you have them in Afghanistan, you have the situation with Pat Tillman.  And I‘ll never forget where I was when he died.  And to see his parents go through this pain, and his brother, and you hear the stories of Jessica Lynch.  And the president is our commander in chief.  He owes that family an apology.  And the fact that they haven‘t gotten it in the last three years is absolutely horrific to the people who serve in the armed forces.

And if the president wants to support the troops, he can start by apologizing to Pat Tillman‘s family.

STEWART:  I‘m curious what you think about the idea of the politicians talking so much, posturing, name calling, as all this was going on, over the budget, and the money needed to get to the troops.

SOLTZ:  Well, I think it‘s ironic that they come hand in hand.  Pat Tillman‘s death was used for political purposes.  He‘s an individual who‘s a hero, who served in the Army to kill or to be part of, you know, the military defeat of Osama bin Laden, or to apprehend the man who attacked this country.  He didn‘t agree with Iraq.

Now we have this budget battle, and the president wants to stand with the generals and say he listens to the generals on the—in the field.  And what you have is a vice president who‘s emboldened our enemies, and a president who‘s emboldened our enemies.  Iran is stronger.  Al Qaeda‘s reconstituting in Afghanistan.

So I think that it‘s ironic that here you have them who tried to use one family for their political purposes, and they keep their rhetoric moving in this direction.

So I think the American public‘s smarter than that.  The president‘s in a box.  Seventy percent of the American public think he‘s not a good commander in chief.  Seventy percent of the American public thinks that he‘s, you know, failing our troops in the field and undermining them on the ground.

So I think it‘s just ironic the two issues happen on the same day.  The budget battle‘s big, it‘s important.  We‘ve got to hold accountable the Iraqi government.  We‘ve got to get out of Iraq so we can continue the war on terror and protect America.  And this is a president who‘s committed to partisan political debate and not reality of securing the country.

STEWART:  Now, did the president get your attention, Jon, when he says he has done what antiwar voters wanted him to do in the midterm elections?

SOLTZ:  Well, I don‘t know this is about antiwar or prowar.  This is about protecting America.  This is about keeping an Army that‘s strong and that can protect us.  Ninety percent of our military is allocated to this mess in Iraq.  And you‘ve got bin Laden, who‘s sitting in a cave in Afghanistan, something—or somewhere there, eating lamb chops and having a good old time while al Qaeda‘s reconstituting.

So this is about redefining the war on terror.  This is about accountability, responsible withdrawal from Iraq.  This isn‘t about being antiwar, this is about protecting America.  It‘s about keeping our National Guard and Reserve so they can deal with situations that (INAUDIBLE) Katrina.

The president‘s off base.  And he‘s a limited man in his ability to be commander in chief, and he continues to show those limitations when he engages in this type of rhetoric.

STEWART:  Let‘s talk about accountability before I let you go.  Vice President Cheney today accused Majority Leader Reid of cutting off funding.  Can it be argued the White House is trying to blame the Democrats for something the president is actually threatening to do himself, if he vetoes this bill?

SOLTZ:  The president is punting the football.  He—if he wanted to win this war, he would do something that he hasn‘t done the entire war, which is ask the American country to sacrifice.  So, look, the bill that went to the president has got $450 million extra for traumatic brain injury.  It‘s got $350 million more dollars for post-traumatic stress disorder.  It‘s got another $25 million to pick up their mess that they made over at Walter Reed because they failed as leaders.

I don‘t know what to say about the vice president other than he‘s totally unqualified to talk about these issues.  He‘s never served in the military, he doesn‘t understand the sacrifice.  And it really—it‘s on the president to sign this bill, which to hold accountable the Iraqi government, get a responsible withdrawal, and give the troops what they need.  If they veto it, they‘re vetoing support for the troops.

STEWART:  Jon Soltz, the chairman of VoteVets.org, thanks for being with us tonight.

SOLTZ:  Oh, thank you so much.

STEWART:  A special counsel is looking into the political moves of Karl Rove from inside the White House.  The SC vows no stone will go unturned.  But just how serious is this investigation?  Or is it all a political smokescreen?

And we‘re left with 48 hours away from the first presidential debate. 

Who should have predebate jitters, and why?

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  The headline today from “The Los Angeles Times,” low-key office launches a high-profile inquiry into Karl Rove.

But in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, will this be a case of the Bush administration essentially investigating itself, and finding nothing wrong?  The little-known U.S. Office of Special Counsel has broadened an investigation into whether some of Karl Rove‘s political activities have violated the Hatch Act.

The head of the Special Counsel, Scott Bloch, said, quoting, “We will take the evidence where it leads us.  We will leave—not leave any stone unturned.”

Well, Mr. Bloch himself is under Bush administration appointee and is under investigation by yet another agency because of complaints from his own employees.

The new investigation will consider a number of issues, including the firing of at least one of those eight U.S. attorneys, the question of missing White House e-mails and the use of RNC accounts for official White House business, and a potentially more explosive accusation, that Karl Rove has illegally used government property and government employees on government time to further his political agenda in violation of the Hatch Act, which says, you know, you really can‘t do that stuff.

That charge drawing from a January 26 video conference to 40 Bush appointees in the General Service Administration.  Now, this PowerPoint presentation by a Karl Rove aide, J. Scott Jennings, included Republican strategy, like this 2008 House targets, 2008 House GOP defense, and battle for the Senate.  Those are just a few examples out of many.

Now, when the presentation was complete, the GSA chief, Lorita Doan, allegedly asked GSA employees, quote, “Help our candidates in the next elections.”  The House Government Reform Committee has also looked into the PowerPoint presentation, and at least two Democratic senators have called for the resignation or firing of Ms. Doan.

Let‘s call in “Newsweek” magazine‘s senior Washington correspondent and political columnist and MSNBC political analyst, Howard Fineman.               

Howard, good to see you.

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

Good evening.

STEWART:  Let‘s start with the Office of Special Counsel.  There are plenty of career attorneys there.  And we don‘t really know about their independence or whether they‘re independent or not.  But we do know that their boss is a Bush appointee and is being investigated because he allegedly retaliated against those who disagreed with some of his policies.  So considering all that, do you think this investigation will have teeth?

FINEMAN:  Well, you got to—I don‘t—I think even people who aren‘t cynics would have to question some of this.  Whenever I hear some investigator saying, before the investigation is begun, We will leave no stone unturned, you sometimes wonder who‘s doing the turning and what the stones really are.

You know, I think there‘s a legitimate question, obviously, about violations of the Hatch Act, which are supposed to prevent political operations by government employees.  But this administration, more than any in modern history that I can remember, or have studied, obliterated the line between politics and policy.  Really, the whole administration could be indicted under the Hatch Act, so obvious was it.

So the real question is whether this person is going to be free and independent and whether they‘re going to actually find some specific wrongdoing they could prosecute.  Somehow, I doubt it.

STEWART:  Let‘s break down each one of the issues, because it‘s a really pretty broad investigation.  The PowerPoint presentation, where policy was discussed, and then allegedly making policy to help Republicans get elected.  How big a problem is this for Karl Rove?

FINEMAN:  Well, all administrations do that to one extent or another.  I remember during the Clinton administration, in the runup to their reelection in ‘95 and ‘96, of course, virtually every action they took, every policy they made was designed to help Bill Clinton get reelected.

The difference here, if there is one, was just the sheer brazenness of giving essentially a political briefing to what were supposed to be nonpolitical employees.  It‘s a difference in degree, probably not in kind.

The larger question here, though, is whether they launched this investigation to really get to the bottom of things and leave no stone unturned, or to shovel dirt on the situation so that the leaders in Congress, in the Democratic Congress, who want to investigate Karl Rove won‘t be able to do so.

STEWART:  Let‘s take a look at the e-mails, those White House e-mails, with regard to the firing of the U.S. attorneys and the use of RNC e-mail accounts to conduct official White House business.  It appears that Henry Waxman‘s going to go ahead tomorrow with a subpoena for Andrew Card, RNC documents, White House documents.  Now, is there any reason to believe that this investigation from the Special Counsel office will get any further than the one that‘s currently being conducted by Congress?

FINEMAN:  Well, I think you have a sort of race to the subpoenas in the courthouse now.  I kind of halfway think that that‘s what Larry David and Sheryl Crow are doing at the White House Correspondents‘ Dinner, is trying to serve a subpoena on Karl Rove on Henry Waxman‘s behalf.

I think Henry Waxman and the Democrats want to bring everybody in, investigate the prewar sale of the war in Iraq, investigate Karl Rove‘s political operation in and out of the White House, investigate possible violations of the Hatch Act, investigate the firing of U.S. attorneys.

They want everybody to come up and testify.  I‘m wondering if, to some extent, this new investigation that we‘re discussing here wasn‘t launched in part to give the White House an additional excuse, besides executive privilege, not to cooperate with Henry Waxman and company.  I think you‘re going to hear that a lot in the next couple days.

STEWART:  What‘s the strongest possible outcome here?  Can this Office of Special Counsel deem a violation of the Hatch Act?  Can it bring criminal charges?

FINEMAN:  It could in theory, but it‘s got to be very brazen, because, as I said, the whole administration has been about the mixture of politics and policy.  And it‘s going to be hard to separate out in any one act.  The real action is going to be a continuing confrontation between Henry Waxman and other investigators in the Democratic Party on the Hill, and this White House.  That‘s where the action really is, not in this investigation that was announced today.

STEWART:  It‘s all to be continued.

Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” and MSNBC.  Always a pleasure, Howard.

FINEMAN:  Thank you.

STEWART:  Say hi to your wife.

FINEMAN:  I will.

STEWART:  Coming up, the investigation into the crash involving New Jersey‘s governor.  Did a driver‘s alleged extramarital affair and alleged BlackBerry trigger the high-speed wreck?

And a very bad day for Captain America.  Even his superheroes can‘t save him from the cops after some very bad behavior at a bar.

Details ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  It was on this day in 1936, 71 years ago, when the first-ever unscheduled event was broadcast on television, forever changing the face of live TV news.  It was a fire in Camden, New Jersey, and the station went live with it.  You know what‘s funny?  I think that same thing happened on MSNBC this afternoon.

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in the skies over Brisbane, Australia, where 47 women claim to have broken the world record for formation skydiving.  They call themselves the Sky Sisters and using special webbing on their suits to slow their descent, the team performs several difficult formations, including the so-called Eight-Way Block, the Arrow, and, well, ooh, I don‘t know what‘s going with that one.

To Florida, where it‘s been a pretty yuck rough year for superhero Captain America.  After being killed off, the Marvel Comic (INAUDIBLE).  Apparently he has hit rock bottom, because now we have surveillance video of the captain being booked into the Melbourne, Florida, lockup.  Police say he was intoxicated, made rude suggestions to a woman in a bar while holding a burrito, then grabbed her between her thighs.  Oh, captain.  It got worse when the superhero got caught allegedly trying to flush a bag of marijuana down the jailhouse toilet.

The man behind the mask turned out to be 54-year-old Raymond Adamik (ph), a Palm Bay doctor by day, a high pervy superhero by night.

And finally, to Portland, Oregon, and another mug shot.  This is Wayne Michael Trent (ph), a man with three first names and a long stay behind bars in his future.  Trent was booked on charges of ID theft and impersonation.  But that‘s not why he‘s been handcuffed on the courthouse stairs, calling for his mommy.  That‘s because he just got Tasered after a demonstration of how to add a few years to your sentence in just five easy seconds. 

Moments earlier, Trent had attempted this daring escape from the court room.  There he goes.  He made it about 30 yards before he got the taser in the back.  His bail doubled, and a newly extended stay.  Only one guy in court goes after him. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  The big momentum in the Democratic race for president.  Can Barack Obama do anything to stop his progress in the money race and the polls?  Is it critical that Hillary Clinton slammed the brakes on the Obama expressed? 

And paying tribute to the troops; John Mellencamp sings for the wounded vets at Walter Reed.  He will tell us why the performance is so important to him.  But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three news makers of this day. 

At number three, Benjamin Hodges of Tampa, and one of those only in Florida stories.  He arrested after he found a dead alligator in a river, brought it home, began to butcher it on his front lawn.  He told police he just wanted to make a belt.  J.C Penny‘s buddy; you could have had a mockodile one for about eight bucks.

Number two, 29 year-old Jazrahel King of BridgePort, Connecticut.  He has been arrested after trying to trade in a 2003 Jeep Liberty at a car dealership.  The problem is he had stolen that Jeep about a month ago off of the lot of the very same car dealership.  A rocket scientist. 

And at number one, “Spider-Man 3” the movie.  It‘s not out in theaters here for another two weeks, but Reuters reports that pirated DVD copies are already being sold on the streets of Beijing, China for about a buck a piece.  No one knows how they did it, but these pirates must be stopped.  In fact, this sounds like a job for Captain America.  Only—

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  James Carville, the man who helped Bill Clinton become president, called Senator Hillary Clinton mama.  So with the ragin Cajun‘s inspiration, we prevent mama versus Obama.  Campaign 2008 is number three on our COUNTDOWN.  It‘s still very early, but today‘s “New York Times” says even in New York, where Senator Clinton is popular, she can not necessarily count on the support of black Democrats. 

The big reason, Senator Obama‘s spectacular ability to raise money as fast as the two term senator and former first lady.  There is also a reported growing sense of pride about Senator Obama among black Democrats.  Influential Harlem assemblyman Adam Clayton Powell IV telling the Times he hasn‘t made up his mind, but, quote, “I would have supported Hillary if it were not for Barack Obama.” 

And from State Senator Kevin Parker, quote, “it has been complicated by Senator Obama‘s presence.  I think people are split.” 

And then there‘s the latest Zogby poll of Democrats in South Carolina, an important primary, where black voters are a formidable force.  Senator Clinton leads the back among likely Democratic voters, but she leads her Senate by only seven percent.  And the same polls shows even slimmer leads in early states like New Hampshire and Iowa.  But, let us be real, New Hampshire has a black population of one percent, Iowa two percent. 

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” the political blog for WashingtonPost.com.  Chris, thanks for being with us tonight. 

CHRIS CILLIZZA, “THE FIX”:  Thanks for having me, Alison. 

STEWART:  Should the Clinton campaign be worried?  Could it be why we see more of Mr. Clinton on the campaign trail? 

CILLIZZA:  Sure, I mean, of course they should be worried.  The reality is she started the race as the overwhelming front runner.  Everyone expected her to have twice as much money as any other candidate.  And she‘s now in a dog fight.  The one point I would make before we write Senator Clinton‘s political obituary is that Barack Obama has gotten a lot of people to stay neutral.  They haven‘t necessarily endorsed Barack Obama. 

So, while there are still some people neutral who might already be with Senator Clinton if Barack Obama wasn‘t in this race.  They are not necessarily going in droves to Senator Obama.  It remains to be seen.  They may wind up doing it.  But I just don‘t think we should paint it as a rush to Senator Obama at the moment. 

He‘s keeping them neutral.  He‘s keeping them undecided at the moment, where no other candidate probably would have.  

STEWART:  Now, you wrote last week that Obama, the spot light on him is a double edged sword.  And sure enough stories out of Chicago saying that one of his biggest contributors is an indicted developer, a slum lord, the article even called him.  How serious is this? 

CILLIZZA:  Well, you know, the reality is that very little was known about Barack Obama other than that he gave a very inspirational speech at the 2004 Democratic national convention.  As he becomes a bigger entity in this race; as people get to know more about him, we are going to see stories like this.  This story is about a developer who Obama has had a several decade-long relationship with, given to his campaigns, has also been involved in developing some low income properties that have gone bankrupt. 

The question is: Did Obama do anything wrong, nefarious?  That has not been proven.  Look, the fact that he had a friend who happens to now be indicted does not mean that Barack Obama did anything wrong.  But it is the kind of microscope he is going to be under from now until the primary.

STEWART:  All right Chris, well, as long as we‘re looking under rocks and behind doors, a story your paper last week said John Edwards single largest corporate contributor is a New York hedge fund that he once worked for.  Deal or no big deal? 

CILLIZZA:  I would put the Obama story in the same light.  I think both of them can be a big deal.  That is, if they wind up playing into a larger narrative.  For Edwards, that larger narrative that he wants to avoid is this is a multi-millionaire trial lawyer standing up for the poor.  Does he really mean it?  Does he live his own life through it.  Or is he feathering his own nest, while saying corporations shouldn‘t do it.

So if it plays into that larger narrative, it could be destructive for Senate Edwards.  We have not seen it play out yet.  We‘ve still got a lot of time.  But it is a thread of a narrative to watch. 

STEWART:  We are going to get our first look at all of these people together at the upcoming debates this week.  So, as a political reporter, what are you going to be looking for Thursday night, when you watch the debate?  And I know you‘ll watch it on MSNBC? 

CILLIZZA:  Well, I will be there.  But if I wasn‘t there, I would watch it on MSNBC.  I am excited.  What I am really looking forward to is how do these people engage with one another.  They have been at a lot of forums together, but those forums, they didn‘t address one another directly.  They‘re all going to be on one stage. 

Who takes shots?  Does Bill Richardson or Chris Dodd or Joe Biden take a shot at Senator Clinton or Obama or Edwards?  How does the front runner deal with it?  Do they engage?  Do they ignore?  All those kinds of things are going to be really interesting, at least from my perspective as a political junkie. 

STEWART:  It‘s so interesting that you just mentioned Biden and Dodd and Richardson.  Is there going to be any air in the room for them?

CILLIZZA:  We will see.  I think there is a real question about that.  The attention clearly, to this point, is focused on Edwards, Clinton, and Obama.  I think they‘re going to make it—If I know Joe Biden, he is not going to be silenced.  I would say the same thing about Chris Dodd.

STEWART:  Chris Cillizza, thanks a lot. 

CILLIZZA:  Thanks Alison.

STEWART:  If mama or Obama or any Democrat manages to break from the pack, you will see it right here Thursday on MSNBC.  Join Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews and Tom Brokaw for pre debate coverage.  Then the debate begins with “NIGHTLY NEWS” anchor Brian Williams moderating at 7:00 p.m.  right here on MSNBC, the place for politics. 

New details about the car crash involving New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine.  Did a love triangle distract the trooper behind the wheel of that speeding SUV? 

And the classy creator of “Girls Gone Wild” videos finds himself behind bars for much longer than he had anticipated.  Details ahead, but first here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR:  How are your hips? 

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Doing good. 

KING:  What did you get?

BUSH:  Between Barbara and me, we have four new hips. 

KING:  That is all you can get. 

BUSH:  My last one is recovered.  We also only have 18 toes, I might add. 

KING:  Who lost two toes? 

BARBARA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY:  My children think it‘s funny.  We call her nine.  They said it first.  Now we call her eight.   

DAVID LETTERMAN, LATE NIGHT TALK SHOW HOTS:  Top ten things I learned from “American Idol.”  Number five—

SANJAY MALAKAR, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  Voting for yourselves 100 times an hour causes some wicked carpal tunnel. 

LETTERMAN:  Number four,

MALAKAR:  When you forget the words, just do this.  (SINGING)

LETTERMAN:  Number three—

MALAKAR:  Honestly, I thought I was auditioning for “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader.”

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Smoking toilets and burning bidets have put two Japanese porcelain giants on the proverbial hot seat.  Totot, known for its high tech washlets, with warm jet streams, blow dryers, air purifiers, and all of the bells and whistles, said 26 malfunctioning toilets emitted smoke while three more caught fire. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We have been promoting a culture of washing one‘s backside since 1980, which has given us a 60 percent market share. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  The fact that a governor is eating cheeseburgers and chocolate milkshakes is rarely news, unless that governor has been in intensive care for the past 11 days after a car crash at 91 miles an hour broke his leg, his collar bone, his sternum and 11 ribs.  In our number two story tonight, New Jersey‘s Governor John Corzine is on the road to recovery.  But state investigators are on a road of their own tonight, trying to piece together why the crash happened and whether salacious new allegations about the driver have any bearing on it.  Ron Allen has the latest on their progress and Corzine‘s.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RON ALLEN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Nearly two weeks after a horrible crash that left New Jersey Governor John Corzine with numerous broken bones and on life support, doctors now say he is off the critical list and out of intensive care. 

DR. STEVEN ROSS, COOPER UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL:  He is awake, alert, talking with the family and the staff, reading the newspaper, watching television. 

ALLEN:  But investigators looking into the crash still want to know why the governor was not wearing a seat belt, why the drivers, State Trooper Robert Rasinski, was driving at about 90 miles per hour.  And the latest twist, was Rasinski distracted by email and text messages sent before the crash from an enraged husband, accusing the trooper of having an affair with his wife? 

(on camera):  That scandalous suggestion came from another New Jersey police officer, who posted his charges on a newspaper‘s web site.  The officer also said he had sent the governor‘s driver one of those e-mails just minutes before the crash. 

(voice-over):  “Rasinski is a man of no character or morals,” Sargent Michael Mathis of Berkeley Heights wrote after the crash, adding, “I hope it didn‘t cause the crash.  But no man in his right mind could have been thinking clearly with the affair exposed.” 

DAVID JONES, TROOPER‘S UNION PRESIDENT:  He is an aggrieved soon to be ex-husband, who read this trooper‘s name in the newspaper. 

ALLEN:  The Trooper‘s Union is up in arms, claiming Rasinski‘s personal life had nothing to do with his driving.  A local newspaper speculated he may have received the e-mail by blackberry while driving. 

JONES:  An accident is an unfortunate, unpredictable occurrence.  And that‘s what we‘re talking about here.

ALLEN:  The union insists Rasinksi does not have a Blackberry.  And he read the husband‘s email hours after the crash.  While state police investigate, it‘s still unclear when the governor will be well enough to resume his duties.  Doctors say they do not expect him to remember what happened.

Ron Allen, NBC News, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  And to the former governor of New Jersey, leading our nightly round up of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs.  James McGreevey, proud day American; in a divorce filing, he claims that his wife knew he was a homosexual before they were ever married.  In a court filing, the former governor writes that his wife, Matos McGreevey, not only knew of sexual orientation, but, quote, chose to either ignore it or block it out of her mind. 

McGreevey also disputes his wife‘s claims that erotic art work is hanging in his current residence.  His ex has accused him of being a poor judge of what they‘re five year old daughter should see.  McGreevey also objects to her description of him as bisexual, quote, on the offhand she wasn‘t paying attention, he writes in the court papers, I am a gay American. 

And Rosie O‘Donnell did not hold back at the New York Women and Communications Annual Awards lunch yesterday.  She sent some jabs towards Fox‘s Rupert Murdoch, Telling the assembled crowd, including Murdoch, that, quote, this is a celebration of women who changed the world and no one understands why Rupert Murdoch is on the dais.  Then when Murdoch‘s chief gossip columnist for the “New York Post” tried to leave early, O‘Donnell reportedly yelled out from the stage, Richard Johnson is leaving.  What happens if I have sex with someone at table ten?  You just make this sh—stuff up anyway? 

Which might explain why Johnson‘s gossip site in Murdoch‘s paper didn‘t mention any of that, but instead led with another story about Rosie O‘Donnell at the lunch.  This time telling Donald Trump, quote, well, I do not want to say it, so—actually, you know what, let me put it this way what Rosie said:  Rosie said, dine on my person, while she was grabbing her crotch.  Think about it.  And yes, there was a group of teenage girls at the dinner. 

At least those young ladies will be spared the attentions of Joe Francis, at least for the next month.  That is how long the “Girls Gone Wild” founder was sentenced in jail.  A judge deciding to make him serve a full 35 days of federal contempt of court charges.  Francis had to have to ask to have the sentence shortened by just five days, because if he is convicted on the tax evasion charges, having more than 30 days in jail on his record, will make his potential sentence even longer. 

But that is a drop in the bucket, according to TMZ.com.  The website reports that Joe Francis faces so many felony charges in Florida, including contraband in his jail cell, that if convicted on all of them, he could end up in jail for 100 years.  Those girls will be older then.

Paying tribute to the troops.  John Mellencamp this week singing for wounded veterans at Walter Reed.  How did the loud voice against the war get picked for the performance and what does he hope to accomplish?  John Mellencamp joins me after the break. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  For all the talk of supporting the military and supporting troops, there sometimes seems to be very little action to back it.  Witness the treatment of Pat Tillman‘s family, testified to today.  Witness the political in-fighting and threatened presidential veto of a funding bill.  Witness the deplorable conditions discovered at Walter Reed Hospital earlier this year.  But in our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, at least some people are trying to directly show the men and women of the U.S.  military just how much their service is truly appreciated. 

Which is why recovering troops at Walter Reed Hospital will be getting a free concert to try to lift their spirits from one of the more outspoken critics of the Iraq war.  John Mellencamp will be performing in front of 300 patients and hospital workers at Walter Reed this Friday.  And he joins us here tonight.  John, thank you so much for taking the time. 

JOHN MELLENCAMP, SINGER/SONG WRITER:  Thanks for having me.

STEWART:  Let me get a couple nuts and bolts question out of the way.  When did you decide to do this concert for troops at Walter Reed, and how did you go about organizing it? 

MELLENCAMP:  Well, what happened, I went down to San Antonio a few months ago, and I played at the Intrepid Center.  And I found myself with five hours with nothing to do.  So I just kid of hung around and found myself talking to these young guys and about how they felt about the war, and their hopes in their futures, of what they think‘s in front of them. 

And I found it very inspiring.  And that is what got me interested in doing this. 

STEWART:  Did the conversations change your opinion about the war or the administration‘s policy at all? 

MELLENCAMP:  No it didn‘t.  But what it did tell me is that, you know, the service is as diverse as the American people are.  There are some people that were pretty gung ho and others who were questioning just about everything that had happened. 

STEWART:  Was there any concern at Walter Reed or on any level about having you perform, given the fact that you have been outspoken about the administration‘s war policy? 

MELLENCAMP:  Well the people at Walter Reed, you know, they‘re soldiers and they are fine people.  We have had a few conversations about some things that they didn‘t really understand, but they have been more than helpful and they have actually been pretty fantastic to deal with.  I don‘t really think that a soldier—basically it‘s following orders most of the time.  So, left to their own way of doing things, they have just really been fantastic. 

STEWART:  You are well known for speaking your mind, saying what you‘re thinking about, not being shy about it at all.  Are you going to get political at all during the concert? 

MELLENCAMP:  I think that was why we have gone through this without much resistance, is that I did the Intrepid thing and it was very non partisan.  I sang the songs.  I didn‘t get into my personal beliefs.  This is about going down there and showing support for these kids, who really don‘t any make policy, who are basically following orders, and trying to give them a good evening for a change. 

STEWART:  Well, let‘s talk about the people who do make the policies.  If you had ten minutes with Secretary of Defense Gates or with the Army secretary who runs Walter Reed, what would you say to them? 

MELLENCAMP:  Well, I don‘t think you can‘t blame any of those people.  I don‘t even know if, you know, when you talk about Walter Reed—listen, all that stuff comes down from the top.  These guys are doing what they are told to do, and they doing the best job they can possibly do with the funds that they have got.  I firmly believe that.  I know that they care about their soldiers and they are doing the best that they can with what they are given. 

STEWART:  Have you actually ever considered going to the war zone, or going on a USO tour, anything like that? 

MELLENCAMP:  No, I‘m afraid they would shoot me there.  I don‘t think anybody would protect John Mellencamp over there.

STEWART:  I don‘t know.  After you give this concert, I think some would try to help you out.  You know, the Dixie Chicks, they really had a hard time after not supporting the president and speaking out about it publicly.  Did you ever receive any kind of the same treatment for your views? 

MELLENCAMP:  Well, yes I did, but not to the extreme of what happened to them.  You know, those gals were on their third record and I think people were surprised at their position.  And they just spoke real early and people were surprised.  But with me, you know, I have been around a long time.  And I have written a lot of songs about social issues.  I don‘t think anybody would be surprised that I am a lefty.  I mean, you know, that‘s where I have always been.

STEWART:  Has the political climate changed enough for you to be able to go out there and do this and speak your point of view and perform, and speak your point of view at the same time in front of all these soldiers? 

MELLENCAMP:  Well, I‘m not going to really speak my point of view.  I don‘t think that‘s what this evening is about.  I think this evening is about singing songs that they may be familiar with and providing them with a good time. 

STEWART:  What is you goal for the night?

MELLENCAMP:  What is my goal for the night?  Well, the goal is to really entertain the troops and also to have people who are watching—you know, it‘s going to be televised on HDNET—to kind of reflect of what these kids have given and what they have all accomplished and what‘s been done. 

STEWART:  And that is a fine goal.  John Mellencamp performing for injured troops at Walter Reed this Friday.  Thanks so much for being here.  And thanks so much for doing this for the troops.

MELLENCAMP:  Thanks for having me.

STEWART:  That will do it for this Tuesday edition of COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Alison Stewart, in for Keith Olbermann.  Thank you for watching.

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

END   

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