updated 4/30/2007 1:53:14 PM ET 2007-04-30T17:53:14

Guests: Chris Cillizza, Michael Musto

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

There is no possible alternative conclusion now.  The president lied us into war.  Quoting his former head of the CIA, “There was never a serious debate that I knew of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat.”

George Tenet also says he did say the case for war in Iraq should be presented as a slam dunk, that the president used that phrase and him to justify an unjustifiable war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN BARTLETT, WHITE HOUSE COUNSELOR:  The president has, and we have never indicated that the president made the sole decision based on that slam-dunk comment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  George Tenet‘s book is out.

And Democratic Senator Durbin‘s guilty forced secret is out as well.  There was nothing but debate in the Senate Intelligence Committee about the reality or phoniness of the so-called Iraqi threat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS:  The information we had in the Intelligence Committee was not the same information being given to the American people.

Frankly, I couldn‘t do much about it, because, you see, in the Intelligence Committee, we‘re sworn to secrecy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Should not some patriot have risked the consequences and broken that sworn oath?

Docudump drama.  The Department of Justice releases the list of Gonzales documents it won‘t release.  The latest on the U.S. attorney scandal.

The zero-G ride of Stephen Hawking.  Brainiacs in space.

For Richard Gere, is it, Jail, here I come?  A warrant for his arrest after he kissed Indian actress Shilpa Shetti?  The shpilkus over Shilpa.

And the day after the night before.  Did Hillary win the debate?  Was anybody voted off?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  This isn‘t “American Idol” here.  We‘re choosing a president.

MIKE GRAVEL (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I was beginning to feel like a potted plant standing over here.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

OLBERMANN:  Well, if this isn‘t “American Idol,” why did Mike Gravel‘s remark make me think of Paula Abdul?

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRAVEL:  They frighten me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening from Charlotte, North Carolina.

No serious debate within the administration about the imminence of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, no significant discussion of not going to war, no sincere attempt to share the intelligence or lack thereof with the American people.

And the only reason we know this now, four and a half years later, four and a half years too late, is because two public officials, former CIA director George Tenet and current Democratic Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois finally have decided to start leveling with the American people.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, where were you when we needed you?  Why does Mr. Tenet feel he can begin telling the truth now?  Perhaps the reported $4 million advance he received for his new book had something to do with this.

According to a copy of that new book obtained by “The New York Times” by, of course, walking into a bookstore and buying it, Mr. Tenet saying, quote, “There was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat, “nor,” the former director of the CIA adding, “was there ever a significant discussion about the possibility of containing Iraq without an invasion,” Mr. Tenet complaining in the book and in a “60 Minutes” interview to air on CBS Sunday that the administration twisted and misused his “slam-dunk” comment about the evidence of WMD in Iraq first to justify the invasion, then later to deflect blame onto Tenet and the CIA when no weapons were found.

That didn‘t stop him, however, from accepting the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Bush, even though he says in his book he was not at all sure he wanted to accept it.  I guess he forced himself.

This morning on the “TODAY” show, White House counselor Dan Bartlett was the designated hatchet man sent out to discredit yet another former administration official with a dangerous book.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARTLETT:  I am a bit confused by that, because the president has—and we have never indicated that the president made the sole decision base on that “slam-dunk” comment.  As you recall, when that meeting was reported, the Congress had already authorized the use of force.  The president used the National Intelligence Estimate.  There was a whole body of evidence and behavior by Saddam Hussein that led President Bush believe that he had to be removed with force.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But that is exactly what the administration has indicated, Vice President Cheney twice referring to Mr. Tenet‘s “slam-dunk” comment as the basis for the administration‘s decision to go to war.  During an appearance on NBC‘s “MEET THE PRESS” just last September, at the time saying that Mr. Tenet describes having watched that episode of “MEET THE PRESS” with sarcasm.

When it comes to who else knew the American public was being lied to about Iraq, one Democratic senator now says you can add the entire Intelligence Committee to the list, Dick Durbin of Illinois making the amazing claim on the floor of the Senate that, while he and perhaps the 16 other members of that Intelligence Committee knew the administration was misleading the American public, he, perhaps they, kept quiet about it because, due to his position on the committee, he had been sworn to secrecy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DURBIN:  A few hundred feet away from here, in a closed room, carefully guarded, the Intelligence Committee was meeting on a daily basis for top-secret briefings about the information we were receiving, and the information we had in the Intelligence Committee was not the same information being given to the American people.

I couldn‘t believe it.  Members of this administration were in active, heated debate over whether aluminum tubes really meant that the Iraqis were developing nuclear weapons, some within the administration saying, Of course not, it‘s not the same kind of aluminum tube, at the same time that members of the administration were telling the American people to be fearful of mushroom-shaped clouds.

I was angry about it.  Frankly, I couldn‘t do much about it, because, you see, in the Intelligence Committee, we‘re sworn to secrecy.  We can‘t walk outside the door and say, The statement made yesterday by the White House is in direct contribution to classified information that‘s being given to this Congress.  We can‘t do that.  We couldn‘t make those statements.

And so, in my frustration, I sat here on the floor of the Senate and listened to this heated debate about invading Iraq, thinking, The American people are being misled, they‘re not being told the truth.  And that‘s why I joined 22 of my colleagues in voting no.  I didn‘t feel at the time that the American people knew the real facts.

So what happened?  We invaded, turned loose hundreds if not thousands of people scouring Iraq for these weapons of mass destruction.  Never found one of them.  Looked for nuclear weapons.  No evidence whatsoever.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Larry Johnson joins us now, a former CIA  officer who was a deputy director of the State Department‘s Office of Counterterrorism under the first President Bush.

Larry, thanks again for some of your time tonight.

LARRY JOHNSON, FORMER CIA OFFICER:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Might damage to his reputation be something that Mr. Tenet should be least worried about?  I mean, I understand you and some former colleagues have written him a letter about that.

JOHNSON:  It is outrageous that he has this buyer‘s remorse after he‘s accepted—you know, he‘s accepting $50,000 speaking engagements, he‘s got a $4 million advance reportedly, and yet he has worried about his reputation?  He should be more concerned about the deaths of 3,300-plus American soldiers who are in Iraq because they didn‘t need to be.  He should be more concerned and heartbroken about the deaths of 100,000-plus Iraqis that have been killed because of this misadventure.

This is inexcusable for him at this point, knowing what he knew, to now—I guess he‘s sort of like the accountant to Al Capone.  You know, the accountant to Al Capone made his money laundering possible.  George Tenet enabled George Bush.

OLBERMANN:  To Senator Durbin.  Obviously, it‘s to his credit that he voted against that bill to authorize the action in Iraq.  But what, if anything, prevented him and, legally, what prevented Mr. Tenet from telling the truth about Iraq before the war, at—doing so, was it best unpopular, at worst illegal, but at a minimum, obviously absolutely essential?  What did they think was keeping them from doing this?

JOHNSON:  Carelessness.  You are absolutely correct to put blame as well on the Democrats.  All they had to do was to go in and read the National Intelligence Estimate to realize that there was division and lack of consensus within the intelligence community.  They didn‘t do that.  And there were too many Democrats at the time that chose to sit back and to be silent on this.

So this is not just blame the Republicans.  The Republicans would not have been able to do this if the Democrats would have acted with an ounce of courage and spine.  And unfortunately, they did—most of them did not.

OLBERMANN:  You wonder, if you could foresee the future or even anticipate it, if you would be willing to risk being charged with violating your sworn oath to keep something secret that is false, if you knew you could prevent the deaths of 3,000 Americans and more and the destruction of a country and all the rest of that.  One would hope people would say, I‘d rather go to jail than see that happen.

But (INAUDIBLE) technical question here.  In this book, it seems, and the snark that (INAUDIBLE) -- element that‘s been revealed from Mr. Tenet‘s book, it seems that he‘s focused on the vice president rather than the man in charge.  Do you know why that is?

JOHNSON:  He doesn‘t want to bite the hand that feeds him.  I mean, he recognizes that the Bush family is more important and more powerful than Dick Cheney.  Dick Cheney‘s very unpopular.  His unpopularity is, you know, far worse than George Bush‘s.

So I think at this point, he‘s trying—he‘s still trying to play politics.  I mean, George Tenet, at—bottom line, is a political animal who‘s playing politics still with this, trying to get off with a mea culpa, when he was, in fact, as much of an architect of this disaster as any other member of the Bush administration.

You think about it.  If George Tenet and Colin Powell had come out and spoken their doubts back at that time, we would not have invaded Iraq.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, if Colin Powell had resigned as the secretary of defense—secretary of state at that point, the world would be a different place today.

But on this one phrase, this “slam-dunk” phrase that was so essential, this new explanation from Mr. Tenet, could that not be read as morally, ethically worse than the interpretation he says is wrong?  I mean, specifically, he says the president asked the CIA to improve a public presentation for justifying the war, and doing that, Tenet says, would be the slam-dunk.  If he thought the war had not been properly debated internally or vetted or was not realistic, what on earth was he doing telling the president that he could sell the war to Americans?

JOHNSON:  If Americans go out and buy the book of this man, who has admitted that what he was willing to sign on board to lie to the American people, to manipulate them, this is the same man who sat in a meeting in the summer of 2002 with the head of British intelligence and told them, We‘re going to fix the facts around the intelligence.  He knew in the fall of 2002 that there was no relationship between bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, and yet, he went and testified to that fact before Congress in February of 2003.

You know, he should not be allowed to get away with this.  And what we‘re calling for as former intelligence officers, he should give back the Medal of Freedom, and he should at least give a portion of the royalties from his book to the soldiers and the families of soldiers who‘ve been killed or wounded in Iraq, because were it not for his inaction and cowardice, those soldiers would still be alive, and America would not be embroiled in this war.

OLBERMANN:  Amen.  Surprising the Medal of Freedom did not leap from around his neck when it was placed there.

Former CIA officer Larry Johnson.  As always, Larry, great thanks for joining us tonight.

JOHNSON:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Four and a half years later, President Bush facing his first significant challenge from the newly Democratic Congress about bringing U.S. troops home from that war, the Iraq funding bill, passed by both houses of congress this week, to arrive on Mr. Bush‘s desk for a likely, a threatened, and unavoidable veto, likely on Tuesday, which will be the exact fourth anniversary of his “Mission Accomplished” speech, Mr.  Bush this morning apologizing in advance for the coming veto, not sorry that he will have done it, sorry that from the view at his end of the telescope, anyway, the Democrats have forced him into it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I‘m sorry it‘s come to this.  In other words, I‘m sorry that we‘ve, you know, had this—you know, the issue evolved the way it has, but nevertheless, it‘s, it is what it is, and it‘ll be vetoed, and my veto will be sustained.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s turn now to our own Dana Milbank, national political reporter for “The Washington Post.”

Dana, good evening.

DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: 

Evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  At some point, Mr. Bush has to veto the very funding he‘s pretending Democrats have not sent him.  Whatever else happens, that‘s going to be a fact.  Does the headline, if it appears this way, “Bush Vetoes War Funding,” change the dynamic in any way?

MILBANK:  I think it does.  I mean, we‘re already at a point where, as George Tenet might say, this is hardly a slam-dunk for the president.

What he‘s done here, really, is, he‘s sort of prevailed tactically.  He‘s quite correct, there‘s not enough votes to sustain his veto.  The House will apparently attempt this next week, right after he makes his veto.

But what‘s happened here is, the strategery, if you will, has gotten a bit mixed up for the president, and he‘s managed to isolate himself and the party still further in the opinion polls.  So he‘s managed to prevail on this narrow issue, but actually has worsened his position overall in terms of the Iraq debate.

OLBERMANN:  And (INAUDIBLE) did, did he have any expectation that (INAUDIBLE), or was this totally by chance at both ends of the spectrum, that the timing could now change the dynamic, that the fact that this is all likely to take place Tuesday, fourth anniversary of the “Mission Accomplished” speech, and the disaster for that that has been for the administration?  Is that, just that symbolism, going to be as important as any of the real facts here?

MILBANK:  Well, this is a bit of mischief by the Democrats, of course.  They could have gotten the bill to him yesterday if they were in quite a hurry.  As you remember during the Terri Schiavo case, they can actually act quite quickly.  But now we‘re talking about getting it printed on parchment.  They‘re going to take their time getting the signatures in.  I‘m sure if they can have it delivered by a horse-drawn carriage via candlelight with hot wax on it, they‘ll do that as well.

But look, the president had his symbolism when he had his landing on the aircraft carrier.  And now the Democrats are going to have their little bit of symbolism, saying, Here, Mr. President, and say why don‘t you veto the war funding on the anniversary of “Mission Accomplished”?

OLBERMANN:  That symbolism is one thing, the facts are the other.  The only reason the president, obviously, can veto this bill is that he has good reason to believe the Democrats are going to blink and send him another one.  Could they do something at this point to convince him that they will not send him funding without accountability at any point?

MILBANK:  Well, it seems pretty clear.  What—already the negotiations have started between Democratic and Republican leaders on the Hill.  The White House will be involved in this.  So in a way, once we‘re done with the theatrics, it‘s a sort of a horse-trading right now.  The Democrats are going to presumably back away from the absolute withdrawal deadlines.  They‘re going to have a very strict set of benchmarks, which even a lot of Republicans support.

So if the Democrats, they‘re going to lose some of their more liberal members, but if they gain enough Republicans, they essentially have a veto-proof margin, then they can give the president as tough a piece of legislation as they can, and he‘ll be forced to accept it.

OLBERMANN:  Let me close with you back where we started the segment, with the—not so much George Tenet‘s book, but Dick Durbin‘s statement, extraordinary statement, to the Senate.  We know about Senator Rockefeller‘s sealed letter to Dick Cheney after what he saw.  And it sounds like what they‘re telling us now is the truth about 2002 and 2003.  But if they‘re only telling this to us now, what is the point of having a Senate Intelligence Committee, if they don‘t tell anybody about the intelligence?

MILBANK:  It‘s absolutely correct.  And your previous guest made the point that it is—the Democrats are just as much to blame here.  Now, Dick Durbin was prevented from giving specifics of what he‘d heard behind closed doors.  There was nothing to prevent him from saying, Hey, look, what they‘re saying in public is not the same thing that they‘re saying in private.  That would have violated no oath.

So what‘s happening here is a little bit of the Monday morning quarterbacking.

OLBERMANN:  And a little CYA.

Our own Dana Milbank, national political correspondent of “The Washington Post.”  As always, Dana, great thanks.  Have a great weekend.

MILBANK:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  How and when to get out of Iraq front and center at the very first Democratic candidate debate last night.  We‘ll rate the performances.

And fresh off his performance on Capitol Hill, the attorney general sends Congress a list of requested documents that they won‘t be allowed to see.  What a tease.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The number two man to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Deputy AG Paul McNulty, was back on Capitol Hill today, testifying behind closed doors for both the House and Senate Judiciary Committee.

In the fourth story on our COUNTDOWN tonight, the probe of Gonzales‘s firing of eight U.S. attorneys continues to yield a drip, drip of new questions, while another scandal implicating the White House even more directly has now exploded in scope, on which more in a moment.

First, Gonzales‘s Justice Department last night released a handful of additional e-mails dating after those firings, showing his top deputies hard at work tracking media coverage of the firings.  Justice also last night compiled a list of more intriguing e-mails, 171 e-mails and documents which it will not release, concerning not just media inquiries about the firings, but also congressional inquiries.

And Congress may have more U.S. attorneys to look at, McClatchy Newspapers tonight reporting that an early, never-released Justice Department list included four additional U.S. attorneys to be fired, all of them in states considered political battlegrounds, including Minnesota‘s Thomas Heffelfinger, apparently removed from the list when he left of his own volition, after which he was replaced by a 34-year-old aide to Gonzales, four of whose top deputies then took job downgrades last month rather than keep working with her.

Heffelfinger, by the way, says Gonzales never told him of problems with his performance, all of which likely to be on the agenda in two weeks when Mr. Gonzales testifies before the House Judiciary Committee.  And as we mentioned, over in the House Oversight Committee, another White House probe grew exponentially over the past 24 hours.

First we learned that Karl Rove‘s deputy, Scott Jennings, briefed officials at the General Services Administration on the status of Republican candidates.  Now, Oversight chair Henry Waxman has given 27 other federal offices until mid-May to turn over any information about similar briefings the White House may have held with their people, this following the new White House admission that Jennings and Rove‘s deputy, Sara Taylor, gave at least 20 political briefings, most of them last year, the year of the midterm elections, and an undetermined number of such briefings also happened prior to last year, all of them now under investigation not just by Congress, but the Office of the Special Counsel, the federal agency charged with enforcing the Hatch Act, which has long made it a crime for government employees to use their work time or government resources for political purposes.

Theory becoming reality for Stephen Hawking, to say nothing of freedom.  Look at that.

What will those wacky kids think of next?  A haircut at 14,000 feet. 

Just take a little off the top.

Ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  One hundred and eighty-five years ago today, Hiram Ulysses Grant was born at Point Pleasant, Ohio.  Perhaps no man has had a more meteoric rise in American history.  As Ken Burns so aptly phrased it in his documentary, at the start of the Civil War, Grant was a lackluster clerk in the family leather goods shop in Galina (ph), Illinois.  Within two years, he would become commander of the Union armies, within seven, president of the United States.

On that note, let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in the skies over northern Israel.  A new Guinness world record has been set for most dangerous use of scissors ever, falling from 14,000 feet at speeds approaching 125 miles an hour, a skydiving hairstylist is giving a parachuting instructor a haircut.  Now, normally, the stylist does not grab the pony tail just like that, but then again, normally the client is seated comfortably in the chair with a copy of “US Weekly.”  Stylist is submitting this tape for world record consideration.  As for the instructor, she got, perhaps, the worst haircut of her life, but at least she kept the stylist from running with the scissors.

To Adams County, Pennsylvania, where the local nursing home has been subject to a reign terror by a local hoodlum, deer.  Security camera video showing the two animals charging the automatic front doors, then racing into the building before the doors closed.  The two juvenile deerinquents raged through the halls of the place, broke a window before escaping.  Officials are trying to determine whether the deer may have a grandparent at the facility, or if this was just a random attack.

Finally, to the Internets, where the magic of Web video brings us an answer to the question we‘ve all been asking, Just what are the help desk guys doing in the office when we all go home at night?  PC Dominoes for fun and gambling.  (INAUDIBLE) assume that these are outdated computers and equipment, and they were not actually taken out from under your desk.  But then again, I have been getting a lot of those critical error messages lately.

Which of these eight candidates will you be talking about tomorrow? 

One last debate over the debate.

And out of all the rumors about what Richard Gere has allegedly done in his life, it only took him a single kiss to earn him a criminal charge of obscenity.

Those stories ahead.

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

Number three, student pranksters at the University of Washington from the ‘70s.  They opened a time capsule at the university the other day, a time capsule dating from the 1950s, and in it they found copies of “Playboy” and “Hustler” magazine from the late ‘70s.  Somebody broke into the wall in which the time capsule was stored 30 years ago and added the magazines.  Or that was the site of their secret stash.

Number two, Marilee Jones, dean of admission at MIT, a constant advocate begging college applicants not to pad their resumes, not to try to brag about things they didn‘t really do.  She even co-wrote a book about that.  She‘s resigned.  Her degrees from Albany Medical College and Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute and Union College, she doesn‘t have any of them.  She padded her resume.

Number one, administrative law judge Roy Pearson of Washington, D.C.  Ten years ago, a local business lost one of his belongings that he‘d brought in for repair.  He‘s now sued, seeking damages for the litigation cost, the mental suffering, inconvenience, discomfort, time spent on his lawsuit, car rentals, plus the value of the lost item.  The amount he‘s asking, $65,462,500.  What kind of business lost an article so valuable that he‘s suing for $65.4 million?  The dry cleaner‘s.  It was a pair of pants, a pair of pants that needed $10 worth of alterations, no less.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN: It irks many when we in the media use sports metaphors in covering politics, but after the last six years, maybe it is fitting that politics has become more a national pastime anyway. 

Our third story in the COUNTDOWN tonight, reaction to last night‘s first debate of the 2008 campaign described by one observer as “no runs, no hits, no errors.” The questions sometimes resembling a job interview.  What was your biggest mistake? What have you learned from it? Each candidate trying to make a good impression, trying to make a point now and then on issues like health care, Roe v.  Wade, national security and with only one or two exceptions in the entire evening, the candidates avoided attacks on each other, making the president and his war not juts the prime target, but virtually the only one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN.  BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: I am proud that I opposed this war from the start because I thought that it would lead to some disastrous conditions that we‘ve seen on the ground in Iraq.

SEN.  HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: We are doing everything we can to begin to move us out and we need Republican support to finish the job.

GOV.  BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: Being stubborn isn‘t a foreign policy and power without diplomacy is blind.

JOHN EDWARDS (D), FORMER SENATOR: I was wrong to vote for this war. 

Unfortunately, I‘ll have to live with that forever.

REP.  DENNIS KUCINICH (D), OHIO: We are choosing a president and we have to look at the addition that occurred in 2003 when my good friends were called upon to make a decision and they made the wrong decision.  And apologies aren‘t enough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And I‘ve got to tell you, after standing up with them, some of these people frighten me.  They frighten me. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Chris Cillizza says he spotted some winning and losing moments.   He writes “The Fix” at washingtonpost.com.   Chris, good evening.

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

OLBERMANN:  When people up to and including Pat Buchanan say Hillary Clinton looked presidential last night, when people up to and including Chris Matthews say she sounded and appeared likeable and pleasant, does that mean she scored most highly last night?

CILLIZZA:  I think she did.  I mean look, any time Senator Clinton is involved in a high profile event like last night‘s, there‘s a lot of expectations.   Meeting expectations is harder than you might think.   She was clear, she was concise, she was well versed on issues. 

She was strong, all of those things really accrued to her benefit.   And I think she looked presidential.  And remember, when you‘re on a stage with seven other people running for president, how you look is often as important as what you say.

OLBERMANN:  There were mixed impressions about Senator Obama‘s performance.  None too critical, none too laudatory either, but did anybody really get hurt out there?  Did Bill Richardson run into a propeller with his gun stance or his benefit of the doubt on Alberto Gonzales?

CILLIZZA:  Yes, you know, I was interested in that because I thought Governor Richardson‘s performance was sort of up and down.  I talked to him afterward and he said that he wanted to accomplish two things, essentially.  He wanted to make clear he was the most moderate Democrat.  Again, I don‘t know if that‘s a winning strategy in a Democratic primary, but he said he wanted to do that.  And he wanted to make clear his position on Iraq.  He wants all troops, residual troops, troops on the ground out by the end of the year.  He said he accomplished both of those things.  Again, I‘m skeptical about running as a moderate in the Democratic primary.  We have seen people like former governor Mark Warner, former governor Tom Vilsack and Indiana Senator Evan Bayh, all sort of self-professed moderates, drop out of this presidential race already. 

OLBERMANN:  All of them now former candidates, too.  I asked Chris Matthews this on the air before the debate, did these Democrats tacitly agree not to really bloody each other for the sake of protecting whoever wins the nomination, or did it just happen that way? And either way, does it last or does some candidate on the lower tier say at some point in the near future, I have to bloody somebody or I‘m out?

CILLIZZA:  I don‘t think it lasts.  If any study of past presidential elections is a guide, it doesn‘t last.  The fact is that these attacks are regular.  When people realize that, you simply can‘t gain without someone else losing. 

This is a zero-sum game.  Remember that there‘s only so many votes out there, so the only way that a Joe Biden, a Bill Richardson, a Chris Dodd can move up is by getting votes from John Edwards, Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.  So it‘s a zero-sum game, those votes have to come out of somewhere. 

OLBERMANN:  The humor moment of the night, Joe Biden‘s “yes” when asked if he could guarantee that he‘d cut back on his verbosity.  I was reminded late last night that in the live debate on the former NBC series “The West Wing,” first one of the candidates, that Jimmy Smits candidate gave a one word answer in the debate.  Then, the other one, played by Alan Alda, also gave a one-word answer in a debate.  Is that a coincidence and does it matter, or did Joe Biden‘s briefers just say if you are ever asked about being long-winded, keep your answer to three words or less?

CILLIZZA:  They definitely said that.  Look, Joe Biden has been sat down by his advisers and said, there is this perception that you talk too much, tat you can‘t give a two-minute speech, you only give a 10-minute speech.

So he gave a two-second speech and you know what, it really worked to his benefit.  It was the laugh line of the night, it was the highlight of the night.  It‘s what reporters and operative types are talking about afterwards. 

I think he acquitted himself quite nicely actually.  I think he after Senator Clinton, was the one that really shone in that debate.  Does it really matter?  Not sure.  Remember, this is still an insider‘s game.  There aren‘t that many people watching.  But it helps him in that buzz, that momentum inside and maybe helped him raise money, too.

OLBERMANN:  Chris Cillizza of washingtonpost.com, great, thanks for your time, Chris.  Have a good weekend. 

CILLIZZA:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Now unless you are the highest form of policy wonk or you‘re an alum of South Carolina State University, or you keep a flow chart on your wall of those woman that Dennis Kucinich has dated or married, the debate last night probably did not entertain you, not in the pure television sense of the word.  But there was one individual with us in Orangeburg last night who finds such entertainment no matter where he traipses in the political world he knows so very well. 

Thus we now offer you the condensed version of my colleague Chris Matthews and his reactions to the first Democratic presidential debate. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And we rejoin you from South Carolina State University where the Democratic presidential candidates met for their first debate tonight.  Chris Matthews is here.   I waited until the crowd stopped yelling.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Does this go in the textbook under low balling?  Keep talking about the other candidates and what a big night they‘re going to have. 

OLBERMANN:  It was a polite event, an extraordinarily bloodless event. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think about tonight?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s great. 

MATTHWES:  OK. 

OLBERMANN:  A Joe Biden fan there.

UNDIETNFIED MALE:  I feel like I‘m sliding into a “Saturday Night Live” skit here.

MATTHEWS:  You wish, buddy.  Where have you been for 35 years, sir?

UNIDNETIFIED MALE:  Hiding under a rock for 10 years because I was so disgusted.

BROKAW:  Brokaw, you had to ask it one more time, didn‘t you?

OLBERMANN:  I‘m going home now. 

MATTHEWS:  Wait until you see next week.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Not unlike Stephen Hawking‘s reaction to his day, not just simulating space travel, but liberated for a time from his wheelchair—his account.  And a made for daytime TV celebrity scandal.  Alec Baldwin goes on “The View” to apologize for calling his daughter a rude, thoughtless little pig.  Then announces he‘s gotten help from Dr. Phil.  See if help is the right word for that ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The great thing about science fiction is that it often anticipates, even inspires science fact.  If you‘ve ever seen the “Star Trek” pilot, the original captain of the Starship Enterprise virtually fused into a super wheelchair was liberated on a planet where the limitations of the human body could be erased and chose to spend his life there.

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, Stephen Hawking leaving his wheelchair to float freely in the closest thing yet available to the public to space travel and the closet thing yet available to anybody to liberation from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.  Our correspondent is Tom Costello. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM COSTELLO, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  For a man who has devoted to researching and writing about black holes and quantum gravity, finally an escape from the confines of his wheel chair and the earth‘s gravitational pull. 

Stephen Hawking is trapped in a body wracked and paralyzed by ALS, Lou Gehrig‘s disease.  But he possesses one of the world‘s greatest minds.  On the ground before his zero G flight, Hawking talked to us through his computer about his dream. 

STEPHEN HAWKING, SCIENTISTS:  I have wanted to go into space for many years, but never imagined it would really be feasible.

COSTELLO:  The answer to his dream, a floating free from the wheelchair that has held him for 40 years, provided by space entrepreneur Peter Diamandis. 

PETER DIAMANDIS, ENTERPRENEUR:  Dr. Hawking is a personal hero of mine.  Basically, he represents somebody who shares a vision that humanity should go into space and be weightless all the time, explore the planets.

COSTELLO:  On Thursday in a zero-G plane with a medical team closely monitoring his vital signs, Hawking reveled in the momentary freedom of weightlessness. 

(on camera):  But Dr. Hawking believes this is more than just a joy ride.  This is about taking the first steps to getting humans permanently off the earth and starting the process of colonizing space. 

HAWKING:  I think the human race has no future if it doesn‘t go into space.

COSTELLO (voice-over):  Hawking‘s face said it all, pure joy, 25 seconds of zero gravity, not once, but eight times.

HAWKING:  Space, here I come.

COSTELLO:  His moment of freedom fleeting, but proof of what the human spirit and one man‘s determination can overcome.  Tom Costello, NBC news, somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Well here‘s some possible science fiction good news, bad news topping keeping tabs tonight.  For the late Elvis Presley, good news Elvis, we can bring you back to life for a few minutes, bad news, you have to spend that time singing a duet with Celine Dion.

Presley appeared on this week‘s “American Idol” charity special “Idol Gives Back.”  In either a really taped delayed performance or a computer-generated sing-along with Ms. Dion of Presley‘s 1968 hit “I Can Dream.”  To make the effect, Dion spent hours singing her lines on stage alone and then with a Presley body double, a tape of Presley then digitally remastered and edited onto the Dion tapes, producing a relatively lifelike performance.  Researchers believe the technology may soon advance to the point where they can even make Dion appear life like. 

Hugh Grant has been arrested for allegedly committing assault with a silent weapon.  Silent, but deadly, Grant reportedly threw a container of baked beans at a photographer.  The photog of the tabloid “The Daily Star” said that Grant also kicked him before unleashing the beans at him.  There was no comment from Grant‘s camp following his arrest Wednesday night.  Grant released on bail after being charged with suspicious on assault under the common law principle that whoever smelt it, dealt it.  The 46-year-old actor best known for his portrayals of chagrin and adorable sheepishness - after this event, he is expected to go on Jay Leno‘s show and announce, “I‘m not one to go around blowing my own trumpet.”

Given what celebrities have to do to get into trouble, Richard Gere now facing three months in prison for a kiss?  That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s nominees for tonight‘s worst person in the world.

The bronze goes to Gibby, John Gibson of FOX Noise explaining to his radio listeners that the U.S. is not responsible for civilian deaths in Iraq, saying, “We invaded the place, we knocked over Saddam, and then Iraqis began killing each other.  But who is doing this killing?  Give me a break.  These are Iraqis killing each other.  So what did we do?  If you are saying it‘s our fault that we unmasked them as knuckle-dragging savages from the 10th century, fine, I‘ll take credit,” end quote. 

But, John, you also keep telling us it‘s al Qaeda and foreign fighters doing the killing in Iraq.  And if it‘s really the fault of those people you call 10th century knuckle-dragging savages, why exactly do we have to stay there to save them?

Your runner up tonight, Senator John McCain insisted he decided a long time ago to ask Attorney General Gonzales to resign but did not say anything because quote, “I just haven‘t been asked about it.”  He was asked about it on March 15th at a campaign stop in Iowa, declined to call for his resignation saying, “I‘d like to give him his chance to appear before the Congress him to respond to the allegations.”  And on April 19, he was asked by a newspaper man in New Hampshire if Gonzo should resign or be fired and he declined to answer.  Senator, you decided, what, on April 20, a long time ago you speak of, is last week?

But our winner, House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio who had already called those supporting deadlines and defunding of Iraq defeatists, setting a date certain for surrender.  Now he claims we just want to walk out on Iraq, just like we did in Somalia.  Turns out in 1993 and 1994, Mr.  Boehner first voted for the deadline to pull U.S. troops out of Somalia, then voted to stop funding U.S troops in Somalia and then voted to shorten the deadline to pull them out sooner.  Walk out of Iraq just like who did in Somalia, Congressman?  Minority Leader John Boehner, today‘s worst person in the world.     

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  A public display of affection, a private display of anger made public both drawing apologies in our No.1 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight.  One of them a silly act of endearment having prompted an arrest warrant.  That for Richard Gere.  Mr. Gere had dramatically embraced and kissed the Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty  at an AIDS awareness event in India recently.  But certain displays of affection violate obscenity laws there.  Apparently, this one.  The canoodle drew protects in India and then yesterday, an arrest warrant for Mr. Gere from a New Delhi magistrate.  Mr.  Gere incidentally an ardent pro-India activist, although that seems to have been ignored in India, has now apologized, saying he did not intend to offend anybody.  Quoting, “If this has happened, of course it is easy for me to offer a sincere apology.”

Meantime, Alec Baldwin has found himself in a nearly inverse predicament, having left an angry, nasty phone message for his 11-year-old daughter.  The recording of which was wrongly leaked to the media.  He has asked Dr. Phil for guidance.  Even though Mr. Baldwin reportedly apologized to his daughter privately, he chose “The View” for his public mea culpa.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL BALDWIN, ACTOR:  obviously calling your child a pig or anything else is improper and inappropriate and I apologized to my daughter for that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Joining me now, a man who can spot a celeb in trouble from 500 yards, “Village Voice” columnist Michael Musto.  Michael, good evening.

MICHAEL MUSTO, THE VILLAGE VOICE:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  So the Baldwin message is actually a sad situation, nothing going to change that, but Dr. Phil injected himself into this?  I mean, he offered the council to the family here during a Larry King thing and now he says Baldwin called him, they had a far-reaching intense conversation.  For Alec Baldwin, should that not be punishment enough?

MUSTO:  Yes, because with Dr. Phil, an intense conversation involves fortune cookie aphorisms like, “You don‘t sound like Mr. Big when you call your daughter a pig.”  It‘s painful.  But Alec deserves that and even worse.  He deserves Rachael Ray shrieking, Kelly Ripa being perky, Barbara Walters and Elisabeth Hasselbeck moaning.  Oh, he got that?  OK, case closed.

OLBERMANN:  You‘ll get an apology from that Rachael Ray, too.

MUSTO:  Oh, the muffins taste awful.

OLBERMANN:  On “The View,” Mr. Baldwin bleakly referred to the guy who‘s responsible for leaking the phone message.  Who is he referring to, the gardener, the milkman, Senator Mike Gravel from the debate last night?  Who?

MUSTO:  You know, Mike Gravel is not a guy, he‘s a potted plant.  I think the guy - he‘s got to mean Kim Basinger.  He refers to her as a guy because who else would it be?  She is the one who sat there and obviously entrapped him, waiting for the call to come in and gave it to TMZ or maybe he means the guy at TMZ that she gave it to.  Or I think he‘s really mad at the guy named Alec Baldwin for leaving that on the machine, instead of just throttling the pig in person.

OLBERMANN:  So Baldwin gets counseling from Dr. Phil, his contrition is “The View,” but he says he no longer wants to do his own show “30 Rock” on NBC.  Is something wrong with that picture, television wise?

MUSTO:  Yes, because he is great on “30 Rock.”  And now suddenly he‘s saying, “I never want to act again.”  That‘s funny Alec, you never acted before.  Kidding, he‘s great, he‘s great.  Alec, don‘t quit your show, but quit your show downs and your show boating.  I‘m starting to sound like Dr.  Phil.

OLBERMANN:  Yes really, Dr. Michael.  Let‘s move to Richard Gere here.  He had explained that he had simply been trying to parody a scene from his film “Shall We Dance” and he did this in front of about 4,000 truckers and no one was offended.  Ms. Shetty was not offended.  So he was kind of surprised when the protests started to percolate the next.  Should he have picked a different movie to parody?  Should he leave his hands in his pockets from now on?  What should he do?

MUSTO:  Well, he should have been arrested just for doing “Shall We Dance” in the first place.  Yes, he should have picked another movie.  No, I am glad he did “Shall We Dance.”  Imagine if he had picked like “American Gigolo.”  That would have been really dirty, or how about “Dr. T and the Women,” in which he played an amorous gynecologist.  That would have gone over really well in India.  I think “Shall We Dance‘ is looking better by the minute.

OLBERMANN:  The laws on what exactly could as public obscenities in India may not be entirely clear, but the judge who issued this magistrate, who issued the actor, said that Gere‘s actions were vulgar and quote, “highly sexually erotic.”

MUSTO:  Sounds good to me. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, but are we not talking here about really lowered standards and diminished expectations if that was highly sexually erotic?

MUSTO:  Yes, imagine if they had caught him with the gerbil.

OLBERMANN:  Oh.

MUSTO:  No, that‘s just a silly rumor started by somebody else. Look, you can‘t even kiss in India?  Paris Hilton would be on death row.  It would be like Richard Gere‘s best movie “Chicago.”  There would be a celebrity in every cell block.  Britney‘s bald head would be on the chopping block.  That‘s sounding better by the minute, too.

OLBERMANN:  Maximum penalty for this display in India in public is three months in prison.  So he can‘t ever visit there again?  I mean, this quite seriously—this man does a lot of charity work in and for India.  What are they thinking?

MUSTO:  He could do charity work in prison and by the way, back there, he‘s going to have a lot of very interesting displays of affection.  But at least they‘ll be private, and if it does leak out, he could do that old ad that he used to take out, I‘m not gay.  Remember he and Cindy Crawford had an ad?  How dare you say we‘re gay, we‘re not gay, we have a long-lasting loving relationship.  They broke up two weeks later.  Discuss.

OLBERMANN:  And the final note here.  Does Mr. Gere have to now kiss his Bollywood career good bye?

MUSTO:  Absolutely, but he‘s still welcome at Dollywood, and I don‘t mean the Dalai Lama‘s theme park.  I mean Dolly Parton‘s theme park, it will be nativity season before you know it.  He could try out that diaper from “King David.”  You all remember “King David.”  That‘s the movie he should be spoofing. 

OLBERMANN:  That is the movie he should be arrested for.

MUSTO:  There are so very many, he really should get a life sentence.

OLBERMANN:  The irreplaceable Michael Musto, author, columnist for the “Village Voice,” as always, great, thanks for joining us Michael.

MUSTO:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  And that is COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,468th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  With our thanks to our genial hosts here at WCNC in Charlotte, 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.

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