updated 5/23/2007 9:58:09 AM ET 2007-05-23T13:58:09

Guests: Chris Cillizza, Jeffrey Ross, Paul Rieckhoff, Howard Fineman

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

Iraq funding compromise.  The Democrats get benchmarks, the president has the right to waive the benchmarks.  What the hell kind of benchmarks are they if the president can just waive them?

Swing and a miss.  In the interim, the Pentagon to reportedly overlap troops exiting Iraq with troops reaching Iraq to create a kind of second surge, or not.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  It‘s, it‘s just—we, we—right now, we are -- (INAUDIBLE) -- the question is a second surge to Iraq.  No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And the next question is, an attorney general offer to resign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Has the attorney general, this attorney general, gone to the president and asked him, should he resign?

SNOW:  I have no knowledge of that.  I would doubt it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Why would you doubt it?

SNOW:  Because.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Well, if you‘re going to be that way about it, Karl, I‘ve warned you twice, I‘m not going to warn you again.  You testify voluntarily or else.  Don‘t make me come up there and get you, young man.

And Monica Goodling to testify in Gonzales-gate tomorrow.  At least we‘ll finally get a new picture of her.

A nightly update from the campaign.  John McCain‘s vocabulary, swearing during the fight over immigration, and saying, about the same issue, about Governor Romney, “Maybe his solution will be to get out his small varmint gun and drive those Guatemalans off of his lawn.”

Attacked by three pit bulls in a parking lot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Scared, mad, afraid.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And the first church of Paris Hilton.  Yes, that‘s her and a Bible.  It‘s hot.

And worst persons, comedian Rush Limbaugh with a strong entry tonight, whining that nobody at MSNBC actually hears him on the air.  I know this because I heard him on the air.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH:  I hate to be ignorant about this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.

And you thought that big statue of Saddam Hussein fell over quickly and symbolically and with surreptitious help.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, right up there with the fall of Baghdad itself, you can now add the fall of the Democratic Congress, agreeing to fund the conflict in Iraq without any timelines for withdrawal, with mere benchmark, which the president can waive, Democrats in the White House reaching a so-called bipartisan agreement to keep funding the war through September without holding President Bush accountable.

After weeks of refusing to back down to the White House, today Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid pretty much did just that, only days after rejecting a measure put forward by Republican John Warner as too weak, today Mr. Reid accepting an agreement that looks remarkably like the Warner war supplemental funding bill.

The agreement would fund the Iraq War through September, requiring President Bush to give Congress reports on Iraq‘s progress.  As for benchmarks, yes, there are benchmarks.  And the president has the ability to waive the benchmarks, the only possible fly in that ointment, emphasis on the word “possible,” Speaker of the House Pelosi saying earlier this evening she would not be likely to vote for anything that does not have timetables in it, adding she would wait to see what the final draft of the legislation actually says.

Time now to call in our own Howard Fineman, senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.

Howard, good evening.

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

Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  How the hell is this anything if the president can waive the benchmarks?

FINEMAN:  I really want to play Texas hold-‘em with these people, because what they were doing, the Democrats, was pushing piles of chips into the middle of the table with each card, and then when the last one came by, they folded.

And I talked to one of the top Democratic strategists on the Hill just a few minutes ago, and I say, How do I describe this?  A cave, a punt, a collapse?  He said, Take your pick, that‘s what it was.  In the end, we had no choice, because the president had the votes, that is, the president could sustain a veto in the Senate.

OLBERMANN:  How, though, small problem with this entire exchange.  Obviously it would have required a back and forth throughout the summer to do anything other than what they did.  But how do they sell going along with the president on funding the war in Iraq with these sort of optional benchmarks, not even optional, they‘re just formalities, and sell that to the Democrats?

FINEMAN:  Well, I think they‘re going to have a hard time.  And tonight, Nancy Pelosi was out there with her team of leaders, saying this was the beginning of the end of the president‘s policy in Iraq.  Rahm Emanuel said that with a straight face, but I know Rahm, and I know he doesn‘t believe it.

I mean, this isn‘t the end of the beginning of the beginning of the end of the beginning of changing the president‘s policy.  There‘s nothing in this bill that affects the president‘s policy.  He‘s going to get the $100 billion that he wants, and there essentially are no real strings attached.  So after all these weeks, after all of what this Democratic strategist on the Hill told me was kabuki theater, the Democrats basically got nothing, and they know it.

OLBERMANN:  And the Pelosi comment that she‘s not going to vote for anything doesn‘t have timetables in it, is that more kabuki theater, or what did she wind up not voting for this while the rest of the Democrats do?

FINEMAN:  Well, that‘s just pure embarrassment.  What‘s going to happen on the House side, I think, Keith, is that most Democrats won‘t vote for this, or at least a lot of them won‘t vote for it.  And it‘ll probably pass the House with a lot of Republican votes.

So you have this so-called compromise with the White House that Rahm Emanuel described it as the beginning of the end of the president‘s policy in Iraq, that the speaker of the House is probably not going to vote for, or at least she indicated she might not.  It‘s confusing, to some Democrats, it‘s embarrassing.  To a lot of Democrats at the grassroots, it‘s probably going to be infuriating.

I talked to some of the leaders of some of the antiwar groups earlier today as this was being argued over.  They were furious.  They were holding their fire.  But I guarantee they‘re not going to hold their fire now.  They‘re going to look forward to the fall.  They‘re going to say we‘re going to refight this this summer, and then in September, and, yes, this is the president‘s policy, it‘s still the president‘s war.

But this Democratic Congress was elected primarily to change the course of this war, and so far, and especially tonight, they haven‘t done so.

OLBERMANN:  (INAUDIBLE) is there something, there‘s always a conspiracy theory behind everything, is there anything to this idea that Joe Lieberman‘s threat to switch parties if he feels, quote, “separated from the caucus,” (INAUDIBLE) did that play into this, to some degree?

FINEMAN:  Maybe to a small degree.  I think the bigger fact in the Senate is that Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, and George Bush and Karl Rove have always focused on keeping the Republicans together enough, with the help of Joe Lieberman, as necessary, to sustain a veto by the president.

And they‘ve looked at the number 41 all along.  That‘s the number of senators you need to sustain the president‘s position.  Forty-one, 41, 41.  We‘re not talking about George H.W. Bush here, we‘re talking about the arithmetic in the Senate.  Lieberman helps that arithmetic.  He‘s more important there than in the other scenario you‘re talking about, because I frankly think Lieberman knows that were he to switch parties, he would lose all of the allure and the clout that he now has.  His clout depends on being a renegade in his own party, not the newest pledge in the Republican fraternity.

OLBERMANN:  Is it there, is there a chance there‘s a poison pill in this?  Could it be so loaded up with other things, like the higher minimum wage, that the, the Democrats might actually win this thing?  I‘m stretching here, obviously.  But is there, is it possible that they could make this thing to ugly to the president that he might go ahead and veto it anyway, and then the Democrats say, We did what he wanted, and he vetoed it anyway?

FINEMAN:  Well, I hate to inform you of this, Keith, but it‘s worse than you think, because basically, having conceded their negotiating position now, the White House is aware of that.  And I‘ve been told by Democratic negotiators on the Hill that the White House is trying to take back the nondefense (INAUDIBLE), take back the nondefense concessions that the White House gave up initially.  They‘re trying to cut back on the spending.  And there‘s going to be arguments about that.

But the Bush has already won, essentially.

OLBERMANN:  “Newsweek”‘s senior Washington correspondent, our own Howard Fineman.  Thanks, Howard.

FINEMAN:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And while Congress inches ever closer to not getting troops out of Iraq, it appears the administration is planning to stealthily use even more of them, Hearst Newspapers, analyzing the Pentagon depart—deployment papers, concluding that the White House is quietly planning to nearly double the amount of combat troops in Iraq by the end of this year, from 52,500 in January to 98,000 by December.

Current troop increase plans call for 20 brigades in Iraq, but through a combination of extended tours and additional deployments, there could be an overlap of troops going in and coming out of Iraq, so that, at least temporarily, there could be as many as 28 brigades there, more than 200,000 troops in Iraq, later this year.

Cue the denials.  The Pentagon says the newspaper‘s analysis is, quote, “fuzzy math,” and when the White House was asked (INAUDIBLE) the story about a, quote, “second surge” was correct, press secretary Tony Snow said no, at least about the surge part.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SNOW:  It‘s, it‘s just—we, we—right now, we are (INAUDIBLE) -- the question is a second surge to Iraq.  No.  We, we‘re in the middle of the Iraq plan that General Petraeus put together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Joining us now, the executive director, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, author of “Chasing Ghosts,” Paul Rieckhoff.

Paul, thanks for some of your time tonight.

PAUL RIECKHOFF, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA:  Good to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll get to the bit about the Democratic collapse in a moment.

But if this is not a surge, a second surge, what is it?

RIECKHOFF:  Well, it could be an overlap.  It definitely looks like it‘s going to be an increase in troop numbers, from around 160,000 to about 200,000 if this Hearst story checks out to be true.  And you do have a degree of overlap, when one unit‘s coming in and another one‘s going out.  You can have elements of a brigade remaining behind.

But during the surge, we went up to 20 brigades, and at this point, it looks like later this year will be as high as 28 brigades, elements of 28 brigades.  So it may be a transitional overlap.  But there‘s no guarantee that the Department of Defense won‘t keep them there longer.  That‘s the key issue here.  They have the discrepancy and the flexibility to be able to keep people there as long as they want.

OLBERMANN:  You have told us before, others have said before, the U.S.  never really had enough troops or equipment or anything else there to actually succeed in Iraq.  Would 28 brigades somehow be better?  Could that kind of increase, on some short-term basis, actually help?

RIECKHOFF:  It‘s possible.  But I think the problem with that is, it falls into this idea that troops are the answer.  It‘s not some kind of geopolitical cup of soup or where you just add troops and things are going to get better.  We need to complement troops with diplomatic options, economic options, some kind of international support.

And at this point, it may not work anyway.  So 28 brigades is not the solution, in my opinion.  But also, it‘s unsustainable.  Our military is so dramatically overextended, the 28 brigades will really break an already breaking military.  You‘ve got about four brigades from the National Guard who‘ve just been called up for a second time.  By the end of the year, you‘ll probably have nine.  And we have to think about the long-term damage this is going to have on our military that will extend far beyond Iraq and may ultimately jeopardize our national security in other places.

OLBERMANN:  All right, we‘ve gone from 12-month tours to 15-month tours.  Are we getting close to the premise of the Joseph Heller novel “Catch-22”, that just as soon as the flying men from the Second World War in that fictional account reach the number of missions required to fly, you simply raise the number of missions required to fly?  Are we doing that with the troops now?  We—are—as soon as they get close to the number of months served required before they can go home, we just raise the number of months served required?

RIECKHOFF:  Absolutely.  I mean, the expectations that we‘ve put on our troops have, quite honestly, been ridiculous.  And it‘s hard to keep retention numbers, it‘s hard to recruit new people, when you don‘t stand by your word.  And the military is starting to lose confidence and starting to lose its faith in our civilian leadership.  It‘s hard to work toward a goal line that keeps moving back every time.

And it‘s really having a tremendous impact on the families, where divorce rates are skyrocketing and people coming home are already facing wounds and post-traumatic stress disorder.  We‘re just running this military so hard.  And the people are really showing tremendous signs of wear.

OLBERMANN:  And finally, Paul, speaking of betraying words, what‘s the reaction you‘re getting?  What are you expecting from troops about the fact that the Democrats have dropped out of the timeline business, and the president can waive any benchmarks in that Iraq funding bill?

RIECKHOFF:  Well, beyond the political posturing, I think they‘re happy the money‘s coming.  I think the president was effective in structuring this or framing this so it looked like if the veto went through, troops wouldn‘t be getting the money.  Whether that‘s true or not is debatable.  But I think the troops, at the end of the day, are happy the money‘s coming so they can get the funding that they‘ll need throughout the summer.  And they expect another round of partisan bickering and political cheap when the fall comes back and the politicians get back at it again while our guys are on their third and fourth tour.

OLBERMANN:  Do you have any sense of this being a disaster, in terms of ending, or beginning the end of this conflict?

RIECKHOFF:  No, I don‘t really think that this is the beginning of the end.  I think it shows that there‘s a lot of integrity problems within the Democratic Party.  And they still, as a party, haven‘t figured out what their position is and what their tactics are going to be in taking on this president, and how they‘re going to go back to their districts and explain that they did take the position of defunding the war.  If they‘re going to do it, they‘ve got to do it, but they‘re in this middle ground, and I think they‘re really losing the political battle, even among their own constituents.

OLBERMANN:  Paul Rieckhoff, Iraq War veteran, now executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.  As always, Paul, great thanks.

RIECKHOFF:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Gonzales-gate and Congress.  Karl Rove facing a subpoena, and Monica Goodling about to take the oath.

Rudy Giuliani, running third in Iowa, is going to bail out of the Hawkeye State to avoid that stat.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  By this time tomorrow, if nothing else, we should finally have a new photograph, even video, of Monica Goodling.  Enough with the detail from the group photo at the Regent University alumni picnic shot.  When it comes to any other progress in the scandal over the firings of those nine U.S. attorneys, we can make no promises.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, the more things barely change, the more they stay the same.  Attorney General Gonzales skipping town, seems only temporarily, the White House and the Senate giving every sign his job will be waiting when (INAUDIBLE) he gets back, Mr. Gonzales out of the country for the rest of the week, heading to Germany for meetings in advance of next month‘s G-8, the Senate‘s attempt to hold a no-confidence vote on Gonzales before the Memorial Day recess looking increasingly unlikely, his Justice Department issuing a new set of purge-related documents, set number nine, if you‘re scoring at home, or even if you‘re alone, but what it contains mind-numbingly familiar, the same redactions, the same PR strategy, the same after-the-fact justifications, and, in many cases, the very same documents, the document dump coming on the same day the House threatened the White House with compulsory process if it continues to be unresponsive.

So until this point, compliance has been merely voluntary?  Many of the e-mails either to or from Monica Goodling.  The Justice Department‘s former White House liaison is set to testify tomorrow before Congress, having been granted limited immunity for her testimony and for her picture.

As for the documents themselves, the spirit in which they appear to have been offered by the Bush administration summed up with this one e-mail from William M. Mercer to William M. Mercer, the third-highest official at Justice, as well as acting U.S. attorney general for, U.S. attorney, rather, for Montana, subject, McKay and Margolis, the entire e-mail redacted.  Thanks for nothing, literally.

That said, there are plenty of questions raised by the newly released documents.

To help us answer them, we‘re joined now by David Shuster, who‘s been covering this again in Washington.

David, good evening.

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Last week, Justice claimed it couldn‘t find any e-mails to or from Karl Rove in the document, though, we have an e-mail addressed to somebody with this rather curious address, kr@georgewbush.com.  Who might kr@georgewbush.com be?

SHUSTER:  Yes, this was the easiest one to answer.  That is, indeed, Karl Rove.  In fact, on February 28 of this year, Karl Rove‘s assistant, Scott Jennings, who sent an e-mail marked “Urgent” to a group that included kr@georgebush.com, White House counsel Fred Fielding, deputy press secretary Dana Perino, and the attorney general‘s now-departed chief of staff, Kyle Sampson.

The e-mail told the group that Senator Pete Domenici‘s chief of staff had just called to warn that fired New Mexico U.S. attorney David Iglesias would be holding a press conference, at which Iglesias was going to be allege he had been contacted by two members of Congress last fall and was pressured to bring indictments in a partisan corruption case before November‘s election, and that Iglesias believed his refusal to bring the indictments led to his firing.

So the e-mail was essentially a warning by Senator Domenici‘s office to Karl Rove‘s assistant, and Rove‘s assistant, in turn, warned Rove to this unusual e-mail address, and other officials about the news conference, so administration officials could coordinate their response and coordinate what Democrats would call their stonewall, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And we have something pertaining to Arkansas in this that would seem to raise more problems for the attorney general, particularly what he told Congress in passing under oath about this plan to install one of Mr. Rove‘s proteges as the new U.S. attorney in Arkansas, correct?

SHUSTER:  Yes, that‘s right.  Last month, Alberto Gonzales testified to Congress that he told Arkansas Senator Mark Pryor on December 15, 2006, he would find somebody other than a Rove prot’g’, Tim Griffin, to be the next U.S. attorney to for Arkansas if Pryor could not support Griffin as the choice.

However, a February 8 e-mail written by Assistant Attorney General William Moschella suggests that Mr. Gonzales made the decision to appoint Griffin on or about December 15, 2006.

In other words, right around the same time as the attorney general‘s conversation with Senator Pryor when he was assuring the senator he would look for someone else, Gonzales appointed Tim Griffin anyway, and perhaps even more damaging is that even if Gonzales had meant the appointment to be temporary, temporary appointments are supposed to last 120 days, and now, of course, Griffin is up to 160, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  One of the, one of the complaints about everything Justice has sent over is that a lot of these e-mails are after the fact, after the process.  But in the after the fact, is there something in the latest sets of documents that shed more light on the spinning after the fact?

SHUSTER:  Well, that‘s right.  I mean, these documents are all related to the period after the firings at a time when the White House was—and the administration officials were trying to coordinate how they were going to respond.  So what we‘re getting is another glimpse at this sort of damage control effort.  There‘s one February 14 e-mail in which tomorrow‘s star witness, Monica Goodling, was asked to provide the department‘s talking points to damaging articles.  And Goodling referred to, quote, “the relevant talkers and statistics,” and she added that at that point, “We do not have a canned editorial response.”

And one reason might have been what some of the other documents suggest, and that is, that politics peeled (ph) these firings, and therefore it was difficult for Goodling and other officials to coordinate a response that the Democrats would believe.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, apparently they were also, she was also responsible for cobbling together some sort of a response to a Joe Conason column, which, I guess, makes him feel pretty good, but...

It‘s not just documents related to the firings that Congress now wants in the wake of the James Comey testimony last week about the midnight ride of Alberto Gonzales.  Senate‘s now going after everything from Gonzales about domestic spying?

SHUSTER:  Yes, that‘s right.  I mean, there are requests by the Senate to get at these discussions between the Justice Department, then led by John Ashcroft, and his deputy, James Comey, with officials in the White House.  And so what the Senate is trying to do is trying to piece together why it was that the White House was so eager to bypass Comey and essentially steamroll John Ashcroft, when the attorney general was lying in a hospital bed in intensive care.

The problem that Congress is having is the problem they‘ve had all along, and that is, the White House keeps saying, We are not turning over any White House documents.  The Bush administration is saying, We may give you some documents from the Justice Department, but if you try to get at documents from the White House, we‘re going to assert executive privilege if you force us to turn them over.

So what Congress is doing right now is, they‘re simply trying to get at this through the Justice Department and hoping that there may be some Justice Department documents from Comey, maybe from Ashcroft, that will reflect again on the Gonzales effort to steamroll the Justice Department and bypass the Justice Department at a time when Gonzales was White House counsel and the Justice Department was saying this warrantless wiretap program, in our opinion, is illegal.  That‘s one of the issues, of course, that played so well with the Comey testimony, and Congress is now trying to build on that.

OLBERMANN:  David Shuster, tasked with trying to shovel smoke, as they say in Washington, and doing an excellent job of under the circumstances particularly.  Great thanks, David.

SHUSTER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The video is gratuitous.  The story behind it, and the odds kids face of being bitten by a dog, that‘s not gratuitous.

And anybody seen my cat?  Where‘s my cat?  Mister, can you help me find my cat?

That and more, ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  On or about this date in 1933, one of the great con jobs of the last century began.  John McKay reported seeing a gigantic sea creature reminiscent of a dinosaur in Loch Ness in Scotland.  Thereafter, dozens of references to earlier sightings of the alleged monster hadn‘t been made, but McKay‘s is the earliest for which there is a contemporary record.  Left out of nearly every story about Nessie, though, is the fact that the lake is only about 20 miles square, and anything as big as the Loch Ness monster supposedly is would probably have to eat so much that it would empty the lake of nutrition every couple days.

On that note, let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in Laurel, Maryland, at the majestic Pimlico Race Course, the old hilltop where a most spectacular event took place over the weekend.  Yes, it‘s three days late, but I‘ve been off.  Big whoop.  You want to fight about it?  Anyway, we‘re not talking about the stupid Preakness.  We‘re talking about the big annual drunken Porta-Potty run in the infield.  No big hats or fancy duds necessary for this event, just drunken idiots down in steerage trying to make their way across a line of portable toilets that seems to be about a half-mile long.  Sure, it might not be as classy as the Preakness itself, but (INAUDIBLE) those fancy horse-racing folk could learn a thing or two from these morons.  They might even (INAUDIBLE) find it‘s more fun to gamble on the race if the jockeys have to dodge whiskey bottles during the third furlong.

To Flushing Meadows, more sporting highlights a few days late, this one from Shea Stadium.  Batting practice before the Mets-Yankees game on Sunday.  Ooh, a kitty, stowed away in the rolled-up matt in the batting cages under the stands.  The grounds crewmen surely had no idea the little fellow was in there when he unrolled the thing for BP (ph).  Probably wouldn‘t have manhandled that rug if he knew.  Usually these stories end with the team adopting the fuzzy little guy, giving him a cute nickname like (INAUDIBLE) or Paul LeDuca (ph).  But this is Queens, pal, no ticket, hit the bricks, ugly.

Is anything actually ugly with a senator swearing in private at another senator?  Is it another matter, however, if the same senator suggests another presidential candidate should threaten Guatemalans with a varmint gun?

And Paris Hilton finds religion.  She‘s carrying the Bible.  And great shows, shows.

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

Number three, Wang Yubin, deputy chief engineer for your Beijing Olympic organizing committee.  Who will stop the rain?  Wang Yubin will.  They don‘t want the opening ceremonies next year ruined by precipitation, so they plan to artificially reduce the level of rainfall on a comparatively small scale, which means shooting rockets full of silver iodine and dry ice into the clouds to make it rain the day before.

Number two, Diego Golombek from the Universidad National de Cuillemes (ph) in Buenos Aires.  He and two fellow researchers in Argentina have, using rats, discovered what they think may be the first reliable treatment for jet lag, Viagra.  They recommend the low dose, because the high dose they began the experiments with gave the rats side effects. 

And to that point, number one, Andreas Sallman of Switzerland, who has developed a protective garment to solve the great crisis or our time, reduced male fertility due to radiation from cell funds.  What kind of garments?  Undergarments.  You know, Mr. Sallman, if you have been experiencing decreased fertility because of the radiation from your cell phone, judging by this photo, maybe it is because of where you keep your cell phone, sir. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It is one of the great rationalizations of modern times.  The average Americans swear so much that the only place that may be utterly oath free is television, just broadcast and basic cable, by the way.  Yet, when a public figure swears in comparatively private circumstances, it becomes a finger wagging headline.  If the same public figure makes a joke about how a presidential campaign might rival might chase away Guatemalans with a gun, that‘s OK.  Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, the nightly update from Campaign 2008. 

Tonight, the word choices of Senator John McCain; reports of a shouting match about immigration with fellow Republican John Cornyn of Texas.  McCain pulling a Cheney and hurling an F bomb at him, just another spirited exchange says the campaign of a man who only three weeks ago managed to squeeze a list minute grin while promising to follow bin Laden to the gates of hell. 

Perhaps more disturbing, Mr. McCain going for a joke at the expense of Mitt Romney, trying to combine the immigration debate, the reports that Romney used a firm employing undocumented aliens and Romney‘s debacle over how often he has hunted, but coming out closer to something that sounded like he was telling Romney to chase people away while brandishing weapons.  Quoting, “Maybe his solution on immigration will be to get his small varmint gun and drive those Guatemalans off his lawn.” 

A different kind of stumble for Rudy Giuliani, meanwhile.  Both he and McCain leading in both national polls, but falling behind Mitt Romney in the latest poll of Ohio Republicans.  There‘s even talk Mr. Giuliani may take a pass on that first contest of 2008.  More surprising data in Iowa.  That polls showing John Edwards up with 29 percent support among Democrats, ahead of Barack Obama at 23 percent and national leader Hillary Clinton in third with 21 percent. 

Let me turn now to Chris Cillizza, who of course writes the political blog “The Fix” for WashingtonPost.com.  Chris, good evening.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  McCain in a moment; Iowa first.  Democrats in Iowa first.  What are the Edwards numbers owed to?  Has he been on the ground there a lot? 

CILLIZZA:  Yes, basically, frankly, he never really left from 2004.  Remember, if you think back to the 2004 caucuses, John Kerry won it with 37 percent.  John Edwards was second with 33 percent.  And if you talk to people on the ground there, they would tell you, if that caucus went one more week, those numbers would have been reversed.  John Edwards was moving in the right direction there, and he never left.  He stayed there after he lost the vice-presidential race. 

He continued to lavish attention on it.  He continues to lavish attention on it.  And he had a real connection with Iowa voters that he has kept up.  So I don‘t think we should be terribly surprised by this.

OLBERMANN:  Giuliani in Iowa, or maybe more correctly Giuliani not in Iowa?

CILLIZZA:  You know, there is this talk that the Giuliani might skip Iowa and New Hampshire, or at least de-emphasize them to emphasize states like California, Texas and New York on February 5th.  I frankly just don‘t think that is a winning solution.  I don‘t think Rudy Giuliani can weather losses, third place, second place, fourth place finishes in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina and still make the argument that he is a credible candidate. 

It is not how these contests have worked in the past.  The candidates who finished first or second in Iowa tend to finish first or second in New Hampshire.  And it tends to come to a showdown in South Carolina.  We saw that happen in 2000 with President Bush and John McCain.  I just don‘t think Rudy Giuliani can wait until February 5th to make his move.  

OLBERMANN:  And John McCain.  I‘m finding it hard to believe that anybody would think that an ex-POW who has also been in the Senate as long as he has might not swear once a year or more.  Why the stink over that, but no stink over the subtext of Romney varmint joke? 

CILLIZZA:  You know I don‘t know.  I think maybe just because the use of an expletive is slightly more salacious.  I think the larger point though is that John McCain is clearly a little bit touchy on immigration.  Remember, the conservative base of the party, those most likely to vote and choose the identity of the nominee next year, are ardently opposed to anything that they term amnesty.  And they put a guest worker program in that. 

Well, John McCain‘s name is co-sponsor on this bill, along with one of the most hated Democrats in the country by Republicans, Ted Kennedy.  So he has got to worry about being cast as too moderate.  It is probably what lost him the 2000 race, and I think he is worried about it happening again.   

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of ardent, what do the Democratic presidential hopefuls do in the wake of this compromise, in which it looks like the Democrats have given away the store on Iraq funding?  Is that going to play short term or long term in the primary, or pre-primary?

CILLIZZA:  Well, I know just before I came on here I got an e-mail from John Edwards‘ campaign, and John Edwards said this is the wrong thing.  We should not be compromising.  As I‘ve said before, we should continue to send this same bill, this bill that the president vetoed in the past, to him again and again.  Now, it is slightly easier for John Edwards to say because he is not in the Senate.  He doesn‘t have to vote on it.

But yes, there is a reason that John F. Kennedy was the last senator elected president.  You vote a lot.  And as we saw in the “I voted for the 87 billion before against it” with John Kerry, those votes can be used in a lot of different ways against you in the context of a political campaign. 

OLBERMANN:  And Chris, lastly, where are we on an independent campaign?  You blogged about Mayor Bloomberg of New York.  Any clear indication?  Is he going to spend four of five percent of his net worth and put a third face on the ballot? 

CILLIZZA:  Look, any time someone who is the major of New York city and also happens to be worth 5.5 billion dollars is at least mentioning his name out there, we have to pay attention to it.  That said, Mike Bloomberg is a businessman, first and foremost.  He did not make all that money by being in politics.  I think at the end of the day, he is going to make a business decision.  Can I win this race or not. 

I do not think he wants to be Ross Perot, who got 19 percent in 1992.  I think he wants to think he has a real chance at winning.  It‘s going to be tough.  It depends on who the two parties nominate.  But remember, the two parties are very entrenched in our system.  Independent candidates really struggle. 

OLBERMANN:  As has been true since about 1860.  Chris Cillizza, the man behind the “Washington Post” political blog “The Fix.”  Great thanks Chris.

CILLIZZA:  Thank you Keith.

OLBERMANN:  A pack of pit bulls goes on the attack.  The victim is a five year-old boy.  The video is what you would expect.  But what do we do about this? 

And there is another Katee Holmes, Katee with a double E.  She is an actress too, pornography.  That story ahead.  First here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Thank you all for coming.  What was the word? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Cazillif (ph).

BUSH:  You‘re talking about some good Cazillif.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A quick glimpse of eight ducklings stuck in the storm drain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I tried to catch the mother with a net.  She outsmarted us with that one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Here is what she saw, three men working frantically to free her babies.  Then after about 20 minutes of crawling around under I-25 --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You took quite the trip over the weekend.

PAULA ABDUL, “AMERICAN IDOL”:  Yes, it wasn‘t a trip to Hawaii.  It was a trip to save my Chihuahua Tulip. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And you chipped—you didn‘t break your nose, you chipped your nose? 

ABDUL:  Yes, it‘s cartilage.  I tore some cartilage.  There‘s makeup on.  It‘s a bruise.  I am seriously bruised all over.  She was trying to say hi to me and I was carrying a suitcase upstairs and I had my high heels on and I did not see her.  And then, at the last minute, I said oh my god.  And I went to step over her. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Every year every American has about a one in 50 chance of being bitten by a dog.  Actually, the numbers for us adults are even less worrisome, because the numbers for kids constitute a veritable nightmare, one in a little over three.  Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, how five-year-old Miguel Smiley Jr. became part of that statistic and what to do about it from our correspondent Janet Shamlian. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JANET SHAMLIAN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The attack was swift, unprovoked, vicious and caught on tape.  A father and his five year old son were walking to the store in Detroit when they were attacked by three pit bulls.  Miguel Smiley grabbed his son and tried to run away, but the dogs were too fast.   

MIGUEL SMILEY, VICTIM:  One charged me and I fought that one off.  Another one came out of nowhere and started attacking me.  I threw my son up in the air, trying to avoid him getting hit or bitten. 

SHAMLIAN:  But two of the dogs were bent on attack. 

MIGUEL SMILEY JR., VICTIM:  My dad grabbed them and tried to get them away from me. 

SHAMLIAN:  Bystanders chased the dogs down but not before Miguel Jr.  was bitten. 

SMILEY JR.:  Scared, mad, afraid. 

SHAMLIAN:  Americans suffer nearly five million dog bites a year.  That‘s two percent of the U.S. population.  About 800,000 bites, on in six, require medical attention.  Most of those are children.  Death from dog bites is rare.  And those who die from the attacks tend to be the youngest of victims.  Pit Bulls and Rottweilers are responsible for most of those tragedies and grab most of the headlines.  Just two weeks ago, a seven year-old Ohio girl was attacked by a Pit Bull as she played at a friend‘s house.  It took more than four hours of surgery to repair her face and reattach a finger. 

CORINE RICE, MOTHER OF DOG ATTACK VICTIM:  You can have fences around a pool where a kid can drown, but you do not have to have a fence around a dog that will attack. 

SHAMLIAN:  And in 2001, a case that made headlines coast to coast; a popular lacrosse coach died after being mauled outside of her apartment by two Mastiff dogs belonging to her neighbors. 

Janet Shamlian, NBC News, Des Moines, Iowa.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Turning to our nightly round up of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs, and that old saying about how imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.  Tonight we find the exception to the rule.  First there was Katie Holmes, Katie with an I-E, actress, wife of Tom Cruise, mother of Suri Cruise, probably.  Then there is Katee Holmes, with two Es.  She claims to be 18, claims to be from the Midwest, claims to be five foot nine, claims never to have had sex with Tom Cruise.  So far, the similarity is uncanny. 

Whoever she is, she changed her name to Katee Holmes, signed on with a pornographic film distributor and intends to begin a career as soon as possible, with the eventual premise of becoming an ex-virgin on film with, quote, a handsome blond guy I saw in a movie.  Now I just have to figure out who he is.  Good luck on that.

Someone who might be trying to siphon some bucks from Oprah Winfrey‘s name, her father Vernon, writing a tell al book.  Do not for it in Oprah‘s book club.  The “New York Daily News” not only breaking the news of Mr.  Winfrey‘s plan, but breaking the news to his daughter.  Miss Winfrey first laughed the story off.  Then, when a family told her it was true, she told the paper she was shocked, disappointed, and that, quote, the worst part of it was him saying I meant to tell you.  I have been working on it.  Miss Winfrey added, quote, the last person in the world to be doing a book about me is Vernon Winfrey. 

Miss Winfrey lived with her father as a teenager, says she still has a good relationship with him.  The book will be titled “Things Unspoken.” 

And to who‘s hot, part 53, division A, the hottest billionaire heiresses, as determined by “Forbes Magazine” based on the number of Google hits and proximity to cha ching.  Paris Hilton, surprisingly enough, came in at number one.  She, of course, the great granddaughter of the Hilton Hotel‘s founder Conrad Hilton.  Her sister Nickie number three out of the top ten. 

By the way, neither Hilton was on the “Maxim Magazine” recent list of the Hot 100.  Forbes versus Maxim.  The Trump progeny, who looks most like daddy, daughter Ivanka Trump, ranking second on Forbes‘ list, even though Maxim put her way down at number 83.  Fourth on the Forbes list, Julie Louis Dreyfus. 

And then there is more Paris Hilton news, with a Bible.  A Mark Jacobs Bible?  That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World. 

The bronze to an unnamed jewelry thief in Brooklyn, New York.  He stole thousands of dollars in gems and other items from the home of a local politician.  But he left some evidence, his keys and his resume.  Police called the number on the resume and the guy asked them, did you find my keys? 

The runner-up, Bill-O, comparing extremists on the immigration debate to the, quote, talk-show nuts who are telling you that they are going to nuke Tehran.  Last December 5th Bill-O said, we may have to level cities like Tehran, kill hundreds of thousands of people.  A year ago January, Bill-O said, it‘s a matter of time before the United States of American and Great Britain will have to bomb the country of Iran.  Talk show nuts who are telling you that they‘re going to nuke Tehran.  First time I‘ve ever agreed with you Billy.

But our winner, comedian Rush Limbaugh, complaining today that the liberal media, particularly MSNBC, never actually listens to him while he is on the air and thus get things like his racist Al Sharpton, Barack Obama song second hand and out of context.  Of course, he admitted he did not see any of the criticism on MSNBC, he just read the transcript.  I happen to know he said all this because today I was actually listening to him while he was on the air, while I was at ABC Radio in New York, where I do the Dan Patrick Show from, listening from the perfect venue, where they pipe in comedian‘s show and you can‘t turn it off, the toilet. 

Comedian Rush Limbaugh, today‘s Worst Person in the World.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Sometimes the universe seems to go out of its way to achieve balance.  While mourners gathered to bury the late Reverend Jerry Falwell, miles and miles away Paris Hilton was seen carrying the Bible and another spiritual text.  Exit Falwell, enter Hilton.  Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, the church of Paris Hilton.  Mr. Falwell‘s funeral drew thousands to Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia.  Absent however all of the Republican party‘s major presidential candidates, while the White House sent a mid-level aid as its representative. 

But if Falwell‘s political clout had waned in later years, Ms.  Hilton‘s star has only risen, however perverse and superficial that star might be.  Her imminent 23 day jail sentence, now just two weeks away, has brought her to the edge of revelation.  Spotted yesterday with the Holy Bible and the “Power of Now, A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment.”  It looks as if Miss Hilton wants us to see her new books, or they are hollow, and she plans to smuggle something into prison inside them. 

Joining us now comedian Jeffrey Ross, who is appearing at the GI Film Festival this weekend in Washington, D.C.  Jeffrey, good evening.  Thanks for some of your time. 

JEFFREY ROSS, COMEDIAN:  Sure thing K.O. 

OLBERMANN:  Paris Hilton with a bible.  This sounds like a softball of biblical proportions to me.  Take a free swing.

ROSS:  She probably stole it from one of her family‘s hotel rooms.  I mean, she is morally bankrupt.  Maybe this will all do her some good.  Let‘s face it Keith, more guys have been inside Paris Hilton than have been inside the Hilton in Paris. 

OLBERMANN:  This juxtaposition, this timing of Falwell and Hilton can‘t be escaped.  There have to be inevitable comparisons.  Tee off on those.  First Mr. Falwell founded the moral majority.  What might she create? 

ROSS:  She‘ll create the oral majority.  And if you are not sure what that is, I‘m sure she will be willing to demonstrate it to anyone with a video camera. 

OLBERMANN:  Falwell often found himself agreeing with Pat Robertson. 

Hilton‘s spiritual compatriot, who does she agree with? 

ROSS:  Boy, that is a tough one.  Anybody with a Greek name and a shipping company I would assume.  She has found Jesus, which isn‘t surprising, long stringy hair, flip flops, not shaven. 

OLBERMANN:  The reverend was very influential in Republican politics.  They credit him with helping to elect Ronald Reagan.  So who can Paris Hilton help elect?  Elect!

ROSS:  I‘m sorry, are you saying election or Erection Keith?  I‘m having a hard time, the satellite.  You know, she is going to have a hard time in jail.  It‘s going to be interesting seeing her in an orange jump suit.  Maybe she‘ll make them trendy, who knows.  Maybe she‘ll start her only religion, the US Weeklians, people who worship people who are just famous because they‘re famous. 

OLBERMANN:  I thought that was Scientology.  Falwell started his TV evangelism with a show called the “Old Time Gospel Hour.”  Miss already had the “Simple Life.”  Does she ditch that?  Does she put something on in its place for her religious awakening here? 

ROSS:  I think she should do a reality show with Mike Tyson.  I mean, he found religion in jail.  Maybe she‘ll get some tattoos too.  Maybe she‘ll hook up with Martha Stewart or the Green Bay Packers.  Who knows. 

OLBERMANN:  Falwell got his back up, as it were, when it came to pagans and feminists and gays.  Do you think Paris Hilton will shun people with other beliefs?  Will she turn the proverbial cold shoulder to those who buy non-designer shoes?  What‘s the out group for her?

ROSS:  I don‘t think so, Keith.  I think one of the things I love about Paris is she‘s an equal opportunity snob.  She has made aloof into an art.  I think everybody will just gather together hate her all together, maybe a new religion perhaps. 

OLBERMANN:  I think Bill Hicks suggested that, didn‘t he, the society of people who hate people?  Does she have to apologize as a religious figure now for the Internet sex video?

ROSS:  No, actually I should apologize for that.  I was the camera man. 

OLBERMANN:  Very nice, with an infra red camera.  Where does she get her followers from?  Do they come from society, high society, cell block H, or where? 

ROSS:  I think they come from Sky Bar on Sunset Boulevard or Marquee (ph) or any of those other clubs that you and I probably can‘t get into. 

OLBERMANN:  And lastly, we cannot show this, but reportedly yesterday, as she was taking care of her errands, this guy dressed as a huge phallic symbol, or perhaps just a phallus, was following her around.  Is this a bad omen under which to start a new religion?

ROSS:  Keith, it‘s not an omen.  It‘s a sign.  And that sign says go directly to jail, do not pass go.  Do not collect 200 dollars.

OLBERMANN:  Comedian Jeffrey Ross, she stole the Bible from one of the family‘s hotel rooms. 

ROSS:  Free Paris.  Free Paris.  Free Paris.

OLBERMANN:  Thank you sir.  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,483rd day since the declaration of mission accomplished.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.

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

END   

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