updated 7/12/2007 12:26:07 PM ET 2007-07-12T16:26:07

Guests: Lev Grossman, Monica Novotny, Chris Cilizza

AMY ROBACH, MSNBC HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

A stunning headline in the war on terror, as the war debate rages and the GOP continues to jump ship.  Word of a new government report that al Qaeda is now as strong as it was in the days before September 11.  Whatever happened to they are on the run?  Whatever happened to they had taken out 75 percent of al Qaeda‘s leadership?  Will this finally force the president to refocus his attention on the war on terror?

This president flexes his executive privilege muscles not once but twice today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARA TAYLOR, WHITE HOUSE STAFFER:  I have a letter that has asked me to follow the president‘s assertion of executive privilege.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  One of Karl Rove‘s underlings refuses to answer some questions before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  And now the White House does not even want Harriet Miers to dignify the Senate with an appearance.  Firefighters in New York City go after Rudy Giuliani.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He is running on his 9/11 leadership and it was lacking and there was none.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  Giuliani‘s response tonight, and what will be the lasting impact on his campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You have a bomb locked to your neck.  There was no way Brian put that on himself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  Family members fuming as indictments are handed down in the bizarre pizza bombing bank robber.

And the most hyped opening for the fifth opening in a series since “Police Academy 5, Assignment Miami Beach,” the new Harry Potter flick opens nationwide.  Sure, it may make more money, but is it as good?  All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening, I am Amy Robach sitting in for Keith Olbermann.  If as the Bush administration claims, we are fighting in Iraq so we do not have to face the threat of another terror attack here in the U.S. why is it that al Qaeda has been able to regain its strength to a level it has not enjoyed since just before the 9/11 attacks?

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, U.S. intelligence analysts reaching a devastating conclusion about the state of the war on terror.  Two more Republican senators reaching a conclusion that it is time to get out of the conflict that many believe is distracting us from the fight, the war in Iraq.

We begin tonight with the bad news for the White House.  Mr. Bush might have hoped the biggest news he‘d make today was for the opening of the new White House briefing room, but instead it is likely most of the reporters in the press corps will once again filing stories on the many problems facing the White House.  Perhaps he should have been nicer to those reporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH. U.S. PRESIDENT:  Welcome back to the West Wing.  We missed you.  Sort of.  I have always felt comfortable behind a podium in front of you, using it kind of as a shield.  But I would like a tour.

It‘s not quite bulletproof.  Some of your bullets are able to - verbal bullets are able to penetrate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, more fallout over the war in Iraq.  In the Senate Republicans filibustering a vote on Senator Webb‘s amendment that would have required giving troops just as much time to rest between deployments as they are on active duty, what some might call an amendment to support the troops.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID, (D) NV:  Some of my Republican colleagues are protecting the president rather than protecting our troops.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (D) SC:  The president of the United States is not going to begin to entertain this.  No president would.  No president could sit on the sidelines and watch the authority of the commander in chief be taken over by the political moment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  But perhaps the biggest problem for the White House, as we mentioned, two more Republican senators, Olympia Snowe and Chuck Hagel, no longer merely threatening to vote with the Democrats, but joining forces to introduce their own legislation to begin an Iraq pullout this fall.

Nearly a dozen Republican senators now having called on President Bush to start bringing the troops home.  The White House sent the national security adviser Stephen Hadley to the Hill today in an attempt to talk to GOP lawmakers out of it.

Senator Snowe says she received a call from Secretary of State Rice urging her to wait until General Petraeus gives his report in September.  Only those Republican lawmakers in no danger of defecting from the White House, like Senator John McCain, got an actual briefing from the president himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® AZ:  My message is that there is progress, that the last part of  the surge is just in place two weeks ago, and we adopted a new strategy and this strategy is succeeding and should be given a chance to succeed.  And maybe September is the seminal moment.  I don‘t know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  Time now to call in our own Craig Crawford, also a columnist for “Congressional Quarterly.”  Craig, good evening.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good evening.

ROBACH:  All right.  So we have heard from the Bush administration for quite some time that this administration or our military has been able to capture or kill 75 percent of known al Qaeda leaders, they have said that we are fighting the terrorists over there so we do not have to fight them here.  But this draft intelligence report, does it basically undercut most of the progress that we have heard about the war on terror?

CRAWFORD:  Yeah.  If it were not so deadly, it would be an Abbott and Costello comedy routine.  Who is on first?  Is al Qaeda in Afghanistan or Pakistan or Iraq?  The president has asserted so much recently that is all about Iraq, but hearing this report from his own administration suggests that the real problem is back in Pakistan and presumably Afghanistan where we once were.

ROBACH:  And Craig, it was thought heading into this month that the Democrats would really be leading the charge in terms of forcing the votes on Iraq, pulling out are troops and now we are seeing Republicans begin their own legislation.  How symbolically significant is that?

CRAWFORD:  I think the problem that the Democrats have is that they are short of those votes they need to override a veto, I mean, it is getting closer.  We learned today at least on the cloture vote, maybe four votes somewhere around there in the Senate, in the House maybe a few more.  Democrats still lack what they need to stop this president.  Because you know what, Amy, this president does not care what the majority of Congress thinks or what the majority of the public thinks, it is only when enough votes on the Hill arise to override a veto that he will care.

ROBACH:  And you mentioned the filibuster of the Webb amendment today, why would the Republicans block a vote on a measure that would support the troops?

CRAWFORD:  This is not Bush‘s war anymore, Amy, this is the Republican Party‘s war if this is how they‘re going to continue to vote like this.  They‘re looking at down the road in the 2008 elections, this being beyond George Bush if they continue to vote to support him.  This is the Republican Party‘s war, and the 2008 election will be a referendum on the war in Iraq, a Democrat versus Republican the way these GOP lawmakers are setting it up right now.

ROBACH:  Less talk about House Republican Leader John Boehner.  He referred to Senators Lugar, Domenici and others who have called for change in Iraq as wimps.  Do you think that‘s going to come back to haunt him?  Is this that the best way for a party leader to hold a caucus together?

CRAWFORD:  The problem with people like Boehner and others, even a lot of the Republican presidential candidates, is that they are playing to the base of the Republican Party, who still support the president on the war in pretty high numbers, and like that talk like wimp applied to those like Democrats and others, and some moderate Republicans who want to get out of the war.  And as long as they are playing to that base.  I guess they like preaching to the choir, they are just sort of blind to what the congregation thinks.

ROBACH:  Let‘s talk about the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice.  She contacted Olympia Snowe today, according to the senator, trying to urge her to hold off any decision she has until she hears from General Petraeus.  Although there has been a lot of video of secretary of state playing golf. 

Saying she likes anything that ends in a score.

We mentioned the phone call.  Given that diplomacy is her job, what do you think, do these pictures cause any problems for her?  Her spending a lot of time on the links instead of probably focusing on what she should be focusing on?

CRAWFORD:  I‘ve got to tell you when I first saw that, is Condi Rice starting to put some distance between herself and the White House?  One way to do that is to head for the links, I suppose.  Maybe next the beach in August.

I do think that the secretary of state Condi Rice is getting out of the loop in this administration policy and it suggests as a lot of people think, that good old Dick Cheney is still in charge, at least of what the president thinks.

ROBACH:  Where do things stand in the White House right now with Congress and obviously a lot of Republicans are turning against the White House at this point in time?  What do you think is really going on behind the scenes?  What is being said?

CRAWFORD:  The president is sticking to his guns, he is threatening to veto.  I haven‘t seen any daylight as far as he‘s concerned.

We have heard a lot from his administration in the way of leaks and suggestions and hints, I still think that there is a shell game going on as far as what the president is doing with the Democrats in Congress and it is not any real change on his part with where he is headed with this policy.

He is sticking to his guns, because again, I do not think he cares what the majority of Congress or the public thinks.  Dick Cheney said that the Sunday before the midterm election.  Asked about how the public viewed the war and the polls saying they opposed the war.  And he said, quote, “It does not matter.  We are not running for anything.”

ROBACH:  Greg Crawford, we appreciate it, thank you.

CRAWFORD:  You bet.

ROBACH:  Well turning now to that upcoming NIE, the national intelligence estimate.  “Newsweek” today reporting that it will include that al Qaeda has quote, “reconstituted its core structure and become stronger.”

The Associated Press today also quoting unnamed intelligence sources saying al Qaeda‘s resurrection has been so successful that America‘s number one through is now operating at a level last seen six years ago in the summer of 2001 just prior to the attacks of September 11th.  This coming as a top CIA official testified before Congress today that al Qaeda is not, as Mr.  Bush has claimed, on the run, but has settled back in on the Pakistan border with money, training and communications.  All of this in the 24 hours after Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff sparked a wave of ridicule when he explained to the “Chicago Tribune” how he has analyzed past al Qaeda patterns, and recent al Qaeda communications.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY:  All of these things have given me kind of a gut feeling that we are in a period of - not that there is not a specific threat that have in mind right now, but that we are entering a period of increased vulnerability.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  Meanwhile, “Newsweek” reports that other U.S. officials are offering concrete reasons for al Qaeda‘s resurgence, specifically a truce that Pakistan struck with extremists on the border, allowing them to operate unfettered and give al Qaeda what a CIA official described to Congress as a safe haven.

We turn now to retired four star General Wesley Clark, MSNBC analyst and former supreme commander of NATO as well as a onetime Democratic presidential candidate.  General thanks for your time tonight.

GENERAL WESLEY CLARK, (RET), MSNBC ANALYST:  Good to be with you, Amy.

ROBACH:  So if the AP‘s reporting is correct, America‘s intelligence community now believes that al Qaeda has a safe haven, shelter, money and training, and as much strength as it did six years ago, how did this happen?

CLARK:  Well, this administration‘s strategy has been woefully inadequate from the start.  We should have gone to Afghanistan, there was no plan to take out al Qaeda, they let al Qaeda escape across the border to Pakistan.

We then went into Iraq.  That was an unnecessary war, it was an elective war, and it diverted attention from al Qaeda.  It did serve as a recruiting magnet for al Qaeda.  So it‘s not - Amy, if you look at the latest report, it is not just the base area in Pakistan that should be of concern.  That is of concern.  And it is true that Musharraf cut a truce in North Waziristan, pulled back his troops, could not take the casualties, couldn‘t maintain the heat on the militants there.

But the war in Iraq has generated so much sympathy for al Qaeda that it has brought the new recruits.  They have been brought into Iraq, they have fought against Americans, they have been indoctrinated, they proved themselves, they have bonded.  And now they are spreading back out around the world.  So it is actually probably worse than the report that is being articulated on the Hill.

ROBACH:  And general, just yesterday we heard President Bush talk about Musharraf, saying he was a great ally.

And yet our time spent in Iraq, many say that that time we could have put into the real and perhaps impaired America‘s ability to deal with Pakistan from a position of strength, would this have been a good strategy?

CLARK:  It would have been a good strategy to have dealt with Pakistan effectively right after we intervened in Afghanistan, and in fact, the war in Iraq, as you suggest, had the opposite effect.  We pulled our Special Forces back, we pulled back some of our intelligence collection means, so we took our mind, our eyes and our capabilities off of al Qaeda during a crucial two, three-year period, and we allowed that reconstitution of that central base area.  It is there now.

And this administration has got a real challenge on its hands.  Because Musharraf is weaker now than he was right after 9/11.

ROBACH:  And Secretary Chertoff talking about this gut feeling that he said he felt we were in danger, that al Qaeda typically at least recently has struck during the summer months, but saying there is no specific threat and yet the same repot says that U.S. intelligence has gaps in it.  How would you describe the state of our security today?

CLARK:  Well, I would feel a lot more secure if we had implemented the recommendations of the 9/11 commission.  But as you know, we do not have the homeland security posture, or the commitment of resources that that report called for.  Democrats on the Hill had voted for that, everyone has consistently called for it, it simply has not been done by the administration.  The idea that you could fight them there so you don‘t have to worry about them here, well, that just does not work.

I have been very concerned.  I listened to Secretary Chertoff last night and I thought, I wonder if he is just trying to raise the political flag and run the fear factor up, because I think a little of that, maybe a lot of it happened before the 2004 election.

But I do think—I do hope that the American people will understand that there is a real threat out there, the fact that we do not have any credible, specific threat worries me a great deal.  If it is true that we don‘t have any credible, specific threat, because you would hope that we would have if it were there.  We just do not know.  And that is a matter of concern.

Because what we do know is that the U.S. standing in the world has sunk appreciably as a result of activities the United States has undertaken in Iraq, that al Qaeda is gaining new strength, new converts and new efforts have been undertaken to support terrorists.

So I would be concerned.  And I hope that people will lay the blame where it belongs, on the Bush administration for bad strategy.

ROBACH:  General Wesley Clark, MSNBC analyst, thanks so much for joining us tonight.

CLARK:  Thank you.

ROBACH:  The executive privilege war sure to heat up on Capitol Hill.  Karl Rove‘s assistant answers some questions, dodges others.  Well now the White House won‘t let Harriet Miers even show up tomorrow.  And Rudy Giuliani has capitalized on his image as America‘s mayor on 9/11.  Today some New York City firefighters and their families have thrown down the gauntlet to rip that image to shreds.  You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBACH:  The dog days of summer are usually when the City of Washington all but shuts down, but this summer Capitol Hill is busier than ever.

In our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, the business of investigating the Bush administration on multiple fronts before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, Karl Rove‘s former deputy Sara Taylor refused to answer many of the questions asked of her about the firings of those nine federal prosecutors.

But because Ms. Taylor answered more than the White House probably expected her to, former White House counsel Harriet Miers will not even be showing up to a similar hearing tomorrow in the House.

While on the House side of the Capitol this afternoon, Ambassador Joe Wilson testified at a hearing investigating President Bush‘s decision to commute Scooter Libby‘s jail sentence.

For more on all of if, we are joined now by our correspondent on the scandal beat, David Shuster in Washington.  David, good evening.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Amy.

ROBACH:  So let us begin with Sara Taylor‘s testimony on Capitol Hill today, specifically, all that she did not say.  Did she refuse to answer certain questions about the administration‘s firings of those nine U.S.  attorneys?

SHUSTER:  Yeah.  She refused to answer a lot of questions, specifically about documents, e-mails, White House memos, and she also refused to answer questions about specific White House officials, and investigators are convinced that Karl Rove is involved, and there are suspicions that at some point President Bush may have had conversations with Karl Rove or with attorney general Alberto Gonzales.  Taylor was asked early on in her testimony today if she had spoken with the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Did you speak with him?  Yes or no.  About replacing U.S. attorneys.

TAYLOR:  Senator, I have a very clear letter from Mr. Fielding, that letter says and has asked me to follow the president‘s assertion of executive privilege.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Eventually, Taylor amended her answer and said she had no conversations with President Bush, and she also said she knew of nobody in the administration who had been engaged in any wrongdoing.  But wrongdoing is a subjective term and Taylor refused to describe meetings or discussions with Karl Rove and others in the White House.  Taylor spoke at length about her responsibilities and she made it clear that she did not leave because of the U.S. attorney firing controversy but as far as the details about the controversy itself, she repeatedly asserted executive privilege and Democrats, of course, were infuriated.  Amy?

ROBACH:  Yeah.  And some of the lawmakers, however, of both parties, we should mention, were surprised at the questions that Ms. Taylor answered, as many of the questions that she did.  Might that explain why Harriet Miers will not be showing up tomorrow?

SHUSTER:  Yeah.  White House officials clearly hate these scandal hearings, and the timing of the Miers announcement certainly was curious.

I mean, at the end of a day in which Sara Taylor starts to assert executive privilege, then answers some questions, perhaps more questions than the White House was comfortable with.  At the end of the day there is that announcement that Harriet Miers has been ordered not to show up at the hearing room at all and in fact Harriet Miers can‘t answer any questions if she‘s not in the hearing room.

So today some Republicans on the committee expressed some surprise that Sara Taylor testified as much as she did, Republican Arlen Specter said Taylor would have been on safer legal ground and the White House would be on safer legal ground if Taylor didn‘t say anything at all and now after answering some questions but not others, Specter thought that Taylor and others had increased the risk of a contempt citation.

But Democrats including Chuck Schumer said that that Taylor‘s partial testimony had weakened the White House claim of privilege and Schumer and other Democrats believe that is another reason why Harriet Miers and others should also be forced to testify.

ROBACH:  And finally, what did Ambassador Joe Wilson have to say at that hearing investigating the president‘s decision to commute Scooter Libby‘s jail sentence?

SHUSTER:  He said that this amounts to a presidential cover-up, and he said that this gives another reason for Scooter Libby, that essentially gives a reason for Scooter Libby not to cooperate with investigators because there is no leverage, there is no facing of any jail time.  Republicans have tried to put the focus on Joe Wilson‘s wife, watch this exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Would you encourage her to come and clarify the inconsistencies?

JOE WILSON, FORMER AMBASSADOR:  Congressman, I do not believe that she was inconsistent in her testimony.  Neither was she.  She testified truthfully, honestly, and to the best of her ability.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But I have not heard an answer.  Would you tell us whether you would encourage her to come and address those inconsistencies.

WILSON:  I have said to her as I have said to you as I said to Mr. Davis the other day in the House dining room, we are prepared to any and all legitimate questions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Again, as Joe Wilson and Republicans sparred over Wilson‘s wife, with Wilson maintaining that his wife‘s testimony was accurate.  Democrats pointed out that the larger issue, the key issue was Libby‘s commutation and they argued that in fact Libby‘s commutation had taken away any reason for Libby to cooperate with investigators or essentially answer some of the unanswered questions about Vice-President Cheney.  One Democrat said that the Libby commutation was egregious and encouraged a further obstruction of justice.

Amy?

ROBACH:  All right.  MSNBC‘s David Shuster on the DC scandal beat.  Thank you.

SHUSTER:  You‘re welcome, Amy.

ROBACH:  She was a champion of conservation and the elegant first lady of our 36th president.  Tonight, America remembers Lady Bird Johnson.

And shocking new developments as indictments are handed down in the bizarre case that came to be know as the pizza bomber bank robbery.  You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBACH:  Welcome back to COUNTDOWN.  If I were to mention only that Claudia Alta Taylor had died this afternoon, most if not all Americans would wonder who I was talking about.

If I were to tell you next using her married name and childhood nickname, that Lady Bird Johnson passed away earlier today in Austin, Texas at the remarkable age of 94, there would be no mistaking the importance of the woman or the loss.  Correspondent Don Teague has more tonight on the shy woman from East Texas who would unexpectedly on a Friday morning in November of 1963 become first lady.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DON TEAGUE, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Lady Bird Johnson spent the last years of her life with family and friends, celebrating milestones and her life‘s work.  Beautifying America.

Urging people to plant flowers and trees in cities and along roadsides.  Her efforts inspired Congress to pass the Highway Beautification Act.  Also known as the Lady Bird Act.  She became known as the Johnny Appleseed of wildflowers.

LADY BIRD JOHNSON, FORMER FIRST LADY:  I think that‘s an enviable title and probably not - but certainly I take little ache (ph) in it.

TEAGUE:  She was born in 1912, graduated from high school when she was only 15 years old.  And finished in the top 10 of her journalism class at the University of Texas.

In 1934 she met Lyndon Baines Johnson and they married and had two daughters.  After he became president, Mrs. Johnson says she was shy about her public role but overcame that shyness by receiving more than 200,000 guests during their five years in the White House.

President Johnson died in 1973.  She said there were good times and bad and her one wish for America?

JOHNSON:  I hope that patriotism will always run strong in this country. 

(SINGING)

TEAGUE:  Her efforts to beautify the county she loved so much continue even today.  Lady Bird Johnson dead at the age of 94. 

Don Teague, NBC News, Dallas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBACH:  A powerful new video made by New York City firefighters says that the image of Rudy Giuliani as the hero of 9/11 is an urban myth.  How damaging will this be for the campaign they like to call America‘s mayor? 

And the “Order of the Phoenix” is in wide release, and the “Deadly Hallows” is on the way, which means Harry Potter nation is in full freak out mode.  That and more ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBACH:  The image Rudy Giuliani would like voters to have is of Giuliani versus the terrorists.  But in our third story tonight, for tonight anyway, the story is Giuliani versus the firefighters.  The union IAFF, the International Association of Firefighters, released an anti Giuliani video online, in which New York firefighters and relatives of those who died on September 11th offer harsh emotional critiques of Giuliani‘s leadership in preparing for the second terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  One of the towers has collapsed.  I repeat, one of the towers has collapsed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He is running on his 9/11 leadership, and it was lacking and there was none. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Whenever I hear him talk, I want to scream out to the world and say, god, he is so full of it. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The buck stops at the mayor‘s office.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It goes up to the top.  Who‘s in charge here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. Giuliani.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They attacked us in 1993.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And yet eight and a half years later, New York city firefighters, the greatest fire department in the world, were using the same radio that we knew didn‘t work. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We have remains of dead heroes out at the garbage dump because of Giuliani and his administration.  They are still there today, and they won‘t remove them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And this guy had politics and his image much more important than the needs of firefighters and their families. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I am a conservative.  I‘m a member of the NRA.  I voted for Giuliani.  But in this instance, he messed up. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s about learning who the person running for president is.  Don‘t just go by the image you saw on television. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s not the moral ethical or honest person that I feel should be the president of the United States in 2008. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This image of Rudy Giuliani as America‘s mayor is a myth. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBACH:  Well, the Giuliani camp today released a statement, including expressions of support from his former fire commissioner, along with a laundry list of improvements made to the FDNY during his term, but without any rebuttal of the claims  made by the IAFF.  The Giuliani camp also fired back at the IAFF, documenting the fact that this labor union has supported Democratic presidential candidates in the past. 

The campaign released a statement by one firefighter who lost his son on September 11th, saying, quote, “I expect these same union bosses to endorse Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or John Edwards.  So today‘s comments are just a first step in that process.  Fortunately, rank and file firefighters know the difference between politics and leadership.”

Giuliani‘s lead in the GOP polls is usually attributed not to his successes lowering crime in New York City, but to his performance on September 11th.  But it remains too early to tell whether voters have begun seriously scrutinizing his record on and leading up to that day. 

Let us bring in Chris Cilizza, who writes “The Fix” blog as national political reporter for WashingtonPost.com.  Thanks for being with us tonight, Chris.

CHRIS CILIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM:  Thanks for having me.

ROBACH:  All right, so let‘s talk about the damage done, the effect that this could have on many Americans.  Would it change how they see, how they remember Rudy Giuliani on that day? 

CILIZZA:  Well, it remains to be seen remember.  Let me just put a little bit of a caveat in here.  This is a web video.  Some of these things catch on, 1984, the Hillary Clinton parity, the bomb Iran, John McCain singing to the tune of bomb Iran.  Some of them get this viralness and catch on and become huge deals.  Some peter out do not become any thing. 

We don‘t know where this is going to go yet.  But the problem and the question for Rudy Giuliani is, at the center of his campaign is September 11th, 2001.  He became known as America‘s mayor.  That is how people know him in this country.  Anything that gets at tarnishing that reputation is potentially dangerous.  And it‘s why we‘ve seen the Giuliani campaign strike back very quickly.

ROBACH:  Yes, is the Giuliani camp correct in predicting that firefighters and other union won‘t care what union leadership says? 

CILIZZA:  Well, we don‘t know.  I think what they are doing is they are coming out and painting the IAFF as a partisan organization.  It is a smart move.  What they are trying to do is discredit the messenger.  They are saying look, this is to be expected.  This isn‘t a neutral organization that‘s representing the good of firefighters. 

This is an organization that has endorsed all the past Democratic candidates for president, in the past four of five elections, and is very likely to endorse a Democrat again.  What they are saying is don‘t believe this.  This is just another partisan attack.  This is not a non-judgmental message about Rudy Giuliani and his service during September 11th

ROBACH:  Will we see any Republicans or Democrats touch this issue? 

And if they do, how far will they take it? 

CILIZZA:  It is really dangerous.  You know, I watched this 13 minute video.  I was struck by how aggressive the firefighters were in their rhetoric.  People have tried it in campaigns.  I was thinking back before I came on, in 2006 Mike Dewine, a senator from Ohio, ran ads that sought to paint his Democratic opponent as soft on terror, and he had the two towers smoking. 

Well, it turned out that they had produced too much smoke.  They had added smoke in for effect.  It really wound up backfiring on him.  You have to be really, really careful.  This is a touchstone for people.  They do not want it being seen as being played for political gain. 

ROBACH:  And Giuliani‘s response to this video consisted of listing what he had done for the fire department during his term in office, and attacking the IAFF.  But we didn‘t hear anything specific about defending his actions on 9/11, and basically offering a rebuttal to what they said.  Why not?

CILIZZA:  Well, about ten minutes after 8:00, I got an e-mail, and a know a lot of other reporters did too, called “Setting the Record Straight.”  It was a six page document from the Giuliani campaign, that walked through charge by charge this IAFF ad and sought to dispute it.  Now, again, you‘re going to have quotes on both sides that are going to paint different pictures. 

The question is twofold, one, how much does this video catch on?  And two, do people believe the messenger?  Do they believe Rudy Giuliani or do they believe the IAFF?  And does this tarnish what is the central tenet of this man‘s campaign for president? 

ROBACH:  Yes, does Giuliani have an opportunity here to fire back in a real emotional way? 

CILIZZA:  I think he does.  I mean, remember one of the Republican debates, Ron Paul suggested that we invited the terrorist attack.  Rudy Giuliani said—he asked him to revoke that statement, said he never had heard something so ridiculous.  I thought that was one of the high points for Rudy Giuliani in the campaign.  He does, but remember, it is always dangerous, if Rudy Giuliani is defending his actions on September 11th, he has to be careful. 

ROBACH:  All right, Chris Cilizza, author of “The Fix” at WashingtonPost.com.  Thanks so much for your time tonight.

CILIZZA:  Thank you, Amy. 

ROBACH:  The mystery of the pizza bomber.  Authorities announce charges in the bizarre bank robbery plot four years later.  They say the victim of the bombing was also in on the plot, and that has his family incensed. 

And has Britney Spears fallen off the wagon?  Was she ever on the wagon?  Is it any of our business?  Our run down of the day in tabloids ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBACH:  It was one of the most bizarre and intricate crimes in recent memory; a pizza delivery man with a bomb strapped around his neck, robbing a Pennsylvania bank, apparently as a hostage.  The bomb eventually detonating, killing him as he sat handcuffed and waiting for the bomb squad to arrive.  Now, in our second story on the COUNTDOWN, investigators say they have finally pieced together what happened on that afternoon in August of 2003. 

And just who was responsible?  COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny has been covering this story since the beginning, and she joins us with the latest.  And Monica, they are incredibly strange. 

MONICA NOVOTNY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  It‘s a convoluted story.  It is really strange.  Amy, good to see you.  It took prosecutors nearly four years to return an indictment on this case.  Two people now face charges of armed bank robbery, conspiracy, and using and carrying a destructive device.  And authorities revealed today that they believe the apparent victim was, at least in the beginning, in on the plan. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARK POTTER, SPECIAL AGENT:  The brutality and utter lack of respect for life displayed by the indicted is rarely seen outside a movie script. 

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  But this was no Hollywood blockbuster.  And now authorities say pizza delivery guy Brian Wells was knowingly involved in the bizarre bank robbery that led to his death nearly four years ago, that he did have a limited role in at least some part of the planning stages, though he was not willing to wear the collar bomb that killed him. 

MARY BETH BUCHANAN, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY:  At some point, right before the bomb was fastened to his neck, he was coerced, that it was placed on his neck by another individual. 

NOVOTNY:  Now authorities have charged two of the alleged co-conspirators, the only two still alive, Margery Deal Armstrong (ph) and Kenneth E. Barnes, both already in jail, Barnes on a drug charge; Deal Armstrong for killing her then live in boyfriend, James Roden (ph), in August 2003. 

Prosecutors now say she murdered him to keep him quiet about her bank robbery plans.  Those plans, according to the indictment, first formulated in July of 2003, when Deal Armstrong asked Barnes to help her Rob the bank to pay for her other favor. 

BUCHANAN:  She also solicited him to kill her own father. 

NOVOTNY:  As to the robbery plot, the conspirators, according to the indictment, wanted police to believe that whoever robbed the bank was a hostage, an unwilling participant.  That way the conspirator who committed the robbery would get away with it afterwards.

The bomb was always meant to be operational, capable of killing anyone nearby, anyone who might expose the conspiracy. 

BUCHANAN:  It was part of the plan, also, that if the robber died, he could not be a witness against the other co-conspirators. 

NOVOTNY:  On the afternoon of August 28th, 2003, with the bomb strapped around his neck, Wells robbed the PNC Bank in Summit Township with a gun fashioned out of a cane, and nine pages of instructions leading him on a deadly scavenger hunt. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A guy just walked out with I don‘t know how much cash in a bag.  He had a bomb or something wrapped around his neck. 

NOVOTNY:  Police apprehended him after the robbery.  Then, while local news cameras rolled, the bomb exploded, killing wells. 

DINA MCPHEE, WITNESS:  You heard the explosion.  It sounded like a gunshot, basically a shot gun going off.  And you saw a cloud of white smoke. 

NOVOTNY:  His family always claimed Brian Wells was an innocent victim, targeted by murderers.  And today‘s indictment has not changed their minds. 

JOHN WELLS, BROTHER:  Brian was a complete innocent murder victim in this case.  He did not know any of these people.  That is why they had to lure him to the tower to clamp the bomb on him. 

NOVOTNY:  But prosecutors say Wells met with the co-conspirators the day before the robbery, and also actually protected those who put the bomb on him. 

BUCHANAN:  He was told, if he was apprehended, to say that three black men had held him down and put this bomb around his neck.  When he was asked by the law-enforcement officers what happened, he told them the story. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOVOTNY:  Now prosecutors emphasize they do not know whether Brian Wells knew that he could be killed, or even that the bomb was operational.  But the Wells family insists that he was not knowingly involved at all, and that investigators haven‘t done their jobs properly.  They are looking for more proof.  Margery Deal Armstrong and Kenneth Barnes are both due in court later this week.  Amy?

ROBACH:  Monica, why did it take nearly four years for authorities to put together all these pieces to this puzzle? 

NOVOTNY:  This is the question that everybody has been asking for four years, since, as you and I were just talking, we both were following this case from the very beginning.  I think part of it, as they said, a very strange set of clues, the collar bomb from the beginning.  They took a while to figure that out, because they had never seen anything like it. 

He a bomb shaped like a cane in the car with him.  They had never seen anything like that.  There was this rambling letter that was sending him on a scavenger hunt.  So they were trying to piece all of that together.  Then on top of it, they had more than 1,000 tips.  The conducted more than 1,000 interviews. 

And the key interview, of course, with the ringleader, this woman Margery Deal Armstrong, had to be delayed because she was in prison.  She had pled guilty to murder, but also insanity.  So she was in an institution of some sort for about a year, they said.  So they could not even get to her.  So it delayed the whole thing.

ROBACH:  Monica Novotny, thank you so much.  We appreciate it. 

Of course, the real heroes of our society are the inexplicably famous wastes of space who populate our nightly roundup of celebrity news, Keeping Tabs.  Take Britney Spears, who reportedly is once again braving the dangers associate with alcohol.  That is according to “Star Magazine,” the chronicle of heroes. Spears denies it—we‘re guessing she denies it.  But Star quote unnamed sources who report that Spears is using subterfuge to conceal her rehab relapse, such as telling waitresses not to bring her bottles, but unmarked glasses, and then pouring booz in to energy drink cans.  Red Bull gives you bed spins.

Of course, it could be worse.  She could be Nicole Richie, whose on-going legal battles on charges of DUI have been reduced to arguing that you just can‘t find a good urinalysis test these days.  Richie got her court date pushed back to next month because she wants to call a witness who is supposed to poo poo urinalysis, or at least argue that is not the number one method. 

Unfortunately for Richie, police say she confessed to them that she was on vicodin and Pot at the time of her arrest.  But in a filing today, Richie‘s lawyers said their witness will disprove that she was impaired while driving, suggesting that her defense is that she was perfectly sober, and knew exactly what she was doing when she drove the wrong way down an L.A. freeway.  Time to ramp up the Nicole Richie legal defense fund. 

The beginning of the end; Harry Potter hits theaters a mere ten days before the final book hits stores.  Cue the madness, ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBACH:  Just when you finished trying to figure out what the heck happened to Tony Soprano, someone else may be about to meet their maker.  Is the boy wizard the next to get whacked?  The number one story in our COUNTDOWN, get set for at least 10 solid days of Harry Potter mania.  It officially began at midnight last night, and lines at the movie-plexes continued today for the premier of the fifth and latest Harry Potter, “The Order of the Phoenix.” 

Remember, the word fan is short for fanatic, and advance ticket sales have already assured the film a place on the list of the summer‘s most successful blockbusters, with tickets expected to outsell “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and already surpassing “Transformers” and “Spider Man 3.”

Daniel Radcliffe, the teenage star who played Harry in four previous films, telling “The Today Show‘s” Anne Curry it is the most frightening and courageous of the Potter films. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANN CURRY, “THE TODAY SHOW”:  This is a new Harry.  This is not Harry reticent and fearful of what he has been born into.  This is Harry who has emerged and becomes a real warrior, a leader.  

DANIEL RADCLIFFE, ACTOR:  Yes, that is one of the thing that defines his character in this film.  He goes some way towards accepting that his life is always going to be very, very difficult and that he has to fight against that.  So, I think that is what comes out of this movie and I think that is one of the things—as you say, Harry becomes this sort of “Henry V” type leader that I love doing. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  Then there is the final novel, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”  Fans will be lining up across the world at midnight on Saturday, July 21st to buy it and read the ending that author J.K. Rowling says made her cry.  An end to 10 years of adventures that turned Rowling into her first—into the first author billionaire, selling an incredible 325 million copies in 63 languages. 

Let us call on Lev Grossman, book critic for “Time Magazine,” writer of the Nerd World column, and a genuine fan of the Harry Potter series.  Thanks for being with us tonight.

LEV GROSSMAN, “TIME MAGAZINE”:  Thanks for having me. 

ROBACH:  All right, so “Order of the Phoenix” already pre-sold more tickets than the three Potter films.  Is this unprecedented?

GROSSMAN:  I think it really is.  I mean, the thing to look at, and the kind of rule that the Harry Potter franchise breaks is this is the fifth movie.  If you remember “Rocky V,” if you remember the fifth of the “Star Wars” movie; every franchise we‘ve ever seen has lost steam around this point.  But Harry Potter keeps going strong. 

ROBACH:  And I actually got to see “Order of the Phoenix” last week because I am going to be talking to Daniel Radcliffe on Friday.  I thought it was good.  I‘m not a huge fan.  I guess I‘m in the minority, because a lot of people thought this was really, really good.  What do you think made this series so successful?  As you mentioned, the fifth being probably the most.

GROSSMAN:  You certainly have to give credit to Rowling as a narrative artist, as somebody who can keep this dramatic arch going and building and bringing people back over the course of five movies, and, no doubt, for two more.  And also, I mean, the really incredible cast.  When you watch these movies, you are seeing a convention of the senior thespians of England‘s sort of theatrical arts.  And they are fully committed to doing their best for this franchise. 

It‘s a wonderful thing, and you‘re really seeing the cream of the crop.  It‘s a remarkable achievement. 

ROBACH:  Yes, we have seen these actors grow up.  Daniel Radcliffe is only going to be turning 18 next month.  How do think his acting has grown with his age? 

GROSSMAN:  You know, it‘s such a gamble when you give a young actor a part like this.  I think it has really paid off in Radcliffe‘s case.  You have seen him grow certainly as a thespian.  He has also gotten kind of handsome.  I think in the new movie he has a little bit of stubble on his face, which makes him a little bit more manly. 

ROBACH:  His first kiss is in this movie as well. 

GROSSMAN:  I think he pulled it off admirably.  He is a very short actor.  I would put him—would you say 5‘6, maybe?

ROBACH:  A lot of actors are short though. 

GROSSMAN:  I don‘t think it will hurt him any.  He probably hopes he would grow more.  But, as it is, I think he is doing fine with what he has got. 

ROBACH:  And today there‘s a story in the “New York Times” saying that kids are not reading more, despite the Harry Potter craze.  Do you think that it was just this book?  It‘s not all the other books; unfortunately didn‘t catch on? 

GROSSMAN:  I never knew—This was a big media story, that Harry Potter was going to save the literacy of young America.  I don‘t think it was ever based on anything real.  I certainly think a lot of kids read those books.  They may have gone straight back to Nintendo after they read them.  But it has been a great thing.  And it takes nothing away from the books, that they didn‘t bring about a new (INAUDIBLE) of literary America. 

ROBACH:  All right, so to the real question, the most important question, does Harry Potter die? 

GROSSMAN:  You know, I can‘t think that Rowling would do that to us.  She has always been very mindful of the need to satisfy fans.  And to do away with Harry, it would hurt me deeply.  I don‘t think—

ROBACH:  Daniel Radcliffe said that he thought he might die, his character might die. 

GROSSMAN:  He‘s probably looking forward to a nice, ripe, juicy death scene.  But I don‘t think that Rowling will do that to us.  I have a feeling he will be hurt.  Maybe if you think of what happens to Frodo in “Lord of the Rings.”  He gets stabbed and he sort of wanders away with the elves at the end.  I think Harry will take some serious hits, but I have to think he will still be standing by the end.

ROBACH:  All right, we hope for your sake that‘s the truth.

GROSSMAN:  Thank you.

ROBACH:  Lev Grossman with “Time Magazine,” thanks so much for your time tonight.

GROSSMAN:  Thank you.

ROBACH:  And that will do it for this Wednesday edition of COUNTDOWN.

I‘m Amy Robach, in for Keith Olbermann.  Have a great night everyone.

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

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2007 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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