updated 7/25/2007 11:53:04 AM ET 2007-07-25T15:53:04

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Jonathan Alter, Derrick Pitts, David Touretzky

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

Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them by colonoscopies.  Acting President Dick.  The new biography taking us inside the vice president‘s mind.  Don‘t wear your good shoes.

He tried to keep Donald Rumsfeld.  He once mistook Jessica Simpson for Private Jessica Lynch and he once engendered the fear in the man the administration wanted to be director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, that the administration had manipulated the intelligence on Iraq, quoting McConnell, “because they didn‘t like the answers.”  We join Admiral McConnell‘s backtrack already in progress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM RUSSERT, NBC NEWS HOST:  Did the policy makers hype the intelligence?

ADMIRAL MIKE MCCONNELL, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE:  That‘s a judgment that I think the American people will have to make.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  As they will about this picture.  Mitt Romney poses with someone who brought her own Obama Osama sign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Lighten up slightly. 

Lighten up.  There are a lot of jokes out there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY:  So you‘re OK with jokes about, say, polygamists?

No jokes in sports.  An NBA referee who wagered on the games he refereed.  An NFL quarterback in trouble over dog fighting and maybe more.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Junk in space!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  If you need a tank the size of a refrigerator filled with 1,400 pounds of ammonia, we just pushed one out of the space station and into orbit.

It could be headed for Xenu.  We know the Germans don‘t like scientology and don‘t like Tom Cruise but should the German defense minister really say that in filming the story about the plot against Hitler, Cruise might stain its dignity?  And should a spokesman for the German Protestant church really compare Cruise to Joseph Goebbels.

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM CRUISE, ACTOR:  You‘re glib.  You don‘t even know what Ritalin is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  In the last week alone he has reportedly all but shoved secretary of state Rice out of the diplomacy business, if not out of the Cabinet itself.  He‘s been acting president for 125 minutes and he‘s had a lawsuit from Valerie Plame against himself and others dismissed and he saw his old friends at Halliburton report that their second quarter income from last year doubled to $1.5 billion in three months.

Yet in our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, Dick Cheney is newly portrayed as a power-obsessed prophet of doom.  And that was by the most sympathetic biographer in the world.  President Bush‘s transfer of his power to his second in command before going under sedation Saturday morning, having been mere formality, the polyps removed from Mr. Bush‘s colon, benign, that process, as expected, gratefully a formality.  Your joke about what else might have been found there just as much a formality.

But according to biographer Stephen Hayes it may be the president himself reduced to the status of formality, portrayed as little more than a bit player in his own administration with the vice president in charge of everything from energy policy to the war on terror to the run-up to the war in Iraq.

A rare incident when Mr. Bush exercised the powers of his office, his decision to replace Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary after last year‘s election.  Mr. Hayes revealing that the vice president did not agree with that decision and was prepared to say so publicly if he had been asked.  He was never asked.

As for that war that Cheney and Rumsfeld lied this nation into, the vice president apparently telling Mr. Hayes, a staff writer for the conservative magazine “The Weekly Standard,” that he now admits the post-war mechanism for governing Iraq, the Coalition Provisional Authority, was a mistake.  That it would have been better to let the Iraqis immediately govern themselves.  Another mistake?  Mr. Hayes telling our own Tim Russert on “Meet the Press” yesterday that Mr. Cheney regretted having said that the Iraqi insurgency was in its quote, “last throes.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHEN HAYES, AUTHOR, “CHENEY, THE UNTOLD STORY”:  He said it was obviously wrong for him to have said that.  And what he said was he had been reading reports that Zarqawi was on the run, that they were getting close to getting him and that at this point it looked like that was going to be sort of a marker.  And one of the things he said to me as I conducted these interviews was that he thought that there would be these markers and these markers, the capture of Saddam Hussein, the elections, Zarqawi‘s death would contribute to sort of a turn around.  And they didn‘t.  And he said that that comment was obviously wrong.

RUSSERT:  And no doubts about the war in Iraq, no second guessing?

HAYES:  Zero.  I think what he says is what we‘ve got to do is a better job communicating that this war in Iraq is a central part of the broader war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  That‘s right, keep perpetuating the lie that the conflict in Iraq is in any way connected to the terrorist organization that continues to rebuild itself unchecked in the tribal areas of Pakistan.  Of course there is always the slim chance that Mr. Cheney does not know the difference between the core organization of al Qaeda and al Qaeda in Iraq given that four years ago he could not distinguish between Private Jessica Lynch and pop singer Jessica Simpson.

Biographer Hayes revealing for some reason that when Mr. Cheney was to throw out the first pitch before a Cincinnati Reds game in 2004 his staff had informed him that Ms. Simpson would be in attendance.  His question in reply, “Is that the soldier captured in Iraq?”

Another revelation coming from the Bush-Cheney director of national intelligence Mike McConnell who long before taking the job seemed to believe that the administration had manipulating the intelligence on Iraq.

Quoting him from this book, “As a former intel pro, when you don‘t like the answer and you set up your own thing you tend to get the answer you want.  You hire people who think like you do or want to satisfy the boss.  I‘ve read much more about the current set of players and they did set up a whole new interpretation because they didn‘t like the answers.  They‘ve gotten results that in my view now have been disastrous.”

Of course those reservation s were not enough to keep Admiral McConnell from taking his relatively new gig, his current employment would explain why he was backing way off his assessment during his own Q&A session with Tim Russert.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCONNELL:  Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.  I believed it at the time and I mostly believed it because of my experience as intelligence officer for General Powell in the First Gulf War.  I knew they had them, I knew Saddam had killed 300,000 countrymen.  He had engaged in two wars.  He had those weapons.

So I believed it.  What I believe happened is that the community allowed itself to be lulled into making the call on information, in some cases from people who thought they had them.  Even Saddam‘s generals thought they had weapons of mass destruction.  So those threads took us to a place that turned out to be not valid.

RUSSERT:  But did the policy makers hype the intelligence?

MCCONNELL:  That‘s a judgment that I think the American people will have to make.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  You are correct, sir.  Time now to call in our own Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.  Richard, good evening.

RICHARD WOLFFE, “NEWSWEEK”:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  On top of the many anecdotes sprinkled throughout this biography of the vice president, your colleague at “Newsweek,” Evan Thomas in his assessment of the book, pointed this wonderful portrait what have it is that makes Mr. Cheney so gloomy.  This aforementioned prophet of doom stuff.

There‘s a bit of the chicken and eggs scenario here that Mr. Thomas uses and concludes by saying it‘s possible that by striking out at imagined demons, that the vice president actually is creating real ones.  The administration‘s war on terror policy in a nutshell.  Might the vice president, Richard, be his own worst enemy?  Might he be our worst enemy?

WOLFFE:  Well, it‘s a great question and Evan Thomas is really sort of hitting at this self-delusional aspect of the Cheney situation.  Try for a minute, just as a sort of party trick, to imagine yourself in Dick Cheney‘s head for a minute.  You think that you‘re the only person who can see the real threats in the world.  You‘re the only person with the experience and the vertebrae to actually confront these threats.  And that makes it very difficult for anyone around you because anyone who raises criticisms or questions are either weak or stupid.

And it becomes a very self-fulfilling position.  And that‘s, I think, why he can‘t see the blow-back, he can‘t see the aspects of America‘s values that he‘s dropping behind because he thinks there‘s a greater purpose.  So it‘s understandable in a sense, but where he‘s ended up is a long way from, in Brent Scowcroft‘s words, the Dick Cheney he once knew.

OLBERMANN:  As for the so-called bit player president, an overwhelming percentage -- 78 percent of Americans who have been surveyed in this new “Washington Post” poll that came out tonight believing that President Bush is not willing enough to change his stance on the war in Iraq and much more astonishing than that number, in other one, 55 percent of Republicans felt that way.  And that‘s up 16 points.

The Democrats—I think the White House can whoosh them away or pretend it‘s irrelevant but what do they do with that other number, Republicans saying the president is too inflexible on this subject?

WOLFFE:  Well, I don‘t think the president or the White House cares a whole lot right now.  But it is a problem most definitely for the Republicans who want to follow President Bush.  And we‘ve seen those numbers creep up.  When it was below 50 percent, not such a difficult problem.  But as it hovers around 50 percent, which half of the party do they go with?  The half that wants change or the half that‘s frustrated?  As it rises I think you‘re going to see into the 60 percent figure.  You‘re going to see more and more Republican candidates doing what they haven‘t done so far, which is back off the surge and call for real change in Iraq.  Once that happens, the dynamic really does shift.

OLBERMANN:  There‘s another news story breaking tonight.  This story from the attorney general as he is required to do, released his opening remarks ahead of his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow and in them there‘s a slightly new paragraph.  He said he‘s here to stay and that job one for the attorney general is trying to repair the broken image of the Justice Department.

Is this par for the course, image?  Is everything image must be fixed?  It‘s never a problem of substance, it‘s never a problem of competence, but this is just burnish the brass a little bit?

WOLFFE:  Well, Keith, may I remind you that you have constantly ignored all the good news coming out of Iraq all this time.

And it‘s the same thing.  They just think that if you tell the right story then it will fix itself.  We saw it coming out of Don Rumsfeld‘s Defense Department and we‘re seeing it now out of the Justice Department.  The problem is Alberto Gonzales.  That‘s the way you signify change and you get this one right.  But he‘s not going to go, they are afraid of what a new attorney general might do to those of them that survive.

OLBERMANN:  The good news coming out of the Justice Department which we‘ve ignored, think of all those U.S. attorneys who weren‘t fired for political reasons.

WOLFFE:  Exactly.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  I‘m getting into the program here finally after six years.  Turning again back to Admiral McConnell, the director of national intelligence, he commented on—or at least defended this sort of murky presidential executive order, the latest one, which he signed Friday, puts the CIA back into terror interrogation.  We don‘t exactly know how the administration is defining torture these days because the details are not in that executive order.  The president saying essentially they‘re in another secret document, trust me, it‘s all legal.

This order seems to be an attempt to line up the administration at least on paper with what‘s stipulated in the Geneva Convention.  How does it not open its agents up to the same legal peril itself up to the same legal criticism if it is once again hiding behind the veil of secrecy saying, no, we‘re not breaking the rule but you can‘t check, you have to trust us?

WOLFFE:  Well, let‘s be clear here.  The fact that they had to suspend interrogation and try to define what torture was strongly suggests that they were actually engaged in torture before and makes a mockery of the president‘s previous statements that they didn‘t do such a thing.

And the problem is we don‘t know—I don‘t think there‘s a legal problem here but in terms of perception it‘s a monumental, generational problem.  And this president can‘t deal with it.  To be honest, I don‘t think the next president can either.  You‘re really talking about searing images that the world won‘t forget anytime soon whether it‘s Abu Ghraib or waterboarding, these again have not been the traditional values or image of America.

OLBERMANN:  Last news development.  The Edelman letter to Senator Clinton, she obviously replied to his boss, Secretary of Defense Gates.  He says he‘s looking into it, he‘s going to get back to her.  Can he do anything more than look into it?  Could he actually do anything more about this Cheney operative within the Pentagon?

WOLFFE:  He could but he is, above all, a pragmatic guy.  The question is, is this a fight that he really wants to take on or does he want to change the direction in Iraq and broader foreign policy of the administration?  I suspect it‘s the latter rather than a personnel fight.

Our own Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.  As always, Richard, great thanks.

WOLFFE:  Anytime, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And what of those seeking to succeed Mr. Bush?  Oh, I am wondering if we‘ll see this photo again at any point down the line.  And speaking of unfortunate linkage, comparing Tom Cruise to the Nazi media manipulator Goebbels.  Is it OK if the comparing was done by an official of the German church?  You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

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OLBERMANN:  It has happened again, somebody has publicly linked Osama bin Laden with Senator Barack Obama in a sign and that somebody posed for photos with the presidential candidate and the presidential candidate held the sign and now the presidential candidate is telling those that recoil that we don‘t have a sense of humor.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, Mitt Romney‘s little photo problem, and that is Mitt Romney and not the 9/11 planner Ramzi bin al Shib.

First tmz.com obtained photos of former Governor Romney with a supporter from Thursday of last week holding a sign saying “No to Obama, Osama and Chelsea‘s Moma.”  With mama misspelled MOMA as you can see.  Last night he was asked to explain this sloganeering.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (Inaudible)

ROMNEY:  Nice try (ph).  The answer is (inaudible), I get a lot of pictures taken, I get a lot of pictures taken with you and I don‘t spend a lot of time looking at the signs and t-shirts so .

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You were holding up the sign and smiling.

ROMNEY:  That‘s the person‘s sign and I don‘t stand for all the things I‘m standing next to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (Inaudible)

ROMNEY:  Lighten up.  Lighten up.  I never saw her hold the sign. 

Lighten up.  A lot of jokes out there.  And I didn‘t see the sign .

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Lighten up, a lot of jokes out there, Mitt Ramzi bin al Shib, for instance.  Let‘s bring in MSNBC political analyst Jonathan Alter, also senior editor at “Newsweek” magazine.  Jon, great thanks for your time tonight.

JONATHAN ALTER, “NEWSWEEK”:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s assume Romney‘s position on this.  The sign is not of itself important.  Sure, you know, joke about the similarities of names and, you know, so he took Obama‘s age-appropriate sex ed statement and twist it had into something about teaching sex to kindergartners, eh, but is there not something representative about that photo, a sort of cavalier quality to the campaign, the Romney campaign thus far, some sort of no interest really in restraint or seeing how a lack of restraint might affect people.

ALTER:  Yeah, I think that‘s right.  Let‘s stipulate that we all can lighten up and we shouldn‘t take any of this all too seriously.  I would hope that if one of Romney‘s opponents was caught in a photograph holding a sign, “How many wives did Mitt‘s grandfather have?” you know that he would laugh about it, even though he didn‘t have any responsibility for the polygamy in his family any more than Obama has for having a name that sounds like bin Laden.

So let‘s stipulate about that, that we can lighten up.  The problem with the Romney campaign is that he is so intent on winning that he will literally say anything.  So, for instance, in the last week, he had been bashing Mexican immigrants.  And he goes before a Hispanic group and he ladles out the praise about how great Hispanics are and what a contribution they make, as if he hasn‘t made any of the previous statements.

He accuses Obama of wanting to peddle kiddy porn in kindergarten, even though his position about teaching kindergartners about inappropriate touching was precisely the same as Obama‘s position.  When informed of this, he persisted in trying to label Obama as some kind of a pervert so this is a guy who right now seems to be willing to say pretty much anything to be president.

OLBERMANN:  Is this going to be the separating factor among Republicans, whether it‘s Romney and these sort of generalized sloganeering efforts and is the cleave going to be here that some people are really careful in trying to address an honest debate within the Republican Party and among their supporters or is it all going to be who can come up with the most clever slogan, whatever the subject matter?

ALTER:  That would be the latter, Keith.  I mean, I think that it‘s going to be pretty hard for any of these Republicans to resist going back to the old playbooks once they decide on their nominee.  You know, in the early going, some of them, like Rudy Giuliani will try to make it seem as if there‘s a kinder, gentler, Giuliani in order to erase some of that Nixonian image that he had in certain quarters like New York City, people who having—have experienced him.  But I do think that you‘re going to see, when the time comes, the Republicans pretty much grasping for anything they can to get that mud out on the Democrats.  Usually it goes both ways, but this time the Democrats have built in advantages, not only $100 million so far more money than the Republicans but less of a need, because of the Bush record, to kind of go to extremes to try to hurt their opponents.

The Republicans I think will have to go very much into the mud in order to get back into this thing.

OLBERMANN:  One other fascinating thing, Jon, about the Romney response, of course, we associate that phrase, lighten up, there‘s a lot of jokes out there, with the reference more to Senator Obama than to Osama bin Laden.  But he‘s talking about lightening up in a subject matter that touches them both.  Is he following the president‘s course for a while of trying to minimize the meaning of bin Laden in the world today while another portion represented by Mr. Giuliani is going exactly the opposite directs direction?  Is there going to be a bin Laden gap within the Republican Party?

ALTER:  I don‘t think there will be because I think all of these Republican candidates over time are going to have to put distance between themselves and President Bush, even though the president remains somewhat popular within the Republican Party, there just are no votes, ultimately, in sticking with Bush.

So to greater or lesser degrees, they all will start to say, hey, it‘s time we caught the guy, let‘s step up the war on the Afghan-Pakistan border in order to bring him to justice, and all the other kind of natural criticisms that one might have of the Bush administration policy.

OLBERMANN:  Last point about Romney, this aide who resigned Friday under investigation for allegedly making and using fake law enforcement badges and trying to intimidate voters and reporters in the wake of pulling over “The New York Times” reporter six weeks ago, is this suggestive of a certain kind of sloppiness or is this just a wild card inside their campaign?

ALTER:  He has been pretty closely associated - Mr. Garrity has been, that‘s the name of the guy impersonating a law enforcement official, pretty closely associated with Mitt Romney.  I thought it was hilarious that Garrity‘s lawyer said yesterday when asked about these fake badges his client had been using—he said they weren‘t fake badges, they were metal disks with the seal of the State of Massachusetts in them.  Which was a new one for me.

OLBERMANN:  They‘re commemorative souvenir, real disks.  Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek” and of course MSNBC.  Great thanks, Jon.

ALTER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  One additional political note, we owe an apology for something that happened on this newscast on a night I was off last week and we offer it fully and unreservedly.  It is to Mrs. Wendy Vitter, wife of the senator from Louisiana who has been caught up in the DC madam scandal.  Last Tuesday this program aired a segment about her attire and her demeanor at their joint news conference.

Not only was a series of unfortunate and inappropriate terms used, there was no justification for such a segment about what a woman, a victim of her husband‘s inappropriate behavior was wearing in public.  The story should not have aired, it should not have been couched in the terms used, it should not have happened, and it won‘t happen again.

So to Mrs. Vitter and to you, the viewer, I once again apologize.

Come on down!  You‘re the next host of “The Price is Right!”  There has been a decision.  And this the winner‘s pet seagull, Beaky.  Not really.  We‘ll explain what he‘s doing and why he might get arrested for it next on COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  Fifty-six years to the day since Marshall Felipe Petain died in prison aged 95.  A French World War I hero, he became its worst nightmare, he headed the puppet government that collaborated with the Germans after the invasion of France in 1940, doing the bidding of the Nazis but also in many cases creating horrors of his own in conjunction with former conservative politician and media mogul Pierre Laval .  If any that quietly rings a current bell it may be because it reminds us in any nation there‘s always more people than you‘d think ready to trade your freedom for their power.  Let‘s play “Oddball.”

We begin in Aberdeen, Scotland where the hardships of living in the cold north taking its toll on the local wildlife.  They are turning to crime to survive as evidenced by this surveillance video.  At a local convenience store, a seagull centers in and shoplifts a bag of chips.  Hotly pursued by store security, the bird escapes into the main square to share the booty with his fellow flyers.  Apparently he does this every day, the avian equivalent of Robin Hood.

It‘s not just feathered felons playing law abiding citizens.  We‘re not sure where or when this video was shot but clearly it shows a masked bandit trying a bit of breaking and entering.  Once he realizes he is being watched, he starts to retreat and then decides to take the door mat with him, thus being able to one-up his neighbors with a plush new carpet in the den. 

In Tokyo, the very latest in robot engineering.  So far we have seen robots who can dance, who can run, who can even carry the sick and elderly.  So what is this one capable of?  It can do the hula.  So what, it‘s replacing Sanjaya? 

Finally, in Taiwan, we‘re it‘s still unclear if lawmakers actually make any laws there or just meet up to brawl.  After a 14-hour debate on election timing, this happened, punches thrown, people pushing and finally even some crowd surfing.  Call it a Billy bus stop. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Tonight, there‘s yet another satellite in orbit around the Earth.  Unfortunately, this is a 1,400 pound capacity ammonia tank which we have pushed off the space station.  Great.

Apparently the Germans are again hoping to do something similar to Tom Cruise.  Details ahead, but first here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three news makers of this day. 

Number there, a 90-year-old man from West Harrison, Indiana, who for the moment we will refer to only as Leonard.  Leonard has pleaded guilty to having exposed himself in a public park in Cincinnati.  This might be Leonard‘s problem, his last name is Dickman. 

Number two, President Bush; an anti-war protester sued the Pennsylvania township of Upper Darby for civil rights violations after he was arrested in 2003 for displaying a protest sign at a Bush campaign event.  The lawyers for the township tried to get the judge rule that the president‘s name should not be mentioned during the trial, that Mr. Bush is so unpopular that merely uttering his name out loud would be prejudicial to the defense, that he should be referred to only as a presidential candidate. 

George W. Bush, he who must not be named.  The judge said, no, not in this country. 

And number one, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, who probably regrets her interview visit to the editors and reporters in the “Washington Post.”  Somebody asked her about the famous story Karl Rove tells of having in the 1980‘s asked Secretary Spellings out on a date.  The question to her was why did you turn him down? 

Unfortunately, Secretary Spellings did not do what she would have been fully within her rights to do and said that was none of nobody‘s damn business.  She instead replied with a rhetorical question, quote, have you ever met Karl Rove? 

But wait, there‘s more, quote, he was so inept and so unartful, I mean, I couldn‘t even understand.  So madam secretary, when we wind up at Gitmo together—never mind. 

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OLBERMANN:  In the 1850‘s, pioneers littered the prairies with tons of useless junk to lighten their wagons.  In the 1950‘s, you could toss garbage out of window of your Studebaker on to almost any mile of the brand new interstate highway system.  So you expect 21st century space travel should be any different? 

Third story in the COUNTDOWN, astronauts aboard the International Space Station doing some light, as in weightless, house cleaning today, the tossing of obsolete stuff into orbit, the ultimate dumpster at the end of the universe.  The first 200 pounds of old camera equipment pitched by astronaut Clay Anderson standing at the end of a robotic arm to get it a safe distance from the Space Station‘s delicate solar panels, then the orbital version of hurling the Frigidaire, Anderson shoving a ¾ ton Ammonia tank into orbit, telling ground controllers to let Houston Astros pitchers Brad Lidge and Roy Oswalt know that he just palmed a 17,500 miles an hour fast ball, the speed at which he and the Space Station are traveling in orbit. 

Of course, Albert Pujols came up into space and put Anderson‘s palm ball into the left field seats.

The junk eventually falls into the atmosphere, incinerating as it does.  But nearly a half century of space flight has left an orbital junk yard with tons of dangerous debris.  NASA says this is only going to get worse.  Fortunately, we, if not NASA at the moment, have Derrick Pitts of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia to help figure this out for us.  Derrick, good evening.

DERRICK PITTS, THE FRANKLIN INSTITUTE:  Good evening, Keith.  How are you?

OLBERMANN:  Remember the story when—or at least reading of it when Sputnik went up in 1957 and the late science writer Earl Youbell (ph) wrote our planet has a new moon tonight.  Sputnik was 184 pounds.  The ammonia tank is 1,400 pounds.  So if Sputnik was a new moon, what is this thing? 

PITTS:  This is almost a new planet, it‘s so large.  The good thing about this is that even given the size of this object, Keith, the amount of space that‘s up there is so vast it really won‘t make that much difference because we can track it by radar.  And because we can track it by radar, we can avoid it with other spacecraft like space shuttle and space station. 

So it‘s big, but there have been other things this size and larger that have eventually fall into the Earth‘s atmosphere and burned up. 

OLBERMANN:  Of course, we said that about the oceans too originally and they kind of filled up as well with junk and various lakes and rivers that caught fire.  But NASA obviously worries about junk in space.  But there‘s only the 14 more scheduled shuttle flights.  There‘s no room to bring anything back.  Is it a problem?  Does it all fall out of orbit eventually? 

PITTS:  It will eventually fall out of orbit.  But between now and the time it does, it is going to become a problem, because as we continue to launch other spacecraft—you have to really remember that it‘s not just space shuttle and space station that are the launched vehicle.  The Russians launch something two or three times a month and there are a number of other countries launching satellites. 

So there‘s plenty of additional space junk and the amount is increasing.  So if it continues to increase, it will really eventually become a problem.  Right now it‘s not so bad.  And over the next decades, some will fall out of orbit, others at higher orbits will stay there for a bit longer. 

OLBERMANN:  I heard something interesting tonight, and it‘s maybe analogous to my question here, that if you get more oil, that means the price goes up.  If you get less oil, that means the price goes up.  NASA is saying that even if we stop putting things into orbit, the amount of space junk would continue to grow?  It seems to violate some sort of fundamental physical law but I guess you could correct me on that. 

PITTS:  It‘s pretty simple.  Here‘s what happens: we put the stuff up there and you have to remember most it have is made of very, very thin materials, aluminum mostly.  And because of that, what can happen is the pieces can break up on orbit for various reasons.  Either they‘re impacted by other objects, other space debris, or the other thing is that heating and cooling as the objects orbit the Earth causes them to begin to fail and break apart into smaller pieces. 

And let‘s not forget the left over rocket boosters that still have fuel in them that occasionally explode and blow those pieces of material all across that portion of the orbit.  So there will still continue to be more even if we stop sending things. 

OLBERMANN:  But nothing comes back to earth whole or the last one of those was part of Sky Lab or some Russian station, wasn‘t it, about 25 years ago? 

PITTS:  Yes, there have been instance where objects that were intentionally deorbited, because it was expected that most things would burn up, a few pieces did actually reach the surface of the Earth.  But for all intents and purposes, almost anything that comes back, Keith, does get burned up when it comes back into the Earth‘s orbit. 

And two things happen.  Either it all burns up or the heaviest or most resistant materials might make it to the surface of the Earth.  But the plan for most of that is to dump everything in the ocean, again, the question about dumping things in the ocean comes up.  But we hope that most everything burns up. 

OLBERMANN:  Derek Pitts, chief astronomer at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia.  Great thanks for more of your time tonight, sir. 

PITTS:  Sure, thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The key to the fan‘s belief in the National Basketball Association is their utter conviction that the referees are honest.  Tonight, do you want to bet on that?  And if you‘re still reading it, we will not spoil the ending.  But wait until you hear how many people bought it.  That is next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  Not a good time in pro basketball or pro football.  Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, he‘s already by indicted on dog fighting charges.  There might be yet worse on the way.  His team is going to decide what to do about him tomorrow.  Now the training camp of Michael Vick‘s Atlanta Falcons was today the scene of a second protest by PETA.  And tonight the commissioner of the league has told Vick to stay away from that camp, to go home and stay there until the NFL decides what to do about Vick.

And the hoops dream, or more correctly nightmare, is a referee betting on the games he refereed, possibly calling extra technical fouls on players just to run the score up and increase his chances of winning his own wages, predicated on the total number of points scored exceeding a certain number.  With the NBA‘s commissioner tonight calling a news conference about that story for tomorrow morning, as our correspondent Dawn Fratangelo reports, that might be the tip of the kind of scandal not seen in basketball in half a century. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAWN FRATANGELO, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Tim Donaghy, an NBA referee for 13 years, worked on more than 700 regular season games and at least 20 playoff games.  Word that he‘s being investigated for allegedly betting on games, some in which he officiated, is sending shock waves through the world of basketball.  Among it players. 

JASON KIDD, NEW JERSEY NETS:  That would be something that would be happening over the game until it does get solved.  So it‘s an unfortunate situation. 

FRATANGELO:  And fans. 

JESSE COOPER, BASKETBALL FAN:  I might not want to go to games and pay all that money if they‘re going to be fixing games like that. 

FRATANGELO:  According to reports, Donaghy had a gambling problem that led him to become involved with the mob and may have led to calls to influence the outcome of games. 

CHRIS MANNIX, “SPORT ILLUSTRATED MAGAZINE”:  This is one bad guy who made a big mistake and he is going to pay for it.  The NBA is going to pay for it for a very long time. 

FRATANGELO (on camera):  The NBA is a high stakes arena for gambling.  An estimate 250 million is wagered every year.  But referees are supposed to keep the game fair and honest. 

(voice-over):  Among the games Donaghy refereed, the one involving the infamous 2004 brawl between the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers.  While that game is not under investigation, there‘s concern now every call may be questioned. 

LEN ELMORE, RETIRED PLAYER:  Here we have something with the officials that really cuts to the integrity of the game and that‘s something that so much harder to repair. 

FRATANGELO:  In a statement, NBA commissioner David Stern told fans no amount of effort, time or personnel is being spared to assist in this investigation to bring to justice an individual who has betrayed the most sacred trust in professional sports. 

Tim Donaghy has resigned as this scandal hits the NBA when viewership and enthusiasm are down and now it‘s integrity is being challenged. 

Dawn Fratangelo, NBC News, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

FRATANGELO:  Turning to our nightly round up of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs.  And the peak of Potter-mania, 72 million copies of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” sold out worldwide in 24 hours.  Thousands of kids lining up at midnight Friday, prevailing local time, to be the very first to read the very last installment, probably, of J.K. Rowling‘s‘ wizard saga. 

Many not even waiting until they got home to start reading.  Thousands of adults, likewise, gathered across the country, some at the Scholastic bookstore in New York City, patiently lining up to get the book.  Not—some of them even waiting they got home to start the reading. 

And yes, that was Salman Rushdie, to his great relief, virtually unnoticed in line ahead of me.  Finished in just two days. 

But Britney Spears; she has never gone unnoticed and she is reportedly with child.  Miss Spears is pregnant according to “NW Magazine,” a really obscure player among the dozen or so celebrity mags scrambling for readers.  But an insider tells them that, quote, she has been secretly filling her pals in on the good news since last week.  Britney is in shock herself, the insider continues.  This definitely wasn‘t planned, but she‘s thrilled just the same. 

This will be Ms. Spears‘ third child.  Her second, Jaden, is just ten months old.  Miss Spears reportedly doesn‘t know who the father is.  Baby?  Questions of paternity?  Please do not tell Prince Von Anhalt. 

And when Bob Barker left “The Price is Right” after 35 years, the search for his replacement intensified almost beyond reason.  But the new host has finally been chosen and it is comic Drew Carey.  Mr. Carey confirming the news during a taping of the “Late Show With David Letterman.”  He had previously joked about rumors that he might be the pick coming so soon after reports that Rosie O‘Donnell had been seriously considered. 

Mr. Carey‘s performance as host of a prime time game show for CBS apparently sealing the deal. 

More trouble in the cards for Tom Cruise in Germany.  What exactly do the Germans see in Scientology?  That is ahead.  First time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.

The bronze to Homeland Security Advisor Fran Townsend.  After commanding General Ray Odierno spoke from the ground in Iraq about how al Qaeda in Iraq doesn‘t have the institutional capability to export violence from the ground in Iraq, Ms. Townsend, of the we listen to the generals on the ground administration, said, I respect that he‘s on the ground.  He‘s in the best position to make that judgment, but we have seen al Qaeda in Iraq export violence before, so we‘ve got to presume they‘ve got the capability and the potential to act on it. 

In other words, the Bush administration listens to the generals on the ground, except when the generals on the ground disagree with what the administration wants them to say. 

Runner up, Bill-O., explaining that gay marriage and immigration are now linked.  “If you‘re legally married, then you can have a person here with you.  Whether that person becomes a citizen or not has got to be a decision made by the federal government.  Well, what about the Triads.  OK, you know, I know people in love with three women.  And so you‘re going to bring that in.  They want a commitment.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O‘REILLY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  Is it two women together?  She could be dressed as some kind of dominatrix thing or something like that.  It‘s not a negligee situation or anything like that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FRATANGELO:  Boy, have I had enough of hearing about your personal life, buddy. 

But the winner, Sean Hannity of Fox noise, continuing his endless ostrich act about global warming, declaring, quote, carbon offsets are a sham.  Carbon offsets are a sham.  Oh, here it is.  Some emissions will be unavoidable.  As a last resort we will offset these emissions.  A carbon offset is a financial tool to support projects that prevent carbon from being released into the atmosphere.  Done right, it will widen the implementation of carbon saving technologies and give an incentive to create new solutions; Rupert Murdoch, May 9th, 2007. 

Your boss, Sean, announcing carbon offsets purchased by News Corp.  But of course, Sean, carbon offsets are a sham.  So Sean, when you and Education Secretary Spellings and I are all at Gitmo—Sean Hannity of fixed news, today‘s Worst Person in the World!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  That Tom cruise, the actor, is well known as Tom Cruise the Scientologist seems to be how he would have it.  But the role of Scientology‘s unofficial poster boy apparently has its drawbacks.  There are the jokes, but also serious curiosity about what the heck Scientology is.  Our number one story in the COUNTDOWN, a blunt answer from the German Protestant church.  Scientology is a, quote, totalitarian organization. 

Of course, Germany‘s antipathy to Scientology is not new, nor news.  The government deems it a cult.  But now that Mr. Cruise is in Germany to film a movie about the Nazi corporal who tried to assassinate Adolf Hitler, he‘s being compared to a different Nazi.  A spokesman for the German Protestant Church, Thomas Gandow, says that Mr. Cruise is the, quote, Goebbles of Scientology, the reference to Joseph Goebbles, the minister of propaganda under Adolf Hitler.

“This film will have the same propaganda advantages for Scientology as the 1936 Olympics had for the Nazis,” he says.  Joining us now, a research professor from Carnegie Mellon university and Scientology expert, DR. David Touretzky.  Thank you for your time tonight, sir. 

DR. DAVID TOURETZKY, CARNEGIE MELLON UNIVERSITY:  Pleasure to be with you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Nazi references even in Germany would seem to be a dicey proposition.  As somebody who once apologized for one myself, there might be reason to make the analogy, but it‘s like handling plutonium.  Is this one justified? 

TOURETZKY:  I don‘t think Tom Cruise is smart enough to be the Scientology Goebbles.  He could play Goebbles, but he could never be Goebbles.  What he‘s doing with this movie is a really transparent and juvenile attempt to rebrand himself.  It‘s comparable to if Kim Jong il were to decide to make a movie about the life of George Washington or Nathan Hale, with Kim Jong il playing the title roll in an attempt to get in the good graces of the American people, and I don‘t think Americans would buy it.  Germans are not buying Tom Cruises movie either.

OLBERMANN:  There seems to be a great deal of murkiness about Scientology, certainly in this country.  Maybe Mr. Cruise has not helped that much either.  There doesn‘t seem to be quite that much murkiness about it in Germany.  Why do they call it a cult or a totalitarian organization?  And is that a fair description? 

TOURETZKY:  It is a fair description.  People call it a cult in the U.S. too.  I don‘t think it‘s murky anymore.  The last couple of years there‘s been a lot of publicity, a lot of exposes.  One difference is that the Germans, I think, are better able to recognize a totalitarian organization because of their history.  America is more tolerant to deviant groups.  We have had several thousand cults in this country, most of which are very small.  Scientology and the Moonies are a couple of the larger ones that people are more familiar with. 

OLBERMANN:  And the German government‘s position, there were blunt references to Scientology before; than we were told about this Tom Cruise movie.  They didn‘t mean them.  It was a question of the sanctity of the historical places they wanted to shoot the film.  Now the nation‘s defense minister says that Cruise can‘t film at the actual site of the execution of the plotters against Hitler because Cruise and the crew might damage the dignity of the place.  Do we know if the German government is complaining about the movie or about Scientology or about Cruise or about all three?

TOURETZKY:  Well, different German spokesmen have said different things.  The original negative comments came from someone form the German military.  I guess people higher up in the government took a different approach.  Certainly I think the Germans are right to be offended at Tom Cruise wanting to play Von Stauffenberg.  Even if they have to cave in and allow him to do so on principals of free speech or artistic freedom.  I think their taking offense at this is entirely appropriate. 

OLBERMANN:  One would think that, at first blush, Germans would welcome a big budget Hollywood film about the story of one of the Germans who tried to kill Hitler, even if it was in 1944, that it was not a 100 support for that monster.  But if that was Tom Hanks instead of Tom Cruise, would there still be this kind of controversy about this film? 

TOURETZKY:  I think if it was Tom Hanks they would be much more receptive.  They would still perhaps be a little concerned about any Hollywood production tackling a national hero, but certainly Tom Hanks is a well-liked and respected character, and Tom Cruise is neither. 

OLBERMANN:  You are not the first; you‘re probably not the last to describe Scientology as a cult.  If that‘s the case, what will it take for that and the possible dangers of that to be taken seriously in this country? 

TOURETZKY:  I think they are taken seriously.  You have to remember that in the 1970‘s Scientology was found to have conducted the largest domestic espionage operation against this U.S. government in this country‘s history.  They were taken seriously.  There were FBI raid of Scientology offices in Washington and Los Angeles.  Eleven Scientologists went to federal prison, including Mary Sue Hubbard, the wife of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.

So I think the government does take them seriously and I would hope that the Department of Homeland Security continues to keep an eye on Scientology activities. 

OLBERMANN:  Dr. David Touretzky, Scientology expert from Carnegie Mellon, great thanks for your time tonight.  That is COUNTDOWN for this the 1,545th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  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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