updated 7/26/2007 12:11:57 PM ET 2007-07-26T16:11:57

Guests: Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Dana Milbank, Chris Cillizza, Michael Musto

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?  The attorney general testifies to the Senate and denies he ever pressured a hospitalized, semi-lucid John Ashcroft to approve illegal wiretapping.  And as for his famous catch-phrase, “I can‘t recall,” that is so last spring.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL:  It does relate to ongoing controversy of which I am recused.

I am recused from that.

From which I am recused.

I am recused.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  “I am recused.”  The new “I can‘t recall.”

Many senators will not buy either.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, (D) JUDICIARY COMMITTEEE CHAIRMAN:  This administration has wounded our trust.  I am not willing to accept a simple statement of “trust us.”  I do not trust you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of which.  Conflating two truths to make one falsehood yet again.  The president on why people saying al Qaeda in Iraq is not the same as al Qaeda classic are wrong, when they aren‘t.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT:  Well, it is like watching a man walk into a bank with a mask and a gun and the saying, he is probably just there to cash a check.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Or like saying Bush 43 and Bush 41 were equally good presidents?

Upheaval on the campaign trail.  A Senator Obama debate answer.  Senator Clinton calls it irresponsible and naive.  Newt Gingrich calls the Republican candidates pygmies and Fred Thompson‘s acting campaign manager calls it quits.

Calling it quits for herself and Harry Potter.  J.K. Rowling in the first interview after the last book—probably.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

J.K. ROWLING, AUTHOR:  It is a big sense of achievement.  I mean, I am sad but I‘ve been sadder.  Immediately after finishing writing, I felt devastated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Why should Lindsay Lohan be devastated by this reasonably good photo?  Because it is a mug shot.  She has been arrested again.  All that and more on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.  “Your credibility,” the senator says to the attorney general, “has been breached to the point of being actionable.”  It would be one thing if that were Arlen Specter saying that to Janet Reno or even Patrick Leahy saying that to Alberto Gonzales but in our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, our government of the people, by the president, for the president is so far gone, that that was Republican Arlen Specter today saying that to Republican attorney general Alberto Gonzales.

The good news is, the attorney general wrote a new material.  In addition to his right hand, Mr. Gonzales raising more than a few eyebrows this morning in room 216 of the Hart Senate Office Building as well as raising the possibility of a perjury investigation against himself.  This while trying to clear up the contradictions from his previous two appearances.

At an earlier hearing, Mr. Gonzales telling the lawmakers that he did not know of any major disputes within the Justice Department about the domestic spying program.  But then in May, the former deputy attorney general, James Comey came forward with the remarkable story of a mass of dispute over which several department officials threatened to resign.

Mr. Comey describing an incident during which Mr. Gonzales in his role as White House counsel at that time tried to get a heavily sedated Attorney General Ashcroft to sign off on the warrantless for wiretapping from his hospital bed even though his powers had been temporarily assigned over to Mr. Comey.

At a June news conference acknowledged that James Comey had in fact been talking about the highly classified program which the president confirmed to the American people some time ago.  Despite that Mr. Gonzales trying to claim today that he had been visiting Mr. Ashcroft‘s hospital bedside only because of a dispute over another secret intelligence program and only because congressional leaders, the so-called Gang of Eight, wanted him to.

We remind you again, Senator Specter is a Republican.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, ® JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  What credibility is there for you when you say that is no disagreement in your party to going to the hospital to see Attorney General Ashcroft under sedation to try to get him to approve the program?

GONZALES:  The disagreement that occurred and the reason for the visit to the hospital center was about other intelligence activities.  It was not about the terrorist surveillance program that the president announced to the American people.  Now, I would like .

SPECTER:  Mr. Attorney General, do you expect us to believe that?

GONZALES:  May I have the opportunity to talk about another very important meeting in connection with the hospital visit that puts it into context?

There was an emergency meeting in the White House situation room that afternoon.  It involved senior members of the administration and bipartisan leadership of the Congress, both House and Senate as well as bipartisan leadership of the House and Senate intel committees—the Gang of Eight.

The purpose of that meeting was for the White House to advise the Congress that Mr. Kelly had advised us that he could not approve the continuation of vitally important intelligence activities despite the repeated approvals during the past two years of the same activities.

SPECTER:  OK, assuming you‘re leveling with me on this occasion .

GONZALES:  I .

SPECTER:  No, I want to move to the point about how can you get approval from Ashcroft for anything when he is under sedation and incapacitated?  For anything?

GONZALES:  May I continue the story, Mr. Senator?

SPECTER:  No, I want you to answer the question.

GONZALES:  Senator, obviously, there was concern about General Ashcroft‘s condition.  And we would not have sought nor would we intend to get any approval from General Ashcroft if in fact he was not fully competent to make that decision.  But General - there are no rules governing whether General Ashcroft can decide whether I‘m feeling well enough to make this decision is.

SPECTER:  But Attorney General Gonzales, he had already given up his authority as an attorney general.  Ashcroft was no longer attorney general.

GONZALES:  He could always reclaim it.  There are no rules about .

SPECTER:  While he is in the hospital under sedation.

GONZALES:  Again, we didn‘t know—We knew, of course, that he was ill.  That he had had surgery.

SPECTER:  We are not making progress here.  Let me go to another topic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GONZALES:  Mr. Gonzales was also doing himself or the administration few favors when it came to the question of whether those nine U.S.  attorneys had been forced to resign with cause.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D) JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  How many - this is important.  How many U.S. attorneys did you approve to be summarily fired?

GONZALES:  Senator, there may have been others.  I would be happy to get back to you with that kind of information about who has left.  But I do not know the answer to your question.  But I can certainly find out.

FEINSTEIN:  You do not know after all we have been through, the hearing after hearing after hearing?  I am asking you what the total number were.

GONZALES:  Certainly, Mr. Cummings was asked to leave.  Mr. Graves was asked to leave.  I am not aware, sitting here today, of any other U.S.  attorney that was asked to leave, except that there were instances where people were asked to leave, quite frankly, because there was legitimate cause.

FEINSTEIN:  The so you are saying that they were asked to leave because the cause was not legitimate?

GONZALES:  What I am saying wrongdoing, misconduct.  There may have been some - in fact, I‘m sure there were .

FEINSTEIN:  What kind of misconduct?

GONZALES:  I am not suggesting that any of this conduct happened, but for example, an inappropriate relationship, taking action where you have a direct conflict of interest to help out a buddy.  But something like that would constitute misconduct.

FEINSTEIN:  Were those specific things involved in any U.S. attorney that was terminated?

GONZALES:  No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Sitting two rows directly behind Mr. Gonzales at the hearing today, our own Dana Milbank, national political reporter of the “Washington Post.”  Dana, good evening.

DANA MILBANK, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  If the attorney general was telling the truth today, did he not confirm the existence of yet another domestic spying program?  And if he was not telling the truth, did he just open himself to a perjury investigation?  And either way, is this a problem for the administration?

MILBANK:  Well, I guess you could say that he is lying or he is spying.  But it would be a problem for the administration except that it is not at all clear that there is anything that Congress can do about this.  As we see in the various efforts to declare other various White House officials in contempt of Congress, all the administration can do is say we‘ll just direct their prosecutors not to prosecute the case.  But regardless of the outcome, this was a woeful performance by the attorney general today and it really just sort of made everybody cringe.

OLBERMANN:  So there is a House panel likely to vote on contempt charges tomorrow.  If the full House should vote and authorized contempt charges tomorrow, who would enforce it in the Justice Department?

MILBANK:  Well, that is the thing, as my newspaper has reported, the president is directing the U.S. attorneys not to pursue these cases.  This creates sort of - we‘re in uncharted areas constitutionally.  Senator Specter was talking about alternatives, of having the trial in the Senate, perhaps.  Then you would get into this rather bizarre episode where if he is convicted, which you do?  Send the Senate sergeant at arms out there to arrest the attorney general who presumably amasses the Secret Service or something?

OLBERMANN:  In that exchange, in less confrontational theories, in that exchange at the end it there with Senator Feinstein describing theoretical, hypothetical firing offenses, he used this phrase “a direct conflict of interest to help out a buddy.”  Was this revelatory?  Should we bring Freud in on this?  Was he talking about himself as the president‘s buddy?

MILBANK:  Right.  I mean, there is no accident that the president has called him his lawyer, (inaudible).  And the attorney general—this has sort of been his downfall, he has continued to act that way even when he is not the president‘s lawyer.

In a sense, we can sort of see why the president may have an interest in keeping Gonzales in there.  What Gonzales has managed to do is allow this whole scandal over the firing of the U.S. attorney‘s to metastasized into all the other issues, the political hiring and firing, questions of perjury and witness coaching, abuses of the PATRIOT Act, this surveillance program, the bizarre hospital visit to Ashcroft.

In away, it has been so diffuse, there is so much rotten that has been discovered in the Justice Department that in a way, it prevents Democrats or for that matter Republicans like Arlen Specter from burrowing in on any one of those.

OLBERMANN:  And to that point, Specter‘s idea about a special prosecutor.  Does this have legs or is he just trotting that out to make himself look good?

MILBANK:  Well, that is the problem with the Specter.  He often roars but hardly actually backs it up.  Senator Lott, the number two Republican in the Senate was very cool to that idea.

However, the attorney general said that that will be left up to the solicitor general, Paul Clement, who is an Ashcroft guy and known as being a straight shooter.  So it is not out of the realm of possibility that a special prosecutor could be named.

OLBERMANN:  Short of that and just sort of focusing back on this one hearing and you have been to many of them over the years.  Have you ever seen this level of non criminal contempt, of skepticism, if not outright anger and contempt from the senators of both parties towards a member of the president‘s Cabinet?

MILBANK:  Yes.  I don‘t know if he‘s in contempt of Congress but Congress is in contempt of him very clearly.

And Dianne Feinstein said it.  In all the time she has been in the Senate, she has never seen anything quite like that.  And even when Chairman Leahy was swearing him in, he emphasized “and nothing but the truth” as if he were talking to a child.  And they really were speaking down from the dais today as if dealing with a child who didn‘t quite get it.

OLBERMANN:  He testified that way.  I guess they have to address him that way.  Dana Milbank of MSNBC and the “Washington Post”, as always, Dana, great thanks.

MILBANK:  Recuse me.

OLBERMANN:  So when did you start thinking that this September soft deadline for Iraq was a lot more soft than it was a deadline?  You were right.  The administration now talking about killing Americans in Iraq until 2009.

And the Democrats‘ draw no blood rule appears to be off the table. 

Obama and Clinton today call each other naive after the debate tonight. 

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  F. Scott Fitzgerald defined first-rate intelligence as having the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind the same time and still retain the ability to function.  If that is true, President Bush is a freaking genius.

Our fourth story tonight, on the same day Mr. Bush made his strongest push yet of the Iraq is al Qaeda lie, we learn that he has a new plan for the works in Iraq that focuses not on beating the supposed threat of al Qaeda, but on reconciling warring factions of the Sunni and Shia.

“New York Times” reports the plan involves keeping U.S. troops in Iraq through at least 2009 aiming to restore security in local areas including Baghdad by June 2000 then nationwide security by summer 2009.  So much for September 15 of 2007, anyway.

Although his plans belie his rhetoric, today Mr. Bush made clear he is trying to scare and demonize those who urge withdrawal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Those who justify withdrawing our troops from Iraq by denying the threat of al Qaeda in Iraq and its ties to Osama bin Laden ignore the clear consequences of such a retreat.  If we were to follow their advice, it would be dangerous for the world and disastrous for America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  In a minor quirk of history, this is not the first time that Mr. Bush has sought American support of military action in Iraq because of a threat to the U.S. from a supposedly enemy that has never attacked American soil.

What rendered today‘s speech truly surreal, however, the president‘s vehemence that al Qaeda in Iraq must be attacked because of its loyalty to a group that he refuses to attack, the classic al Qaeda which is in Pakistan.

Let‘s turn now to Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the author of “Imperial Life in the Emerald City,” assistant managing editor of the “Washington Post.”

Mr. Rajiv, thanks for your time again tonight.

RAJIV CHANDRASEKARAN, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Bush today went on at great, probably unprecedented lengths to equate al Qaeda in to the original model.  He did nuance, he acknowledged some criticisms of his past simplifications of this connection but if al Qaeda is al Qaeda in Iraq, if they‘re together, if they‘re separate, if they‘re the problem, why do we keep hearing we need political solutions?

CHANDRASEKARAN:  That‘s a really good question.  The efforts to try to get Sunnis and Shiites to try to come to sort of political agreement which now the U.S. military seems to think will take years and not months as the White House might want is in some ways woefully disconnected from the problem of going after al Qaeda linked extremists in Iraq.

And it is not even clear that these extremists in Iraq are the real thing.  Are the guys to run around in the mountains of Pakistan, or those who possess the skills and the willingness and the materiel to come and try to conduct attacks in the West.

Often the people who affiliate with al Qaeda in Iraq are not terrorists of that sort of sophistication, as we see from the attacks that occur in Iraq on a daily basis.  According to intelligence officials, who have studied this issue very closely, the al Qaeda groups in Iraq, or the groups that call themselves al Qaeda in Iraq are very different from the broader al Qaeda movement.

OLBERMANN:  And speaking of results of analysis, the Pentagon war games—the news that leaked last week that their analysis of what happens if the U.S. left Iraq is completely counter to Mr. Bush‘s claim that al Qaeda in Iraq would gain power, gain control.  Today this Web site, iraqslaughter.com, sort of assembly media accounts, puts the number of bodies being dumped in Baghdad back up to where it was pre-surge.

You served as the Baghdad bureau chief for “The Post.”  Is al Qaeda in Iraq the real problem in Iraq.

CHANDRASEKARAN:  That just shows that Shiite militias are still very active despite the troops into Baghdad.  Al Qaeda in Iraq is not the only significant security threat as the president might have all of us believe.  The threat from Shiite extremists is also very, very significant there.

And if the United States were to significantly drawdown forces or withdraw entirely, there are a lot of smart analysts out there who doing work, including studies for the Defense Department that have gamed out a scenario in which those al Qaeda linked terrorists would turn and all of the sudden get on planes and come to the United States, but would be consumed fighting Shiite extremists.  They would essentially turn on each other.  It is not to see that it wouldn‘t be very violent and bloody in Iraq but it might be a scenario in which both Sunni and Shiite extremist turn on each other.

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s turn to this plan that the “New York Times” revealed.  If General Petraeus envisions being there through 2009, what meaning does this loose date of September 15, 2007 have?

CHANDRASEKARAN:  Well, the September date may have a lot of meaning in Washington but it clearly does not seem to have as much meaning in Baghdad either among the Iraqi political leaders or with the U.S. military command there.  I think they see this as just a progress report, a time to come to Congress and say, hey, look, this is what we are doing.  Not a final determination time.  As we have seen from the report in the “Times” today but also other good reporting over these past couple of months, General Petraeus and his staff view this as a much longer-term effort to restore security in Iraq.

And they are operating on a timetable that is very different from the timetable that many of us here in Washington seem to be looking at.

OLBERMANN:  And lastly, what progress is the Baghdad government actually making with this parliamentary vacation of a month long duration coming up in a week‘s time?

CHANDRASEKARAN:  Yeah.  I wish I could report that there is some meaningful progress but I don‘t see much of it.  In some sense, Keith, I mean, what the U.S. government, the Bush administration is asking the Iraqi government to do is a very tall order.  It is like asking the U.S. Congress to come to terms on issues like abortion and the death penalty in a matter of weeks.  I think the problem here is that we‘re asking them to do something that they just cannot do in a matter of weeks.

OLBERMANN:  Rajiv Chandrasekaran, “The Washington Post” and author of “Imperial Life in the Emerald City.”  As always, sir, great thanks for your time tonight.

CHANDRASEKARAN:  Good to be on with you.

OLBERMANN:  Not the Emerald City but Hogsmeade.  J.K. Rowling not exactly changing her mind about ending the Harry Potter series.  On the other hand, an eighth book is in the works.

And there is a plane landing, there is a plane landing.  There is a plane landing.  Merge left.  Next on CONTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Seventy-five years ago today at Indianapolis William Ruckelshaus was born.  He was twice head of the Environmental Protection Agency.  He was the man who banned DDT.  Even now he is chairman of Washington State‘s Salmon Recovery Funding Board.

Also acting head of the FBI briefly but most famously, he was the deputy attorney general the day Nixon decided to fire special prosecutor Archibald Cox.  The attorney general, Elliot Richardson, decided to resign on principle rather than dismiss Cox.  It then fell to Ruckelshaus, a veteran of the entire Nixon administration to fire the Watergate Prosecutor.

And knowing it would cost him his job, Ruckelshaus refused to do so as well and Nixon fired him, too.  Happy birthday to a defender of the Constitution.

Let‘s play “Oddball.”

We begin in Wisconsin.  Near Fond du Lac.  No, that is not a bit of trick editing.  A small plane did, indeed narrowly missed a patrol car and land ahead of it on the highway.  The pilot and his son, flying from their home in Ohio to an aviation show in Oshkosh when their 1946 North American T6G developed engine trouble and managed to land safely and stay in their land.

Nobody hurt but the officer driving the patrol car did need a change of pants.

To Obsk Lake in the Novosibirsk region of Russia, where there is either a shortage of inner tubes, or an excess of perverts, blowup dolls are the preferred floatation device in the neighborhood.

In all, some 50 people braved the cold and choppy lake water with just the vinyl vixens for protection against the elements.  The aim, to swim a whole kilometer.  Most failed, but thanks to the rubber maids, everyone did make it back to shore for nap time.

Finally, to Sandy, Oregon where the beautiful Marmot Damn has stood for 91 years as a testament to 19th century ingenuity and engineering.  Well, never mind then.  So the YouTubers can ask questions that are just as bad as the UsTubers.

Tonight it‘s an answer and the answer to the answer and the answer to the answer to the answer drawing the attention.

Drunk with cocaine and following her assistant and her assistant‘s mother on the freeway.  If only Lindsay Lohan‘s movies were as captivating as her life.

Those stories ahead but first here are COUNTDOWN‘s tope three newsmakers of this day.

Larry Black accused of swiping a mope in Portmead in Wales.  There is some circumstantial evidence, like the appointment card for Mr. Black‘s upcoming meeting with his probation officer that police found at the scene where he dropped it.

Michael Byrne finds out this evening at a meeting of the city taxi commission whether to let him change the number of his taxi cab medallion.  He says the number is bad luck.  The assistant executive director of the commission agrees with him.

He was issued the number last August and had an accident almost immediately.  The previous owner of the number saw his cab burned to a crisp, the only thing left was the number on the medallion.  So Mr. Byrne and the commissioner want the medallion number retired.  It is medallion number 666.

At number one, an unidentified (inaudible), Eric Kyff and Lauren Allen charged with public drunkenness in Culpepper, Virginia.  See if you can follow this night of debauchery.  The man starts by urinating on the side of a 7/11 with children in the area.  Passersby ask him to stop.  He gets on his horse.  He charges the small crowd.

Nobody gets hurt, but he and his lady friend flee on their steeds.  He then rides directly into a mailbox, then a guy wire and then falls off his horse.  She then falls off her horse without hitting a guy wire.  Most importantly now, you‘re fallen off the horse.  You‘ve got to get right back up.  Try it sober. 

Police arrested them both, but not the horses they rode in on. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It is Jerry Seinfeld‘s joke.  He says he still remembers when there was no Youtube, only we tube.  Our third story in the COUNTDOWN, perhaps the stand out problem with the first Youtube based debate was that while the questions came from Youtubers, they were still selected by we tubers, and most of the candidates‘ answers seemed like they had already had several thousand views a piece.

With one particular exception; the answer about an inquiry about whether a new president should be willing to use diplomacy first instead of force under all circumstances, whether to meet directly with leaders of so called rogue states like Iran, Venezuela and North Korea.  That answer has been answered itself with a charge of naivete and irresponsibility.   

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS:  I would.  And the reason is this, the notion that some how not talking to countries is punishment to them, which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of this administration, is ridiculous.  Ronald Reagan and Democratic presidents like J.F.K. constantly spoke to the Soviet Union at a time when Ronald Reagan called them an evil empire. 

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK:  I will not promise to meet with the leaders of these countries during my first year.  I will promise a very vigorous diplomatic effort, because I think it is not that you promise a meeting at that high a level before you know what the intentions are.  I don‘t want to be used for propaganda purposes.  I don‘t want to make a situation even worse.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The Obama camp the first to fire back, today pointing out that Senator Clinton once accused President Bush of making a terrible mistake by refusing to talking to what she called bad people.   Senator Clinton firing back in an appearance in Davenport, Iowa, denying that she‘s reversed her position, telling a reporter, “I thought that his answer was irresponsible and frankly naive.”

Obama then contacted the same newspaper to say Hillary Clinton was fabricating a controversy by suggesting that talking to adversaries lets them score propaganda points; quote, “I didn‘t say these guys were going to come over for a cup of coffee some afternoon.”

Candidate Obama, according to the newspaper, adding that the Clinton policy would be a continuation of policies of President Bush.  Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stepping into this too, telling reporters that she thought Hillary Clinton had the better understanding of the diplomatic process, and laying the groundwork for diplomacy to succeed. 

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, a shake-up and more than a little confusion in a campaign that‘s not even officially a campaign yet.  Undeclared candidate Fred Thompson is not expected to officially change that until late this summer.  But today his acting campaign manager, former tobacco executive, told CNN that that he resigned because Thompson wanted to make changes. 

Later, a spokeswoman for Friends of Fred Thompson contradicted that saying the man has been made a senior adviser.  Whatever the reality, the campaign says former Energy Secretary, former Michigan Senator Spencer Abraham will manage the Thompson campaign, you know, if it happens and he has to stop getting all that free advertising by being on ABC radio. 

For analysis, let‘s turn to “Washington Post” national political reporter, author of the “Fix” at the newspaper‘s website.  Chris, good evening.

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

OLBERMANN:  Back to the debate.  We have these rival charges of naivete and irresponsibility.  Senator Obama used those terms back to refer to Senator Clinton‘s vote.  Did the Democrats‘ unofficial cease-fire towards each other end last night, and if so, why? 

CILLIZZA:  I don‘t think it did.  I think we may have seen a breaking of the truce for a short period of time, but I don‘t think it is a long-term ending and we are going to see an all out war between Obama and Clinton.  Why?  Because I think Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton believe it‘s in their best interest to stay above the fray. 

They both feel pretty comfortable where they are right now.  Hillary Clinton‘s campaign will tell you over and over again, she continues to lead by a wide margin in national polling.  Barack Obama‘s campaign will tell you we have the most money.  We‘re well positioned in Iowa.  We‘re well positioned in New Hampshire. 

I don‘t think they want to look petty.  They don‘t want to look small.  But it shows you how desperate for news, frankly, sometimes we are, that a thing like this, which happened in a 15 second span of a two-hour debate, became a huge controversy today. 

OLBERMANN:  You wrote though that after last night there is little doubt that Senator Clinton is no doubt the best debater.  Did Obama hurt himself on that critical issues that seems to be focusing around him about seasoning and experience and internationalism? 

CILLIZZA:  Right, I‘ve said before and I think the most important thing is none of these events matter in a specific.  They matter in the larger narrative.  The larger narrative—the negative narrative around Barack Obama is he is not experienced enough.  I think he jumped at that question.  He was happy to be the first one to answer. 

He got out there and whacked the Bush administration.  As you heard in the clip you played, it drew some applause.  Then came Hillary Clinton, sort of the closer, to say, look, I understand why you would feel that way, but we need to be smart about this.  We need to be principled.  We need to be pragmatic. 

So I think Obama got caught off guard.  I think he saw an opportunity.  He jumped for it.  He may have overstepped himself just a little.  Clinton used that.  Again, she is a very good debater.  Used that to paint this as experienced versus inexperience.  That is the best dynamic if she wants to win the primary. 

OLBERMANN:  Turning over to the Republicans; this Fred Thompson non-campaign, because he‘s still on the radio every day, it seems to be lumbering along, waiting to actually start.  But is switching over to former Secretary Abraham a sign that it‘s getting started or is this some sort of sign of trouble in the non-campaign campaign? 

CILLIZZA:  I think they‘ve added a couple of people.  Spence Abraham is one.  Another guy is Randy Enright (ph), who I actually think is going to be in charge of the political day to day.  This is a guy who is very close to Jeb Bush.  He did a lot of work in Florida. 

Campaign change is never a good thing, let‘s be honest.  But you would rather have it happen before you are a candidate than when you are a candidate.  You only need to look at John McCain if you need evidence of how bad it is when it happens during your candidacy.  Fred Thompson trying to get this out of the way.

You mentioned this before, the guy who has moved out as campaign manager, a guy named Tom Collomore, he spent the last 15 years working for Altria or Philip Morris.  I‘m not sure having a tobacco executive at the top of your campaign is the best recipe.  In the long run, this may be a good thing for Thompson. 

OLBERMANN:  And Newt Gingrich flaming his fellow Republicans lately.  He suggested the president should keep his mouth shut because he‘s not a good salesman.  This breakfast yesterday; he compared himself to Charles de Gaulle.  He ridiculed the debates.  He called the Republican candidates pygmies.  He said by the middle of October he might have to jump in. 

And then he had this remarkable quote, whether that leads to the presidency is the country‘s problem, not mine.  Once again, somebody revealing more than they probably intend to.  Give us the Newt likeliness assessment.  Is he possible, or is he still Napoleon on Elba or Napoleon on St. Helena? 

CILLIZZA:  Well, let me draw more historical reference, Teddy Roosevelt with the man in the arena.  It is very easy to stand outside and take shots at the guys who are up there on stage or out there in Iowa or New Hampshire campaigning.  It is harder to get in there and be a candidate yourself. 

I think Newt likes his positioning right now.  He likes being the ideas guy.  He likes being the big picture guy.  All these other people are worried about the day to day.  I‘m worried about the big picture and the direction of the country.  Might he run?  Sure, I think he might in September or October get into the race.  Is it too late for him to have a really serious chance of nomination?  I think it probably is.

OLBERMANN:  Don‘t tell him that.  Chris Cillizza, author of the Fix at WashingtonPost.com.  As always, Chris, great thanks.

CILLIZZA:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of authors, J.K. Rowling says there will be an eighth Harry Potter book, not that it will advance the plot or anything.  Her interview with Meredith Vieira. 

And only in L.A.; Lindsey Lohan gets arrested, takes a pretty good mug shot, all things considered.  Britney Spears goes to a real photo shoot, and it is, quote, unbelievably ugly.  That‘s next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If you are still reading, we think it spoils nothing to tell you that some who have finished “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” immediately thought J.K. Rowling had left enough holes in her finale for her to come back later with an eighth book, or even a ninth or a tenth.  News tonight, in our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, she‘s already sort of confirmed that.

She‘s going to write a kind of encyclopedia, a la Tolkien, including all the details about each character that she could not include in the plot driven books.  For those readers just heading into post-Potter depression, consider the author.  She got to the apparent finish line months ago, a subject she addresses in this spoiler free interview with Meredith Vieira. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEREDITH VIERA, NBC NEWS ANCHOR:  It is finally done. 

J.K. ROWLING, AUTHOR:  I know. 

VIERA:  How does that feel? 

ROWLING:  Incredible. 

VIERA:  Incredible good?  Incredible bad?  A little bit of both?

ROWLING:  At the moment, it feels great, to be honest with you.  It feels—This is a really nice place to be.  There‘s a big sense of achievement.  I mean, I am sad.  But I have been sadder.  Immediately after finishing writing, I felt devastated. 

VIERA:  Really? 

ROWLING:  Yes, for about a week.  I was hard to live with for about a week after I finished this book. 

VIERA:  Because you realized it was over or because you killed off some of the characters?  I‘m sure that was—

ROWLING:  I think the whole thing.  It was because this amazing cathartic moment, the end of 17 years work.  And that was hard to deal with for about a week.  And it is very much tied into the things I have done in my life for 17 years.  So it brought back a lot of memories of what had been going on in my life when I started writing. 

VIERA:  Because when you started you were not in the same place that you are now by any means. 

ROWLING:  No, but when I started I was not in a bad place.  Then, you know, life has it‘s ups and downs.  Harry has been with me through a lot.  I think it was that feeling more than any other, that I wouldn‘t that world to retreat into anymore.  That was painful. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  You can see the rest of Meredith Vieira‘s interview with J.K. Rowling on “The Today Show” Thursday and Friday.  Or if you‘re still staying up while reading Hallows, we‘re planning on replaying the interviews here on COUNTDOWN.  That is Thursday and Friday night, 8:00 Eastern, 5:00 Pacific. 

On to our nightly round up of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs.  And Britney Spears having, quote, nothing less than a meltdown at a photo shoot and interview with “OK! Magazine.”  That according to a source of TMZ.com.  Miss Spears took frequent bathroom breaks and returned with a new mood, says the source. 

She was paranoid, says the source, at one point thinking the ceiling would cave in.  Well that does happen to her a lot.  She ordered some chicken.  When she was finished, according to witnesses, she wiped her greasy hands on the Gucci dress she was wearing for the photo shoot.  She would not allow “OK!” to use its own hair and makeup people.  She brought her own, who the source described as, quote, skanky friends. 

Then there was her dog, which took it‘s own bathroom break right there on the floor.  The photos were useless.  Reportedly “OK!” has decided to reveal the disaster rather than try to air brush it away.  “OK! Magazine‘s” editor in chief, Sarah Ivens, calling it, quote, an emotional cry for help, which is a hell of a statement from a magazine with an exclamation point in the middle of its title. 

And only a cynic would suggest that the baseball commissioner would finally make up his mind about attending the game in which Barry Bonds hits his record tying and record breaking homers today, while basketball has a crooked referee to deal with and football has a dog fighting star quarterback to deal with.  Yes, there is. 

With Bonds two shy of tying Hank Aaron‘s all time mark, Commissioner Bud Selig says today he will start following Bonds around.  Quote, out of respect for the tradition of this game, the magnitude of the record and the fact that all citizens in this country are innocent until proven guilty I will attend Barry Bonds next games. 

Nice that he slipped in Bonds‘ legal jeopardy there.  Also, by the way, this is Bonds‘ 43rd birthday.  That would be 206 in human years. 

Lost in the drunk driving and the cocaine and the mug shot and the rehab, what do you mean she was chasing the mother of her just resigned personal assistant down the highways and byways of Santa Monica?  That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.

The bronze to this just in to Fox noise.  They did it again.  Remember when they identified Republican Congressman Mark Foley as a Democrat last fall at the height of his sex scandal?  Today, Republican Senator Arlen Specter fricassees Attorney General Gonzales and they identified Specter as a Democrat on Brit Hume‘s show, you know, the show Rupert Murdoch identifies as his neutral news cast of record. 

The silver to Sean Hannity.  You name a Democrat, he has lied about him or her.  Later, he teased, as video rolled of a woman applying a condom to a cucumber, what is it that Barack Obama was thinking when he said he supported sex ed for Kindergartners?  He said we needed Kindergartners what kind of touching is OK and what kind is not.  But the distinction is not clear to Fixed Noise.  It should have been obvious when the network let Bill-O go on the air and repeatedly defend the monster who abused the Missouri‘s teenager, Sean Hornbeck.  

The winner, Vice-President Dick Cheney.  In that new Stephen Hayes bio we get the Cheney version of the June 2004 incident in which he told Vermont Senator Leahy to go something yourself.  Leahy came over and put his arm around me.  He didn‘t kiss me, but it was close to it.  So I flashed and I told him.  I dropped the F bomb on him.  It was heart fall. 

Except it did not happen that way, chief.  Leahy went over to shake Cheney‘s hand.  Cheney started to offer his, then withdrew it.  If that is close to kissing, Mr. Cheney seems more fit for the Jerry Orbach role in “Dirty Dancing” than to be --  Wait a minute, did he say he flashed Leahy? 

Vice-President Dick Cheney, today‘s Worst Person in the World.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The ridiculous, Lindsay Lohan‘s assistant quits.  Miss Lohan, enraged, chases the assistant and the assistant‘s mother.  The deadly serious, Miss Lohan gives chase in an SUV while driving it allegedly intoxicated.  And the ridiculous, again, the place she chases them to is about half a block from police headquarters in Santa Monica, California.

Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, this only 11 days after Miss Lohan left rehab, only eight weeks after her last alleged drunk driving incident over the Memorial Day weekend.  Paris move over.  That is Lindsay Lohan in your rear view mirror.  I might mean that literally.

Miss Lohan arrested and charged early this morning in Santa Monica on suspicion of driving under the influence, as well as driving on a suspended license, and a felony charge of possession of cocaine.  Miss Lohan had been following her personal assistant‘s mother, who had called 911. 

According to TMZ.com, the woman had picked up her daughter, Lohan‘s second assistant, right after she, the daughter, had quit the job.  Los Angeles police officer Alex Padilla saying, quote, the mother was afraid.  Once out of their vehicles at about 1:30 in the morning in the parking lot next to the police headquarters, the two women argued as police arrived. 

Miss Lohan now telling the website TMZ.com that both cars were being chased by a third vehicle.  No way of confirming that.  It doesn‘t explain why there would be any arguing between the drivers of the first two cars.  Miss Lohan was given a field sobriety test, which she failed.  She later registered a blood alcohol limit of.12, over the legal limit and nearly inflammable. 

Police also found cocaine in one of her pants pocket.  As for the alcohol monitoring ankle bracelet that Miss Lohan was voluntarily wearing, we don‘t exactly when or if she took that off.  Or maybe it just melted.  Lohan has checked into an undisclosed treatment facility.  Court dates scheduled for August 24th in Santa Monica.  Court date for charges stemming from the Memorial Day incident August 24th in Beverly Hills. 

It will take a judge or two to sort that out.  We will leave the rest to “Village Voice” columnist Michael Musto, who joins us now.  Good evening, Michael.   

MICHAEL MUSTO, “VILLAGE VOICE”:  Hi Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Did I bury the lead here.  Did Lindsay Lohan basically drive herself to the cops? 

MUSTO:  First of all, I love Lindsay.  I feel for her.  This is tragic.  Now on with the jokes.  Herbie is fully loaded and so is Lindsay.  But you‘re right, yes, she basically drove herself to the cops, mainly so she wouldn‘t have to do “Georgia Rules Two.”  Could you blame her? 

OLBERMANN:  The—given the drama brought on by this relapse, which is evident here—It is no conclusion.  Maybe this question has an obvious answer.  Maybe it did not.  Why had her assistant quit? 

MUSTO:  I guess she like excitement.  I mean, if you quit Naomi Campbell, she just clobbers you with the phone.  You quit this little demon, she mows over your mother.  No, I guess she got tired of smuggling hard stuff into Promises Rehab, a place, by the way, which does not work any more than Nancy Reagan saying just say no.  I mean, this place is about as effective as Sally Fields Boniva medication, which has me hunched over like Quasi Motto. 

OLBERMANN:  I believe the actual title is Promises Promises.  TMZ called the company, it said, that monitors those ankle bracelets, the alcohol detecting ankle bracelets, the kind that Lindsay Lohan was wearing.  The representative told them they did not know she had been arrested.  What did she do to or with that thing, cover it with aluminum foil so it wouldn‘t transmit or tear it off? 

MUSTO:  She did not eat it, that‘s for sure.  Maybe she melted it into her bong and smoked it.  Maybe she used it in the bathroom the way Britney used her Chanel gown as toilet paper.  But I am getting ahead of myself.  Whatever the case, I‘m glad it‘s gone, because it clashed with the bruises on her knees. 

OLBERMANN:  She just turned 21.  She has been driving for years now.  She has gotten into so many scraps and scrapes even when she‘s sober in a car.  Should she not have been assigned a full time driver long ago as a federally funded project on behalf of society? 

MUSTO:  Keith, it‘s so obvious.  OK, Phil Specter needs a beautician.  He would be fine.  Pee Wee Herman needed a vibrator.  Lindsay and Paris need a driver.  Anybody but Halle Berry will do.  Jesus, take the wheel and get these bimbos out of the front seat.

OLBERMANN:  And now Lohan was a scheduled guest on “The Tonight Show” tonight, so Rob Schneider reportedly appeared to go in her stead in drag.  Should Mr. Schneider consider standing in for her in her film roles as well?

MUSTO:  If it will stop him from doing those bad Japanese impressions like in the new Adam Sandler film.  I mean, not since Mickey Rooney said “herro, Miss Gorightry,” has there been such an ethnic assault.  I know Rob is part Asian.  That makes it even worse.

But no, he does make a very good drag queen, which he did in “The Hot Chick,” not that I saw it.  But I still hope that Lindsay doesn‘t catch that show tonight because I think she‘s going to need a bigger bong. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, I don‘t think she is going to be in any condition to stop that.  Let‘s switch briefly, in the last minute here, this Britney Spears photo shoot with “OK! Magazine.”  She gets chicken on the Gucci dress and she won‘t let them use their hair and make up.  She goes to the bathroom a lot, mood changes. 

Is this her cry for help or trying to get ahead of Lohan in whatever competition they‘re in? 

MUSTO:  I think her duet with Madonna was a cry for help.  I think this is a more cry for headlines.  She is realizing Lindsay is snorting around.  Paris is whoring around.  They‘re getting headlines.  What could Britney do.  She‘s thinking I could shave my hoo ha.  No.  I will do some toilet tricks and I‘ll touch my genitals and I‘ll get the caboose of the Lindsay Lohan segment on COUNTDOWN.  Voila!

OLBERMANN:  And the ultimate irony—the ultimate bizarre thing, other than the quality of that picture of Lindsay Lohan in the mug shot, where she looked almost angelic, Kevin Federline was the same one in the marriage to Britney Spears? 

MUSTO:  Sorry, I can‘t go that far.  Experiencing menopause 30 years early is just cutely quirky.  She still can‘t hold a beef jerky candle to K-Fed, who still thinks he can rap.  OK, Britney knows she can‘t sing.  She lip synchs.  K-Fed raps live.  I rest my case, he wins. 

OLBERMANN:  The one and only Michael Musto of “The Village Voice.”  As Always, Michael, great thanks. 

MUSTO:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  That is COUNTDOWN for this the 1,546th 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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