updated 8/10/2007 10:14:58 AM ET 2007-08-10T14:14:58

Guests: Steve Thomma, Sheryl Stolberg, Anne Kornblut, Jeff Goodell, Michael Musto

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Thank you, Chris, Michael, Joan, “Countdown” starts right now. 

ALISON STEWART, MSNBC GUEST HOST (voice-over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?  At the White House, meet the press, more blame game, falling bridges, bad Congress.  The foreclosure crisis, blame Congress, that‘s just the Senate‘s fault. 

The clouds surrounding Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. 

Wait, it‘s a good one. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I haven‘t see Congress say he‘s done anything wrong.  There is no proof of wrong.  Why would I hold somebody accountable who has done nothing wrong? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  But who is holding the president accountable as he heads off for vaca.

The country‘s electoral season may go into warp speed.  Decision 2008 could become decision 2007, really. 

The race against time in the Utah mine collapse. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MINE OWNER:  No mistakes have been made at all so far in this recovery.  It‘s just going too slow. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  More on the future of six miners trapped since Monday. 

At the epicenter of an epic sports moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The longest minute of my life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  The story behind the catch, the crowd, the crush and being in the right place at the right time. 

And stepping up to the plate, K-Fed is fed up an asking the judge to give him primary custody of his offspring with on Britney Jean Spears.  Please televise the custody hearing.  And can Larry Simon (ph) be the judge?  Please, be your best friend?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE:  Don‘t use that term, it turns me off.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  Think about it. 

All that and more now on “Countdown.” 

(on camera):  Good evening.  I‘m Alison Stewart sitting in for Keith Olbermann.  There is always a lot to get done at work before you go on vacation and apparently when you‘re the president of the United States, it is no different. 

Our fifth story on the “Countdown,” President Bush clearing the decks before a little R and R and Q and A.  He is calling a press conference at the White House.  No matter what the issue, he was himself not completely in vacation mode.  Take the Minneapolis bridge collapse and question of what it will cost to repair the nation‘s bridges.  Despite Republican support for a proposal, he is against raising the federal gas tax to pay for infrastructure.  What about the lack of funds?  Blame Congress. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  It‘s an interesting question about how Congress spends and prioritizing highway money.  My suggestion would be that they revisit the process by which they spend gasoline money in the first place.  So before we raise taxes which could affect economic growth, I would strongly urge the Congress to examine how they set priorities.  And if bridges are a priority, let‘s make sure we set that priority first and foremost before we raise taxes. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  On the computation of Scooter Libby‘s sentence, he was of the opinion that the aide did pay a very high price for his crime. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Lewis Libby was held accountable.  He was declared guilty by a Jr. and he paid a high price for it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  On the credibility of his long-time long horn friend Alberto Gonzales, Mr. Bush of the opinion that no one in Congress has accused the attorney general of doing anything wrong. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  This is a man who has testified, he sent thousands of papers up there.  There is no proof of wrong.  Why would I hold somebody accountable who has done nothing wrong?  Frankly, I think that‘s a typical Washington, D.C. assumption, not to be accusatory, I know you‘re a kind and open-minded fellow, but you suggested holding the attorney general accountable for something he did wrong. 

And, as a matter of fact, I would hope Congress would become more prone to deliver pieces of legislation in the matter as opposed to being the investigative body.  There have been over 600 different hearings and yet they‘re struggling with getting appropriations bills to my desk.  Implicit in your question is that Al Gonzales has done something wrong.  I haven‘t seen Congress say he has done anything wrong. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  He may not have seen it, but members of the Congress have said it.  Republicans and Democrats have accused Mr. Gonzales of wrongdoing at hearings at which they were cameras and we all rolled some videotape. 

What comes to his administration‘s accountability in the death of form NFL star Pat Tillman in Afghanistan, the president offered his own variation of I can‘t quite recall. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  I always admired the fact that a person who was relatively comfortable in life would be willing to take off one uniforms and put on another to defend America and the best way to honor that commitment of his is to find out the truth.  And I‘m confident the Defense Department wants to find out the truth too and we‘ll lay it out for the Tillman family. 

REPORTER:  There have been seven investigations.  The Pentagon has not got to the bottom of it.  Could you tell me when you found out it was not enemy fire, friendly fire? 

BUSH:  I couldn‘t tell you the precise moment.  But when I heard that the facts that people believed were true were not true, there will be a full investigation. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Let‘s turn to Steve Thomma, the chief political correspondent for McClatchy Newspapers.

Good evening, Steve. 

STEVE THOMMA, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY NEWSPAPERS: 

Hi, Alison. 

STE:  The president was subdued during most of this press conference until it came to the question about the attorney general.  Mr. Bush said no one in Congress has even said Alberto Gonzales has done anything wrong when we have Arlen Specter and Patrick Leahy and Dianne Feinstein, they have made themselves clear.  Why would Mr. Bush make a statement like that which can be so easily fact checked? 

THOMMA:  He doesn‘t hear those voices of dissent in Congress about the attorney general.  He doesn‘t want to hear them and he hasn‘t tuned in.  He‘s not going to pay any attention to them.  All signals are, short of a conviction in court, that he‘s going to stand by the attorney general until the end of his term. 

That whole question was very interesting.  The question was who he, the president, had held accountable.  His answer was, well, the court held Scooter Libby accountable and Congress is trying to do this and they‘re not doing their job.  He never answered the question about what he has done to hold anyone accountable. 

He came in talking about ushering the responsibility era and I haven‘t seen him hold anyone accountable.  The director of the CIA, who came up with the two biggest screw-ups in history, missing 9/11 and calling the Iraq war a slam dunk, he got the Medal of Freedom.  He wasn‘t held accountable.  He was rewarded.  Don Rumsfeld who clearly mismanaged this war wasn‘t fired until the day after the election.  It was a political firing.  It was a good question.  I don‘t think the president answered that either. 

STE:  Another interesting moment I thought was about the Pat Tillman investigation.  After seven different Pentagon investigations into the facts surrounding the death of the former NFL star in Afghanistan, why is another, as President Bush promised today, necessary or even likely to help the Tillman family or help anyone understand this? 

THOMMA:  I can‘t speak to what is going to make a family in grief feel better or that this was justified.  I don‘t know who can speak to that.  The interesting question is what the president does.  I don‘t think anyone expects the president of the United States to be sitting in the oval office every day asking about every investigation and every decision in the war. 

This is a high-profile case.  As he said, here is a man of great comfort and fame and wealth who gave it up to go to war.  It was a very interesting and compelling story that he went and when he was killed.  So at that point you would expect the president to get a little involved, maybe even pick up the phone and say what is going on here.  His answer, he didn‘t really answer the question, I don‘t think, which was why seven investigations. 

STE:  Let‘s talk the day-to-day stuff, people getting around this country safely.  A week after the bridge collapse in Minnesota, three weeks after that steam pipe burst in New York City, the president says thumb down on the gas tax to pay for infrastructure improvement.  This was proposed by a Republican Don Young and some Democrats got on board.  It seems like a bipartisan measure.  What is else is compelling Mr. Bush to oppose it? 

THOMMA:  I think he is setting up a big political fight with Congress when they all come back in September over this.  And I think he wants it to be a clash of pork barrel spending, the big bridge to nowhere last year in Alaska, that sort of thing, against bridges that get repaired.  He is making it a choice.  You take out the pork and we‘ll talk about money for fixing these bridges. 

The people want these bridges fixed.  People are afraid to drive over bridges.  I was in the Midwest, governors are moving forward with right away with plans to rebuild the infrastructure. 

I think he does this at some political peril to put it off and in long term, he might have to answer some questions about those pork barrel spendings in the past because he signed them all into law. 

STE:  Steve Thomma of McClatchy Newspapers, thanks for your time. 

THOMMA:  Pleasure. 

STE:  The president‘s first stop on his vacation tonight, mom and dad‘s house.  President Bush touching down east of the family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, this afternoon where he is said to be having a tough time seeing his son be criticized. 

A report in today‘s New York Times likening the elder Mr. Bush to a Little League dad whose kid is having a bad game, only in 41‘s case, minus the trash talking.  A long-time to Mr. Bush saying the unpopularity of the son is taking a toll on the father quoting him, “It wears on his heart and his soul.”  41 not disappointed in 43 himself, but that does not mean the 83-year-old elder statesman likes the professional company his 61-year-old son keeps. 

The article was written by “New York Times” White House Correspondent Cheryl Stolberg, who joins us. 

Sheryl, thanks for being with us.  I see you are in Maine? 

SHERYL STOLBERG, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, “NEW YORK TIMES”:  I am. 

STE:  Now the official line from the White House is that Mr. Bush the senior gives advice to his son only when asked.  If that is the official line, based on your sources, what is the unofficial line? 

STOLBERG:  Well, I think the unofficial line is they talk the way any father and son would talk.  After all, the former president was himself the leader of the free world not so very long ago.  He‘s a man with opinions.  I don‘t think he is telling his son what to do, but I do think that they have private conversations and he clearly says what is on his mind. 

STE:  Now, your article notes that while Mr. Bush supports the president, he does have questions and even concerns about some of his aides.  Who specifically? 

STOLBERG:  Well, the only person I heard mentioned specifically was Rumsfeld and I think the elder Mr. Bush and Rumsfeld have a history going back as far as the Ford administration.  I think he‘s very careful about expressing any uneasiness about the aides and he also says to his friends, look, there are people that I wouldn‘t hire, but, hey, it‘s not my administration. 

STE:  Something I thought was interesting, as I read through this article and it talks about—I wonder about the incentive for getting the story out.  Why did your sources decide to talk to you—long-time aides, the Bush‘s daughter, Dora, Andrew Card—speak to you about personal family issues at this time? 

STOLBERG:  That‘s a good question.  I‘ve thought about it myself.  I think seven years into this administration, it‘s pretty clear that 43 is his own guy, that he is not running to daddy for advice anymore.  Maybe they felt it was time to bust the myth that 41 didn‘t really have a place in this White House and to tell people the truth, which is that he does come to visit his son a lot.  They are close.  That when he drops in, he sees Karl Rove for coffee and he chats with other White House officials.  Maybe it was time to tell the world that he wasn‘t really an absentee father from this administration. 

STE:  As I look at this video, I see Barbara Bush.  Where is mom in all of this? 

STOLBERG:  Well, I think mom plays a pretty strong role too.  A lot of people say that George W. Bush is more like his mother than his father.  It was interesting that Andy Card, the president‘s former chief of staff, said that he could always read the president‘s body language after he talked to his father or his mother.  Andy told me sometimes the president would ask me a probing question and I would think, I don‘t think that question came from him.  Maybe it came from his father or his mother. 

STE:  The source in your article also suggests that while the president doesn‘t second-guess the current president, the former president, the current president.  What was the Iraq Study Group headed by James Baker? 

STOLBERG:  I think a lot of people read that Iraq Study Group headed by James Baker as a message from the father to the son.  And I think what the father would say about that is, look, maybe some of my aides don‘t agree with my son.  Maybe James Baker would pursue a different course in Iraq and Scowcroft would pursue a different course.  That‘s not a message from me.  I‘m the father.  I support my son, and don‘t think that my aides are talking for me. 

STE:  Thank you so much for sharing your reporting with us.  We appreciate it. 

STOLBERG:  Thank you. 

STE:  The electoral process turning into a game of leapfrog.  It‘s the longest campaign ever, so why not the longest voting season as well?

Talk about a long wait, in Utah, family members of the trapped miners hoping tonight to finally bring the answer that their loved ones are still alive.  A live update is scheduled at the bottom of the hour.

You‘re watching “Countdown” on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STE:  From hanging chads to filibusters, if democracy is the most orderly form of government, how do the others function?  Our number four story, the “Countdown” to 2008 and the scramble by the states to one-up each other in primary voting. 

Today, the South Carolina Republicans moved their primary from February to January 19 because Florida moved its primary to January 29 because South Carolina is determined to be the first in the south primary.  Take that FLA.  Enter New Hampshire, which is determined to be the first in the nation and had planned to hold its primary on January 22.  So now it may leapfrog South Carolina for a primary in early January.  If Iowa ain‘t happy, nobody is happy.  Iowa has a law that demands its caucuses be held at least eight days before anybody anywhere votes, which could lead to a holey jolly primary season in December.  Stay tuned. 

Perhaps sooner the better for Senator Hillary Clinton who scored good poll numbers.  The latest shows the Senator inching up on her Republican rival in three important states. 

In Florida, both Republicans and Democrats preferred Clinton over Rudy Giuliani by 46 to 44 percent.  That‘s a reversal from his lead in an earlier poll.  In Pennsylvania, voters narrowly preferred Clinton over Giuliani by 45% to 44%.  And, in Ohio, she ties Giuliani, making her the only Democratic candidate keeping pace with the Republican frontrunner at this time.  The poll shows the voters are reevaluating Hillary Clinton and, for the first time, her favorable ratings are rising and her unfavorable ratings falling. 

For a closer look of decision 2008, Anne Kornblut joins us from Kennebunkport, Maine. 

Nice to see you, Anne.

ANNE KORNBLUT, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Nice to see you too.

STE:  As any good political reporter, you are with the “Washington Post.”  What you think is the reality that some voters somewhere on their to-do list is to vote next December? 

KORNBLUT:  It‘s really unbelievable, isn‘t it?  I didn‘t think we would be talking about getting it this far up into the calendar.  The states are very competitive with each other.  They want to be relevant in the race the way Iowa and New Hampshire have been.  This is for real.  They‘re wary of getting in there in December having voters get sick of it and not wanting to vote.  It‘s heading in that direction and could happen. 

STE:  Let‘s talk about voter fatigue and this warp speed that we‘re headed in.  Who might benefit, which candidates? 

KORNBLUT:  Well, you could make the case that it benefits any of them, really.  Who it‘s really going to benefit is whoever who ends up winning the first one.  It looks like Iowa is going to leapfrog to the front.  In the past, candidates who have been able to take a little time in between the first Iowa and New Hampshire and the next races, people have come in second and third have a chance to catch up.  In the last election, the frontrunner got the election.  John Kerry swept it all the way through.  We‘ll probably see something similar this time, especially if the races are as pushed together as we think they‘re going to be.  It could be whoever ends up winning Iowa, and our latest poll, showed that it‘s a three-way tie in Iowa.  It‘s anyone‘s guess. 

STE:  It will be interesting at that point.  Let‘s talk about the latest poll with Hillary Clinton gaining on her Democratic rivals and perhaps on Rudy Giuliani.  What has happened in recent weeks that could be behind this momentum for her? 

KORNBLUT:  Well, there is a number of things that could be at work here.  We don‘t exactly know.  It‘s in three specific states, it‘s not nationwide.  What we see happening is she‘s been in these debates over the last few weeks.  Democratic debates, they‘ve talked about national security.  This is one of her great strengths.  She has emphasized her experience. 

There is some debate whether Senator Barack Obama has stumbled when it comes to foreign policy, Pakistan, nuclear weapons.  But the Clintons have capitalized on his strengths.  They have been aggressive in talking about her strengths.  She‘s also starting in a position of strength with her name recognition, but she has been in these debates, she‘s talk about foreign policy and she hasn‘t made any measurable mistakes. 

STE:  The poll asked voters in Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania if they would be more likely or less likely to vote for a candidate based on special-interest endorsements.  We‘ve been hearing about that.  The labor endorsement was a biggest plus, business endorsement was a negative.  That seems like a turn about or is it par for the course in any primary? 

KORNBLUT:  I think it‘s pretty understandable in our current climate when there is economic uncertainty.  The Dow is going down, jobs moving overseas.  Democrats in particular, but I think voters in general feeling that economic instability would be looking toward the security, the job security that might be provided by labor and be a little bit wary of big business which they see as having benefiting making the profit, not helping the worker.  That‘s one reason why you see a candidate like John Edwards talking about poverty and job security.  They‘re talking about health care, bedrock issues.  The numbers that we see reflect that.  They‘re going to trust what they see as more populist interest over big business ones. 

STE:  It‘s the economy stupid 2.0, it sounds like. 

KORNBLUT:  Sounds like it.

STE:  Anne Kornblut of the “Washington Post”, thanks a lot. 

KORNBLUT:  Thank you. 

STE:  From the race to the White House to the home run race, the kid who came up with Bonds‘ record setting ball describes the chaos in the bleachers. 

While we‘re on the subject of chaos, this woman earns the world title of cat lady.  The neighbors aren‘t happy to be living next to her.   That, and more ahead, on “Countdown.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STE:  On this date in 1974, Ford was sworn in as president of the United States after Richard Nixon resigned.  My mother made me watch it.  She said it was history.  I was eight.  I was bored. 

But 33 years later, I understand the importance of documenting the changing of the political guard, that, and televising as much wacky video as possible. 

Let‘s play “Oddball.” 

We begin in Ukraine where we have a new world record holder for tallest guy.  Meet this (inaudible). He is 8‘5” which is 2.58 meters.  He is 37 years old.  He‘s a retired veterinarian.  Has 12-inch palms and 20-inch feet so that means he has huge shoes.  The old record holder stands 7‘9” has vowed to reclaim the title of world‘s tallest guy.  He began a strict regimen of body stretching exercises.  Good luck, shrimp.

To Siberia in Russia and more proof that since Bob Barker went up the air, the pet population has gotten out of the control.  This is a litter box—excuse me—apartment of this Nina Kostovos (ph) and her 130 cats.  Gentlemen, I‘m betting that gal is single.  She picked up her first cat about 15 years ago and neighbors are asking the town to come and get the cats out.  It‘s not the smell that bothers them but the noise coming from the flat that grinds their ears.  She says she wants more kitties, noting they can‘t reproduce themselves because the boys have been fixed.  She can rest easy, Mr. Barker. 

Finally to the Netherlands where an eight-foot tall man has stormed the beach.  No one knows why he‘s there.  He‘s a hit with the ladies.  He was found bobbing in the waters off the coast, dragged on the beach and stood up on the sand where he remains.  They‘re not sure what to do with him.  If this random YouTube clip is an indication that they‘re thrilled to host their giant compadre. 

Return to Utah, the high stakes rescue mission is underway.  Six lives and one mine owner, and the boss has been front and center in the media.  We‘ll look at what side of the safety issues he‘s come down in the past. 

And who do you root for in the celebrity parenting face off between Britney Spears and Kevin Federline.  It‘s a tough one.  K-Fed thinks things are swinging his way.  He makes his move in court.  Details and predictions with Michael Musto ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Energy chief executive Robert Murray said today that workers are expected to drill a hole into the cavity where six miners are believed to be trapped.  He said it would happen in six hours.  He said that seven hours ago.  In our number three story tonight, Mr. Murray has come under scrutiny as rescue workers drill three shafts at his Crandel (ph) Canyon Mine in Utah. 

They are working on one shaft for establishing communications.  That‘s the one they hoped to finish tonight.  Then there is a second wider shaft being dug to provide food and supplies.  And a third shaft to rescue the men or to recover them.  As we are waiting for a live press conference, we‘re going to hear more details perhaps about the status of those three shafts. 

But earlier today, Mr. Murray had this to report. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT MURRAY, MINE CO-OWNER:  I also want to tell you no mistakes have been made at all so far in this recovery.  It‘s just going too slow, just too slow. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  That after firmly stating the collapse was the result of an earthquake, when actual seismologists suspect the collapse itself caused the tremor.  Initially, Mr. Murray did not release the names of the miners and advised their families not to talk to the media.  He also reportedly walked out on the families when they tried to ask him questions.  Murray even went before Congress just two months ago and went on the defense when challenged about his mine‘s safety record. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MURRAY:  You people inside the beltway and you senators do, on the majority side, give a clear appearance that you don‘t have the foggiest idea what a person does to pack a lunch and go to work or wear a hard hat.  You‘re inside the beltway.  I know what is going on out there. 

SEN BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA:  We read here in the “Columbus Dispatch” of Ohio that you own the two largest mines that recorded injury rates about a fourth higher than the national average.  Let‘s not have a double standard about how much you care about people.  And that‘s all I‘ll say on the point. 

MURRAY:  Madam Chairman, I‘m going to respond to that.  You are flat out wrong. 

BOXER:  Fine. 

MURRAY:  That information came from your friends at the United Mine

Workers and the unions.  It is not fair.  My safety record at my coal mines

and I take it to bed with me every night.  And I resent you bringing this in, because my employees are important to me and I take their safety to bed every night.  My safety record today is one of the best in the coal industry anywhere. 

So don‘t take propaganda from the United Mine Workers and tell the public that it‘s fact.  You are flat out wrong. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Let‘s bring in Jeff Goodell, author of “Big Coal, the Dirty Secret Behind America‘s Energy Future.”  Jeff, thank you for being with us during this difficult time.  Before we start talking about the mine stuff, he is a well known person within the mining industry.  I think we‘re all a little fascinated because of his fiery character. 

JEFF GOODELL, AUTHOR, “BIG COAL”:  Fiery is an understatement.  He is very well known.  He is an embodiment of a sort of 19th century coal baron kind of guy.  He is widely known for his blustery manner.  His company is in Ohio.  He‘s a big donor to the Republican party.  He‘s got a lot of political power. 

He is notorious with journalists.  He‘s been involved in several defamation lawsuits.  He is a is a kind of guy who is used to getting his own way, shall we say.  You can see some of that in this. 

STEWART:  What we see is what we get?  This isn‘t for the cameras and this isn‘t because the situation is so difficult and intense? 

GOODELL:  No, this is him.  This is the way he is in all of his encounters.  I think what you‘re actually seeing is the real thing, the raw thing.  No spin, no PR here.  This is Bob Murray. 

STEWART:  He has been saying since the beginning that an earthquake caused this collapse.  Why should we question that? 

GOODELL:  Because the seismologists are saying something completely opposite.  And seismology is a very refined science.  They understand how earthquakes happen.  They understand what they look like, by looking at the wave patterns and things.  And also, this happened in the west. 

In the west, they spend a lot of time looking at Earthquakes in the west.  This is not an inexact science.  They‘re saying, look, this has all the indications of a mine collapse.  And we don‘t have much doubt about that.  I mean, they‘re reserving final word until they really look at this stuff. 

And, you know, Murray is going around saying that this was caused by an earthquake, but really offering no evidence or there is no—he is not telling us why he believes that.  He is just asserting that. 

STEWART:  One of the things he has been talking about quite a bit and

publicly he has said that they were absolutely not doing something called retreat mining.  So first of all—although there are public records saying that these miners were doing retreat mining.  Let‘s first define retreat mining for people, and then explain to us why someone who owned a coal mine would deny it. 

GOODELL:  Retreat mining is something that I learned about when I spent some time with coal miners an Appalachia.  It‘s something they‘ve been doing in the industry for a long time.  When they mine out a coal mine, they do something called room and pillar mining, which is basically they go through and essentially dig tunnels, and to support the mine, they leave these pillars, coal pillars. 

They don‘t use timbers and things like that anymore.  They mine the coal until they get to the end of the coal seam, and then they begin coming out.  Some coal operators believe it is too dangerous to take these pillars out, so they leave the pillars there, and they go out of the mine and they go some place else. 

Some coal operators want to get the last of the coal out, and they believe that the geology will support this.  And so they begin taking these pillars out.  What they do is a kind of controlled collapse.

STEWART:  They take a pillar out, you go forward.  You take a pillar out, you go backwards out. 

GOODELL:  Toward the exit.  Sometimes it‘s a controlled collapse that happens right at that moment and sometimes it takes a day to fall.  It‘s sort of extreme coal mining.  Guys I know who do it—some coal miners really love it because it‘s all about adrenaline and it‘s really exciting.  And some miners are just petrified of it and won‘t go near a mine. 

Why Murray is resistant to talking about this, I have no clue.  Maybe it‘s something that will come out in the investigation.  I don‘t know why he is being that way. 

STEWART:  You know what, Jeff, we‘re going to ask you to stand by.  Richard Stickler has taken to the microphone at this live press conference out of Utah.  Let‘s step in and see if we get any new information. 

RICHARD STICKLER, U.S. ASST LABOR SECRETARY:  It‘s critical that everyone comes together and works as a team to give us the best opportunity to save these miners.  And I know that we have done that.  I just came back from a meeting with the families, and it was a very positive meeting.  Again we had two miners that are family members.  These individuals are experienced miners.  One‘s father is trapped underground and the other miner‘s brother is trapped underground. 

One of these miners is an active member a mine rescue team.  So they‘re very knowledgeable about mining and mine safety and mine rescue.  They‘ve been very instrumental in meeting with the families and helping communicate to them the rescue activity.  They‘ve been underground to see the operation and they‘ve also been on the surface to see the drilling operation. 

The presentation that we had this evening, the majority of that presentation was presented by those two individuals.  I think it has been worth a million dollars to the families to have that participation and involvement.  And also the media that we took underground to take pictures and also the pictures up at the drill rig; we‘ve shown those pictures to the families and, again, the saying, a picture is worth a thousand words. 

It‘s helped them understand what we‘re doing, the resources that we‘ve pulled together here, the plan, the details of the technology that we‘re using, and I think it‘s been good.  It‘s helped us come together as a team and to be unified.  Certainly we‘ve had the county, the sheriff supporting us in every way in back-up and assistance and helicopters and transporting equipment. 

The state, the governor of this state, has assisted in many ways in providing services and support.  The mine operator, the personnel, the equipment, the people working underground, tremendous effort being put forth.  And the Federal Mine Health and Safety Administration, FMHSA, we have approximately 50 people here on site that are mine safety and health professionals, technical experts out of our Pittsburgh center that are experts in ground control, mine ventilation, the listening devices, all of the different technology that we‘re bringing here together. 

A lot of these experts are coming from the Federal Mine Health and Safety Administration.  So I feel positive that we‘ve got a strong team and we have a tremendous amount of resources here.  At this time, I would like to introduce another member of the team, an individual that has worked hard to advance mine health and safety.  He cares about miners and he cares about their families, Senator Orin Hatch. 

SEN. ORIN HATCH ®, UTAH:  I‘m very grateful to the state and the federal leaders who have come here to help us with this very serious problem.  You can‘t get any better, Mr. Stickler here and Mr. Strickland and the others, the 50 others that are here from FMHSA.  It‘s a class act and a class group.  We‘re grateful to all of them. 

We Utahans feel very deeply about this.  We‘re grateful for our governor and the work that he is doing in getting our folks in the state, who are some of the best in the world, here.  And we‘re grateful that the efforts are going forth in a way that seems to be arriving at a conclusion sometime in the next 24 hours. 

And certainly we hope maybe earlier.  I‘m grateful to be here.  Our hopes, our faith, and our prayers are with these miners and their families.  We know this is a terrifically difficult thing.  Through most of my life, I‘ve had some contact with miners.  And I have to say that we‘re proud of our miners.  We‘re proud of these people who provide the energy for our country. 

I‘m very proud of our federal workers and our leaders like Mr.  Stickler here.  Soft-spoken but very, very knowledgeable, willing to go in those mines themselves, willing to do the things that really need to be done.  Above all, I‘m proud of the rescue workers that are risking their lives to get in under very difficult circumstances with these seismic events, and doing the job and helping our people. 

We‘re grateful for all of you and we‘re grateful to be here, and we‘ll do everything we possibly can to help. 

GOV. JON HUNTSMAN ®, UTAH:  I want to thank Senator Hatch for being here, for his leadership and his friendship.  And I too want to pay tribute to Richard Stickler for his professionalism, for that of his teams, for the hard work and the very critical oversight that is occurring here.  I just want to say very quickly that I had a chance, as governor of this great state, today to attend mass service with some of the great families that are right down the road awaiting word on their loved ones. 

And it was one of these situations, under the leadership of Bishop Wester of the Catholic Diocese, where all boundaries seem to fall.  It didn‘t much matter what language was spoken or one‘s ethnicity.  Everyone came together as one with a strong sense of hope and optimism, which always must be kept alive. 

I just really want to take this opportunity to thank a couple of people.  There is an event that is playing out right now.  There is a C-17 Air Force plane that is on its way to Salt Lake.  The call was made earlier today to the state of Mississippi, and I want to thank Governor Hailey Barber for his kindness in releasing the C-17 cargo plane.  That turn around, based on what the experts have told me, was done with unprecedented speed and alacrity. 

The C-17 left Mississippi.  It landed in Kansas, where it‘s now picking up a truck, which was driving, otherwise would have been here two or three days, with some of the most sophisticated high-resolution camera technology that is available in the United States.  The plane left Kansas again, thanks to the very good help the Governor Kathleen Sibilius, and her National Guard, and it is expected here in Salt Lake about 8:30 tonight. 

It will then have—the truck will then leave the plane and be escorted by way of the Utah highway patrol right here, expected to arrive at probably 11:00 or 12:00 tonight, which will likely coincide with some important events here on site.  So my thanks to all of those who have been part of today‘s activities, and again to all of the professionals who are making so much happen in a set of very, very difficult and challenging circumstances.  My thanks to one and all. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you have the name of that camera or whatever it is? 

HUNTSMAN:  The name of the technology, Richard, do you have that? 

STICKLER:  It‘s a high-resolution camera.  It gives much better quality picture and at greater distance.   

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Is it infra-red? 

STICKLER:  The camera will have a light attached to it as it goes down.  The listening devices that we‘ll be putting in first will have a light attached to them.  The listening device provides a two-way communication. 

STEWART:  We will continue to monitor this press conference coming out of Utah.  No specific information about the six miners, who do remain trapped in that mine.  However, there was some information that officials met with families, gave them much detailed information as possible.  We‘ll continue to listen in on this.  We want to let you know there is breaking news this hour concerning another tragedy, last week‘s bridge collapse in Minneapolis. 

Authorities say they believe they have recovered the body of another victim, which brings the confirmed death toll to eight.  At least seven more are still believed to be missing.  The discovery comes one day after investigators may have found a potential design flaw in the bridge in the steal parts that connects the girders, raising concerns for other bridges across the country.  We‘ll keep updated on both of these stories and we‘ll be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  The name is Bonds, Barry Bonds, and that record breaking 756th home run the other night, so five minutes ago.  The 43-year-old hit number 757 last night in a home game against the Washington Nationals, driving in two runs for a 5-0 win over Washington.  Every homer now adding to the big guy and baseball‘s all time record.  He is a big guy, 6-2, 228.  How did he get that big? 

But the guy who ended up being Bonds‘ ball boy is getting nearly as much attention, New York Mets fan Matt Murphy, who just happened to be passing through San Francisco on his way to Australia with a couple of friends, thought he might take in a game and wound up nabbing a ball that could be worth millions some day.  It‘s not every day that kind of money just falls out of the sky. 

It all started with a yen for a crabby patty at the ball park.  Murphy and friends told today‘s Matt Lauer their incredible story. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT LAUER, “THE TODAY SHOW”:  What happens right before this at bat? 

I understand you go to get crab sandwiches and beer. 

MATT MURPHY, CAUGHT HISTORIC HOME RUN:  I never had a crab sandwich at baseball game, Matt.  I‘m blown away by that.   

LAUER:  But you almost missed the at bat going to buy food. 

MURPHY:  We were back in time.  We hustled. 

LAUER:  You hear, now batting, Barry Bonds.  You put the crab sandwiches and beer down.  Tell me what happens when you hear the crack of the bat. 

MURPHY:  We were just tracking it.  We were thinking get out of the park.  Get out of there.  And hit a sea of people, and we immediately just happened to be in the stadium.  And it took a lucky bounce.

LAUER:  And it ends up in your hand.  Emir, let me bring you in now.  Apparently it goes right past you or over your head.  You‘re so excited that it‘s in your neighborhood that you turn around to high five Matt and he is gone? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He vanished in thin air.  I turned over to my right to look at the ball and I saw the ball bounce and I turned to my left to give Matt a high five and he was gone. 

LAUER:  Matt, can you give me any idea what it was like at the bottom of that pile?  Were people kicking and scratching and biting? 

MURPHY:  Longest minute of my life.  I think one gentleman kicked me in the back of the head.  There were people on top of people on top of people, which I didn‘t understand.  The San Francisco Police Department helped me out by getting rather quickly, but it was the longest minute of my life. 

LAUER:  Where is the ball now, Matt? 

MURPHY:  Undisclosed location, Matt. 

LAUER:  Come on, whisper it to me.  It‘s just you and me.

MURPHY:  OK. 

LAUER:  What are you going to do with it? 

MURPHY:  I am going to go on vacation and it is not coming with me. 

It is going to stay here and when I get back I am going to sort things out.  But part of me wants to keep it.  It is the greatest American sports accomplishment in history.  Part of me might want to sell it, but I really am leaning towards keeping it.  It‘s too valuable sentimental.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Murphy says if he does sell, he will share it with his friend Emir, who helped bail him out of that dog pile for the Bonds ball.  Oh yes, he has one other partner, the IRS.  They‘re collectible baseball fans too and could collect taxes, if they wanted to, on the ball‘s worth, even if the kid doesn‘t sell it.  Not likely, two tax accountants tell COUNTDOWN.

Now we move right along to the number one story.  Who knew that Britney Spears really had a discernible talent.  She can make Kevin Federline look good.  Miss Spears escapades, from a photo shoot melt down to a naked pool party, have K-Fed a little worried, so much so he‘s going to go all father knows best on you all.  K-Fed goes to court. 

Mr. Federline‘s lawyers filed papers yesterday in L.A. family court, according to “People Magazine,” asking the judge to grant Federline primary custody of the couple‘s children.  That‘s Sean Preston and Jaiden James.  A source close to Federline telling “People” that K-Fed has been worried about Miss Spears exposing the boys to, quote, unnecessary risk. 

It was less than two weeks ago that the Spears/Federline divorce was finalized, splitting custody of the children 50/50.  Even then, Federline was reportedly hesitant to sign that agreement.  Since then, of course, Miss Spears has been swimming in dangerous waters, having initiated a naked pool party, according “US Weekly,” along with a virtual news stand of bad press, but suddenly has K-Fed saying, who‘s your daddy. 

Let‘s call in “Village Voice” columnist Michael Musto.  Hey Michael, good to see you.

MICHAEL MUSTO, “VILLAGE VOICE”:  Allison, I am more tired than Amy Weinhouse (ph) just listening to that. 

STEWART:  That‘s tired.  It is amazing how much ammunition Miss Spears has been handing over to Mr. Federline.  The latest, of course, the naked pool party.  We‘re going to say that as many times as we can.  She reportedly seduced a 21-year-old college student.  She is a single woman again.  Isn‘t she allowed to have a bit of fun? 

MUSTO:  Absolutely.  Once you have endured a marriage to K-Fed, you get the key to every city in America.  You should be allowed to run naked through the streets, lick traffic poles, burn buildings.  Bravo, Britney, you have earned the right to party. 

STEWART:  I think that is her to-do list.  I guess the main problem is that she was at this pool party at 2:00 a.m., even though her kids were supposed to be returned to her at noon on the same day, according to “US Weekly,” we should say that.  She had a whole ten hours.  What is wrong? 

MUSTO:  She‘s not very big on numbers.  She still has that Mickey Mouse watch that‘s hard to read.  But I don‘t know, I think she conveniently forgets she is a parent whenever there‘s a pool party at 2:00 a.m.  I think when she ends up drunk asleep in the deep end, she wakes up and realizes, I have kids.  I have kids.  Fortunately, she has flotation devices.   

STEWART:  She also initiated a game of Truth or Dare, apparently, when the alcohol started running low.  So, from your deep background research, what does Miss Spears do when the booz runs out? 

MUSTO:  First of all, she does everything Madonna does.  Truth or dare, we‘ve seen that before.  Whenever the booze is low she gets desperate and she plays games like naked Twister, strip poker, Operation, hide the salami, and I will blow you if you get me more booze.  That is a new one on Parker Brothers. 

STEWART:  Wow, I hope that has a big adults only rating sign across it, maybe. 

MUSTO:  No miners of any kind. 

STEWART:  Federline is going for primary custody of the kids.  Of course, we wish the best for the children.  We do want to say that.  But when it comes to K-Fed, would primary custody, what does that mean? 

MUSTO:  I guess it gives him the right to have 2:00 a.m. pool parties and forget that he‘s a parent.  He is very literal minded, K-Fed.  To him, primary custody probably means getting custodial work at the presidential primary, which has a good chance of happening.. 

STEWART:  In court, you are Britney‘s defense lawyer, what do you think is her best defense?  

MUSTO:  I think, I have teh I.Q., but K-Fed has the I.Q. of a paramecium.  It‘s all relative.  Plus, she has those wonderful lactating buzzoms, and she talks real slow, which is good for kids. 

STEWART:  OK, do you think they know what paramecium are?

MUSTO:  They know the plural, yes, but not the singular.

STEWART:  Is it my imagination, or has the press done a little bit of a 180 on K-Fed?  He used to be the punch line.

MUSTO:  Absolutely, they‘ve done a complete turn around.  Phil Specter should marry Britney and divorce her right away.  He‘ll get a free pass from the media.  K-Fed has acquired the glow of a corn rowed Nelson Mandela.  He could be the first person to get a Nobel Peace Prize and an MTV Video Award nomination in the same year.   

STEWART:  So there was this one little tawdry piece, and we are going to say it was in “Star Magazine,” just to put it in context. 

MUSTO:  It‘s true.

STEWART:  Where a friend—a lot of friends go telling the “Star” things—that in a fit of rage, Britney accused her mom of sleeping with Kevin.  Any possibility that is true? 

MUSTO:  I know that friend.  They work at “Star Magazine.”  Yes, he wanted a woman who looked like a haggy older version of Britney.  Britney fills that slot, but she wasn‘t available.  So he went for the mother.  Allison, this is like mommy dearest.  Remember when Christina Crawford is laying in the hospital bed, turns on the TV and her mother has taken over her roll in the soap opera? 

It‘s sick.  It is like “Single White Female,” but this time it‘s your mom. 

STEWART:  There does seem to be some kind of on going alliance for a while between Lynn Spears and Mr. Federline.  Are they a dream team in many ways? 

MUSTO:  What they have in common—what aligns them really, is that they are both being sued by Britney.  She is throwing lit matches at them all day long, so they look at each other and go, we might as well do it.  That will annoy the hell out of her.  Now I hear Britney is going to go for K-Fed‘s mom to even the score.  Tit for tat, as it were. 

STEWART:  This is just getting ugly. 

MUSTO:  Curious. 

STEWART:  Michael Musto of the “Village Voice,” we thank you so much for helping us wander through all that. 

MUSTO:  I am going take a rest. 

STEWART:  That will do it for this Thursday edition of COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Allison Stewart, in for Keith Olbermann.  Thank you so much for watching.

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

END   

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