updated 8/14/2007 11:26:35 AM ET 2007-08-14T15:26:35

Guests: Howard Fineman; John Dean; James Moore, Chris Cillizza, Michael Musto

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC HOST (voice-over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?  The man the president calls Turd Blossom—

Turd Blossoms are no longer in season.  Karl Rove resigns from the White House. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARL ROVE, WHITE HOUSE ADVISOR:  I am grateful to be a witness to history.  It has been the joy and the honor of a lifetime. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Glad you enjoy it.  There are, of course, several explanations.  He needs more time with his family.  The White House demanded anybody who stayed through Labor Day had to stay through the end of the term.  It will be easier to keep him from testifying if they keep him out of Washington.

The short-term politics with Howard Fineman. 

The impact on Congress of the executive privilege with John Dean.

And the impact on the president with “Bushes Brain” co-author James Moore.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I‘ll be on the road behind you here in a little bit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  You all leave together.  Maybe you can get a discount.

What price Iowa?  Mitt Romney wins the straw poll and also jokes about cheating in the corn kernel poll. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY, ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I tried losing and I‘ve tried winning.  And I do like winning better. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Houston thinks it doesn‘t have a real problem, an interstellar ding aboard “Endeavor.”  They think they can buff it out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NASA MISSION MANAGER:  We are in great shape to go and address this exact kind of problem. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And problems, too, among the earthbound stars.  Kevin Federline hires an Israeli commando to deal with the misses. 

And, Angelina Jolie is so happy with Brad Pitt, she says she stopped fooling around with women.  There is, to quote here, “no room for that or S&M in my life.”

S&M?  Sales and marketing?  All that and more, now on “Countdown.” 

(on camera):  Good evening, the surge will salvage Iraq.  The president‘s poll numbers will bounce back.  Republicans have a very good chance of keeping the White House next year.  Our fifth story on the “Countdown,” Karl Rove‘s exist interview predictions as he resigned from the White House today while under congressional subpoena. 

John Dean, Howard Fineman and rogue biography Jim Moore presently.

But the Rove story may have been summarized by a question barked out to President Bush by the estimable CBS News White House correspondent, Bill Plante, just after the president and Mr. Rove embraced.  Quote, “If he is so smart, how come you lost Congress”?  The man known alternatively as the architect, “Bush‘s Brain” or Turd Blossom is leaving, like so many before him, to spend time with his family, or because August is the optimal time for resigning?  Yes, those are the most recent versions. 

Mr. Rove chose the “Wall Street Journal” as the vehicle to initially announce his decision, explaining that he first told President Bush that he wanted to go over a year ago.  But he didn‘t want to quit after the Democrats had won Congress.  Then he planned to leave after the State of Union, but Iraq and immigration issues required his attention.  Then White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten told senior staffers that if he stayed past September, he would have to stay as long as the president is in office, which, the “Wall Street Journal” reports, sealed the deal. 

Mr. Rove told NBC News today he had settled on an August departure date before Mr. Bolten‘s announcement.  He also told reporters that even though he and the president talked about him leaving for more than a year, they both mutually reinforced each others, quote, “bad behavior” by finding excuses not to talk about a firm date. 

And you wonder how Iraq happened. 

Officially, Rove is off the clock at August 31 at midnight.  He and the president choosing to formally announce the decision on camera this morning on their way to a shared vacation in Texas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Karl Rove is moving on down the road.  We have been friends for a long time and we‘re still going to be friends.  I would call Karl Rove a dear friend.  We have known each other as youngsters interested in serving our state.  We worked together so we could be in a position to serve this country.  So I thank my friend.  I will be on the road behind you here in a little bit.

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

A little bit?  Like 526 days?

For his part, Mr. Rove says he has no firm plans except to write a book about the Bush presidency, the tone of which we may have gotten a preview of today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROVE:  Mr. President, I am grateful for the opportunity you gave me to serve our nation and you.  I am grateful for being able to work with the extraordinary men and women that you have drawn into this administration.  And I‘m grateful to have been a witness to history.  It has been a joy and honor of a lifetime. 

I have seen a man of far sight and courage put America on a war footing and protect us against a brutal enemy and a dangerous conflict that will shape this new century.  I see no leader respond to an economy weakened by recession, corporate sandal and terrorist attacks by taking decisive action to strengthen the economy and create jobs.  I‘ve seen a reformer, who challenges the administration, the Congress, and the country to make bold changes to important institutions in great need of repair.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  So your book will be found in the science-fiction aisle? 

Mr. Rove is leaving while a Senate subpoena hangs over his head. 

President John Dean will join us to discuss the legal aspects of there.

First, to analyze this August surprise, our own Howard Fineman, also senior Washington correspondent for “News Week” magazine.

Good evening, Howard.

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC ANALYST & “NEWS WEEK” SENIOR WASHINGTON

CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Rove told us he is not going to be working with a candidate or even a Republican nominee for next year.  Why have I not believing him? 

FINEMAN:  Because you have been covering him and so have I for many years.  I go back with George Bush and Karl Rove almost as far back as they go with each other.  They are one brain.  What Karl Rove is going to do down in Texas, having talked to some people in the White House and friends of his outside, and knowing how he operates, is once he gets his feet on the ground back in Texas, once he makes for sure his kid‘s OK in school and his family is happy back there, once the Republicans pick a nominee, you will see Karl Rove and George Bush serve the function in the next presidential campaign of taking the attack to the Democrat, who they fully expect to be Hillary Clinton. 

The biggest news that Karl Rove made in that interview that he did with Paul Gigot of the “Wall Street Journal” was when he said that he fully expected Hillary Clinton to be the nominee and that she was a tenacious, but fatally flawed candidate.  The themes that he enunciated out there on the White House lawn about the war on terror, tax cuts and so forth, are the ones that Bush and Rove in the service of the Republican Party are going to take on the attack next year. 

OLBERMANN:  Why the variety of formal stories, though?  This was supposed to be in response to Bolten‘s edict about Labor Day.  Then he said, no, the August date had been set before Bolten made that edict.  Then it was to be with his family.  Then it was Dana Perino‘s explanation that August is your prime retirement month.  Why so many stories and what are they glossing over or covering up? 

FINEMAN:  They are glossing over the fact that this was the quietest time to sidle out of town.  The notion that he was taking orders from Bolten was ridiculous.  It was Karl Rove that hired Bolten.  Josh Bolten does not tell Karl Rove what to do.  Karl Rove and George Bush are joined at the hip.

But now was the time to leave.  It was a quiet time.  It was long enough after 2006 that he would not look like he was being run out of town.  It was long enough after the Libby story and after Congress played its investigative hand on the U.S. attorney story.  That is the reason why. 

Also, one thing here, Keith, the silence has been deafening from Republicans, from Republican presidential contenders, members of Congress, who, by the way, are out of town.  Another good reason for Rove to leave now.  I have not heard a word from any Republican leader about Karl Rove because they do not like him.  The reason they do not like him is because his sole focus has been on George Bush.  This notion that Karl Rove‘s aim was to build a new Republican majority ala McKinley is ridiculous.  His only mission was to get George Bush elected.  He did it twice and did not care a lot about the Congress, Republicans included. 

OLBERMANN:  This is the first real hint that he was aware that there was a 2008 presidential election.  Here is the rapper here, Howard.  This means what for George Bush?  I mean, on Saturday, September 1st he wakes up and says I am a lame duck?  What happens to him now? 

FINEMAN:  What happens now is they are strictly in defensive mode.  This is all protecting turf now.  There is no more agenda in terms of getting things accomplished. 

The way Karl Rove conceived of politics made it impossible for George Bush to pass immigration and social security reform, to deal with Democrats because they had spent a decade demonizing them.  All Bush is going to do now is hold the turf, hold the surge, hold Iraq, hold the tax cut. 

By the way, in many ways, Bush and Rove have won, Keith.  Because as the Democrats are conceding quietly, if not openly, it will be—it‘s going to be hard to yank all of the troops out of Iraq.  As the Democrats are showing, they‘re probably not going to have the guts to abolish George Bush‘s tax cuts. 

In certain respects, Bush and Rove have won.  George Bush is counting the minutes until he gets out of town.  I always felt about George Bush that he wanted to win desperately.  I am not sure that he wanted to be president.  He is looking enviously at Karl Rove as he heads back to Texas. 

OLBERMANN:  Hence that remark and that old feeling when you sign up for an 8:00 class in college. 

FINEMAN:  Right.

OLBERMANN:  “News Week‘s” Howard Fineman.  As always, thanks for joining us. 

FINEMAN:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  For more on what Rove‘s resignation means for the White House and the ongoing investigations into it, I am joined by Nixon White House counsel, John Dean, whose new book “Broken Government:  How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive and Judicial Branches” is due out next month. 

John, congratulations on the book. 

JOHN DEAN, FORMER NIXON WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL:  Thank you up and good evening. 

OLBERMANN:  I want to start with the president that‘s statement that he will be following Karl Rove out the door.  He still has 17 months left.  Is there a statement in there, an indication of how he plans to use the rest of his tenure?  Is Howard right, essentially just hold out and waiting for the ride to end? 

DEAN:  It may have been a subconscious admission that his presidency has really been over for a while.  Here is a president who has not really enjoyed very much being a president.  I suspect he is counting the days until he can get back to Texas and get out of there.  His year-plus vacations show that he is not on of hanging around the White House and being in the Oval Office. 

OLBERMANN:  About the congressional investigations and whether or not they were reason to go or stay, Rove‘s quote to that “Wall Street Journal” interview with Paul Gigot was,” I am not going to stay or leave based on whether it pleases the mob.” 

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Pat Leahy, said he has no intention of giving up his inquiry.  The same has been said by the Judiciary chair in the House, John Conyers.  What happens to these investigations of Rove out of the White House?  Will he be able to claim executive privilege? 

DEAN:  He will be able to claim executive privilege.  In fact, the president has made executive privilege as extensive as any president ever has for present and former members of his staff.  Barney, his dog is almost covered by it.  So that isn‘t the problem.

But I think what they have misjudged, and what John Conyers in the House and Pat Leahy in the Senate, who are two old seasoned hands, might realize they are causing less problem in the White House fiscally when they disrupt the schedule of a working aide, so they might be more inclined to go after Rove, who wouldn‘t have his daily relationships with the president so interfered with. 

I think this is actually, if they sit back and think about it, an opportunity to get more aggressive with Rove and push the envelope with him. 

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of pushing the envelope, in that “Wall Street Journal” interview, Rove told the interviewer that he believes that the two achievements of the Bush administration, two of them in foreign policy, will live on after 2009.  The policy that if you harbor a terrorist, you are as culpable as the terrorist and the doctrine of preemption.  Is he right about these things living on?  What does that mean for this country? 

DEAN:  I think he is right only if we have another GOP president, which obviously—I think Howard has got a point there—that this might be part of the agenda, to indeed have this part of the legacy.  I do not think a Democrat would conceivably further those policies, either one of them.  They both have been disasters.  Bush himself can‘t enforce the embracing of a foreign country having a terrorist in it.  They won‘t even go after Pakistan and Iran.  And for good reason, they have pretty well depleted the forces.  There are a lot problems with those policies.  I‘m sure a Democrat wouldn‘t embrace them, not will it be a legacy in any Democratic administration.

OLBERMANN:  It is probably not actually of a policy.  It‘s an announcement of a policy and a public relations campaign based on a policy, which brings me to the last question, what do you make of Howard Fineman‘s theory that Rove is headed off to form some shady target-Hillary-Clinton hit squad or one that‘s designed to make people more scared of terrorists, real or fictional? 

DEAN:  I think it makes a lot of sense.  I made a few calls when I heard about the department myself, and couldn‘t find anybody that found him being forced out of the White House, which is my thought, when it is this close to a president, few people leave.  Not withstanding Bolten‘s announcement, people tend to stay in situations like this.  He must have an agenda.  He must have something the president wants to do.  This might actually be a break for the Democrats if they come out and aggressively campaigned against them.  I think this is the best thing to happen to the Democrats to be able to go against George Bush and the disasters that he has left behind and tie whoever is the new GOP nominee with those policies would be a good thing for the Democrats. 

OLBERMANN:  What happens if the Republican nominee has to dissociate himself formally from the sitting Republican president?  We‘ll see if that is even a possibility. 

John Dean, who‘s book “Broken Government” is to be released next month.

As always, sir, great thanks for your time tonight.

DEAN:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  So what does Rove do now?  What does Bush do now?  The post-Rovian era for both men as forecast by Rove biographer Jim Moore. 

And the Iowa straw poll has correctly forecast the last two Republican nominees.  Of course it has, says winner Mitt Romney.  So what, say drop-outs Giuliani and John McCain.

You‘re watching “Countdown” on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It was 34 years ago last Friday that a story appeared in a “Washington Post” detailing a Republican National Committee probe of the member of an outfit that was touring the country giving tutorials on political dirty tricks.  Our fourth story tonight, the member in question was a 22-year-old Karl Rove.  The RNC chairman that investigated him was former Congressman George Herbert Walker Bush.  Mr. Bush‘s investigation led him to punish the rival of Rove, who was falsely accused of leaking Rove‘s activities.  Rove himself got a job out of the deal.  Congressman Bush hired him to work for the RNC.  On November 21, 1973, Rove met George Bush Jr.

I can literally remember what he was wearing,” Rove said.  “An Air National Guard flight jacket, cowboy boots, blue jeans, complete with the in Texas you see it a lot—one of the back pockets will have a circle worn in the pocket from where you carry your tin of stuff, your tin of tobacco.  He as exuding more charisma than any one individual should be allowed to have.” 

And 1994, when that individual ran against Governor Ann Richards, voters got calls from pollsters asking, “Would you be less likely to vote for Governor Richards if you knew her staff was dominated by a lesbian?”  Enter Governor Bush and a winning streak for the bush-Rove team that endured until Election Day 2006. 

Let‘s turn now to James Moore, who has covered that team extensively both in Texas and in Washington as a journalist and as co-author of the definitive book “Bush‘s Brain.”

Jim, thanks for your time tonight. 

JAMES MOORE, AUTHOR, “BUSH‘S BRAIN”:  Glad to be here, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Bush has called him an architect and he has also called him Turd Blossom, as we know.  He has also been called boy genius.  You stuck on him that memorable epithet “Bush‘s Brain.”  The question now become, what does Mr. Bush become when he has to operate without Rove for the first time in his political life? 

MOORE:  I say he goes from a lame duck to lamebrain.  This presidency is going to achieve nothing.  It is marking off the days.  I see him sitting there with one of those popular anti-Bush calendars counting down the days.  There is nothing left to accomplish domestically.  The war is a mess.  Karl is radioactive, so Karl has to leave town.  Congress is still after him.  And the Republican Party does not want to be closely associated with Karl at this point because he will damage them and any chances they have in 2008.  I think it is a complete mess.  And Karl getting away from it, he can no longer help the president, so he is out to help himself. 

OLBERMANN:  Can we buy the story that he is going to stay out of the 2008 campaign?  You heard or what Howard Fineman had to say about him targeting Hillary and all that, is that likely outcome, he‘ll try to be an independent influence on the Republican win next year?                 

MOORE:  I am not sure that would be the case.  Even a shark gets a full belly every now and then.  This is a chance for this guy to cash in on his reputation.  He can command huge speaking fees, so he will be offered a ton of money to be on retainer for corporations.  The most important thing that he wants to do is to sit down and write his first draft, his version of history, so he can put his definitive spin on the eight years of the Bush administration in hopes that history will judge him a bit more kindly than everyone expects history to judges him, which is not going to be a good vision as the years go by. 

OLBERMANN:  To that point, is this the start of the time which the littered victims of Karl Rove‘s form of politics, to say nothing of unindicted co-conspirators or people who got off the train at some point, is this the time when they start coming out of the woodwork and filling in the blanks that most people have remained quiet throughout the career of Karl Rove? 

MOORE:  I have wondered about that and I certainly call those people from time to time, but everything Karl says to them becomes a dead man‘s talk and it does not get repeated. 

You‘d like to believe that we all at least had a shred of humanity and will have a moment of atonement.  I do not think that Karl does.  There is a certain part of this guy that is pathological and he has a happy little movie in his head that he is watching.  And he creates a reality that he refers to.  That is what sustains him and the people who support him.  They are in denial, just as they have been in 2006 and with the war.  I do not know that these people are going to talk any time in the near future.  Perhaps, down the road when historians seek them out and it is safer to do that, maybe. 

OLBERMANN:  Answer Bill Plante‘s question to President Bush as he and Mr. Rove embraced, if Rove is so smart, how come they lost Congress? 

MOORE:  What Karl has done throughout the years is turn everything political.  He has taken the institutions of our government and our country and he‘s turned them into political institutions in ways that they never were used before.  Federal agencies are used to accumulate political power.  Everything they did was to accumulate political power.  And eventually, what happened was that when those agencies were called upon to serve the constituencies that elected people to Washington, when they were unable to do that, the public finally said, we have had enough.  We get what‘s going on here.  Karl did not see that coming.  But that does not mean he is not a bright political guy.  It just means that nothing else mattered to him beyond the accumulation of political power.  It was not about serving the people that sent them to Washington. 

OLBERMANN:  A very 1984 Orwellian concept.  We‘re not in it for anything else other than to maintain and extend the power.

MOORE:  That is it. 

OLBERMANN:  James Moore, co-author of “Bush‘s Brain” and “The Architect.” And perhaps at work now on something that could be entitled “Mr. Bush Needs a New Brain.”

Many thanks, Jim.

MOORE:  Your welcome.

OLBERMANN:  Unfortunately, the crisis is a familiar one for NASA.  Fortunately, the crisis is a familiar one for NASA.  Debris hits the shuttle on launch.  Now what to do about it.  The latest from Kennedy.

And what to do about this—grand theft puppy when “Countdown” continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  On this date in 1899, Alfred Hitchcock was born.  Apart from the fact that his first visit to the U.S., no film studio hired him here because they thought he couldn‘t make a Hollywood picture, apart from the fact that none of his classics ever won an Academy Award for his direction, Hitchcock also set an Oscars record.  In 1967, they finally gave him the Irving G. Thalberg Award for people they had not yet given awards to.  His entire speech consisted of, quote, “Thank you.” 

On that note, let‘s play “Oddball.”

We begin in Bookabrowni (ph), Hungary.  Mine workers removing a deep layer of sand, uncovering these almost perfectly preserved cypress trees dating back to the late Myostine (ph) era.  That‘s eight million years ago.  Unless you are seeking the GOP nomination, in which case, it is definitely no more than 6,000 years ago.  The Almighty has secretly replaced these prehistoric trees with a Biblically accurate substitute.  Can these scientists tell the difference?  The huge trunks are a priceless glimpse in the past, so they‘re being very careful not to—oh, you know, to be—oh, no, the humanity. 

We are now in Lower Saxony in Germany, host to the first European Open Championships in chain saw carving.  And this is Chainsaw Night in America.  In Lower Saxony, the chainsaw is used as a knife, an incredibly unwieldy, life-threatening motorized knife favored by Yakuza everywhere.  Thirty-five carvers from around the world competed.  But any day that chain saw wielding maniacs have to race the clock, we are all winners.

In Hollywood, Florida, a thief scooped up at least three puppies worth about $1,500 each.  During the escape, one of the puppies made a run for it.  So cute when they run.  Oh, so close.  See anyone resembling this sketch, report them immediately. 

In Delmar, California, the dogs are not just napped, they are water boarding.  A local surfing academy held a clinic to prepare for its Annual Surf Dog Surfathon.  We don‘t know what the prize is, but clearly the entrance fee is dignity.

Speaking of which, politics, the Iowa straw poll has correctly anticipated the last two Republican presidential nominees.  Does this one mean anything though if McCain and Giuliani didn‘t even show up? 

And putting the bye-bye into bisexuality.  Angelina Jolie claims Brad Pitt is enough for her now.  Her ex girlfriend says that is nonsense.  Details on these and other stories—like you‘re watching this—ahead. 

But first here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three news makers of this day.

Number three, Anas from Saudi Arabia.  That‘s all we know about his name.  He was detained at Cairo International Airport when X-rays of his carry-on baggage showed it was filled with infant Nile crocodiles and snakes, including at least one cobra.  He said he was bringing them on to the plane because he needed them for research at his university.

They let him go.  They sent the reptiles to the zoo.  Snakes on a plan, I‘m thinking maybe a movie.  No.

Number two, Leroy Greer, suing 1800-FLOWERS for $1.5 million.  He used them to send roses to his girlfriend.  He says they then sent a thank you note for the business to his estranged wife. 

Number one, Andy Woodward, Elvis impersonator.  Thursday, on the 30th anniversary of Elvis‘ death, Mr. Woodward, who prefers the word tribute performer, will try to set a record for the most tribute performances in one day.  Thirty of them all around London, England.  It could sound something like this, love me tender, love me.  Thank you very much.  You ain‘t nothing.  Thank you very much.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  To put the Straw Poll in Iowa into perspective, past winners have included Pat Robertson and Phil Gramm, and also the first President Bush the year he lost the nomination to Ronald Reagan.  On the other hand, the 1996 winner was eventual nominee Bob Dole.  In 2000 it was George W. Bush.  Our third story tonight, the COUNTDOWN to 2008.

For whatever it is worth, the Iowa Straw Poll of Republican candidates and the not unexpected victory of Mitt Romney, who spent millions buying air time, hiring entertainers, holding forums, and, at the 11th hour, flying in 90 family members to stir up enthusiasm.  Hold your polygamy jokes until the end.  OK?

More perspective here; despite that, a low turnout, with Romney earning 31 percent of the informal cast of ballots, at an estimated cost per vote ranging from 500 to 800 dollars or maybe more.  There was no competition from Rudy Giuliani, who decided not to take on the Romney money machine, nor John McCain, who could not afford to. 

Romney rationalized all of that just fine. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It is too bad the other guys were not competing here.  If they thought they could have been successful year, they would have been here. 

We‘re on a roll now, and we have a long way to go.  I am still an underdog.  I am not as well known in some of the other states.  But in the places that I have spent my time, I am gratified that I have been able to make some great headway and I won this thing.  There are a lot of names on the ballot.  And I am happy that mine is at the top. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The actual surprise belongs to former Governor Mike Huckabee of Arkansas, who finished second on a shoestring budget of less than 100,000 dollars.  Huckabee chosen by 18 percent of Republican voters, ahead of Senator Sam Brownback and Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo.  The only sure loser in Iowa, former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, who came in sixth and who kept his promise to fold his campaign if he did not place in the top half. 

So, and then there were nine.  Analysis now from Chris Cillizza, who blogs “The Fix” for WashingtonPost.com, is just back from the Hawkeye State himself.  Chris, thanks for your time tonight.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Your colleagues, Michael Scherer and Dan Balz in the “Washington Post” were reporting that the mention of Giuliani or McCain or former Senator Fred Thompson‘s names brought actual groans from Iowa Republicans.  Did they make blunders here by not playing the game in Iowa?  Is that the news out of this thing?

CILLIZZA:  Let‘s take them one buy one.  With McCain, I think you rightly point out he probably did not have enough money to play here seriously.  So he probably made the wise decision. 

Giuliani knew that this could be an early momentum killer.  Iowa tends to be dominated on the Republican side by socially conservative voters, not exactly Giuliani‘s base.  The one that I think did potentially make a big mistake is Fred Thompson. 

This is a guy whose message, in theory, would appeal to Iowa voters.  He could have spent a few hundred thousand dollars, which he has plenty of money to spare, and made a good showing here, second, maybe a strong second, challenging Romney.  What he would have done there is break some of Romney‘s momentum. 

Like it or not, Romney Has momentum here.  As you point out, the last few straw polls have been predictive.  If you came in first or second, you tend to win the caucuses.  And winning the caucuses does matter to winning the nomination.

OLBERMANN:  So, when he says this is groundwork for the caucus next winter, is the assessment that he is correct in that analysis? 

CILLIZZA:  I think he is.  It doesn‘t equate.  Winning the straw poll doesn‘t mean winning the caucus.  As you pointed out, there are about 23,000 votes cast.  You are going to need a lot more than that to win the caucuses.  But what it does it allows your organization to have a dry run of sorts, find out where it is good, find out where it is bad. 

And, as you talked about earlier, it endears you if you participate to Iowans.  It can hurt you if you do not.  Iowans take this very seriously.  Having been on the ground there for a couple days, they take this responsibility very seriously, and they do not like anyone who even gives any indication that Iowa may not be the political player that they think it is. 

OLBERMANN:  Not that everything was golden for Romney there, because over the weekend the governor said that he had been misspeaking when he compared his son‘s campaign for him with the potential for them serving the country by fighting in Iraq.  Some of his opponents claim they have actual recordings about dodging voters‘ questions, cheating in a state fair poll with kernels of corn into glasses. 

Is this symbolic of this Romney as Bing Crosby, too relaxed, too off the cuff to be long term successful? 

CILLIZZA:  What I think it is more than that—that is an element of it—He is now in a lot of ways the front runner.  You can make an argument for Giuliani.  You can make an argument for Romney.  One is ahead in the traditional sense, the Iowa, New Hampshire.  That‘s Romney.  One is ahead in national polling.  That‘s Giuliani.

But what comes with being the front-runner, at least a debate over the front runner, is a lot more scrutiny.  We live in a Youtube age.  The reality is—you know, I was at the state fair with Romney.  He dropped a pork chop on the ground.  The cook yelled, don‘t pick it up.  He picked it up and put it back on the grill.  There was about 1,000 people taping that event.  I am sure it will pop up on Youtube. 

That‘s the world that we live in.  When you are a front runner, that is the scrutiny you can expect. 

OLBERMANN:  The second place finish for Governor Huckabee on 100,000 dollars; is that as impressive as it seems, and does it kind of undercut what Romney did, given how much Romney spent? 

CILLIZZA:  I think what happened to Romney—he was a victim of his own success.  He was so far ahead in polling and had spent so much money, and, as you pointed out, his big challengers were not there to face him off.  Everyone expected him to win. 

It was really a battle between Huckabee and Sam Brownback, the senator from Kansas, for second, for the secondary winner in this race.  I think Huckabee did himself a lot of good.  I think a lot of people in the media, a lot of political people were waiting for a spark from his campaign.  This is a guy who has done very well in debates.  He gave a very good speech at Ames. 

But he has no money.  Without money, you can‘t make your message heard.  Let‘s see.  This is an opportunity for him, nothing more.  But it is an opportunity.  Can he turn it into money and organization and bump up to challenge Thompson, Giuliani and Romney? 

OLBERMANN:  The real advantage of McCain and Giuliani not being there, someone else necessarily had to finish second. 

CILLIZZA:  Someone had to finish second, right.

OLBERMANN:  Chris Cillizza, author of “The Fix,” political blog of theWashingtonPost.com.  As always, Chris, great thanks.

CILLIZZA:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Not to make light of this, but will we ever launch a space shuttle without seriously damaging it while we launch it?  The latest breaking news here on the endeavors to fix Endeavour. 

And the latest on the endeavors to fix Britney Spears.  In the custody battle, Kevin Federline, as they say these days, goes commando, when COUNTDOWN continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Among the ironies of modern space exploration, that a piece of light weight foam could lead to the destruction of a 2,000 ton spacecraft and that such a disaster might be avoided by what NASA technically refers to as goo.  In the number two story, trying to prevent an accident that cannot be allowed to happen again, NASA this evening saying it will extend tests into tomorrow and perhaps decide Wednesday whether or not to send astronauts out to repair the gauge in the underside of the space shuttle Endeavour.  Our correspondent at the Kennedy Space Center is Kristen Dahlgren.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KRISTEN DAHLGREN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  As astronauts worked on a scheduled space walk Monday afternoon, it is the possibility of another walk and high-altitude repair job that had mission managers meeting to decide what to do.  This is a close-up of the divot on the underneath of the Space Shuttle Endeavour.  Small, but perhaps serious. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We saw the picture and we said, it‘s more than nothing.  It is something that we need to go in and understand. 

DAHLGREN:  NASA engineers spent the day trying to understand just how big a deal this little three and a half inch gauge could be. 

Laser and camera images show the divot reaches all the way to the shuttle‘s aluminum skin. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Lift off of Space Shuttle Endeavor.

DAHLGREN:  They also now know it was foam, and not ice, as originally thought, that struck Endeavour 58 seconds after lift off.  But that may create even more problems.  After years of working to eliminate falling foam, NASA thought it had the issue under control. 

Here is NASA Administrator Michael Griffin just last week. 

MICHAEL GRIFFIN, NASA ADMINISTRATOR:  We think we understand the way the tank generates and sheds debris, and we think we have it under control.  That was the problem that killed the Columbia astronauts. 

DAHLGREN:  The Columbia disaster is no doubt on many minds as mission managers must now decide whether to reevaluate their upcoming launch schedule.  Even as they tackle the more immediate issue, is repairing the shuttle‘s heat resistant tiles in orbit the best way to bring Endeavor it home safely?  

Kristen Dahlgren, NBC News, Kennedy Space Center.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  On to Keeping Tabs, which tonight begins with the death of a man whose legend lies in part with all the phrases that might aptly describe him, real-estate tycoon, game show king, talk show trail blazer, big band sing Merv Griffin succumbing to prostate cancer on Sunday.  He topped the charts in 1949 with “I have Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts,” which he sang in a faux British accent.  But what made him literally a household name was “The Merv Griffin Show,” the first incarnation of which premiered in 1962, and which broadcast for nearly 25 years.

For three years, beginning in 1969, his show was moved to late night, pitted against Johnny Carson.  Griffin also took on controversial subjects, like opposition to the Vietnam War, leading to sometimes uncomfortable juxtapositions.  A TV Guide listing in the ‘70s read, paraphrasing here, Merv Griffin show, Merv focuses on rape.  Guests, rape victims, rape counselors and rehabilitated rapists.  Mort Lindsay (ph) conducts the orchestra. 

Mr. Griffin created legendary game shows along the way, “Jeopardy!” in 1964, “Wheel of Fortune” in 1975.  He was working on his latest creation, “Merv Griffin‘s Crosswords,” until just a few weeks before his death.  Because he said he was not interested in clipping coupons in semi-retirement, he got into real estate, even beating out Donald Trump in a move to control Resorts International in Atlantic City. 

Merv Griffin was 82 years old. 

As for passing the torch from Bob Barker in the game show that is the “Price is Right,” the recipient is now trying to take it with an arm injured during a rehearsal for his new role as host of Price.  Drew Carey hurt during the grocery game, getting his arm caught in the spinning turn table.  He was examined at an L.A. hospital, returned to work with splint and a badge of honor.

Mr. Carey was reportedly sending pictures of his injury to friends via his cell phone. 

What do Drew Carey and Angelina Jolie have in common?  They both like girls.  But for Angelina, not so much anymore, she says.  Her first woman lover responds, yes right.  That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.

The bronze to Reverend Gary Simons and the nondenominational Highpoint Church of Arlington, Texas.  The brother of one of its janitors died.  The mega church offered to hold a memorial service for him.  He was Gulf War Navy vet Cecil Sinclaire.  Everything was arranged, and 24 hours before the service was to begin, Reverend Simons canceled it after learning that Sinclaire was gay. 

What would Jesus do?  Well, how would Reverend Simons in Highpoint Church know anything about that?  It‘s not as if they have read his words or anything, obviously. 

Our runner up, Michael O‘Hanlon from the Brookings Institution.  You remember his glowing review of the surge, how well it was going from the point of view of a ceaseless critic of the war?  Mr. O‘Hanlon has now said in an interview with Salon.com that he was always pretty much a supporter of the war, and that his tour of Iraq featured merely short visits only with U.S. commanders in locations handpicked by the Pentagon.  But for the, quote, predominant majority of Americans and Iraqis he talked to, quote, the conversations were ones arranged by the Department of Defense. 

So, they wrote a press release and you signed it. 

But our winner, who else?  Responding to Senator John Edwards, who said, succinctly and aptly, quote, Fox News I think has a long history of bias against Democrats.  We have to stand up to them.  It‘s time to put a stop to this.  You know what Fox Noise does to its critics, it lies about them. 

Bill-O replies, John Edwards has been on the Fox News Channel 33 times, 33 times.  Not once could I find anything insulting, demeaning or disrespectful to the senator.  So he‘s actually lying, is he not? 

No, you are lying, Billy.  May 24th, John Edwards is called the, quote, “$400 haircut man” by Sean Hannity on Fox Noise.  August 3rd, John Edwards is called, quote, “the Breck Girl,” and, quote, “the biggest fraud running for president,” quote, by John Gibson on Fixed News Radio.

June 4th, John Edwards is called, quote, “dopey,” by Bill O‘Reilly on Fox Noise.  June 8th, John Edwards is called, quote, “the biggest phony in the world” by Bill O‘Reilly on Fixed News.  Not once could I find anything insulting, demeaning or disrespectful to the senator.  You would probably have a much more successful search, Bill, if you took your head out of your heiny.

Bill O‘Reilly, today‘s Worst Person in the World.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Somewhere, Jennifer Aniston must be laughing.  Not only did Angelina Jolie reportedly tell a French magazine that she had given up sex with women since getting together with Brad Pitt, but the story has also dredged up comments from Jolie‘s former lesbian lover implying that it is only a matter of time before Jolie returns to her bisexual roots.  And in our number story in the COUNTDOWN, there‘s also an Israeli commando, though that has nothing to do with Miss Jolie.

It seems that Kevin Federline has hired some hard-core personnel in his battle to get primary custody of his kids. 

Miss Jolie first, who recently France‘s “Public Magazine,”—Public, quote, “I have never hidden my bisexuality, but since I‘ve been with Brad, I have abandoned women.” 

Not completely sure that‘s a compliment to Mr. Pitt, but she added, “Now there is no room for that or S&M in my life.”  Wait, she used to have a room for that and S&M? 

But Model Jenny Shimizu, Miss Jolie‘s former lesbian lover, might disagree.  It was just last year, she told Britain‘s “News of the World” that, quote, “Angelina is an unbelievable lover.  I was her first and I doubt I will be the last.”

Meantime, when Kevin Federline needed depositions, subpoenas served on a couple of Miss Spears associates, he hired security expert Aaron Cohen.  Mr. Cohen‘s firm describes itself as the leading edge of Israeli-style security services and anti-terrorist training. 

On that note of hyperbole, let us turn to “Village Voice” columnist Michael Musto.  Michael, good evening. 

MICHAEL MUSTO, “THE VILLAGE VOICE”:  Hello, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Starting with Miss Jolie; she could have just told that French magazine that things were really nice with Brad Pitt.  Instead, she seems to have gone out of her way to say no more women, and by the way, no more S&M either.  Why such detail?  Is she convincing herself?  Is she marketing herself with that bad girl image?  What‘s going on here?

MUSTO:  By the way, by no more S&M, she means Sandra and Madonna.  So again she is saying no more lesbians.  She is very repetitive here. Yes, telling magazines that your sex life with Brad is so hot is just a way of convincing yourself. 

I‘ve heard this before.  In fact, the last time I heard so much vehemence about this subject was Angelina and Billy Bob Thornton.  They were bi.  He would buy her something and she would spread. 

OLBERMANN:  You‘re absolutely right.  That is one of those classic psychological things.  When you hear people boasting about that, it usually means—

MUSTO:  I do it all the time.

OLBERMANN:  I wasn‘t pointing the finger at you, as it were.  Of course, all these celebrity sites seized on the “News of the World” interview with this Miss Shimizu, who also said that Angelina Jolie, quote, loves danger and dabbling in the dark side, not playing happy families with one man.  Is this both sort of a summary and prophecy for both Miss Jolie and Mr. Pitt? 

MUSTO:  Yes, it is, and he knows that she loves danger.  That is why he was attracted to her in the first place, because she was a hot, tempestuous, home wrecker.  The problem is that these patterns tend to repeat themselves.  People forget that.  Once you have domesticated a home wrecker, they start looking at other homes to wreck, because they are bored. 

Right now Angelina is looking at Joe Pesci and Angie Everheart, both of them.

OLBERMANN:  She had this other compliment of sorts, I guess, in this interview about Brad Pitt.  He lets me talk to whomever I want.  He has complete blind faith in me.  Michael, I am guessing there is another hidden message in here you can find for us. 

MUSTO:  That is really big of Brad, to let her talk to other people, isn‘t it?  It‘s really mighty white of him to not ask for constant approval.  I think the hidden message is that it is really deaf faith that gets you by with Angelina, because you don‘t have to listen to all of the banal stuff she says about saving the world‘s children cheek bone by cheek bone.  Shut up.

OLBERMANN:  Now over to the commando that Mr. Federline hired.  The “New York Daily News” said that this Mr. Cohen infiltrated a party at 2:00 a.m. to serve subpoenas on Alli Simms, who is the assistant and cousin to Britney Spears, and also onto Britney Spears‘ music producer, Jonathan Rotem. 

It‘s impressive, I suppose.  How does it actually factor into counter-terrorism? 

MUSTO:  It‘s not really terrorism.  Vanessa Redgrave is not stepping up here with her opinion, maybe Vanessa Williams.  There is no political context here.  To these people, the Gaza Strip is when Britney disrobes down to her fertile crescent.  Palestine is a palace where they sell stines of beer.  Barbra Streisand is an old Israeli woman.  Sharon is the woman from “Basic Instinct.”  They‘re idiots. 

OLBERMANN:  The Gaza Strip is something you do in front of a 21-year-old college kid.  Should she be concerned that this commando guy is going to bust in on her next pool party with assembled male models? 

MUSTO:  Yes, because the last thing she wants to do when she is drunk in the deep is have to read something, unless it‘s a cocktail menu.  She‘s swimming scared.  No Israelis allowed by the pool. 

OLBERMANN:  TMZ.com claims to know what other kinds of evidence Mr.  Federline is gathering here, interviews with former nannies.  And even though we had mentioned this as a joke last week, it says that Federline‘s attorney actually wants to introduce some magazine articles about Britney Spears into this custody debate.  Which magazines do you think he is going for here?  Is he favoring “Life and Style,” “US Weekly” or “OK! Magazine?” 

MUSTO:  I think just the “OK! Magazine” alone will send her to the slammer, especially the part where she let the dog crap on the expensive gown.  I do think, Keith, As much as I love these trash rags, and I probably work for them too—I do not even know.  I don‘t think they should be held up as hard evidence in court.  What next?  Are we going to convict Rue McClanahan for seducing a 12-year-old boy with bat wings? 

Works for me.

OLBERMANN:  With that image indelibly seared into our collective consciousness—

MUSTO:  Sorry. 

OLBERMANN:  Thanks. 

MUSTO:  I could have gone with Abe Bogota.  

OLBERMANN:  The one and only Michael Musto, great thanks.  That is COUNTDOWN for this the 1,566th 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.

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