updated 8/21/2007 10:50:02 AM ET 2007-08-21T14:50:02

Guests: Rachel Maddow, Paul Rieckhoff, Joel McHale

AMY ROBACH, MSNBC GUEST HOST (voice-over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I find it interesting he‘s so obsessed with me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  Obsession by Rove, not a fragrance, but a political strategy?  The soon-to-be former presidential aide toured the Sunday talk shows taking aim at the Democrats with a special interest in the junior senator from New York. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARL ROVE, DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF, WHITE HOUSE:  She enters the general campaign with the highest negatives in history of the Gallop poll. 

ROBACH:  Is the architect‘s next project deconstructing a Clinton candidacy? 

Hurricane Dean rips through the Caribbean with 145-mile-per-hour winds.  It is getting stronger as Mexico prepares for a direct hit from one of the most powerful hurricanes to make landfall. 

A military stretched thin.  A report says if the surge continues, there are not enough troops to sustain it.  Are we really that close to the breaking point?

Incredible escape.  A Chinese airliner bursts into flames after landing.  All onboard make it out alive.

And an Oklahoma couple are pulled to safety from flood waters after falling several times during their harrowing rescue. 

Career a little sluggish these days?  Donald Trump is taking resumes for celebrity apprentice, but says the ideal candidate must be into fashion, like to drive, enjoys small spaces, comfortable in social settings and not afraid to take risks.  Be sure to include a head shot. 

All that and more now on “Countdown.”

(on camera):  Good evening.  I‘m Amy Robach, in for Keith Olbermann.  Karl Rove may be a short timer at the White House but it seems he‘s already got an inside line on a new potential occupation.  About reserve psychologist?  Our fifth story on “Countdown,” the architect‘s week-long attack against Senator Hillary Clinton is far from subtle, probably far from over and far from original.  No rest for him this Sunday morning at the end of a week that began when his announced his resignation.  The Turd Blossom—President Bush gave him that name—made the rounds at the political talk shows where he continued to predict that Ms. Hillary Clinton will the Democratic nominee but described her, again, as a flawed and damaged candidate. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROVE:  She enters the general election campaign with the highest negatives of any candidate in the hit of the Gallup poll. 

INTERVIEWER:  The president has higher negatives than she, however. 

ROVE: She enters the presidential contest with higher negatives.  The only person who would come close is—hers are at 49.  The only other candidate to come close was Al Gore with 34. 

INTERVIEWER:  How does that hurt her? 

ROVE:  It just says that people have made an opinion about her.  It‘s hard to change opinions once you‘ve been a high-profile person in the public eyes, as she has for 16 or 17 years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  And while the Rove interview was broadcast, the Democrats were debating in Iowa where Ms. Clinton made a prediction of her own.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  I don‘t think Karl Rove is going to endorse me.  That becomes more and more obvious.  But I find it interesting that he is so obsessed with me.  And I think the reason is because we know how to win.  I have been fighting against these people for longer than anybody up here.  I‘ve taken them on and we have beaten them.  And I‘m very excited about my campaign. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  Just because Karl Rove is spending so much time talking about Hillary Clinton doesn‘t mean he is interested in talking about any other Democratic candidate in the race for president. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

INTERVIEWER:  Has Barack Obama measured up the hype surrounding him.

ROVE:  You know what, I‘m going to let you ask—you have an excellent panel coming up and why don‘t you ask them. 

INTERVIEWER:  You haven‘t shying away from talking about Hillary Clinton. 

ROVE:  I‘m just going to let—I‘ve said enough.  I‘ve got to safe a little bit more for another day.

INTERVIEWER:   Do you fear Barack Obama?  That‘s why you are spending the time attacking Hillary Clinton? 

ROVE:  You know, I read that in the “L.A. Times” this morning.  Those guys out in L.A. have got to get clued in.  I mean, come on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  So does Karl Rove fear Barack Obama?  Let‘s bring in Dana Milbank to discuss it.  He is the national political reporter for the “Washington Post.”

Good evening, Dana.

DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Hi, Amy.

ROBACH:  So Mr. Rove talking about the “L.A. Times” article where they talked to Matthew Dowd, a former Bush strategist, who said this is very familiar, where at one point, they feared John Edwards so they decided to go after John Kerry.  Because they wanted John Kerry to be the front runner because they felt like they could defeat him.  Does this sound like a big Rove plan? 

MILBANK:  Everything is part of Rove‘s grand plan.  The truth is, Turd

Blossom—and I am delighted you can use that word on national television

is not afraid of anybody.  I think there‘s a little bit of a danger of over thinking.  We don‘t have a Kremlin to watch anymore so we try to figure out what Rove is really up to.  It‘s possible that it‘s the obvious that Hillary Clinton is in a very commanding position and appears likely to be the nominee.  She has run a solid campaign and has done a good job with her image.  The Republicans really need to come out and attack her.  So this is a straightforward reason even if you don‘t want to deal with reverse psychology. 

ROBACH:  If you‘re Senator Clinton, this is good for you, right?  It rallies your base.

MILBANK:  It‘s a wonderful thing, as you can see from that clip of that debate.  Yes, her negatives are high, as Rove pointed out, but Bush‘s negatives are higher.  What all the Democrats want more than anything is to run against George W. Bush next year.  This is essentially handing that to them.

ROBACH:  If you are Senator Obama or Senator Edwards and were feared or hope you‘re feared by Karl Rove, what do you do to turn the attention back to you?  Right now, a lot of peopled focused on the Clinton-Rove situation. 

MILBANK:  Right after the Pentagon was attacking Hillary Clinton, which is the next best thing.  If you are John Edwards, you pretty much have to light your hair on fire at this point.  And he has a great amount of hair so he can do that.  Barack Obama is better in the polls and has to go more sharply after Clinton, which is what he‘s doing.  Not getting a whole lot of traction at this point. 

ROBACH:  As people talk about the Rove strategy and how well it served him, let‘s not forget the midterm elections, where the strategy didn‘t work out well.  Is there a fear among Republicans that Rove‘s way may not always be the best way? 

MILBANK:  You will not be surprised to find that a lot of campaigns are reaching out to talk to him but are not necessarily wanting to identify with him in public.  He looked like a genius when the president won his first two elections.  Looked like the goat in 2006.  It‘s always somewhere in-between and sometimes we have to say that Karl Rove is being reflexive as a Republican strategist would be and just attacking the Democratic frontrunner. 

ROBACH:  What is Rove‘s standing among the Republicans? 

MILBANK:  The Kremlinologists say he is still a highly regarded figure but this president, down to 29 percent, is in a poisonous position and Rove is tied to that. 

ROBACH:  Where does Rove go from here? 

MILBANK:  He has chances to make tremendous amounts of money if he wants to go back to Texas to be near his friends and loved ones.  And he says he will not get involved in the campaign in a formal way but he will be called upon for advice. 

ROBACH:  Any comment from John Kerry at this all comes to light about this big Rove conspiracy to make him the front runner in an attempt to have the Democratic base rally around the weakest link? 

MILBANK:  It sounds very good when you put it together in retrospect that way and really, John Kerry was not the candidate they were most eager to run against.  It was Howard Dean and they nearly got that until the great scream.  I think we can over think these things a bit much. 

ROBACH:  It sure would make a good newspaper article, Dana.  Dana Milbank of MSNBC and the “Washington Post.”  Thanks so much for your time.

MILBANK:  Thanks, Amy.

ROBACH:  When Karl Rove leaves the White House at the end of the month, he says he will have no regrets, except for one argument he had with a friend at the White House.  He‘s what he says he does not regret, discussing the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame with the press.  Perhaps here‘s why.  He now claims he did not confirm, would never confirm that information.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROVE:  My recollection is I‘ve heard that to.  But the point is, if a journalist had said to me I‘d like you to confirm this, my answer would have been I can‘t, I don‘t know.  I‘ve heard that too.

INTERVIEWER:  Do you think you owe Plame an apology? 

ROVE:  No. 

INTERVIEWER:  You do not? 

ROVE:  No. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  One of the reporters that Mr. Rove talked to, Matthew Cooper of “Time” magazine, said the deputy chief of staff is engaging in revisionist history. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEW COOPER, “TIME” MAGAZINE:  I think he was dissembling, to put it charitably.  Karl Rove told me about Plame‘s identity July 11, 2003.  I called him because Ambassador Wilson was in the news that week.  I didn‘t know Ambassador Wilson even had a wife until I talked to Karl Rove and he said she worked at the agency and she worked on WMD.  I mean, to imply that he didn‘t know about it or that this was all the leak of someone else and that he heard it is...

INTERVIEWER:  That he heard it from somebody else.

COOPER:  And that he heard it out in the hallway is nonsense. 

INTERVIEWER:  But he makes no apologies to Valerie Plame. 

COOPER:  Karl Rove never apologizes.  That‘s not what he does.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  For more on this and the rest of he Karl Rove headlines, let‘s turn to the host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America.

Rachel Maddow, thanks so much for your time tonight.

RACHEL MADDOW, HOST, “THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW”:   

ROBACH:  All right, so let‘s talk about Mr. Rove and this about face. 

What would explain it?  How does he get away with it?  Does he get away with it?

MADDOW:  I think he has come up with this new story is because it‘s been revealed that the Valerie Plame case is still a huge political liability for the White House.  When Rove first announced he was resigning, there was this initial furry about him being so sweet, he‘s so nice, he‘s so funny, about Rove.  All these people excited about him within the pundit class.  When people came to their senses and remembered that he is a very senior White House official who has had this role in this unpalatable thing that is unsolved, it became apparent to them that it was untenable to the leave the Karl Rove role in the Valerie Wilson case unresolved at this point.  I‘m not sure they knew it was going to be a big part of heir political legacy.  It‘s now apparent to them that they need a better story to tell about Rove‘s involvement in that and so they‘re trying to spin one up right now. 

ROBACH:  Rachel, do you think that Karl Rove is concerned about he‘ll be remembered in history?  What gives with this big media tour? 

MADDOW:  He is concerned, and he ought to be.  There are two reasons to my mind that we can think about why he has done this big political media tour.  President Bush is back on vacation in Crawford again, so it‘s nice to have Karl Rove out there as the Republican focal points.  Everyone thinks of him as Bush‘s brain anyway.  It gets the heat out of Bush to have people talking about Rove.  But the other part, as Dana mentioned, he is setting himself up for his post-White House life.  He wants to be seen as someone as a legitimate commentator and not just part of Bush for his post-White House life.  So he has to get out there and speak on his own terms. 

ROBACH:  In addition to the televised interviews we‘ve been discussing, we know he sat down with the “New York Times” for an interview that was published yesterday.  He blames the Democrats for the divisive tone that has dominated this administration.  Is this unexpected? 

MADDOW:  I laughed out loud.  What he actually said was Democrats have been dividing this country for the past six years by saying that George W.  Bush was not a legitimate president.  They‘ve been saying that he lied to the country and that he misled the country.

He is not saying that those things are not true.  He‘s just saying that it‘s been so awful that people say those things.  It‘s like saying it‘s not so much the murder, but the awful trial that happened after the murder.  He didn‘t say those things aren‘t true.  He‘s just made the Democrats have been pointing them out.  This is such classic Rovian tactics but we are so used to them that they‘re really transparent and sometimes inadvertently hilarious. 

ROBACH:  He‘s the first political strategist to take on this dual role as being a White House advisor.  Do you think he will likely be the last White House?  Could anyone else really do what Rove has done? 

MADDOW:  I hope that he is the last.  I think that what we did was just too dangerous.  We‘ve never had a better lesson as a nation for why policy and politics are two different things.  When you run campaigns to win, the other side that loses is the other person that wanted that political job.  But when you run policy, when you literally run the country as if you are running a political campaign, then we all lose.  We all lose for the political benefit of the figure head that that man was serving.  And by bringing his political campaign strategist into the White House to run domestic policy for a large portion of his presidency, I think Bush gave us the best lesson we could have on why that should never ever happen again. 

ROBACH:  While we have you here talking about the events of the day, we know that Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has threatened to hold the Bush administration in contempt for missing another deadline and not producing subpoenaed information about the president‘s secret eavesdropping program.  Do you think he will do it?  Will it matter if, and when, he does?

MADDOW:  I think he will do it.  I‘m hoping that he will do it.  I think he will do it because he is smart and I think Pat Leahy, in his heartwarmingly angry outbursts in the Senate over the past few months, since this Democratic Senate has really flexed its oversight muscle.   I think that Pat Leahy has shown the real—that he understands the real damage of not proceeding with contempt proceedings.  The benefit here is not so much how badly you can nail a particular White House official for having done something wrong.  The reason you have to proceed with things like that is because if you don‘t, it you let that stuff stand, if you let contempt of Congress stand, and this abuse of the separation of powers, then you say its OK for future presidents.  It can‘t stand.

ROBACH:  All right.  Rachel Maddow, host of “The Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America.  Thanks so much for joining us.

MADDOW:  Thank you, Amy.

ROBACH:  Hurricane Dean set to unleash its full furry on Mexico‘s Yucatan Peninsula.  Just how strong is Dean?  And what‘s being done by residents and vacationers to brace for the worst.

If the commander in chief wants to continue the surge, will the military have to say it‘s out of combat troops to send?

You‘re watching “Countdown” on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBACH:  The first hurricane of the season is already a monster storm.  In our fourth story on the “Countdown,” as Hurricane Dean heads straight for Mexico‘s Yucatan Peninsula, it is on course to make landfall early Tuesday morning as a possible Category 5 storm.  Thousands of tourists on the Mayan Riviera are evacuating and oil rigs have been shut down as Dean takes aim.

Although Jamaica was spared a direct hit on Sunday, the storm dumped 10 inches of rain in just six hours with heavy flooding.  Winds of up to 145 miles per hour uprooted trees and destroyed some buildings.  And a state of emergency has been declared as 300,000 people have been displaced.  One man was killed when struck by flying debris.  So far, 10 have been killed in the Caribbean as a result of the storm.  But Dean‘s worst might be just hours away. 

To bring us up to the minute on the Dean path and its likely landfall, let‘s bring in NBC Weather Plus Meteorologist Samantha Davies.

Good evening, Samantha.

SAMANTHA DAVIES, NBC WEATHER PLUS METEOROLOGIST:  Hi, Amy.  We‘re watching Hurricane Dean and with the latest advisory from the Hurricane Center, and Dean is so close to Category 5 status.  Winds are at 155 miles per hour and in order for Dean to reach a Category 5 status, the winds have to be 156.  It is very close.

We‘re continuing to watch Dean.  It‘s tracking quickly off to the west.  There‘s a well-defined eye in this storm and that‘s a signature that shows it is strengthening.  It‘s going into waters, into an area with low wind shear.  So it is possible that this will be a Category 5 by the time it makes landfall on the Yucatan Peninsula.

Here is what we know about Dean now.  The winds are at 155 miles an hour and gusting at 184.  And the pressure is dropping quickly as well, another sign that the storm is strengthening.  This storm is moving quickly towards the west at 20 miles an hour. 

Here‘s what we expect Dean will do in the coming days.  By the next advisory, probably will be a Category 5 storm.  By early Tuesday, we expect it to make landfall.  And Dean is so strong that even though it will move over land towards the west, it still should retain its hurricane status.  Once it moves over the Gulf of Mexico, it will strengthen and then make landfall in again Mexico—Amy?

ROBACH:  All right, Amy, thank you so much. 

As Mexico‘s Yucatan Peninsula prepares, there are memories of Hurricane Wilma, which ravaged Cancun in 2005.  And though Cancun is likely to be spared this time, the evacuation of resorts, full of foreign tourists, is once again at issue with the means of transportation limited and slow. 

Our correspondent is in Chetumal and it‘s Kerry Sanders—Kerry?

KERRY SANDERS, MSNBC NEWS CORRESOLNDENT:  I‘m a good distance now from Cancun because it appears this is where the eye may pass over.  Right on the border of Belize.  This is a city of about 170,000.  The military went to the low-lying areas and told people they needed to evacuate.  Some followed the orders, some didn‘t.  And it appears that the orders may have gone out too late. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SANDERS (voice-over):  In Cancun today, tens of thousands of tourists tried to get out before the airport closes tonight. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We‘ve been up all night packing.  And I just wanted to leave, get a flight to anywhere. 

SANDERS:  Others, who could not get flights, loaded into vans headed north and inland to safety. 

In Hurricane Dean‘s path, Mexico‘s off-shore oil operations. 

Officials evacuated 14,000 employees today.  Production was shut down. 

In Tulum, the fire department boarded up before they evacuated.  Their biggest worry?  Those who might not know a master hurricane is headed this direction. 

This is 100 miles of coast line is poor farming country, sparsely populated with a 1 million-acre nature reserve.

American, Guy Frangle (ph), fleeing on his motorcycle today thankful he says for the hurricane warning someone sent him on his blackberry. 

GUY FRANGLE (ph), AMERICAN:  Sometimes you feel like you can stay with some.  But the way the hurricanes are coming, it doesn‘t seem that way.

SANDERS:  One hundred yards from the beach at a snack shop called the Old Man and the Sea, 72-year-old Hector Tavares cleared his shelves, resigned to Mother Nature‘s power. 

HECTOR TAVARES, SHOP OWNER (through translator):  The hurricane is going to come and it‘s going to destroy everything.  What can I do? 

SANDERS:  Despite the government order to leave, not all are going. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We have to find some place to protect us.

SANDERS (on camera):  Are you going to stay on the beach though?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yeah. 

SANDERS (voice-over):  Just south of here, across the border of Belize, the government is telling residents in the capital city, who evacuated to the shelters, that they are now not sure the shelters will be up to withstand the power of this hurricane.  They are telling them that they need to get out of town but clearly that word came out too late.  A lot of people in a very dangerous situation tonight—Amy? 

ROBACH:  Kerry, in your piece, you mentioned that there are quite a few poor farming areas in the Yucatan Peninsula, people who literally may not know a hurricane is on the way.  How are they trying to get the word out?  And how big of a problem is that? 

SANDERS: They used radio and television but not everybody listens to the radio, not everybody is paying attention to television, if they indeed have a television because these are poor areas. 

Another thing to point out is it‘s not just the residents, but also tourists.  This is a popular route with backpackers.  I met some backpackers a short time ago who came up from Guatemala, two girls from Wales, one guy from Portland, Oregon.  They got here and they found out about the hurricane today.  So there are people who are out just finding out about what is going on.  It may be a language issue or just because they are out of the loop of knowing what is going on.  But the bottom line is you hope that most people know, because I would not want to be in a position of finding out that this drizzle of rain will turn into a hurricane and not realize that it‘s coming. 

ROBACH:  What an awful situation.  All right, Kerry Sanders in Mexico. 

Thanks so much.

A moment of crisis in Japan.  A packed airliner burst into flames after landing.  We‘ll show you the mad dash to make it out alive.

And finally, somebody figured out a way to make soccer interesting.  Why didn‘t someone think of this sooner?  That and more ahead on “Countdown.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBACH:  Twenty-five years ago this week, the world of music changed forever when the first compact disk was produced in a factory in Germany in August of 1982.  What was the first recording on the first C.D.?  What disc sparked a digital revolution forcing all of us to ditch our records and our cassette tapes?  It was an Abba album called “The Visitors,” which kind of explains why it took a few years for C.D.s to get off the ground. 

Let‘s play “Oddball.”

We begin in Balasore, India, with a guy pulling two motorcycles with his facial hair.  He claims to have a special, almost magical mustache so strong that he can pull two men riding two motorcycles for over one mile.  He hooks his handlebars up to the bike handlebars and away he goes.  Next, he hopes to pull a four-wheel ATV and after that he hopes to get a job at an airport dragging jets onto the runway. 

If that‘s not a silly enough use of a motorcycle, let‘s go to Mohali (ph), India, and the runner up in the category of stupid uses of a motorcycle on the Asian subcontinent.  It‘s motor cycle soccer.  In a show of support for the Indian National Team, these folks thought it would be good idea to hop on their hogs and play a little football.  The sport looks dangerous, according to organizers, but there were no injuries during the match, unless you count all the ankles that were bent like Beckham.   

The hard truth on the ground in Iraq.  Active military personnel write an op-ed saying a quick visit by politicians can‘t even begin to show them reality on the ground, as an alarming new report finds that the military doesn‘t have enough troops to sustain the surge much longer. 

And the sustainability of Paris Hilton‘s fame; for those who hope her 15 minutes is soon, well she is in a bidding war to appear on a reality TV show on both sides of the Atlantic.  Details ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three news makers of the day.

Number three, Congressman Bob Filner of California.  He was in Virginia at Dulles Airport when he got frustrated that his bags weren‘t showing up.  In fact, he got so frustrated that he allegedly stormed into the baggage office, shoved an employee to get in, demanded his bags and then stormed back out.  Congressman Filner has been charged with assault and battery by the attendant he allegedly pushed.  Everybody waits, Congressman. 

Number two, the St. Paul Saints of Baseball‘s Independent League, cashing in on the Michael Vick controversy, and helping dog owners exact revenge on Vick at the same time.  Tomorrow night, the first 2,500 fans attending the Saints game will receive Michael Vick shaped chew toys.  The Saints‘ opponent tomorrow night, the Lincoln Salt Dogs.

And number one, Daad Mohamed Murad Abdul Rahman of the United Arab Emirates.  He is the one legged father of 78 children from 15 different marriages.  Amazingly, Abdul Rahman says he wants more kids.  The 60-year-old man projects he will have 100 children by the year 2015, meaning he will need to average about three kids a year for the next seven years.  We wish his wives luck. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBACH:  The most enduring piece of misinformation about Iraq is that it had something to do with 9/11, even though the president and especially Vice President Cheney continue to connect the two.  The latest example perhaps, today‘s White House hint that General Petraeus is likely to report to Congress on the effectiveness of the surge on September 11th.  Coincidence?

Our fourth story tonight, more stark differences between reality and Bush vision.  In an AP military survey that shows the U.S. Army‘s 38 combat brigades now stretched to the limit by the surge, the report say that after six years of war, the military is left with only a few painful choices after this Spring; shorter leave times at home, the use of more National Guard troops or breaking a pledge to keep soldiers in Iraq longer than 15 months, something top commanders are loath to do.

And there is this op-ed piece, “The War as We Saw It,” in yesterday‘s “New York Times,” written by 7 members of the 82nd Airborne, just completing 15 months in Iraq, calling the debate in Washington surreal and news reports about the surge producing some progress far fetched.  The six sergeants and a specialist call the situation a morass with no connection between American military victories and Iraqi security, that the best way to leave Iraq is to leave it to the Iraqis.

And, as if to echo that, Senators Carl Levin and John Warner, Democrat and Republican, both senior members of the Armed Services Committee, returning from a fact finding trip to Iraq today, saying the surge may have given the Iraqi government breathing space, but they are not optimistic.  Levin even calling a significant reduction of forces to pre-surge levels by the end of the year.

Joining us is Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and author of the book “Chasing Ghosts” about his experience serving in Iraq.  Paul, thanks for being with us.  We appreciate it.

PAUL RIECKHOFF, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA:  My pleasure, Amy.

ROBACH:  Whether it is coming now from soldiers, like we‘ve seen in this op-ed piece, or senators returning from Iraq, it seems like we are starting to see the same theme, that military success in Iraq may not necessarily mean success in that country.  Would you agree?

RIECKHOFF:  Absolutely.  I think soldiers who have served on the ground have understood this for years.  It doesn‘t matter how many troops we have on the ground, how many individual battles we win.  That‘s only part of the equation.  If the political compromises and progress doesn‘t happen, we are just not going to get victory, or whatever we‘re defining as victory this month. 

Our soldiers understand that the battlefield is incredibly complex, and they‘re the subject matter experts.  I think that‘s why this op-ed is so important.  These soldiers who wrote this piece have just completed a 15-month tour.  One of them was actually shot in the head before this piece was published.  He‘s recovering in the U.S. now. 

These guys know what they are talking about.  And they present a very nuanced understanding of the battlefield that the politicians and the policy wonks have not been able to provide. 

ROBACH:  Paul, speaking of the op-ed piece, and the complexity of what these soldiers are facing on the battlefield, in these op-ed piece they said the Iraqis are caught between helping Americans and getting killed, or choosing a side among the Iraqis and then getting killed.  Is this—if you want to simplify some of the complexity, that is one of the big problems? 

RIECKHOFF:  Absolutely.  The soldiers do not know who to trust.  Iraqis are trying to leverage their different allegiances and they‘re trying to survive in a very complex and violent environment.  And for the average soldier on the ground, they‘re trying to survive.  It‘s hard to stand next to an Iraqi soldier that you‘re trying to train, that you‘re going on a patrol with, when you don‘t know where their allegiances lie. 

You don‘t know if they‘re going to be loyal to their tribe or to their sect or to their area.  That creates a very dangerous environment for our soldiers, who are already overstretched.  And like these soldiers who wrote this piece, serving at the end of a 15 month tour.  That‘s a very long period of time to be in a combat zone.

ROBACH:  What other points in that piece that stood out to you as you read it? 

RIECKHOFF:  Well, I think the main thing is that they are presenting a very honest assessment that is not necessarily different from what the military is saying.  It‘s very different from what the White House is saying.  But the military all along, even people like General Petraeus, if you read between the lines, have been saying that the military is not the sole solution to this problem.  Troop numbers are not the silver bullet answer to this incredibly complex problem. 

The reality is that there are no silver bullet solutions.  We are in a very tough situation here and our soldiers are the first ones to recognize it, and should we continue to—we need listen to these folks, because they understand that nuance.  

ROBACH:  You mention General Petraeus.  On Friday, the number two command in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, said the military is planning quick strike raids all over Iraq to try to smash al Qaeda, obviously, so we can bring some troops home.  Does that sound like a good plan? 

RIECKHOFF:  Well, I think it does in the short term.  All these plans are good in the short term.  But again going back to the op-ed, what they‘re showing is that these short-term solutions don‘t solve our long term objectives.  General Odierno has been very honest about the fact that he is going to have to start drawing down troops because our military is so dramatically over extended.

Many troops are there are for a second, even a third time.  We saw last week that suicide rates among soldiers are at a 26-year high.  And the bottom line is we are breaking our military.  The president has always said we have to fight them over there so we don‘t have to fight them here.  What if we have to do both?  Our strategic reserves are exhausted.  In many ways, our back door is wide open.   

ROBACH:  Paul, one media group says Iraq coverage in the news has slipped this summer because news organizations are focusing on politics, on the up coming 2008 presidential election.  As an Iraq vet, how does that make you feel? 

RIECKHOFF:  It definitely upsets me.  It should upset all Americans.  The Iraq war is the number one issue facing our country right now.  It‘s more important than Paris Hilton and Britney Spears and Michael Vick and all this other stuff that dominates the headlines.  It‘s going to be the most important issue facing the candidates in the 2008 election.  We need to make sure that Iraq is continuing to be covered.  And all Americans need to be diligent in making sure that the media is responsive in covering this very, very critical issue. 

ROBACH:  All right, Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, we appreciate your time today. 

RIECKHOFF:  Thank you, Amy. 

ROBACH:  We have some breaking news at this hour.  You are taking a look there at radar from Hurricane Dean, and, as expected, we understand—we‘re just getting this in.  It has grown into a Category Five hurricane.  That is the most powerful hurricane possible.  Category Five means that Dean is now packing winds of 156 miles per hour and gusts nearing 190 miles an hour.  Dean is expected to make land fall in Mexico early tomorrow morning.  Of course, you can count on MSNBC to keep you updated on this developing story.  Again, Hurricane Dean now a Category Five, as it is about to make land fall.

A dramatic rescue in Oklahoma.  Flood waters rise rapidly as rescuers race to save a trapped couple.  It all plays out on live TV with relatives watching.

And Michael Vick‘s guilty plea; has the football star effectively ended his pro sports career?  That and more ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBACH:  Whether it was Mr. or Mrs. Murphy who first discovered Murphy‘s Law is unclear.  But the law is, if anything can go wrong, it will.  Our number two story tonight, a couple of good examples.  Starting with a perfect flight and an uneventful landing of a Taiwanese airliner in Tokyo, and then the left engine of the Boeing 737 exploding after the plane taxied to a stop. 

The flame spreading so fast it took the pilot by surprise.  He managed to get out, but only by leaping from the cockpit window.  All 165 on board managed to escape using those emergency shoots you hear about all the time, but probably never think you will get to use, especially after a good landing.

Japan‘s national police say they don‘t suspect terrorism.  China Airliners, based in Taiwan, once had a troubled safety record.  It had improved some, but you know Murphy.

And then there is the King Fisher, Oklahoma couple who were just going to drive out to see how on their farm was doing after heavy rain from Tropical Storm Erin.  A couple of senior citizens smart enough to know you don‘t drive through deep water.  Trouble is, with flash flooding, sometimes the deep water finds you.  Peter Alexander has the story of their ride, turned rescue, turned reality TV.   

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Stranded with their pickup truck and a pair of life jackets thrown to them, Bernice Krittenbrink and her husband, Leroy, became the faces of Oklahoma‘s record flash flooding. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Right now the water is starting to over take the hood here.

ALEXANDER:  The couple was driving to check on their farm in the town of King Fisher when the truck was swallowed by rising waters. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The truck just—oh my gosh.  The truck just sunk.

ALEXANDER:  With a national audience watching live, including their own daughter in Utah, the Krittenbrinks helplessly waited to be rescued. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They‘re standing on the very tip top of the roof of the truck.

ALEXANDER:  Minutes later, an Oklahoma highway patrol helicopter arrived.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We have the rescue personnel on scene.

ALEXANDER:  Hovering dangerously close to the water.  Saving the Krittenbrinks would require a daring rescue, a first for King Fisher fire chief Randy Poindexter, the man hanging outside the helicopter.  First, Bernice; for several agonizing moments, the 66-year-old woman dangled from the helicopter‘s skids. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  She just fell in the water.

ALEXANDER:  Ultimately she was picked up, with Poindexter gripping her tightly for than a mile to safety.  Then Leroy, 72 years old, still stranded. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think the OHP finally got the gentleman to secure his life vest.

ALEXANDER:  After one failed attempt, Poindexter pulled Leroy from the swift current.  The helicopter dragged him through the water until he could not hold on.  Later, on dry land, Leroy collapsed alongside his rescuer, exhausted, but, like his wife, alive. 

Peter Alexander, NBC News, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBACH:  Thanks to some pretty fancy flying by the Oklahoma highway patrol, Leroy and Bernice Krittenbrink are OK tonight.  In fact, they were OK enough to get early this morning and join their rescuer, fire chief Randy Poindexter, on “The Today Show.”  Matt Lauer asking them about their adventure. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT LAUER, “THE TODAY SHOW”:  You were running out of things to hold on to.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes, things were disappearing. 

LAUER:  Bernice, can you describe the feeling when you finally saw that helicopter heading in your direction? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, they had come by once and dropped us—or one of the helicopters had—and dropped us life preservers.  So that was a real exciting moment, when you saw the life preservers there.  And then when the helicopter came back and they were hovering right next to us, and by that time, we had gotten out of the pickup.  And Randy was motioning to me to give me his hand. 

LAUER:  What was your feeling when you saw your wife fall off that helicopter skid?  When you saw it later?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh my gosh, yes, I couldn‘t believe it. 

LAUER:  You must have scared to death when you fell off that thing? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes, I was scared, but, you know, your adrenaline is pumping.  You don‘t have a whole lot of time to think, because they were right back and then Randy was able to give me his hand and the Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers were able to keep the helicopter steady and he was able to pull me up onto the skid. 

LAUER:  Bernice, after all you went through yesterday, I understand you went home, you collapsed.  You were so tired you just went to bed.  But you also went and got your hair done because you were going to make your national TV debut.  Right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, it would have been a scary situation if you had seen me the way I looked yesterday. 

LAUER:  You look fabulous this morning, Bernice.  Leroy, you do as well.  Randy, boy job well down to you.  Nice to talk to you all.  We‘re happy you‘re OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  On to our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs.  And NFL star Michael Vick will now plead guilty to federal dog fighting conspiracy charges.  The offense could bring a prison sentence of up to five years.  Vick‘s hearing is set for August 27th, when he will plead guilty, even though he had previously vowed to clear his name.  But three co-defendants who had pleaded guilty themselves were prepared to testify against him. 

Two of them has signed statements saying that Vick had brutally killed dogs that under performed in fights and that on at least eight occasions, Vick exterminated the animals by drowning or hanging.  The three co-defendants also said that Vick provided all the operating funds for the dog fighting operation.

Because of the illegal gambling, Vick may banned from the NFL for life.  That decision has not yet been made.

When Tom Cruise has a dangerous scene to do, chances are he calls in a stunt man.  Well last night, it was some extras in his new film that could have used stunt doubles; ten of them reported hurt, but not seriously, when the sides of a panel truck gave way during a scene being shot in Berlin.  Cruise plays Claus Von Stauffenberg, a German colonel who tried to assassinate Hitler with a briefcase bomb.  Hitler survived and Von Stauffenberg was executed, one of the martyr heroes or post-war Germany. 

United Artists says Cruise was not involved in the scene at the time of the accident.  And it is not expected to affect the movie, due for release next year.

Are Paris Hilton and Britney Spears just what the doctor ordered to breath new life into Donald Trump‘s Apprentice?  Trump says he is having to turn celebrities away.  So why does he have the full court press on for these gals?  Analysis ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBACH:  There may be no common denominator on why so-called celebrities appear on reality shows.  Let‘s face it, in some cases, it is their last refuge.  But if the motive is to buff up their image, they might want to think twice before allowing Donald Trump to play boss.  In our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, the Donald is now recruiting for his celebrity version of “The Apprentice” Britney Spears, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan.

The real estate baron thinks he could take the trio and, quote, whip them into shape.  Trump told the “New York Post,” quote, we are negotiating with Britney right now.  Can you imagine her doing it.  She is a bleeping mess, Trump added.  But she likes the idea of being on television, and I think she would be great. 

Trump said that Miss Hilton wants to be on, even though Hilton‘s spokesman said he wasn‘t aware of any deal.  Trump described Miss Lohan as, quote, another bleeping mess.  And he says he plans to call her this week.

Let‘s bring in the host of E Entertainment‘s “The Soup,” Joel McHale. 

Good evening, Joel. 

JOEL MCHALE, “THE SOUP”:  Good evening, Amy. 

ROBACH:  We should mention that these celebrities on Trump‘s new “Apprentice” are playing for charity, so that could be one reason why they can improve their image, we can only hope.  But, in truthfulness, does Britney Spears really wanted Donald Trump to whip her into shape? 

MCHALE:  First, let me say if Britney gets on this show, KFC is not a charity.  Second, I think Trump like Britney.  I think he wants to marry her.  If he does, Britney Spears will be the most spectacular hill billy, often nude, hilly billy drunk wife he‘s ever had in history. 

ROBACH:  Yes, there is always that.  From what I understand, Trump would like to see Spears, Lohan, and Hilton all together on the same show.  If that would happen, do you think there is agenda there about trying to see them all vie for the most TV time?  Can you imagine some of the promos they could get with that one? 

MCHALE:  I think Trump‘s agenda is to attract new sponsors, from liquor companies and, perhaps, from cocaine companies. 

ROBACH:  What about the weekly challenges?  That is usually the premise for the show.  Any ideas for what they could do with this mix of celebrities? 

MCHALE:  Yes, if he gets Britney, Lindsay, and Paris, they could maybe try to open a successful liquor store.  We do not have any customers, but we are sold out.  What happened?

ROBACH:  Don‘t you think that Trump should be thoughtful, and have a rehab wing ready, set up there, so that we can see that angle as well? 

MCHALE:  Oh yes.  And if he did, it would be the most lavish, spectacular, rehab.  Sorry, I am sorry.  I won‘t start that again.   

ROBACH:  Speaking of spectacular, they do apparently have a list of celebrities who have already signed on for this series.  And they include Carmen Elektra, Joan Rivers, Pete Rose, George Foreman, Naomi Judd and the villain from the first “Apprentice,” Omarosa.  What do you think of that star-studded lineup? 

MCHALE:  Well, right now, Pete Rose is taking bets on who is going to die first, Joan or Lindsay. 

ROBACH:  We should mention, there could be a scheduling conflict with Miss Hilton.  She may not be able to do it, because apparently she is interest in appearing in the Britain version of “Celebrity Big Brother,” and reportedly has been offered 600,000 dollars to do this show.  She wants the good people of England to see that she is smart and funny.  And she thinks that this show might give her that opportunity. 

MCHALE:  Huh?  No.  If you watch “The Simple Life,” you will see that Paris is just positively overflowing with dry wit that the British love so much.  There are many things that Paris is over flowing with, none of which are dry. 

ROBACH:  I‘m going to leave that one alone.  Also a report, by the way, that Britney Spears may be negotiating to do an opening number on MTV‘s Video Music Awards, that she wanted to restart her career.  We all remember the last time she appeared kissing Madonna.  What do you think we can expect this time around? 

MCHALE:  Well, I do not think she is going to kiss Madonna, but she will kiss a Bacon McGriddle.  Now we have come full circle.

ROBACH:  Yes, and I think it‘s a good time to say goodbye.  Joel McHale, host of “The Soup” on E!.

MCHALE:  I agree.

ROBACH:  Thanks so much for joining us. 

MCHALE:  Thanks, Amy. 

ROBACH:  That is going to do it for this Monday edition of COUNTDOWN.  A quick programming note; COUNTDOWN is headed to the mothership this Sunday.  A special network version live with Keith at 7:00 Eastern, 6:00 Central.  As Keith would say, be there, aloha.  I‘m Amy Robach.  Thanks so much for watching.

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

END   

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

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