updated 8/31/2007 10:45:33 AM ET 2007-08-31T14:45:33

Guests: Dana Milbank, Gen. Wesley Clark, Ana Marie Cox, Paul F. Tompkins

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LARRY CRAIG, (D), IDAHO:  I am not gay.  I don‘t do these kinds of things. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The bathroom tapes are released.  The police interview moments after the arrest of Idaho Republican Senator Larry Craig, evoking a mental picture not of a senator trying to make it all go away, but of a senator demanding that police make it all go away. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRAIG:  Your foot came towards mine, mine came towards yours, was that natural?  I don‘t know. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The drumbeat sound demanding Craig resign now has lyrics feet. Will he quit?  If he won‘t will he sink the Republicans?  If they force him to, will that sink the Republicans? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA MILBANK, POLITICAL ANALYST, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  The Democrats reelect the people with their problems.  Republicans kick them out. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Well, not the president, a man whose willingness to erase inconvenient facts so worries the Government Accountability Office that somebody there leaked the GAO draft assessment about Iraq, fearing the White House would neuter it before we, the people, saw it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Let‘s wait and see what GAO has to report.  It clearly has been leaked by some people who want to get some of the early thinking out. 

OLBERMANN:  While there‘s still some sign of thinking in it. 

Thinking about Senator Clinton.  Elizabeth Edwards says it‘s hard for her husband, even while leading in Iowa, to address the “Hillary rubs some people the wrong way” factor.  How the Senator deals with that and why both Edwards are showing campaign bluntness so atypical.

It‘s certainly not present with Fred Thompson.  Another announcement that he‘ll make another big announcement next week.  Get a roll of stamps and mail it in. 

A roll of stamps could have helped Britney Spears, anything that might have lengthened that outfit with the kids in the car. 

Hey, Britney, you forgot your freaking pants.

All that and more on “Countdown.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRAIG:  Nasty, bad, naughty boy.

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

(on camera):  Good evening from New York.  As resident and visceral as the arrest of Republican Senator Larry Craig after alleged lewd advances in a Minneapolis Airport public bathroom might be, as much as a firestorm and a collective Republican butt-covering it might have been provoked, there seemed to be no way for the bizarre saga to have gotten any worse.  Unless there was audio tape of Senator Craig‘s post arrest interview with the police, and unless that tape were to become public.  Our fifth story in the “Countdown,” ta da, there is a tape.  It has been released.  We will play it for you with captions.  First, the other Larry Craig in the toilet headlines of this day.

Even before the tape emerged this afternoon, more Republicans had joined the growing chorus calling for the singing senator to resign.  The party itself, the RNC, saying it will let the Senate Ethics Committee deal with the matter.  And Senator Craig‘s news conference Tuesday raises new questions now because the protestation of innocence not only contradicts his signed statements of August 8th in which he agreed not to claim innocence and said he knew or should have known his conduct was inappropriate, but it also violates the terms of his plea, raising the prospect that the court or prosecutors might revisit the issue. 

If there were any question whether Minneapolis law enforcement is unhappy with Senator Craig‘s statement, not 48 hours later, we have the entire tape of his June 11 interview with Sergeant Dave Karsnia just minutes after his arrest.  Not all of it is clearly audible in the portions you‘re about to hear.  The transcript originates with the police department.  We made a handful of revelations to correct typographical errors.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. LARRY CRAIG: ®, IDAHO:  Am I going to have to fight you in court?

DAVE KARSNIA, MINNEAPOLIS AIRPORT POLICE OFFICER:  No.  No.  I‘m not going to go to court unless you want me there.

CRAIG:  Because I don‘t want to be in court, either.

KARSNIA:  OK, I don‘t either.  (INAUDIBLE)

KARSNIA:  Here‘s the way it works.  You‘ll be released today, OK?

CRAIG:  OK.

KARSNIA:  All right.  I, I know I can bring you to jail, but that‘s not my goal here, OK?  (INAUDIBLE)

CRAIG:  Don‘t do that.  You...

KARSNIA:  I‘m not going to bring you to jail.

CRAIG:  You solicited me.

KARSNIA:  OK.  We‘re going to get—we‘re going to get into that. 

(INAUDIBLE)

CRAIG:  OK.

CRAIG:  I sit down to go to the bathroom and you said our feet bumped.  I believe they did, because I reached down and scooted over and the next thing I knew, under the bathroom divider comes a card that says “Police.”  Now, that‘s about as far as I can take it.  I don‘t know of anything else.  Your foot came toward mine; mine came towards yours.  Was that natural?  I don‘t know.  Did we bump?  Yes, I think we did.  You said so.  I don‘t disagree with that.

KARSNIA:  OK.  I don‘t want to get into a pissing match here.

CRAIG:  We‘re not going to.

KARSNIA:  Good.

CRAIG:  I don‘t—I am not gay.  I don‘t do these kinds of things and...

KARSNIA:  It doesn‘t matter.  I don‘t care about sexual preference or anything like that.  Here‘s your stuff back, sir.  I don‘t care about sexual preference.

CRAIG:  I know you don‘t.  You‘re out to enforce the law.

KARSNIA:  Right.

CRAIG:  But you shouldn‘t be out to entrap people, either.

KARSNIA:  This isn‘t entrapment.

CRAIG:  All right.

KARSNIA:  You‘re skipping some parts here.  But what about your hand?

CRAIG: What about it?  I reached down, my foot like this.  There was a piece of paper on the floor; I picked it up.

KARSNIA:  OK, sir.  We deal with people that lie to us everyday. 

CRAIG:  I‘m sure you do.

KARSNIA:  I‘m sure you do too, sir.

CRAIG:  And gentleman so do I.

KARSNIA:  I‘m sure you do.  We deal with a lot of people that are very bad people.  You‘re not a bad person.

CRAIG:  No, I don‘t think I am.

KARSNIA:  OK, so what I‘m telling you, I don‘t want to be lied to.

CRAIG:  OK.

KARSNIA:  OK.  So we‘ll start over, you‘re going to get out of here. 

You‘re going to have to pay a fine and that will be it.  OK.  I don‘t call media.  I don‘t do any of that type of crap.

CRAIG:  Fine.

KARSNIA:  OK.

CRAIG:  Fine.

KARSNIA:  All right, so let‘s start from the beginning.  You went in the bathroom.

CRAIG:  I went in the bathroom.

KARSNIA:  OK.  And when you went in the stalls, then what?

CRAIG:  Sat down.

KARSNIA:  OK.  Did you do anything with your feet?

CRAIG:  Positioned them, I don‘t know.  I don‘t know at the time.  I‘m a fairly wide guy.

KARSNIA:  I understand.

CRAIG:  I had to spread my legs.

KARSNIA:  OK.

CRAIG:  When I lower my pants so they won‘t slide.

KARSNIA:  OK.

CRAIG:  Did I slide them too close to yours? Did I—I looked down once.  Your foot was close to mine.

KARSNIA:  OK, and then with the hand.  How many times did you put your hand under the stall?

CRAIG:  I don‘t recall.  I remember reaching down once.  There was a piece of toilet paper back behind me and picking it up.

KARSNIA:  I saw there‘s a...

CRAIG:  My right hand was next to you.

KARSNIA:  I could tell it with my—I could tell it was your left hand because your thumb was positioned in a faceward motion.  Your thumb was on this side, not on this side.

CRAIG:  Well, we can dispute that.  I‘m not going to fight you in court, and I reached down with my right hand to pick up the paper.

KARSNIA:  But I‘m telling you that I could see that so I know that‘s your left hand.  Also I could see a gold ring on this finger, so that‘s obvious it was the left hand.

CRAIG:  Yeah, OK.  My left hand was in the direct opposite of the stall from you.

KARSNIA:  OK.  You, you travel through here frequently correct?

CRAIG: I do, almost weekly.

KARSNIA:  Have you been successful in these bathrooms here before?

CRAIG:  I go to that bathroom regularly.

KARSNIA:  I mean, for any type of other activities.

CRAIG:  No.  Absolutely not.  I don‘t seek activity in bathrooms.

KARSNIA:  It‘s embarrassing.

CRAIG:  Well, it‘s embarrassing for both.  I‘m not going to fight you.

KARSNIA:  I know you‘re not going to fight me.  But that‘s not the point.  I would respect you and I still respect you.  I don‘t disrespect you but I‘m disrespected right now and I‘m not tying to act like I have all kinds of power or anything, but you‘re sitting here lying to a police officer.

KARSNIA:  It‘s not a (INAUDIBLE) I‘m getting from somebody else.  I‘m (INAUDIBLE)

CRAIG:  (INAUDIBLE)

(CROSSTALK)

KARSNIA:  I am trained in this and I know what I am doing.  And I say you put your hand under there and you‘re going to sit there and...

CRAIG:  I admit I put my hand down.

KARSNIA:  You put your hand and rubbed it on the bottom of the stall with your left hand.

CRAIG:  No.  Wait a moment.

KARSNIA:  And I‘m not dumb.  You can say I don‘t recall...

CRAIG:  If I had turned sideways, that was the only way I could get my left hand over there.

KARSNIA:  it‘s not that hard for me to reach.  (INAUDIBLE) it‘s not that hard.  I see it happen everyday out here now.

CRAIG:  (INAUDIBLE) you do.  All right.

KARSNIA:  I just, I just, I guess, I guess I‘m going to say I‘m just disappointed in you sir.  I‘m just really am.  I expect this from the guy that we get out of the hood.  I mean, people vote for you.

CRAIG:  Yes, they do.  (INAUDIBLE)

KARSNIA:  Unbelievable, unbelievable.

CRAIG:  I‘m a respectable person and I don‘t do these kinds of...

KARSNIA:  And (INAUDIBLE) respect right now though.

CRAIG:  But I didn‘t use my left hand.

KARSNIA: I thought that you...

CRAIG:  I reached down with my right hand like this to pick up a piece of paper.

KARSNIA:  Was your gold ring on your right hand at anytime today?

CRAIG:  Of course not, try to get it off, look at it.

KARSNIA:  OK.  Then it was your left hand, I saw it with my own eyes.

CRAIG:  All right, you saw something that didn‘t happen.

KARSNIA:  Embarrassing, embarrassing.  No wonder why we‘re going down the tubes.  Anything to add?

NELSON:  No.

KARSNIA:  Embarrassing.  Date is 6-11-07 at 1236.  Interview is done.

CRAIG:  OK.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s turn to our political analyst Dana Milbank, also national political reporter for the Washington Post. 

Thanks for your time tonight. 

DANA MILBANK, POLITICAL ANALYST, WASHINGTON POST:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  How does this tape, the interchange in it, change the already rocky landscape for Senator Craig? 

MILBANK:  Well, I suppose in the exculpatory category, at least he didn‘t say the words “wide stance.”  Other than that it‘s hard to see how this could help him, although I suppose hurt is all relative here because this whole thing has sort of gone on the Mark Foley trajectory already.  It‘s seemingly inevitable that he‘s going to be drummed out one way or the other.  But for people who listen to this, they may well come to the same conclusion that we heard at the very end that the sergeant did, no wonder we‘re all heading down the tubes. 

OLBERMANN:  Does Senator Craig first claiming entrapment, that the officer solicited him, he used that phrase, does that suggest the Senator at some point viewed their interaction as at some point illicit? 

MILBANK:  He says entrapment, suggests that the officer was soliciting him.  It seems he was working through his categories of the various defenses that he could make.  The reaching for the toilet paper, sort of thinking on his feet there.  Any of this could be plausible and you could argue you had a bad cop there.  But, of course, that‘s what courts are for.  All of that is made moot by the very fact that the senator already entered his guilty plea. 

OLBERMANN:  Why have so many Republicans jumped to call for his resignation when no one called for Senator David Vitter even to explain let alone pay any kind of price for his phone number turning up in the records of an escort service and the senator admitting that, but admitting that after he was confronted with evidence which, although it was extralegal in that case.  A lot of the structure is very similar in these two cases. 

MILBANK:  There‘s no man more happy in Washington with the recent developments than David Vitter, you can be sure.  What‘s happening here, I think you could call it the Foley hangover?  The Republicans are in a panic, perhaps overstating the panic.  It‘s a long time from the election, but this could all be turned against them and obviously the presence of a police report, an actual guilty plea, an actual arrest all very different from the Vitter case.  The fear is this will be compounded.  If you look at the people turning against the senator, it‘s Norm Coleman, Susan Collins, it‘s people who are in a vulnerable election next year.  So those are the ones who are bailing on the senator right away.

OLBERMANN:  You expect examine he‘s going to go.  Do we know how that‘s going to happen and how quickly?  Is he going to resign?  If he doesn‘t resign, what happens then? 

MILBANK:  We understand that he is one stubborn individual.  I think that‘s what‘s worry his colleagues.  Many people would have given it up at this point.  There‘s nothing the Senators can do short of following this lengthy ethics process through and that‘s the sort of thing that may hurt them next year. 

OLBERMANN:  Let me play something that the former Republican House Majority Leader Tom Delay said this morning, responding to this sequence of Republican scandals by suggesting that both parties are equally scandal prone but handle the scandals differently.  Here‘s the tape first, Dana. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. TOM DELAY, ®, FORMER HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER:  The Democrats re-elect the people with their problems.  Republicans kick them out.  There are scandals that need to be addressed.  Republicans address them, Democrats re-elect them. 

OLBERMANN:  That sounds really nice and tough, Dana, invoking Ted Kennedy as he did tonight on “Hardball.”  But isn‘t Mr. Delay skating past a fact that even Kennedy went to the cops within 36 hours.  But with 10 years of terrible stories about him, Republicans re-elected Mark Foley five times to the House, 25 years since Craig had to deny he was part of the congressional page scandal of 1982, Republicans re-elected him four times to the House then elected him to the Senate then re-elected him twice to the Senate. 

MILBANK:  We could be grateful that we have Tom Delay to come back at important times like these in our nation‘s history.  There are many ways to look at this, but another way to look at it would be to say guys like Congressman Duke Cunningham and Bob Ney could not go to the voters for re-election because they‘re in prison.  This certainly works both ways.  Neither party has some sort of moral high ground when it comes to these social issues or when it comes to financial issues. 

OLBERMANN:  Dana Milbank of the Washington Post and MSNBC.  Thanks, Dana. 

MILBANK:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The White House complains that the Government Accountability Office is holding the Bush administration too accountable when it comes to Iraq.  So somebody at the GAO leaks its draft report about Iraq before Mr. Bush can cherry pick from it. 

First it was Karl Rove suggesting that Senator Clinton‘s high negativity numbers could demoralize the Republican Party.  Now it‘s Elizabeth Edwards?

You are watching “Countdown” on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Having already used his heavy hand to make changes to an interim progress report on Iraq, now preparing to deliver his final version to Congress last month while sticking the name of General Petraeus on it, President Bush, in our fourth story on the “Countdown,” is also attempting to water down yet another government agency‘s strikingly negative account of where things stand on the ground.  You don‘t like the report card give yourself a new grade or new teachers or a new school principal. 

The Government Accountability Office concluding in a draft report that Iraq has failed to meet all but three of 18 benchmarks for political and military progress.  Someone at the GAO leaked, fearful that President Bush and the White House would neuter the true nature of the assessment, as some claim it did with the national intelligence estimates earlier this month, leaked the draft report to the “Washington Post.”  There is a paper trail providing further cause for concern, an internal White House memo obtained by the Associated Press showing that the administration will argue that the GAO does not present a true picture of the situation in Iraq because the standards were, quote “designed to lock in failure.” 

At the White House today, Press Secretary Tony Snow pleading of the GAO report, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  You‘re asking me at this point to make detailed comment on a draft report.  I‘m not going to do it.  Let‘s wait and see what GAO has to report.  It clearly has been leaked by some people who want to get some of the early thinking out, but we‘ll get a report next Tuesday, I think. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Wait until after the White House has finished watering down the report.  Mr. Snow trying to buy time on the question of whether or not Mr. Bush will soon be requesting an additional $50 billion for the war in Iraq, which the Washington Post had reported yesterday. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SNOW:  It is premature to be talking figures at this juncture.  Last year we came up with an emergency supplemental, which we thought was going to be our best estimate.  You continually revise those estimates based on the realities on the ground and the requirements of the forces. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s turn to General Wesley Clark, analyst for MSNBC and before that former supreme allied commander for NATO.

General Clark, great thanks for some of your time.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, FORMER SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER FOR NATO:  Good to be with you, Keith. 

In May, when the president agreed to the benchmarks, he praised them.  He said, quote, “They are a clear road map to help the Iraqis secure their country and strengthen their young democracy.”  Does that not make it difficult for the White House to argue now that this GAO report will not present a true picture of the situation in Iraq because standards have been designed to lock in failure? 

CLARK:  Exactly right, Keith.  They should not be able to squirm out from underneath these standards.  The surge was portrayed to be a short-term effort starting in January.  They‘ve shifted the goal posts each time in an effort to prolong the surge and the judgment.  The truth is that the American people are making the judgment every day as they see the results of the war.  The benchmarks confirm that judgment and this is a huge problem for the White House. 

OLBERMANN:  Does there seem to be continuing, in this, a tried and true aspect of blaming of Congress in this new strategy?  Hey, it‘s not our fault.  Congress is being unfair by holding us to all or nothing standards?  The GAO is doing the same thing.  Is that not the gist here? 

CLARK:  It‘s a great strategy.  It‘s worked many times in the past.  But the difficulty is that although the leadership in Congress is Democratic, there‘s a very strong Republican minority in the House and in the Senate, because of Joe Lieberman.  Actually the Senate seldom can put the pressure on the administration that‘s actually required to move the administration‘s policies in the right direction. 

OLBERMANN:  Should the president request another $50 billion for this war in Iraq?  Does he still have the political capital to get it?  There was such coverage of this in the last two days that suggested the Democrats were going to go along with this. 

CLARK:  I don‘t think it‘s a matter of whether or not the Democrats say no to this.  I think it‘s a question of what‘s the price that the president should be made to pay for coming back in and asking for the other $50 billion. 

I‘ve argued for a long time that the problems we‘ve had in Iraq are problems of excessive focus on troops and tactics and not enough attention to the strategy, the diplomacy, the policies, the politics of the region.  In essence that‘s what the GAO report confirms.  And hopefully the Congress can use the occasion of the $50 billion request to hammer the president and the administration again to come forward with a realistic strategy for success in the region.  Stop hiding behind General Petraeus.  Let‘s hear this administration lay out a success strategy in the region. 

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of the $50 billion, there is a report that comes from Brit Hume from FOX News, who, let‘s face it, should be in a position to know, that the defense secretary, Mr. Gates, has been so marginalized by the White House he was not informed of that funding request.  He read it in the paper.  Also there this report from the McClatchy newspapers that Bush will get more than one recommendation from the Pentagon about Iraq. 

Does this now seem more likely that the military leadership can‘t agree on what‘s best for Iraq?  Is it that or that the White House once again plans to ignore any voices with which it does not agree so it‘s asking for several different reports and is going to pick the one it likes? 

CLARK:  I think it‘s a little bit of both.  I do think it‘s an important thing for the field commander to stand on his own.  I don‘t think you have to have a unified report from the Joint Chiefs.  You can‘t hold people in lock step on this as a critical national issue.  I think the American people are going to want to hear what General Petraeus says.  General Petraeus is not responsible for the strategy in the region.  He‘s not responsible for the diplomacy in the region.  That‘s the responsibility of the White House itself and they should be held accountable for this. 

OLBERMANN:  He may not be largely responsible for a report which the administration continues to try to stick his name on. 

General Wesley Clark, former supreme allied NATO commander in Europe and MSNBC analyst.  As always, sir, thanks for your time. 

CLARK:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  As Great Britain pauses to remember Princess Diana on the 10th anniversary of her death, her successor, Camilla, so mad at being uninvited, she‘s leaving the country. 

OK, here‘s the plan.  You dance naked and while they‘re distracted, I‘ll steal the beer.  No, that‘s not Britney Spears.  That disturbing image comes in later on, here on “Countdown.”       

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  On this date in 30 B.C., Cleopatra supposedly committed suicide by clutching a poisonous asp to her breast.  The story needs to be taken with a large grain of salt, however, because we‘re also told by history that she was one of the most beautiful women in the world.  In a recently discovered coin, produced in her honor in one of Marc Anthony‘s own mints, depicts a woman who looks less like a world-class beauty and more like Granny from “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

On that note, let‘s play “Oddball.” 

We begin in Desoto, Missouri, where the criminals are desperate, naked and thirsty.  Two thugs went into a convenient store with a plan.  One guy pinches the beer, the other distracts employees by taking off his clothes.  Would have worked if not for a pesky customer who chased the crooks out and got the license plate number of the getaway car.  Now they can bring their nude review to the warden‘s talent night in the big house. 

In Malaysia, if you‘re waiting for the 9:20 express, I suggest you start hoofing it.  This is King Tooth, younger brother of the moppets‘ Dr.  Tooth, attempting to break a record by pulling a train with his mouth.  The crowd came out to the event and the king did not disappointment, giving a heroic yang and pulling the 327 ton choo-choo a whopping nine feet.  Extra points for the safety vest too.  You‘re a class act. 

Finally to Washington, where after seven years of punking the nation, someone came around and punked Karl Rove.  Yesterday someone vandalized the turd blossom‘s Jag, shrink wrapping it in cellophane, slapping an I Heart Obama sticker on the bumper and taping a few bald eagles to the trunk.  Mr.  Rove sent all suspects to CIA black sites interrogation, later determining that fellow White House staffer Al Hubbard was the prankster.  He then cleaned off his car by melting the shrink wrap with laser beams coming out of his eyes.  Then he bit the head off the eagles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Fred Thompson declares he will declare.  Does anybody still care?  And Elizabeth Edwards blunt about the perception that Hillary Clinton may be an unattractive candidate to many.  Now this is unattractive.  I see England, I see France.  I see somebody stole Britney Spears‘ pants.  These stories ahead but first here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three news makers of this day.  Number three, an unnamed Scottish teen who posted a video of himself doing 140 miles per hour on the highway, on the Internets of course. 

Cops caught the act on Youtube.  They have arrested the teen for suspicion of speeding.  The real headline buried in this, he was doing 140 miles per hour in a Ford Escort. 

Number two, Cindy Fesgen, assistant principal at Discovery Canyon Campus school in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  She is cracking down on schoolyard violence by banning tag.  She says it, quote, causes a lot of conflict on the playground.  The kids can run around the playground, they just can‘t chase each other.  Yes, kids just running around causes no conflict at all.

And number one, Zamfira Sfara, the former housekeeper for the late Leona Helmsley, who tells the “New York Daily News” about the dog to whom Miss Helmsley left the largest single bequest in her will; quote, we had so much trouble with Trouble.  I was bitten dozens of times.  She then went on to describe the relationship between the so called queen of mean and Trouble the dog, quote, Helmsley would lick the dog tongue to tongue.  It was unnatural.  It was unhealthy. 

Yes, but it explains the 12 million she left the dog in her will. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Politics and comedy have at least this much in common—your timing had better be good lest you put the audience to sleep.  With that in mind, Fred Thompson supporters can get up now.  Your candidate is almost ready to deliver his punchline.  Our third story tonight, the latest in the countdown to 2008. 

After hirings and firings and shuffling of the campaign staff long before there was a campaign, the conservative Republican will officially get his campaign off the mark in a webcast on September 6th.  On the Democratic side of events, the John Edwards‘ plan to concentrate on Iowa as a first in the nation launch pad may be showing results.  After a month-long bus tour that hit every possible town hall, cafe and barnyard, “Time Magazine” asked likely Iowa caucus goers to choose among the top tier candidates.  It gave Edwards a growing 32 to 24 percent lead over Hillary Clinton, with Barack Obama in third place at 22 percent, Bill Richardson at 13 percent. 

The poll, taken after Senator Clinton has absorbed an increasing number of oblique attacks from the Edwards camp, hinting that she‘s competent, but dangerous to Democratic prospects because she‘ll rekindle hate attacks from the right wing fringe.  Latest line on that coming from the candidate‘s wife, Elizabeth Edwards, in the magazine, quote, from “Time Magazine,” I want to be perfectly clear, I don‘t not think the hatred the justified.  I don‘t know where it comes from.  I don‘t begin to understand it, she says, but you can‘t pretend it doesn‘t exist and will energize the Republican base.  They‘re nominee won‘t energize them.  Bush won‘t.  But Hillary as the nominee will. 

Mrs. Edwards adding, it‘s hard for John to talk about that, but it‘s the reality. 

Ana Marie Cox is the Washington editor of Time.com, and this week the co-host of “Morning Joe” here on MSNBC.  Welcome back.   

ANA MARIE COX, TIME.COM:  Good to be here.

OLBERMANN:  First of all, why do you think Elizabeth Edwards is saying it‘s hard for John to talk about this?  Karl Rove obviously said the same thing.  The suspicion is that the Republican right can‘t wait for a Hillary nomination.  It seems to be generally out there.  Why is it taboo for her to have said it? 

COX:  I think it‘s enough for Karl to have said it.  As badly as the Democrats would like to have their own Karl Rove, I think to be quoting the Karl Rove doesn‘t look good for anyone.  They sort have Karl Rove doing their work for them now.  The myth of Karl Rove is so familiar to most Democrats, that they know that if he says Hillary is going to win maybe that‘s not a good thing. 

OLBERMANN:  You and I have talked about this.  Your analogy seems to be on the money, I think, between John and Elizabeth Edwards.  The campaign seems to be collectively almost like the Warren Beatty character in the movie “Bulworth.”  What is going on here in the Edwards campaign? 

COX:  I think the two of them, between the experiences they‘ve been through, and most recently Elizabeth—here cancer becoming inoperable—

I think they are look at the experience right now not as something they want to have a campaign that they‘re proud of, but rather a life that they‘re proud of.  They‘re thinking long term and they‘re going for broke. 

I think it‘s imbued their campaign with a lot of passion, some fearlessness and you might eve say recklessness.  Some of Elizabeth and John‘s comments have gone to the edge of being things you wouldn‘t expect a politician to say unless they didn‘t care whether or not they won or not.  They cared about the kind of campaign they‘re running, and not whether or not they actually win.  I don‘t think that‘s true for both of them. 

OLBERMANN:  You and I talked about this too in that Chicago AFL-CIO forum, the non-debate debate; John Edwards, who usually colors within the lines in the coloring book, for the most part, several times went well over the time limit.  I would try to reign him back in and he said I‘m finishing this, as if don‘t mess with me, pal, come over there and punch you pal.

COX:  Yes, he seems to be really moving forward with his own energy. 

I think that some times can make him seem very passionate and energetic.  It sometimes can be slightly reckless.  In my colleague, Eric Pooley‘s (ph) article, which is the one you‘ve been citing, there‘s a quote from their campaign manager about when Edwards asked Hillary to return the money from Rupert Murdoch.  It turned out rather embarrassingly that Edwards had received money from one of Rupert Murdoch‘s companies for the book Elizabeth had written. 

Eric said didn‘t that occur to you guys that we asked Hillary about this.  This might be a problem?  They said, no, it didn‘t occur to us.  I think that‘s a sign of really just going forward with what you think is the right thing to do, and maybe not considering all the possible ramifications.  It‘s a refreshing thing, and I think it does make their campaign interesting to watch, and energizing for voters.  But I wonder what it‘s going to mean for them. 

Those Iowa numbers speak to that.  He‘s incredibly likable.  He‘s incredibly popular in Iowa.  But it‘s Hillary that gets the high marks for defending the nation against terrorism and being the most competent commander in chief. 

OLBERMANN:  Explain that one issue of that—within that poll from Time.  This is about likely caucus parties.  How does that skew the numbers?  Maybe it makes it less than what the Edwards would like and perhaps more than what the Clintons would be seeing. 

COX:  In theory, it actually makes it more predictive of what‘s going to happen in the caucuses.  The Time poll is unusual among a lot of the polls in that it really selects for people that are going to probably go to the caucuses.  The further away you get from that sample, the more likely it his for Hillary to win. 

That‘s  -- the more it looks like a national poll.  People are voting based on name recognition and not based on their knowledge of the candidate.  I think that Edwards has spent so much time in Iowa, people feel like they have a relationship with him.  That‘s why you see the caucus goers really gravitating towards him.   

OLBERMANN:  Time.com‘s Washington editor Ana Marie Cox with another warm-up for tomorrow‘s big finale as co-host of “Morning Joe.”  Thanks for being with us. 

Even in death, Princess Diana is still inadvertently causing trouble, engendering some marital strife, evidently, between her ex-husband and his new wife. 

Speaking of strife, is Britney Spears trying to make us doubt her connection to reality, or did somebody simply steal her pants?  Ahead on COUNTDOWN.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Ten years after her death, even remembering Princess Diana‘s life is causing controversy.  Her husband‘s new wife, who Diana detested, was originally scheduled to sit by Prince Charles‘ side throughout tomorrow‘s official memorial service.  But on Sunday, somebody changed her mind for her.  Now, in our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, the Duchess of Cornwall is reportedly royally miffed and planning a Caribbean vacation without her husband while he and his two sons remember Diana.  Our correspondent in London is Dawna Friesen. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAWNA FRIESEN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Fans of Diana are already paying tribute to her. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  She was special.  More special than anyone else. 

FRIESEN:  It is just a trickle though, compared to the massive outpouring of grief after her death, when a sea of flowers engulfed the gates of Kensington palace. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I went and walked out and looked over the gardens, full of people. 

NIGEL ARCH, DIRECTOR KENSINGTON PALACE:  It was perhaps one of the most extraordinary times in my life.

FRIESEN:  Ten years later, Diana‘s image still sells papers and the tabloids keep spinning theories.  Even Friday‘s memorial service for Diana created a royal stir.  First, Camilla, who Diana despised, said, yes, she‘d go, then said no, she wouldn‘t, because she didn‘t want to divert attention from the focus of the service, Diana‘s life. 

DICKIE ARBITER, FORMER PALACE SPOKESMAN:  They just don‘t seem to get things right.  You have to question the advisors.  Somewhere along the line, they‘re either advising and it‘s not being listened to, or they‘re not advising correctly. 

FRIESEN (on camera):  The service will be held here at the Guard‘s Chapel in Wellington Barracks.  Princes William and Harry played a big role in organizing it.  About 500 people are invited, but whose on the guest list and whose off it is creating its own controversy.

(voice-over):  Elton John will be there.  So will Diana‘s brother, Charles Spencer.  But Dodi‘s father, Mohammad Fayed, was not invited, nor was Paul Burrell, Diana‘s former butler.  William and Harry already held a concert to celebrate their mother‘s life and said they wanted the memorial to be a service of conciliation.  That may not be.  A decade later Diana still divides opinion between those who miss her empathy and glamour and those who were never comfortable with the sentimentality her death unleashed. 

Donna Friesen, NBC News, London. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Time for our nightly round-up of tabloid and entertainment news about the living, Keeping Tabs.  David Letterman boldly going where he‘s never gone before, “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”  Two years after their on-air reconciliation on his program, the late night host has agreed to make a rare appearance on somebody else‘s show, hers.  On September 10, Letterman will tape an interview in New York at Madison Square Garden? 

There‘s no boxing or basketball going on.  Four years ago Winfrey said Letterman‘s jokes about her made her completely uncomfortable.  Two years later, on his show, she said the feud was over.  Now finally he will return the favor.  Next, they will settle the middle east. 

A sad confirmation tonight about Owen Wilson‘s incident last Sunday.  An attorney for the actor telling “Access Hollywood” that Mr Wilson did, in fact, slit his wrists.  A police log for Santa Monica, California listed the 911 call as attempted suicide.  However, the attorney, who was not named, also claimed that Wilson did not overdose on drugs, as had been rumored.  He said Wilson had been taking anti-depressants, but knew of no other drugs in the system. 

As of Tuesday, the city‘s attorney rejected media requests to release the 911 call.  Movie industry trade papers reported yesterday that Wilson has dropped out of his next project, a comedy to be called “Tropic Thunder.” 

Have you heard that NBC‘s got a new face on Sunday Night Football this season?  That‘s right it‘s Keith—what?  Faith Hill?  Really.  Fine, whatever, we‘ve got plenty of chairs.  Country star Faith Hill is stepping in as the singer of NBC‘s Sunday Night Football theme song.  This is an annul change, apparently.  Last year it was sung by Pink. 

The song is actually called “Waiting All Day for Sunday Night,” although the music is from Joan Jets‘ “I Hate Myself For Loving You,” which come to think of it might have been more appropriate in its original form.  Miss Hill says she‘s a big football fan and that her husband, Tim Mcgraw, has taught her the finer points of the game, like when to keep quiet during it.  Yikes. 

Sunday Night Football‘s Sunday premiere is Sunday, September 9th.  It‘s hosted on Bob Costas, Chris Colonsworth, Jerome Bettis, Tiki Barber and Keith—what, we‘re out of time?  This is unfair. 

As the old commercial used to go, nice pants, and during a child abuse investigation she wears this?  That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for worst person in the world.

The bronze to someone in the office of baseball commissioner Bud Selig, incorrectly identified today by the “New York Post” as Major League Baseball vice president Bob Watson.  It was not he.  The commissioner‘s office is obsessed with the fact that a lot of managers don‘t wear uniform tops during actual games, but turn to warm-up jackets or fleece pullovers. 

During last night‘s Red Sox/Yankees game in New York, the baseball police came into the Red Sox dugout while the game was in progress, after Watson, as you see there, had come in before the game started—came in in progress and demanded to see Boston manager Terry Francona while he was trying to signal his fielders how to play the Yankee hitter then at the plate. 

The guy wouldn‘t leave.  He demanded Francona prove he was wearing a uniform top under his fleece pull over.  During the game.  Baseball‘s greatest record was just broken by a guy with enough illegal drugs in him to send Keith Richards into a coma and these morons are worried about what the managers are wearing. 

Silver tonight to Fixed Noise; during a segment about Katie Couric‘s trip to Iraq for the CBS Evening News, producers of Neil Cavuto‘s show approved and used a graphic reading, single mother to anchor in the war zone, is this the right move?  You let single mothers watch Fox Noise.  That‘s far riskier than sending one to Iraq. 

But our winner tonight, Nevada Congressman John Porter, returning from one of the administration‘s guided tours of Iraq.  He met top U.S. and Iraqi officials.  Porter then telling the newspaper the “Las Vegas Review Journal” that if the U.S. withdrew from Iraq prematurely, quote, to a person, they said there would be genocide, gas pries in the U.S. would rise to eight or nine dollars a gallon.

Does it bother anybody else that when we went into Iraq and protesters said this was a war about gas prices, the right wing fringe branded all of them as lunatics and traitors.  Now the right wing fringe, including the president and this guy Porter, are using gas prices as a perfectly legitimate reason to get Americans killed in Iraq.  Congressman John Porter of Nevada, today‘s Worst Person in the World!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Normally, when a headline screams that a celebrity bears all, we expect some sort of heart-warming, tear jerking confessional.  Of course, in our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, when that celebrity is Britney Spears we know to expect something more along the lines of nudity, partial nudity or mental nudity. 

Or as this evidence from a moment from life‘s rich pageant in Beverly Hills, California suggests all three.  You think it looks bad from that angle.  Here is the view from behind.  Hello.  Think that‘s technically called a half moon.  The paparazzi aren‘t the only ones who got to see the back side of Miss Spears.  She was spotted driving around with her kids in the car earlier in the same day, wearing the same top, the same kids who are currently at the center of several legal issues. 

Her ex, K-Fed now seeking full custody of Sean Preston and Jaiden James.  And the Department of Children and Family Services in L.A. County is investigating allegations of poor dental hygiene and bad sleeping habits for the tots, to say nothing of the newest symptoms, repeated nightmares in which the kids believe their mother has turned into two large, under cooked baked hams. 

As we often do when it come to celebrities who let it all hang out, let‘s turn to comedian Paul F. Tompkins, a regular contributor to VH-1‘s “Best Week Ever.”  Paul, thanks for your time tonight. 

PAUL F. TOMPKINS, VH-1: Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  So, was that a dress or did she just forget her pants? 

Was there an armed robbery?  What happened? 

TOMPKINS:  This is where I feel bad for women, because their clothing is made at such weird lengths.  With men, a shirt is always a shirt.  Do I have to wear pants with this?  Yes, it‘s a shirt.  It‘s clearly a shirt.  I think that when it comes to women‘s clothing, you have to use the one percent doctrine.  If you are only 99 percent sure that it‘s a dress, wear pants anyway. 

OLBERMANN:  I mean it could have been like a smock or a cover all of some sort?  Is that what it was? 

TOMPKINS:  She might have been coming from a pottery class. 

OLBERMANN:  Color Me Mine or whatever the hell that‘s called.  With this latest thing, has Miss Spears, as our graphic here insinuate, truly hit rock bottom? 

TOMPKINS:  It‘s hard to say because she started out so low.  She has already shaved her head.  You know, but my feeling is that Britney is the Beetles of insane and inappropriate behavior.  We have yet to hear her “Sergeant Pepper.” 

OLBERMANN:  She is going to go into the psychedelic era any month now.  Listen, she‘s in this custody battle for these two boys.  Would a judge ever hold a question of public dress, either bottom or frontal flashing, against her?  Does nudity make you a bad parent? 

TOMPKINS:  Well it, depends on what kind of nudity.  I think indoor nudity is healthy.  Outdoor nudity is another three years of therapy for those children.  This is not a European nation?  We are not in Scandinavia.  This is America and we are uptight about the human body. 

OLBERMANN:  Now, this is, perhaps, the most frightening thing of all, Paul.  She has said she is planning something—the word is shocking that she used for the MTV Music Awards next month.  Do we even dare speculate, contemplate what on Earth there is left that could shock us, I mean, other than apologize? 

TOMPKINS:  I think the most shocking thing she could do is actually show up to that awards show.  She has been making a career out of backing out of things lately.  It‘s amazing.  She always has an exit strategy. 

OLBERMANN:  As we have seen here, backing out of it, in that dress, too.  That‘s an exit strategy and a half right there.  Apparently at the MTV thing she was going to sing “My Prerogative” while pictures of her ex-lovers such as Mr. Timberlake and Mr. Federline were projected behind her.  Who would have talked her out of that bright idea?  Was it one of the kids? 

TOMPKINS:  The real question might be who didn‘t talk her out of it?  That‘s just a flat out bad idea, especially with what‘s going on in her life.  I think social services might have a few idea on what a mother‘s prerogative might be.  It also makes me think her troubles were traced back to when she initially covered that song.  And given the kind of twists and turns that Bobby Brown‘s life has taken, maybe that song is haunted. 

OLBERMANN:  It‘s like one of those videos.  Last thing Versace dress, the one that she wiped her chicken stained fingers at the bad photo shoot from “OK! Magazine” is now up for sale on eBay.  “OK!” says it‘s going to send the proceeds to charity.  But who wants that dress? 

TOMPKINS:  After Monica Lewinsky‘s dress, people were clamoring to buy that.  I never thought years later this will be a trend.  If you really want stained clothing, just do what everybody else does and go to the Salvation Army. 

OLBERMANN:  Comedian Paul F. Tompkins, contributor to VH-1‘s “Best Week Ever.”  As always, Paul, great thanks. 

TOMPKINS:  My pleasure, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this is the 1,583rd day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.

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

END   

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