updated 9/5/2007 1:39:43 PM ET 2007-09-05T17:39:43

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Wesley Clark, Wayne Slater, Chris Cillizza

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC HOST (voice-over):  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?  The president at war over Iraq on three fronts.  The first front, George Bush versus his own memory.  The second front, George Bush versus his own first man in Baghdad, Ambassador Bremer.  Bremer blasts back today after Bush said it was U.S. policy not to dismantle Saddam Hussein‘s army.  He can‘t remember why it was dismantled.  He‘s implying Bremer screwed up.  Bremer releases copies of his letters to the president about the dismantling and the president is, in return, acknowledging the plan to dismantle.  And the third front in Bush‘s war, George Bush‘s comments versus George Bush‘s comments. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  If the kind of success we‘re now seeing continues, it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But as he dangles that carrot, it is revealed he told a biographer, quote, “I‘m playing for October, November to get us in a position where the presidential candidates will be comfortable about sustaining a presence.”  The president‘s startling admission that the troops are staying.  So that the Republican nominee will insist that the troops are staying. 

Richard Wolf on the analysis that the surge has made Iraq worse for Iraqis. 

Gerald Wesley Clark on the finger pointing by Mr. Bush and Mr. Bremer. 

Wayne Slater on that Bush biography. 

And tonight a special comment on a president playing, and his revelation that the war in Iraq is being fought to ensure that there is a war in Iraq. 

Softening the image.  He‘s on Oprah.  She‘s on Ellen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELLEN DEGENERES, TALK SHOW HOST:  Here I go.  I‘m going to ask you a question and, first of all, I should preface this.  I don‘t know if you know this, but I am gay. 

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  What? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

Adventurer Steve Fossett missing, not in a balloon over the Himalayas, but in a small aircraft over Nevada. 

And El Salvador where apparently they took Jerry Lee Lewis a little too seriously when he sang about those “Great Balls of Fire.” 

All of that and more now on “Countdown.” 

(on camera):  Good evening.  What he said about maybe possibly hypothetically reducing troop levels at a photo op for which he circumnavigated the globe got the real headlines.  What the president revealed about his real motives, that he‘s keeping our troops in Iraq in hopes that the Republican presidential candidates will have to drink his Kool-Aid—not so much. 

Our fifth story in the “Countdown,” our president tries to preempt opposition and out shout his own words from the new Robert Draper biography.  But statistics, painting as bleak a picture as ever about the actual level of violence, sectarian strife and political in-fighting in Iraq, surge or no surge.

President Bush traveling the long way to Australia over the weekend via Iraq, all in an attempt to steal the thunder from Democrats in Congress before they return to Washington well before they receive the president‘s official report on where things stand in Iraq. 

Yet, in a classic case of do as I say, not as I do, Mr. Bush claiming lawmakers in Congress should wait until hearing from General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker next week and then weighing in with his own opinion. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  These two fine Americans will report to Congress next week.  And I urge members of both parties in Congress to listen to what they have to say.  Congress shouldn‘t jump to conclusions until the general and the ambassador report. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Despite the president‘s best efforts, a new independent report from the GAO showing remarkably few White House fingerprints on it, painting a far bleaker view of progress in Iraq then offered by Mr. Bush.  It concludes that Baghdad has not met 11 of its 18 security and political benchmarks.  A more accurate interpretation might be that the Iraqi government failed to meet 15 out of 18 benchmarks, but the White House insisted it be graded partially on four of the failures. 

At a hearing this afternoon on Capitol Hill, GAO Comptroller, General David Walker down-played White House interference.  Well, at least after somebody at the GOA leaked an advanced copy of this report to the media last week. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. DAVID WALKER, GAO COMPTROLLER:  When they leaked that, they also noted they were going to try to convince us to change some of our ratings.  As you can see, the only thing we really did was we went to a partially met on a couple, one of which I made the judgment, frankly, independently of their comments.  The other of which they provided us additional information that we did not have it previously, which caused us to change our judgment. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s turn to Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.

Richard, good evening.

RICHARD WOLFFE, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK”:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  The GOA report in a minute.  First about the trip.  Nobody seems to be talking about this in the wake of Mr. Bush‘s—not really that much of a surprise, kind of annual visit to somewhere safe in Iraq, in this case, al Anbar.  Did any success—it doesn‘t have anything to do with the surge, that it was a tribal leaders who switched sides from supporting al Qaeda in Iraq to supporting the U.S. in Iraq.  Why was al Anbar and that base the venue for the photo op? 

WOLFFE:  Well, they‘ll grab on to any good news they can find in Iraq.  Any reduction in violence is to be welcomed.  You‘re right.  There is a cause and effect question that the administration glosses over or tries to fudge here and say that while the surge is happening and this violence has reduced, therefore the two are connected.  As you point out and if you listen carefully to administration officials, they concede this is really a strategic decision by tribal leaders.  It‘s about Sunni against Sunni.  This is not about Sunni and Shia violence which has declined.  That‘s still a problem.  Elsewhere, the Shia on Shia violence.  It‘s a much more mixed picture.  If there‘s a reduction in violence given where this administration is right now, they‘re going to jump on it and claim it as their own. 

OLBERMANN:  Is the White House pleased with that photo op?  Do they think the whole thing worked? 

WOLFFE:  Sure they are.  They‘re pleased about two things.  First of all, when they pull off one of these trips.  Operationally, it‘s difficult.  There are security concerns, obviously.  They think all that matters is the pictures and the framing of it going into the Petraeus debate next week.  So, yeah, they‘re happy. 

OLBERMANN:  Do they think that the trip was undercut or wasted because while the president is in Iraq talking bout maybe lowering troop levels?  Robert Draper‘s book comes out here where the president‘s talking about playing for October or November and trying to get next year‘s Republican presidential nominee endorsing staying there indefinitely? 

WOLFFE:  The Draper book has not helped.  This is all about the message, shaping the message.  And Draper has many revelations about Iraq.  You‘re right to pick up on this long-term plan that the president has about locking in his successor.  The Republicans and Democrats is what he‘s thinking about, how to lock them in.  And other things in the Draper book.  The president, according to Draper‘s book, thinks that until April 2006 that Saddam Hussein still had weapons of mass destruction.  For all we know, he still thinks that.  So, you know, there‘s a lot in there that is eye-opening about his thoughts about Iraq and where he—where he stands right now. 

OLBERMANN:  If you‘re the Democratic leadership and the president has attempted to paint you into this corner where he gets the two-week head start and can frame the debate about the Petraeus debate and the war itself, and you need to wait to comment, how do you fight that?  How do you respond? 

WOLFFE:  Well, the Democrats have to say what they think.  I mean, that‘s the first thing.  Really the president doesn‘t care about what they say.  Maybe the American people will.  They should hear from them.  What they really have to do here is—is try to win over some of the Republicans.  And the crucial problem they made before was to do it in public.  Really they have to go to Republicans now and say, look, we know what the president‘s game plan here.  He is not going to substantially reduce troops.  He wants to leave them there.  Do you want to campaign in 2008 on that basis?  If you are, fine.  But if you‘re not, we need to talk about how to shift the president‘s position.  That‘s the kind of discussion that needs to go on if Democrats are serious. 

OLBERMANN:  Briefly, on the GOA report, there were few fingerprints on it from the White House.  Does that mean that the idea to leak it worked? 

WOLFFE:  Yes.  The GOA knows about its independence.  It values it.  There are lots of debates about facts in this one, but the GOA has done itself well here. 

OLBERMANN:  Richard Wolffe of “Newsweek.”  As always, sir, thanks for your time. 

WOLFFE:  Anytime. 

OLBERMANN:  From a psychological standpoint, perhaps that Draper book‘s most extraordinary revelation is Mr. Bush‘s attempt to distance himself from the legacy of himself.  Asked about his disastrous decision to dismantle the Iraqi army, which put thousands of young men on the streets, almost all penniless, rather than recruiting them to rebuild their own country, Mr. Bush said his policy back in 2003 was to keep the army intact, that he, quote, “can‘t remember why the United States did not do that.”  He says he‘s sure he asked his administrator in Iraq at the time, Paul Bremer, what happened. 

Bremer now refuting that account, having released a letter he sent to Mr. Bush on May 22, 2003, referring to debaathification saying, “I will parallel this step with an even more robust measure dissolving Saddam‘s military and intelligence structures to emphasize that we mean business.”  Mr. Bush replied the next day, quoting again, “You have my full support.” 

This was a week after U.S. stopped paying Iraqi army salaries.  The San Francisco Chronicle having quoted an Iraqi colonel who said, quote, “We thought the Americans were going to get rid of our oppressor, but they just wanted to take our money.  What will we eat?  We will have no choice but to fight.”

Let‘s turn now to someone who has done this kind of thing, but successfully.  Retired General Wesley Clark, former supreme commander of NATO and now an analyst for MSNBC. 

General, great thanks for your time, sir.

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, RETIRED FORMER NATO SUPREME COMMANDER & MSNBC

ANALYST:  Great to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Well before Ambassador Bremer disbanded the army in May 2003, the end of those salaries, provided a warning—newspapers around the country recognized it—about the consequences.  So does this Bush argument of today make any sense at all that neither he nor Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld wanted to disband Saddam‘s army, but somehow they just didn‘t bother to tell that to Ambassador Bremer? 

CLARK:  No, it makes no sense.  I think what it was is the administration failed to adequately plan the occupation.  And we knew when we did this during the 1990s in Haiti, Bosnia and Kosovo.  The key thing you had to plan was who was going to provide security for the population.  This was not planned by the administration in any adequate way.  And then it was caught up in the sort of euphoria and ideology of debaathification, which was democracy now, let‘s inject them with a democracy shot and everything will be all right. 

It was Rumsfeld saying they‘re going to be a little rambunctious as they were looting the national museum and so forth.  It was a shocking failure to understand what has to be done in an occupation and the immediate aftermath of the military campaign? 

OLBERMANN:  The president was on his ranch during that exchange with Ambassador Bremer.  He claims not to remember it.  How essential—how much of a turning point was that decision to disband the army in terms of America‘s military operations and specifically to—towards Iraq‘s future? 

CLARK:  Well, it was clearly one of the two or three major turning points in the immediate aftermath of the war.  It had a huge impact.  Because just as the Iraqi colonel said, it released 400,000 people onto the streets with no income and angry. 

OLBERMANN:  The White House tells the “Times” that by the time of Ambassador Bremer‘s order, it was fairly clear that the Iraqi army could not be rebuilt.  Bremer says he sent Rumsfeld a draft of the order on the 9th of May, about a month after Baghdad fell.  Could the White House be right about that one point?  Was it impossible by that point to rebuild Saddam Hussein‘s army into Iraq‘s army? 

CLARK:  Well, I wouldn‘t think so.  I think what you do in a situation like this, you continue to pay.  You hold formations.  You keep the troops occupied.  You go through one by one, you identify the bad apples.  You pull them out to the side for prosecution or whatever.  But the majority of the people are not touched and they are paid. 

Of course, after the decision was made not to pay them, then if you said, okay, all members of the Iraqi army, please report, you won‘t be paid for this, the odds of having a good formation were low.  But if you had been smart, you would, of course, continued to pay while you kept them in position and then threw off the bad apples and used the remainder to be the nucleus or help restore civil society in the country. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, we‘re still pretending at that point to be keeping costs down in terms of pay.  But this last point about the finger pointing, Bremer and the president, previously Secretary Rice, Mr. Tenant at CIA, do their attempts at legacy-building matter?  Does the finger pointing matter or does the president historically bear the weight not just of his own personal—of his choices, but of his staff? 

CLARK:  I think there‘s no doubt about it.  This is President Bush‘s war.  That‘s the reason he wants to make sure his successors carry it on.  That‘s the only way he‘s going to get out of having the total legacy of having brought America into an operation that had been entirely unprecedented, that invaded a country and then failed to deal with the consequences. 

OLBERMANN:  General Wesley Clark, former supreme allied commander of NATO, now an MSNBC analyst.  Always our great pleasure, sir.  Thank you.           

CLARK:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  The president‘s inability to remember that he authorized disbanding Saddam‘s army might be the biggest historical news in that Draper book.  But the most shattering quotation about Iraq for today and for tomorrow is the president saying, “I‘m playing for October, November to get us in a position where the presidential candidates will be comfortable about sustaining a presence.”

Later my special comment on this.  A grim forecast, referentially phrased, which speaks to Mr. Bush‘s compulsion to perpetuate this war and American deaths in Iraq indefinitely, tonight on “Countdown.” 

Inside the rest of the Draper book with Wayne Slater, co-author of “Bush‘s Brain.” 

And a would-be president turns to day-time TV to burnish an image. 

Not her, the other one. 

You are watching “Countdown” on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

OLBERMANN:  The new biography of President Bush may have been aided by the kind of good fortune that its author, Robert Draper, never could have anticipated.  The first interview with Mr. Bush on December 12th last year came about when the president had unexpected free time.  The reason for that, Mr. Bush‘s announcement of a new strategy for Iraq, a surge had been postponed. 

While the world waited for the president‘s response to the Iraq Study Group, which was itself necessitated by failures in Iraq, Mr. Bush was able to spend some time shaping his legacy or, in our fourth story in the “Countdown,” trying to shape it. 

The president was apparently eager to impress the author with his certainty about Iraq, telling Mr. Draper, quote, “I want this damn book to be right and I want you to get this.”  While the president told Mr. Draper that quote, “Self-pity is the worst thing that can happen to a presidency,” he also said, quote, “This is a job where you can have a lot of self-pity and I‘ll bet I‘ve shed more tears than you can count as president.”  The more cogent quotes about not remembering how Saddam Hussein‘s army was dismantled and making it look like it was done over his objections, when it wasn‘t—we‘ve analyzed that already—about playing for October or November to convince presidential candidates to embrace the war in Iraq.  His special comment about that coming up.

But also of note, when he leaves office, the president said he‘ll give some speeches, such as former President Bill Clinton has done, quote, “Just to replenish the old coffers.”  Mr. Bush plugged his so-called Freedom Institute, but he also told Draper, quote, “I can just envision getting in the car, getting bored, going down to the ranch.” 

Let‘s call on the senior political writing for the Dallas Morning News, also the co-author of “Bush‘s Brain,” Wayne Slater. 

Wayne, thanks for your time tonight. 

WAYNE SLATER, SENIOR POLITICAL WRITER, DALLAS MORNING NEWS & AUTHOR: 

Great to be with you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Without rehashing the Bush-Bremer clash that we looked at earlier, is the president trying both to rewrite some of the key decisions, some of the key failures of the Iraq war while also sticking to this theme of I‘m the decider, it may take decades for my decisions to be vindicated.  Or did he really forget about eliminating Saddam‘s army? 

SLATER:  I think a bit of forgetfulness here, but the former is what‘s going on here.  The White House was really sold on the idea of this book when Draper said this could be the first draft of history.  What it really has become, I think, based on reading of it today, is a first draft of revisionist history.  I mean, it‘s amazing.  The administration that‘s prided itself in being the administration of personal responsibility isn‘t taking responsibility for much of anything.  You see that Paul Bremer was responsible for getting rid of the army.  John Roberts of the Supreme Court was the one that recommended Harriet Miers.  In the book you have Karl Rove saying I never liked this Cheney guy to begin with.  I didn‘t think we should do it.  Karen Hughes and Dan Bartlett, two former presidential aides said, you know, we thought that that whole DUI mess should have gotten out front.  So everybody is building legacies here, first and foremost, the president of the United States. 

OLBERMANN:  The buck may have stopped there in a previous administration, but nowhere in the White House is a sign like that X‘ed in these days.  Clearly, Mr. Bush sounds throughout like a—a man who thinks the perception of his presidency will not change until he‘s long out of office.  Is there not a flip side to that, that he has no intention of changing anything in Iraq and he will ride out his presidency the way he damn well pleases? 

SLATER:  You know, that‘s exactly what‘s going on.  But I think those two points would seem contradictory.  They‘re two sides of the same coin.  Bush basically understands that whatever is going to be said about this presidency, whatever is going to be said about his legacy is going to be based, in part, on his decision to do what he thinks is right and to live with the consequences.  He is either Hoover or he is Truman.  We don‘t know at this point, although it looks more like Hoover at the moment.  And I think the president says we‘ll let historians sort it out and I‘m not going to make any changes by the time I head for the door. 

OLBERMANN:  Is he going to make changes afterwards?  Is he still going to be involved in writing his own legacy?  He‘s talking about the Freedom Institute and then he says I can envision getting in the car, getting bored and going down to the ranch.  Is he checking out when he checks out? 

SLATER:  I think the commander and chief—it sounds like the commander and chief wants to become the slacker in chief when he leaves the White House.  It sounds exactly like George Bush.  I think he is going to be part of that Freedom Institute.  It‘s going to be near the house where he says he and Laura would like to live, somewhere in Dallas.  It will be on the SMU campus.  I do see him involved in that. 

It‘s interesting that he‘d talk to Draper about the idea of making some speeches and making some money.  That really has never been at the top of his—of his mind, certainly in recent years.  I suspect that he‘ll be actively involved as long as the institute is about a seven iron from his house. 

OLBERMANN:  There‘s always been other peoples‘ money to fall back if necessary before.  Laura Bush is quoted in the book about chastising the president when he feels sorry for himself, reminding him that he decided to do this—evidently referring to the invasion.  But the quote in the Draper book is about how self-pity is the worst thing that can happen in a presidency.  That‘s from the president.  Which has it been?  Has he been a stoic or does he walk around the West Wing saying how I pity me? 

SLATER:  There are two George Bushes, have always been two George Bushes.  The professional one, the one he thinks he wants to show to the world, is very stoic, very manly, very no-doubts, no regrets.  But privately, especially with his family, he‘s always been someone who said, hey, look, look at me, look at the problems.  And Laura Bush and the girls, his two daughters, have been the ones who have been the most—the quickest to really puncture that balloon. 

I remember one point when he was governor here in Texas, the cable went out on the night of the MTV Awards and the girls said, daddy, fix the cable and he said, I couldn‘t do it and the girls said to him—he was pitying himself.  The girls said to him, what good is being governor if you can‘t even fix the cable? 

OLBERMANN:  Yeah, that could be the—that could be the title of the next book.  Wayne Slater of the Dallas Morning News, co-author of one of the great books, “Bush‘s Brain.”  Great, thanks, Wayne. 

SLATER:  Good to be with you. 

OLBERMANN:  Quick programming note.  The author of “Dead Certain,” Robert Draper, will join us tomorrow night on “Countdown,” 8:00 eastern, 5:00 Pacific. 

Tonight, a special comment.  In Iraq, the president hinting he might reduce troop levels.  While in Draper‘s book, the president reminding us that is a lie.  He is a liar and his goal is for this country to stay in Iraq indefinitely.                

And the cartoons.  This is called tradition.  You know what Winston Churchill supposedly said about traditions when he was accused of destroying traditions in the British navy?  “The only traditions are rum, sodomy, and the lash.”  An explanation of this fire-throwing tradition next on “Countdown.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Thirty-two years ago today, the unusual life of Walter Tetley came to an end when he died of cancer aged 60.  He had been a child actor for more than 50 years.  He had a hormonal defect.  Today probably treatable, which denied him many of the effects of puberty, specifically his voice never changed.  He was 44 years old when he played the part for which somebody in his family is still receiving residuals.  Walter Tetley is the voice of Sherman, the time-traveling boy sidekick to the operator of the way-back machine in the “The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show,” Mr. Peabody. 

On that note, let‘s play “Oddball.” 

First we travel to El Salvador.  They‘re still celebrating the Appalachian State win over Michigan.  No, these are locals from the town of Nahapa (ph) hucking gasoline-soaked rags at one another.  With the price of gas shooting through the freaking roof, these guys are nuts.  They perform this fireball ritual to commemorate the great volcanic eruption of 1922.  The hot magna chased the devil out of town.  Organizers claim nobody got hurt this hear, but I think they‘re lying.  Yeah, you heard me guys.

To Brighton, England, from fireballs to fur balls, the World Mustache and Beard Championships.  The one day a year when these guys can leave the house without getting beaten up.  They spend years growing, grooming, delousing for their one moment in time when they put their faces up against the faces of other hairy men.  The American sideburns champ explains his technique. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Every day is a bad hair day.  You wake up and you go, oh, my God, I‘ve got to fix this.  You take a shower and shampoo it and stuff.  And then my wife quaffs me so I like to say my wife does me every morning. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Okay.  Thanks for sharing.  The beard people also sharing a building with the flugelhorn convention.  This year‘s grand champ, the guy with the beard in the shape of the London Bridge.  Forget what they told you every day of your life, sir, you‘re a winner.                 

Breaking news tonight.  A report from Larry Craig‘s spokesman that the Senator from Idaho is reconsidering his resignation.  Does that mean he‘s thinking of staying or thinking of leaving earlier? Details ahead in a moment. 

And it‘s like the old head-shaker about the mountain climber getting hurt falling down steps.  Aviation adventurer Steve Fossett missing after what should have been an ordinary small aircraft flight in Nevada.  The latest ahead.  First time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three news makers of this day.  

Number three, the actor Michael Imperioli, who owns a small theater in New York, Studio Dante.  Very early this morning, art, as it proverbially does, imitated life when a small pipe bomb went off in a van parked on the street outside the studio.  Police are not sure there‘s connection.  Mr.  Imperioli is saying nothing.  Nothing!

Number two, the unnamed mountaineer who had a bad hair day in Boise, Idaho, home of Senator Craig.  She had to be rescued after she got stuck while repelling down a cliff near the diversion damn.  Twenty feet from the ground, the woman, who was not wearing a helmet, got her long, braided hair caught in her repelling device.  One of her male companion came to her aid.  He repelled down the cliff and got his shirt caught in his repelling device.  Police rescued them both. 

Number one, Senator John McCain, the kind of genuine, smart humor that used to be his hallmark, at a forum today in New Hampshire at Concord High School.  A student told the 71-year-old McCain he might be too conservative to be respected and too old to be president.  Thanks for the question, you little jerk, McCain joked.  Then he paused with precise timing, and added, you‘re drafted. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Our third story, breaking news that is summarized entirely by on Associated Press headline that reads tantalizingly, Senator Larry Craig‘s spokesman says the Idaho senator is reconsidering his decision to resign.  That is the full extent of the report thus far by the Associated Press.  Senator Craig, of course, resigned on Saturday, confirming what was expected after a week of intense media scrutiny following the revelation of his arrest on June 11th after allegations of lewd conduct in a men‘s bathroom at the airport at Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

We‘re fortunate enough to be joined now by Chris Cillizza, who writes “The Fix” on WashingtonPost.com.  Good evening, Chris. 

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

OLBERMANN:  Had you heard anything about this? 

CILLIZZA:  No.  When I was on last week, we talked about his resignation, I thought it might come sooner, that, you know, he set September 20th as his resignation date.  I didn‘t think he could hold on that long even after announcing it.  This seems like—and, again, we‘re going on a headline.  I don‘t want to jump to conclusion.  This seems like that he‘s rethinking resigning entirely.  That is not going to be met with a lot of smiles, I don‘t think, in the Republican leadership, who were, frankly, glad to see him go. 

They wanted that, you know, out, out damn spot.  They wanted that gone as soon as possible.  And they felt pretty happy with the way it went down. 

OLBERMANN:  Now, there were two elements of this that—one of which people heard about and one of which is just moving across the Idaho news wires right now as we speak.  Senator Specter had told him maybe he should reconsider, should have stayed and fought.  Do we have any knowledge of contact between Senator Specter of Pennsylvania and Senator Craig about this? 

CILLIZZA:  You know, I don‘t.  I think—my guess on this—and I really want to caution that it is a guess.  My guess is that some legal expert advising Senator Craig may have said, you know, in resigning or saying you‘re going to resign, you may have put yourself in more legal jeopardy than if you stay and fight it.  The problem is we‘re dealing with the difference between legal reality and political reality. 

That may be true in legal reality.  In political reality, I don‘t see anyone welcoming Larry Craig back even for a short period of time into the Senate with open arms.  You know, I think this is going to be a big political problem for Republicans, who, as I said before—they want this to go away as soon as possible. 

OLBERMANN:  Now, to that point, as the Senate reconvened today, as the law makers made their way back to Washington, or arrived there, or had arrived there earlier and made their way back to work today, he wasn‘t at the Senate, correct? 

CILLIZZA:  That‘s right.  You know, I—this is the thing that we‘ve talked about back and forth.  Does Larry Craig come and vote until his expected resignation date?  If he does, he‘s going to get battered by questions.  People are not going to leave him alone on this, I don‘t think.  Especially with the headlines like this moving on the AP wire.  People are going to want to say, hey, wait a minute.  Is this right or wrong?  Are you resigning?  Are you not resigning?  Where do you come down on this? 

And every person who is running for president and every member of the Republican leadership is going to get asked 1,000 times between now and when Larry Craig makes this clear, what should Senator Craig do.  Is it right for him to rethink resigning.  It‘s just a problem the Republicans frankly don‘t want to have right now. 

OLBERMANN:  Do we know maybe if this is still connected to the family?  Because this is the other thing that I was referencing here.  The Associated Press story out of Boise, the local story that‘s available to their clientele there, said that he met with—or discussed this with all three of his adopted adult children, who said on Tuesday that they questioned Senator Craig explicitly about what happened in a Minneapolis bathroom, where he was arrested in a sex sting, and they believe his assertions that he‘s not gay and did nothing wrong. 

Jay Craig, who is 33, told the Associated Press from McCall, Idaho, it was really so we could get together and talk about it, make sure we had all the facts straight and get it from him.  Our conclusion, he said speaking of his siblings, was that there was no wrong-doing there.  We understood the direction he was taking by pleading guilty and there was nothing illegal that happened there. 

Could this still be a man wrestling purely with what‘s going on inside his own home? 

CILLIZZA:  Yes, of course it could be.  I think what Larry Craig—in his resignation speech, he did not say that he was guilty of this.  He didn‘t say, I‘ve made a mistake and I should have come out and admitted this full out.  He didn‘t say that.  He said I don‘t want to distract from the work of the people of Idaho.  I need to pursue my legal case and that‘s not in the best interest of the people of Idaho. 

I think if his family comes to him and say, look, people are going to assume you‘re gay if you plead guilty to this and then resign.  Does he come back and fight again?  Maybe his family wants him to and that‘s one reality.  I keep coming back to the political reality of this thing.  The Republican party has moved beyond this hopefully in their minds.  They don‘t want to come and rehash this, revisit all of these questions that they thought they had moved beyond. 

OLBERMANN:  The Associated Press has been nice enough to add two paragraphs to their initial reports.  We have something more to work with.  It‘s not such a foregone conclusion anymore, according to Sydney Smith, who is Craig‘s spokesman in Boise.  The only thing he could do was resign.  We‘re still preparing as if Senator Craig will resign September 30th, but the outcome of the legal case in Minnesota and the Ethics investigation will have an impact on whether we‘re able to stay in the fight and stay in the Senate. 

There‘s no misinterpreting this.  He‘s not talking about leaving early.  He‘s talking about not leaving at all. 

CILLIZZA:  Keith, honestly, you know, I think exoneration in the legal case or in the Senate Ethics Committee is very unlikely.  I mean, you know, I don‘t think he‘s going to be completely exonerated in either of them.  As his spokesman said famously now, this is a he said, he said conversation or misunderstanding between the senator and a police officer.  You know, it does not seem to me that this is something that is going to just—the slate will be wiped clean for him. 

I tend to think that this is a little bit far-fetched and the reality is that this is someone who is going to have to eventually resign one way or another, depending on what way that is. 

OLBERMANN:  First he pleaded guilty and said that wasn‘t the case and now he‘s resigned and maybe saying this isn‘t the case either.  Repeating that breaking news, Sydney Smith, the spokesman for Senator Larry Craig of Idaho, saying it‘s not such a foregone conclusion anymore that the only thing the senator could do was resign.  He‘s reconsidering his decision. 

Chris Cillizza of “The Fix” of WashingtonPost.com, doing great work under pressure circumstances here on breaking news.  We appreciate it, Chris. 

CILLIZZA:  Thanks for having me.

OLBERMANN:  The president‘s remarkable duplicity.  While he hints to the troops that their numbers might be reduced, he tells a biographer the exact opposite in hopes of convincing those who want to succeed him to keep the troops in Iraq.  Tonight, a special comment. 

And after adventure and risk and triumph, it boggles the mind that Steve Fossett could be missing after an ordinary private flight in Nevada.  Next on COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  An unusually grim start to our nightly round-up of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs.  Steve Fossett, the high flying adventurer who has gone first, gone fastest, gone highest, gone furthest is tonight simply gone.  He took off alone from a private Nevada airstrip in a single engine plane yesterday morning.  When he failed to return as expected, he was reported missing and a search was begun. 

Complicating matter, he had filed no flight plan.  The 63-year-old best known for flying solo around the world in a hot air balloon in 2002, traveling 19,000 miles over two weeks, the first person ever to do that.  Three years later, he became the first to fly a plane around the world solo without refueling.  At the time of his disappearance, he was preparing to set a new glider record in Argentina and scouting for a sight to set a new land speed record. 

Search planes today had hundreds of miles of rugged terrain to scour.  Local airports report no sign of Steve Fossett.  The FAA today said it was pulling radar tapes to examine whether his plane showed up on them at any point. 

Was it an aggressive hug or something closer to an attack for Brad Pitt?  The actor was moving through a crowd of fans and paparazzi at the Venice Film Festival when a woman lunged at him.  Pitt was clearly alarmed.  It looked like he was trying to say something to her as she was removed.  Mr. Pitt was Venice for the premier of a film which he produced and in which he stars, “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.”  But there is no evidence that the woman had gotten a sneak peek and was giving it a massive thumbs down. 

Tonight‘s special comment on a president admitting he‘s playing in Iraq, stalling in hopes that the next president will embrace his war.  That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for worst person in the world. 

The bronze to Les Kinsolving, who used to work in news, but is now with World Net Daily.  At a White House news briefing, he asked Tony Snow the following; Fidel Castro has just described Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama as an apparently unbeatable ticket.  But the Reuters report did not mention either of these two U.S. senators repudiating this endorsement.  My question, does the leader of the Republican party believe that Clinton and Obama should repudiate this dictator‘s endorsement or not? 

It was a column Castro wrote.  It was about as much of an endorsement, Les, as if you wrote that Castro would still be the Cuban dictator tomorrow.  Only Castro apparently has readers. 

The runner up, President Mbeki of South Africa.  Instead of firing his old buddy, the health minister, he has defended her and attacked her critics as, quote, wild animals.  Minister Mounto Tsbalala Tshbing (ph) says the best way to fight HIV and AIDS is not anti-retroviral medicines, but rather eating a diet heavy in garlic, beats, lemon and olive oil. 

She actually says that. 

But the winner, the infamous David Addington, the later chief of staff for Vice President Cheney.  One of the former favorite legal minds of the right, Jack Goldsmith, former head of the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel, has written a new book in which he says he agreed with administration beliefs that the FISA courts, the former Intelligence Surveillance Act courts, might interfere with the administration‘s desire to eavesdrop on phone calls. 

But Goldsmith says he was appalled to hear Mr. Addington tell them in February 2004, quote, we‘re one bomb away from getting rid of that obnoxious court.  Mr. Addington was not only hoping to get rid of the last check or balance remaining between the Bush administration and the unfettered ability to wire tap your phone call, he was also rooting for a good terrorist attack somewhere to enable it to happen. 

And as taxpayers, we‘re still paying his salary for some reason.  David Addington, coming out in favor of terror, today‘s Worst Person in the World.

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OLBERMANN:  Finally tonight, a special comment about Mr. Bush‘s trip and his startling admission of the true motive for this war, which was revealed during his absence.  So he‘s back from his annual surprise gratuitous photo op in Iraq, and what a sorry spectacle it was.  It was nothing compared to the spectacle of one unfiltered, unguarded horrifying quotation in the new biography to which Mr. Bush has consented. 

As he deceived the troops at al Assad Airforce Base yesterday with the tantalizing prospect that some of them might not have to risk being killed and might get instead to go home, Mr. Bush probably did not know that with his own words he had already been proved to be a liar.  That he had been lying, is lying, will be lying about Iraq. 

He presumably did not know that there had already appeared, those damning excerpts from Robert Draper‘s book, “Dead Certain;” “I‘m playing for October, November,” Mr. Bush said to Draper.  That, evidently, is the time during which he thinks he can sell us the real plan, which is, to quote him, to get us in a position where the candidates will become comfortable about sustaining a presence.  Comfortable, that is, with saying about Iraq, again quoting the president, stay longer. 

And there it is, sir.  We‘ve caught you.  Your goal is not to bring some troops home, maybe if we let you have your way now.  Your goal is not to set the stage for eventual withdrawal.  You are, to use your own disrespectful tone-deaf word, playing at getting the next Republican nominee to agree to jump into this bottomless pit with you and take us into it with him as we stay in Iraq for another year and another and another and another. 

Everything you said about Iraq yesterday and everything you will say is a deception for the purpose of this one cynical, unacceptable, brutal goal, perpetuating this war indefinitely.  War today, war tomorrow, war forever.  And you are playing at it.  Playing.  A man with any self-respect having inadvertently revealed such an evil secret would have already resigned and fled the country. 

You have no remaining credibility about Iraq, sir.  And yet yesterday at al Assad, Mr. Bush kept playing, and this time using the second of his two faces.  The president told reporters, quote, they—General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker—tell me if the kind of success we‘re now seeing continues, it will be possible to maintain the same level of security with fewer American forces. 

So Mr. Bush got his fraudulent headlines today.  Bush may bring some troops home, while the reality is we know from what he told Draper that the president‘s true hope is that they will not come home, but that they will stay there because he‘s keeping them there now in hope that those from his political party, fighting to succeed, him will prolong this unendurable disaster into the next decade. 

But to a country dying of thirst, the president seemed to vaguely promise a drink from a full canteen, a promise predicated on the assumption that he‘s not lying.  But you are lying, Mr. Bush, again.  But now we know why.  You gave away more of yourself than you knew in that Draper book.  And you gave away still more on the arduous trip back out of Iraq. 

Hours in the air without so much as a single vacation.  If you look at my comments over the past eight months, you told reporters, it‘s gone from a security situation, in the sense that we‘re either going to get out and there will be chaos or more troops.  Now the situation has changed, where I am able to speculate on the hypothetical. 

Mr. Bush, the only hypothetical here is that you‘re not now holding our troops hostage.  You have no intention of withdrawing them.  But that doesn‘t mean you can‘t pretend you‘re thinking about it, does it?  That is your genius, sir, as you see it, anyway.  You can deduce what we want.  We, the people.  Remember us?  And then use it against us. 

You can hold that canteen up and promise it to the parched nation and the untold number of Americans whose lives have not been directly blighted by Iraq or who do not realize that their safety has been reduced and not increased by Iraq, they will get the bullet points.  Bush is thinking about bringing some troops home.  Bush even went to Iraq. 

You can fool some of the people all the time, can‘t you, Mr. Bush?  You are playing us.  And as for the most immediate victims of the president‘s perfidy and shameless manipulation, those troops yesterday sweating literally as he spoke at al Assad air base, tonight again sweating figuratively in the valley of the shadow of death.  The president saved for them the most egregious playing of the entire trip; “I want to tell you this about my decision about troop levels.  Those decisions will be based on a calm assessment by our military commanders on the conditions on the ground, not a nervous reaction by Washington politicians to poll results in the media.” 

One must compliment Mr. Bush‘s writer.  That perhaps was the most perfectly crafted phrase of his presidency.  For depraved indifference to democracy, for the craven projection of political motives onto those trying to save lives and save a nation, for a dismissal of the value of the polls and the importance of the media, for a summary of all he does not hold dear about this nation or its people, nothing could top that.  As if, sir, you listen to all of the calm assessments of our military commanders rather than firing the ones who dared say the emperor has no clothes, and the president no adjustment. 

As if, sir, your entire presidency was not a nervous reaction, and you yourself nothing but a Washington politician.  As if, sir, the media does not largely divide into those parts your minions are playing and those others who unthinkingly and uncritically serve as your echo chamber at a time when the nation‘s future may depend on the airing of dissent.  And as if, sir, those polls were not so overwhelming and not so clearly reflective of the nation‘s agony and the nation‘s insistence. 

But this president has ceased to listen.  This president has decided that night is day and death is life and enraging the world against us is safety.  And this laziest of presidents actually interrupted his precious time off to fly to Iraq to play at a photo opportunity with soldiers, some of whom will, on his orders, be killed before the year, maybe before the month, is out. 

Just over 500 days remain in this presidency.  Consider the dead who have piled up on the battlefield in the last 500 days.  Consider the singular fraudulence of this president‘s trip to Iraq yesterday and the singular fraudulence of the selling of the Petraeus report in these last 500 days.  Consider how this president has torn away at the fabric of this nation in a manner of which terrorists can only dream in these last 500 days. 

And consider again how this president has spoken to that biographer, that he is playing for October and November, that the goal in Iraq is to get us in a position where the presidential candidates will be comfortable about sustaining a presence.  And consider how this revelation contradicts every other rationale he has offered in the last 500 days. 

In the context of all that, now consider these next 500 days.  Mr.

Bush, our presence in Iraq must end, even if it means your resignation.  Even if it means your impeachment.  Even if it means a different Republican to serve out your term.  Even if it means a Democratic Congress and those true patriots among the Republicans standing up and denying you another penny for Iraq other than for the safety and safe conduct home of our troops. 

This country cannot run the risk of what you can still do to this country in the next 500 days.  Not while you, sir, are playing.  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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