updated 9/7/2007 10:59:34 AM ET 2007-09-07T14:59:34

Guests: Lawrence Wilkerson, Craig Crawford, Dana Milbank

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

The false promise of a debate about Iraq.  The White House chief of staff drops the ax.  Josh Bolten says there will likely be American troops in Iraq even after George W. Bush will no longer be in the White House.

Plus the report from General Jones and the report former known as Petraeus and the whole we‘ll-see-in-September in a load of crap.  Not that we shouldn‘t have seen this coming and let the White House hang itself with its own words of this year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I want to hear Democrats on Capital Hill, what their views may be.  I want to hear from my fellow Republicans on Capitol Hill and then I‘ll make up my mind. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We will probably have a better view a couple of months from now. 

TONY SNOW, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Let‘s see where we are in September.

UNIDENTIFIED GENERAL:  In order to do a better assessment, I need at least until November. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The false promise of a debate about Iraq. 

The Petraeus farce as viewed by retired Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson.

The political farce as analyzed by Jonathan Alter. 

Barack Obama‘s secret weapon—Oprah Winfrey?  Oprah, Obama; Obama, Oprah.  Could Oprah really wind up with an official role in the Illinois Senator‘s campaign?  And you get a nomination and you get a nomination and you get a nomination. 

A continuing saga of Senator Larry Craig, all but certain now, says a spokesman, to stick with his decision.  Which one?  Sort of leaves him a little wiggle room.  You should excuse the expression. 

And in the age of paranoid, quote, “security,” unquote, APEC, Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation spends $200 million to secure its summit at Sydney, Australia.  So how did Osama bin Laden drive to within a block of where President Bush is staying?  Well, a guy not too convincingly dressed as Osama bin Laden.  Arrests, red faces, angry epithets about the Australian TV comics who did this.  You mean oops, don‘t you?  Just say oops and get out. 

All that and more now on “Countdown.”       

(on camera):  Good evening from New York.  When Mr. Bush announced the surge, he told those who wished to debate it on its merits, just wait for the official assessment.  Four days from now General David Petraeus goes before Congress to give that assessment.  Then, only then, are we supposed to make judgments about and debate the future of America‘s military presence in Iraq. 

Today we learned that, by then, it will have been too late.  In our fifth story tonight, the president has already made up his mind.  We are staying, maybe with slightly fewer troops, maybe not.  He will discuss that in a speech next week. 

His chief of staff, Josh Bolten, giving “USA Today” a preview this morning, and echoing the words of his boss into the new book “Dead Certain” saying Mr. Bush wants to make it possible, quote, “for his successor, whichever party that successor is from, to have a sustained presence in the middle east.  He wants a sustained presence in the Middle East.”  He wants a sustained presence.  America‘s purpose in going to Iraq now officially just to be in Iraq. 

Explaining why he never debated leaving Iraq, only what to do in Iraq and even that debate we learned today woefully inadequate when it came to Mr. Bush‘s most costly error in Iraq.  Former administrator Paul Bremer continuing to rebut Mr. Bush‘s claim that he never intended to disband the army, writing in an op-ed today, quoting him, “The first I heard of doubts about the decision was in the fall of 2003 after the insurgency had picked up speed.”  Mr. Bremer and the entire administration unaware of mainstream media reports. 

In the spring of 2003, before they disbanded that army, that Saddam‘s soldiers warned that if they were let go, they would attack American soldiers.  Whether it be about disbanding the army or about the surge, we have seen this congenital aversion to debate before.  It goes back, according to Sydney Blumenthal, writing today for salon.com, to five years ago, on the 18th of September, 2002, when according to two former CIA officers now serving as sources, their boss, George Tenet, briefed Mr. Bush that Saddam Hussein‘s foreign minister had secretly confirmed to his country that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction.  Bush told Tenet his information was worthless. 

Thus now, when it comes to leaving Iraq, the shell game is an old and practiced one.  The nation debating withdrawal while the administration has only seemed to. 

As Mr. Bolten confirmed today.  This pattern played out just last year that then, as now, we await the report, then, as now, a prospect of a drawdown was dangled.  Then, as now, those who would debate Iraq were told, just wait. 

Here is White House confirmation on the confidence scam that has run on the country in its own words. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE:  You mentioned troops in Iraq, there‘s a report that you may want to send 30,000 additional troops to Iraq. 

BUSH:  Look, I‘m going to listen to our commanders, Steve.  Ours is a conditioned based strategy.  Pete Pace is conducting a thorough study.  John Abizaid has ideas.  The Baker-Hamilton Commission is looking. I want to hear from Democrats on Capital Hill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Even well-connected journalists saw signals Mr. Bush might consider bringing the troops home. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED ANCHOR:  I think there are some signs that he will listen now. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  When Baker-Hamilton envisioned a combination draw down-redeployment, Mr. Bush seemed open to it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER:  And back to the issue of the troops, is it possible to get them out of Iraq by early 2008 as the report talks about? 

BUSH:  One of the things the report did mention, and I think you‘ve said it in your comment, that if conditions so allow. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And the media seized on that possibility, even after rumors surfaced about a surge. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER:  Is the president going to discuss how we get out of Iraq? 

Will there be benchmarks on how the U.S. gets out of there? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Again, we were told just wait. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SNOW:  Wait until you see the whole package and then the debate will begin. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But only debate about what to do there.  Any debate about leaving was moot. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER:  Wouldn‘t it be more useful at this point for the president to say, well, here is where I‘m going?  What do you all think about that? 

SNOW:  No, because when that happens, there will be some of that as well.  When he‘s decided upon the way forward. 

REPORTER:  Then it will have already been decided. 

SNOW:  Wait a minute.  You just told me—what the hell do you want me to do here? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  One week later, confirmation.  Debate about leaving was pointless. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER:  The brigades you have spoken of sending over, you‘ve got the money? 

SNOW:  Yeah. 

REPORTER:  Any discussion right now of cutting off money? 

SNOW:  I believe that‘s the case.  I believe that‘s the case. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But then just as with Baker-Hamilton we were told to withhold judgment, just wait. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We will probably have a better view a couple of months from now. 

SNOW:  Let‘s see where we are in September. 

UNIDENTIFIED GENERAL:  In order to do a good assessment, I need at least until November. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  As with Baker-Hamilton, looking ahead to the Petraeus report spoke as if the issue will be whether the troops can come home. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED:  If they‘re doing well, then we can start doing our troops out slowly. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And the White House encouraged that thinking. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SNOW:  It is conceivable that there will be troops moving out. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  But in the same breath, he started downplaying hope for a big change in September. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SNOW:  May is important, June is important, July is important, August is important and September is important. 

(END VIDEO CLIP): 

OLBERMANN:  Even if General Petraeus were to recommend a drawdown, the history speaks loudly about what happens to that recommendation from the military. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER:  What happens to the statement he has made for years that the people deciding troop levels from Iraq? 

SNOW:  Always talk to them, too.  As you probably know, generals are not of one mind.  Generals are independent individuals as well and there are a number of opinions within the ranks of the military about this. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Bush, meanwhile, has consistently had one guiding, abiding opinion. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  And I reject those ideas, ideas such as leaving before the job is done. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The problem, the debate rarely addresses his definition of that job as if no one hears or wants to hear when he admits just how far reaching, just how ambitious his goals are. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Our goal is a Democratic Iraq that opposed the rule of law, respects the rights of its people, provides them security, and is an ally in the war on terror. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  An ally as defined by President Bush.  And how long could that take?  Without serious debate over his goals in Iraq, just wait. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED GENERAL:  Typically I think historically operations have gone at least nine or ten years. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Few are the Bush administration veterans who dissented from the party lines.  Few of them have gone public.  Fewer still have gone public.  One of them is the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson. 

Thank for your time, sir. 

COL. LAWRENCE WILKERSON, FORMER CHIEF OF STAFF TO SEC. COLIN POWELL: 

Thank you for having me here, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Aside from tweaking troop levels, Mr. Bush has never entertained debate about leaving altogether.  Was it clear within the administration in 2003 that the real goal was to stay as long as it took to remake the entire Middle East, or was that idea to stay indefinitely in Iraq kind of a bastard child of some other failed goal? 

WILKERSON: Well, I think some neo-cons in the administration might have had that as a goal but I think the highest level of leadership in the administration‘s goal was quite clear and it was made clear by the fact that there was so little planning for post-invasion Iraq.  The plan was to stay 90 to 120 days and then to substantially reduce the American presence.  We would leave some hard stand for aircraft and so forth so that we could use Iraq as a lever in the Middle East in general, but we wouldn‘t have a substantial troop presence there after 90 to 120 days.  That was the plan. 

OLBERMANN:  Year after year since that plan didn‘t happen, didn‘t turn out the way it was planned or not planned as the case may be, Democrats have gotten burned when the administration dangles this possibility of some kind of withdrawal.  Why did the Democrats seem incapable of dealing with Mr. Bush on the terms we now know to be his as described in that biography and described again today in “USA Today” by Mr. Bolten that he wants a sustained presence there that outlasts his own term of office? 

WILKERSON:  Well, let me address that issue first.  I think I‘m being proven correct here in my openings some months ago that the administration, particularly Vice President Cheney, had made a strategic decision that they could not fix the situation in Iraq, therefore they were going to do their best to simply pass it on to the next administration without too much damage to, they hope, the Republican party in their hopes to win the White House again in 2008.  I think this is justification of the view.  I believe they think they can‘t do anything really well in Iraq right now, so they‘re going to pass it on to the next administration. 

Now there‘s no doubt in my mind that the united states still has serious strategic interests in the middle east and that it will have a substantial troop presence in that region.  The question is whether that substantial troop presence will be inside the borders of Iraq. 

There‘s another dimension to this, too, that I predicted 18 to 20 months ago, and that was that in late 2007-2008, we were going to be compelled to bring our ground forces home, the Army and Marine Corps, because we just about have them on the verge of being broken at the present time. 

OLBERMANN:  It will be six years next week since al Qaeda attacked U.S. soil and 3,000 people were killed here.  Tonight we were learning that Osama bin Laden is expected by the end of the weekend to repeat a video about this anniversary date.  He‘s seen complete with a beard dyed black, his first visual appearance in three years.  As this sort of press release comes out and most of the media said, boy, this is a big story, videotape from bin Laden, does anybody understand the real debate here is not right now Baghdad or home, but Baghdad or bin Laden? 

WILKERSON:  I don‘t think so.  I don‘t see that kind of clarity.  What I call strategic clarity and focus in—on either side of the aisle.  In fact, I‘m disconcerted and very concerned about the fact that the Democrats seem to be so cowed by the Republican tactic of saying, aha, you‘re weak on national security.  Anytime they speak sensibly about the situation in Iraq or for that matter Afghanistan, too, or for that matter the entire national security situation for this country, that they don‘t seem to be able to articulate a clear vision that would be contrary to the lack of vision that‘s coming out of the White House.  And it‘s appalling that we can‘t find any leadership within the Democratic Party to do that. 

OLBERMANN:  One more bit of historical housekeeping, Colonel.  You were Secretary Powell‘s right-hand man in 2003.  Ambassador Bremer, again, claiming today everybody knew that the Iraqi army was going to be disbanded.  Nobody had a problem with it.  Is he correct or incorrect? 

WILKERSON:  Richard Armitage very clearly states in Charles Ferguson‘s very fine documentary, “No End in Sight,” that it was news to him.  He didn‘t know anything about it until it was announced.  And I think Secretary Powell would say the same thing.  And Jerry Bremer‘s op-ed in the “New York Times” today was very disingenuous.  Many things in there I don‘t think were accurate. 

OLBERMANN:  Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary of State Powell.  Thank you for your time, sir. 

WILKERSON:  Thank you.               

OLBERMANN:  This man has told an Australian politician that we‘re, quote, “kicking ass in Iraq.”  He has numbers to back it up.  The numbers are cynically and fiercely cooked.  Jonathan Alter on the politics preceding the report formerly known as Petraeus. 

And Oprah Winfrey giving speeches, campaign speeches for Barack Obama? 

Did we cross a line somewhere?

You‘re watching “Countdown” on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  On January 26, 2005, General George Casey, then the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, estimated that American troops had killed or captured 15,000 Iraqi insurgents in the previous year.  The only problem, 15,000 far exceeded the number given by any other American general in 2004 for the size of the entire insurgency. 

Our fourth story on the “Countdown,” the insurgency had not been eradicated then and the Pentagon‘s claims of progress in Iraq as a result of the surge cannot be trusted now.

When President Bush via his surrogate General David Petraeus delivers his report to Congress on Monday, the administration is expected to cite a 75 percent decrease in sectarian attacks in Iraq.  That sounds great, does it not?  But it appears to have been accomplished by severely tightening the definition of a sectarian attack.  If you can‘t raise the bridge, lower the expectations. 

Certainly not by including bombings that target particular sects or ethnicities.  Take last month‘s massive bombing which killed 500.  Since the Pentagon does not consider large bombings an example of sectarian violence, it was not included in the August totals.  Presto, change-o, sectarian murders are down and the more grimily successful an act of mass murder it is, the less it counts. 

Recent violence by Shiite militias in southern Iraq, that is not included either.  The Pentagon says it is not tracking Shiite-on-Shiite nor Sunni-on-Sunni violence to any degree, quote, “given a lack of capability to track the numbers.”  It is, in short, mathematical genius. 

Two retired senior military officers providing starkly different assessments today on Capitol Hill, major general John Batiste, a former brigadier commander, clearly not showing for the administration when he warned the U.S. faces a no-win situation in Iraq. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. JOHN BATISTE, FORMER SENIOR COMMANDER IN IRAQ:  We have put our strategic interests in the hands of an incompetent government in Iraq and are waiting to see if they can settle their differences.  This is unacceptable.  The current surge in Iraq is too little too late.  The government of Iraq is incapable of stepping up to their responsibilities.  Our nation has yet to mobilize to defeat a serious threat which has little to do with Iraq.  And it is pastime to refocus our national strategy for the Middle East. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And in this corner General Jack Keen, the former Army chief of staff and one of the chief proponents of the surge before the president implemented it earlier this year, who argued in effect Shiite happens. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. JACK KEEN, FORMER ARMY CHIEF OF STAFF:  When you fight a war there‘s going to be stress and strain on armies.  That‘s what happens to armies when you fight wars.  That‘s the reality of it.  And for the life of me, I don‘t know how throwing in the towel would somehow help us strategically in the world. 

We‘ve had some disappointments and we‘re going to have more disappointments in the future but the momentum has significantly shifted here. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Time now to call in our own Jonathan Alter, senior editor at “Newsweek” magazine. 

Jon, good evening. 

JONATHAN ALTER, SENIOR EDITOR, “NEWSWEEK”:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Karl Rove may be gone from the White House but when it comes to the statistics used in the debate over the surge, does it look like he left his math behind him? 

ALTER:  That fuzzy math as President Bush himself used to call it.  You can maybe even call it the big lie.  I mean, look, a 75 percent reduction in sectarian violence, this is a joke.  The GAO, which is extremely reliable, just issued a report saying that these numbers can‘t be believed.  A lot of different sources within the government say they‘re cherry picking the evidence.  Somebody quoted in “The Washington Post” this morning saying, if you‘re shot in the back of the head, it‘s counted as sectarian violence.  If you‘re shot in the front of the head, it‘s not counted because it‘s seen as just garden variety crime.  So that what they‘re doing is they‘re cooking the books once again to try to make the best of a bad situation. 

OLBERMANN:  The White House chief of staff, Mr. Bolten, we‘ve already quoted what he said in “USA Today” this morning.  He also said that the president will address the nation next week about Iraq.  That would be coincidentally the sixth anniversary of 9/11.  I‘m sure there‘s no confluence there at all.  Should we be expecting more conflating of those attacks from 2001 and the war in Iraq?  Should we expect Mr. Bush to draw upon that tragedy for his own political gain to keep the streak going in that department? 

ALTER:  Well, you know, he‘s not running again but, yes.  The great conflation is the major theme now of this administration and has been since the war began.  There were no Iraqis on the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11.  They were Saudis mostly.  So the idea that somehow these are all connected has been totally discredited and yet they continue in the ads they‘re now putting on to support the war which have the Twin Towers in them and a lot of things have come out of the president‘s own mouth.  No doubt in the Crawford presidential library you will see the great conflation perpetuated. 

OLBERMANN:  Amazingly enough, today also brought some signs here, the first signs of a draft Petraeus for president movement which included an editorial in the sort of embarrassingly reactionary newspaper in New York, “The Sun.”  Should this thing erase any ideas the administration doesn‘t have a coordinated attack on this front, on this propaganda front, the likes of which they could only which they had planned for post-Saddam Iraq? 

ALTER:  I‘m not sure about “The Sun” or that they have to take their marching orders from the White House. 

Clearly, you have the erection of a Potemkin village with Petraeus playing the role of Potemkin who gets the czar to see this phony village.  And I guess we‘re the czar.  We‘re getting conned here.  Has General Petraeus shown some signs of progress in Anbar?           Apparently so.  But the situation there is much more complex.  And what‘s going to happen is we‘re going to get the conflation of some minimal progress with the overall war effort and we‘re going to be sold a bill of goods in the next couple of weeks that things are looking rosy in Iraq. 

OLBERMANN:  There is a czar, a war czar.  We haven‘t heard from him in about a month.  Where are the Democrats?  Did they not hear the bell ring for the start of September? 

ALTER:  We‘re still waiting for Godot.  The Democrats have been cowed by this minimal progress and this idea that, you know, the whole debate has become muddy now.  They realize that the president is going to kick the can down the road, make it their responsibility to try to blame them, who lost Iraq when they pull out, and they‘re trying to avoid this tar baby.  But they‘re going to have and deserve real problems at the Democratic base for not showing more guts on Iraq this fall.  September was supposed to be the moment of truth.  It‘s not going to work out that way, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek” and MSNBC.  Great thanks, as always, Jon. 

An Australian TV comedy troupe in trouble and $200 million of APEC security gone to waste as a comedian dressed as bin Laden gets past a supposedly full-proof cordon within a block of the president.   

Senator Craig changes his mind again.  We think.  Stalling tactics, you say?  Shame on you for thinking that.   Ahead, on “Countdown.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  For those who experienced firsthand the supernova that was the debut of “Saturday Night Live” three years ago this month.  This sobering news.  It‘s Jane Curtin‘s birthday, the superb comic and actress is 60.  John Belushi would have been 58.

Let‘s play “Oddball.” 

$200 million does not buy you as much security as you might think.  Osama bin Laden—the guy there in the middle, is actually an Australian TV comic and a really cheap fake beard, part of a troupe that made it through two security checkpoints before being arrested just yards away from where the President Bush is staying at the APEC summit.  How did they get so close?  By disguising themselves as Canadian diplomats.  Apparently, nobody noticed that crocodile bin Laden was sitting in their motorcade until he stepped out of the car at the final checkpoint and this is in the middle of a major city with extra security for this summit.  All of which might explain how the real bin Laden has managed to stay on the loose.  The security response, the hotel at which Mr. Bush is been staying has been told not to set knifes and forks on the tables of its outdoor cafes.  Seriously.                

To the Internet and spare a moment for the farmer who lives in this house in Krakow, Poland.  It‘s right in the middle of the hairpin turn so when the annual rally comes to town—oh, it‘s smashy, smashy time.  There goes the living room.  Hope that poor homeowner‘s got some seriously good insurance. 

And finally to India where 3-year-old Krishna Kudwar (ph) is skating under a bus.  Wait, she‘s 3 years old?  She‘s skating under a bus with a clearance of only 5.11 inches.  Her mom says it‘s OK because little Krishna wanted to skate under two buses, but mom drew the limit at just the one bus.  Now that‘s parenting. 

And, yes, there is offshore gambling on the little three-year-old Krishna‘s chances of becoming a little four-year-old Krishna. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Oprah Winfrey campaign spokesperson?  Could she really be going and giving speeches for one presidential candidate?  Wouldn‘t that put her TV show in some sort of jeopardy? 

And one of the great voices sings no more.  These stories ahead. 

First here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day. 

Number three, Fox television is trying to one-up CBS‘ “Kid Nation” reality show, you know, set up a “Lord of The Flies” thing and see if they really will kill each other.  A mid-season replacement on the Fox Network next January, “Kid Army; 40 children, aged seven to 15 training and planning a military mission all on their own.  Well, it does sound like it will go better than Iraq. 

Number two,  President Bush in Australia endorsing Prime Minister John Howard before an election Howard is a good bet to lose.  He talked about Iraq with Howard‘s deputy telling him, according to Mark Vale (ph), quote, we‘re kicking ass.  Aha.  You know, and General Custer is doing a great job out there in Anbar. 

Number one, Michael Emery and Matthew Ferrante, freshman at Northeastern University in Boston—well, ex-freshmen.  New to the city, Mr. Emery allegedly leaned out his dorm window and shouted to a woman in the dorm opposite, quote, if you‘re looking for weed, my roommate Ferrante has some for sale. 

Apparently there were two plain clothed Boston police officers standing between the dorms at the time.  The kids have been arrested.  They have left the university.  See, this is why when you‘re a freshman, you never skip orientation week. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Thirty three years ago NBC News correspondent Ron Nesin became Gerald Ford‘s press secretary, and two years ago Tony Snow left Fox News to do the same for George W. Bush.  But neither of them was Oprah Winfrey.  In our third story, the idea of a titanic media figure officially becoming involved in a presidential campaign finds its only parallel in fiction, like the movie classic “A Face in the Crowd, where a corn host with Oprah-esque influence, played by Andy Griffith, becomes a primary adviser to a stodgy conservative senator, and is being primed for the very evil sounding job of secretary of national morale. 

What if Oprah Winfrey started giving speeches for Barack Obama?  Miss Winfrey already endorsing him for president, saying she would only be pretending to be objective with anybody else. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OPRAH WINFREY, “THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW”:  I have never, you know, spoken out politically about anybody.  I think that he has the capabilities, certainly the potential, to be a great leader. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And she‘s going far beyond simply that, for the first time throwing a three million dollar fund-raiser at her 42-acre Promise Land estate, which occupies most of the coast of California.  At more than 2,000 dollars a ticket, it‘s already a sellout, with Will Smith, Halle Berry, and Stevie Wonder among the attendees.  But that‘s only the money. 

The “Washington Post” reporting Oprah campaign ads are in the works.  A personal touch that could give the second place candidate a needed boost and also reports she‘s considering an even larger role, maybe stumping for Obama on the campaign trail.  Craig Crawford of “Congressional Quarterly” doing double duty as political analyst and Oprah Winfrey analyst.  Craig, good evening.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, “CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY”:  Not even Oprah is beyond analysis. 

OLBERMANN:  They all laughed at the Obama-Oprah bumper stickers.  The order was just wrong?  She has the highest radio talk show on TV.  She is an iconic figure.  Can we estimate the actual impact of her actually being involved in this campaign? 

CRAWFORD:  I think actually there‘s a potential for a law of diminishing returns, Keith, for Obama.  If she gets so involved in the campaign, she overpowers him.  I really think he‘s probably better off with her just having him on the show a few times, endorsing him, like she did with Arnold Schwarzenegger, by the way. 

I covered that California recall election.  I thought she actually made an impact, helped Schwarzenegger out quite a bit, but didn‘t go so far as to go on the stump for him. 

OLBERMANN:  But that idea is what I suppose makes this a little different than anything we‘ve ever talked about previously even with her. 

It gets—this isn‘t Charlie Chaplain endorses Al Smith here.  It‘s really

if it‘s really big, is it wandering into, geez, you have to take her show off the air territory, because NBC has to dump Fred Thompson “Law & Order” episodes.  And TV wise, Oprah Winfrey makes Fred Thompson look like a local weatherman somewhere. 

CRAWFORD:  And she did help Thompson out by creating Dr. Phil, his look alike.  You know, the thing is, Oprah owns her show and she‘s distributed around the country.  Affiliates might have to make individual decisions.  I don‘t know.  Oprah might not be beyond analysis, but she might be beyond regulation in this respect.  That is one problem that is a downside you have with celebrities, by the way, is they have a tendency to make it all about themselves and they have their own agendas. 

I recall when Michael Dukakis, in 1998, his campaign so excited to have Richard Gere going to campaign for him, until they discovered the only thing Gere wanted to talk about was the Dalai Lama.  This is what happens often with celebrities.  And Oprah will have her own agenda.  The top of her agenda is going to be her. 

OLBERMANN:  But Dukakis did carry ex-patriot Tibetans.  Thompson is now finally in the campaign officially.  He‘s campaigning in Iowa tonight.  He did not go to that Republican debate last night.  But he sponsored it.  He actually ran an ad during the debate, and then went on Leno, against the debate in some areas, to announce his own candidacy.  Rush Limbaugh—

Comedian Rush Limbaugh complained about this.  Is this the kind of thing, that whole playing of the field, that gets you into big trouble later with your own party, even if he somehow gets the nomination? 

Doesn‘t he have to work with some of these Republican hierarchy members?  Would they be as steamed at him as one would presume? 

CRAWFORD:  Political folks have a way of overlooking things if you‘re a winner.  They sort of forget the past.  I actually think Thompson made a good move here to break apart from the crowd, especially since he‘s getting in late.  I think there‘s a tendency with all these debates to think the presidential campaign is some sort of summer camp for the field of candidates.  It‘s about individual campaigns. 

And I know a lot of these candidates were actually jealous Thompson has pulled this off because they‘re tired of the debates. 

OLBERMANN:  And obviously another page he took from Schwarzenegger here.  One last thing, one political thing here before we close, the word that there‘s supposed to be another Osama bin Laden tape next week at some point.  He‘s got some sort of message.  It may be an endorsement for Just For Men.  We‘re not sure, with the beard and everything.  But in terms of presidential races, is him popping up still the moneymaker for Republicans it was once, or has that knee jerk reaction been tempered politically?

CRAWFORD:  It‘s bound to be tempered.  I was wrong back in ‘04 when he came out in the last week of the campaign.  I thought it would remind people that the president had not caught him.  It was just the opposite effect.  Apparently it scared voters, so I guess that‘s a possibility.  But I think anymore of these bin Laden tapes are just kind of like stale as reruns of “Hogan‘s Heroes” or something. 

OLBERMANN:  I know nothing.  Craig Crawford, that‘s not a quote from you.  That‘s just a “Hogan‘s Heroes” reference.  Craig Crawford of CQ and MSNBC, great thanks as always. 

And then there is the never ending story of Larry Craig—resigning, not resigning, now supposedly sticking to his decision.  Which one? 

And the huge loss in Opera, in music, in entertainment.  Luciano Pavarotti dead at age 71, ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  His massive voice, massive presence and massive personality transcended opera, making him one of the most popular singers of any kind of a generation.  Our number two story of the COUNTDOWN, Luciano Pavarotti has lost his battle with pancreatic cancer.  He was 71 years old.  Our correspondent Keith Miller with the first look back at a legend. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH MILLER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  He was a man with a voice. 

Luciano Pavarotti hit all the right notes. 

His perfect high C‘s had opera buffs and pop audiences in rapture. 

ANNE MIDGETTE, “NEW YORK TIMES”:  He was lovable.  He was a great big Teddy bear on stage.  He had a voice from the gods and everybody just went crazy for him. 

MILLER:  The son of a baker from Modena, Italy, Pavarotti made his breakthrough on stage in the opera La Boheme in 1961.  The first opera star to make the jump from the stage to the stadium. 

SIMON BATES, CLASSIC FM:  He was a rock star with an opera singer‘s voice. 

MILLER:  Turning classical arias into chart hits. 

Offstage his private life assumed the storyline of a soap opera, a very public, messy, and costly divorce and finally marriage to an assistant, young enough to be his daughter. 

BATES:  This is a larger-than-life figure, not well behaved.  Always passionate. 

MILLER:  And there was the weight, a battle he waged all his life.  But despite pushing the scales at 300 pounds, Pavarotti re-invented himself in his 60s as a pop star with an ego to boot. 

LUCIANO PAVAROTTI, OPERA SINGER:  I‘m a sex symbol.  I feel chubby people can be a sex symbol. 

MILLER:  His charity concerts attracted the rich and famous, raising millions for good causes.  His popularity peaked during his celebrated tours with colleague Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras.  The Three Tenors took opera mainstream. 

Pavarotti‘s farewell tour in 2006 was cut short by his battle with cancer, but not before millions saw him one last time at the Torino Olympics. 

And heard Pavarotti‘s golden voice. 

Keith Miller, NBC News. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Turning to our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news, keeping tabs—I‘m over here—still no sign of adventurer Steve Fossett, even though rescuers are now searching 10,000 miles worth of land in Nevada and California.  Fossett failed to return Monday after taking what was supposed to be a short flight to scout out locations in Nevada to try to beat the land speed record.  The National Guard and Civil Air Patrol have been scouring the desert from the air for any sign of his plane, and now they plan to use a sonar equipped boat to search nearby Walker Lake and figure out if the plane went into it. 

Britney Spears, the search has been more along the lines of her lost career.  Her long rumored comeback attempt now has an official comeback date at MTV‘s Video Music Awards.  That network now confirming that Miss Spears will open the awards show live this coming Sunday night.  Spears will perform her new single “Give Me More” from her upcoming album. 

Who knows if anybody will actually want more when she‘s done.  There you go.  Not confirmed whether illusionist Chris Angel will make her disappear on stage or later at a hotel or whether the singer will simply vanish with no help at all, and if the kids will be out in the parking lot in the car while she sings. 

And let‘s get a correction out of the way immediately here.  In the newsmakers segment tonight, we included an item about Fox trying to top CBS‘ show “Kid Nation” with something called “Kid War.”  The source of that story turns out to be a satirical website.  Somebody here didn‘t notice that.  The ultimate responsibility for that falls to me.  My apologies to Fox and to you for the lousy vetting. 

It‘s Larry Craig‘s prerogative to change his mind, again.  The circus still growing strong.  That‘s next, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World. 

The bronze to lunatic fringe radio host Gunny Bob Newman of KOA in Denver, demanding the NBC networks run these so-called Freedoms Watch commercials, the ones that insist more Americans must be killed in Iraq.  MSNBC is the network, he says, of the far left anti-American hate merchant Keith Olber-mein-kampf. 

He says he has been a guest on this network. But, quoting again, I will never do so again unless MSNBC changes its policy and allows both sides of this argument to be heard.  The do that, they call me again, fine.

Hey, Bob, don‘t spend your lonely nights sitting by the phone.  It ain‘t going to ring.  Also, by the way, just to add to your evidently weak knowledge of 20th century history, the guy who wrote Mein Kampf was a right-winger like yourself. 

Our runner-up, Republican Congressman Chris Shays of Connecticut, now says, quote, the surge is working.  It‘s a huge success.  It astonishes me why people aren‘t willing to at least acknowledge the successes.

This is the same Congressman Shays who said about, quote, the odds the new plan in Baghdad will work—if you had asked me two years ago, I would have said three out of four.  If you ask me now, I think it is one out of four.  What we now need to do is think about plan B.

Mr. Shays gave that slightly less bubbly estimation 10 days ago, meaning either he was gotten to or in his mind the odds of success being one out of four constitutes, quote, huge success. 

But our winner—oh, he‘s back from vacation.  Bill-O ripping the, quote, assassins of the, quote, fringe element centered around an outfit called media matters.  They have two primary mainstream media outfits to get their defamation out.  That‘s the “New York Times” and NBC News. 

You know what this is about, right?  The NBC News part?  Remember the ratings he used to boast about?  How his show would beat COUNTDOWN five or six to one or more, how I‘d be fired by January, last January?  The last two nights since Bill-O got back from vacation, Tuesday, viewers aged 25 to 54, Bill-O 440,000, COUNTDOWN 367,000.  Last night, Bill-O 442,000 and COUNTDOWN 389,000. 

Bill, hope you enjoyed it while it lasted.  Bill O‘Reilly today‘s Worst Person in the World!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  When Senator Larry Craig walked into a bathroom stall in a Minneapolis airport on June 11, the combination of bad judgment and bad luck must have been potent, because the senator seems to be vexed by the same forces as he considers his own resignation, or un-resignation, or un-un-resignation.  Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, the latest twist from Senator Craig‘s spokesman that the senator still, quote, expects to resign, even though two days ago we learned that Mr. Craig was reconsidering such a resignation, which was itself just three days after the senator‘s news conference announcing his resignation. 

Indeed on the question of whether the senator will stay or will he go, is he in or is he out, he seems to be going both ways.  It was Tuesday‘s bombshell news alert from the Associated Press that reopened the stall door, “Senator Larry Craig‘s spokesman says the Idaho senator is reconsidering his decision to resign.” 

Of course we later learned from a voice mail message that the senator had likely been plotting a way to stay in the Senate even before Saturday‘s news conference.  And today this latest AP news alert, “Senator Larry Craig‘s spokesman says the embattled news maker is all but certain to resign from the Senate,” with the added bit of chutzpah when that spokesman, in a statement, said, quote, this is nothing new.  All along we have said that he expects to resign on September 30th.

Let‘s turn to the national political reporter of the “Washington Post,” MSNBC analyst Dana Milbank.  Dana, good evening. 

DANA MILBANK, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The hemming and the hawing continued, by the way.  The spokesman, Dan Whiting, also told the AP today, quote, the most likely scenario by far is that by October there will be a new senator from Idaho.  Tuesday night I stated that.  He simply left a very, very small door slightly ajar. 

All right, we‘ve had enough of doors and little jars.  But to stick with that analogy, is the door now meant to be slightly less ajar?  Is it a creaky door?  Is the door coming off its hinges?  What? 

MILBANK:  I think you want to picture it as a bathroom stall door with the lock broken.  It may appear to be closed but with the slightest push it‘s open, and there you are with your trousers down in a wide stance.  And clearly Senator Craig and his staff are having a very difficult time at this moment.  But I suspect none of this changes anything. 

OLBERMANN:  Looking at all of this from outside the proverbial stall, it seems like the senator is waiting for a lightning strike or a miracle or something.  Is there any clue, quite seriously, as to what he thinks is going to happen between now and the end of the month that he‘s going to be cleared somehow in Minnesota? 

MILBANK:  Well, the lightning strike would be if they agreed to reconsider this guilty plea, which is virtually unheard of.  Right now lightning seems to be striking more at Larry Craig and his family.  This morning his daughter goes on “Good Morning America” to defend her father.  Then the next thing you know ABC is reporting that there‘s an arrest warrant out for Larry Craig‘s daughter now involving a domestic incident. 

OLBERMANN:  The other thing, back at the ranch here with the Senate Republican leaders, who had reportedly expressed relief that he seems likely again to leave the Senate, more likely than he did 48 hours ago, what are they saying behind the scenes?  Or are they just holding their breath at this point? 

MILBANK:  Well, what they‘re saying behind-the-scenes is something we won‘t repeat here on a family broadcast. 

OLBERMANN:  But it has to do with bathrooms, right? 

MILBANK:  A lot of humor going on there.  But they don‘t want to say anything in public that‘s going to make him even angrier and more inclined to fight it.  They‘re pushing maybe what caused this to happen in the first place. 

OLBERMANN:  Now this is perhaps—I mean, there are 4,000 headlines out of this.  But the American Land Rights association is now calling for a boycott of that Minneapolis-St. Paul airport in which Mr. Craig, Senator Craig, was arrested.  This group says the senator is important in its cause against federal land grabs.  And it says the airport should apologize for ambushing the senator.  So, what, this land rights group is responsible for getting Senator Craig to hang in there or what? 

MILBANK:  I suspect that land grab thing has some sinister double meaning in this context. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, perhaps. 

MILBANK:  Well, look, he has many friends and one of them—a more likely culprit is Arlen Specter, who voiced his defense.  All I can tell you is if he‘s starting a legal defense fund, as they say he may do, the Democrats will be very eager to contribute. 

OLBERMANN:  And we‘ve got this overarching curse here, the curse of the audio for Senator Craig, his interrogation by the undercover officer and then the wrong number voice mail, which gave away the whole intent to resign thing.  Should he consider some sort of alternate means of communication, henceforth? 

MILBANK:  Well, we‘ve tried the body language before.  He was apparently tapping out some Morse code there but didn‘t work. 

OLBERMANN:  Is that what that was? 

MILBANK:  It‘s all a misunderstanding, as he said in the first place. 

OLBERMANN:  He was just listening to his iPod and tapping along to Louis Armstrong.  I don‘t know.  Dana Milbank of the “Washington Post” and MSNBC.  As always, sir, great thanks for your time tonight. 

MILBANK:  Thanks, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  That is COUNTDOWN for this the 1,590th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  From New York, 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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