updated 9/17/2007 1:51:40 PM ET 2007-09-17T17:51:40

Guest: Joan Walsh, Mickey Sherman, Rachel Maddow

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

First, it was the surge of troops, now it’s the P.R. surge.  The White House with the full-on message blitz. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I told the American people last night we’ve got what’s called return on success. 

AMY:  But remember when the president’s speeches used to be full of this? 

BUSH:  Victory is achieved.  Victory in Iraq—to achieve victory. 

AMY:  Why has he changed his tune?  But the message hasn’t gotten to the V.P. 

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We will press on in our mission and turn events towards victory. 

AMY:  What about a plan for withdrawal?  Barack Obama says the votes simply aren’t there for the Democrats to do anything.  What’s the next step for Congress?     

The stunning collapse of Iraq’s plan to share oil money—all fallen apart because a Bush friend and political ally is making a fast buck at Iraq’s expense. 

And Hillary Clinton as political punching bag.  Rudy Giuliani attacks the Senator for not criticizing an ad placed by moveon.org, while Fred Thompson is blaming Ms. Clinton for remarks he made about Cuba. 

The day after “If I Did It” hits the shelves, O.J. Simpson is named a suspect—well, for a burglary in a Las Vegas casino.  Get this.  O.J.  caught stealing what he says was his stuff anyway. 

Britney takes her own lyrics to heart.  Rumor has it she’s contemplating an apology at the Emmys.  Guess they are extending the broadcast by a few more hours, I guess. 

All that and more now on “Countdown”. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  She lost her aunt.               

AMY (on camera):  Good evening.  Defense Secretary Robert Gates tonight put new numbers on the Iraq plan laid down by President Bush, numbers that could further reduce the U.S. presence there but not until 2009. 

In our fifth story on the “Countdown,” Secretary Gates says troop levels could go down to about 100,000 by January of 2009, pending conditions on the ground. 

Now the president today repeated his claim of last night that his gradual drawdown, which would still leave his successor significantly committed in Iraq, could bring together both sides of the war debate here in America.  His remarks came during a three-minute, seven-second statement with no questions at the Marine Corps base, Quantico, Virginia. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Some much us, who believe security was paramount, we’re on opposite sides of a debate where people say we just need to bring our troops home.  We have security in the right direction and we are bringing our troops home.  I call upon the United States Congress to listen very carefully to what General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker reported and support the troop levels that these two men think are necessary to achieve our objective. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMY:  If today was any guide on the alleged chance for us to come together as a nation, mission not accomplished. 

Among the hurdles, the fact that security was not the goal of the surge but a means to a bigger goal, Iraq’s political reconciliation, a goal which even today’s new White House report reveals remains just as elusive as ever. 

And with four more Americans dead in Iraq today, Mr. Bush’s security claims remain contested at best especially concerning Anbar Province where Sunni tribal leaders turned against al Qaeda in Iraq before the surge. 

Vice President Cheney today implied U.S. credit for that development and capped it off with a stunning claim about the provincial capital Ramadi. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  More and more we’re getting locals into the fight against the terrorists.  In Anbar Province, the United States Marines have done careful, painstaking work to confront the killers and to build confidence in the general population.  They’ve been assisted by Iraqi forces and most significantly by local tribal leaders who have had enough of the mindless brutality and bullying by al Qaeda.  We’ve driven al Qaeda from Ramadi and Fallujah and other population centers in Anbar. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AMY:  This, on the same day hundreds of grieving Sunnis in Ramadi vowed revenge on al Qaeda in Iraq for the assassination just yesterday of the most prominent tribal leader there just outside his home in Ramadi. 

We will get to the Democratic reaction shortly, but a quick check of the newspapers today suggests bipartisan skepticism toward the president’s remarks. 

The conservative “New York Post” said Mr. Bush is, quote, “effectively consigning the future of Iraq if not the entire middle east to the American presidential political process for better or for worse.” 

“The Financial Times”:  “Middle East analysts in Washington were skeptical about Mr. Bush’s chances of building sustainable results in Iraq.”

And “The Washington Post”:  “The president failed to acknowledge that, according to the standards he himself established in January, the surge of U.S. troops has been a failure.”

Let’s bring in our political analyst, “Newsweek’s” senior Washington correspondent Howard Fineman. 

Thank you for joining us tonight. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK”:  Good evening, Amy. 

AMY:  The White House set up a special communications shop weeks ago on the war.  Last night basically representing the final big rollout.  So what’s been the goal, and judging from reaction today, how close have they come to meeting that goal? 

FINEMAN:  Well, the goals were minimal.  The president’s political goal has been to shore up just enough Republican support that there’s no way in the Congress the Dems can stop the continuation of the president’s policy and there’s no way that the Democrats can block further funding for the war. 

And that’s going to be an issue a few weeks down the road.  More money is going to be needed and the president is already saying, look, I’ve given you as much as I can.  Now get in line and pay for the war. 

AMY:  Yeah, and this is interesting.  Both the “L.A. Times” and “New York Times” noted Mr. Bush dropped the word victory from his speech last night and yet we heard just today Vice President Cheney use victory several times, three times, in his speech today.  Why is it not OK for the president and clearly OK for the vice president? 

FINEMAN:  Well, a couple of things.  First of all, the word victory is not ready for prime time anymore.  The president was speaking in prime time last night to a national audience.  He didn’t dare use that word.  Most of his arguments were negative.  They were things that we can’t allow to happen in Iraq.  We can’t allow Iran to take over.  We can’t allow al Qaeda in Iraq to take over.  We can’t allow chaos. 

Dick Cheney is the true believer, however.  He was speaking in daytime and speaking to his own believers in his own audience there at the Gerald Ford Library.  It would have been more news if Dick Cheney had not used the word victory.  That’s what we expected of him. 

AMY:  Army Chief of Staff General George Casey recently said he thinks a smaller force in Iraq will cause change even quicker within the Iraqi government.  That said, why isn’t more pressure being put on the political process here to speed things up so we can get that smaller force and at least make the threat we’re pulling out?  Why aren’t we doing that? 

FINEMAN:  The problem the president has applying more pressure to the political process in Iraq is, number one, it’s not clear there is a process.  It’s just so chaotic politically.  And the other thing is that he’s saying we need to stay there to help create stability. 

Really the only threat that we have and the only credible threat we have to concentrate the minds of the Iraqis at this point is the one that the Democrats are suggesting, which is to pull out and say, look, if you guys all want to kill each other, fine, you go do it, stability is yours to create.  But that’s not the president’s argument.  The president is saying we have to stay there with at least 100,000 troops probably for the foreseeable future to create the possibility for there to be a political process.  So his own policy undercuts the likelihood of applying pressure in Baghdad. 

AMY:  And that said, Howard, should we expect anything significant, anything different, from the president in his remaining months in office? 

FINEMAN:  I don’t think so.  I thought for a long time that he’s essentially fighting a defensive action here.  He’s instituted a huge change, a historic change in American foreign policy by committing troops the way he has.  It’s going to be difficult for us to extract ourselves from there, however much the Democrats pound the table about it now.  The president knows that.  He’s going to hang on for dear life to as much of his policy as he can maintain, probably at least one more round of funding at least—maybe more—between now and the time he leaves office.  He has a countdown clock going on in his own head and it says January 20, 2009. 

AMY:  The Democrats pounding the table, is that about all they can do at this point? 

FINEMAN:  No, I think they’re going to try.  They’re going to try to get some Republicans to support some kind of measure beyond what the president will support.  They’ll try to dare him to veto it.  I think he probably will veto it even if they get one together. 

We’re in the presidential election process now.  I think the “New York Post” editorial was right.  This is all about positioning of the two parties for the 2008 campaign.  One, the stay-the-course party, the other withdrawal party. That’s the way it’s shaping up and the way it’s going to be. 

AMY:  Howard Fineman,” Newsweek” magazine senior Washington correspondent and MSNBC political analyst.  Thanks so much for being with us. 

FINEMAN:  Thank you, Amy.          

AMY:  As for the Democrats, the same problem exists now as the day before the president’s speech, how to oppose the Iraq war effectively and not look like a party of enablers? 

Senator Barack Obama is not alone among Democrats in calling for a much larger drawdown of American troops.  His plan would bring home all U.S. combat brigades from Iraq by the end of next year. 

But the presidential candidate has also admitted Democrats lack the votes to tie funding for the war to a timetable.  “We are going to have to evaluate what’s available, but it appears that the president is not willing to compromise.  Short of Congress forcing him to accept a short timetable, and absent that, we are essentially engaging in a bunch of symbolic action here.”

And campaigning in Iowa, Obama said putting a ceiling on the number of troops deployed in Iraq. 

Senator Hillary Clinton described the Bush speech, too little, too late.  And she said the troop reduction Bush announced over the next year would have happened anyway because of the 15-month deployment limit.  Quote, “Taking credit for this troop reduction is like taking credit for the sun coming up in the morning.” 

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi also denounced the president’s plan but it is not yet clear what kind of legislation the Democratic Congress will settle on.  Many Democrats are quick to point out that they do not have the votes to override a presidential veto. 

Joining us now,” Newsweek” senior editor and MSNBC analyst Jonathan Alter.

Jonathan, thanks for being with us. 

JONATHAN ALTER, SENIOR EDITOR, NEWSWEEK:  Hi, Amy. 

AMY:  We know Democrats have been reluctant to cut off funding, that could force a withdrawal.  Are they even less likely to go in that direction now? 

ALTER:  Yes.  I think they’re just not going to do that because we’re into presidential politics, as Howard said.  There are some other kinds of things they could do short of that and just very quickly, the reason they don’t want to do that is because then they can be blamed for not supporting the troops and they pick up the status quo on a glide path to the White House in 2008.  Why get stuck all the way out on the left?  So they’re going to be careful not to cut off funding.

But what they could do are some other things.  For instance, Senator Jim Webb has proposed legislation that would prevent anybody from being sent back to Iraq in a short period of time.  In other words if you have been in Iraq for a year, you have to be out of Iraq for at least a year before they can send you back.  It’s really just cruel to those who have been in-country to send them back after very short stays with their families.  So—and I think anybody who has served would know that that’s just not the right thing to do. 

In Vietnam, once you served a year, you were done.  In Iraq, they’re going back for second, third, fourth tours.  So that’s the kind of issue that the Democrats can work on.  They can also send some more timetable legislation to the president’s desk to be vetoed.  They don’t have the votes to override it. 

AMY:  What’s the likelihood in terms of the measure you just outlined or similar measures like that—what’s the likelihood they would get the bipartisan support they would need to pass something like that? 

ALTER:  I think they will get some of that kind of legislation but it will not satisfy the base.  It will be short of an immediate withdrawal from Iraq.  There are a lot of people on the left of the Democratic Party who just won’t be satisfied with anything short of that, and they don’t understand why the Democrats keep saying we don’t have the votes.  We can’t do it.  They want them to use the power of the purse.  Cut off funding.  Democrats are not going to do that. 

AMY:  And as for the Democratic House leaders, we haven’t heard much more from them.  We heard from Senator Reid and Pelosi.  They put out their statements after Bush’s speech.  But today there’s been what some have called a pr blitz from the White House in terms of controlling the messages to how it’s been perceived, the Bush speech perceived from last night.  How do the Democrats effectively communicate what they have to say about the Iraq war and the detraction for it? 

ALTER:  The Democrats are not on the same page on this.  John Edwards last night, in response to the president’s speech, he bought some time on MSNBC, and he said that the Congress lacked the courage to confront the issue.  You have Edwards going after his Democratic colleagues in the Congress. 

It’s every man for himself now on Iraq.  I don’t think in an election season they’re really going to pull together with any kind of coherent position on this.  The candidates are going to continue to jockey for position. 

AMY:  Yeah, and here is an interesting sidebar.  General Petraeus’ superior, Admiral William Fallon, chief of Central Command, apparently does not necessarily agree with Petraeus’ assessment and is preparing his own internal report.  How might that play out? 

ALTER:  I think you will see him hauled up on Capitol Hill.  You’ll see other critics.  The Democrats will use the fact they control the Congress to hold more hearings and so you certainly haven’t heard the end of criticism of this war.  I don’t mean to suggest that.  But I think they will continue to substitute with what Obama called symbolic gestures for actually cutting off funding. 

AMY:  Symbolic gestures—how far does that go with the voters out there and this all in the context of it leading up to a presidential year? 

ALTER:  I think they’re fine in a general election but the Democratic candidates have to get through the primaries first and there are a lot of very angry, restless Democratic base voters who are not going to be satisfied with symbolic gestures.  You can already see blow back against these candidates for not going further. 

So I think there will be a search for something in between doing nothing, you know, merely symbolic gestures and actually cutting off the funding.  There will be this legislative search for kind of interim options. 

AMY:  All right.  Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek” and MSNBC, thanks so much. 

ALTER:  Thanks, Amy.      

AMY:  As President Bush tries to focus on hope in Iraq, a Dallas oil man may be sabotaging any chance of success in Iraq to make a buck.  And wait until you hear his connections to the president.          

And it was bound to happen.  The race for the White House turns into the blame everything on Hillary campaign.  Giuliani and Fred Thompson going after Senator Clinton.

You’re watching “Countdown” on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMY:  We mentioned in passing last night that a friend of the president is profiting from an oil deal that threatens to rip Iraq apart.  In the fourth story, the story was bigger than we knew at the time.

Other than religion, the primary issue preventing Iraq’s political reconciliation is of course oil.  Kurds have it.  So do some Shiites.  President Bush has said that a national law sharing oil revenues equally is vital to Iraq’s success. 

This week, as Keith mentioned last night, talks for that law fell apart partially because the Kurds, having passed their own oil law, went ahead and signed their first new oil contract with Hunt Oil of Texas sending a signal to the Shiites and Sunnis, hey, you’re on your own. 

The CEO and president of Hunt Oil is this man, Ray Hunt, also on Halliburton’s board and not only a friend of President Bush, but a major campaign contributor, not only a major campaign contributor, but a trustee at Southern Methodist University, future home of Bush Presidential Library.  And not only a trustee at SMU, but the trustee who suggested the school to Mr. Bush as the site of the library and donated $35 million for the purchase of it. 

And as the “New York Times” columnist Paul Krugman pointed out today, not only a Bush friend, not only a donor, not only a patron much his library, but also a Bush appointee to the presidential Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, a position which gives him, according to the White House, access to secret information about Iraq.  Leading Mr. Krugman to surmise Hunt has done more than fracture Iraq.  He knows enough that he is actually betting the fracture is inevitable. 

Let’s bring in Rachel Maddow whose program airs every week night on Air America Radio.

Rachel, thanks for your time tonight.

RACHEL MADDOW, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST, AIR AMERICA RADIO:  Hi, Amy. 

Thanks. 

AMY:  Are there any valid legal questions about what Mr. Hunt is doing? 

MADDOW:  The legality of this remains to be seen.  What we know from the White House’s own description of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board is these people on this board have access to all of the foreign intelligence information they need to be able to advise the president on all of our foreign intelligence issues as a nation.  And so they have access to really high-level stuff. 

The White House remains to confirm what sort of conflict of interest laws are in place to prevent people who get that kind of high-level information from using it to either undermine what our country is trying to do or from privately profiting from that information.  The conflict of interest laws, we need to have explained to us, because this is very worrying. 

AMY:  Give us just a little background on why this oil law is so important that it’s worth spilling American blood over. 

MADDOW:  Well, arguably, you know, we could fight about whether anything that happens in Iraq is worth spilling American blood over.  But in terms of what Iraq has—Iraq has oil.  Iraq has historic sites.  Iraq has the talents of its people, and it has oil.  And the unity and the future of Iraq depends entirely on how its oil resources will be exploited and sold and how the proceeds of that will be divvied up.  And if there isn’t a national law about this sort of thing, then it’s possible that Iraq will fracture because it really is the only resource that can be held in common by that country. 

Of course, if you’re an American policymaker who wanted to invade Iraq in part so that America could get our hands on some of that oil, if you’re one of the people who sent Americans to their deaths in order to get some of that prize, the Iraqi oil law determines how much of that prize American companies might get.  So it’s really the whole game. 

AMY:  Yeah, and it looks on its face that Mr. Hunt pursued this deal with the Kurds knowing obviously that this would potentially destroy any stability that Iraq had or chance of having in terms of having some type of oil agreement.  But do you buy Paul Krugman’s conclusion that it also says Mr. Hunt has inside information suggesting that centralized Iraq—a centralized Iraq is doomed anyway, so why not? 

MADDOW:  Well, it sounds worrying but it’s a pretty simple conclusion for Krugman to have made.  What we know, what is not disputed here is this guy is a smart businessman.  He’s been a very successful businessman who has access to very high-level White House information about America’s interests and he has decided to bet with his checkbook, to bet with his business that there will never be a strong enough government in Baghdad to put the ka bash on a side deal like this he has done with the Kurds. 

Amy, I mean, the one thing that any country could do to another country to ensure that other country’s central government was impotent and ineffectual, the best thing could you do would be to station tens of thousands of foreign occupying troops in the country’s streets indefinitely.  Permanent occupation means a permanently sucky government in Baghdad.  For some oil companies that could be very good for business.  It sounds conspiratorial but I can’t think of a simpler explanation for what’s going on here. 

AMY:  Yeah, and we talked about the legality of this obviously.  We’re talking about any potential violation of American law but some would argue this violates Iraqi law because of his deal with the Kurds, because it obviously undermines what the ultimate goal was. 

MADDOW:  Yeah.

AMY:  And we should mention another company on whose board he sits, Halliburton, did business for years with Iran, of course an avowed enemy of the United States.  How is this man, how is Mr. Hunt on the president’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board?  Should it be questioned?  Will it be questioned, do you think? 

MADDOW:  Well, I think you’ve answered the question yourself in your introduction about all his ties to President Bush and his history.  With all of the money and all of the support this guy has given George Bush over the years, I’m frankly surprised they haven’t renamed the Rose Garden for him at this point. 

AMY:  All right, Rachel Maddow of Air America.  Thank you for your time tonight. 

MADDOW:  Thank you, Amy. 

AMY:  From sabotage on the oil fields to sabotage on the gridiron, the NFL throws the book at the New England Patriots and its coach after they’re caught spying on the opponent. 

A more low-tech dispute in college football.  Yeah, you’re watching a duck having its way with a cougar. 

All that and more ahead on “Countdown.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

AMY:  A couple of rock ‘n’ roll birthdays today.  On this date in 1947, John Bowser of Sha-Na-Na was born.  Also on this date, Morgan Harkett of the Norwegian pop group AHA was born.  And if the two want to make a special birthday album together they can call their group Sha-Na-Na-Ha.  I think I got that right.

Let’s play “Oddball.”         

We begin on the sidelines of Oregon Ducks-Houston Cougars game from a few weeks ago when a fight between the teams’ mascot on the Internet.  It all began after Houston scored a touchdown.  The cougar went to the middle of the field to do a pushup for every point scored.  You see that ruffled the duck’s feathers so he dropped the shoulder, ouch, on the celebrated cougar.  Next the cat struck back, tackling the duck on the sidelines.  After a short tussle, the duck got the last laugh violating the cougar with some kind of pelvic gyration.  Today punishments were handed out.  The duck suspended for a game and the cougar has been put down.  Just kidding.  The cougar is alive and unpunished.

Enough plushy testosterone.  Let’s head to the zoo, to the San Diego Zoo, where this fat little baby panda had quite a big day today.  Doctors have waited six weeks to find out the panda’s sex, which makes it a little hard to buy stuff for the nursery, but at long last they determined today that it is a girl.  Still no name for the little tike.  Chinese tradition says you have to wait 100 days to name a newborn panda.  The zoo says it has boiled the names options down to three.  Ling Mae (ph), Bai Ling (ph) and Shirley (ph). 

Decision 2008 goes negative and guess who the first candidate in the crosshairs is?  Senator Hillary Clinton, taking attacks from many camps on the GOP side of the equation. 

And O.J. Simpson says he just need to get some of his stuff back.  Innocent enough, right?   Except the police say Simpson had to break in to get it and there might have been guys with guns involved, too.  Yes.  That’s ahead. 

But first, time for COUNTDOWN’s top three newsmakers of this day.  Number three, Albion, New York, resident Michael Hadick was having a rough week.  Along with pleading guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol, alleged nude photos of Hadick turned up on the Internet.  Wouldn’t be a huge deal if Michael Hadick wasn’t also the mayor of Albion, New York. 

Residents are calling for the mayor’s job.  As for the pics, Hadick says:

“That’s my face on there, the rest of it I’m not sure of. 

Number two, Hilary Gushwa, the deposed Miss Ventura County 2005.  “Miss” Gushwa had her crown stripped because at the time of the competition she wasn’t a Miss, she was a Mrs.  But Gushwa has a great defense for not telling the pageant she was married.  She said she was on medication and too drunk to remember her own wedding.  The pageant says they might sue to get the crown back. 

And number one, Mark Hoousendove of Ossining, New York, who, as you can see in this little image there has a bit of a receding hairline.  He also has sticky fingers.  Hoousendove was arrested Sunday for stealing five boxes of Rogaine hair re-growth treatment from an area pharmacy.  He was busted, thrown in jail, and now he is trying to post bond as he slowly goes bald. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

ROBACH:  In what very well may be the first negative ad of the 2008 presidential campaign, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani has targeted Senator Hillary Clinton.  And in a bizarre set of circumstances, former Senator Fred Thompson has also blamed something on Ms. Clinton.  In our third story on the COUNTDOWN, it’s punching bag politics.  With the punching bag for now at least, the junior senator from New York. 

The Giuliani charges hearken back to another full page ad in The New York Times from the liberal group moveon.org.  The ad appeared as General David Petraeus began his congressional testimony and its eye-grabbing banner, “General Betray Us” caused an uproar. 

Now Mr. Giuliani has criticized Senator Clinton for not denouncing the MoveOn ad.  Both in his own full-page ad in The Times, and this on the Giuliani campaign’s Web site. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Now that she’s running for president, Hillary Clinton has changed her position, even joining with the radical group moveon.org in attacking American General Petraeus.  Clinton stood silently by when moveon.org ran this venomous ad in The New York Times.  The same general she called an expert not long ago. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBACH:  The Clinton campaign has responded, saying that instead of distorting Clinton’s record, Giuliani should explain to Americans why he supports President Bush’s Iraq strategy. 

As for former Senator Thompson, he got into trouble with Cuban-Americans when he answered a question about immigration from Cuba with this: “I don’t imagine they’re coming here to bring greetings from Castro.  We’re living in the era of the suitcase bomb.”

And today Thompson said his foot in mouth moment had stayed alive because of a news release from Hillary Clinton.  Well, let’s call in the editor-in-chief of salon.com,. Joan Walsh.  Thanks for your time tonight. 

JOAN WALSH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, SALON.COM:  Thank you, Amy. 

ROBACH:  All right.  Some might even say that Giuliani might have made a pretty smart move here.  He did avoid talking about Iraq and his own position, and instead pointed the finger at Hillary Clinton and tried to link her to moveon.org.  Does it all work in the end for Giuliani?  

WALSH:  You know, I really don’t think so, Amy.  I think it’s quite interesting.  He certainly thinks that MoveOn is a boogieman and he’s hitting Hillary and he wants to fight her, but the point really is for Hillary, this could help her.  He is doing this in The New York Times.  He’s not narrow-casting to the Republican base.  And Hillary Has got a problem with her anti-war Democratic base that doesn’t quite trust her on this. 

So in a way by linking her with MoveOn it’s kind of jujitsu politics.  But it could help push the anti-war people to think, yes, you know, Hillary is one of us.  She didn’t denounce Petraeus—excuse me, the ad.  John Kerry did, actually.  She really took a more moderate stance, so I think it actually could help her. 

ROBACH:  Yes, I mean, obviously Clinton’s past history with moveon.org has not been as rosy as Giuliani wants to paint it for his own base—to rally his own base.  But it is interesting because there have been recent reports that the anti-Clinton fund-raising letters from Republicans aren’t pulling in as much money as they used to. 

Is there a risk that with candidates going after Hillary ,Clinton it wears thin after a while and doesn’t have the same effect it once did?  

WALSH:  I think there is.  There is certainly a limited, targeted base in the party that hates her.  They will write checks.  But it’s relatively small and it might even be shrinking.  She has made inroads.  She has got strong support among women.  It’s really a formidable lead among women.  So I think they run the risk much either having it backfire or just having it fizzle. 

ROBACH:  Yes.  Some might say Giuliani doing all this to try and reclaim the spotlight from Fred Thompson, but Fred Thompson not necessarily in the spotlight for a good thing this week.  Other than announcing and having that initial bump, it’s true that Senator Clinton criticized Thompson for not understanding Cuban-Americans, but other Democrats criticized him as well for those statements. 

So why does he point the finger directly at Hillary Clinton, for that same reason Giuliani is targeting her, hoping that it rallies his base?  

WALSH:  I think so.  The Republican Party is united around one thing, it’s that they think Hillary Clinton will be easy to beat.  They like to beat up on her.  You saw Karl Rove do it in some of his exit interviews.  They really think that she’s the best candidate for them.  I happen to disagree.  I think she’s formidable and I think she’s growing on people.  But this is their strategy, to just use her as a punching bag and hope it works.

And in Thompson’s case, hope it deflects attention from his original gaffe which was, you know, not very smart about the dynamics of the Cuban-American community. 

ROBACH:  Yes.  And Senator Thompson not even in the race for very long and already made another mistake.  Some are saying when he was asked about the Terri Schiavo case, he said that he didn’t remember the details enough to form an opinion.  This is just two years ago. 

Then his campaign says, yikes, no, let’s refine that statement.  So then he says, you know what, that was a local matter.  This is an issue, the right-to-life issue, a huge social issue for conservatives.  And if he’s the conservative’s conservative, where does that place him with his potential voters with a statement like that?  

WALSH:  In a lot of trouble.  I think it reflects an overall kind of laziness in Thompson.  He doesn’t seem to think he has to care enough to have positions on crucial issues.  Like it or not, that was a very divisive thing for the country.  It was—I think it was bad for Republicans.  It woke a lot of people up to the fact that they really are an intrusive party coming into family matters.

But the base loved it.  They care a lot.  You don’t really get to run for president and say, I don’t remember the details and I don’t have a position.  So I think that was a huge gaffe for him, and he has made several this week. 

ROBACH:  Yes.  Fred Thompson, a lot of people with those high expectations in terms of you have got the—at one point 22 percent, the leading amount of people deciding who they were going to vote for, voted for none of the above.  At least they didn’t like any of their choices.  Thompson is their savior.  What does he have to do to try and reclaim this after some of the gaffes he has made these past couple of days?  

WALSH:  I think he has got to come out strong.  He has got to look

smart on a number of policy issues.  He has got to refine his message.  And

he has got to stop saying—one of the things he has been saying is, I’m

just like you.  I never set out to run for president.  Most of us are not -

we’re not running for president, so he doesn’t get away with saying that. 

ROBACH:  All right.  Joan Walsh, editor-in-chief of salon.com.  Thanks so much for joining us tonight. 

WALSH:  Thank you, Amy.

ROBACH:  Well, a dubious place in sports history for the coach of the New England Patriots.  Forget all the Super Bowl rings.  He’s the first pro football coach punished for spying on the other team. 

And was Britney Spears really that awful last week that she needs to make another live national TV appearance to apologize. really?  Details ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBACH:  He is thought to be a hall of fame coach who wears three New England Patriots Super Bowl rings on his fingers.  Now he is known to be the first pro football coach in history found guilty of spying on the opposing team.  In our number two story, Bill Belichick says he wants to forget about the charges and think about the Chargers, his team’s next opponent.  While many around the league are saying, not so fast. 

In Boston, Mike Taibbi has our report. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 

MIKE TAIBBI, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Bill Belichick didn’t want to talk about it today. 

BILL BELICHICK, HEAD COACH, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS:  As I stated, it’s over, and we’re moving on. 

TAIBBI:  But in his world, and even beyond, it was topic A.  It has been the talk of talk radio. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They have really good players.  They have a hall of fame quarterback.  And they made a mistake.  That’s what happened. 

TAIBBI:  And it has been all over the tabloid back pages in New York, whose Jets were beaten by the Patriots last weekend, then blew the whistle.  A Patriots assistant aiming a video camera at the sideline signals by a Jets coach. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And he’s running it back 108 yards. 

BELICHICK:  We will change our procedure on that. 

TAIBBI:  Belichick had been warned but still broke the rule, no video recording devices of any kind in the booth, on the field, or in the locker room during the game.  Now the league has fined Belichick a half million dollars.  The team an additional quarter million.  And will deny the Patriots two or three of its highest draft choices. 

ALAN ABRAHAMSON, NBCSPORTS.COM:  When they write Bill Belichick’s obituary, it is going to go like this: Bill Belichick, who won multiple Super Bowls, but also was caught cheating... 

TAIBBI:  Some of the stars who have lost big games in the past to the Patriots now wonder openly if they lost on a level playing field. 

DONOVAN MCNABB, PHILAELPHIA EAGLES:  We don’t know what actually is going on.  We’re just going by hearsay.  But maybe we can get our ring back. 

(LAUGHTER)

BEN ROETHLISBERGER, PITTSBURGH STEELERS:   It matters.  If you know what coverage it is, you can call certain plays or you know where guys are going to be. 

TAIBBI (on camera):  But even though Belichick is among a handful of coaches sometimes labeled a genius by fans and sportswriters, his label has also sometimes also read evil genius. 

(voice-over):  It’s the rep he has had even in Boston. 

DAN SHAUGHNESSY, THE BOSTON GLOBE:  The self-importance and the paranoia around the Patriots is off the charts, has been, will be.  They are the KGB of the NFL. 

TAIBBI:  And even though some of his fans still give him a pass...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He got caught cheating, I think everybody cheats. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don’t think it’s that big a deal at all.

TAIBBI:  Belichick’s stated wish...

BELICHICK:  Everything that has happened is in the past.  It has been ruled on.  It’s over. 

TAIBBI:  ... likely won’t play as a command anywhere but New England. 

Mike Taibbi, NBC News, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBACH:  No fancy segue tonight.  We’ll simply dive into the steaming pit of celebrity news we call “Keeping Tabs.” Beginning tonight with the performance responsible for leaving millions of TV viewers in slack-jawed with disbelief, Britney Spears last Sunday at the Video Music Awards.  Now with barely enough time to recover from that, there is word we may be in for another treat.  Britney apologizing at the Emmys this Sunday. 

US magazine reporting that Britney’s people are in negotiations with network brass.  Now you may ask what kind of network would possibly be interested in her after this?   Well, the Emmys are on FOX this year, so that answers that.  People in her inner circle are said to be urging her to do it.  US quotes a source close to Spears as saying: “I can’t say this is 100 percent not true.”  Like they say, why, oh, why, can’t they just leave Britney alone?  

And then there’s this item about Sting at a brothel.  Not the usual police sting at a suspected brothel, mind you, but Sting of The Police seen ducking into a car in Hamburg, Germany, coming out of a nightclub with a reputation as an elite gentleman’s establishment, so to speak.  The club called Relax advertises access to 40 top models.  The father of six is on a comeback tour with his band, The Police. 

The German newspaper Bild is asking the question, what did Sting do in the top Hamburg bordello?  A spokesman says he can’t confirm whether Sting or his stinger even went to relax.  Maybe he wanted to ask Roxanne to turn often that red light. 

Just when “If I Did It” hit store shelves, O.J. Simpson investigated for another crime.  He admits taking stuff from a Vegas hotel room that he says was his, but breaking and entering?  No way.  Can the country really handle another O.J. trial?   To the top of the COUNTDOWN after the break. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBACH:  For just a moment, imagine the unimaginable.  Another O.J.  trial.  This time updated, maybe with another slow-speed chase and, I don’t know, a Prius instead of a Bronco maybe?  Our number one story, if only everything that happened in Vegas stayed in Vegas.  The day after the release of what used to be Simpson’s book, “If I Did It,” now subtitled by the Goldman family “Confessions of the Killer,” The Juice is now a suspect in Vegas, baby. 

Here’s George Lewis on the former running back who just keeps running into the law. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE LEWIS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Las Vegas police say they’re questioning O.J. Simpson about a reported armed robbery of sports memorabilia from a room at this hotel. 

CAPT. JAMES OLSON, LAS VEGAS METRO POLICE:  The victim stated that the

one of the suspects involved in the robbery was O.J. Simpson. 

LEWIS:  That alleged victim spoke to the Web site tmz.com. 

ALFRED BEARDSLEY, SPORTS MEMORABILIA DEALER:  I was directed at gunpoint to pack the items up in the condition they were brought in. 

LEWIS:  Simpson has a different version, telling the Associated Press it was actually a sting operation to recover souvenirs stolen from him.  In Simpson’s words: “What I can’t understand is these guys are in a room trying to fence stolen goods, and I’m the story.”

(on camera):  This latest flap comes as a new book about the sensational O.J. Simpson murder case hits the stores.  Called “If I Did It,” it is what Simpson has termed calls his hypothetical account of the murders. 

(voice-over):  Simpson was acquitted of the murder charges by a criminal jury but a civil jury later found him responsible for the killings.  When publication of the book was first announced, the families of murder victims Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman were appalled.  The browns still are. 

DENISE BROWN, NICOLE BROWN SIMPSON’S SISTER:  This is garbage.  It should never see the light of day.  And I’m sticking to my guns. 

LEWIS:  But in a stunning turn much events, the Goldmans took Simpson back to court and won the rights to publish the book. 

KIM GOLDMAN, RON GOLDMAN’S SISTER:  This is the first time that we’ve come close to actually taking something away from him, an asset. 

LEWIS:  And book sales will probably be helped by Simpson’s latest problems with the law. 

DAN ABRAMS, NBC CHIEF LEGAL CORRESPONDENT:  It seems that every year O.J. Simpson does something that offers material up to all the people that hate him. 

LEWIS:  The notorious ex-jock who just won’t go away. 

George Lewis, NBC News, Los Angeles. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBACH:  Defense attorney Mickey Sherman joins us now. 

Mickey, good evening. 

MICKEY SHERMAN, DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  How are you doing?  

ROBACH:  So this is truly a bizarre set of allegations.  O.J. and a bunch of thugs allegedly bursting into a hotel room with guns drawn, police are looking now at surveillance tape.  If this is all true, how much trouble is O.J. in this time around?  

SHERMAN:  He’s in a lot of trouble, but if it is true.  Usually if somebody complains that they’ve been held up by gunpoint, the police don’t spend this much time checking it out.  They take the victim’s word and that’s it and the courts straighten it out.  So I have got to tell you, I think the police are really, really skeptical as to whether or not it actually happened that way. 

ROBACH:  Let’s look at the quote again from O.J.  He says: “Nobody was roughed up.  What I can’t understand is these guys are in a room trying to fence stolen goods and I’m the story.  I just didn’t want these guys to make money from my stuff.”  What do you think about that statement?  

SHERMAN:  Well, it’s hard—we don’t know who to root for here.  You have got O.J. on one hand allegedly ripping off these vultures who basically steal people’s underwear and sell them.  It’s like being forced to pick your favorite Menendez brother here.  You know, the victims are not so victim-ly here. 

So you know, I’m not so sure O.J. is going to skate but by the same token, I’ve got to believe that the prosecutors, the D.A.s out there, and the police are looking at the victims a little bit differently than they would if they were just some Joe walking on the street. 

ROBACH:  Yes, I know, this is so strange to me though.  I’ve never even heard of rough tactics, you know, weapons drawn, being used in the world of memorabilia collectors.  I mean, is it as simple as that?  

SHERMAN:  Well, O.J. was obviously really ticked off and wanted his stuff back, which you can understand.  What’s interesting to me is the fact that there’s no lawyers involved.  I mean, why hasn’t he lawyered up at this point?   There’s a guy—if anybody knows the value of having good lawyers, it’s O.J. Simpson.  Now does he think he can wing this on his own?  I don’t know.  To go in there, and for him to say, nobody got roughed up, that’s kind of a little bit like confessing to something.  He should know better than that. 

ROBACH:  Yes.  As George Lewis pointed out, Simpson lost a wrongful death trial to the Goldmans.  Would a conviction on a charge like this have any impact on that?  

SHERMAN:  No, no.  It would only make—put the Goldmans in a worse position because it will be harder for O.J. to make a living or make any legitimate money later on. 

ROBACH:  You mentioned you can understand why Simpson was a little mad but, I mean, it is interesting—are you willing to speculate at all why he would even care about who sells what’s his since if he were able to sell it, the money he would get for it would go to the Goldmans anyway. 

SHERMAN:  I think he just feels ripped off.  I think—these people have his picture with J. Edgar Hoover, his certificate going into the hall of fame.  Here is a guy who worked all his life to become a football icon and it all went away real quick a bunch of years ago.  And now he’s just trying to grab the vestiges of that. 

And I can understand that.  Not something you or I would do, but by the same token, you can understand why he would be ticked off. 

ROBACH:  Any free legal advice for Simpson other than getting a lawyer?  

(LAUGHTER)

SHERMAN:  Get a lawyer, keep your mouth shut, and don’t—you know, try to keep a low profile.

ROBACH:  But can he keep his mouth shut?   Let’s be honest.  Can he? 

Is it in his DNA to keep his mouth shut?  

SHERMAN:  No.  No, but it’s also—it’s in our DNA, the world, that we can’t wait for his next episode.  And don’t forget, this is like cable news vacation.  There’s nobody dying.  Nobody dead.  No girl is missing.  The worst that happened is O.J., who is the Teflon running back, gets in a little more trouble or gets out of more trouble and some vultures get in some trouble. 

ROBACH:  Yes, on the day his book is released too.  It’s all a major coincidence.  It’s O.J. day.  All right.  Defense attorney Mickey Sherman, thanks so much for joining us. 

SHERMAN:  A pleasure. 

ROBACH:  All right.  That’s going to do it for this Friday edition of COUNTDOWN.  I’m Amy Robach in for Keith Olbermann.  Up next on MSNBC, “Lockup: Indiana State Prison,” a shocking trip inside a facility where three-fourths of the inmates are in for murder. 

And I should mention, I’ll see you bright and early tomorrow morning on “Weekend Today.” Have a good night, everyone.  See you then.

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

END   

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

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,