updated 9/25/2007 11:53:33 AM ET 2007-09-25T15:53:33

Guests: Bruce Fein, Derrick Pitts

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

He speaks.  And the fear of letting Iranian President Ahmadinejad do so was what again? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, PRESIDENT OF IRAN (through translation):  In Iraq, when you invite a guest in Iran, you respect them.   

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Welcome to Fun City, Mr. President. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEE BOLLINGER, PRESIDENT, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY:  Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The president of the wild-haired liberals of Columbia University, the first of many to set Ahmadinejad straight. 

Plus, the bonus.  There has been a Condoleezza Rice sighting.  She was OK with the speech. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE:  As to the World Trade Center, though, I think it would have been a travesty. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  A travesty of administration terrorism, the startling charge from Congresswoman Jane Harman of California.  “President Bush got the temporary expansion of his spying powers last month by knowingly using, quote, “bogus intelligence” about a specific threat to the capitol. 

In other words, they personally terrorized the House and Senate to get the powers they wanted. 

The terror of the far right.  Mr. Bush says he knows who the Democratic nominee will be. 

The unendurable Britney Spears saga.  What about the kids?  Won‘t somebody think of the kids? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED EX BODY GUARD:  I‘m here for the kids. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Her ex-bodyguard speaks about drugs and the kids. 

And remember “The Brady Bunch”?  The tabloid claim:  You know who Jan was dating?  Marcia, Marcia, Marcia. 

Plus, a man on Mars by 2037, and gerbils on a simulated trip to Mars right now. 

And guess who seems to have first used that pun on the general‘s name,  Betray Us?  Yep, comedian Rush Limbaugh. 

All that and more now on “Countdown.”       

(on camera):  Good evening, we survived Castro and Khrushchev addressing the U.N., and Khrushchev banging his shoe, and the Shah at the White House and David Duke in Louisiana State House of Representatives, yet all eyes were on the Iranian president in upper Manhattan today.  Thus, were fewer on the American president at the United Nations in midtown Manhattan and fewer still on Capitol Hill in Washington where Democratic lawmakers limped out of their losing battle to withdraw forces in Iraq to spar, instead, with a lame duck White House over domestic spending.  Our fifth story on the “Countdown.”  Yet we are told it is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who should worry us. 

Leaders from around the world gathering at the United Nations in New York City for this year‘s General Assembly because, well, because it‘s the United Nations. 

That would include Ahmadinejad who, while in town, was invited to speak this afternoon at Columbia University because, well, it is an institution of higher learning in a democracy that prides itself on free speech. 

Demonstrators on the Columbia campus exercising their right to free speech by protesting Mr. Ahmadinejad‘s visit. 

The president of Columbia, Lee Bollinger, not so much protesting the visit as giving what might have been the most brutal introduction of all time. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOLLINGER:  Mr. President, you exhibit all the signs of a petty and cruel dictator, and so I ask you -- (Applause) -- and today I feel all the weight of the modern civilized world yearning to express the revulsion at what you stand for.  I only wish I could do better.  Thank you. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Well, why should Mr. Ahmadinejad‘s welcome to New York be any different than any other tourist‘s? 

As for the invitation that brought the Iranian president to Manhattan in the first place, an invitation he was, by this point in the afternoon possibly regretting, the White House OK with it.  President Bush telling FOX this afternoon, “I guess I‘m OK with it.”

His press secretary Dana Perino telling reporters, quote, “The wonderful thing about America is it‘s a free country and if people want to invite individuals like Ahmadinejad to come and speak at their forums, then so be it.  And those who want to attend, it‘s up to them as well.”  That‘s when it comes to freedom of speech. 

Freedom of movement is another story.  Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice saying this morning Mr. Ahmadinejad‘s request to visit Ground Zero was denied because it would have been a, quote, “travesty.” 

Addressing the students at Columbia University entirely different. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICE:  I only wish the Iranian people had the chance to hear the many different views just as people are going to hear different views.  As to the World Trade Center, though, I think it would have been a travesty.  I think this is somebody who is the president of a country that is probably the greatest sponsor of state-sponsored of terrorism, someone who is a holocaust denier, someone who has talked about wiping other countries off the map.  I think it would have been a travesty. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Well, we‘ll never know.  Apparently, we could not risk letting him make a fool out of himself there too.  Or not making a fool out of himself.

In his remarks this after to Columbia, Ahmadinejad reiterated his desire to visit Ground Zero. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AHMADINEJAD (through translation):  In Iraq, when you invite a guest in Iran, you respect them.  This is our tradition required by our culture.  And I know that American people have that culture as well.  To prevent someone to show sympathy to the families of the victims of the September 11th event—tragic event, this is respect from my side.  Someone told me this is an insult.  I said, what do you mean?  This is my way of showing respect.  Why would you think like that?  Thinking like that, how do you expect to manage the world and world affairs? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Time now to turn to our own Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.

Richard, good evening. 

RICHARD WOLFFE, “NEWSWEEK”:  Good to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Did this speech fail on all levels from the informational to the propaganda to the introduction, welcome to town, we hate you? 

WOLFFE:  Well, in some ways I think it actually succeeded for the Iranian president.  But on the informational level, he made himself, as he pointed out quite rightly look like a fool.  This is a man who says there are no gays, apparently in Iran.  And also he is a passionate believer in science.  This is a man who just locked up a Woodrow Wilson scholar for several months.  So he did look ridiculous. 

On the other hand, the propaganda coup was substantial for him.  This whole spat about his travel, it made him look like he was standing up to the great Satan and sticking it to America.  And that‘s been the key source of his success not just in his own country but with Muslim opinion around the world.  And in that sense, he won. 

OLBERMANN:  The one answer that you mentioned, was that the revelation here?  There was not really a holocaust denial.  There was not really a fervent attack on Israel.  None of the bogeymen came out. 

Let‘s listen to the tape and assess what the meaning of this was in terms of his reputation here. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AHMADINEJAD (through translation):  In Iran, we don‘t have homosexuals like in your country.  We don‘t have that in our country.  In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon.  I don‘t know who told you that we have it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  I mean, it looked like a stand-up comedian trying to swerve out of a skid there.  He got a laugh in there.  It seemed to be serious, and then that little fake smile at the end.  What was he trying to do at the end? 

WOLFFE:  I think laughter is the best response for cutting this man down to size.  How could he respond to it any other way?  He knows it‘s ridiculous but the laughter is devastating for someone who wants to look tough in front of the world. 

I just want to pick up something about holocaust denial though.  He‘s not stupid here.  Like the modern form of holocaust deniers, he doesn‘t say flat out there wasn‘t a holocaust.  He just asks perceptive questions like were there really that many people who died.  And it‘s the circle of revisionism that is the new form of denial.  This is not—he‘s a demagogue but he wears business suits.  You know, you have to understand the enemy you‘re facing when you come up against this kind of ideology. 

OLBERMANN:  Right.  It‘s the same David Duke mathematical argument. 

It‘s a different story if it‘s only a million people, isn‘t it? 

WOLFFE:  Right. 

OLBERMANN:  The White House—one bit of imbalance seemingly on the United States side of this, the White House officially handling free speech in this case, praising the Columbia University appearance as an OK thing and not necessarily a good thing.  But on the other, restricting his itinerary claiming that had he gone near Ground Zero it would have been a travesty.  Did anybody explain exactly what the travesty would have consisted of? 

WOLFFE:  No, they didn‘t.  And I think it‘s a pointless argument that really handed him the P.R. coup.  The administration says this is an ideological struggle and they want to win the hearts and minds of people around the world.  You can‘t win hearts and minds by saying we support free speech, but not free movement.  Again, it gave him a P.R. coup.  Go out there and engage in the arguments.  Say what you‘re doing for Shia people and Shia power in the region.  Talk about the mercy ship convoys, the medical services, the people after the tsunami.  Don‘t say we believe in free speech, but you can‘t travel around New York.  It looks petty. 

OLBERMANN:  Another aspect of this, was this not really thought out?  We‘ve been talking about this regarding the baiting of Ahmadinejad for at least a year and a half.  The political analysts in Iran were telling the “New York Times” in an article exactly what has been estimated by everybody who has looked at this situation analytically that nobody there understands why the Bush administration spends so much time attacking him personally, because all that serves to do is make his paranoia look legitimate within Tehran and consolidate his power there.  Is this just another thing on the White House‘s extraordinary file of unintended consequences, things they didn‘t think through? 

WOLFFE:  Well, I‘ve talked to a number of European—senior European diplomats about this, countries with significant representation in Iran.  They point out two things about President Bush‘s record when it comes to Iran.  First of all, he took out the two biggest enemies of Iran in the Taliban and Saddam Hussein.  And, secondly, despite Ahmadinejad, has really boosted a very weak character to the surprise of the other sources of power in Tehran, and elevated him to a profile where he now is a figurehead not just for Muslim opinion, but across the world, not just in the middle east, but in Asia, to Arab and non-Arab countries in a way Iran never was before. 

OLBERMANN:  The next level of our interaction with Iran—the “Chicago Tribute” reporting today that the vice president will—and no surprising consequences here—he will be raising his profile to rally the base, which is probably now fittable in one medium to large-sized sports stadium, with harsher rhetoric than the president can safely deliver. 

And in its new issue of “Newsweek” reporting the administration is making the case that a secret Iranian unit of Hezbollah is operating inside Iraq.  Has this administration‘s drumbeat for war with Iran gotten a little bit louder and a little bit more intelligible at this point? 

WOLFFE:  Well, I think there is a big disjuncture here between what they‘re saying in public and in private.  In private there is no sense at all, from my reporting, that they are any way on the military track.  They are very much committed.  Even you talk to the hawkish people inside the administration, committed to the diplomacy for now, and the question is why the saber rattling?  How can it help them when they‘re also trying to get cooperation in Iraq from Iranian officials? 

This is a delicate game and they‘re not playing it in a delicate way at all.  I‘m convinced they‘re on a diplomatic track and the rest of it is pure rhetoric. 

OLBERMANN:  Is it rhetoric, though, for U.S. consumption?  Is it just another thing that might get a couple of headlines written about not the disasters in Iraq, but about anything else, even Iran, just for a moment? 

WOLFFE:  They don‘t really understand Iranian politics very well.  Senior White House officials will admit that.  At the same time they‘re trying to put pressure internally on the regime and send a signal to reformers, hey, you can rise up and try and challenge these people.  In fact, as we pointed out already, all of this rhetoric merely serves to strengthen the hard-liners, people like Ahmadinejad. 

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

WOLFFE:  Anytime.

OLBERMANN:  The “Countdown” would like to extend an apology to Senator Carl Levin in Michigan and offer a correction for our reporting Friday on Senator Levin‘s voting record on what turned out to be competing legislation regarding MoveOn.org‘s newspaper ad about General David Petraeus.  We incorrectly reported Senator Levin had been among the 22 Democrats who voted for an amendment sponsored by Republican John Cornyn of Texas that denounced the ad, and even aired a sound bite of Senator Levin in which he seemed to be defending his vote. 

Senator Levin, in fact, voted against the Cornyn amendment.  He then voted for the competing amendment from California Democrat Barbara Boxer which condemned all attacks on individuals in the armed forces, including the Republican allied Swift Boat ads from 2004 which lied about Senator John Kerry‘s military record during the Vietnam War.  The mistake went through a lot of checks here, but the buck stops right here.  So, Senator, my apologies. 

No correction, no apology from the Bush administration.  The staggering charge tonight from a congresswoman that it used phony intelligence about an attack on the capitol to scare legislators into voting for increased spying by the administration last month. 

And why would the president be predicting a Hillary Clinton nomination and, more interesting still, why did he make that prediction to one particular Washington insider? 

You are watching “Countdown” on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The president of the United States not only thinks Hillary Clinton will be nominated to succeed him but in an interesting coincidence has revealed this to the same reporter to whom he gave the last question, what turned out to be the last softball question about the MoveOn.org ad at his most recent news conference last Thursday. 

Our fourth story, the “Countdown” to 2008.  Karl Rove, Bush‘s brain is gone, but the mouth is still moving.  The president dropping hints about the Senator last week in an off-the-record meeting with broadcasters.  Those who were there describing him as impressed with her campaign skills and convinced she would be the Democratic nominee. 

Mr. Bush, quoted in a new book by Bill Sammon, of the “Washington Examiner,” called “The Evangelical President”, “I believe our candidate can beat her but it‘s going to be a tough race.  She has got a great national presence and this is becoming a national primary.  And therefore, the person with the national presence, who has got the ability to raise enough money in an effort in a multiplicity of sites, has got a good chance to be nominated.” 

Aside from the question does he really use the word multiplicity, the big question should Republicans be careful what they wish for? 

For analysis, let‘s turn to “Washington Post” national political reporter Dana Milbank. 

Dana, good evening.

DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, “WASHINGTON POST”: 

Evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Senator Clinton is what to the Republicans right now?  Is she just a temporary diversion from Iraq or their own dichotomy or is she Goldstein from 1984?  What is she? 

MILBANK:  Right, and if she wins they‘ll have to say big sister is watching now.  The president very clearly has an obsession with Hillary Clinton as he did with her husband. 

There are a couple of reasons for this.  One is he actually does believe she is the nominee, she‘ll be the most beatable because of her very high negatives.  He‘s also under the impression this will not be seen as a repudiation of him but more of a going back to the time before he restored honor and dignity to the White House.  Whereas if it was, say, Obama, that would in fact be a repudiation of Bush.  It would be a vote for change. 

OLBERMANN:  I see.  The context, these latest quotes are coming from this book from Bill Sammon, who used to be an analyst for FOX, didn‘t keep that gig apparently.  Known to lob softball questions at the president.  He‘s written other complimentary books about Bush.  He also quoted a senior White House official who called Obama intellectually lazy.  And as you pointed out, in a Jeff Gannon-like role, he was the guy who got to serve up that planted question to Mr. Bush Thursday.  Why tear down Obama if you think Clinton will be the most trouble? 

MILBANK:  Well, first of all, I think we can‘t assign Bill Sammon to the Jeff Gannon category exactly.  He is friendly with the president.  That would be called a super stretch.  He is a straight shooter and is a conservative. 

We do know he gets access to Bush so what he‘s saying can actually be taken to the bank in terms of what Bush thinks. 

That said, they‘re going to go after Obama as well as John Edwards.  They have to sort of be ecumenical about this.  They are more fearful of an Obama candidacy than a Hillary candidacy. 

OLBERMANN:  Your paper in the web site today carried a report that says Bush sees Hillary Clinton as a future president who would/will—whichever form of that verb you want—continue to keep a U.S. presence in Iraq.  Is he right in that assessment? 

MILBANK:  Well, that‘s certainly a lot of wishful thinking in that.  I suspect that if she‘s compared to, again, to Edwards or to Obama, she would be more into the incremental departure from Iraq. 

I think what Bush was getting at there—and there is some truth to it, a notion of a consensus around a war on terror as there was a consensus around the Cold War—but I think he‘s very mistaken if he believes in the actual details of the Iraq War will be carried out as he would like them to be. 

OLBERMANN:  One other note in the post-Bush piece that he likens himself to—and we‘ve heard this before, another Democratic president, Harry Truman who was extraordinarily unpopular at the end of his elected term, but is now seen as an almost prescient leader and, of course there, are still American troops where he sent them 57 years ago to Korea, which I guess is a wish of George Bush that there would be an American presence in Iraq in 2064.  Is there anything for him to really hang his hat on in believing that he would be remembered as Harry Truman rather than, say, Truman Capote? 

MILBANK:  Or Jim Carrey‘s Truman character from “The Truman Show.”  The very fact he‘s thinking in those terms indicates how far it‘s gone.  He came into office with Karl Rove talking about being another president McKinley—changing a Republican majority for decades, generations to come.  And now he‘s saying, well, OK, we‘re going to hand often the presidency to the other party, but maybe history will remember me as a good fellow anyway. 

OLBERMANN:  Don‘t you think the Truman thing is an upgrade from McKinley?  If somebody on your own team says your presidency is going to be remembered as that of a martyred president, an assassinated president, don‘t you say get this guy out of this room?  Doesn‘t anybody stop to think the McKinley analogy is a little ghoulish on the part of Karl Rove? 

MILBANK:  The seeds of this were all back then.  And then who profited from that, but Teddy Roosevelt.  And, of course, that was the John McCain character. 

OLBERMANN:  Our own Dana Milbank giving the quick American history class here tonight, national political reporter of the “Washington Post.”  As always, sir, great thanks. 

MILBANK:  Thanks, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  The nexus of politics and terror.  A Congresswoman insists it got personal last month.  The administration, she says, using a bogus terror threat to the capitol to scare Congress into widening Mr. Bush‘s ability to spy without a warrant. 

And we learn two things.  Left to their own devices, baboons don‘t like people stuff.  Also, where they are in South Africa, they pronounce it dee-fecate.  Next, on “Countdown.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Half a century ago tonight, the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers played their last game in Ebbets Field before moving to Los Angeles.  Rookie Danny McDevitt shot out the Pirates on five hits.  Anybody in Brooklyn still angry about then owner Walter O‘Malley moving the Dodgers out?  The joke about the Brooklyn Dodger fan was told on HBO as recently as this summer.  A Brooklyn fan gets into a room with Hitler, Stalin and Walter O‘Malley.  He has a gun and only two bullets.  Who does the Brooklyn fan shoot?  O‘Malley, twice to make sure. 

Let‘s play “Oddball.” 

We begin in Cape Peninsula, South Africa, with animal crime caught on tape.  Tonight, baboon burglars.  Take your stinking paws off my stuff you damn dirty apes.  350 of the protected coastal baboons are having their way with the local populace ransacking residence cars—excuse me, I‘m baboon-jacking you—forcing their way into homes and raiding refrigerators.  And the ultimate slap in the face, the baboons leave a friendly calling card. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  People are getting very angry.  They get into their kitchens.  They grab whatever food they can and then they move around the House and they defecate all over the place. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Dee-fecating at the scene of the crime.  Have you monkeys no shame?  Admittedly it sounds funnier when you pronounce it that way like James Mason.

Speaking of no shame, to the 17th hole of Saturday‘s Turning Stone Championship in New York.  Brandon DeJong (ph) pulling his tee shot left into the gallery.  As you see the ball land here.  Clearly, nobody was hurt except that spectator.  “Oh, my leg.  I think it‘s broken.”  An amateur dive ten seconds after the ball landed during a professional match.  Rodney, you are so busted. 

Speaking of busted, to the Nigerian parliament where legislators are busting skulls.  Let‘s get it on.  This was the scene in Nigeria‘s House of Representatives.  Lawmakers trading haymakers during a discussion about the investigation into an alleged spending spree by the Speaker of the House.  After a while, the fighting was broken up with cooler heads prevailing.  And then they started to fight again.  The session eventually went behind closed the doors where the two sides simply hugged it out.            

We don‘t do government that way here.  We take puffed up terrorism plots, frighten Congress with them and then get Congress to give the president more unconstitutional rights to spy on our people.  The nexus of politics and terror as charged, with names and dates, by Congresswoman Harman of California. 

And after one tabloid headline, there is tonight an entirely new meaning to the old “Brady Bunch” lament, Marcia, Marcia, Marcia.  These stories ahead. 

But, first, time for our goofballs and good guys.  Here is “Countdown‘s” three best persons in the world. 

Number three, best meal:  Bill O. says he took Al Sharpton to dinner

in Harlem at the famous restaurant Sylvia‘s.  And Orally actually says, on

the air, “I couldn‘t get over the fact there was no difference between

Sylvia‘s restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City.  It was

exactly the same even though it‘s run by blacks, primarily black

patronship.  There wasn‘t one person in Sylvia‘s who was screaming “N” for

I want more iced tea.”  Oh, my god.

Number two, best firing, Steve Bittermann, instructor at Southwestern Community College in Red Oak, Iowa, told his Western civilization class that the story of Adam and Eve in the Bible is very meaningful and educational as long as you do not take it literally.  He says some students threatened to sue.  The school caved and fired him.  He says he can‘t believe, quote, “that a college in good standing would tell anybody to teach there was such things as talking snakes or lose their jobs.” 

Number one, best baptism, Paul and Terry Fields of Michigan City, Indiana, new parents and Chicago Cubs fans.  They have named their new boy W. Alexander Fields.  The W, of course, is Wrigley.  The Cubs play in Wrigley Field.  The kid is named Wrigley Fields.  Odds the kid will now need therapy, four to one.  Odds the kid will become a fan of the Chicago White Sox, two to one. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The Bush administration knowingly used, quote, bogus intelligence, unquote, to make lawmakers believe there was a chance of an imminent attack on the U.S. Capitol and thus frighten them into passing a temporary expansion of its powers to spy on Americans under the FISA Act.  That is the charge of the chairwoman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on terrorism risk assessment. 

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, for two years this newscast has recorded the administration‘s willingness to try to terrify the public into voting Republican.  It has chronicled the fears of the politicization of terror, fears originating even from the first Homeland Secretary Tom Ridge.  But these charges from California Democrat Jane Harmon are the most overt accusations yet of a government gone so wrong that it is using the terrorists‘ weapon of fear against its own people and against other legislators who will not go along with the program. 

Congresswoman Harmon made her charge at a forum on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, FISA, conducted in Washington by the Center For American Progress.  She says that on August 2nd, hours before lawmakers were to leave for a month long recess, word of specific intelligence led to increased security around the Capitol.  Republican Congressman Zach Wamp of Tennessee said at the time, quote, the leaders of the committees of jurisdiction have been briefed on threats to the Capitol.” 

And in urging Congress to give Mr. Bush the extra spying powers he wanted, Senator Trent Lott said on that date that, quote, “the disaster could be on our doorstep.”  Congresswoman Harmon said the unreliability of the so-called intelligence about the attack on the Capitol before the 9/11 anniversary was only made clear the very day lawmakers approved the temporary expansion of Bush‘s spy powers.  “That specific intelligence claim, it turned out, was bogus,” said Representative Harmon.  “The intelligence agencies knew that.” 

She added that the administration was guilty of a “Rovian strategy of using terrorism as a wedge political issue.”  Talk about the nexus of politics and terror.  At the same forum with Congresswoman Harmon was Bruce Fein, former associate deputy attorney general under Ronald Reagan, now chairman of the American Freedom Agenda.  Thank you for your time again tonight, sir. 

BRUCE FEIN, AMERICAN FREEDOM AGENDA:  Thank you for inviting me. 

OLBERMANN:  I gather you share the Congresswoman‘s astonishment, anger, lament, and mine as well? 

FEIN:  Yes, but there‘s something that you‘ve neglected, Keith, and that‘s the president continues to insist, as recently as my visit to the Department of Justice last week, that he can spy on Americans without warrants irrespective of what a statute says, that he has constitutional authority to override whatever Congress may do, so that all of this maneuvering over the statute really is just a charade. 

OLBERMANN:  Congresswoman Harman‘s statement about this is pretty straightforward here, that the specific intelligence claim, as she said, was bogus and the intelligence agencies knew that.  Even if it is theater, Bruce, it seems to be theater with some effort behind it.  Do you know is that her opinion, her professional assessment?  Is there hard evidence that it happened this way? 

FEIN:  Well, I don‘t have any independent knowledge.  I haven‘t heard anyone try to discredit Jane.  And this administration is pretty good at getting after any of their critics.  Just ask Valerie Plame and Mr. Wilson.  Now I would also say that this is certainly not the only time there have been misrepresentations of danger.  You may recall not long ago the director of national intelligence, Mr. McConnell, had said that it was the new statute that enabled us to aid the Germans in cracking a plot, a terrorist plot there.  And then a few days later said, well, he actually made a mistake.  The new statute had nothing to do with this.

So there is no disinclination of this administration to stoop to misrepresentations and omissions to try to heighten the sense of danger to get whatever they wish in the legislative package. 

OLBERMANN:  Something you and I—Another thing you and I agree on fully.  Am I correct here in saying that the real bottom line risk would be the administration can take any plot they hear about, or in the worst scenario any plot they might dream up—they could take plan nine from outer space, and they terrify the people or the legislative branch into giving them, the administration, any power they can think of?  The constitution be damned? 

FEIN:  Keith, Yes, I think when we get to the actual negotiations that took place before the enactment of this recent statute in early August, the administration was openly telling members of Congress if they voted against the bill that the administration insisted upon, Americans would die, that there was half or a third of all intelligence would be uncollected.  There wasn‘t any substantiation of that.  It was just trust me, we always tell the truth.  And the Congress, rather than insisting that they be cleared for access to classified information and making an independent judgment, just collapsed and said, all right, we‘ll ratify anything you tell us as needed to protect the country.

And it‘s gone even beyond legislation.  The director has also said even to have public discussions, like you and I are having, about electronic surveillance is giving aid and comfort to the enemy and is in a sense unpatriotic, suggesting there‘s only one branch of government that knows how to govern and protect us.  That‘s the executive branch and we should all be willing to play vassals to the lord in the White House. 

OLBERMANN:  I don‘t want to try to send the villagers into the countryside with pitchforks here, but do you see any checks, any limitations on this?  Can we extrapolate from what the administration has done in terms of obtaining the spy powers it has or claims about what it may yet still seek to do, in terms of obtaining further spy powers? 

FEIN:  Well, the administration has already gone so far as to say they can commit torture to gather foreign intelligence if the president thinks it‘s necessary.  It‘s hard to imagine any broader power that can be asserted under the Constitution.  It‘s really up to Congress now and the American people to insist that Congress stand up and display that they‘re members of the vertebrate, rather than the invertebrate species.  Because if they don‘t continue, they don‘t insist on access to the information and making independent judgments, there isn‘t going to be anyone there who is going to say, well, I‘ll go ahead and vote in a way that I believe will risk the lives of Americans.

And really the ball lies in the Congress and really it‘s the Democrat Congress that was voted last November to change course rather than to endorse the status quo. 

OLBERMANN:  Can we do this?  Obviously, this is bipartisan enough at this point.  You and Jane Harmon are not exactly under the same political tent.  I don‘t think I fit in there either.  Can we do this?  Can we save the Constitution? 

FEIN:  Well, there‘s a very simple power.  It‘s called the power of the purse.  And Congress by simple majority could simply say no moneys of the United States shall be employed to gather foreign intelligence in contravention of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.  It‘s very simple.  Now it is true the president could veto the bill, and you would need a two-thirds override.  But at least it would be sending a signal that there is resistance to what the president is claiming and that, at least with someone else in the White House, there may be a change of course here. 

But other than that, the president will have his way if he continues to frighten the Congress and Congress refuses to demand information and facts rather than just rumor. 

OLBERMANN:  The mind reels.  Bruce Fein, chairman of the American Freedom Agenda, formerly of the Reagan Department of Justice.  Great thanks for being with us tonight, Bruce.

FEIN:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And the comic relief.  First it was Greg Brady going on a date with the woman who played his mom.  Now Marcia allegedly dating Jan.  The bubbling cauldron that evidently was “The Brady Bunch.”  And hamsters in space.  We announce plans to have a man on Mars by 2034.  But Russian gerbils are already on a practice run.  When COUNTDOWN continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  I‘m not here to destroy Britney, he said.  I‘m here for the kids.  Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, his name is Tony Baretto, Britney Spear‘s former body guard.  The evidence he offered a judge was probably key when that judge ordered twice weekly drug tests for Miss Spears in her on-going custody battle.  Mr. Baretto told the “Today Show‘s” Matt Lauer about that drug use, after denying he was seeking a book deal or vengeance for having been fired. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY BARETTO, FORMER BRITNEY SPEARS BODYGUARD:  They were both at a night club in Los Angeles.  One was at her table.  The incident happened at her table.  And she had me hold up a curtain to make her area private.  And at one point it was getting kind of hard to continue to hold the curtain for such a long period of time, so the attempt was to look over and to get her approval to let go of the curtain, at which point I noticed what she was doing. 

MATT LAUER, “THE TODAY SHOW”:  And what was the other occasion? 

BARETTO:  The other occasion is when we escorted her to a private restroom upstairs, which we secured for her.  And she was in there for some time alone.  And I was there waiting for her outside the door, again for some time.  And I thought it would be appropriate to check on her.  And I knocked and peeked in and I observed this behavior. 

LAUER:  You also describe an incident where you found Britney in a Los Angeles hotel room.  She lives in Los Angeles, so this is in her own city, and that when you went into the room, she appeared completely strung out.  She was sweating and shaking and the room was a mess.  Did you also see evidence of drug use in that hotel? 

BARETTO:  I did. 

LAUER:  And did you talk to her at all?  Did you ever say anything to her or as an employee were you forbidden from talking about this? 

BARETTO:  It was almost forbidden to talk to her about her personal life.  And, you know, Britney doesn‘t listen to nobody, I mean, as a parent. 

LAUER:  Talking about as a parent, did you ever see Britney Spears use drugs or abuse alcohol while she was in the presence of her children? 

BARETTO:  I have never seen her use drugs in the presence of her children. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Ordinarily anything after that would be a letdown, but not tonight‘s lead off item in our segment Keeping Tabs.  Talk about the kids.  What on earth were they feeding the kids on the iconic ‘70s TV show “The Brady Bunch?”  The publisher of next year‘s memoir by Marcia, Morine McCormack (ph) is denying the story which we will now proceed to tell you about anyway because it‘s hilarious.  According to the “National Enquirer” and the “New York Post” her book will reveal that Miss McCormack, Marcia, developed a crush on her TV sister, Jan, actress Edi Plum (ph). 

Apparently, they both knew it was much more than a hunch.  And before you can say pork chops and apple sauce, they were experimenting, as the kids say.  Of course, the story that the kid who played Greg went out on a date with Florence Henderson, who played his mom, and now this.  Of course, as with everything good and decent about the Bradys, that all changed the moment cousin Oliver showed up. 

You think that boggles the mind, O.J. Simpson accused of threatening a man‘s life in a jealous rage.  Huh?  The crack investigators at the “New York Post” have revealed that Simpson is apparently a jealous boyfriend willing to threaten violence.  The Post reporting that in July Simpson accused his former handyman of sleeping with his current girlfriend Christie Prody.  According to the Post, Simpson drove her to the handyman‘s house to confront them and then said, quote, come over here, I‘m going to F-ing kill you. 

The handyman, who declined to come over here so he could be F-ing killed, told the Post that Simpson gestured as if he had a gun.  See, the story falls to the ground right there. Simpson‘s lawyer did not return the paper‘s calls.  But this whole thing sounds so out of character.  It cannot possibly be true. 

And now not journalism, but the pursuit thereof, and when a beauty pageant winner claims she wants to be taken seriously, unlike Katie Couric, the landscape certainly has changed.  The beauty pageant winner is Miss USA Rachel Smith, perhaps best known for having fallen down at the Miss Universe contest in Mexico.  She tells the “New York Daily News” she always wanted to be a reporter, saying, quote, maybe some TV, who knows, some serious news, but some modeling too. 

She‘s already made one mistake, assuming potential employers would care that she has a degree in—what‘s this word—journalism.  Now she has gone on to scratch CBS off of her list of potential employers, telling the news, quote, I just don‘t want to end up like Katie Couric.  I want people to take me seriously.  Couric‘s rep then telling the news, if she continues to offer such profound insights, she will not have to worry about anyone taking her seriously. 

The Mars Rovers turned out to be alive.  Will a man join them in just 30 years?  And will that man be boxer Oscar de la Hoya?  That‘s ahead, first time for COUNTDOWN‘s Worst Persons in the World. 

Senator David Vitter of Louisiana takes the bronze.  Sneaked an earmark into an appropriations bill, 100,000 dollars to the Louisiana Family Forum, quote, to develop a plan to promote better science education.  By better, the Louisiana Family Forum evidently turns out to mean better be without Darwin in it.  They want Creationism taught.  Senator Vitter, Senator Vitter, tell us again the story of when the lord created call girls. 

Your runner up is Bill-O.  Someone wrote in to ask that he stop labeling those who criticize our continued stay in Iraq as anti-American.  Bill explains he welcomes dissent on the program and he promptly insisted the writer was, quote, from the far left loonville.  Yes, that‘s welcoming dissent.  And so is claiming, quote, the leftists are rooting against their own country.  And so was calling Senator Obama the leading cut and run club.  And so was saying Bill Moyer symbolizes those who want their country to lose in Iraq.  And so was branding anybody against the war at its start kooks.  And so was concluding that MSNBC delights in showing Iraqi violence.

You welcome dissent as long as nobody disagrees with you. 

Who can top that?  Our winner, comedian Rush Limbaugh.  He called the MoveOn.org Betray Us ad contemptible and indecent.  Guess who seems to have been the first to introduce the pun on General Petraeus‘ name to national broadcasting?  January 25th of this year, he gurgled, quote, by the way, we had a caller call, couldn‘t stay on the air.  Got a new name for Senator Hagel of Nebraska.  We have General Petraeus and we‘ve got Senator Betray Us, new name for Senator Hagel.

So not only is your outrage about the use of the phrase betray us to question patriotism or duty phony, it‘s your phrase.  Comedian Rush Limbaugh, big flaming fraud, today‘s Worst Person in the World!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  As the final frontier, space has made many demands.  First we sent monkeys, then humans.  And now in our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, with Mars as the next great destination, it‘s gerbils.  One small step still has meaning, even if the steps are really, really small.  NASA hopes to put a man on Mars by the year 2037, according to its administrator, Michael Griffin.  That‘s NASA‘s administrator, not Mars‘ administrator. 

Today he spoke at the International Astronautics Congress in India and said the global committee had its toehold in space, referring there not to the gerbils, but to the International Space Station set for completion in 2010.  As for what‘s next, he said, quoting again, we are looking at the Moon and Mars to build a civilization for tomorrow and after that, which would be the day after tomorrow. 

Meantime, the Russian Space Agency has begun tests on the possible effects of extended space travel on humans by sending ten gerbils on a 12-day mission.  The rodents are due back to Earth later this week, splash down coverage live here on CBS.  As for survivability on Mars, at least the machines are doing better than expected.  The two Mars rovers resumed work this month after a series of massive dust storms. 

Let‘s call in the chief astronomer at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, who explains all this stuff to us, Derrick Pitts.  Derrick, good evening. 

DERRICK PITTS, FRANKLIN INSTITUTE:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Did I miss something here?  Haven‘t there been men and women spending months at a time on the International Space Station?  How come we need gerbils to go into space to tell us stuff we don‘t know? 

PITTS:  Their pension and insurance programs are cheaper. 

OLBERMANN:  It‘s space 2.0. 

PITTS:  The reason they chose to use gerbils is actually for a particular reason, Keith.  Gerbils, it seems, can hold liquids for a very long time.  You know, living in deserts they can manage to hold on to their liquids and don‘t need much liquid intake, and can do this for weeks at a time.  So what scientists want to look at here is the affect of micro gravity on salt transference across cell membranes.  And this is really actually a very important point, because if you do have an imbalance in your salt content in your body, it can cause havoc with your electrolytes, so on and so forth.  That can be a big problem. 

So why gerbils instead of humans?  Well, the reason why is gerbils are cheaper.  They don‘t require the kind of support systems that humans do.  And it‘s a lot easier if you‘re going to do autopsies on them afterwards to take a look at the cell structure and stuff. 

OLBERMANN:  I see.  Is there also an inference here from what you just said that if we send men to Mars for these long distances, these long travels across space, they‘re going to have, to use the phrase, hold it in? 

PITTS:  No, they won‘t.  The conditions aboard any spacecraft would be able to handle that.  But there is a real question, though, of what other kind of serious conditions we‘d have to look at for such a long trip.  Remember, it‘s six to nine months out, six to nine months back.  And it‘s the longest mission that anyone‘s ever done.  It‘s two to three times the length of a typical International Space Station tour. 

So there are all kind of other dangers to be considered in this, not just how long they have to hold it, but radiation issues, issues about whether or not they have all the supplies at Mars once they get there to allow them to stay for a while, preparations for return, what to do in case of medical emergency and trauma, all those sorts of things. 

OLBERMANN:  And speaking of Mars and who is already there, our old friends rover and rover—actually the Mars rovers have individual names, Opportunity and Spirit.  It turns out they‘re still kicking.  We thought they might have died over the summer.  Opportunity went down into this huge crater, the Victoria Crater, a week ago.  Is this good news and why would it be good news that the machines have lasted far longer than we expected them to? 

PITTS:  It‘s good news because, of course, this gives us a sense of comfort with the kind of equipment we‘re using, the kinds of mechanisms we‘re using to rove around on Mars, as far as energy generation is concerned, the use of equipment in the environment.  This lets us know this kind of engineering will work if we have to use it once people get there.  The other cool thing about this, of course, is that if the rover can last for such a long time, we can send it down into the crater.  It can do examination down there for a very long time.  And if it turns out that the rover should kick while it‘s down there, you know, this is the place it should be—

I should say, if it turn out it can‘t get out again, this is a good place for it to be for the rest of its mission.  There‘s a lot of science in this crater.  And it‘s going to take us a while to examine it carefully. 

OLBERMANN:  Briefly, when they talk about civilization in terms of the Moon and Mars, are we talking about quickly trying to leap to colonizing it? 

PITTS:  Well, I would say, Keith, that it‘s not a bad idea to set up some sort of camp, because if you want to stay there for any period of time, if you want to do research there, you have to be there for more than a week.  And the idea of the short trip is not long enough. 

OLBERMANN:  Nine months there, one month back, one month there and nine months back, doesn‘t seem to add up. 

PITTS:  No, it‘s not the way to do it.  but if you want to stay longer, you have to stay almost three and a half years to do that. 

OLBERMANN:  I got it.  And bring gerbils.  Derrick Pitts, the chief astronomer with the Franklin Institute.  As always, sir, great thanks for explaining it for us. 

PITTS:  My pleasure, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,608th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.

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

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