updated 10/31/2007 12:09:59 PM ET 2007-10-31T16:09:59

Guests: Jeremy Scahill

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Good evening.  Who knew when he pushed the no-child-left behind act that President George W. Bush was really looking out for himself?  Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the president‘s petulance against Congress, against Democrats, against anybody else he sees thwarting his own id devolving last week‘s buffoonish door slamming to a level meriting the use of the word tantrum.  He has today accused his critics of wasting his time.  The president this morning after meeting exclusively with Republican Congressional leaders, one might say in a partisan manner to discuss the S-chip bill, the president slamming the Democratic leadership for its clearly warped priorities, trying to end the war in Iraq and investigating corruption in his administration.

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GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT:  The House of Representatives has wasted valuable time on a constant stream of investigations and the Senate has wasted valuable time on a endless series of failed votes to pull our troops out of Iraq.

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OLBERMANN:  Maybe that‘s because Democrats regained control of Congress on an antiwar mandate last year.  Many within the party believe the leadership is not doing enough to end that war.  Of course, logic is not something to expect from a chief executive who makes a habit in one sentence of blaming Democrats in Congress for how much they are doing and then in t next for how little he claims they are doing.

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BUSH:  They have not been able to send a single annual appropriations bill to my desk.  And that‘s the worst record for a Congress in 20 years.

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OLBERMANN:  Something the president had no problem with when the Republicans were in charge of the last session of Congress.  Mr. Bush also criticizing the Democrats for perceived injustices that haven‘t happened yet.

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BUSH:  Spending is skyrocketing under their leadership, at least proposed spending is skyrocketing under their leadership.

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OLBERMANN:  As opposed to the actual skyrocketing of spending that has happened under Mr. Bush‘s leadership.  Just 40 days in Iraq would be enough to fund S-chip, health care legislation for 10 million American children for an entire year.  S-chip, as it was intended, not a priority for this president.

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BUSH:  After going alone and going nowhere, Congress should, instead, work with the administration on a bill that puts poor children first.  We want a bill that enrolls the more than 500,000 poor children currently eligible for the program who are not a part of the program.

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OLBERMANN:  OK.  We are going to keep going over this, Mr.  President not until you or someone in your administration understands and that presumes the absence of an intent to mislead but for as long as you make it necessary to explain this again.  The health care costs of poor children in this country are already covered under Medicaid.  S-chip meets the needs of working middle class families with too much income to be eligible for Medicaid but too little to afford to buy their own health insurance.  There is a difference.  In addition to S-chip, Mr. Bush having problems with the potential Democratic bill that would bundle together three massive spending allocations for defense, veterans‘ affairs, and labor, education and health.

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BUSH:  It‘s hard to imagine a more cynical political strategy than trying to hold hostage funding for our troops in combat and our wounded warriors in order to extract $11 billion in additional social spending.  I hope media reports about such a strategy are wrong, I really do.

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OLBERMANN:  That‘s the president who implied that if Congress cut back at all from the three billion a week it costs to fund Iraq the money would come out of body armor and other safeguards for the troops.  And that‘s the president who will, as you heard, always revert to blaming the media if that still does not work, threaten a veto.

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BUSH:  If they‘re not, if the reports of this strategy are true, I will veto such a three-bill-pileup.

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OLBERMANN:  Mr. Bush hoping to avoid a so-called three-bill-pileup so that he can divide and conquer.

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BUSH:  Congress should pass each bill one at a time in a fiscally responsible manner that reflects agreement between the legislative branch and the executive branch.

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OLBERMANN:  By the way, you guys in the back, chime in any time you want to.  And by agreement, Mr. Bush means do it his way.  By fiscally responsible he means, spend $200 billion and no questions asked on just the coming year in Iraq.

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BUSH:   I know some on the Democratic side didn‘t agree with my decision to send troops in, but it seems like we ought to be able to agree that we are going to support our troops who are in harms way.

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OLBERMANN:  Of course there‘s always that option of supporting the troops by removing them from harms way by bringing them home and stop getting them killed on your watch, Mr. Bush.  This is normally the portion of the newscast where we call the Democrats response rather the lack of a proportional response into question.  Not so tonight.  Speaker of the House Pelosi at the end of a news conference this afternoon on toy safety, the pity include irony given the level of maturity the president exhibited this morning, giving as good as she got.

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REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  The poor president.  Poor president.  You would think the president of the United States would take some level of pride in the bipartisan accomplishments of this new direction Congress.  We—he signed the bills.  I don‘t know if he has forgotten.  He signed the bills to make America safer when we at long last under Democratic Congress passed a 9/11 Commission recommendations to make our country safer.  He signed the bill that included the first-time in 10 year increase in the minimum wage.  He signed the bill that made college more affordable to hundreds of thousands, millions more young people in our country.

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OLBERMANN:  And let‘s talk investigations.  Shall we, madam speaker?

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PELOSI:  The president says that the Congressional Oversight is a waste of time.  No, Mr. President, your Iraq conduct of the war has been a waste of money—a waste of money.  I know why you don‘t want Congressional Oversight, it‘s new to you.  You had a rubber-stamp Congress for so long and now, and now, with the Oversight, hundreds of billions of dollars waste, fraud, and abuse, no bid contracts, in fact, no performance contracts, they can‘t even tell you what happened to some of the money, it‘s not a waste of time.  We‘re tracking down, Mr. President, your waste of money.

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OLBERMANN:  And Speaker Pelosi wrapping up her remarks with a big “wow” finish.

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PELOSI:  As the president criticizes Congress, instead, he should take the time to work together in a bipartisan way, as we are doing in the Congress, to end the disastrous war in Iraq, to keep our promises to our veterans, and he should work with us to promote and to pass S-chip to provide health insurance to ten million American children.  So, I think the president‘s statement in many respects was a waste of time.

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OLBERMANN:  Our time never wasted when we call upon the analysis of Dana Milbank, national political reporter of the “Washington Post.” Dana, good evening.

DANA MILBANK, WASHINGTON POST:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Does the president really feel at this point that if he stomps his feet hard enough, maybe throws himself on the floor next time, he‘s going to get his way with Congress?  Or is there some sort of strategy at work here, maybe in another dimension of which the rest of us are unaware?

MILBANK:  Well, my sources are telling me that the first lady has told the president that one more outburst like that and he is being sent to bed without dinner.  But, there is actually a reason for what he is doing.  And it‘s not just screaming and yelling.  It‘s use of the bully pulpit here.  Certainly on the merits, it sounds a bit absurd, yes, that the spending bills haven‘t been passed and largely because the Republicans have block them from being passed.  Yes, investigations in Iraq were occurring but that‘s not what‘s slowing things down.  But the fact of the matter is the president is very much spoiling for a fight here, trying to pick a fight on these spending matters because he knows the truth of the matter and that is that the president invariably wins spending fights when they are—occur with Congress.  All we need to do is go look pack to the Newt Gingrich-Bill Clinton battles.

OLBERMANN:  The word bully though in that, as I remember it, Theodore Roosevelt used it in terms of bully as in hooray, positive, wonderful.  This is it seems to me from what you‘re interpreting it as to be the other meaning of bully, as bullying people around.  Is that what it has become here?

MILBANK:  That is another meaning of bullying.  Certainly this president has never been shy about bullying the Congress, and particularly the Democrats one way or the other.  But, again, I think we have to say that it is working to some extent.  My colleagues at the Post are reporting that the Democrats, far from the tough talk of Pelosi, are now actually talking about some sort of compromise on S-chip.  Some sort of compromise on wiretapping, possibly even some sort of a compromise on Iraq.  And that is, they realize the same thing that even if they have the upper hand in terms of the merits of the argument, the numbers for the Congress are going down and even if we have a 24 percent president, that still looks slightly better than the Congress does right now.

OLBERMANN:  And of course that Congress number is a collective and we‘ve always talked about this, that if you add up the individual support for individual members of Congress, it‘s phenomenally ahead of Congress as a group.  It‘s not a personal rejection.  Why are they not standing up in some sense with some confidence that individually they will retain the sort of support that the organization does not but that ultimately in terms of getting something done, approval numbers of an organization are irrelevant in this equation.

MILBANK:  That‘s true and it‘s also true that Democratic numbers are better than Republican numbers.  I think what the Democrats are realizing is they can take matters like the children‘s health care bill to the voters.  But what they don‘t want to do is get into some sort of a government shutdown case here.  It‘s basically creating a diversion for the president that will keep them off issues such as Iraq where Democrats are indisputably stronger.  So, I think it‘s more of a tactical decision that the Democrats are making to have some sort of compromise.

OLBERMANN:  And also concerning the administration and Congress and the endless battle today, this written response to questions from Senate Democrats that attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey refusing to say whether he believes wate rboarding is torture, dodging the question on the premise that water boarding is a hypothetical even though it was a crime during the second world war.  Even it was used in say as Senator Edwards pointed out the Spanish inquisition.  This one issue to judge Mukasey and the administration throw the sure thing, rubber stamp confirmation into actual jeopardy?

MILBANK:  It certainly seems that they have over the past week.  And the Mukasey‘s letter of anything may have helped a little bit shore up some of the support on the Republican side.  You can really see the tide has turned against him on the Democratic side, all the candidates, Clinton, Obama, Dodd are speaking very pessimistically about him right now.  Still hard to see why the Democrats would block him completely, simply because they just get another nominee and apparently the president has said he is going to make a stand on water boarding, is not going to let his nominees go the other way.

OLBERMANN:  Dana Milbank of MSNBC and the “Washington Post.” We are out of time, saving me from making a very unfortunate water boarding joke about the president‘s nominees.  Great thanks, Dana.

MILBANK:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  A year before the election and Rudy Giuliani is already publicly contending the Democrats are willing to invite Osama bin Laden to the White House to negotiate.  Sure they are, buster.  And what a coincidence, Blackwater U.S.A. in the tightest of spots.  After mercenary killings in Baghdad, many of the men involved have received at least partial immunity from the State Department, throwing investigations and prosecutions into chaos.  You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

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OLBERMANN:  When John Edwards identified Rudy Giuliani as Bush on steroids in August he was referring to the Republican pen ship for quote “Crony capitalism.”  But tonight, in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, madding evidence that the phrase might be far more appropriate for Mr.  Giuliani‘s foreign policy.  Giuliani telling a town hall crowd in London there, in New Hampshire, that the war in Iraq helps the U.S. in dealing with Iran and that Hillary Clinton and John Edwards will soon realize that President Bush‘s misadventures in Iraq have actually been a good thing.

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RUDY GIULIANI, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I think they are going to change their minds.  I think the verdict of history is going to be it was the right decision.  Suppose, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards‘ new position were their position back then, that it was a mistake to take them out.  Wouldn‘t we be dealing with Saddam Hussein becoming nuclear right now?  If Iran was becoming nuclear, what would he be doing?

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OLBERMANN:  And having lambasted his Democratic counterparts on Iraq, Giuliani proceeded to attack them for proposing diplomacy with Iran.

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GIULIANI:  It‘s not like this happy, romantic world in which, you know, we‘ll negotiate with this one and we‘ll negotiate with that one and there will be no pre-conditions and we‘ll invite Ahmadinejad to the White House and we‘ll invite Assad to the White House.  I mean, Hillary and Obama are kind of debating you know whether to invite them to the inauguration or the inaugural ball.

ArIanna Huffington, founder of huffingtonpost.com, author of “On Becoming Fearless,” Arianna, thanks for your time tonight.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Let me first talk to you about technique there.  He misrepresents the positions of Clinton and Edwards about Iran and he takes one leap away from engagement, suddenly—it‘s negotiation.  And all of a sudden it‘s no longer negotiation, now he‘s leap over to inviting terrorists to the White House.  The kind word for this rhetorical advice is hyperbole.  The least kind one is Giuliani is lying.  How does this continue to happen?

HUFFINGTON:  Well, he‘s lying and also every day he reveals more and more of himself.  And you can see that he really has the soul of a thug and the disposition of a tyrant.  It really proves the famous saying by Jimmy Brazlen (ph) when he said that Giuliani is a small man with the search for a balcony.  You can see that every day with what he says, there is no technique that implies some type of rationality.  This is pure savageness (ph), pure testosterone again and again.  And what is amazing to me, Keith, that there hasn‘t been any uproar.  If that was a Democrat saying that they—there would have been demand every for an apology that there would have been an emergency session of  Congress and resolution condemning such remarks.  Remember, after all John McCain said that Moveon should leave the country, should be thrown out of the country because they called General Petraeus - “General betray us.”  And here is Giuliani daring to insult his Democratic opponents by saying that they would invite Osama bin Laden to the White House?  That is really something which should not be accepted.

OLBERMANN:  The Petraeus thing looks like a high T compared to what Giuliani said.  But you can see through the haze on this and understand why Giuliani would think aligning himself with Bush about Iran or the so-called “War on Terror would help him in the campaign.  But I‘m missing something here when we are at a stage in polling where more Americans say they believe in ghost than believe President Bush is doing a good job about Iraq.  What is the upside of trying to marry himself to Bush about Iraq specifically?

HUFFINGTON:  You know, Keith, I think that Giuliani has believed his own myth that somehow being tough means being tough with the Iraqis - means being tough everywhere.  If as though he‘s writing that S on his chest and has the dust from the twin towers on his head and that‘s the myth is he portraying.  And with the small minority of Americans, the Republican base, it‘s working.  He‘s kind of channeling Rush Limbaugh, he‘s making the lunatic fringe mainstream.  And I am, again, I‘m going to blame the media for not challenging that kind of approach.

OLBERMANN:  I‘m doing what I can but apparently I‘m alone out here.

Listen, the “Washington Post” reported something that is of value in this sense that Mr. Giuliani is still working part time at a security consulting firm even though he had promised to leave it in April and that it continued to pay for his security until June.  Is he in trouble with Federal Election laws?

HUFFINGTON:  Well, he is in trouble with Federal Election laws but probably by the time they work their way through this sort of procedures of the Federal Election laws, who knows when it is going to catch up with him.  The question is he should be in trouble with the voters.  He should be in trouble, again, with the media because he lied.  He said he was going to leave the company.  He didn‘t leave the company.  And, in fact, he is now trying to say that he forgot or to defend himself in some way when there is really no defense.  He thinks he is above the law, above relations, really a law unto himself.

OLBERMANN:  Just a quick thought on this.  Has it reached a level yet where we should be considering examining whether or not this is compulsive lying that there is something endemic to him?  Or this specific purpose driven lies?

HUFFINGTON:  But that was driven I don‘t know, it‘s like if you look at what he said about his company.  What he said in his latest ad about socialized medicine.  And what he‘s saying about Iraq having the potential to have nuclear weapons, all these things, I mean, there is a pattern here which is really disturbing.

OLBERMANN:  Arianna Huffington, the founder and editor of Huffington post.com.  As always, great thanks you for coming in.

HUFFINGTON:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  When the number of debates and forums and con favs (ph) dwarfs the number of candidates still in the race.  The audio blur affect is now palpable.  What‘s different tonight in Philadelphia.  And, in sports, the New York Yankees have their new manager.  This isn‘t him of course.  I was juxtaposing a relevant headline with outlandish video to get your attention.  We‘ll explain what this is next on COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  Exactly 69 years ago this evening, in a studio about four and a half blocks from here—Orson Wells broadcast his mock news bullet field adaptation of the H.Q. Wells novel - “War of the Worlds.”  One of the enduring mistisfications retrospect provides about the widespread panic about the fictional coverage about the invasion by Mars is simply didn‘t those silly people realize it was Halloween?  But look at the calendar, it wasn‘t Halloween.  It was tonight, the night before Halloween.  No wonder they were scared.  Let‘s play “Oddball.”

We begin in London, England, site of this weekend‘s latest attempt to try to squeeze money for the NFL out of an international community that doesn‘t really want to be squeezed.  The New York giants beat the Miami Dolphins 13-10 in a sloppy and boring game.  But the Brits were gracious hosts nonetheless.  Just before the second half kickoff this is believes to be Mark Roberts a serial streaker who normally crashes rugby and soccer matches, brought his game to a whole new level.  Both teams watched as Roberts shook his money maker until the police finally even took notice and here come the bobbies.  Mr. Roberts was escorted off the field but he escaped prosecution after the winless Dolphins team signed him to play tight end.

In Cincinnati, thank you.  Another scofflaws (ph) spitting in the eye of the pooh-pooh.  This year, deer wandering into the downtown are of the Queen City wasn‘t going anywhere without a fight.  And there he goes.  The deer leaps past the fuzz.  See you.  Cops and the SPCA continued the chase, eventually tackling the four hoofed feign right here.  We‘re eating venison (ph)tonight.  No, no Bambi ending here, authorities hugged tight the little fellow, threw him into the patty wagon and released him into the wild.

Finally in Mexico City, where hundreds of women have gathered for the city‘s first ever high heel races.  Ladies wearing the not made for running footwear squaring off in several hundred meter dashes.  The champ receiving a shopping spree worth a hundred thousand pesos, this is a story that might have remained on the oddball cutting room floor had it not been for the high likelihood that someone would fall flat on her face.  Down goes Frazier.  Down goes Frazier.  She was fine.

The Blackwater mercenaries who killed 17 Iraqis have been granted some form of immunity by the State Department.  Boy, that‘s convenient. 

And after these new pictures in her new CD, whoever is doing damage control for Britney Spears probably needs immunity from the State Department.  These stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world. 

Number three, best bet to have a ruling reversed, Governor John Corzine of New Jersey announcing today that the day after Thanksgiving, which is 25 days from now, will no longer be a state holiday, thus depriving state employees who don‘t take a personal day of their only built-in four day holiday of their lives. 

Number two, best dumb criminal, this guy.  He walks into the Circuit City in Milford, Connecticut, takes a picture of himself with a digital camera on display at the place, then steals a digital camera, a different digital camera, apparently having forgotten that he had taken a picture of himself with the camera he didn‘t steal, that one. 

Number one, best revenge of the animal, James Harris‘ hunting dog. Mr.  Harris of Tama (ph), Iowa had just got one on opening day of pheasant season in Iowa, put a shotgun on the ground and had just started to climb over the fence to get the bird when shots rang out.  The next Mr. Harris knew, they were pulling 120 pellets out of his calf.  Investigators believe his dog accidentally stepped on the trigger of Mr. Harris‘ gun.  At least that‘s the dog‘s story. 

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OLBERMANN:  Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice‘s spokesman today denied that her department gave Blackwater mercenaries immunity from prosecution for their deadly shootings of 17 Iraqis last month.  Our number three story tonight, the spokesman did not deny yesterday‘s report from the Associated Press that after those killings State Department officials told the Blackwater gunmen their statements about the shootings would not be used as evidence against them, which would constitute a form of and an important form of immunity. 

Furthermore, the spokesman suggested that Secretary Rice‘s request for an FBI investigation shows that she believes the gunmen can be prosecuted for the killings which occurred in Baghdad on September 16th

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SEAN MCCORMACK, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN:  We would not have asked the FBI and the Department of Justice to get involved in a case that we did not think that they could potentially prosecute.  We can‘t immunize people here at the Department of State from federal prosecution.  And even with limited protections that we have talked about, that I have read about in the press, those limited protections do not preclude federal prosecution. 

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OLBERMANN:  Thus rendering some of Secretary Rice‘s statements of a week ago inoperative.  She suggested at that point prosecution might not be an option, echoing previous testimony by Blackwater‘s CEO Erik Prince.  He had told Congress that the laws governing U.S. contractors over seas apply only to those employed by or accompanying U.S. military.  In the Baghdad shooting, Blackwater gunmen were escorting diplomats. 

On top of that, a review panel Secretary Rice assembled after the shooting specifically told her earlier this month, quote, “the panel is unaware of any basis for holding non-Department of Defense contractors accountable under U.S. law.”

As for Iraqi law, Iraq‘s parliament is right now considering legislation that would let it prosecute mercenaries in the future.  It was a right denied to them by the original U.S.-led coalition, run by Paul Bremer, whose security was provided by Blackwater. 

Let‘s turn now to Jeremy Scahill, author of “Blackwater, the Rise of the World‘s Most Powerful Mercenary Army,” and contributor at “The Nation Magazine.”  Great thanks for coming in.

JEREMY SCAHILL, AUTHOR, “BLACKWATER”:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  So Blackwater is officially untouchable in Iraq and the

U.S.?

SCAHILL:  Well, it‘s sort of like a reverse Miranda right at play here.  If you or I killed 17 civilians, what would happen to us is we would be questioned.  But first, we would be told that we have the right to remain silent, we have the right to an attorney, and anything we say can and will be held against us in a court of law.  Blackwater is being told, here you are, you can sit down and talk with us, and nothing that you say can or will be used against you in a court of law. 

What this really does is it taints any ability on the part of the Justice Department or the FBI to conduct any kind of an integrity filled investigation in Baghdad. 

OLBERMANN:  Is it utterly a coincidence that the immunity to the degree that it—this is virtual immunity.  At least it‘s statement immunity.  Is it a coincidence that it happened. 

SCAHILL:  Keith, for four and a half years in Iraq, these private contractors, as they‘re called, like Blackwater USA, have operated in a lawless environment.  They‘ve not been held accountable at all.  None a single one of them has ave been prosecuted under any legal system whatsoever.  It‘s very unclear whether they can be prosecuted under U.S.  law. 

At every turn, the Bush administration and the State Department have done everything they could to immunize these guys from prosecution. 

OLBERMANN:  And this just came up, this whole idea, the concept, even the theoretical, just came to Secretary Rice‘s attention in the last couple of weeks? 

SCAHILL:  Let‘s remember here that for four and a half years these guys have engaged in this kind of conduct.  The Iraqi puppet regime has constantly complained to the U.S. government about the conduct of Blackwater and other contractors.  The reality is that Blackwater is doing exactly what the State Department wants it to do.  The reason why not a single U.S. official has been killed under Blackwater‘s protection is because they have this policy of spray and prey, as it‘s called. 

OLBERMANN:  What is this track record—we‘ve talked about him before, about Erik Prince, the CEO of Blackwater.  But specifically, what‘s his track record, in terms of accountability and openness. 

SCAHILL:  Well, when Erik Prince testified in front of the Congress, it was the first time he effectively appeared in public.  He has only, prior to that, done one interview, and that was with Bill O‘Reilly on Fox News right after 9/11.  He‘s consistently—His company has consistently refused to hand over documents to the Congress when Waxman, for instance, has requested them.  His idea of accountability is giving his men an option when they engage in misconduct, aisle seat or window seat. 

OLBERMANN:  What is his mind set regarding Iraq, in terms of politics or anything else that‘s relevant. 

SCAHILL:  Erik Prince has made about a billion dollars for his company off Iraq war.  He could have made a lot more.  This is a guy who is not just a businessman.  He‘s an ideological foot soldier for the administration.  He wants his forces to be in Iraq.  He supports the aggressive, offensive policies of the Bush administration.  He also has very close links to a number of radical right wing Christian organizations that could be defined as having a crusader agenda. 

It‘s very frightening that this is the force that the administration has chosen to deploy armed and dangerous in a Muslim country. 

OLBERMANN:  So, when you or I might have read Joseph Heller‘s “Catch 22,” and came across the character of Milo Minder Bender (ph), who eventually privatizes the entire Army, the entire Second World War, from the position of supply sergeant, takes over the world, and makes a profit off of everything.  We read it with horror, sarcasm and surprise.  This an read it as a how to manual. 

SCAHILL:  Well, he envisions Blackwater as the Federal Express of the national security apparatus.  He says he wants to do for the military what Fed Ex did for the Post Office. 

OLBERMANN:  Wow, Jeremy Scahill, the author of “Blackwater, the Rise of the World‘s Most Powerful Mercenary Army,” once again, thank you for your insight.  I wish we had tapped into it a lot sooner than we have.  Thank you.

SCAHILL:  Thanks, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  The ruling is on from a court on the custody of Britney Spears‘ kids.  But who gets custody of her after bizarre new photos of her and a priest in her new C.D.?  And the worst persons derby.  He is back, explaining why he can bring pain to families of 9/11 victims, even threaten them.  But if he thinks somebody has else has brought them pain, he has a right to stalk that other person.  That‘s next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  And breaking news of sorts to begin our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment stuff; the judge‘s decision about Britney Spears‘ kids, presumably made without consideration of the newest publicity photos of her appearing to seduce a priest.  TMZ.com reporting she did not today regain custody of her two young sons from their father, Kevin Federline, but the relevant authority, Los Angeles County Commissioner Scott Gordon, Commissioner Gordon, did grant her three monitored visits per week, one of them an overnight visit, as long as a parenting coach is present. 

The commissioner noting the report from the coach, who says Spears loves her children.  They are bonding to her, but she rarely talks or plays with them, putting what she wants to do ahead of what‘s fun for the kids, according to TMZ. 

Meanwhile, mixed reviews for her album, but not from these pictures from the CD liner notes.  She has a crucifix.  The guy appears to be a priest, albeit a priest with a 450 dollar hair cut.  The claim is this is homage to Madonna.  Well, at least everybody is wearing pants. 

The path to Joe Torre‘s next job just became clear with the resignation tonight of the manger of the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Grady Little stepped down this evening with one year remaining on his contract.  The Dodgers owner, Frank McCourt (ph), had said on the final day of the season that Little would be back.  Enter Torre. 

There have been reports that he began talking with the Dodgers in the wake of his having turned down a one-year insecurity guaranteed offer to stay with the New York Yankees.  The Dodgers‘ general manager, Ned Coletti (ph), would not confirm those discussion.  And Little says he is leaving the Dodgers for, quote, my own personal reasons.  Little‘s last job managing the Boston Red Sox ended in 2003 when he lost the American League Championship Series to the Yankees, managed by Joe Torre. 

Late news tonight from Los Angeles on the silencing of a distinctive voice in show business.  Robert Goulet‘s baritone become synonymous with Broadway after he made his debut as Sir Lancelot in the 1960 production of “Camelot.”  Robert Goulet has died in Los Angeles.  He was awaiting a lung transplant.  During his career, he won a Tony and several Grammy Awards, and appeared in numerous movies and television specials.  Robert Goulet, who took ill very suddenly, was 73 years old. 

By the most generous of definitions, tonight the 14th Democratic presidential debate, forum, confab or mash-up.  Lincoln and Douglas would have fled the country by now.  That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s Worst Persons in the World. 

The bronze to Nancy Nord, acting chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission, urging Congress to vote against legislation that would alter her department, because in the wake of the poisonous Chinese toy scandal and other product safety disasters, this bill would do terrible things to the CPSC, like doubling its budget, increasing its staff, facilitating public reporting of faulty products, protecting industry whistle blowers and prosecuting corporate executives when justified. 

The chair woman opposes all this.  For, why, you ask?  This biographical note.  Miss Nord comes to the Bush administration from Eastman Kodak, where she was a corporate lawyer in charge of corporate CYA. 

The silver to the elder statesman of the far right lunatic fringe, Giuliani advisor Norman Padhoretz, explaining that anybody who expresses the opinion that we should not bomb Iran is, quote, guilty of an irresponsible complacency that I think is comparable to the denial in the early 1930s of intentions of Hitler. 

First, enough with the Hitler.  Second, Rumsfeld already used this one last year about Iraq.  If you can‘t come up with something convincing or true, at least come up with something new.  Third, it was Mr. Padhoretz who blasted Ronald Reagan for talking to Mikhail Gorbachev in the 1980‘s, because, of course, that was irresponsible complacency and appeasement. 

But our winner, Bill-O, who has gradually moved from ambushing people who won‘t appear on his heavily edited show to stalking them and now to terrorizing them.  He sent one of his minions to interview Rosie O‘Donnell as she autographed books at a book store.  For the most part, she slam dunked the poor kid.  He says this is for Bill O‘Reilly.  And she looks up into the camera and says oh my god.  Is that what you do?  You go around to book signings? 

But inside Bill-O‘s unintentional hilarity, there‘s always a little fascism, a little “1984.”  He actually said, on the air, he wanted Ms.  O‘Donnell to appear with him, because, quote, he wanted to tell the woman that this kind of propaganda is hurtful to those who have lost loved ones on 9/11. 

This from the man—and I use that term loosely—who interviewed Jeremy Glick (ph), who lost his father on 9/11, and who told Mr. Glick to shut up, who ordered Mr. Glick‘s microphone cut, who later said of Mr.  Glick, if I could have whacked him, I would have, and who lost such control of himself that his own producers were terrified the police might have to be called to arrest Mr. O‘Reilly.  Oh, by the way, instead of thinking I don‘t want to promote Jeremy Glick‘s viewpoint and I don‘t want to do anything hurtful to those who have lost love ones on 9/11, he put that interview on television anyway. 

Bill O‘Reilly, the nation‘s leading distributor of hypocrisy, today‘s Worst Person in the World.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  To our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, just minutes from now until the Democratic presidential debate from Drexel University in Philadelphia here on MSNBC, which will be moderated by our own Brian Williams, who will be joined by Tim Russert of NBC News.  This will be the seventh Democratic gathering of this season, to use the term debate.  There have been six others.  it Comes in the wake of a day of rare unison among the top tier Democrats in opposing the confirmation of the attorney general nominee Judge Michael Mukasey, two days after a second tier candidate had done the same. 

Senator Clinton, Senator Obama, former Senator Edwards issuing substantively identical statements today that Judge Mukasey‘s nomination should be rejected because he has refused to say that water-boarding constitutes torture, and because, in his expansive view of executive power, the president could disregard a federal law in the name of national security. 

Two days ago, Senator Dodd of Connecticut became the first senator among the Democratic presidential candidates to oppose Judge Mukasey‘s nomination. 

Let‘s turn to the host of “HARDBALL,” my colleague Chris Matthews in old stomping grounds in Philadelphia.  Chris, good evening. 

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Hi, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  The further we get into this process, are we more likely to get real, definable, tangible answers, or less likely to, because I‘m thinking of the blow back from the Democratic base about Iraq.  There seems to be pretty widespread dissatisfaction this week among Democrats that many of the candidates are not being specific enough, committed enough, quick enough about getting us out of there. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the base, if you want to call it that, are right. 

The Democrats won control of the House of Representatives and the U.S.  Senate last November, a year ago, by putting out the promise that they would change our policy, that they would do everything they could to change our policy.  I have heard very little from them.  They have tried a couple of times and have fallen back into their usual establishment position. 

I sometimes think that the Democratic party is like the Democratic party was back during the Vietnam era.  They don‘t want to risk it. 

OLBERMANN:  Regarding the strategy tonight and this week almost, or half week, about Senator Obama—the good news and the bad news for the senator from Illinois, there has now been at least three days, maybe four days of talk about his promise to take on Senator Clinton more aggressively, politically, strategically in the debate format.  The question I guess tonight is, when does he actually do it? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it seems like tonight is the night for him, only because of the calendar, and also because of that other number, the poll data.  He has fallen down to where Jesse Jackson was this time in the race for president in 1988.  He is now an also ran.  He is a minority candidate in a number of ways.  He is not really a contender anymore.  He has to get in the ring tonight.  If he doesn‘t, he will stay where he is right now, dropping in the teens. 

And that‘s not serious business.  It is a waste of the millions and millions of dollars he has been given by people who hoped that he would bring an alternative to the current policy in the Middle East. 

OLBERMANN:  And, Chris, he has said now that he is reluctant to—this is the quote, kneecap the front runner.  He is more interested in what he says is pointing out that Senator Clinton has concealed her views.  But if he is looking to create sharp distinctions of policy, where does he go besides Iraq and Iran?  Is that enough and are—is it possible for anyone to jump out of the pack in any political climate we can imagine without at least tapping the knee of the front runner? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, I think he is setting up a straw man about knee capping.  That‘s what Howard Wolfson does to him every day.  They knee cap him.  He wants to know what knee capping is.  They say things that you say.  For example, you think we have to ultimately negotiate with the president of Iran.  He will say—Howard Wolfson will come out from the Hillary camp and says, oh he wants to a Holocaust denier; I get it.  That‘s what they are accusing this guy of, basically being anti-semitic.  I know that game. 

He has got to be ready for tough times in this campaign.  The Hillary campaign is not going to salute him if he comes out and gets tough with her.  They are going to try to do everything they can to use the media, to use his own standards, anything to shut him up.  What he has to do is say, look, I know where Hillary Clinton stands on the war in Iraq.  She voted to authorize it.  I know where she stands on Iran.  She has voted along with Lieberman and Kyl, two of the big hawks in the Senate, to authorize the targeting of Iran.  I know what she is up to.  She is leaning to the right.  She is leaning toward war again. 

It‘s not like trying to smoke her out.  She is where she is.  I think he ought to take on her votes.  But, for some reason, he is hesitant to challenge her on the central issue that we have discovered in our polling tonight, Iraq and Iran.  He doesn‘t want to take her on the issues that the public themselves, the Democrats want him to attack her on.  He doesn‘t seem to want to do it.  We can‘t make him do it. 

OLBERMANN:  One other style question.  Our friend Howard Fineman writing today that Obama‘s media advisor had been watching old debate footage from another candidate who happened to be 46 campaigning for the presidency, as Obama is 46 now, the former President Bill Clinton.  If he were to pull a Bill Clinton in tonight‘s debate, what might that look like?  What might that mean? 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, god.  Well, he would pander, of course, the way Clinton did.  I‘m not sure that‘s going to help him.  He would pander.  Maybe it‘s a time to pander to the Democratic base and say, I know that Hillary Clinton says that she is on a listening tour.  Why doesn‘t she listen to the Democratic party, because four fifths of the Democratic party are doves.  They think the war in Iraq is a mistake.  They want us to get out of there.  They are fearful that the U.S. Senate is going along with another war in Iran.  They are against it.

So Hillary, you are on a listening tour, listen.  That‘s what I would do.  Now, maybe that‘s a little tough, but it would be very hard for Hillary to deny the fact that she is adverse in her position to most Democratic voters who think this war is a catastrophe.  And we are getting -- the more we struggle, the deeper we get in the sand of Iraq.  The longer we stay, the worse off that policy is getting. 

She is not willing to—I‘m sorry—he is not willing to take her on and challenge her to that direction.  What can I say?  He doesn‘t want to do it. 

OLBERMANN:  Would you analogize—if you were in his position, would you analogize her to Richard Nixon‘s secret plan in 1968? 

MATTHEWS:  The trouble with 1968 was—we have had great elections in our lifetime, Keith, elections that have changed history.  You may not have been around and I wasn‘t, but 1932 was a great election, 52; 80 was a great election.  It changed America.  This election has to change America.  If she doesn‘t want to change, she shouldn‘t get elected.  That‘s what he should say. 

OLBERMANN:  Chris, thanks.  Chris will be back at 11:00 Eastern for the post-game analysis.  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this 1,644th 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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