updated 11/13/2007 12:21:17 PM ET 2007-11-13T17:21:17

Guests: Dana Milbank, Malcolm Nance, Argus Hamilton, Chris Cillizza

ALISON STEWART, HOST:  Good evening, everybody.  I‘m Alison Stewart.  Keith Olbermann has the night off.  The writers strike isn‘t affecting the White House but you might not know it to look at the fight going on behind the scenes over Iran‘s nuclear program because the Bush administration seems to be running repeats.  Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: New charges that the administration is picking, choosing, and redacting intelligence now, the same way as thought it have done so in the run up of the war with Iraq.  And down in Crawford, Texas, President Bush is rolling out the welcome mat tonight for German Chancellor Angela Merkel.  Their talks are likely to center on Iran‘s nuclear ambitions not back rub. 

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the president hosted French President Nicholas Sarkozy in Washington.  One week, two European allies with seats on the U.N. Security Council, coincidence?  Meanwhile, the inter-press service reports that for a year, Vice President Dick Cheney has held up publication of the national intelligence estimate on Iran, pressuring intelligence officials to rewrite the document.  Apparently, unhappy there were dissenting views expressed about the threat posed by Iran‘s nuclear ambitions.  Cheney‘s unhappiness apparently, a major factor in the replacement of John Negroponte as director of National Intelligence earlier this year. 

Ambassador Negroponte told the press in April 2006 that the intelligence community believed it would still be, quote, “A number of years off before Iran would be likely to make a nuclear weapon,” quote, “Perhaps into the next decade”.  As for Negroponte‘s replacement, who was approached by the job by Cheney just last week, after Mike McConnell announced that the NIE on Iran would finally be released but its key findings would not be made public.  Let‘s bring in our own Dana Milbank, national political reporter for the “Washington Post.”  Good to see you, Dana.

DANA MILBANK, WASHINGTON POST:  Hi, Alison.

STEWART:  It‘s been common practice for the Bush administration to release the key judgments of the NIE about Iraq even when the information hasn‘t been very favorable for the White House.  Then last week, we learned that the administration will not be releasing certain info from the NIA about Iran.  Has the White House provided any explanation as to why?

MILBANK:  Well, Alison, I‘ve - there‘s an excellent explanation that‘s very convincing but I‘m afraid it‘s classified.  So, I won‘t be able to tell you about it just this evening but what I can tell you is Mike McConnell, the new director of National Intelligence made the argument that this would compromise the CIA analysts, unvarnished opinions that could embarrass allies.  All of this is plausible but the inescapable conclusion a lot of people will draw is that this four-year practice of releasing the key findings has stopped because the key findings are not supporting where the administration is on Iran.

STEWART:  All right, though.  If somebody wrote down the information about Iran‘s nuclear program, it exists out there and someone somewhere has it, any thoughts on possible leakage?  Might we still learn what‘s in the NIE, one way or another?

MILBANK:  You can be sure it‘s already sort of seeping through the ceiling.  You can see the drips beginning to form there.  Presumably, it will come out to some extent to.  But to a large extent this isn‘t a surprise it already has two years, ago we had NIE on Iran that said we are a decade away from nuclear weapons.  They weren‘t even sure that Iran was trying to make nuclear weapons.  We also will have the U.N.‘s IAEA coming out on Iran and it‘s nuclear ambitions this week.  And if Iraq is any guide, the IAEA has been somewhat more accurate than the NIE, anyway.

STEWART:  More than one writer, blogger even editorial pages noted that there seems to be a deja vu feel to all of these.  The “Dallas Morning News” writing about a recent speech by Vice President Dick Cheney, he characterized diplomatic efforts to head off the 2003 invasion of Iraq as sincere and exhaustive though ultimately a failure.  Now, that was the description of the diplomacy leading up to Iraq, is the White House using its Iraq play book in escalating a potential conflicts with Iran?

MILBANK:  Well, it may be.  And certainly, Cheney was the leading figure at this early stage before the Iraq war.  But, what you have to remember is the rest of the country has already seen this playbook.  So, its effect is somewhat limited.  The Democrats are going to put up far more resistance this time.  The public is less likely to accept these lines and to say nothing of the—of European and other allies.  So, the same process may be taken but the result may be entirely different.

STEWART:  Why not follow the mild diplomacy in North Korea, dial back on the fighting words, abandon preconditions but maintain a strong stance.

MILBANK:  Well, North Korea already has the nukes.  So, we have to be a bit nicer to them.  But as a matter of sort of logic, it is correct that we are taking a more aggressive stance against the lesser threat.

STEWART:  We‘re less than two months away from the start of the 2008 primary season.  Will the campaign help the administration build its case against Iran?  Could the nation be distracted by the selection of the next president?

MILBANK:  I don‘t think the nation will be distracted.  I think there is, if anything, there is a possibility the campaign could become more about Iran, the way in 2002 it was about Congress authorizing force in Iraq, the way the Homeland Security Bill was so prominent in 2002 than in 2004.  You could see this becoming something of a referendum on Iran, if that‘s a gamble that the administration and the Republicans choose to take.

STEWART:  Dana Milbank of MSNBC and the “Washington Post.”  Always great to see you, Dana.

MILBANK:  Thanks, Alison.

STEWART:  There‘s a new man in charge of the Justice Department tonight.  Michael Mukasey was sworn in as attorney general at a private ceremony this afternoon.  The Senate putting in some long hours to confirm him last night, six Democrats switching sides to support him in a 53 to 40 vote.  One of the six senators, Dianne Feinstein of California saying, quote: “Once he has the opportunity to do the evaluation he believes he needs on waterboarding, he will be willing to come before the Judiciary Committee and express his view comprehensively and definitely.”  And will that evaluation involve stuffing wet rags in his mouth, pouring water over while his whole head and body is pushed back in a bucket of water all while being tied up?  At the hearing yesterday, a former interrogation instructor for the Navy told lawmakers that the attorney general would not, -- that waterboarding is torture.  Who better to address the waterboarding than man whose job it was to teach sailors and marines how to survive the technique should it be used against them as prisoners of war or terrorist hostages.  Malcolm Nance telling a House Constitutional Subcommittee that contrary to popular opinion, waterboarding is not simulated drowning, it is actual drowning.

(BEGIN VIDE CLIP)

MALCOLM NANCE, FORMER NAVY INTERROGATION INSTRUCTOR:  That waterboarding is misnamed.  It should not be called waterboarding.  That‘s just the device that we use and torturers have used throughout history.  It should be called the drowning torture.  It has been called the drowning torture in the past.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  And Malcolm Nance is kind enough to join us tonight. 

Thank you for your time, sir.

NANCE:  My pleasure to be here.

STEWART:  Now, the Associated Press described waterboarding in its story about Mukasey confirmation today as I‘m going to read this quote, “Interrogation tactic designed to make the subject think he is drowning.”  What‘s your reaction to that description?

NANCE:  Again, as I said during my testimony, that‘s completely disingenuous to a certain extent.  The person is not thinking that they‘re drowning.  Large quantities of water are entering them.  The water can and does get into the lungs.  And again, it does degrade the respiratory process.  And if left to its own devices it will result to respiratory arrest and could result in death.  So, the person doesn‘t think he‘s drowning.  He‘s actually going through a process that‘s not completely under water.

STEWART:  Yes, though.  The video that we‘re looking at, I actually interviewed this reporter who‘s having this done to me was actually in the armed forces.  I talked to him earlier this week and he described this whole scenario, this waterboarding as feeling you are shackled to the bottom of a pool and having a hot coal on his chest.  And he knew that he was going to get out of this OK, that was actual physical pain as well as shear panic, does that sound familiar to you?

NANCE:  It‘s very familiar to me.  And Kuss Larson should know.  He‘s a former SEAL.  He had gone through waterboarding before and when he went through this particular recreation of the experiment, he has a very good ability to resist.  And most people don‘t have the ability to really fight.  He‘s in great physical condition.  He knew what was coming.  And he wasn‘t strapped down very hard.  But he felt all the physiological feelings of what happens when you are drowning.

STEWART:  Now, part of your job with the Navy, as I understand it, was to train soldiers and marines on how to withstand waterboarding and other interrogation methods should they ever be taken captive.  Has the U.S, policy on waterboarding made it more likely American prisoners of war could be subjected to torture?

NANCE:  Well, not only waterboarding, the U.S. policy on torture, however that‘s being defined today, puts us at much greater risk.  What we have here now, if we actually authorize expensive use of enhanced interrogation techniques and granted we don‘t know exactly what those are and we‘ve got a pretty good idea but if they authorize waterboarding as one of those techniques then they have essentially authorized the use of torture as it is recognized around the world.  And it would be an international legal standard now for people to use this technique because it is not going to be a torture which means that we will be at much greater risk of having this used in the most, least significant of circumstances.  So our service members and U.S. citizens and intelligence officers overseas will now be subjected to all sorts of techniques that wouldn‘t have been condoned in any situation before.

STEWART:  Mr. Nance is there any way to prepare for something like waterboarding?  Is being exposed to it once going to help you if the enemy should have happen to do it to you again?

NANCE:  Well, this is what we called stress inoculation.  And this is a good purpose for the use of this.  Students who go through this process, they are very well aware that they are not going to—they are not going to die.  They are going to go home and right after that.  But what it does is show you the level of discomfort.  And it‘s done for a very, very short period of time.  Now, for someone who does not know that this is what‘s happening to them and it‘s being used as a coercive interrogation tool in order to break their ability to resist, break their spirit that clearly falls under the definition of torture in any definition.

STEWART:  Malcolm Nance, former Navy instructor of prisoner of war and terrorist hostage survival program.  Thank you so much for your time tonight, sir.

NANCE:  It‘s my pleasure to be here.

STEWART:  A man who was once sent to the big leagues, a candidate for director of Homeland Security, now, Bernie Kerik stands formally accused of lying on his application for that job as well as mail fraud, tax evasion, conspiracy.  And as bad as his buddy‘s indictment might be for chances of winning the White House, at least Rudy Giuliani has the unexpected boon of being spared to Letterman‘s monologue and John Stewart‘s sharp wit—a look at the impact of reruns on 2008.  You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Bernie and Rudy BFFs no more.  It‘s not politically-wise considering the accusations against Rudolf Giuliani‘s former police commissioner today came not just from his political rivals but also from a grand jury.  On our fourth story, Bernard Kerik pleaded not guilty today to conspiracy, wire fraud, mail fraud, evading taxes on half a million dollars, lying to the IRS, lying on a loan application and on his application to become, drum roll, please, Homeland Security Chief.  Giuliani today would not say whether, if in the position to do so, he would pardon Bernard Kerik saying the man had not been convicted, neglecting Kerik‘s guilty plea last year of state charges of accepting gifts worth $165,000 from a company with suspected mob ties.  Giuliani says that he should be judged on his entire record as mayor.  A record that includes appointments like making his driver, Bernie Kerik the city‘s Corrections Commissioner and Russell Harding, the housing development president later convicted for embezzling $400,000 from the city for his child porn collection.  And Richard Roberts, city‘s Health and Hospitals chairman later convicted of lying to protect Harding.  Giuliani has not asked to be judged on his campaign appointments such as regional chair Senator David Vitter, who‘s phone number appeared in D.C. madams records.  Robert Usher, leading his Pennsylvania campaign despite his criminal record.  South Carolina ex-chairman Thomas Ravenel is now facing cocaine charges.  Or his replacement Arthur Ravenel known for their calling lateness black time and NAACP, the national association for retarded people which, obviously, would be NARP.  That guy is a charmer.  Let‘s find out whether his past friendship will affect the future of the campaign.  We‘re going to bring in Chris Cillizza, political reporter for the Washingtonpost.com.

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM:  Hey, Alison.

STEWART:  OK, out of that list of people there is Kerik the big problem or he just sort of unplugged the flow of potential problems?

CILLIZZA:  Well, I think it may be the latter, actually.  I think he may be sort of the gate way into a lot of these other things.  Look, Bernie Kerik and Rudy Giuliani were tied at the hip.  That‘s no secret.  Rudy Giuliani was sort of his patron.  As you mentioned, he brought him up through the ranks.  And the problem for Giuliani is that he has made his time as mayor and his work in September 11 and its aftermath, the centerpiece of his campaign.  He basically says, look at the results I got in New York, I can do that for the nation.  Any time something comes up and the Kerik problems are an example of these, that calls into question that time as an unalloyed (ph) good time for Rudy Giuliani.  That‘s bad news for his campaign because remember, it‘s right at the center of his campaign.

STEWART:  Now, we don‘t actually have time to get into every ethical quandary.  We only have 40 minutes left in the show.  But Senator John McCain today, suggested Giuliani should not have recommended Kerik because of how poorly Kerik did training Iraqis.  Now, of all the many choices of this stuff about Kerik and about whether he has done all these things he has been accused of doing or whether or not he did a good job in Iraq?  What do you think is going to have the most stickiness to it?

CILLIZZA:  Well, you know, I think it‘s the broader picture, Alison.  I think cronyism is something that the American people do not like.  It‘s one of the things that‘s been indicative of this administration, friends rising up in the ranks who aren‘t necessarily qualified to be doing their jobs.  I think people are sick of that.  And I think the problem for Giuliani is if it looks like as McCain is insinuating here, Bernie Kerik who had no qualifications to be over in Iraq leading the training of soldiers, if it looks like he got that solely because he and Giuliani are friends, it raises a really troubling question for Giuliani that he‘s got to have to answer which is do you judge who deserves things on merit or do you judge them on who your friends with and who you like?  Remember, in a president we don‘t want someone who is simply tapping their friends for jobs.  We want someone who is picking the best people available for the job.  It‘s a real legacy of the Bush administration that Rudy Giuliani is going to really want to avoid if he wants to win the nomination and win the White House.

STEWART:  Let‘s talk about a possible subtext here about the Kerik‘s criticism.  The other candidates want people thinking Giuliani is a creator of a clubby one hand washes the other, city slicker New Yorker behavior.

CILLIZZA:  I mean, look, when the campaign started I thought - and I‘m from Connecticut.  I thought there is no way that people in Iowa are going to warm up to Rudy Giuliani.  He is a New Yorker in the most New Yorker sense of the word and proud of it.  He has proven me wrong on a number of occasions.  And he is playing relatively well in Iowa, he‘s playing well in New Hampshire, he‘s doing well in South Carolina where, frankly, I thought that religious voters, that strong Christian Conservative base would have nothing to do with him because of his abortion stance, of his gay rights stance.  He has surprised us on more than one occasion.  I do not underestimate him and his ability to appeal to people and I think frankly, Allison, it is based on the fact that people think that Rudy Giuliani is comfortable in his own skin.  He makes people think that he is authentic that you may not agree with him but he believes the stuff in his core.  People like that in politicians.  They don‘t want to be just told what a politician thinks they want to hear.

STEWART:  All right.  Chris Cillizza, author of the Fix on the WASHINGTONPOST.com.  Thanks for your time, have a great weekend.

CILLIZZA:  You too, Alison.  Thank you.

STEWART:  She‘s being accused of being too 60s, of being cheapened, even being a cat killer.  Plenty of fodder for late night comedians, if a writer‘s strike hadn‘t forced them off the air.  How the writers union could actually help Hillary Clinton.  And flashback to 1988 on a classic cocktail.  Just remember Doug‘s advice to Brian, when you see the color of their panties, you know you‘ve got talent.  Who‘s championships ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Huge birthday announcements leading into our nightly goofy news segment.  On this date in 1935, Derell Norman Olbert Whitney Hitchard (ph) was born.  Also on this date in 1935, Pat Robert Bob Gibson was born.  Both world champion, St. Louis Cardinals.  Why is the manager Bob Gibson is Hall of Fame pitcher while I don‘t give a real good old fashion about that, my husband does.  See maybe now that I have plugged his beloved Red Birds he‘ll share the remote when I get home tonight.  Go cards.  Let‘s play Oddball.

I don‘t know what that meant.  We begin in Macau, China, site of the Asian bartender championships.  Each contestant juggling, jiggling and shaking their money maker just before pouring the perfect drink.  Estella in the old school spiderman costume took top honors.  Hey, 21-year-old who can‘t serve legal in the U.S. competing in the junior circuit but legally exhibited the best mastery of cocktail laws from cocktail, never show surprise.  Never loses your cool.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I practice every day.  Every day after going to school I return home and practice.  I practice a maximum of eight hours a day.

STEWART:  He definitely lost his cool at one point.

To Tokyo, Japan, where it‘s not the hard stuff but the soft drinks making the news.  And this woman has come up with the perfect way to escape dangerous muggers on the street.  It‘s a skirt that doubles as the coke machine.  Here‘s the drill at first sign of danger the potential victim runs to a building or a street corner, next she flipped out the extra fabric with coke machine printed on it and yanks it over her head and here‘s where the magic comes in, the camouflage blends into the urban landscape and the mugger continues on.  Unless he‘s thirsty, and she ‘s got a big issue.

And finally, to the mean streets of Louisville, Kentucky newly released dash cam footage shows fifty-year old Paul Strump (ph) arrested for loitering with the intent of prostitution.  He was all doled up dressed in black leather, fishnet stockings, wearing fake plastic boobs.  Still it‘s on arrest that would have snuck under the obligator (ph), it‘s the leather clad plastic wrestler and guy who‘s also this guy Doctor Paul Strump, principal of Bethlehem Catholic high school what the Hail Mary?  The not so good doctor, let‘s say even naughty doctor has taken a personal leave of absence.

I bet he‘s counting his lucky stars but thanks to the writers strike.  Late night shows can‘t make any hay out of that getup.  They help the only one. The strike is helping presidential candidates, too.  In a grotesque site at a beach of white sand of made up of this (INAUDIBLE) plastic watched up on the shore.  A disturbing look at the state of our oceans ahead.

But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world.  Number three, best commitment to one‘s profession.  An unnamed sixty-year-old German man in court facing charges for streaking at a girl‘s soccer match showed off exhibit A when he took off clothes and paraded on the courts.  Stalkers. The man said he views himself as a work of art even though his defense was resting if you catch my drift.

Number two, the best filled lead filled product of the week.  Arizona health officials have issued a warning to people who bought the high end brand poker chips because they may contain high levels of lead.  Their worried casino dealers and their families may be at risk.  Out of an abundance of caution, they would like everybody to cash in, or you can send them over to your friends at COUNTDOWN, and we will brick them back for you.  No charge. 

Number one, best use of terror to promote savings.  Toy manufacturer Tome (ph) is producing a line of banks that go on sale in Japan next week.  The banks are designed to look like a cartoon bomb, the Wiley Coyote kind.  If you don‘t insert money and save cash frequently enough, the bank begins to shake and explodes.  The company says users must pick up and collect the scattered coins and reflect on their laziness.  Save for retirement and/or the piggy bank gets it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Welcome back.  I‘m Alison Stewart.  Keith will be back Monday.  Continuing‘s NBC Green is Universal week, in our third story on the COUNTDOWN, in a moment the looming environmental catastrophe at the North Pole.  But first, the effect we are having on our oceans, beginning with the biggest oil spill on the California coast since 198l 58,000 gallons of oil spilled out of a South Korean-bound container ship when it hit the San Francisco/Oakland bridge on Wednesday.  It was far more than initially thought. 

Now, dozens of oil coated birds are washing up on the beaches and wildlife officials fear that fish and seal populations could be likewise affected.  Scientists estimate it could take years to clean up.  This latest disaster though pales in comparison to what exists thousands of miles west of California, out in the Pacific Ocean.  A vast whirlpool of plastic, thrown into the ocean by us. 

As our correspondent Kerry Sanders reports, it may be too late to do anything about it? 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KERRY SANDERS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Scientists in the middle of the ocean collecting samples of the so-called Pacific garbage patch. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We are going to continue on this. 

SANDERS:  An area twice the size of Texas has become a toilet bowl of plastics.  A vortex of ocean current swirling from California to Hawaii that permanently trapped just about any piece of plastic ever thrown in the water.  Some of the plastic is lodged in sea life.  Turtles are among the many ocean animals that often choke and die when they eat those jelly fish. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Wow, what a kaleidoscope. 

SANDERS:  Plastics designed to last forever, unfortunately lasting forever. 

CHARLES MOORE, RESEARCHER:  Plastic now outweighs the plankton in the surface waters of the Pacific. 

SANDERS:  In some spots, 48 times more plastic than plankton, says researcher Charles Moore. 

MOORE:  If you are a fish or a bird trying to determine what to eat, you have a better chance of selecting something made out of plastic than you do real food. 

SANDERS:  The ugliest example of that plastic garbage? 

MOORE:  We are now looking at millions and millions of particles of plastic. 

SANDERS:  On the big island of Hawaii. 

MOORE:  This is a sand dune made of plastic. 

SANDERS:  A beach you won‘t find in any tourist brochure. 

MOORE:  This plastic sand is coming from all around the Pacific rim, swirling into a vortex which eventually brings it to these shores. 

MOORE:  The plastic industry blames the problem mostly on human behavior. 

SHARON KNEISS, PLASTICS INDUSTRY SPOKESPERSON:  Plastics should not be in the ocean.  They belong in the recycling bin. 

SANDERS:  Thousands of miles away on the U.S. East Coast. 

STEVE EVERETT, CURRENTPROBLEMS.ORG:  Every piece of plastic we have ever made it still on the planet.  It never goes away. 

MOORE:  Where a tiny fraction of the Pacific garbage begins. 

EVERETT:  You never know what you will find. 

SANDERS (on camera):  The oceans are connected, of course, to inland waterways.  This should be a pristine river in Florida.  Instead, it‘s disgusting.  The big surprise, what‘s down below. 

(voice-over):  Just this year, volunteers have fished out almost 30 tons of garbage along just nine miles of the Santa Fe and nearby rivers, all interconnected with the oceans that eventually lead to the Pacific Ocean Garden Patch, a mess some experts say already may be too big to clean up. 

Kerry Sanders, NBC News, Gilcrest County, Florida. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  From the bottom of the United States to the top of the world, Kerry Sanders also traveled to the North Pole to see first hand how climate change is changing that icy environment and its most famous resident. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SANDERS (voice-over):  For 40,000 years, they have roamed the arctic, kings of this ice.  But now experts fear the North Pole‘s top predator won‘t survive global warming. 

SUE FLOOD, BIOLOGIST:  The ice is breaking up now two weeks earlier, on average, in some parts of the Arctic than it was 20 years ago.  Two weeks might not sound like very much, but that gives the polar bears two weeks less to feed upon seals and give them enough body fat to survive the lean times in the summer. 

SANDERS:  There are an estimated 20,000 to 27,000 polar bears left in the wild.  Most live and hunt on the Arctic ice sheet.  Like a giant ice cube, it floats on the Arctic Ocean, on top of the world. 

But it‘s melting.  Measurements from satellites show this year the ice cover melted to smallest size since they began keeping records in 1978.  It‘s left polar bears with a smaller area to roam and hunt.  This rare footage shows polar bears in search of food.  They spot a seal or a walrus through the ice, jump up and down with the force of their 1,700 pound weight, smash the ice, and then attack. 

STEVE AMSTRUP, US GEOLOGICAL SURVEY:  We have seen that the sea ice is melting earl earlier every year.  In those areas, what‘s happened is that we have seen the bears coming to short at lighter weights because they have had less time to feed, and coming to shore at lighter weight means the females are producing fewer and smaller cubs.

SANDERS:  And when those hungry polar bears make it to land, they search for food anywhere, including garbage dumps. 

(on camera):  Worst case scenario, if the Arctic ice continues to melt, in the next 100 years, the U.S. Wildlife Service says the only place you will find a polar bear on Earth will be at the zoo. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We just want to reach down and pick them up and cuddle them. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It really sparks the reverence in the heart to see that. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There‘s cause for alarm for people because if this could happen to a top predator—if these amazing huge animals can be affected over such a period of time by climate change, you know, not to be selfish, but what does that say for our future? 

SANDERS:  Polar bears disappearing right along with the ice. 

Kerry Sanders, NBC News, the North Poll. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  It‘s green week of the monster variety in New York City.  Young Frankenstein hitting the stage of the great white way.  Mel Brooks talks about his newest Broadway baby. 

And Heather Mills gets the boot again.  First it was Paul, then it was her publicist, and now the dumping parade keeps on going.  All that and more ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  He is the man who gave us unforgettable moments of stage and cinema, sitting around a camp fire, eating beans, the ali stock and bloom (ph) on Broadway, and those immortal words, excuse me while I whip this out.  Number two on the COUNTDOWN, the amazing Mel Brooks is back on Broadway and schmoozing with NBC‘s Brian Williams.  Brooks‘ new musical “Young Frankenstein,” or is it Frankenschtein?   

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR (voice-over):  It is the most eagerly anticipated musical to arrive on Broadway this season, Mel Brooks‘ stage version of his 1975 film classic “Young Frankenstein.” 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He wants to be a producer. 

WILLIAMS:  The last time Brooks did this, turning one of his films into a Broadway show, was six years ago with “The Producers.”  He admits he is a tweaker, tweaking his script right up until the last minute. 

(on camera):  Are you the best judge of your own comedy? 

MEL BROOKS, COMEDIAN:  Absolutely, I am the best judge of my own comedy. 

WILLIAMS:  If the audience laughs around you and you don‘t laugh as hard, is there still a problem with that joke? 

BROOKS:  I will tweak.  I used to be a drummer. 

WILLIAMS:  Clearly you still have those skills. 

BROOKS:  I am a great drummer.  And, as a comedy writer, I know where the rim shots are. 

The drummer in me says that should be syncopated (ph).  Let the audience discover that joke.  Let them go crazy.  Those are the best laughs in the world, when the audience it. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I am pol blugo (ph).

WILLIAMS (voice-over):  Fans of the film version of “Young Frankenstein” can rest assured Brooks has been careful to preserve all of the film‘s iconic lines. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t wish to embarrass you, but I am a rather brilliant surgeon.  Perhaps I can help with you that hump. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What hump? 

WILLIAMS:  Many of the most famous scenes from the film. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Would you like to have a roll in the hay? 

WILLIAMS:  Serve as inspiration for some of the musical‘s biggest numbers. 

(on camera):  When you go from the screenplay, which was brilliant, to live human actors every night standing out there, what were the challenges?  Where did you start? 

BROOKS:  We were very lucky, in that the screenplay that Gene Wilder (ph) and I wrote had a lot of good stuff in it. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How my friend. 

BROOKS:  For instance, the entire blind man scene is taken right out of the movie and hurled on the stage. 

WILLIAMS:  Wow is it big.

BROOKS:  It‘s the biggest scene on Broadway. 

WILLIAMS (voice-over):  Brooks says there is nothing like writing for the theater.  That‘s something of a surprise for a man who started his career writing for television, like Sid Caesar‘s “Show of Shows,” and went on to create some of the most memorable film comedies of all time. 

BROOKS:  I adore live musical theater.  What a treat that is.  You know, that‘s better than a chocolate covered cupcake.  Coming back to Broadway is just—makes your hair stand on end. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Deep love; at last I found deep love. 

WILLIAMS (on camera):  Let‘s take a husband and wife from Jolie, Illinois.  They have saved for a weekend get away in New York.  They come to your show.  What is your wish for them? 

BROOKS:  Well, my wish for them is that they have an unforgettable experience.  This was our greatest night in the theater.  This is the best show, the best show we have ever seen in our lives.  That‘s what I always aim for.  I always aim for the best. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  As we finish with comedy on Broadway, it‘s time to turn to tragedy in Vegas, in the latest episode of O.J. Simpson in court 2.0, leading tonight‘s Keeping Tabs.  Mr. Simpson spending a second day listening to the men whose space he invaded last September.  His attorney trying to juice the idea that the 60-year-old was only recovering personal items stolen from him. 

Collectibles dealer Thomas Riccio admitting he set up the hotel room rendezvous between O.J. and a dealer who claimed to be selling stolen O.J.  stuff.  Riccio says he even opened the door for O.J. and his gang but, quote, everything went south when be somebody pulled a gun.  Simpson maintains there were no guns.  Another witness says there were two guns.  Anybody know how many guns there were?  Anybody?  Buehler? 

Anyway, now it‘s up for the judge to decide whether all of this is worth hours and hours more on Court TV. 

Here is a sign you might be a pain in the ass; your divorce attorney doesn‘t want to be around you.  Take note, Heather Mills McCartney, as you battle Sir Paul, the media and yourself.  The 39-year-old is reportedly fuming after a recent series of U.S. and U.K. interviews that E Online called venom spewing.  Mills accusing the tabloid press of nearly driving her to suicide.  She also criticized Paul McCartney for not coming to her defense. 

Now the law firm representing her in her divorce has dropped her.  A week after her publicist dropped her.  Mills said she was only trying to defend herself and her daughter against 18 months of the worst press ever. 

Finally, mystery solved in the case of what MTV calls the second worst kept baby bump in the music business.  After rumor she has been smuggling a watermelon became more than she could, singer Christina Aguilera revealed that she is expecting.  Now, an expanded Jennifer Lopez confirming the extraordinarily obvious, telling fans the last night of her concert tour that she can‘t sing very well—no, that she is with child. 

People.com reporting that fans in Miami went insane when she made the announcement after the final concert of her tour, telling fans she waited because she didn‘t want to burden them or take away from the tour.  Congrats, J-Lo. 

The presidential candidates might think they are getting a free ride because the late night shows are in reruns due to the writers walk out.  But COUNTDOWN is not on strike.  We will have all your missed political punch lines of the week.  That‘s coming up at the top of COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  To our number one story on the COUNTDOWN. day number five of the writers strike, and the fifth day of presidential candidates getting a pass.  With Jay Leno and David Letterman and Jon Stewart in reruns, targets like Rudy Giuliani and Hillary Clinton are escaping the sting of verbal jabs.  The writers strike, as wisely observed by the “New York Times‘” Jim Rutenberg (ph), has given the presidential candidates a break.  After all, a political gaff turns into a late night joke, which fuels the political blogs and Youtube.  And that guarantees that the original gaff has legs, as we like to say in the business. 

A communications aide to Al Gore‘s 200 presidential campaign said, quote, “the comedy shows are particularly penetrating when it comes to driving the negative story line.” 

According to the former communications advisor to Senator John Kerry‘s presidential campaign, quote, this is a good time to make a mistake.  But, hey, as long as people have camera phones and there is a Youtube, there is probably never a good time for a candidate to make a mistake, maybe just a better time. 

In any event, this week the jokes from the TV comics were as rerun as their shows. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVEN COLBERT, “THE COLBERT REPORT”:  Please, sit down, please.  Save your strength.  It‘s going to be a long campaign. 

CONAN O‘BRIEN, “LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O‘BRIEN”:  Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore has dropped out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination.  He dropped out, yes.  Gilmore said he dropped out because, quote, I don‘t have the star power of a Tom Tancredo or a Mike Huckabee. 

DAVID LETTERMAN, “THE LATE SHOW”:  Have you heard about this?  It turns out that Dick Cheney and Barack Obama are cousins.  Did you hear this?  Strange, isn‘t it?  In a related story, 20 years ago, it turns out Rudy Giuliani was briefly married to himself.  

JAY LENO, “THE TONIGHT SHOW”:  Have any of you ever hung out in an airport men‘s room? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.  This Friday, Joe Biden and I are getting together in Des Moines. 

COLBERT:  How did I do, Carol? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, you know, I‘m sorry.  I‘m afraid that you didn‘t make the cut.  You won‘t be on our ballot. 

COLBERT:  Can I ask what‘s happening to my 2,500 personal check?  Are you going to give that to a charity?  I assume NAMBLA? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Hey, we work for a news division.  There is no strike here. 

Let‘s bring in comedian Argus Hamilton.  Thanks for you time, Argus.

ARGUS HAMILTON, COMEDIAN:  Thank you so much for having me, Alison. 

STEWART:  Now, one of the biggest political headlines this week; the conservative Christian televangelist Pat Robertson endorsing former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who is, of course, pro choice, pro gay, pro gun control.  Pundits shocked that Mr. Robertson would make such an endorsement.  What do you make of it?

HAMILTON:  Well, Pat Robertson‘s followers were shocked.  Rudy Giuliani‘s followers were shocked.  Alison, the last time there was this much shock in one place, 31 states switched over to lethal injection. 

STEWART:  Bernard Kerik‘s indictment on federal corruption charges; do you think Mr. Giuliani‘s judgment is the issue, since he once recommended Kerik for homeland security chief? 

HAMILTON:  Well, comedians, we kind of like Bernie Kerik.  We understand where is he coming from.  Bernie Kerik keeps a love nest—or he kept a love nest in lower Manhattan, with a picture window view of ground zero.  Apparently, he liked to pop open the champagne, open the curtain and remind her we only live once. 

STEWART:  On the Democrat side, it looks like Senator Barack Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton got into a little tiff this week over the ‘60s.  Senator Obama saying Clinton is sort of stuck in that era‘s cultural battle, that she can‘t effect change like he can.  Senator Clinton, in a statement, taking it as a knock on her age.  What‘s going on there. 

HAMILTON:  Well, Hillary did sound a little confused at her 60th birthday party, Alison, when she said, we are a great country.  We are a good country.  So let‘s go out and change it so.  If she is going after—if she‘s going after the goof ball dyslexic vote, President Bush himself will have to vote for her. 

STEWART:  The former president Bill Clinton; he got into the act a little bit himself.  Let‘s listen to him campaigning in Iowa. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 

Hillary and I, maybe we are just artifacts.  Sometimes, I hear some of these other candidates talking.  It‘s like they make me feel like I‘m a mummy.  I‘m only 61.  I don‘t think I have got a leg in the grave yet. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Clinton getting a little touchy in his old age? 

HAMILTON:  Allison, the reason that all the comedians are for Hillary

it has nothing to do with her views or her stands on issue.  The reason we love Hillary is because the very idea of Bill Clinton being in the White House for the next eight years with nothing to do in the afternoon has comedians like me going to All Saints Episcopal Church every day in Beverly Hills, praying to god, please make it happen. 

STEWART:  I see your point. 

HAMILTON:  Of course, now—

STEWART:  Go ahead. 

HAMILTON:  I was going to say, what comics will be talking about tonight, Alison, is the situation in south Asia.  I was just looking at the weather report the other day, just a minute ago.  The five-day forecast for Pakistan is two days.  Benazir Bhutto—

STEWART:  Go ahead.  I have got to hear a Benazir Bhutto joke.  Hit me. 

HAMILTON:  Her house was surrounded by barbed wire today and she was placed under house arrest.  For crying out loud, nobody can move anything in this real estate market. 

STEWART:  I like it.  Argus Hamilton, thanks for your time tonight. 

HAMILTON:  Thanks for having me.  See you around campus. 

STEWART:  That is it for the Friday edition of COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Alison Stewart, in for Keith Olbermann.  He promises to be back on Monday.  Until you and I meet again, come over and visit me on NPR, every weekday morning on my show “The Bryan Park Project.”  Thanks for watching.

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

END   

Copy: 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.

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