updated 12/19/2007 11:09:17 AM ET 2007-12-19T16:09:17

Guests: Christopher J. Dodd, Derrick Pitts, Eugene Robinson

ALISON STEWART, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?  It‘s supermarket sweep Clinton-style.  Hill and Bill causing a ruckus among Iowa grocery goers, bringing a little bit of magic along with them.  Instead of divide and conquer, the Clintons divide and confuse.  It‘s Bill working on the produce section while Hillary favors the beverage, two for the price of one indeed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I think I got my groove back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Meanwhile, as Mrs. Clinton makes it to the White House, the hopeful first gentleman says, diplomacy will be back in fashion.  And who would better to help explain away eight years of George W. Bush‘s hard work?  Then the current president‘s father and his BFF, Bill Clinton.

Rudy in retreat: The numbers are out, and the more effort Mr. Giuliani puts into wooing New Hampshire, the less people want to vote for him.  Ouch.  The former mayor and now pinning his hopes on a big state strategy, big states where his numbers are slipping.

The fight over FISA: The bill granting telecom companies immunity for spying on you taken off the table in part, thanks to a Dodd filibuster.  Senator Dodd joins us.

And in the galaxy, not too far away, it‘s the discovery of an actual death star, a gigantic black hole bully destroying planets and anything else in its path.  No comments yet from the empire.  All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

STEWART:  And good evening, everybody.  I‘m Alison Stewart.  Keith Olbermann has the night off.  The good news for the fine citizens of the Hawkeye state tonight, only 16 days to go until the 2008 Iowa caucuses.  The even better news for the value shoppers in Des Moines, a three-for-one special at the Hi-V (ph) Supermarket this morning, a Clinton sandwich made with magic.  In our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN: Not even Magic Johnson was a big enough star to keep former president Clinton from stealing the spotlight from the lady running for his old job.  At the very least, Mr. Clinton was creating lots of confusion.  The odd trio arriving for their supermarket sweep in Des Moines this morning, no shopping list could be seen, just a photo op waiting to happen.  Senator Clinton just doing her thing, signing some autographs, chatting with folks when her husband, he got just a little bit restless, so Mr. Clinton went to check out things in aisle five. 

On the one hand, a former first lady running for president, $80 million, the look on her face when she realizes her husband has wandered off, priceless.  Our camera catching up with him in produce, sharpie at the ready.  And if you‘ve got a shoulder, he‘s ready to sign it.  And if you happen to have a microphone and just happen to be standing by the meat counter, oh, he‘ll talk.  But if you want to hear what president Clinton is saying, I‘m afraid you‘re going to have to tune into “Entertainment Tonight.”  Such is the state of most, not all, political coverage these days.  We were lucky enough to catch Mr. Clinton‘s thoughts on holiday headgear.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT:  I like your Santa Claus hat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  He likes the Santa Claus hat.  We‘ll be getting that tape over to the Peabody committee any day now.  Mr. Clinton wrapping things up at the meat counter just in time to put focus from his wife uncharacteristically on the press availability with Magic Johnson.  Shh.  That‘s Clinton in the background.  He‘s back there.  As for what was said, Magic Johnson found a way to praise Senator Clinton without denouncing her chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Senator Barack Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAGIC JOHNSON, NBA SUPERSTAR:  I love the Clintons, and I just know that Senator Clinton is the best candidate to move our country forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Can you feel the love?  Can you feel the magic?  Can you feel the so five minutes ago Terry McMillan reference?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

H. CLINTON:  I think I got my groove back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Our correspondent, David Shuster, is on the campaign trail in Iowa and joins us now from Des Moines.  Hi, David.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC - DES MOINES:  Alison, great to be with you, as always.

STEWART:  Was today a reminder that when you‘ve got President Clinton around, anything goes?

SHUSTER:  Yes, absolutely, Alison.  It was so bad for the Clinton campaign today that even though they‘ve had experience with Bill Clinton essentially freelancing and going off the script and doing his own thing, but one of the press aides got so infuriated when they saw that there was Bill Clinton first talking to people at the store then talking to microphones and reporters, that this press aide used an expletive as he tried to muscle his way to find out what Bill Clinton was doing then the press aide said thank you, thank you all very much and tried to coax the former president over back to his wife, and then they had, of course, the impromptu press conference there on the spot which they were not supposed to have until another event.  So, certainly the Clinton campaign is used to it but frustrated as always perhaps even more frustrated given the way things went today.

STEWART:  To senator Clinton‘s own question whether or not she has gotten said groove back.  A new Gallup poll out tonight shows Clinton still leading nationally among voters, but in head-to-head match ups with individual Republicans, Senator Obama fairs better than she does and is viewed as more electable.  What kind of problem might this pose for the Clinton camp in the very near future?

SHUSTER:  Alison, it‘s a huge problem because what Barack Obama has been able to do and what he will continue to do is say look, I am more electable in the general election, more voters across the spectrum see me as more electable than my rivals including Senator Clinton.  But for Senator Clinton, of course, the big number there really matters as what‘s happening here in Iowa and what‘s happening in New Hampshire.  But even to that point, there‘s Hillary Clinton trying to say, look, I‘m the one with the experience who will be ready on day one.  And yet these polls back up her rivals‘ point that it doesn‘t really matter, that voters want a change.  And so, there you have Senator Clinton sort of butting up against that poll number, and that does hurt her campaign.

STEWART:  All right.  Aside from bringing Magic Johnson out on the campaign trail with her, what else is Senator Clinton doing to build momentum and take on Obama?

SHUSTER:  Well, Alison, the Clinton campaign released a new ad today that features Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Hillary Clinton and Senator Graham had worked together on some veterans‘ care issues.  So, what the Clinton campaign has done is they cut the spot and they are running it in New Hampshire.  That‘s significant because New Hampshire has more military veterans per capita than almost every state in the Union.  So, what Senator Clinton can do is she can now sort of use this message to try and go after an Obama theme, and that is Senator Obama has been suggesting, look, I‘m the one that can unite this country, I can move beyond the politics of the past and there‘s Senator Clinton with the spot that sort of steals that argument away from him and says, look at me, here I was working as a Republican on an issue that certainly veterans care about.  I‘m the one who can reach across the aisle and solve the problems.  And that‘s at least one of the themes now that she has going in New Hampshire.

STEWART:  MSNBC‘s David Shuster in Des Moines, Iowa, tonight, thanks, David.

SHUSTER:  Alison, a pleasure, as always.

STEWART:  Team Clinton always found itself dealing with the fallout from something Mr. Clinton was saying on the campaign trail yesterday.  In South Carolina, the 42nd President of the United States claiming that under President Hillary Clinton, who would be number 44, the first husband would spend the bulk of his time globe-trotting with the 41st President, George H. W. Bush, trying to undo all the damage to America‘s image brought by his son, Bush 43.  Got that?  According to President Clinton: “The first thing she, Senator Clinton, intends to do is to send me and former President Bush and a number of other people around the world to tell them that America is open for business and cooperation again.”  End quote.  But a problem, nobody seemed to have consulted Bush 41 who, when asked to comment, did not seem too thrilled to the insinuation that his son was doing a poor job.  Quote, “Former President Bush wholeheartedly supports the president of the United States including his foreign policy.  He ‘s never discussed an around the world mission with either former President Clinton or Senator Clinton, nor does he think such a mission is warranted,” end quote.  So, there. 

Let‘s turn now to our Craig Crawford, also a columnist for CQPolitics.com.  Hi, Craig.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Alison.  Good to see you.

STEWART:  President Clinton and Bush 41, you know, they have this quote, “Working relationship,” a friendship, even.  Is it close enough for Bill to be signing them up for around-the-world dinner dates?

CRAWFORD:  Apparently not.  As Bush senior made it clear, they had had no discussions with him about that.  I don‘t know that he would accept that invitation on those terms.  He might travel around the world with Bill Clinton for some other purpose, at least not for a mission statement like the way Clinton described it.

STEWART: It‘s hard.  You think Mr. Clinton, you know, his need to campaign for his wife and in the process trash talk 41‘s son, that must put a strain on their ability to continue with their charitable work.

CRAWFORD:  Who knows?  I‘ve encountered a lot of Democratic grumblings Alison, about the cozy relation between President Clinton and former President Bush and also a lot of this talk about the Bush and Clinton dynasties, there‘s a hint of that, much of the Obama campaigning against the Clintons.  So maybe Bill wanted some distance here, but more than likely he was just popping off.  This man likes to turn up the heat and stir the pot, and sometimes he slops a little on the burner and somebody gets hurt.

STEWART:  On that subject, tell me how hard a day you think the person hired to be Mr. Clinton‘s press handler had out on the campaign trail today?  I mean and in the bigger picture, is that job even possible?

CRAWFORD:  Yes, the rest homes are littered with people who were former Clinton press handlers, I think; handling Clinton is something that‘s just not done.  Bill Clinton is a very spontaneous guy.  When you showed that picture, that scene of Hillary Clinton‘s face when they couldn‘t find him, didn‘t know what he was up to, it reminded me of a story from the ‘92 campaign about the differences between them.

They‘d gotten a contribution from Jackie Kennedy, and Bill Clinton was very excited about that and very passionate and said we can‘t possibly cash this check.  I want to frame it.  And Hillary Clinton said make a copy and cash the check.  That‘s the difference between them.

STEWART:  I‘m watching this footage of his Secret Service guys having to jump over that barricade.  I can remember covering Clinton right after he was elected president, and some lady handed over a bag of cookies to him, and he took it.  And these guys just had to swarm.  But that‘s just who Bill Clinton is.  He saw this nice lady wanting to give him a present.  He had to go up and give her the hugabubba.

CRAWFORD:  He‘s very spontaneous and that is something she is not.  Maybe, she tried to pick up a little bit of that today.

STEWART:  On the plus side at the supermarket in Des Moines this morning, even with Magic Johnson‘s attendance, Mr. Clinton proved to be I should say a major draw.  So all in all, was today a plus for the Clinton campaign heading into the final stretch, or was it a negative?

CRAWFORD:  You know, having watched so many Clinton campaigns, Alison.  I have to laugh sometimes at how their opponents get so excited about all this trash talking of them in the media and everywhere else.  What they do, I believe, is make sure everyone‘s talking about them.  Their opponents talk about them, the media talks about them.  They have a way of just constantly being the center of attention even if it‘s negative stories.  At least everyone‘s spelling their name right, and I think that‘s their attitude and many times I think that‘s how they win campaigns.

STEWART:  If we can back it up and talk about in terms of how they run their campaigns, how much of a role do you believe Mr. Clinton has in the strategy and the minutia of his wife‘s campaign?

CRAWFORD:  Lately, he‘s - in the last several days, he‘s almost been serving the role of the running mate, carrying some of the attack charges, moving the message out to the outer limits which sometimes a running mate does.  But behind the scenes, I think more recently, he‘s been more involved.  The above the fray incumbency campaign supposedly began to bother him because he saw some of the attacks on Senator Clinton working.  So, I think he has lately become more involved in this strategy of getting tougher on the road, especially about Barack Obama.

STEWART:  Why is he the best attack surrogate?

CRAWFORD:  I think he has the high approval ratings.  He‘ the most popular person, Democrat, in Iowa, for example, according to polls that probably play out in a lot of other states.  So, he‘s got more chips to play, to spend.  And I think he‘s willing to go out there and do that for anyone who might have thought he wasn‘t willing to put his heart and soul into this campaign for his wife, I think the last few days, weeks have shown that‘s not the case.

STEWART:  And frankly, he likes to campaign.

CRAWFORD:  Absolutely loves it, I think.  And if she becomes president and he is the international ambassador they‘ve talked about and that he suggested earlier about his plans for Bush Senior, I sort of wonder about the Secretary of State in that administration.  That will have to be a very patient person who‘s not very turf conscious.

STEWART:  Craig Crawford of MSNBC and CQPolitics.com.  Thanks, Craig.

CRAWFORD:  Great to talk to you.

STEWART:  Rudy Giuliani‘s got a new campaign headache.  The more he stumps in New Hampshire, the more his poll numbers go down.  So, how do you turn that little problem into some sort of strategy win?

And Senator Dodd gets a win of sorts on the Senate floor.  He stands up to his own party leaders to keep the FISA legislation from granting immunity to telecoms for now.  Senator Dodd is our special guest.  You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  So, here is a sign your campaign for president might be in a little bit of trouble.  The more voters hear your message, the more your poll numbers fall.  Is apparently is the reality for Rudy Giuliani in New Hampshire?  So, he‘s working on a whole new election strategy.

And formal update on how Karl Rove‘s book auction is going.

And “Star Wars” coming to life.  Galaxy on galaxy violence in a big way.  That‘s next.  And this is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  There are critics and then there are New York critics.  And they tried to warn the other 49 states, but to know Rudy Giuliani was not necessarily to love him.  Our fourth story on COUNTDOWN to 2008: He can run to New Hampshire but he can‘t hide.  The harder Mr. Giuliani campaigns in the granite state, the worse things get for him.  The former New York City mayor is still the top choice of Republican in many national polls, but the latest tracking polls show him losing ground to former Arkansas governor, Mike Huckabee and former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney. 

After pouring millions of dollars and thousands of miles into Iowa and New Hampshire, Giuliani has now fallen to third place in those early contests.  Even back home in New York, his lead over Huckabee has been cut in half in the last couple of months.  So, a change of strategy.  Last week his honor slipped the icy bonds of Iowa and New Hampshire and headed south to Florida, a state filled with former New Yorkers, holding its primary at the end of January, one week before Super Tuesday.  An unnamed aide explaining to Politico.com that Florida might juice up his chances of winning the really big states.  Still, the slump has campaign watchers wondering, what happened?  A good time to welcome “Washington Post” columnist, Eugene Robinson.  Hi, Eugene.

EUGENE ROBINSON, WASHINGTON POST:  Hi, Alison.

STEWART:  Now for months, Mr. Giuliani seemed to have this in a lock.  So, what do you think started to turn the key the other way?

ROBINSON:  Well, how about another five minutes ago cultural reference, he lost his mojo.  (INAUDIBLE).  You know, Rudy Giuliani was leading, therefore, he was leading.  The fact that he was so far ahead in the national polls, because he was known, people knew the name, people knew basic kind of knew about what he had done in New York and remembered him from 9/11.  And because he was ahead, just that fact seemed to give energy and direction and momentum to the campaign.  And then along came Mike Huckabee.  And - who has taken a lot of the wind out of Rudy Giuliani‘s sails.  And as he rises in the national polls, any sort of air of inevitability or even probability that Giuliani once might have had you know, seems to kind of flutter away.  So, it looks now he‘s going to really do very poorly in Iowa, New Hampshire, potentially South Carolina.  So, yes, time to go to Florida.

STEWART:  So, Giuliani had the strategy that I‘ll just say 9/11 a lot, and that was working for a while.  Why has that run its course apparently?

ROBINSON:  You know, two things.  One, repetition kind of, I think, numbed the effect of saying 9/11 over and over and over again.  Second, this became a different kind of election.  You know, a few months ago it looked as if a really, really major issue in this election was going to be, you know, national security, war on terrorism, Iraq.  Well, of course, that‘s still a huge issue, but this has become more of a change election and more of a focus on domestic issues.  These are his weak points, and so 9/11 just doesn‘t have the impact that it was having a little while ago.

STEWART:  All right.  You just said the election was going to focus on some domestic issues which many aren‘t the strong suit and then the terrorism thing isn‘t working anymore, so what should he concentrate on?

ROBINSON:  I think he might want to go back to saying 9/11 and saying it a little louder.  I mean, you know, he‘ll talk about; you know, again, his accomplishments in New York and what he got done there and fiscal responsibility.  The problem is that, of course, he‘s not running for mayor of the United States.  He‘s running for president.  And the fairly reasonable positions he has on a lot of domestic issues—immigration, abortion, gun control.  Of course, he can‘t talk about those at all in the Republican primaries because they‘re run counter to the views of many Republican primary voters.  So I think it‘s 9/11 through a megaphone maybe.

STEWART:  All right.  Let‘s get back to Florida.  The former mayor has said repeatedly that he‘s doing well in Florida.  Two weeks ago, he told Tim Russert on MEET THE PRESS that he was 18 points ahead.  Is it a wise strategy just to pass by this first week of January, head to Florida and use it as a springboard to Super Tuesday?

ROBINSON:  Well, it‘s not a wise strategy if you believe some of the more recent tracking polls in Florida which show Huckabee and even Romney gaining ground on him rapidly in Florida.  I mean, it‘s kind of, you know, double or nothing strategy to skip the early primary.  Not skip them, but to kind of bet it all on Florida and that catapulting you to the big states.  You know, if you don‘t do well in Florida, if you don‘t win Florida big in that scenario, where are you going to be in California?  Where are you going to be in New York?  He‘s really in trouble if he doesn‘t do well in Florida.

STEWART:  We talked about Mike Huckabee a little bit.  You know, Eugene, Mike Huckabee wants to wish you a merry Christmas and me, a merry Christmas and a lot of Christians a merry Christmas in this new ad.  Let‘s look at it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  If your not worn out of all the television commercials you‘ve been seeing?  Mostly about politics.  I don‘t blame you.  At this time of year sometimes it‘s nice to pull aside from all of that and just remember that what really matters is the celebration of the birth of Christ and being with our family and our friends.  I hope that you and your family will have a magnificent Christmas season.  And on behalf of all of us, God bless and merry Christmas.  I‘m Mike Huckabee.  And I approve this message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  Am I a bad person to think that‘s more than just him wishing me merry Christmas?

ROBINSON:  Poor person and you‘re also right.  I had the same reaction.  Look, the White House is not a parsonage.  And the United States of America is not a giant evangelical mega church.  And you know, a president or someone running for president of the United States, I think, should have an expansive enough view of the country to try to include non-Christians and non-evangelical Christians in his holiday message.  I think that was very pointed, you know, directed at evangelical Christian voters who support he was in Iowa and South Carolina and the rest of the country.

STEWART:  Eugene Robinson of the “Washington Post,” great thanks for joining us.

ROBINSON:  Great to be here, Alison.

STEWART:  A death star galaxy destroying everything around it.  Did Dick Cheney trade in Wyoming for outer space?  No.

And a deer rescued off by this got away scot-free.  What did his rescuer name him?  Here‘s a hint.  Think obstruction of justice.  That‘s ahead.

But first: The latest in the Bush administration‘s other creative uses of executive power, at number three: NIE- gate.  Contrary to White House claims that the president did not know that the intelligence level changed until August and didn‘t know any details of the intelligent estimate until just before it was publicly released earlier this month.  The Interpress Service News Agency is now reporting that Bush knew about the intelligence as early as March and even February.  For the record, NBC News has not confirmed that.  And number two: Waterboarding-gate.  A federal judge against the wishes of the Justice Department ordering a hearing into whether the Bush administration violated a court order by destroying the CIA interrogation tapes.  DOJ go to court on Friday.  And number one: We‘ll just call this any-old-gate.  Karl Rove‘s new memoir which is people are hawking for a near $3 million is still languishing at auction.  It‘s been sitting there with no takers for a whole month.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  He‘s been pardoned by Mike Huckabee, he‘s joked, he‘s snorted his dead father‘s ashes, and he stopped taking drugs because they don‘t make them strong anymore.  Or make them strong enough anymore.  And he‘s warning Kent England 64 years ago today, happy birthday, Keith Richards.  Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in San Lake, Wisconsin, with a warning that much like the antics of Keith Richards, don‘t try this at home.  When David Cooks spotted a young deer stuck in a frozen lake, he didn‘t hesitate risking his own life, while (INAUDIBLE) the whole endeavor, he stepped out onto the ice and tried to cajole the frost-covered, the terrified little creature back onto solid ground.  After a couple of ‘Bambi-esque‘ moments, the fallen eventually charged off into the woods escaping so unscathed from his ordeal that the cooks decided to name him Scooter, as in “I, Lewis Libby.”

To Salina, Texas, and another miracle of the Son of God who has apparently come back to earth, falling as a meteorite into Terrence Cotton‘s  backyard last year.  Mr. Cotton says he had heard a voice telling him to look for a face in the stone and when he did,  presto, Jesus Christ!  No, there he was, Jesus Christ!  He now wants to share his rock with the rest of the world and, to that end has drawn a handy diagram showing exactly where Christ‘s eyes, nose, mouth, et cetera are on the rock.  Mr. Cotton taking Psalm 19:14 that “the Lord is my rock and redeemer” quite literally.

He‘s not alone, though.  Look at what Ray Alber(ph) found in Tucson, Arizona.  She said this is the profile of Jesus Christ.  And wait, her rock, doubly special.

RAY ALBER, FINDER OF “JESUS-GEORGE WASHINGTON ROCK”:  You turn it one -- 180 degrees: voila, there‘s George Washington!

STEWART:  Jesus Christ and George Washington—on the same stone. What are the odds?  I don‘t know, but we‘ll leave that to bookies and theologians.

About as odd as a Democrat filibuster in legislation brought forward by the  Democratic leader.  Senator Chris Dodd joins us live from the campaign trail in Iowa on why he took a stand to stop the new warrantless wire-tapping legislation from going through to help us make sense of what‘s going on in Washington. 

And Commissioner Gordon weighs in on the latest Spears snafu and it‘s the current attitude of the court, if the actions of  Ms. Spears is any indication,  she won‘t be getting custody of her kids back anytime soon.  Those stories ahead but, first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three “Best Persons in the World”.  Number three, best show of determination: Santa Claus.  An actor dressed as the jolly one went to ride in a  helicopter and deliver gifts to the kiddies in a slum outside Rio de Janeiro.  Local drug lords, mistaking Santa‘s souped-up sled for a police chopper fired their guns to the sky, whipping two holes into the fuselage.  Thankfully, no one was injured and, after an emergency landing,  Santa hopped in the car, delivered the gifts, and added a bullet-proof vest to his own wish list.  Now, that‘s a war on Christmas. 

Number two, best completion of an important round: the U. S. postal service delivering a Christmas card to an Overland, Kansas, address this week.  Nothing really strange about that except the postmark is dated December 23rd, 1914.  Neither snow nor rain nor 93  years, you know the rest. 

And number one, best body modification: Lane Jensen, the Canadian body  art devotee, not satisfied with a tattoo of a buxom beauty on his calf, elected for a surgical procedure to fix it.  Have it removed, you say?  Not really.  He bought himself breast implants in his calf.  The guy had miniature silicone sacks implanted into his calf, accentuating the curves and figure of his skin-inked friend.  He just had to shave his thighs off—he couldn‘t wait to show off his girlish figure by wearing shorts. 

It is currently eight degrees in Alberta.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  On January 20, 2009, the next president of the United States will pledge to preserve, protect, and defend the  constitution of the United States.  Four Democratic senators hope to take that oath.  But in our third story tonight  on December 17, 2007, all of the senators had the opportunity to walk that talk, but only one took the stroll.  Because, while rivals were extolling  their leadership in Iowa, Senator Chris Dodd spent much of the day attending to the job he was elected to do: be a strong senator.  He vowed to filibuster a  controversial revision of the FISA law that would strip American citizens of the right to sue U. S. phone companies for  letting government officials eavesdrop on them.  Dodd‘s filibuster and several like-minded amendments threatened to push the Senate‘s budget work into the Christmas break or 2008. 

Last night, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who wanted to get this all wrapped up had to blink and ultimately pulled the bill from consideration, acknowledging the time crunch  and saying that before the vote, President Bush had let the full Senate see the administration‘s classified document justifying  its warrantless wiretaps.  All of this setting up a dramatic showdown next month—a showdown against the clock because on February 1st, the stopgap FISA Law expires leaving in place the original law which requires warrants for  all federal wiretaps.  We are now joined by Democratic Senator and presidential  candidate Chris Dodd who has returned to the campaign trail in Iowa, joining us from Des Moines.  Senator, thanks for your time tonight. 

SEN. CHRISTOPHER J. DODD (D), CONNECTICUT:  Thank you, Allison.  It‘s cold out here, but happy to be on your program. 

STEWART:  You said that few things made you come to the Senate floor so  angrily as the immunity issue.  Anger doesn‘t usually come from logic, it‘s defined as an emotion.  So, why did this issue raise that particular emotion in you?

DODD:  Well, for the last six years, this administration has been assaulting the constitution.  I mean, you go back whether it was secret prisons, rendition, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, habeas corpus, water-boarding, walking  away from the Geneva conventions, the list just goes on.  The destruction of these tapes at the CIA.  I mean, how many more items, how many more pieces of evidence do you know that this administration just has a disregard for?  In my view and I decided enough is enough.  I took the chance, I decided that if I cared about these things—I regretted a year ago that I didn‘t filibuster the adoption of the Military Commissions Act which was a major blow to the  constitution.  And, I promised if they ever tried again on a piece of legislation to do it, that I‘d  filibuster if I had to. 

In fact, yesterday, I started that effort.  I‘m glad the bill was pulled down.  If it comes back up in January, I‘ll be right back there again  as long as it includes this retroactive immunity to the telephone industry, many of which succumbed to the administration‘s request and  listened into millions of Americans‘ faxes, e-mails, phone messages here without any order or any warrant whatsoever for five years—not just for a day or a week or a month.  And to me, that‘s reprehensible to give them immunity here for doing something that I think could be illegal. 

And the courts ought to be able to determine that granting immunity would be, in effect, saying it never happened.  And, mind you, the president said he‘d veto any legislation if that immunity were not in the bill.  Imagine this, passing a bill that would allow us  to  get better information about those who would do us harm and protect our rights.  He‘d squander all of that to protect a few phone companies.  I‘m not going to stand for it.  I‘ll go back and filibuster, if I have to. 

STEWART:  You said, you took a chance.  Why was this a chance for you?

DODD:  Well, in a sense, one person going back, I was pleased with people like Senator Kennedy, Senator Harkin, Barbara Boxer, among others, Ron Wyden, Bill Nelson of Florida joined me yesterday in expressing their outrage—Russ Feingold—to oppose provisions of the bill.  Pat Leahy has been terrific on these issues.  And so, I didn‘t know if I‘d be alone or not in taking this on and, obviously, people want to leave, they‘ve got the holidays coming.  But, we just can‘t let this continue to happen.  There‘s nothing more important. 

I‘ve been asked what‘s the first thing I‘d do as president in the year 2009, on January 20th?  And I‘m going to give you back your constitution because this administration has gone out of its way to do just the opposite and the constitution does not belong to a political party or candidate.  And they‘ve been trampling all over it. 

So, I invite people to go to our website, chrisdodd.com, and see all of the information about why we took this on, what steps we‘re going to take and follow up and if  people are interested, we have some wonderful supporters using  e-mails to inform their members of Congress on how important this issue is and I‘m grateful to those people as well. 

STEWART:  Now, on the subject of support, your colleague/rival Senators  Clinton, Obama, and Biden—all said they support you but, realistically, to carry out a filibuster, a person needs physical support to keep it going, buying time for taking breaks.  Did you ask those senators to come with you?

DODD:  Well, they knew what‘s going on.  They‘ve got schedules, I suppose, to keep.  I would have liked to have their  company, but I can‘t think of another issue as important as this one.  We voted on other matters when they‘ve been there for it.  And, as I said, they‘ve come back for the farm bill and other issues but, it seems to me when someone wants to grant retroactive immunity to a bunch of phone companies who for five years were listening in on all your conversations in America—that‘s worth standing up and fighting on. 

I‘m sorry they weren‘t there.  They‘ll have to explain for themselves why they weren‘t.  I appreciate their willingness to, at least, be verbally supportive of what I was doing.  But, in a moment like that, I think, there are things more important than campaigning and, frankly, if you care about these issues and you want to lead in 2009, a little leadership in 2007 wouldn‘t be a bad idea. 

STEWART:  Let me do a quick time lapse for our viewers here: Majority Leader Reid opposed immunity but it brought the immunity version to the floor, bypassing your hold on that version.  The debate ensued and then it was pulled.  Now, knowing what was coming,  why would Senator Reid put the bill with immunity on the floor rather than the bill without it?

DODD:  Well, as majority leader, there‘s what you call, Alison, regular order.  And under those procedures --  and I don‘t want to bore to you to tears on all this—but the regular order would require that you bring up the intelligence  committee bill first and then the judiciary committee substitute second.  So, Majority Leader Reid was following the regular order of the Senate and that‘s why he  brought it up in that order. 

STEWART:  He said that he has postponed the debate “in the best interest  of the Senate.”  Those are his words.  Why is it “in the best interest of the Senate” to take care of  this later rather than let the process play out now?

DODD:  Well, again, the majority leader has his hands full.  They often say being majority leader is like trying to keep frogs in a wheelbarrow.  He‘s got a lot of issues to grapple with everyday: they have the omnibus bill in front of them.  Obviously, the holiday season upon us here.  People want to move on.  So I‘ll take this as a victory last night, pulling the bill down.  It‘s going to come back up.  We‘ve got to have a FISA bill.  I‘m not opposed to a FISA bill,  one that works.  We‘ve had one since 1978.  But I‘ll strenuously object to any FISA bill that grants retroactive immunity and doesn‘t do some other changes to fix it.  So, when we get back in January, we‘ll be on it again. 

STEWART:  Now, obviously, the president wants the immunity revisions.  In the past months, congressional Democrats have come in for some criticism for not using every available method to stand up to the president.  The merits of immunity aside—we‘ve talked about that a lot—why have Democrats had to wait until this week for one Democrat to go all out?

DODD:  Well, again, the timing of the schedule here and I haven‘t been back for all the time to understand the schedule.  I know, the committee, I think, finished work on this back in November.  There have been other matters to bring up.  I‘m not going to try and second-guess the agenda here—whether or not they waited for this until the end, assuming it might have to go through the way it did—I just can‘t explain that for you, Alison.  All I know is I promised myself  a year ago, the Military Commissions Act, anything like that happened again, and I was going to go back and fight it.  I‘m just not going to put up  with this any longer and, I hope, others will continue to join me in that effort.

STEWART:  Senator, after accomplishing what you did this week, might you better serve the United States by being a kick-ass senator than being back in Iowa and pursuing a nomination that you might not get?

DODD:  How about a president that upheld the constitution? That wouldn‘t be a bad idea, either. 

STEWART:  Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut, thank you.  Happy holidays.  And nice bus. 

DODD:  Hey, thank you.  Great bus.  Come on out.  If you want to take a little trip, Alison, around Iowa, it‘s warm and cozy on that bus.  Bring out the team.  We‘ll give you a good ride. 

STEWART:  Certainly, sir, you‘re going to be sorry you said  that.  Chris Dodd, thanks.

OK, now, this is a seg from hell: the continuing saga of Britney Spears versus Kevin Federline.  Apparently, tmz.com can make all the difference in the custody battle.

And, George Lucas‘ creation was, quote, “an honored space station with enough power to  destroy an entire planet.”  But now, scientists have  discovered a real-life death star in our space.  That‘s ahead.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  When good stars go bad, figuratively and literally: the case of the former Amy Winehouse under arrest and the latter, a collapsing star.  The literal black hole that is pummeling an entire galaxy in outer space.  That‘s all ahead.  You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  In our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, “Keeping Tabs”, a meta-moment when a celebrity-watching website founded by a lawyer winds up as part of a lawsuit involving one of its bread-and-butter subjects, Ms.  Britney Spears.  Today, the judge in her custody case was wrangling with the  rescheduling of her deposition, the one she missed because she was sick.  So Kevin Federline‘s attorney subpoenaed video from tmz.com, showing Ms. Spears going to a gas station the same day that she had called in sick.  But Commissioner Scott Gordon ‘cried uncle‘, instead of waiting for the video to arrive and having to sit through it, he said he would not need to see it.  According to TMZ sources, Commissioner Gordon said he will accept TMZ‘s reporting as true for the sake of today‘s argument.  Holy bizarre judgment call,  Batman.  The judge then rescheduled Spears‘ deposition for the first week of January, so happy new year, everybody.

A fine, howdy-do to singer Amy Winehouse.  She was arrested in London as part of an investigation into perverting the court of justice.  Really? That‘s what they got her for?  The case stems from her husband Blake Fielder allegedly beating up a bartender who was then allegedly offered money not to testify.  Though police have not provided details, both Winehouse and her  husband were arrested in  connection with the perversion of justice charge which is roughly equivalent to obstruction of justice here in the States. Winehouse surrendered voluntarily and was released on bail.

And Brad Pitt might want to watch out for his sometimes inelegant choice of words.  On “The Charlie Rose” show last night, speaking about his four kids with Angelina Jolie, three of them adopted, Mr. Rose asked Pitt about plans for future young ‘uns. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARLIE ROSE, TELEVISION TALK SHOW HOST:  She thinks maybe 12 would be about right?

BRAD PITT, ACTOR:  I think, we‘ll crap out somewhere between seven and nine.

ROSE:  Are you serious?

PITT:  Yes.

ROSE:  Between seven and nine?

PITT:  Yes, somewhere in there, I think, we‘ll crap out. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  So, is that how they do it in Hollywood?  It would explain a lot about those brats I read about.

Anyway, in a galaxy far, far away, the death star lives.  Seriously.  There was a real life galaxy, literally acting like the dark lord of Lucas‘ pet project.  Details ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Given enough time, outer space may wind up mirroring some of our wildest imaginings about the celestial world.  In our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, NASA scientists revealed the existence of a new galaxy, the Death Star Galaxy.  It is an awesome and  frightening and it bears no relation to Darth Vader, except for that wicked cool name.  It‘s the system known as 3C321, eight billion trillion miles from here. 

This is a composite photograph  taken from various telescopes capturing both visible and invisible wavelengths.  But what is it?  Two galaxies, each with a black hole at their center.  The larger galaxy, dubbed “The Death Star”, emitting a deadly radiation of energy that blasts a section of that neighboring galaxy.  Quote, “it‘s like a bully, a black hole bully punching the  nose of the passing galaxy,” end quote, said noted astrophysicist Neil Degrass(ph) Tyson. 

The stream of emissions, represented in the blue, has already traveled one million light years, though that is considered young and in its cosmically  vicious wake, tens of millions of stars in the smaller galaxy.  Thus, the analogy as scientific leader of the NASA study Dan Evans says, quote, “We‘ve seen many  jets produced by black holes, but this is the first time we‘ve seen one punched into another.  This jet could be causing all sorts of problems for the  smaller galaxy it is pummeling.”  But not to worry, Lea, Luke and Han Solo, they don‘t live in that  part of the hood. 

Let‘s bring in Chief Astronomer of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Derrick Pitts.  Hi, Derrick.

DERRICK PITTS, CHIEF ASTRONOMER, FRANKLIN INSTITUTE:  Good evening, Alison.

STEWART:  Do astronomers know exactly what‘s in this deadly stream of emissions?

PITTS:  Astronomers have a pretty good idea, they know that it‘s filled with gamma rays and also x-rays. 

STEWART:  You made that up—gamma rays and x-rays. 

PITTS:  That‘s off the top of my head.  The other thing I would say is that they have—the being really is packed with high-energy photons, and that  includes the gamma rays and the x-rays.  We‘re not talking about your regular run-of-the-mill x-grays like you get in the doctor‘s office, but very, very highly energetic.  So, these really are deadly, as far as life forms are concerned.

STEWART:  You say “highly energetic”—where do they get their spunk from?

PITTS:  They get it from the black hole that‘s found at the center of that galaxy.  A lot of galaxies we‘re determining these days have what is called ‘super massive black holes‘ at their cores.  And one of the things super massive black holes do is they squirt out incredibly high energy jets of material that  could have an effect on something else nearby, as we‘re seeing here. 

STEWART:  Let‘s talk about those effects, just to give it a little context.  If any of those planets affected by the Death Star Galaxy had environments such as the earth‘s, what would happen?

PITTS:  Can you say ‘fried planet‘?

STEWART:  That‘s it—a fried planet?

PITTS:  Yes, it‘s a really bad situation because, in this case, what happens is, I mean, it‘s not like we‘re thinking about burning the planet up but it‘s that the atmospheres would be stripped away by these very highly energetic particles.  And, as well, that bath of very deadly radiation would sterilize a world without any problem at all.  So, any life forms would be certainly wiped out. 

STEWART:  Oh, that doesn‘t sound good.

PITTS:  Not good.  No. 

STEWART:  And, even though this deadly jet stream is about a million years old, it could still be in its early stages, can you explain that for us?

PITTS:  Sure.  You have to remember that, when we‘re talking about objects in space, the scale of things is very different.  And, in this case, saying  something is a million years old is not really very much time.  So we can look at the length of this and some astronomers estimate that this could exist for another 100 million years.  That still is a fairly short  time in galactic time terms.  But that‘s a pretty long time for something like this to be  having this action.

STEWART:  Now, NASA scientists say this might eventually produce new  stars. 

PITTS:  Yes, that‘s true. 

STEWART:  How would that be?

PITTS:  It works like this.  If you can imagine this jet coming out of the core, the super massive black hole, with all these particles and the stream coming into this next-door galaxy, what happens is shock waves are set up by  this stream coming in that causes the collapse of other  collections of gas and dust in  that second galaxy that could collapse into stars.  So in a way, not only could it be deadly for life forms, but it can also create new stars and, in turn, be able to create new life somewhere way down the road. 

STEWART:  So, bottom line, Derrick, what is the chief significance, do  you think, of this discovery?

PITTS:  Oh, I think the chief significance is that we‘re seeing something we‘ve never seen before and, now, we‘ve learned that there are so many  different ways that these interactions can happen in space.  Things we‘d never be able to imagine happening on earth certainly can take place in space and still fit within the laws of physics as we know and understand them. 

STEWART:  Besides that, it‘s just kind of cool. 

PITTS:  It looks great, doesn‘t it?

STEWART:  Derrick Pitts, Chief Astronomer of the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, thanks for being with us tonight. 

PITTS:  Thanks, Alison.

STEWART:  That will do it for this Tuesday edition of COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Alison Stewart in for Keith Olbermann.  You can catch me bright and early on NPR‘s “Bryant Park Project” every weekday morning at 7:00 a. m.  Check npr.org for the details.  Thank you so much for watching COUNTDOWN. 

Our coverage continues now with “MSNBC LIVE” with Mr. Dan Abrams.

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

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