updated 1/24/2008 12:21:16 PM ET 2008-01-24T17:21:16

Guests: Dana Milbank, John Edwards, Rachel Maddow, Harvey Levin, Craig Crawford

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

The Democrats game of chicken continues in South Carolina.  Bill Clinton calls the, quote, “Rhetoric” of Obama supporters, quote, “Crazy” while also saying, I kind of like to see Barack and Hillary fight.  They‘re flesh and blood people and have their differences.  Senator Obama meantime, not exactly driving towards Democratic unity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Once the nomination contest is over, I will get the people who voted for her.  Now, the question is: Can she gets the people who voted for me?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And: Senator Edwards today continuing with his theme: Only he can get elected.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN EDWARDS, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Doesn‘t do any good to nominate somebody who is not going to win next November.  We have to have a candidate who is going to win next November.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Where is the reassuring caveat to that?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  As soon as we have a nominee, we will be strongly united because the most important thing is to put a Democrat into the White House starting in January, 2009.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll ask Senator Edwards if he concurs with Senator Clinton.  He joins us tonight.  We‘ll ask him about Bill O‘Reilly and the 200,000 homeless vets whom Bill O‘Reilly laughs at when Senator Edwards invokes the shameful truth of their treatment.

The Republican recession: Not to stock market but campaign recession.  Huckabee: Running out of cash reportedly.  McCain: With a high yield desperation fundraiser in New York.

So much for the administration‘s countless lies about Iraq.  Two non-profit groups have done the algebra and show their math: 935 between 2001 and 2003 -- 935 false statements to the American people about the threat from Iraq.

And: No definitive word yet from the medical examiner on what the cause of the death of actor Heath Ledger.  But: One store‘s exploitation of that death and one announcer‘s exploitation of that death already definitively in Worst Persons.  All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(on camera):  Good evening, this is Wednesday, January 23rd, 286 days until the 2008 presidential election.  Before the Iowa caucuses, those who might have seen impending political cannibalism saw it wearing Republican colors.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Maybe not.  One Democratic presidential candidate hinting: She and her supporters will back whoever is nominated.  But the second hinting: Just the opposite.  The third: Senator John Edwards joins us presently.

First: The many details beginning with Senator Barack Obama who interrupted his time on the campaign trail in South Carolina for an interview with David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network, in which the Illinois Democrat addressed a question from Mr. Brody about whether Senator Clinton would, quote, “Be a drag for down ticket races as a presidential candidate.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I think there‘s no doubt that she has higher negatives than any of the remaining Democratic candidates.  You know, that‘s just a fact.  And there‘s some who will not vote for her.  I have no doubt that you know, once the nomination contest is over, I will get the people who voted for her.  Now, the question is: Can she get the people who voted for me?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Senator Clinton making the case for her own candidacy in Philadelphia today, having already secured the endorsement of that city‘s mayor, now, getting that city‘s former mayor, Ed Rendell, currently the governor of Pennsylvania.  Senator Clinton taking the approach the Democratic Party will be unified eventually.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  Well, we‘re going to have a vigorous contest, then, we‘ll have a unified Democratic Party.  That‘s exactly what we‘re going to do.  We‘re going to have a very intense selection because this is an important election.  It‘s one of the most important elections we‘ve had in a very long time.  And each of us has to present our case.  We have to draw a contrast and comparisons and then, we‘ll leave it up to the voters.  And as soon as we have a nominee, we will be strongly united because the most important thing is to put a Democrat into the White House starting in January, 2009.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Nevertheless, former President Clinton‘s still out there contributing more to the intense part than to the united part, answering at length after a local South Carolina politician, an Obama supporter compared Mr. Clinton‘s action on the campaign trail to those of the late Republican operative, Lee Atwater.  Mr. Clinton disputing that analogy but also blaming the media for raising a question that the audience at the event he had just departed had not raised.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FMR UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  The people don‘t care about this.  They never ask about it.  And you are determined to take this election away from them.  That‘s not right.  That is not right.  This election ought to belong to those people around here asking questions about their lives.  They did not ask about this.  And you don‘t care what your own people care about.  They care about what happens to the American people.  That‘s one thing John Edwards talked about in the debate.

(CROSSTALK)

B. CLINTON:  One more story, shame on you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thanks, guys.

B. CLINTON:  Shame on you if you write another story.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The story of electability in the general election being precisely what Senator Edwards had touched upon during his remarks at a rally in Lancaster, South Carolina this afternoon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EDWARDS:  You can‘t just think you‘re voting in this primary on Saturday, and then it‘s all over.  It is not all over.  We have a long way to go.  And first of all, it doesn‘t do any good to nominate somebody who‘s not going to win next November.  We have to have a candidate that can win next November.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Senator Edwards with us in a moment from South Carolina.  First: For more on how the Democratic race got this way and where it goes from here, let‘s turn to our own Dana Milbank, national political reporter of the “Washington Post” also with us from South Carolina tonight.  Dana, good evening.

DANA MILBANK, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALSYT:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Senator Obama, first.  That quote, “I will get the people who voted for her.  The question is: Will she get the people who voted for me?  Is there not to some degree a passive threat in there?  Is it not his obligation as it‘s Senator Clinton‘s obligation and Senator Edwards‘ obligation to say, I want to give my damndest just to make sure if it comes to that she or he or whoever will get the people who voted for me.

MILBANK:  Right.  I think you‘re hearing tonight the first sort of whispers of the “S” word, the spoiler if that should be Obama‘s fate and he doesn‘t make it here.  What he‘s saying technically about her negatives is actually true.  But I think, in a larger sense, what‘s happening among all the Democrats is there‘s a little bit of a McCain pack getting to side into the Republican, may have exhausted all other options may in fact, be turning to the most formidable candidate against them who can actually pull away voters from Obama because of his lack of experience or Hillary Clinton because of her negatives.

OLBERMANN:  By the same token, Senator Clinton‘s remarks about reuniting the party later for election, is it easier for her to say that than it would be for Senator Obama or for Senator Edwards?  I mean, she can start singing “kumbaya” a little earlier while she ahs the ex-president say things like I kind of like to see Barack and Hillary fight, flesh and blood people, and they‘ll have their differences, let them at it?

MILBANK:  Right and particularly easy for her since she‘s not even in South Carolina right now.  And it‘s true that I think Bill Clinton‘s words are in fact being attributed in a sense to Hillary Clinton.  I spoke to a voter tonight in the eastern part of the state who was saying, she just heard enough of this from Bill Clinton and she was over at an Obama rally.  So, she will in fact be tarred by things like this when Bill Clinton says that Obama is planning a hit job on him.

OBLERMANN:  Is there in fact any evidence to what this is doing to voters in South Carolina or the Democrats responding in a way you‘re anecdotal story suggest?  Or is it more like a fox on all your houses or is it more as Bill Clinton‘s response from his event today that people aren‘t asking him about this?

MILBANK:  Well, that‘s of course, the line he‘s going to say and in fact, voters do respond to negative things more than they respond to positive things.  I think the real danger of what you‘re seeing here is something of a racial divide that‘s been stirred up by all this rather vituperative back and forth.  You see white voters going much more for Clinton, black voters much more for Obama.  That‘s the sort of thing that the party is going to have a lot of difficulty recovering from in November regardless of who wins.

OLBERMANN:  Are there party elders stepping in here?  I mean, we know about Ted Kennedy and Representative Clyburn kind of trying to cool Mr.  Clinton‘s jets but has anybody said, across the board, all three of you, all four of you, all five of you.  You guys are collectively risking November.

MILBANK:  Well, you‘d think this would be a time for a party elder or like say, a former president like Bill Clinton to calm things down.  But that‘s a part of the problem here is he‘s stature is elevating this so high.  Who‘s going to step in?  Al Gore is winning his Nobel Prize and I don‘t think we need Jimmy Carter here.

OLBERMANN:  Well, anybody would help in a crisis I think.  Dana Milbank of the “Washington Post” and MSNBC.  See what you can do about it, all right?

MILBANK:  I‘ll see what I can do, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Just turn around, go towards that building and yell at somebody.

The moving parts of South Carolina minus four days out of the way and the analysis there out of the way.  Let‘s turn to one of the principals.  Senator John Edwards joining us tonight from Dabney (ph), South Carolina. 

Senator, thanks again for some of your time tonight.

EDWARDS:  Thanks, Keith.  Thanks for having me.

OLBERMANN:  There‘s several things I wanted to ask you about including our shared interest in Mr. O‘Reilly‘s reaction to you‘re putting a spotlight on the 200,000 homeless military vets.  But I want to what Senator Clinton said in Philadelphia today about a unified Democratic Party.  Let me just read the operative part of what she said then: Each of us has to present our case, we have to draw our contrast and comparisons.  And then, we have to leave it up to the voters and as soon as we have a nominee, we will be strongly united because the most important thing is to put a Democrat in the White House starting in January 2009.  With the caveat senator, that‘s saying so would not mean, you don‘t think she might be playing unfairly or saying so would not mean you‘re hinting anything about Senator Obama.  Can you agree with Senator Clinton‘s conclusion there that the most important thing to Democrats should be ultimate unison and victory in November behind any Democrat?

EDWARDS:  I would just say it differently, Keith.  I think that if you watch the debate on Monday night, you know, I felt some of the bickering got to a fairly petty level.  It‘s why, you know, I felt like I was trying to be the grownup.  Represent the grownup part of the Democratic Party when some of the bickering was going on.  Now, what I actually believe I think unity is important.  Obviously, we want a Democrat in the White House.  I think it goes beyond that.  I think the change, if you‘re thinking about not just the Democratic Party which we all love but you‘re thinking about America which I love more.  I think that we need real and meaningful transcend to change and so, yes, it does matter to be unified and to be able to win in November.  Of course it does.  It‘s very important.  But it also matters whether we have a nominee who will fight for the middle class, fight for universal health care and the war.  Who actually believes in the bold transformational changes the country needs.

OLBERMANN:  I‘ve got a question on deck here about the middle class and the poor.  But one more thing this overall subject of unity and I will drop it.  Are we at the state will help every candidate right now, all three of you in here at the top, by saying you will support and you will encourage your supporters to support the Democratic nominee, no matter who it is and that Senators Clinton and Obama should join you in saying so maybe even before these votes taking on Saturday?

EDWARDS:  Absolutely, I say that right now.  You know, I intend to be the nominee, so, I hope to get the support of Senator Obama and Senator Clinton‘s supporters but we should absolutely support the nominee.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Amen.  A straight answer on that.  Thank you, sir.  All right.  Let me ask you about the economy.  Story today from Reuters: The last time we had a recession 2001, an official one, 11.7 percent of Americans were living in poverty.  Today, another recession is looming or has started, 12.3 percent of Americans are living in poverty.  In other words, the poor still have not recovered from the previous recession.  How come, they aren‘t getting the attention even the sympathy that stock market investors seem to have gotten over the last three days of turbulence among the financiers?

EDWARDS:  Because there‘s an enormous disconnect about what‘s happening out here in America and Washington‘s obsession of what‘s happening on Wall Street.  I mean, we go up and down with the market, we look at how much money people are making on Wall Street, what‘s that mean with investments and investment income.  Out here in South Carolina, for example which is where I am right now, the poverty rate is going up, the middle class families having the terrible time paying their bills.  George Bush proposes a stimulus package that leaves 50 million at least Americans out, low income, moderate Americans.  It‘s not surprising this is what‘s happening to low income and middle income people in this country.

OLBERMANN:  As suggested by the issue of economies and whether it‘s stocks or it‘s the real economy, cartons of milk, your messages have clearly been resonating.  Many of the things that are being talked about on the campaign trail on both sides of the political split are issues that you raised first in this campaign, but you‘re still up against two very well-financed candidates, each of whom would make history if elected, each of whom has been getting more votes so far.  At this point, how do you overcome those last realities?

EDWARDS:  Well, I think the truth is, Keith, there‘s almost a direct correlation between how much they‘re getting and how much publicity they‘re getting.  And if - when I get heard if you watch the debates, for example, people who watched the debates are moving, they move in my direction.  I can feel the momentum in South Carolina right now.  When they show undecided voters, the debates, they move toward me, almost every time.  And I don‘t think it‘s an accident.  I also don‘t think it‘s an accident that Senator Clinton and Senator Obama have adopted so much of what I‘ve been saying.  I mean, the key for me, and it‘s hard, I‘ll admit it, I‘m the underdog.  You know, in this battle, I‘m the underdog.  There‘s no doubt about this.  They have $100 million plus each.  They got massive publicity.  But, I‘m in this for the long haul.  And if I get heard, this will work.  And these causes that I‘m fighting for, Keith, they‘re not going away and I‘m not going away either.

OLBERMANN:  And one of those causes, Senator, Bill O‘Reilly and the homeless vets that you have invoked throughout this campaign, I know you talked about this on David Letterman and O‘Reilly sort of comeback tonight.  At first, he denied there were any of them there and he mocked you.  And he said, well, maybe they‘re there but they‘re not that many and he said, well, they‘re not there because of the economy, they‘re there because of mental illness and addiction.  And he said something like, what of the extraordinary things for him which is saying a lot, that there was little politicians could do about mental illness and addiction.  What world does he live in where politicians can do little about mental illness and addiction or we should be satisfied with politicians who chose to do little about mental illness and addiction especially among the vets?

EDWARDS:  What he seems to be suggesting, what Bill O‘Reilly seems to be suggesting is it‘s better if we just turn our heads.  We‘ve got have at least 200,000 men and women who wore a uniform and who don‘t have a place to sleep at night.  They were sleeping in shelters or under bridges.  And I‘m supposed to say that‘s OK?  Of course, it‘s not OK.  There‘s a great deal that America can do.  We can fund the veteran‘s administration in the way that we should be doing.  We can give every one of our veterans the kind of evaluation for mental and physical health needs that they deserve.  We can make sure that they get the health care that they deserve.  It is true that some of these homeless veterans do have mental health problems.  There‘s no doubt about that.  But they need to get the mental health care that they need.  And the easiest thing that we can do and it‘s what we‘ve been doing way too often is we just can turn our heads and pretend it‘s not there.  You know, I understand it may not be some big vote-getting issue and it may not be what a politicians want to focus on, but it‘s a huge moral issue facing the country.  We can‘t let this continue.  And whatever O‘Reilly says, you know, he just keeps explaining away and explaining away.  The reality is: It‘s not about him and it‘s about me.  This is about hundreds of thousands of people who patriotically served this country who deserve a real chance.

OLBERMANN:  Well, of course, it is all about him.  But that‘s another subject for another time, Senator.  Senator John Edwards.  Especially on that, keep throwing that out there because it needs to be said again and again.  Those are our heroes.  The South Carolina primary is Saturday.  All the best, sir.  Thanks again for your time.

EDWARDS:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  On the eve of their latest debate, it‘s not time that‘s an issue for Republicans, it‘s money.  In a GOP opinion poll that gives a Keith number, undecided plus margin of error that is an extraordinary 28 percent.

And: To the Bush administration‘s dismissive question about it‘s lies about Iraq.  Who‘s counting?  The answer is: Somebody was and they have a number to tonight.  You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The Republican presidential campaigns running out of money.  Rudy Giuliani running out of time.  Later in Worst: A store tries to exploit the death of Heath Ledger.  John Gibson of FOX does exploit him in fashion that was grotesque even for him.  Ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Mike Huckabee has people working for free.  Rudy Giuliani has people working for free.  And John McCain actually left the campaign trail in search of money.  Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: The men who are promising to help fix America‘s economy apparently having problems managing their own finances.  Mr. McCain with seven more fund raising stops planned this week was in New York City last night raising $1 million in Rudy Giuliani‘s backyard where he is currently leading the former mayor - 24 to 21 in the latest Zogby poll.  While the Keith number-margin of error plus undecided is actually bigger than either of their numbers, not as I said before 28 percent, it‘s still a staggering 26 percent.  McCain is also in the lead across the river in New Jersey, 29 to 26 in the latest Quinnipiac poll.  The Keith number there rounding up the margin of error to nine percent.  We‘re joined once again by our own Craig Crawford, also of course of CQPolitics.com.  Craig, good evening.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, CQPOLITICS.COM:  Hi.  So that Keith number and the other one is the new frontrunner.

OLBERMANN:  It‘s amazing, isn‘t it?  It‘s the undecided—margin of error has won the primary.  The economic woes of the leading Republicans in the moment, but first: that number, the patented Keith number.  The polls in the northwest really doesn‘t show whether McCain is actually leading, or as you suggest uncommitted is in front, but what is clear, Giuliani is not winning outright in New York or New Jersey and he‘s also not sweeping Florida, right?

CRAWFORD:  That‘s absolutely right and maybe even drifting down in some of these polls.  Giuliani is really up against here.  In a week‘s time, we‘ll know if his grand strategy of campaigning in one state is going to revive his campaign.  Maybe the biggest state, Florida, so far.  If he doesn‘t pull out a victory here Keith, I don‘t see him going much further.

OLBERMANN:  McCain had to leave the campaign trail just to raise $1 million, talking about not going much further.  But Ron Paul raised nearly twice that, $1,850,000 on Monday alone.  Is he just really good at raising cash especially on the Internet or McCain, you know, has he already tapped his people out or he just bad at this or what‘s that disparity about?

CRAWFORD:  Well, if these were a private business, you know, Ron Paul would be the only profit-making company of the lot.  I think, you know, there‘s something about the Paul campaign, they just pull it in.  They don‘t even ask for it.  McCain has always had a problem.  He‘s awkward, if not even shy, about asking for money because he has been the great crusader since the Keating 5 scandal for campaign reform and finance reform.  So, it‘s a little difficult for him to get out there and pull a lot of stunts and cuddle out of the corners that it takes, sometimes, to raise and bundle big bunches of cash.  So, that‘s made it a little harder for him.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  You know, Governor Huckabee didn‘t have a lot of cash to start with.  Mitt Romney obviously is very personally wealthy; he just goes to the mirror for the additional financing as has been phrased.  But, now, you know, how did McCain and Giuliani end up so strapped for cash at this point especially as they have been at various times in this front-runners.  I mean, is this a plain, bad management of money, or are there other issues involved?

CRAWFORD:  Well, you know, presidential campaigns are sort of like pyramid schemes, I mean, once they stop growing, they crash really fast.  That happened to McCain once before, early on when he was supposedly the front-runner.  Giuliani has really put the money into Florida.  And a lot of it (INAUDIBLE), Keith.  I think Giuliani‘s problem is the more money he puts in before, the more he‘s going down in the polls and so, there‘s no more money to raise.  With Romney, right, he can go back and cut himself checks.  This could become a war of attrition on the Republican side.  And if so, you know, Romney may be the only one standing with enough cash.  Now, if I was one of his kids, I‘d start worrying about my inheritance. 

But that‘s their problem.

OLBERMANN:  All right. And the other option of course is, there‘s no pun intended in this, is does this mean, with the lack of money on some of the key candidates, does that mean we‘re going to see the brokered in the different sense of the meaning—convention?

CRAWFORD:  If Florida labors and brings forth a muddle next Tuesday, we don‘t have a clear victor and we go into super duper Tuesday a week later then, I think there‘s a real chance of a long spring as these candidates duke it out state by state all the way into maybe Pennsylvania, into April, I believe it is and on to the convention.  It would be a great thing.  That would be good politics to see a convention that actually matters.  By the way, the taxpayers put in $50 million in tax money for each convention.  So, we ought at least get a good show like that out of it.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, we‘ll see which candidates and which reporters make it to the convention under those circumstances.  Craig Crawford of MSNBC.

CRAWFORD:  I already broke my foot.

OLBERMANN:  Exactly.  Well, I did that last year and I‘ve got an appendix blowing out, all sorts of problem there, anyway, you don‘t want to hear my problems.  Craig Crawford of CQPolitics.com.  Before tomorrow night‘s Republican debate right after COUNTDOWN here on MSNBC.  Thank you, Craig.

CRAWFORD:  So long.

OLBERMANN:  And you know what this looks like in Lithuania?  Yes, a KGB theme park.  Well, that‘s exactly what it is.  Does the bush administration know about this thing?  I mean, it‘s already up and running.  Anyway, just buy it.

And: As you know, Heath Ledger died and John Gibson thinks that‘s damned funny—in Worst Persons.

But first: The headlines breaking in the administration‘s 50 other scandals - Bushed.

Number three: Mukasey-gate.  Anybody remember how he was - before he was confirmed as attorney general, Judge Mukasey said he couldn‘t say if waterboarding was illegal and he finally promised he would review it and get back to us?  That was on October 30th.  He was today quoted by the “Wall Street Journal” saying, he studied up, but still doesn‘t have an answer.

Number two: The surge worked politically-gate.  This crap from John McCain and others about how the law supposedly allowing former Baathist Party members going into the Iraq government.  Now, he says, it means the political goals of Mr. Bush‘s troop escalation work.  The latest from the Iraq government agency that supervises ex-Baathists—nothing in the new law even mentions reinstating ex-Baathists into government positions.  In fact, thousands currently working in and for the Iraq government will wind up being fired.

And number one: The surge worked militarily-gate.  The continuing disinformation campaign to suggest that the thing has worked militarily as rendered by Joe “We‘re winning” Lieberman.  This just in from General David Petraeus.  “We won‘t know that we‘ve reached a turning point until we‘re six months past it.”  Another six months.  Funny, we were just coming up on six months since the last time we were asked for six months, last September, which was the date by which we‘ve been told we would know if the surge had worked.  They‘d said that last March when the surge had been amped up.  And then there was the six months from six months before that.  The moral here: When the Soviet Union used to announce five-year plans to rebuild its economy and stop starvation, they‘ve managed to stretch those five years from 1928 through 1991.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Ninety-eight years ago today, in a gypsy camp in Belgium was born Jean-Baptiste Reinhardt.  Nicknamed Django.  Django with the D.  He was a guitar and banjo player when at the age of 18 he nearly lost his left hand in a fire.  Two years later he heard a jazz record for the first time, Louis Armstrong, wept at its beauty, and maimed hand and all, took up the genre.

Before his death in Paris at the age of 43, he became quite possibly the best jazz artist not born in this country.  His influence is such that guitarists as diverse as David Crosby, Richard Durant and Jerry Jeff Walker named their sons after him.  And Django Reinhardt‘s music is so distinctive, I never heard of him until last Thursday and it made me want to learn jazz guitar.  And I can‘t even whistle.

Let‘s play “Oddball.”  We begin in a village in Lithuania and a new theme park called 1984.  I thought that was in Washington, DC.  Visitors can go here to visit the good ol‘ days of Soviet Era gulag prison camps.  Park goers enter an underground bunker where they are greeted with barking dogs and screaming KGB agents.  Again, I thought they were all in Washington now, then they are whisked into the interrogation room where an old fat guy beats them until they talk.  And after their will is broken, it‘s off to the cafeteria for a quick shot of vodka and some canned meats.

The theme park‘s owners hope to remind people of the horribly conditions that existed under the Bush - I‘m sorry, I mean Soviet rule.  Something you‘ll be sure to remember as you look at that souvenir photo of when your interrogator broke you.  Unless the CIA erases it.

Let‘s head to Mars for a first look at recently published photo taken by the NASA probe Spirit in 2004.  Nothing earth-shattering you see here unless you consider the first ever documented proof of a Martian Sasquatch.  The Internet is all atwitter about this, saying the image is reminiscent of that old timey Big Foot footage.  It definitely is just a pile of rocks.  And by the way it would only be a few inches tall.

I‘m afraid we have no options, though, other than to send some missiles up there to take Big Red out.  As to the debunking of little men from mars, listen to this scientist.  He must know he has got a monocle.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Of course there are rocks and shadows and - remember the face on Mars?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s far more like a face than this is like a man.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Thank you, Mycroft Holmes.

If I told you once, I told you 935 times.  Iraq, 9/11, weapons, mushroom clouds.  The final score is in.  How many times did the administration mislead us about Iraq?

And a day later, still no explanation for the death of actor Heath Ledgers.

Those stories ahead but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world.

The bronze.  Ed Hamilton seeking to become treasurer of Kirk County, Texas.  Says if elected, he will not serve.  Mr. Hamilton says the job is redundant, its responsibilities should easily be served by other offices.

Number two best scam, Richard Saunders of Somersworth, New Hampshire.  Accused of convincing police to give his car the full police escort to go to convoy his car to the hospital because his female passenger was about to give birth.  When they got there, the woman vanished.  It turned out the car had been stolen and the woman who was not even pregnant convinced another driver later on to give her a lift to the store and while en route she stole $160 out of that woman‘s purse and some smokes, too.

And number one.  Best plea.  Yu Zhenhuan of Mayonin (ph), China, he is online looking for a girlfriend after a broken engagement.  Yu Zhenhuan is called the world‘s hairiest man.  “My whole body is covered with hair,” he explains.  He also said he is still hoping to be chosen to be one of China‘s Olympic torch carriers later this year.  World‘s hairiest man and flaming Olympic torch.  How could that possibly go wrong?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  If you have ever said this administration lied to us 1,000 times about the Iraq, the war and al Qaeda, it turns out you owe Mr. Bush an apology.  In our third story tonight, a new study confirming the administration only lied about those vital matters 935 times.

Of course this does not count so called indirect falsehoods like, “Iraq has dangerous weapons.”  The nonprofit Center for Public Integrity tallied all the false statements made by eight top members of the administration in the two years after September 11, including obviously the run up to the Iraq War.  From the lowest number of lies to the highest.  Here are the center‘s findings of the individual standings.

Then deputy White House press secretary Scott McClellan, perennially out of the loop, only lied 14 times.  Publicity shy Vice President Dick Cheney who does not talk publicly a lot only had 48 fabrications on the issue.  We await calculations of his talking to lying ratio.  Condoleezza Rice, at that time the national security advisor.  Her specialty was the nonexistent Soviet Union, so she got Iraq wrong 56 times.  Former defense deputy secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, 85 times.  His boss, Donald Rumsfeld only lied 109 times we think, given the known unknowns in figuring out what he‘s saying.  Tied him with White House press secretary Ari Fleischer whose job was ostensibly not to lie.  Former secretary of state Colin Powell came in at second place with 254 false statements, many of them, of course, in that famous speech to the UN.

And at number one, the calumniator in chief, with not just those 16 false words in his State of the Union but 260 false statements to the union as he pushed to take the focus off al Qaeda and have American blood spilled in the war of his choice.  Let‘s bring in the career debunker of these lies, MSNBC political analyst Rachel Maddow, whose show airs weeknights on Air America Radio.  Good to see you again.

RACHEL MADDOW, AIR AMERICA RADIO:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Only 935.  In gambling terms the under won.  Who knew?

MADDOW:  Looking back, before today, before we had a bullion keyword searchable database of lies about to lead up to the Iraq War.  You had the sense that we were lied to a lot about weapons of mass destruction, about Saddam having links to al Qaeda and to 9/11.

But having all of these instances in a list now, literally in a searchable database of lies kind of plugs up the memory hole in a way.

It means that we have the evidence at hand to rebut the assertion every time somebody asserts that oh the intelligence was a little fuzzy or I never made that sort of claims, 935 lies may feel low or they may feel high, but they are all provable, documents lies that can‘t disappear again that can‘t disappear in a public record or down the memory hole.

OLBERMANN:  So that‘s 532 occasions so it‘s basically a two to one ratio to lies to opportunities for lies.  It‘s kind of spectacular in its own way.

MADDOW:  Compound sentences is what I think that means.

OLBERMANN:  The center did not include false implications.  Indirect follow-ups like Iraq has dangerous weapons.  Or Iran has dangerous weapons, for that matter.  The Republican echoing, actual other Republicans outside the administration saying the same things.  We‘ve got all the senators and congressmen are not included in this list.  Fox News chicken little moments are not included in this.  But what base is there for claiming that this was planned deceit as opposed to innocent, albeit voluminous incompetence?

MADDOW:  Well, I spoke with the director of the Center for Public Integrity about that fact today.  I said how do you get from there were a lot of lies to the lies were plants.  He said one of the things that they found was they organized this information was that there were these really noticeable quantitative spikes in the number of lies being told.  At certain times they were lying a lot faster than other times.  For example in the lead-up for the Congressional authorization, midterm elections.  At specific politically moments, the lies got faster.

There is no way to explain that unless they were lying to accomplish the political objective.

OLBERMANN:  And one of those was in September, 2002 at the White House chief of staff Andy Card later said you don‘t roll out a new program or new project or you don‘t sell a new product in August.  So the ultimate question here is, if the threat was genuine and imminent, why treat it as a sales job?  Why do those spikes?

MADDOW:  It reminds me actually of the wiretapping bill which is more recent where Bush said if Congress doesn‘t pass the wiretapping bill, we‘re at risk of another 9/11.  And by the way, I will veto that bill unless it includes lawsuit immunity for the phone companies.

So we‘re left to think he‘s going to put us at risk of another 9/11 to protect the phone companies from lawsuits?

OLBERMANN:  Damn right.

MADDOW:  Same thing with the war.  We had to go to war because the smoking gun was going to be a mushroom cloud.  We had to go to war to protect us from the threat of nuclear annihilation which they were willing to endure for a few more weeks if it would help get a few more Republicans elected to Congress.

OLBERMANN:  And 9/11 and prevented a repeated 9/11 is our number one priority except when it‘s not our number one priority.  That‘s the gist of it.

MADDOW:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  The last thing here, at this stage, with an election in the offing, what do the Democrats do with this bullion searchable database.  Is there time, is there political inclination to impeach or what do you do with this other than just tar these guys memories in history.

MADDOW:  The political inclination to impeach is something that I have yet to plumb.  I don‘t understand why the Democrats haven‘t pursued it except some of the more spineful Democrats in Congress, even though that‘s not a word.

I think, personally, in terms of just my ethics and the way I approach things, it‘s an insult to the Constitution if you think high crimes and misdemeanors have been committed to not keep impeachment on the table as the remedy to those things.  If you don‘t, you‘re setting a future precedent for future generations and future presidents that it‘s OK to get away with those things.  I think we owe it to our kids and grand kids to not take impeachment off the table.

OLBERMANN:  Well, think about it this time.  What about impeaching after the election so it‘s a completely apolitical issue?  Just to keep that in the back of your head.  Rachel Maddow, MSNBC political analyst who is now looking at me like I‘m completely crazy.

MADDOW:  No, you‘re not.

OLBERMANN:  Also Air America.  We‘ll see you Saturday for South Carolina if not sooner.  Thanks.

MADDOWS:  Indeed.  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  There is a Britney Spears story tonight.  I have not read it.  I‘ve skimmed it.  It involves Steve Carell and some Mohawks.  I suppose this makes it worth 60 seconds of you time.

This is.  Can you really try to make money off Heath Ledger on the night of his death?  Can you really try to make jokes about Heath Ledger not two hours after his death?  John Gibson and the other worst persons in the world ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Names you‘re unlikely to ever hear paired up again in the same sentence after our nightly minute or so of celebrity news my producers are forcing me to cover.  “Keeping Tabs,” Steve Carell and Britney Spears both spotted at the L.A. County Courthouse today, the former for jury duty, he got picked and will be back tomorrow, the latter for yet another custody and visitation hearing.  Ms. Spears decided to show up but changed her mind and never made it inside a courtroom.  Her lawyers are now trying to persuade the judge to let her see her kids in a therapeutic session with medical professionals.  The next hearing is scheduled for next month.  The kids remaining in custody of K-Fed seen here in courtroom sketches rocking a mohawk.

Turning to another train wreck.  Amy Winehouse now under investigation reportedly and in rehab reportedly after video surfaced of her reportedly doing crack cocaine.  London police say they will assess the tape showing the singer smoking something out of a pipe after announcing she had taken six valium.  “The Sun” tabloid that put the video out is now reporting that the singer who famously sung no, no, no to rehab, has actually checked into a clinic even though “People” magazine is reporting she was just visiting her regular doctor.

Where the investigation into the death of Heath Ledger goes now.  That‘s next but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s worst persons in the world, the bronze to Newt Gingrich on Fox Noise.  “The Clintons are trying to do something no other American has done.  Muscle theirselves into another eight years, which would mean they actually outrank Roosevelt in time in office.”

Newt, who‘s been president since 2001.  Who was the president two president‘s before him.  How long will the two Bushes be in office after they muscled in, 12 years?  How long was FDR in office?  Twelve years and five weeks.  Listen to me.  Trying to have a grownup conversation with a guy named Newt.

The silver to the managers of the Best Buy store in Mission Valley, San Diego.  According to a poster at the Web site for VH1‘s show “Best Week Ever.”  By last night the Best Buy had arranged a display last night with a sign reading “Heath Ledger, April 4, 1979-January 22, 2008.  Remember a great actor through great performances.”

It had DVDs of the late actor‘s movies, from “Brokeback Mountain” to “Ten Things I Hate About You” was arranged for those who like to grieve by purchasing a guy‘s movies before his autopsy has been completed.

Hey, Best Buy, want to hear the “Ten Things I Hate About You.”

But our winner John Gibson of Fix News opened his radio show last night an hour or so after the news of Ledger‘s death by playing the funeral march and the iconic clip from “Brokeback Mountain,” the “I can‘t quit you” line.

Gibson then said, well, he found out how to quit you.  Gibson went on to call Ledger a quote, “weirdo” with a serious drug problem.  Insisted Ledger was suicidal then in an attempt at humor suggested Ledger might have been quote depressed about the downturn in the world stock markets or because quote, “he watched the Clinton-Obama debate.”

Remind you, these were jokes, like the kind the mentally ill tell or the kind serial murderers tell or the kind John Gibson tells.  John Gibson, today‘s worst person in the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It‘s not often that the death of a celebrity warrants any more than a brief statement of sympathy at the White House.  Today was an exception.  Our number one story, the death of actor Heath Ledger leading to the rescheduling of a presidential event.  Mr. Bush today scrubbing the launch of a new ad campaign warning about prescription drug abuse.  The White House with commendable restraint saying it did not want to seem opportunistic about Ledger‘s death.  Would that others had followed their lead.

In Mr. Ledger‘s native Australia the news is focusing on reports that he has been taking Ambien sleeping medication about which Australia‘s version of the FDA strengthened its warnings, especially when combined with other drugs.

At least six prescription drugs were found in his apartment according to Associated Press reports.  Outside the Manhattan building in which Mr.  Ledger died, fans added to a makeshift memorial, traded stories, waiting for toxicology tests after initial tests could not determine if a bad drug reaction or over dose had contributed to his death.

Once again we call on Harvey Levin, managing editor at tmz.com which broke the Ledger story yesterday.  Harvey, good evening.

HARVEY LEVIN, TMZ.COM:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The autopsy was completed today.  Give us an update on this investigation.  If they did not determine a cause, was anything ruled out today?

LEVIN:  Nothing was ruled out, nothing was ruled in.  Police sources are all telling us it‘s pointing to an accidental death.  Not a suicide.  There were media reports yesterday that maybe there was a suicide.  There were reports about a scene at the apartment.  But we are told that nothing is conclusive, but that it looks like it is accidental.  Keith, we just put up, on our Web site, information we received from police sources on the exact drugs that were found in the apartment.  I can tell you what they are.  They are Xanax, Valium, Ativan, Lunesta and Restoril.  There were five drugs and the bottles were pretty much all full.  So it wasn‘t as if he had ingested a lot of any one of them.

And we‘re also told that the medical examiners who were on scene said it looked like somebody died in the apartment, but no evidence of any kind of illicit activity going on in there.  So I think both things are kind of important.

OLBERMANN:  Lunesta is another one of these sleep drugs.  The Ambien story from Australia, any drug where the drug maker has to warn sleepwalking and eating or driving while not fully awake with amnesia for the event have been reported.  It is serious stuff.  What is the whole Ambien angle about?  Do you know?

LEVIN:  Well, I think I think the Ambien angle is really interesting.  We got that information yesterday about the Ambien.  Indeed, he had talked about using it before.  The list I just gave you does not include Ambien.  It has Lunesta, which I believe is something like it.  But does not include Ambien specifically.

So this is a list we got based on the most up to date information from the police.  We heard about the Ambien as well.  We reported the Ambien as well.  I think the overriding issue here is what exactly is going on.  Could this have been a mixture of drugs or, we were told Ledger was feeling really, really bad.  His family tells us he had pneumonia.  He had some kind of walking pneumonia.  So that decreases lung function to begin with.  And some of these drugs do the same.  Could it have been a combination of all of this and we just have to wait for the toxicology reports.

OLBERMANN:  Your Web site also had a video there of Jack Nicholson in London reacting to these reports about Ledger and Ambien?  What can you tell us about that?

LEVIN:  I‘m not sure it‘s about Ambien.  It‘s really more about drugs.  We reported yesterday that Heath Ledger had a substance abuse problem.  And his friends and family tell us that they think he‘s been clean for a year.  Jack Nicholson acted as if he certainly knew something.

And a cameraman asked him, what do you think about Heath Ledger‘s death and they suggested it was an overdose, basically Nicholson said I warned him about that.  I knew that was coming.  That was kind of an odd reaction.  Haven‘t heard anything like that from the Hollywood community, but that‘s Jack Nicholson.

OLBERMANN:  There was a story that he had told the “New York Times” that he had trouble sleeping after playing a psychopathic killer in the “Batman” movie.  He talked about living on through his child.  You mentioned last night how his family was distressed to you that suicide was even being mentioned as a possibility.  But is there a possibility it may have been depression that led to sort of inattentiveness to managing medications?  Is that where this is seemingly framing up?

LEVIN:  I don‘t think so.  I want to just make something really clear.  We actually talked to the family‘s rep last night.  They told us that it was not—that the family believed it was not suicide.  The detectives had told them it wasn‘t.  So I don‘t think, necessarily, this is a situation where this is a guy in a downhill spiral.  He was shooting a movie.  He was a functioning human being.

Yeah, he had problems, he split with Michelle Williams and had demons in his life, the way a lot of people do.  We don‘t know that suggests that this was emotionally based in that respect.

OLBERMANN:  Harvey Levin, the managing editor of TMZ Web site and TV program both  Thanks again, Harvey.

LEVIN:  Sure, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,729th day since the declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.

Our coverage continues with MSNBC LIVE WITH DAN ABRAMS.  Dan, good evening.

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

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