updated 1/31/2008 2:09:52 PM ET 2008-01-31T19:09:52

Guests: Jonathan Alter, E.J. Dionne, John Dean, Dana Milbank

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

Why now?  Why no endorsements?  And why let his ardent and fervent supporters drift away?  Some to Clinton, some to Obama, maybe some even to McCain.  John Edwards withdraws from the race for the Democratic nomination for the president of the United States.

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JOHN EDWARDS, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We do not know who will take the final steps, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but what we do know is our Democratic Party will make history.

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OLBERMANN:  And on whose steps will Edward supporters land?  The poll that suggests as many as 35 percent of them had no preference.  Will those who wander to Obama alter the outcome in California on Super Tuesday?

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SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Talking tough, tallying up years in Washington.  That‘s no substitute for judgment, and courage, and clear plans.

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OLBERMANN:  In the Midwest and the Southwest, like where she spoke in Arkansas, will the Edwards exes help Clinton?

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SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:   I need your help now during early voting and I need it next Tuesday.

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OLBERMANN:  The help Obama plans the Oprah Winfrey and Ted Kennedy express.  Meeting with Ted Kennedy, first the attorney general wasn‘t sure, then, he said it knew it would be soon be time for him to decide, then, he said he wouldn‘t decide.  Now, the senior senator from Massachusetts finds a new way to get a fourth different answer out of Mr. Mukasey about waterboarding.

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SEN. TED KENNEDY, (D) MASSACHUSETTS:  Would waterboarding be torture if it was done to you?

JUDGE MICHAEL MUKASEY, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I would feel that it was.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  A long time friend of Mr. Mukasey, also feeling it was, instead of is, Rudy, we hardly knew ye.  CSI: The Giuliani campaign.  And from Dick Morris‘ claim that the supporters of John Edwards hated women and blacks, to the comedian, Rush Limbaugh bashing old people who vote.  It‘s a big night in Worst Persons.  Comedian‘s voting machine freezes and he says, I didn‘t call somebody over to help.  Rush, we knew that already.  We‘ve heard the simplicity of your intellect.  All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

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RUDY GIULIANI, ® FMR. NEW YORK CITY MAYOR:  Don‘t let it be said we didn‘t pay our bills.

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OLBERMANN:  Good evening, this is Wednesday, January 30th, 279 days until the 2008 presidential election.  Both candidates arrived at the end of their respective campaigns could not have been more different.  The Republican, Rudy Giuliani completing an extraordinary free fall that saw him tumble from hero to zero.  The Democrat, John Edwards ending a race in which he consistently ran third, once even second in each contest, setting the agenda for the field and failing to breakthrough.  But in our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: The finish line is the same.  They‘re both out.  But what Senator Edwards does next could have a big impact on a long slow march to the Democratic presidential nomination.  Senator Edwards returning to New Orleans, the city where he began his second bid for the White House to bow out saying that on his way to the news conference, he drove past an underpass where several homeless people live and stopping to talk with them was asked by one never to forget them or their plight.  In dropping out, the senator is calling on all Americans to do better.

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EDWARDS:  I began my presidential campaign to remind the country that we, as citizens and as a government have a moral responsibility to each other and what we do together matters.  We must do better, if we want to live up to the great promise of this country that we all love so much.  It‘s appropriate that I come here today.  It‘s time for me to step aside.  We do not know who will take the final steps to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but what we do know is our Democratic Party will make history.  We will be strong, we will be unified and with our convictions and our little backbone, we will take back the White House in November.

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OLBERMANN:  Last night in Florida meanwhile, Mr. Giuliani having only hinted that he will be dropping out by speaking of his campaign in the past tense.  Today, the former mayor of New York flying to California to announce his support for Senator McCain and to take care of some unfinished business.

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GIULIANI:  Today, I am officially announcing my withdrawal as a candidate for president of the United States.  And so, deciding who to endorse in my particular case is not difficult because if I endorsed anyone else, you would say I was flip-flopping, after having already endorsed John.  John McCain is the most qualified candidate to be the next commander in chief of the United States.  He is an American hero.  And America could use heroes in the White House.

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OLBERMANN:  Mr. Giuliani also recognizing that should his fortunes is not improved, his first campaign event with Senator McCain might will be his last.

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GIULIANI:  I‘m going to campaign with John as much as he wants, or not, depending on if I‘m in trouble or not at this point.

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OLBERMANN:  Giuliani later, for more now on Senator Edwards exit from the race, time to bring in our own Jonathan Alter, senior editor at “Newsweek” magazine.  Good evening, Jon.

JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Why now, why did Edwards drop out today and why in particular before Super Tuesday?

ALTER:  What happened to him is, you know, he ran a dismal third in Nevada, 5 percent.  And then he goes in to South Carolina, the state of his birth, and they have a debate a week ago.  And he wins the debate.  The other two are beating each other up.  He wins.  The next day, no notice, no attention.  He said to some people on his staff, he felt like he had to set himself on fire to get attention.  And so, at that point, he realized he really didn‘t have a path to the nomination or even a path to holding a lot of delegates to be a kingmaker.  And he and Elizabeth started talking about backing out.

OLBERMANN:  Then, I guess a stuffy duck and other self emulator can tell you can only do that lighting yourself on fire trick once.  Not a good idea.  They‘re not a collection of pet turtles, they do not move as a block, but is there any indication of where Edwards‘ supporters go at this point?

ALTER:  You know, it‘s such a confusing map.  I heard an interesting argument today that in California, he would help Obama, but in states like Oklahoma and Missouri, he would help Hillary.  So, this is a Rubik‘s cube on Super Tuesday with 22 states.  I don‘t think anybody knows for sure where‘s the support will go.

OLBERMANN:  Apparently, the Associated Press did a survey of some sort with Yahoo! that they haven‘t published in full, they‘d just reference this passing in wire copy today that was fascinating that suggested 40 percent were of Edwards supporters said their second choice was Clinton, 25 percent said, their second choice was Obama and the rest didn‘t have one.  So, this is - I mean, Senator Edwards has indicated and some degree did the tag team in the later debates with Obama, but indicated that he was seem to be more in tune with Obama.  Is he likely to endorse him at some point?

ALTER:  I heard today that likely would be too strong.  It‘s possible, in a sense, but wouldn‘t be imminent.  But even his aids felt like Edwards could surprise them.  So, it‘s a nice kind of uncertainty for all of us.  We really don‘t know and as I think we‘d all found out, Keith, hazarding predictions this year is very dangerous.

OLBERMANN:  Go ahead.  If not a prediction, then an interpretation.  That sound byte of him, the first thing he said about winning the White House for the Democrats in the fall, included the phrase if we have a little backbone.  What did he mean?

ALTER:  Here‘s where I understand Edwards is now.  He‘s obviously more in tune with Obama on the message of change.  He‘s worried about whether Obama is enough of a fighter.  And he wants to see him fight a little more, to see whether he‘s going to be tough enough to take on the Democrats before he endorses him.

OLBERMANN:  So, we will get to some of this in detail later on but what Obama said at his event in Colorado where he took the Clinton‘s ‘96 campaign and sort of twisted it around and try to hit her over the head with it.  That‘s what Edwards is looking for in this?

ALTER:  Yes, I think he wants to see him a little more comfortable on the attack and a little better with the counterpunching and a sense that he can, you know, really play in the NFL in November.

OLBERMANN:  Jonathan Alter of MSNBC and “Newsweek” and auditioning for football night in America.  Great thanks for coming in tonight.

ALTER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Amid the fight over the Edwards‘ endorsement, if any, there‘s another that Senator Clinton will not, that of the Rupert Murdoch owned “New York Post”.  The newspaper saying in an editorial put out in its Web site today and it‘s paper tomorrow that while Senator Obama represents a fresh start, his opponent stands and her husband stand for deja vu all over again - a return to the opportunistic scandal-scarred, morally muddled years of the almost infinitely self-indulgent Clinton co-president.  That was an endorsement by the “New York Post” of Barack Obama.  For more of the endorsement factor, that and the more substantial ones and what is now to the apologies to the Gravel campaign, a two-candidate race to the Democratic nomination.  Let‘s turn to our Craig Crawford, also of course, columnist at CQPolitics.com.  Craig, good evening.

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

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Rupert Murdoch held a fundraiser for Senator Clinton at one point.  There‘s also the theory that she would be the candidate that those in sympathy with Newscorp would want to beat in the general election.  Do we have any idea what happened here?

CRAWFORD:  It could be a scam.  I would say for Senator Obama in the primaries, beware.  Conservative tabloids in Massachusetts, liberal-bearing gifts.  If you get the nomination in the general, in the case of the conservative paper, they might just be thinking they‘d rather see the Republicans run against you.  In the case to Senator Kennedy, that may not be such an advantage come the general election with a lot of moderates and independents and even Republican-leaning independents.

OLBERMANN:  So, Craig, if you‘re Obama, do you come out tomorrow and just saying, no thanks or just no comment or just don‘t address it any way, shape or form?

CRAWFORD:  I think you don‘t address in any way, shape or form.  I don‘t think the “New York Post” is anything you really want to brag about in this campaign.  And probably he needs to move on to other endorsements as you‘ve discussed earlier with Senator Edwards.  That‘s the one that might make some difference.

OLBERMANN:  All right and to that point, obviously, the Kennedy endorsement on Monday gave Senator Obama headlines.  What momentum it had may have been at least dulled if not supported by at least paper victory in Florida last night for Senator Clinton.  But what would an Edwards‘s endorsement do for either of this candidate at this point?

CRAWFORD:  Well, I think at this point, it would help Senator Obama the most.  Probably, the one who‘s hurt by Senator Edwards not endorsing with Senator Obama I believe because it‘s not going to be considered that much a ding to Senator Clinton if Edwards doesn‘t endorse her because nobody really expects that I think.  The one they expect, if there is any would be to endorse Senator Obama.  The other thing, Keith, I would note is do these endorsements really matter?  One of the things I learned last night watching the returns from Florida is this inside game of the early voting.  What happened in Florida is so interesting to me because Senator Clinton was way out front in the early voting before a lot of these endorsements came along.  They were closer maybe even tied if not Obama ahead in the live voting.  See, that‘s going to play out in a lot of these Super Tuesday states.  A lot of the votes, I‘ve heard as many as 500,000 have already been cast in California before these endorsements.  So, there is the possibility that the early voting when Senator Clinton was way ahead is going to overwhelming this live voting that reflects the boom from these endorsements.

OLBERMANN:  Having said that with so many votes still to come after Super Tuesday and the likelihood that this is not going to be wrapped up on Tuesday especially with the Democrats, the exit polls last night in Florida suggested that 51 percent of the voters there, at least the ones who‘re at the polls, exactly that group you‘re talking about, that second wave group, they are the ones who voted live said that the Kennedy endorsement was important or very important to them which is it sounds like it just a 50-50 split.  When you get an endorsement that registers in double digits, it‘s a big endorsement, is it not?

CRAWFORD:  It certainly is so long as you don‘t have a situation where a whole bunch of early votes have come in before that took effect.  And that‘s what we got to at in California.  This is a new phenomenon by the way, all of these early voting, you know, each cycle, we get more and more of it.  And I think it does tend to benefit front-runners in races who can lock in those votes before a challenger catches on.

OLBERMANN:  And speaking of John Edwards and when he could do this and what an impact it might have, what about Bill Richardson, is this correct that he‘s still fighting it out in his own mind between the two candidates?  He‘s been ran out of time at some point, isn‘t he?

CRAWFORD:  Yes and if you take it face value, he based his campaign on his anti-war position.  He‘s very passionate about this.  I don‘t see why - it seems like it would be a no-brainer in choosing between Senator Clinton and Senator Obama given that Obama is anti-war from the very beginning.  So, if Richardson met that, I would think that would be an easy choice.

OLBERMANN:  Well, you think this would be the time for him to do that. 

We‘ll see whether or not it is.

CRAWFORD:  It certainly would be.  The train is pulling out.

OLBERMANN: Craig Crawford of MSNBC and CQPolitics.com, thank you, Craig.

CRAWFORD:  You bet.

OLBERMANN:  Something made 15,000 people try to squeeze into an Obama rally in Denver today, in an arena that could only seat half of them.  What does Super Tuesday look like now without Edwards?

And: Good news, everyone.  The attorney general says, the Bush administration is not allowed to rape anybody.  You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

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OLBERMANN:  John Edwards out so next week goes from soup threes day to Super Tuesday.  How it changes not just the polls but also how it changes the remaining pair of Democrats.  And later in Worst: Dick Morris insults Edwards‘ supporters and comedian, Rush Limbaugh insults his own constituents, quote, “old people”.  Ahead, on COUNTDOWN.

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OLBERMANN:  Somewhere between 10 to 20 percent of Democrats now officially without a candidate for Super Tuesday and a third of them apparently utterly undecided of a new one.  Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: How will the momentum now swing on Super Tuesday?  The crowd showing up to welcome Barack Obama at Denver University, so huge that in addition 9,500 people inside the hockey arena there, another 4,500 were crammed into an overflow room.  Several thousand more could apparently only stand outside.  With Caroline Kennedy there, Obama taking the opportunity to twist Bill Clinton‘s 1996 campaign slogan and hit Hillary Clinton over the head with it.

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OBAMA:  I know it is tempting after another president named George Bush.  This is our second one now.  So, I know it‘s tempting to simply turn back the clock, to look back wards and try to build a bridge back to the 20th century.  It is time for a generation of leadership because the old politics just won‘t do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Senator Clinton fresh off her self-declared victory in Florida even though no delegates were awarded in that state, now stopping in her old home state of Arkansas.  And give that exit polls in Florida showed that she won biggest among an absentee voters and those who made up their minds quite a while ago.  It‘s no surprise that she‘s again appealing to early voters.

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CLINTON:  I know that the next president needs to get up every day and think about you.  That‘s what this election should be about, solving your problems, making sure your job is safe, giving you the health care you and your family need, taking on energy and the environment, we can do this.  But, I need your help now, during early voting and I need it next Tuesday.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Senator Clinton also apparently needing help in her new home turf next week while she‘s still in the lead in New York and New Jersey.  Apparently, she‘s in danger of losing Connecticut.  A poll taken that night that Obama won South Carolina, showing them neck in neck with 40 percent each in Connecticut with 11 percent of Edwards.  Those are 11 percent of Edward‘s total now up for grab as well as the Keith - margin of error plus undecided total at 9 percent.  It is anybody‘s race.  Nationally, the gap is likewise narrowing.  Gallup showing that Obama is now only six points behind Clinton, 36 to 42, 12 percent of the voters were for Edwards.  They are now free as free isotopes and a K number is 11.  I‘m joined by, E.J. Dionne, a columnist from the “Washington Post” and author of “Souled out: Reclaiming faith and politics after the religious right.” E.J., good evening.

E.J. DIONNE, WASHINGTON POST:  Good evening, sir.  Good to be with you.  Thanks for showing the book.

OLBERMANN:  You‘re welcome, good luck with it.  Given how quickly opinion are changing seemingly on the ground not the least the disappearance essentially today of one of the candidates, can we glean anything about Tuesday next from those poll numbers?

DIONNE:  Of course not, but we‘ll do it anyway.  I mean, I think what you‘ve seen are three big events for Obama, his South Carolina blowout, the backlash against President Clinton‘s campaigning against him and now, this Kennedy love fest, which is a big deal.  And so, you‘re seeing at the Gallup numbers really striking because that gap between them is closed from something like 20 points ten days ago, down to six points. 

But, Hillary Clinton is adjusting to what happened.  They know that one of the worst things that happened to them is the reappearance of that word Billary.  And so, we can joke as our friend, Dana Milbank did that it was a stunt worthy of Evil Knievel when she turned that ersatz primary last night into a real deal.  But the fact is, she got a lot of media interviews, a lot of media attention.  And her point was, I‘m in charge of this campaign.  And they have asked Bill Clinton to campaign for her with the same enthusiasm and mellowness shown by Fred Thompson in support of his own candidacy.  So, they pulled him back, and they are hoping this adjustment works.  And so, I think it‘s—the momentum is moving to Obama and whether the Clinton adjustment can help them push it back.

OLBERMANN:  Now, if the Edwards—just based on the last national poll, with Edwards at 11 percent, for that break in Obama‘s favor, it really has to break almost entirely to him even how close that number‘s become.  He‘d have to get that nine out of every 11 Edwards‘ supporters to move into the lead there.  If Edwards wants to influence the nomination, how long can he wait to endorse either of them?  I mean, he can‘t wait past Tuesday, can he?

DIONNE:  Well, first of all, in the numbers, you‘ve seen a real shift already.  So, if Obama simply keeps the trend going the way it is, he doesn‘t need all of the Edwards votes.  But you know, I don‘t think this race is going to be decided next Tuesday.  I think it‘s very likely somebody comes out ahead, somebody else wins enough delegates and we move forward.  There are some states later on where John Edwards‘ message about working class people and the problems of the poor and the economy could resonate, Ohio in March, Pennsylvania even in April.  So, I think he has time, if he wants to make a difference.  Yes, he‘d be very helpful to somebody, presumably Obama now, but I think he can also make his views known and have an impact later.

OLBERMANN:  Speaking about views know, what about the impacts on tone, on positioning on issues, John Edwards is out, that permits or demands that Obama and Clinton say what?  Where does it change the actual rhetoric of the campaign?

DIONNE:  Well, you know, in some ways, I think John Edwards effect on the rhetoric has already happened.  I think he really pushed both Clinton and Obama in a somewhat more populous direction.  He got them to talk more about the poor, more about people suffering in this economy.  I think for Obama, the challenge for him is to pick up his share of the white working class vote.  That‘s been a strong area for Clinton.  And so, I think he needs yet another injection of John Edwards to him.  For Hillary Clinton, what she needs to do is with some of her fighting rhetoric against the Republicans, she needs to pick up the people who responded to John Edwards, the trial lawyer saying, he wouldn‘t sit down and negotiate with those people.  And so, you know, my hunch is that Edwards‘ withdrawal will help Clinton a little in the south and help Obama elsewhere.

OLBERMANN:  E.J. Dionne of the “Washington Post,” his latest book is “Souled out,” that is Souled.  Thank you, E.J.

DIONNE:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  And ever since Joe Biden‘s unforgettable line of about a noun, a verb and 9/11, it‘s been straight downhill for Rudy Giuliani.  He‘s out.

And: I do not like them in a box; I do not like them with a fox.  I do not like them here or there.  I do not like them anywhere.  I do not green eggs without ham.

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

Number three: Perpetuity-gate.  The president with a signing statement rewriting a law.  He signed the National Defense Authorization Act which bars funding for permanent basis in Iraq.  The president is just going to ignore that part because he already signed his own treaty for those, no, nobody gets to ratify the treaty either.

Number two: Gonzo-gate.  Scott J. Bloch, the head of the office of Special Council investigating a former attorney general, Alberto Gonzalez turned the U.S. Attorney‘s offices into political purging operations.  As now written, Gonzalez‘s successor, to say that Mr. Mukasey‘s Department of Justice has repeatedly impeded his investigation denying him access to documents and not answering his questions.

And number one: Terry Gilliam-gate:  For decades, presidents have showed one courtesy and one courtesy alone to members of Congress when they asked them to approve the budget.  Free copies of the budget.  Last year, the total was about 3,000 copies for members to peruse, maybe, while on the john and for their staffers to mark up.  Not anymore, says Mr. Bush, you can read it online or we‘ll sell you a copy for $200.  Why do I call this Terry Gilliam-gate, remember Gilliam‘s movie, “Brazil” which a future government not only abducts and tortures its citizens, but in one case, abducts and tortures the wrong citizen and then sends his widow a bill for the torture.

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OLBERMANN:  Two hundred and ten years ago today, modern American politics was born.  And for a debate over the impeachment of a senator, Republican congressman, Matthew Lyon was shouting about the malign influence of Connecticut politicians.  One of them, federalist congressman, Roger Griswold heard what Lyon said, strolled over to him and spat in his face.  For two weeks, the representatives disputed each other‘s honor as gentlemen and muttered about duels until finally Congressman Griswold went over to Congressman Lyons‘ desk and attacked him.  First with a cane, then fireplace tongs.  Coincidentally, 67 years ago today, Vice President Dick Cheney was born.  Let‘s play “Oddball.”

We begin in a small Mexican village where this chicken is producing predyed Easter eggs.  This is Bobanita (ph), who despite being an otherwise normal looking bird is laying eggs that have green shells.  Bobanita‘s owners have no explanation for it.  They say the green eggs have been showing up since December and the chicken eats a normal tortilla and chicken feed diet.  Scientists say there‘s no difference nutritionally between the innards of a green egg and traditional white or brown ones.  A fact that has reassured all the omelet loving town folk except one guy named Samuel Losoy (ph) who refuses to eat the damn things.

To Los Angeles, where beginning today you can get your weed from a vending machine.  I knew it would come to this.  At the Herbal Nutrition Center, I forgot the change, man, this machine is the first in the nation that allows medical marijuana users to withdraw up to an ounce of Maui Wowie a month.  In case you‘re wondering, every day stoners need not apply.  The machine has its own guard.  It requires a legal prescription and before you plunk in your quarters, you get photographed and fingerprinted.  The machine‘s owner explains the elaborate security.

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UNIDENTIFED MALE:  It‘s the highest verification that any dispensary has ever had.

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OLBERMANN:  Dude.  He said highest.  Huhuhuh.

The attorney general and waterboarding and whether it‘s torture from I don‘t know to I don‘t know yet to I‘m not going to tell you to today, his fourth different answer.  And in worst persons, another reminder of why Dick Morris might not be short for Richard.

But first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three “Best Persons in the World.”

Number three, best irrelevant endorsement, Hulk Hogan.  Hogan says Senator Obama does not judge Americans based on, quote, “the people dress.”  If you were Hulk Hogan and you dressed like that, this would be your criterion too.

Number two.  Best rage against the radio programming machine man, Paul Webster Feinstein of KOOP in Austin, Texas.  A volunteer disc jockey on the station‘s Internet program.  The program director apparently changed the list of jazz selections Mr. Feinstein was to play on his program, so Mr.  Feinstein set fire to the radio station.  He could go to jail for 20 years for that.  More Django!

And number one, Jennifer Hunt of Sweetwater, Tennessee.  Police say a passing squad car saw her lurking around a church early Saturday morning.  The officer asked her what she was doing there.  She explained she was relieving herself.  That‘s when the crowbar she apparently had been using to try to break into the church fell out of her pants.  Is that a tire iron in your pocket or are you just glad to see the bathroom?

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OLBERMANN:  I miss Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.  At least every time he defied the Constitution and the Congress, he always said the same thing.  In our third story tonight, Michael Mukasey has today given his fourth answer about waterboarding.  In a letter to the Judiciary Committee yesterday, Mr. Mukasey mutated from saying he knew at some point he would have to say whether waterboarding is always torture, i.e., illegal, to no, he had no intention of choosing.  Much of today‘s expected outrage over that, however, missing the astonishing fact that Mukasey after reviewing secret DOJ legal rationales defending waterboarding also refuses to outright endorse Mr. Bush‘s prior use of waterboarding.  Perhaps more astonishing still, in the course of the waterboarding debate, Mukasey, the nation‘s top law man says Mr. Bush may have broken federal law on at least two more occasion occasions.

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MICHAEL MUKASEY, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  Torture as you know, is now unlawful under American law.  I can‘t contemplate any situation in which this president would assert Article II authority to do something the law forbids.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, ® PA:  Well, he did just that in violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.  He did just that in disregarding the expressed mandate of the National Security Act to notify the intelligence committees.  Didn‘t he?

MUKASEY:  I think we are now in a situation where both those issues have been brought within statutes.  And that‘s the procedure going forward.

SPECTER:  That‘s not the point.  The point is that he acted in violation of statues, didn‘t he?

MUKASEY:  I don‘t know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And while refusing, astonishingly, to rule out future waterboarding, Mukasey did define some depth to which even Mr. Bush would not stoop.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED KENNEDY, (D) MA:  Would water boarding be torture if it was done to you?

MUKASEY:  Um, I would feel that it was.

KENNEDY:  Are there any interrogation techniques that you would find to be illegal, fundamentally illegal?

MUKASEY:  There are statutes that describe specifically what we may not do.  We may not maim, we may not rape.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  At this point let‘s turn to John Dean, author of “Broken Government, How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive and Judicial Branches.”  And of course the White House Counsel to Richard Nixon.  John, great thanks again for your time tonight.

JOHN DEAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Would your old boss, Mr. Nixon kept his a little job longer, if he had offered to Congress and the people, a defense, not I am not a crook, but I am not a rapist?

DEAN:  He tried the I‘m not a crook, but that didn‘t seem work.  But you know, Keith, in his darkest moment, I can‘t imagine Nixon tolerating torture.  I can really say that in his defense.  We are on such a different playing field with this presidency.

OLBERMANN:  How solid is the playing field on which Mr. Mukasey stands when he says his position precludes him from venturing an opinion.  Should we not be expecting him more than others to say America does not have a set of secret laws somewhere and we are going to prosecute those who break the laws, especially if they do so under official cover?

DEAN:  One would hope so.  Your question, how solid is the base?  There is absolutely no base for what he is saying.  It‘s a conspicuous ruse to the committee.  The committee recognized it today.  I watched a good bit of those hearings.  They were not buying the claims, they were not buying his stone walling.  And they were very disappointed in him, those who even sponsored him and helped him get his seat are now showing remorse at least in the way he‘s handling this issue so important to the country, torture.

OLBERMANN:  If he doesn‘t know, if actually has to answer “I don‘t know” whether the president of the U.S. violated two federal laws, is that the not the bells go off in an attorney general‘s mind kind of thing?  That‘s the kind of thing you have to look into.  Maybe you have a staffer write you a memo about.  Is that not an automatic?

DEAN:  I‘ve got to tell you there‘s a long tradition of attorneys general not investigating their bosses.  This is not a new trend.  What they should be doing and have done in the past is try make sure their bosses are not breaking the law, to give them advice and counsel to give them away.  And I think that‘s the sort of opinion I‘m surprised he didn‘t offer the committee today.  To say something to the effect, listen, I‘ve told him this is something out of bounds and this is something you can‘t do.

OLBERMANN:  To some degree, I think in fairness to him, he did say that regarding things that have been brought under statute, referring obviously to some of the FISA stuff, spectacularly in that instance.  But that insistence, you look forward, you have a blind eye toward possible past misdemeanors by the man for whom you work.  Does that tell us he views his job principally as protection of the president rather than protection of the Constitution?

DEAN:  Well, I think that‘s what we have.  He‘s certainly over there as a caretaker attorney general.  It‘s not a long term he‘s in for.  And he‘s there to be something of a firewall for the president.

This is, he‘s playing the role of judge as to what he thinks is across the boundary line and not across the boundary line.  We can only hope, Keith, that indeed his advice in private is stronger than his advice he‘s willing to share.

OLBERMANN:  So, lastly, John, we‘ve had, as I said, four separate statements from him essentially about waterboarding as torture.  Tell me what sort of attorney goes from, before his hearings, his confirmation hearings that he wasn‘t sure, he couldn‘t define, he hasn‘t been read in on it, then he said about a month ago he knew the time was coming he would have to make some sort of statement, then last week he said I‘m not going to make a determination on this one way or another, I‘m not going to say it officially, now this latest answer, if it was done to him, yeah, he would feel like it was.

What kind of attorney general could give you four answers to the same legal question?

DEAN:  Well, I think what he‘s obviously trying to do is avoid the question.  As soon as he answers the question and the answer is so conspicuous to everybody almost non-lawyers can figure this out.  That under the broad terms of that statute, it could well include waterboarding and probably does include waterboarding.

So once he crosses that threshold, he has got to be asking, well, can I be looking at the president and vice president and others for war crimes.  And that‘s where he doesn‘t want to go.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Well, I‘m going to close where I began.  I miss Alberto Gonzalez and I miss Richard Nixon too.  John Dean, author of “Broken Government and the Voice of Our Broken Government” segments.  Great thanks as always, John.

DEAN:  Good night, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Something seems to be broken here.  What the hell is that thing?  What the hell is that thing?  I know what it is.

And what‘s this thing?  Why, it‘s comedian Rush Limbaugh.  Back for more in tonight‘s edition of “Worst Person in the World.”  That‘s tonight COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Tonight‘s brief look at celebrity and entertainment includes the fine arts while still including the glorious patina of pop culture beginning with Oprah Winfrey.  She‘s not just TV‘s wealthiest and most successful woman and a campaigner for Barack Obama in her own right, now she‘s been immortalized by an artist in all the glory of a classic bronze statue a bit more full figured and revealing than in real life.  Artist Daniel Edwards says his Oprah sarcophagus salutes a woman who is the closest thing to a living deity in American culture.

Pop goddesses that Edwards has previously depicted include Britney Spears giving birth on a bearskin rug and a lifeless Paris Hilton, her Chihuahua in mourning.  Thank goodness you‘re not wasting life on anything trivial.

And now, 20 seconds of hype with a little extra value since we haven‘t done one of these things, either of these things, in fact, in a while.  Six weeks after preordering began, the “Special Comments” book is still the number one seller in books about the U.S. government at amazon.com.  “Truth and Consequences.”  And remember, if you buy two, you have the makings of an improvised looking bookshelf.

The added value, the first special comment of the new year tonight on COUNTDOWN.  On FISA and the telecoms.  My special comment on the remarkable vista presented by a president who would rather protect the telephone companies from the law than the American people from the terrorists.  Tomorrow night on the 8:00 and midnight Eastern editions of COUNTDOWN and don‘t forget our special 10:00 p.m. edition tomorrow following the Democratic debate.  Watch it there if you must.  But understand it here.

And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.  St. Rudy of 9/11 goes from front-runner to winning one delegate.  CSI Rudy, next.

But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s “Worst Persons in the World.”

The bronze to the city of Davie, Florida.  Now these are lawsuits, so the facts are to be determined but this sounds bad and so does the city‘s response.  In the suit, it‘s claimed Davie dismissed 12 year veteran cop Mike Nicolettos (ph) and 21 year vet cop Greg Mize (ph) on the same day because they were unable to perform their duties.  Nicolettos says that‘s because he had a heart attack while on duty.  Mize, he says had had more than one.  The city, it says it can‘t comment because of privacy laws.

Tonight‘s runner up, comedian Rush Limbaugh.  Complaining that we mentioned his trouble with his touch screen voting machine freezing in the Florida primary yesterday.  I am thinking he was complaining we didn‘t mention it enough.

Anyway, comedians big issue was this idea that somehow it was him, not the machine.  I‘m not an old person that doesn‘t understand these things.  I didn‘t call somebody over to help.

Hey, we all know your work.  We all know you‘ve never called somebody over to help.  Also, I‘m not an old person who doesn‘t understand these things.  Nice shot at your audience, pal.

But our winner, Dick Morris of Fixed News.  Asked before it ended today about the campaign of John Edwards, quote, “At the moment his voters are those who can‘t decide which they don‘t like more, a black or a woman getting elected.”

Once again, with his prejudiced view, and with his jaundiced view, he was born Richard S. Morris, but that‘s not why they call him Dick.  Dick Morris, tonight‘s “Worst Person in the World.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It was the baseball hall of famer George Brett who popularized it, the so-called Mendoza line.  The guy with the lowest batting average who still got his name on the list published in the Sunday newspapers.

Named for Mario Mendoza, a shortstop who in his one season as a full fledged regular batted exactly .198.  Still, the unofficial cut off point, the exact spot you have more than nothing, but not enough to be more than mediocre.

Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, the Mendoza line of presidential politics would have be winning exactly one delegate.  First achieved by John Connolly in his bid for the Republican nomination in 1980 at a cost of $11 million.  And tonight, replicated by Rudy Giuliani, who indeed dropped out of the race, but his one supporter cost him about $50 million.  As we reported to you last night, Mr. Giuliani did indeed endorsed Senator John McCain today.  Clues about his impending exit were clear two days ago.

And if Giuliani‘s disdain for the media was absent then when he gave out signed baseballs to reporters on his campaign plane, it was back at least in some soft of Freudian way this morning.  The traveling media corps asked to be in the hotel lobby in Orlando at 7:30 to be bussed to the airport for the morning flight to California, this according to our correspondent John Yang.

Problem, no busses every showed up.  And so the numbers on the Giuliani campaign, he raised 47 million through the third quarter of last year, spent 30 but when the end of last year and the beginning of this year are accounted for, the campaign is expected to have spent about $50 million and for that he won one delegate in Nevada.  Though Giuliani may also count in his column one so called unpledged delegate from Maine.  So call it one and a half.

Time for us now to call in the national political reporter of the “Washington Post,” author of “Homo Politicus,” Dana Milbank.  Dana, good evening.

DANA MILBANK, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Well, what are the souvenirs, actual or metaphorical that come to mind as you ponder the Giuliani campaign.

MILBANK:  How much you going to give me for this one?

OLBERMANN:  Nothing, actually, thank you.

MILBANK:  Oh, well.  I did get my baseball on the plane yesterday, but we all have a lot of souvenirs, we have got Bernie Kerik and Judith Regan (ph), but I will have the memories.  Just think for the glorious better part of a year, it appeared that the Republican Party would nominate for president a thrice married serial cross dresser who lived with two gay men while being divorced with his wife who was acting in the “Vagina Monologues.”

And it seems like a dream now, doesn‘t it?

OLBERMANN:  On top of which it just occurred to me they would have had one of whose ex-wives had been a newscaster, a member of the infamous media.  You and I made just the briefest of appearances in one of the last of his campaign ads, so he can‘t blame it on us, right, nor can we take credit for it?

MILBANK:  No, if anything it was too little too late.  I think it was the right tactic but too little, too late.  Just as he was going down in flames Monday, he put out an ad entitle not endorsed.  He was bragging about the newspapers that had endorsed McCain.  But running against the media will only get you so far.

OLBERMANN:  And we‘re analyzing - this is one of the great political collapses of all time.  Are we all wet about this?  Personally did he not just in fact preserve, maybe expand his little 9/11 money making schemes?  The law firms and the security firms and the speaking engagement tour?

MILBANK:  Sure, if anything, it will be a great boom for that.  Certainly, the sheikhs of the United Arab Emirates will be happy.  And let‘s be gracious to this man here.  Unlike certain people in this race whose name begin with Willard, he has been able to keep relatively true to his original principals on abortion, on gay rights and things that really were very costly to him.  At least he has left with a shred of dignity intact.

OLBERMANN:  What did this mean in his endorsement of Senator McCain today?  He said he would be campaigning for the senator unless he was in trouble.  Are we assuming that is a joke or is there some sort of scandal looming out there?

MILBANK:  Unless he is expecting the Bernie Kerik has some more photos in drag that are going to come out during discovery there, but let‘s hope not.

OLBERMANN:  Of all the postmortems on the campaign today, many of them noted that he did not really skip New Hampshire despite that sort of meme that went out there.  He put a lot of money and his time there.  The numbers kept dropping, and then he spent less time there, said he probably wouldn‘t win there, lowered expectations, spent seven weeks in Florida and every week the numbers dropped.  So there‘s a trend that was visible to him, is that what we‘re thinking happened last night?

MILBANK:  Yeah.  It‘s true.  And I suspect we‘re all talking about the spectacular collapse now, and it was spectacular, but I believe when the history is written, the odd thing will be not the collapse, but the fact that he was able to sustain for very long merely by saying 9/11 over and over again.  Then, when McCain got his footing back, it all fell apart.

OLBERMANN:  And Joe Biden‘s coinage of that sentence, that is perhaps one of the immortal - that will be, when we talk about the Giuliani campaign, that one line he gets in the encyclopedia for 2008 - Biden‘s line will be .

MILBANK:  Also the single achievement of the Joe Biden campaign.

OLBERMANN:  I‘d like to think he‘d laugh about that.

Last thing, one bit of political news here.  McCain and endorsements and picking up steam and all that.  All throughout the day, there‘ve been stories about the possibility that even Arnold Schwarzenegger would come out for John McCain.  Does that appear to be imminent?

MILBANK:  Well, there‘s a lot of people piling on right now.  Certainly, momentum seems to have shifted McCain‘s way.  There are reports out tonight that Romney is not very eager to invest more of his children‘s inheritance in a very expensive battle.  Between that and the Giuliani endorsement of McCain, it‘s certainly going to be very hard for Romney to regain his footing.

OLBERMANN:  Right.  Well, we‘re going to have a Schwarzenegger-McCain news conference unless McCain is looking to bulk up and get some steroids, I think it is going to be about that.

Dana Milbank of the “Washington Post,” MSNBC with a Rudy Giuliani baseball for sale.  Contact him directly.  Thank you, Dana.

MILBANK:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,736 day since the declaration of “Mission Accomplished in Iraq.”

Don‘t forget the regular edition of COUNTDOWN tomorrow night with a special comment on FISA and the telecoms.  And a special post debate edition at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.  Until then, I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.

Our coverage continues now 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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