updated 2/12/2008 11:23:52 AM ET 2008-02-12T16:23:52

Guests: Paul Rieckhoff, Paul F. Tompkins

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

The hunt for John Edwards: Barack Obama‘s pitch for his endorsement postponed due to media circus.  And ultimate day in the Potomac primaries, Obama with big leads in all three and big hopes for a streak of eight in a row, Clinton‘s seeming only hope in Virginia or in Maggie, her new campaign manager Maggie Williams or improving her view that activists decide caucuses and three of Obama‘s wins over the weekend were in caucuses.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  You know, my husband didn‘t win any of these caucus states.  You know, he didn‘t Maine, he didn‘t win Colorado, he didn‘t win Washington.  This is about making a strong case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  A case versus the Republicans.  Obama over McCain by six, but the Keith number is 13.5.  Though Obama likes his anecdotals -

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  In the rallies, I‘m shaking hands and suddenly, somebody whispered to me, hey, Barack, I‘m a Republican, but I support you.  And I say, thank you.  Why are we whispering?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Mike Huckabee will not keep quiet.  Is he spoiler or is he serious and is it his finish line tomorrow night?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We have to decide if we want to win in November or are we just want to rack up some delegates.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Bushed: The troops down sizing, itself downsized.  Now, the Secretary of Defense is agreeing, withdrawals may stop this summer.  Iraq still chaos in action.

Karl Rove, now a media member Karl Rove gives a speech and bans the media.  Welcome to Worst Persons.

And the writers strike is for all intents and purposes over, one weekend too late for Paris Hilton whose new movie opens to a box office gross of $25,000.  That is why they call it gross.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

(on camera):  Good evening, this is Monday February, 11th, 267 days until the 2008 presidential election.  Senator John Edwards back in the race for president, not literally, mind you, but in our fifth story of the COUNTDOWN: With both of his former rivals now actively seeking his endorsement, what the North Carolina Democrat decides could have a big impact in the primary that has become all about momentum.  Senator Clinton having made a clandestine visit to see her former rival in Capitol Hill last Thursday to seek his support.  She got there while the getting was good.  Senator Obama had been planning to see Edwards tonight.  That visit canceled.  Aides are saying it becomes a media circus with helicopters flying over the Edwards‘ home.  The meeting instead rescheduled and cleverly, they will not tell us when.  Senator Edwards‘ endorsement if it comes, will come too late to influence tomorrow‘s votes in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., the Potomac primaries or the Chesapeake Bay vote, whichever you prefer.  Senator Obama having swept the primaries and caucuses held over the past weekend, winning by big margins in Washington State, in Louisiana, in Nebraska, in Maine and the Virgin Islands.  Senator Clinton shaking up her staff coincidentally or otherwise after those outcomes.  Campaign manager, Patti Solis Doyle demoted, a long time Clinton confidante, Maggie Williams replacing her.  Senator Clinton telling reporters today that Ms. Doyle who has young children redefined her role by her volition.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  This is Patti‘s decision.  I have the greatest respect and affection for her.  She‘s going to remain as a senior adviser to me.  But this has already been a very long campaign and it takes quite a toll on the people who are directly involved.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Senator Clinton in addressing her loses this weekend, using the way back machine to take us all to last Tuesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  We had a great night on Super Tuesday.  I‘m still ahead in popular vote and in delegates.  We‘re all each picking up delegates.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OBLERMANN:  Each picking up delegates might actually be the problem.  With Senator Obama‘s win this weekend, he has moved ahead in allocated delegates.  According to NBC News, it is Obama 958, Clinton 904, Edwards 26.  Many now have the opinion that superdelegates might supersede the Democratic nomination process.  Senator Clinton counting more than ever getting more superdelegates than her opponent.  Well, she and her husband wooing them aggressively, trying them to commit now before momentum might possibly carry Senator Obama any further.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  I believe I can make the most convincing argument that I am the person best ready to be president on day one and best able to defeat Senator McCain.  So, a lot of superdelegates agree with me and we‘re just going to keep making that argument.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Senator Clinton‘s advisers in the conference call with reporters are also spending the afternoon trying to make the argument that she would be better suited to take on Senator McCain.  The latest polling though would seem to give the edge in that to Senator Obama.  Obama leading the presumptive Republican nominee by six-points in a head to head matchup, 46 percent to 40.  The Keith number of neither plus margin of error is 13.1 percent.  Senator Clinton facing Senator McCain, the results are tied, 43 percent each, the other variables remain the same.  This afternoon, Senator Obama is stressing his electability among so-called Obama Republicans for a crowd at the University of Maryland Cole Fieldhouse.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I am happy to have an argument with the Republicans.  Not only that, I think I can get some Republican votes.  I know because I‘ve seen -

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  I have seen in the rallies, I‘m shaking hands and suddenly, somebody will whisper to me, hey, Barack, I‘m a Republican, but I support you.  And I say, thank you.  Why are we whispering?  But a lot of them - see there‘s one right there.  There‘s one right there.  That‘s what I‘m talking about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  During an interview with CBS‘s Steve Croft on “60 Minutes” last night, a superstitious Senator Obama explaining that he played basketball on the morning of the Iowa caucuses but not on the day of the New Hampshire primaries.  And ever since, the senator is making a point now to shoot hoops on Election Day.  Today, the day before polls open in the district (ph), and in Virginia, and in Maryland, the Illinois Democrat wishing he could fit in gym time with the 25-2 Lady Terps.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  You know, if I have brought my sneakers I would suit up, I‘ll play a little bit against you all.  I still got game.  I do.  I‘ll rain down some jumpers out there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The first unquestionable, universally certified prevarication of the 2008 campaign for president.  Let‘s look at each of the campaigns tonight, first that of Senator Clinton.  Let‘s call on our own, Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.   Richard, good evening.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  O for five over the weekend.  The polls say, O for three or if she really rallies, one for three tomorrow.  Momentum as much as Senator Clinton might dismiss it, have an explanation for each loss, as an example, did not Rudy Giuliani have a series of explanations for how he did done early and did not momentum eventually helped defeat him?

WOLFFE:  Yes.  You can only suffer defeats for so long before people start wondering whether you can win anything.  I mean, the important thing here as well is not just winning states.  I know we focus on this all the time, but you got to look at the margin of victory here.  And the margin of victory for Barack Obama in the last few days has been 20 and 30 points.  That means he takes more delegates, much more delegates and if you put together the long held out hope here of Texas and Ohio for the Clinton campaign, well, for a start, if you look at the states that have just been in play, they aggregate together the same number of delegates.  But nobody‘s really projecting that she is going to win in Texas or Ohio by 20 or 30 points.  So, it‘s not just the number of victories but the scale of victories for Obama that‘s been impressive.

OLBERMANN:  To the point of margin of victory, and to the point of Texas and Ohio, and to the point of March 4th, there‘s going to be an article for the “New York Times” on the their Web site presently in which one Clinton pledged superdelegate says that she has to win both Ohio and Texas comfortably or she is out.  Does this accurately reflect the status of the Clinton campaign or is this one person shooting a shot across the bow, a warning towards the Clinton camp?

WOLFFE:  Well, I don‘t know that they‘ve ever drawn a red line and said, we have to do this or else.  And I caution anyone who thinks that the point of which the Clintons will quit short of the other side getting the magic 2,000 and something delegates.  So, that‘s one note of caution.  However, it is true to the extent that there is a Clinton strategy.  It is based very, very heavily on Texas and Ohio.  And again, it‘s not enough just to say you won those states.  She has to win by a huge margin there, comfortably into double digits for it to have the same kind of impact of the steady big wins by Barack Obama.  So, you know, these are dramatic stories and the sign of the deep trouble, the deep concern of the heart of the Clinton campaign.

OLBERMANN:  Apart from the losses over the weekend and the prospect of three more losses tomorrow, it‘s not been a good PR week, not that you can do anything about the loses but you have loan, the one day salary moratorium, the campaign manager change over the weekend, where those mistakes, vagaries of the campaign, do you want to have them now during a period of time when you are yourself saying, you are not expecting to have many wins in primaries and caucuses?

WOLFFE:  Yes, not a good PR week is almost a British understatement.  That‘s pretty disastrous week.  Not just because of the results.  Look, you don‘t really want to admit that you got many problems when money has been one of the pillars of this whole edifice here, that this idea of being an inevitable candidate.  And throwing campaign manager overboard in the middle of primary season in a closely fought race, is again, not the kind of moment you want to reinvent your campaign.  You do that well before the race begins if you really need to.  So, none of these are good stories.  Having said that, look, admitting they had money problems caused this avalanche of money to come through on the Internet, so, there could be something positive out of it.

OLBERMANN:  Last point, what happens if you‘re selling electability but the polling begin to suggest the other guy may in fact be more electable than you are?

WOLFFE:  You probably ought to have never made that argument in the first place.  The truth is the polls have not recently turned around and showed an Obama lead over McCain.  He‘s been winning that argument for some time.  If you base your argument on polls, the polls can change very quickly and that‘s what we are seeing.

OLBERMANN:  Richard Wolffe of MSNBC and “Newsweek”.  Of course, great thanks as always, sir.

WOLFFE:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  For more on Senator Obama let‘s bring in our own Jonathan Alter, senior editor of “Newsweek” magazine.

JONATHAN ALTER, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Senator Obama goes five for five in the weekend.  Polls favor him in the three contests tomorrow.  Is it momentum, is it a swing, is it a series of states that happen to fall in this order or that would have been for him anyway?

ALTER:  It‘s probably a sum of all three.  He was very lucky in terms of the February calendar because it works with the constituency groups where he is strong.  So, for instance, you have a lot of African-Americans in Louisiana.  In Maryland, you have a lot of yuppies, to use an old phrase and they are trending for Obama and a fair number of African-Americans in Virginia.  So, the schedule really worked for him.  But he is building up some momentum.  I‘d be cautious about assuming that he is starting to close this thing down now because we got quite a ways to go and quite a number of delegates still to be selected.

OLBERMANN:  Should it be worrisome more to him than it would be to Senator Clinton that Senator Edwards seems to be agonizing over a decision, obviously, this race has been so condensed but it seems like months ago that Edwards got out of the campaign.

ALTER:  Yes.  I think that is more worrisome for Obama.  Clinton never expected Edwards‘ endorsement.  And if she gets it, it would help her stop some of Obama‘s momentum.  You know, the thing about former candidates is that they‘re taking a lot more seriously what they say than anything they might have said when they were active candidates.  That‘s just human nature that you know, like the person‘s judgment a little more if they‘re no longer in the game.  So, it wouldn‘t be a, you know, a transformative event if he endorsed Clinton but it definitely help her and I think Obama is in a situation now where he is fighting an expectations game since the expectation for some weeks has been Edwards would endorse him.

OLBERMANN:  Even if that happens and he got the media attention that he got from the Ted Kennedy endorsement, even if this extraordinary moment if it was a great speech, it was a thunderous session, did we not learn on Super Tuesday in Massachusetts, but more particularly in a place like California where he was supposed to have such an impact and had no impact seemingly, that maybe the time of the you know, big name endorsement is gone.

ALTER:  Well, just a couple of weeks ago, I remember we were just talking about how important endorsements are.  Endorsements don‘t have a direct cause and effect.  They don‘t - and first of all, nobody ever tells a pollster that they changed their mind because of an endorsement.  What they do is they add legitimacy.  So, I still think for instance that the Kennedy endorsements were helpful for Obama on Super Tuesday because they gave him institutional legitimacy in the same way, an Edwards endorsement of Clinton would basically signal to people, hey, maybe this thing isn‘t winding down.  Take another look.  I think it would be very helpful.  For Obama, he‘s got a problem with some working class voters who are trending heavily toward Clinton.  Ohio has a lot of them.  So, Edwards would be extremely useful to Obama to campaign with him in Ohio.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  So, give me the Obama assessment of this thing in the “New York Times” that‘s coming in the piece tomorrow.  The Clinton pledge superdelegates saying, she has to win both, meaning Texas and Ohio comfortably, not just win, but comfortably or she‘s out.  Are they operating under that assumption?

ALTER:  No.  I think because they know the Clintons and they know the Clintons don‘t quit.  So, I think people who have been looking at this in a clear-eyed way, think of it like the old you know, gun control, anti-gun control thing, I‘ll give up my gun when they rip it from, you know, my cold, dead hands.  You know, we are going to go at least through April 22nd, Pennsylvania primary before anybody‘s quitting this race.

OLBERMANN:  And in this case, it is a campaign placard than a weapon of any kind.  The sort of endorsement news, Colin Powell was saying that he is open to voting for a Democrat and praised Senator Obama in one interview.  The other interview from FOX, President Bush attacked in some ways Senator Obama and defended Bill Clinton.  Now, what the hell do we make of this?

ALTER:  Well, the Colin Powell thing is interesting.  Some people might write it off and say, well, they‘re both African-Americans, so what so surprising about that.  But he represents this trend of, what is sometimes is called, Obama-cans, Susan Eisenhower, the granddaughter of the late president has come out strongly for Obama.  So, there is a group of old-fashioned liberal Republicans who are attracted to Obama.  And it could be a potentially significant in this race should he win the nomination.  As far as the president goes, you know, I don‘t want to be unfair to reptiles here but it is a little bit like being called ugly by a frog to be attacked by President Bush at this point.  And I also thought what is kind of interesting, Keith, in that interview at the end he said, hey, what do I know.  I‘m just a simple president.

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  I saw that, too and thought a lot of things I have said about him.  Once last rhetorical question, if he is getting Obama-cans.  Could he get Joe Lieberman?  Would he be an Obama-can?

ALTER:  That is asking too much.

OLBERMANN:  I suppose it is.  Obama-can.  Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek” and MSNBC.  It‘s always a pleasure, sir, thank you.

Chris Matthews and I join you for our primetime coverage of the results and analysis of the Potomac primaries.  Voters are going to the polls in Maryland, Virginia, and the D.C., that would be D.C. or the District of Columbia.  Our coverage starts at 6:00 p.m. Eastern, 3:00 Pacific tomorrow.  Many homes in the capital region will be in mourning tomorrow in many more hearts.  Congressman Tom Lantos has died of esophageal cancer.  Just five weeks ago, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee announced he would not seek re-election in the fall due to ill health.  He represented his district in northern California since 1981.  But his greatest contribution to mankind may have come before 1945.  Born in Hungary, he twice as a teenager escaped Nazi labor camps and protected by legendary Swedish diplomat, Raoul Wallenberg, was active in the anti-Nazi underground.  Representative Tom Lantos, the only holocaust survivor ever elected to the U.S. Congress was 80 years old.

And yes, Virginia, there is another Republican candidate and the reading of the tea leaves suggest, if Virginia were to vote for him and repudiate John McCain there could be some serious trouble.  (INAUDIBLE)

And in the State of the Union, the president said, the surge troops are starting to come home.  The Pentagon is apparently ready to stop them coming home.  And the day, the Defense Secretary says, al Qaeda has been routed in Iraq, 22 more are dead, 42 wounded after two more car bombs.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The word from one Republican big wig: Mike Huckabee is not as funny tonight as he was, say, last week.  He‘s hoping for miracles he says but polls say he will not find any tomorrow night.  Pat Buchanan on what all this means to Republicans and Democrats.

And: In Bushed.  Nice timing on the first 9/11 trials while in Worst Persons: Roger Clemens‘ attorney duking it out with new newsman, Karl Rove for the honors.  All ahead, here on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It was an epic weekend that cheered not just his supporters but also the two political groups in this country who hate each over the most.  The far right and the far left.  In our fourth story tonight: The math insists that unless he can repeat it tomorrow night in the three Chesapeake Bay primaries, it‘s a final for Mike Huckabee.  This weekend, Huckabee beat John McCain, 60 percent to 40 percent in Kansas, 43 to 42 in Louisiana.  But according to the Republican Party, he lost the Washington caucus 26 percent to 24 percent.  Governor Huckabee disputing that result because the party chairman called the race for Mr. McCain with only 87 percent of the votes counted.  The votes cast on Saturday count for only half of the delegates.  The other half will be chosen in a primary on the 19th.  Even if he ends up winning Washington State, Mr. Huckabee still trails Mr. McCain by a significant number of delegates; right now it‘s 234 to 724.  But even though it‘s mathematically nearly impossible for him to actually win the nomination, Governor Huckabee says, he will say in the race as long as people are still rooting for him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUCKABEE:  You don‘t win the Republican presidency by winning California, New York, and Delaware and Connecticut.  You win that presidency by West Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas.  Those are the states I‘ve won.  So, we have to decide—are we wanting to win in November or do we just want to rack up some delegates.  And I think what I have proven is that I appeal to the conservative base of our party.  That‘s who is supporting me and that‘s going to matter if we really are serious about beating either Hillary or Obama.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Joining us now MSNBC political analyst, Pat Buchanan.  Good evening, Pat.

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hey, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  What do you think is happening with Huckabee right now?  Is he right about where he‘s winning and where McCain is not?  Or should he mentioning that he hasn‘t been winning many cities?  Did he win in Kansas because McCain voters think this over and they stayed home, what‘s happen here?

BUCHANAN:  Well, Kansas is virtually a border state and he went out and got a rally of about 1,500 people and McCain had a small one.  I think he just went out there and beat him.  Huckabee is showing real strength, Keith, among the evangelicals and increasingly, among the conservatives who are disaffected, disconsolate with McCain.  And I think he wants to demonstrate that he really is an alternative to John McCain.  But I agree with you.  There is no chance mathematically he can win.  It has to be a miracle.

OLBERMANN:  If he does win one of the three even tomorrow night or just comes within an eyelash of one of the three, obviously, that is as close to the miracle as he could be expected to get.  But are there other lower numbers that could indicate a genuine problem for John McCain?  If he loses by 10 percent, 20 percent, what point is it that Huckabee is still viable even if he gets swept tomorrow night?

BUCHANAN:  Well, two different questions.  If you are saying at what point is McCain or Huckabee viable?  I don‘t know that he is viable but if Huckabee can show say, 33 percent to 40 percent in Virginia, 30 percent or above in a state like Maryland, that would demonstrate that John McCain has not closed the sale with conservatives and Republicans.  They still don‘t want him.  A number of them are holding out.  I think it would show weakness inside the party on the part of McCain frankly and it might make Huckabee more attractive as a vice presidential nominee.

OLBERMANN:  If he stays in, Pat, until he is mathematically eliminated, can he inflict lasting harm on the McCain presidency or by Labor Day, will everybody involve in this from the archconservatives to the McCain people to the liberals who are going, oh, good, Republican disharmony, are they all going to be striving by Labor Day to remember exactly how he spells his name?

BUCHANAN:  You‘re close.  Let me say this.  I think by Texas and Ohio, McCain is likely to be very close to over the top.  But the race Mike Huckabee is running which is an above board, positive race, simply mentioning the differences with himself and McCain, no attack ads, no dirt ball tactics, nothing like that, I think that will not hurt John McCain at all.  It might continue some interest in this campaign for a while.  Mike Huckabee is not out to hurt John McCain.  He is out to become Mr. Conservative for the future and the leader of that wing of the party and to pile up more votes and delegates than a fellow named Romney.

OLBERMANN:  But to the point of dirty politicking.  That was not something I fetched out of thin air about one of the Republican leaders saying, this is not as funny as it was last week.  Is there at some point at which somebody in John McCain‘s camp says, we love this guy, he‘s a wonderful sense of humor.  We have to find something to make him go away?

BUCHANAN:  Let me make a personal note here.  I find contemptible the arrogance of these party officials to tell a candidate like Mike Huckabee, he‘s got to get out of the race.  For heaven‘s sakes, it is the leadership of the Republican Party and the demands that they have fall in line behind presidents and party leaders that got us into Iraq that is responsible for NAFTA and the loss of the Reagan Democrats that supported Bush 1‘s tax cuts and almost sank the parties.  It is the conservatives who have followed witlessly the leadership of this party who have disserved their movement, quite frankly, Keith.  We are at 30 percent with the president, 20 percent with Cheney.  And that comes from saluting and following the commander in chief and party leaders.  I think Mike Huckabee is doing a service for the party and the country.

OLBERMANN:  Pat Buchanan who is just getting warmed up for our coverage of the Maryland, Virginia and D.C. primaries.  It‘s always a pleasure, sir.  We‘ll see you then.  Thanks.

BUCHANAN:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  You know, when they say one of these competitive bicyclists is on fire, it‘s supposed to be a metaphor.  Another weird Olympics.

And: As of last week he was purported to be a news analyst at a purported news organization.  So, why is he not permitting news coverage of his speech tonight at Promenade (ph) high school?  Worst Persons ahead, it includes him.

But first: The latest on the administration‘s 50 other scandals—Bushed.

Number three: Literacy-gate.  A transcript with the president‘s most recent interview with fixed noise is being distributed now to every second grade class in the nation in the hopes of translation.  It‘s very hard, said Mr. Bush, to write the future history of America before the current history hasn‘t been fully written.

Number two: Earmarks-gate.  The president was all hopped up about them up to and during the State of the Union.  Senator McCain promises he‘d veto with earmarks in them.  Last year, Senator Durbin put in an earmark for 1.5 million bucks (ph) to fit a bug called the Emerald Ashbore (ph).  In this year‘s budget, the president has asked for money to fight the Emerald Ashbore (ph), short of 30 million.

And number one: Show trial-gate.  After six years and five months, now, the Pentagon announces it has charged six of its detainees including Khalid sheikh Mohammed with murder and war crimes, in short, for planning 9/11.  There will be secret trials inside the military tribunal system and the Pentagon wants the death penalty for each.

Not to say they may not be guilty or not to say they may not deserve it, but how convenient.  Trials could probably start just as the presidential election kicks into high gear.  Meaning, if there were quick convictions or the trials were simply ongoing, the Republicans could take credit for their extra constitutional torture, detention and trials and if there were quick acquittals, they could blame the Democrats for not being enough torture, detention and trials.  Too bad you couldn‘t find out who was in charge of the organization that planned 9/11 and put him on trial.  What was his name again?  Whatever happened to him?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It is rare enough for a serious dramatic actor to suddenly top all of his previous work in the 31st year of his career with a comedic tour de force, and in so doing, give voice to a piece of dialogue that makes it onto the list of the top 100 lines in movie history.  But for the same man to top himself eight years later, no longer having the benefit of surprise is more remarkable still.  From “Airplane” and the “Naked Gun” movies, actor Leslie Neilsen turns 82 today.  And don‘t call him Shirley.

Let‘s play “Oddball.”

We begin in Kila Raipur, India, where the Olympics are under way.  The Rural Olympics, they call them.  Events include the men‘s freestyle—apparently just freestyle.  Also the men‘s solo bicycle with flaming ring 10-meter race.  And why shouldn‘t we be pausing here now to tell their moving personal stories, now we‘ll just move to the individual bicycle twirl and this sledgehammer thingy.  You know, I love working for Dick Ebersol, but honestly I‘m just not convinced the rights to this were worth $2.1 billion. 

Paris, France, hello.  And hello to you, too.  This is not just French kissing.  It is French French kissing, or as we call it here in the States, freedom freedom kissing.  The goal?  Well, we‘re pretty sure what the goal was for some of these guys, but the goal of the organizers was to beat a previous French record of the longest kissing chain that is, and not, rather, for the transmission of oral herpes.  Alas, when organizers hoped for a half-mile chain consisting of a thousand couples, this group only number about 150 people, not counting the guy who kept running back to the end of the line each time, my cousin Claude. 

The president said the surge troops are starting to come home.  Now that has started coming to a stop, how events on the ground in Iraq might put the war back into the forefront of the campaign. 

And with 100 percent of the vote in, Obama beats Clinton at the Grammys.  Jimmy Carter third. 

These stories ahead, but first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three “Best Persons in the World.” Number three, best municipal reassurance, City Manager Charles Graham of Frankenmuth, Michigan.  The city is performing maintenance on its sewer line, so, no, don‘t jump to the conclusion that there is a snake about to spring forward, nor that your plumbing is possessed if your toilet gurgles or water suddenly bursts up out of it.  Surprise!

Number two, best tears.  Two robbers who stopped a beer truck in London on Saturday forced the driver at gunpoint to jump out and hijacked the truck, which they promptly crashed just moments later, spilling most of the beer and enabling police to bottle them up. 

And number one, best try, New England Patriots fans: 16,000 signatories so far for an online petition demanding that NFL Commissioner Goodell investigate the last 1:40 of the Super Bowl because the officials called an unusual timeout that benefited the New York Giants.  You guys want to really find out why the Patriots lost, investigate the first 58 minutes and 20 seconds. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  In Iraq today, Defense Secretary Gates rendered President Bush‘s national televised State of the Union Address of just two weeks ago premature at best, prevarication at worst.  In our third story tonight, Gates says that after the surge troops leave in July, the reduction of American troops will end indefinitely, bringing us right back to where we started, 130,000 Americans in harm‘s way right now. 

This despite President Bush‘s trumpeting the success of the surge despite his pledge last September 13th, echoed in the State of the Union, that the principle of “return on success would determine the rate of troop return.” Gates‘ new plan, delivered after a meeting today with General David Petraeus raising the prospect of a new principle at work, stay on failure. 

Gates declaring he wants to let the dust settle in July before determining how or whether to continue drawing down troops.  His remarks coming on the same day we learn from The New York Times that the Army kept secret for years a study that was meant to be unclassified, a study overseen by military men assessing planning for post-war Iraq and blaming some of the Army‘s failures on then Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld as well as his boss, President Bush. 

Let‘s turn now to Paul Rieckhoff, founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, also author of “Chasing Ghosts: A Soldier‘s Fight for America, from Baghdad to Washington.”

Paul, as ever, much thanks for your time tonight. 

PAUL RIECKHOFF, AUTHOR, “CHASING GHOSTS”:  Good to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Did the president not promise the troops last September that their success, if they got it, would yield homecomings? 

RIECKHOFF:  He did.  But the president has promised a lot of things over the course of this war.  And I think that what is getting lost in the sauce here, as we say in the military, is the fact that our military is coming apart at the seams.  You know, the drawdown, we can debate over whether or not the surge has actually been a success.  But one thing that is almost not even up for debate anymore is that our military is falling apart. 

Over 500,000 troops have been overseas more than once, over 20,000 have actually been to Iraq more than five times.  And we are seeing retention rates go down, recruiting is already under tremendous stress.  So we‘ve got to ask ourselves at some point, what else are we giving up to maintain these troop levels? 

OLBERMANN:  General Petraeus is due to give an assessment of Iraq to Congress next month.  And shortly after Gates spoke today, two bombs went off in Baghdad, at least 20 people were killed.  Should we not constantly assess our status in Iraq, and if so, why would we need to stop the drawdown for him to make an assessment in July?

RIECKHOFF:  Well, I think we should be constantly reassessing, to answer your question.  And I think that to even project where we are going to be in July might be a little bit premature.  We know that there have been some incremental security gains.  But the political progress just isn‘t there.  And as I saw on the ground, you are not issuing your American soldiers magic wands.  They can‘t fix the plumbing.  They can‘t get the water running.  They can‘t get Sunnis and Shias to get along. 

So at some point, we have got to dig deeper, beyond the military aspect here, and talk about the political, economic and diplomatic options that we need to employ in order to even give our soldiers a chance at success, whatever we are defining that to be on a given day. 

OLBERMANN:  The point that you just raised, the Joints Chief chairman is going to testify later this month to what you have concluded—and thousands have concluded, I‘m not putting it all on your shoulders, that this war is leaving us at significant risk that the military would not be able to respond to some new crisis—not respond fully in any event. 

If the president agrees to stopping the troop reductions or pausing them in Iraq, does that not make us vulnerable on every other front around the world, every one of them? 

RIECKHOFF:  Absolutely.  General George Casey, the Army chief of staff, has said that we have too much demand for too few people, and it means that we have to compromise in other areas.  The 82nd Airborne, our ready reserve as far as a quick response force, in the spring of 2008, will have all four brigades of their division deployed overseas. 

And to put this in real perspective about how we compromise our effectiveness back home, when Hurricane Katrina happened, one-third of the Mississippi and Louisiana National Guard were deployed overseas.  And it definitely hampered our response.

So what are we going to do if there is another attack on U.S. soil, if we have got to defend some other kind of enemy?  We have got all our eggs in one basket.  And in many ways I would argue we are very vulnerable.  Our back door is wide open. 

OLBERMANN:  Sum this up for me, Paul.  Gates is repeating what Petraeus had hinted at last week.  Petraeus has hinted at what the men below hinted had at him the week before, a pause, a stop in the drawdown has been hinted at since before the State of the Union, so when the president said in the State of the Union, the troops from the surge are beginning to come home, what was he doing? 

RIECKHOFF:  I think the troops often get caught being a political football.  And I think this is probably another case of that.  You know, Petraeus is going to make his case.  But he is only responsible for Iraq.  The other military leaders at the Pentagon have got to make the global case.  And I think the politicians are using troop numbers kind of as a political tool on both sides of the aisle. 

And anybody who thinks that Iraq isn‘t going to come back into the forefront of the presidential elections isn‘t really in touch with reality.  The economy may be on the forefront, but if violence continues to go up and we have any significant increase in American casualties, this is going to be back on the front page and we have got to ask all the candidates, what do we do next?  That is the big gorilla in the room that nobody is addressing.  What specifically do we do beyond this summer?

OLBERMANN:  What do you not know, in a minute or less, from the two leading Democrats that you want to know on the subject? 

RIECKHOFF:  Well, I want to know what they are going to do about troop numbers specifically.  I think we have heard it over time, but when you hear somebody—John Edwards is out now, for example, he said, I‘m going to pull down combat troops but I‘m still going to guard the embassy. 

Well, the people that are left behind, they are going to be combat troops.  So I think we have got to drill down and talk about specifics.  What kind of units are we going to leave behind, where are we going to leave them?  And what is a realistic timeline for the American people to expect.  I think a big problem with the Bush administration has been unrealistic expectations.  We don‘t know for real how long we are going to be there. 

OLBERMANN:  Paul Rieckoff, f executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, as always, Paul, many thanks. 

RIECKHOFF:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  The writers strike is all but over and the Oscars are safe, not that Paris Hilton has to worry about the Oscars for this, her new movie.  (INAUDIBLE).

Although, in the battle between Roger Clemens and his accuser, Brian McNamee, somebody is acting at a caliber worthy of at least one Academy Award.  Now Clemens and company make it into the mix for tonight‘s “Worst Persons.” That‘s next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  To begin tonight‘s brief segment of celebrity tabloid news, “Keeping Tabs” with that most tabby of tabloid events, the celebrity divorce.  Paul McCartney and soon-to-be ex-wife Heather Mills got back together again today for the first day of their divorce proceedings, which were expected to last at least a week. 

Unfortunately for posterity, the proceedings are not public, thus depriving the world of the sight of Mills serving as her own attorney and even possibly getting to cross-examine the billionaire she once loved so deeply.  Mills has criticized McCartney as a father.  McCartney, of course, seems less than pleased with Mills‘ performance as a wife.  While the terms of their divorce will not be disclosed, Mills is expected to take home at least $50 million, leaving McCartney to struggle along through with $1.6 billion.  The whole world says to them both, get this done already. 

The star of the first summer blockbuster, the man who ad-libbed the line, “we‘re going to need a bigger boat,” died yesterday of complications related to multiple myeloma, a form of cancer, Roy Scheider‘s career coincided with the ‘70s revolution in filmmaking.  His Oscar nominations bookended that decade, one for “French Connection,” the other for “All That Jazz.”  In between Scheider played Martin Brody, the landlubbing sheriff whose epic battle with the shark in Steven Spielberg‘s “Jaws” paved the way for decades‘ worth of summer blockbusters ever since. 

The Air Force veteran, former boxer, one-time soap opera actor, also appeared in films such as “Klute,” “Marathon Man,” “Blue Thunder,” the “Space Odyssey” sequel “2010,” and “52 Pick-Up.”  In recent years he became had politically active, demonstrating against the Iraq War.  Roy Scheider was 75 years old. 

Obama over Clinton and both of them lose to Amy Winehouse.  I don‘t know.  That ahead.  But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s “Worst Persons in the World.”

The bronze to Dana Klinghoffer, spokesperson of FOX—“Fixed” News, reacting to the blowback it got for dropping its only balanced show, “FOX News Watch,” and its host, Eric Burns, whose contract was what is called a “contributor agreement.” Burns said the network had pledged to advertise the program but had never done so.  Ms. Klinghoffer denied this and added, “not having a contributor agreement renewed is something that is very difficult to accept.” Just have class, once.  And, Eric, welcome to the disgruntled ex-FOX employees club.  They will soon be underwriting anonymous slander blogs about you. 

The silver to Rusty Hardin, attorney for Roger Clemens, Clemens will testify to the congressional public hearing on steroids in baseball on Wednesday in a case in which either Clemens is lying through his teeth or his accuser, Brian McNamee, is lying through his teeth.  Hardin is not helping, saying that if the FBI agent at the heart of the investigation, Jeff Novitzky, shows up at the hearing, “I can tell you this, if he ever messes with Roger, Roger will eat his lunch.” Hold the steroids.  I drink your milkshake, too!  Two, that‘s enough for tonight. 

But our winner, Karl Rove, now an analyst on FOX “Noise,” and a guest analyst yesterday on “Face the Nation” on CBS.  Rove‘s speech tonight at the Choate School in Connecticut, hastily arranged after students and parents protested his selection as the commencement speaker this spring, has been closed to the media.  There is not enough room for reporters there, says the spokesperson for that prep school that we, the graduates of other snooty prep schools look at and say, they are really snooty.  Well, that neglects the possibility of like a pool reporter or a spillover room where people can just listen to the speech over a PA system.  But as for Mr. Rove, FOX “Noise,” “Face the Nation,” you are in the media now, buddy.  You have no excuse anymore.  Karl “no comment except when I get paid” Rove, today‘s “Worst Person in the World”!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Amy Winehouse got five, Kanye West got four, even Barack Obama got one.  On our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, it is not just the winners of awards who take the headlines, it is also the losers.  So we begin not with the Grammys, but Paris Hilton, movie star, only this time she is aware of it. 

She spent weeks promoting her new film, “The Hottie and the Nottie.” She went on Letterman, MTV‘s “TRL,” she even visited the Sundance Film Festival.  And what did all that publicity gain her?  An opening weekend box office gross, and we do mean gross, of $25,000.  Given that it played in 111 different theaters, that is an average of $225 per theater, which means a full two or even three people actually paid up to see each screening of this “comedy” in which Paris Hilton, she is meant to be the “hottie,” incidentally, decides not to date anybody until her freakishly ugly friend, a “nottie,” finds love.  Ms. Hilton says the film “has a beautiful message,” a message that judging by the box office receipts reads, don‘t freaking waste your money seeing this pile of celluloid.  I‘m referring to the film, by the way. 

We are joined now by comedian Paul F. Tompkins, a regular contributor, of course, to VH-1‘s “Best Week Ever.”

Paul, thanks for your time. 

PAUL F. TOMPKINS, COMEDIAN:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Apparently this film was written with Paris Hilton in mind.  Given this opening weekend performance, is it safe to assume this will be the last one written with her in mind? 

TOMPKINS:  Yes, I daresay.  My other question is, when was this movie written with Paris Hilton in mind?  I can only hope that the author has his Kim Kardashian script all ready to go. 

OLBERMANN:  I think they wrote it about an hour before they filmed it.  That is my guess.  But that‘s just an estimate.  This gross, $25,000 for the whole weekend in 111 theaters, is that—do we know, is that the record low since they stopped charging more than a nickel per movie?  I mean, did it beat “Ishtar”?  Did it beat, do you know, the documentary, “The Great Speeches of President Coolidge”?

TOMPKINS:  It did beat—the lowest-grossing film of all time to date is a movie called “Zyzzyx Road,” which I believe grossed $60 domestically.  It cost $2 million to make, grossed 60.  And that movie had Katherine Heigl in it, so I don‘t know if Paris had some sort of e-mail campaign to get people out, but it‘s astonishing. 

OLBERMANN:  Katherine Heigl, but she spent the entire movie not looking at the camera or something like that.  It‘s a crazy experimental film.  Who would the two or three people be who would show up to each of these screenings?  Could they have just been members of the Paris Hilton posse or extras in the movie or people she used to date?  What do you think the demographic was that she appealed to? 

TOMPKINS:  Well, if you are asking who would all go to see this movie, I would remind you that while marijuana is not legal, it is readily available. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Is it over yet?  I don‘t know.  Where is the door?  There had to have been a door, we came in.  That‘s just—I‘m quoting other people.  Paris Hilton recently won the woman of the year award at Harvard, at The Lampoon.  Obviously they don‘t mean it seriously.  Are there any really impressive awards that she might be in the running for right now given the success of “The Hottie and the Nottie”?

TOMPKINS:  Well, of course, I think Paris is probably gunning for the Nobel Peace Prize award, what with all of the charity work that she has promised that she is going to do. 

OLBERMANN:  Oh, yes, oh, yes.  Yes, the drunken elephants—no, that was a mistake that we shouldn‘t blame her for that one.  It was probably the highlight of the year, though.

These other award ceremonies, the Grammys last night, the early estimates, talk about hotties and notties, last night‘s award show was among the lowest-rated ever on television.  Is that because of the writers strike, was it Grammy fatigue, people don‘t buy CDs anymore, do we need to replace the Grammys with something called the downloadies? 

TOMPKINS:  Absolutely.  I blame completely iTunes.  I think that young music buyers today might not even be aware that musicians exist.  It‘s just a sort of program that makes this stuff that they have on their computers. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, that explains some of them—that‘s true about some of the groups.  But we also have Senator Obama winning his second Grammy last night for the audio book of “The Audacity of Hope.” And he beat out Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.  Do we have an idea of the nature of that victory, was it the youth vote, independents, first time voters, who? 

TOMPKINS:  You know, I don‘t think it was the youth vote, because I think historically the Grammy—the people who vote for the Grammys are—notoriously skew older.  So I think that Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, their voices might be a little too soft.  And I think that Barack‘s oratory style is the audio equivalent of large print. 

OLBERMANN:  Last point, it looks the writers strike is over just in time for the Oscars.  Will the Oscars be funny this year or like last year? 

TOMPKINS:  Well, if your idea of funny is three-and-a-half hours of strike jokes, then hold on to your sides. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  This is what we‘ve been doing while we were on strike.  Paul F. Tompkins, comedian, contributor to VH-1‘s “Best Week Ever,” appears without a writer, as always, thank you, sir.  Great thanks.

TOMPKINS:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  That is COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,748th since the declaration of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq.  Another reminder, our coverage of the “Potomac Primaries,” beginning on MSNBC tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. Eastern, 3:00 Pacific.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.

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

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