updated 2/29/2008 11:12:17 AM ET 2008-02-29T16:12:17

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Jonathan Alter, Dana Milbank

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

Another day, another angle.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  If you saw the debate the other night, my opponent said, he never held a substantive meeting because he was off running for president.  So, I don‘t think he should be counting as experience since he never did anything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Vote for her, stem the tide, stop the momentum because Obama has yet to call his first oversight hearing in a year.  He‘s chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee subcommittee for European affairs and it oversees relations with NATO and NATO is ruling Afghanistan.  Yes, except that it‘s actually another subcommittee that oversees U.S. relations with Afghanistan and except that the Republicans are today, now using this one too.

Along with what Michelle Obama has so now aptly named -

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE OBAMA, BARACK OBAMA‘S WIFE:  They threw in the obvious ultimate fear bomb.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The implication to the unintelligent of his middle name. 

As McCain again appeals to them, from Obama, no fear on the issues.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I want to make very clear to voters in the Democratic primary that I am very confident about being able to make the case as to why John McCain is looking backwards and we need to take this country forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP0

OLBERMANN:  Worst Persons: Bill O ends his slump, the man who spoke of not going on the lynching party against Michelle Obama unless there‘s evidence, compares somebody else to the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis.

And the president gets stranger and stranger.  Led a news conference today, then, a comedy club audition.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If Americans don‘t have recourse, are you just telling them with it comes to their prime (INAUDIBLE) to suck it up?

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES:  Yes, I wouldn‘t put it that way if I were you.  (INAUDIBLE).  Anyway, yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Where have I heard that laugh before?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(CARTOON CHARACTERS LAUGHING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Oh, right.

All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

(on camera):  Good evening, this is Thursday, February 28th, 250 days until the 2008 presidential election.  Not to give you flashbacks to SATs or flash forwards, but which number is bigger, 15 million or four?

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: The hint is that 15 million represents the minimum difference between two remarkable February fundraising efforts, 35 million reported by Senator Clinton.  Considerably more, several reports peg at least 50 million for Senator Obama.  But no, in this world, none of those numbers is larger than four.

Obama leading in Texas by 4 percent, 48 to 44, Keith number of 12.  One of the states President Clinton said, his wife must win on Tuesday or she cannot get the nomination.  Tuesday‘s outcome may also hinge on what Senator Clinton now has in common with President Bush, Senator McCain and the Republican National Committee.  All of them today, united in slamming Obama for his foreign policy experience or lack there of.

Mr. Bush today taking up Mr. McCain‘s false claim that Obama said, there is no Al Qaeda in Iraq.  Obama was answering a hypothetical question on Tuesday‘s debate, the premise that Al Qaeda had already been pushed out.  And Mrs. Clinton pursued the same theme with the same line of reasoning that she raised in that same debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  My opponent, when he‘s asked about his foreign policy experience, he often talks about sharing a subcommittee in the Senate that was responsible for European relationships.  And that included NATO.  And that‘s really important because NATO is in Afghanistan.  And we have to win in Afghanistan against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.  And we can‘t afford to have Afghanistan deteriorate and become a haven for terrorism again.

Except if you saw the debate the other night, my opponent said, he never held a substantive meeting because he was off running for president.  So, I don‘t think he should be counting that as experience since he never did anything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Obama‘s lack of hearings now picked in the RNC news release but none of his critics mentioning that while Obama‘s Foreign Relations Subcommittee deals with the U.S. relations with NATO, a different Foreign Relations Subcommittee chaired by John Kerry has jurisdiction over Afghanistan.  And the full Foreign Relations Committee was the one that held several hearings on the military efforts there.  The former chairman of that committee, Republican Dick Lugar, already on record saying, he wanted Obama on the committee after hearing him discuss nuclear proliferation.

Mrs. Clinton also on defense today, after neither rejecting nor denouncing Dallas Hispanic leader Adelfa Callejo (ph) for saying Obama‘s problem is that he happens to be black.  No rejection or denunciation they say until the campaign can confirm the remark was made.

Obama meanwhile today picked up another superdelegate, Georgia Congressman John Barrow, saying Obama‘s short time in D.C. is less than important than his bipartisanship and his record.  Obama himself has pointed to his foresight opposing the Iraq ward and considering unilateral strikes on Al Qaeda in Pakistan, a policy the Bush administration only embraced this year with two lethal predator attacks here.  The second one, just today, killing 13 suspected militant in Pakistan.  That kind of judgment, at the heart of Obama‘s response when he was challenged about his experience as it was today by a skeptical voter in Texas, reminding the audience by omission that Senator Clinton is no long-time D.C. elected veteran either.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I haven‘t been in Washington as long as some of the other candidates, so, if your criteria for who the best equipped as to be president is how long you‘ve been there, then, we shouldn‘t have had a primary and caucus.  We could just look at Joe Biden, who had been there the longest and settle it that way.

But I think what the American people are looking for is not just longevity, but they‘re looking for judgment.  And they‘re looking for who can bring the country together.  All right, I appreciate it.  I think I convinced him.

All right.  There you go.  I got his vote.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s turn now to MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman, of course, senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.  Howard, good evening.

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Clinton, McCain and Bush versus Obama.  Has she got him right where as the old clich’ goes, “he wants her”?

FINEMAN:  Well, possibly so, because he‘s obviously the star of the show, the center of attention, the guy who‘s controlling the debate.  I just got off the phone with one of Hillary‘s top advisers and they may be deluding themselves.  But they‘re saying, look, we think this guy has trouble closing the sale.  We thought that after New Hampshire and we thought that after South Carolina.  We feel good about Ohio and Texas, this person told me.

Again, they‘re maybe deluding themselves. And it‘s interesting that their argument is strictly about Obama‘s qualifications and not about Hillary‘s.  That‘s why in the sense, he has all of them right where he wants them.

OLBERMANN:  OK, I really don‘t get that one considering, what, he has not or he‘s literally not been behind in delegates in or on one day since the voting began.  What hasn‘t he closed, exactly?

FINEMAN:  I don‘t know.  I‘m just reporting what they are saying.

OLBERMANN:  OK, fair enough.

FINEMAN:  I mean, because they have been, they have to - they‘re keeping on keeping through even though being outspent two to one, even though he‘s winning all these primaries and caucuses, even though he‘s the guy with the mo and the message at this point.  They‘re reduced to saying, you know, we‘re not sure he can close the sale.  We‘re going to raise as many doubts about him as we can in the remaining days.  And that‘s what they‘re doing.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Well, but the flag that went up the flagpole today is about his chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Subcommittee for European affairs because of its impact on NATO and Afghanistan.  Without a governor or former governor running, maybe, we‘ll have more of an approach to the Senate during the campaign, but, will things like Senate subcommittee hearings resonate with voters now or in the long march to November or is that just too heavy to stick against the wall?

FINEMAN:  Yes, I think it‘s probably a good rule of thumb in presidential politics that if you mention the word subcommittee, you don‘t have a really strong argument.  People don‘t know what a committee is, let alone a subcommittee.  So, now, it doesn‘t work.  It doesn‘t work.

And also, it‘s not like Hillary‘s chairmanship at various oversight hearings of subcommittees has led to cataclysmic changes in American policy.  I mean, every time she mentioned the Senate, she brings up the topic of her own failure to realize that the war was a mistake in the eyes of Democratic voters.  So, it doesn‘t help her at all.

OLBERMANN:  And moreover, would you imagine if there are several people in several newsrooms around the country who are looking now exactly at that the foreign experience that she claims and how much of it from the first White House was really ceremony versus substance?

FINEMAN:  I think they definitely are.  If that‘s what she‘s going to go make this, perhaps, the final argument of the primary season, people are going to take another look.  A lot of it was ceremonial, a lot of it was high-level sing (ph) and listening to her husband debate decisions in the White House, but she didn‘t make the call.  She wasn‘t the one with the responsibility.

And in terms of the Senate, she has learned about military affairs, about foreign affairs.  She‘s studious and has learned a lot, but she hasn‘t had to make tough calls in any kind of management or leadership position any more than Obama has.  And one she had to make by voting, didn‘t help really her cause.

OLBERMAN:  As we‘ve seen with the similarity in their voting records that she keeps pointing out.  Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” and MSNBC, great thanks for your time tonight, Howard.

FINEMAN:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Of course, if Senator Clinton loses on Tuesday, loses the

nomination, there is still one more way she could return to the White House

as vice president.  We mentioned last night, Senator Clinton was asked whether she would consider Obama as number her number two, surprisingly perhaps, she herself broadening the question to include the flip side of that equation and didn‘t rule out running as his VP.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  I have to say, it‘s very, very flattering but both of us answer it the same way.  We don‘t want to be presumptuous.  We don‘t want to, you know, count our chickens before they hatch.  But obviously, our highest goal is to win and to win in November.  And so, we‘re going to do what it takes to have a unified Democratic Party that wins.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And of course, the vice presidency could be bait instead of incentive to others for the remaining powerful endorsements.  Former candidate, Bill Richardson saying, he will decide who and whether to endorse by the end of this next week, which positions himself nicely to influence the largest Hispanic block in Texas on Tuesday.  And then, there‘s the fact that both Obama and Clinton today focused on economic issues.

Obama in fact today, sporting a new banner with that theme:

“Reclaiming the American dream”, right there in the podium, which happens to be the favorite issue, the favorite topic of another former candidate, John Edwards - who made poverty the keystone of his campaign and has also yet to endorse despite meeting with each of the remaining candidates in person.

Let‘s turn now to Richard Wolffe, MSNBC political analyst and senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek”, traveling with the Obama folks in Texas.  Richard, good evening.

RICHARD WOLFFE, NEWSWEEK:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Does Senator Clinton have a March surprise to poll prior to Tuesday and how big would it have to be to change the game, the way the debate does not seem to have?

WOLFFE:  Well, it would have to be huge.  It would have to be a hit job basically on Obama.  And I don‘t think she‘s got it.  If they had it, they would have done it already.

And really, the surprise they needed to engineer was about her husband.  She needed to step out of the shadow of her husband, after South Carolina, have that symbolic split, that sort of vice presidential transition and it didn‘t happen.  So, what comes now will seem too little too late.

Like I said, unless, if some piece of scandal about Barack Obama that they have been sitting on all this time, and why would they have done that?

OLBERMANN:  Well, it was about that subcommittee, obviously.  Was she

in that little quote that we heard from the speech, was she trying to leave that door open about the vice presidency or was that just an off the cuff response or was it party unity kind of moment, no strategic implications whatsoever?

WOLFFE:  Well, I think the important strategic note that there was the emphasis on unity, remember, that was her great moment in the Austin debate.  And that is a sign about how far she‘s prepared to take this if in fact, she does lose next week.  The idea has been floating around that they would go all the way to the convention.

Well, you know, if you believe unity is the most important thing, that‘s not what they are going to do.  But, you know, v-talk, it‘s such a moving target.  What would you need as a VP in July or August of this year and can you really negotiate that from the position of weakness when you are behind in the delegate count?  The answer is no.

OLBERMANN:  And is the “dream team” itself from either, you know, either head on that two-headed beast, is that a media creation?  Do Democrats really want that?  And would it seem to make strategic sense for either of them to pursue the other as a running mate?

WOLFFE:  Well, when we polled it, it‘s something like 60 percent of Clinton supporters want Obama or maybe 50 percent of Obama‘s supporters want Clinton.  But in strategic terms, it doesn‘t make a huge amount of sense for Barack Obama.  It makes much more sense in terms of party unity for Hillary Clinton.

But again, what do these people need in July or August?  By then, the debate will have moved on considerably.  I think, you really got to look at not the current race, but the comparison with John McCain.  They will be looking for someone who can take on John McCain.

OLBERMANN:  And to that point and to this endorsement questions and the holdouts from Richardson and Edwards, is it possible that they are angling for the number two spot or there are subtler motives at work there?

WOLFFE:  Well, I‘m sure they are angling, but, you know, the longer they leave this, the market value falls in terms of what they can bring.  John Edwards at union support has already shifted mostly to Barack Obama.  Richardson, again, how much does he really bring in terms of the Latino vote?  Whatever they‘re angling for, there‘s a lot of discussions going on, I just don‘t think the VP position is among those.

OLBERMANN:  Richard Wolffe of “Newsweek” and MSNBC.  We thank you for your time.  Have a good night, Richard.

WOLFFE:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The candidate spouses continuing to make news.  Michelle Obama on her husband and his middle name, and the latest formal Republican attempt to turn that middle name into an epithet, to her description, the ultimate fear bomb.

And I‘m afraid you and I have an appointment inside this man‘s brain.  Translating today‘s presidential news conference.  It must be hell in there.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Michelle Obama perhaps describes perfectly the fear bomb.  First, it was the GOP committee in a county in Washington State, now, it‘s the state Republican committee in Tennessee, implying that Barack Obama is secretly Muslim.

If we need more Worst Persons: Bill O is back, comparing somebody to the Ku Klux Klan, incredibly after his lynching remarks, not comparing himself.

All ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It may become one of the classic coinages of modern American politics like where is the beef, there you again—the fear bomb.

Our fourth story on COUNTDOWN: The Republican National Committee formerly denouncing the tactic, well, after its use by various bullies with microphone and the Tennessee state‘s GOP, Michelle Obama has often referred to the fear bomb used against her husband in the 2004 Senate race.  Today, she said it‘s happening again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

M. OBAMA:  They threw in the obvious, ultimate fear bomb that we‘ve been hearing now.  They said his name.  They said, look out for his name.  When all else fails, be afraid of his name and what that could stand for because it‘s different.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Using Senator Barack Obama‘s name is a ploy, a ploy that he is a Muslim when in fact, he is Christian, and he is otherwise, un-American.  It is not new, indeed.  Comedian Rush Limbaugh has done it, beginning at least a year ago.

Local radio host, Bill Cunningham, two days ago, did it as a warm-up act for Senator John McCain.  In fact, previously, he‘d invented on-air a fictional extra middle name, Mohammed.

But the latest incarnation comes from the Tennessee Republican Party in a statement released earlier this week, quoting, “Concern about the future of the nation of Israel, if Senator Barack Hussein Obama is elected president of United States.”  Thus, the middle name used to stoke, a false specter of anti-Semitism.

Today, the Republican National Committee formerly denounced the Tennessee use of Senator Obama‘s full name and the Tennessee GOP altered its statement.

The new statement removed a reference to a photo of Obama wearing what it had inaccurately described as Muslim garb.  But it incorrectly maintains that Obama is linked to Minister Louis Farrakhan and is anti-Israel.

Let‘s call in “Newsweek” magazine‘s senior editor and MSNBC political analyst, Jonathan Alter.  Jon, good evening.

JONATHAN ALTER, NEWSWEEK:  Hi, Keith.

OBLERMANN:  Is that a crucial part of the dynamic here that Republicans as an institution can pretend, or if you prefer, maintain this high road of the RNC statement that denounced this in Tennessee, McCain denouncing Bill Cunningham, but that has absolutely nothing to do with right wing hacks using this and besides, this, the GOP can have it both ways, and then, let it happened and then, denounce it after the fact.  I mean, this essence of the swiftboat process supplied as something a little more heinous in fact?

ALTER:  Yes, I think the difference from the swiftboating is that in that case, you had two different groups with two very different interpretations of the facts.  I believe that, you know, the merits rest (ph) with those who supported Kerry but nonetheless, there was a dispute over what happened during the Vietnam war.

This is not a dispute over facts.  This is an Internet lie that a lot of people believe.  Even Ross Perot believed it until he called me up a few weeks ago, and I told him, to his surprise that, no, Obama was not a Muslim, which he said he was happy to hear.

So, in some cases, you‘re just talking people who have not been paying close attention, are inclined to conspiracy theories and will be a process of education that will take place over time and eventually, this will never be totally removed from the process.  But it will be marginalized and I don‘t think it will dominate the way swiftboating did.

OLBERMANN:  Well, this, calls to mind your story about Perot calls to mind, the Republican Party committee in Clark County in Washington, which posted this by biography which is based this Internet rumor, this mass e-mail, describing him as a Muslim, saying he was sworn in on the Koran, and the idiot there said, he thought it was all true.  Boy, he was surprised when it turned out that it wasn‘t.  Is there any evidence of that in Tennessee and could people at that level of the Republican Party really use stupidity as a defense in this?

ALTER:  Yes, well, I think they will or at least use the Internet defense.  You know, because, people believe, if I read it on the Internet, it must be true as opposed to something in a newspaper or magazine which must be media biased.  You know, so, there is that whole, you know, assumption on the part of a lot of Americans and there‘s also a lot of ignorance.

Today, I went to an Obama event in Beaumont and he passed out leaflets.  These are to Obama supporters that showed him in church and he mentioned in his speech that he goes to church and prays to Jesus, because even among loyal Democrats, there is misinformation about Obama.  People just haven‘t been paying close attention.  They‘re only now tuning in and you know, hear about his middle name and they believe what their neighbor told them that he‘s a Muslim and was sworn in on the Koran, even though that was Congressman Allison from Minnesota, not Barack Obama.

So, once people get more educated, this will recede or will never entirely disappear.  In same way that if you back in early elections, you know, it‘s kind of ironic in the 1920 election, for instance, there were a lot of rumors circulating that Warren Harding was actually black.  All the way up to Election Day, there were a lot of Americans who believed that Warren Harding is really black.  But he was elected president, anyway, overwhelmingly.  And so, most people are smart enough, you know, to sort these things out.

OLBERMANN:  Wow, that‘s a misunderstanding right there.  When even Karl Rove says, don‘t do this, it makes Republicans look racist.  Could this continuing throughout the campaign, could it ultimately work to the Obama campaign‘s advantage?  Because he, A, because they‘re now, he gets to work up those defenses, if you will, again, sort of reactions to it like passing out those fliers that you mentioned today; and B, it does in fact, make those who spread it look racists?

ALTER:  Yes, that‘s right.  I mean, there are some dangers here.  For instance, you know, Obama‘s relationship with his church and his pastor, you know, who has some people in his family who had some praise for Farrakhan.  So, there will be issues that will have to be sorted out here.

But, generally speaking, I think this could rebound in his favor if John McCain has constantly denounces people in his own party for being racist.  That‘s not where McCain wants to be going forward.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, and then, have to prove that you didn‘t meet the guy when you said that you didn‘t meet him and he said, no, we‘d met twice, he knew this was coming.

Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek” and MSNBC, as always, great thanks, Jon.

ALTER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  As you know, there is no 21st Democratic debate yet scheduled, I‘d say that‘s Democratic debate, however, we may have a template for the next one.  It looks good.

And: Waterboarding at your office.  The wonderful thing about our government when the innovates (ph) that innovation to move quickly into the private sector.  Ahead on Worst Persons.

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

Number three: MRAP-gate.  It turns out that it is more than just the military refusing to buy ready to go explosion-proof vehicles for our troops in Iraq, so, they could instead for an American made model due out in 2010.  It‘s more than just 600 or 700 American troops dying needlessly in Iraq because the marines dragged their feet.  The marines are also investigating why request from commanders in Iraq were also ignored for 18 months for the compact high powered laser dazzler.  What on earth does that do?  Well, it divert drivers or people on foot, in this case, Iraqi civilians away from military checkpoints or convoys so the troops could scare such threats or innocent bystanders away rather than say, doing what the marines and other troops had to do instead - shooting and kill them.

Number two: Earmarks-gate.  In the State of the Union, Mr. Bush threaten to veto spending bills with too many of them from Congress.  And Mr. McCain has piously announced that he would veto any earmarks.  It sure (ph) veto hand warmed up boys.  Republican congressman trying to attack earmarks by starting a voluntary GOP earmark moratorium by gotten pledges from exactly 21 Republican congressmen.

And number one: Telecom immunity-gate.  The Washington insider publicly issue a roll call reporting today that those in charge for fundraising for Mr. Bush‘s party‘s Congressional election this fall are baffled by a corporate group that just isn‘t giving any money to the Republican hopefuls to the House and Senate.

The telecom companies—these companies just won‘t do anything, the report quotes a GOP leadership aide, musing about the hysterics the president has been having about immunity for them.  Even, he added, “When you have the Democrats working against their bottom line.”

And stop laughing at the shallow base irony of this and analyze it for a second.  The Republicans cannot figure out why the telecom giant‘s immunity for whom is a greater priority for Mr. Bush than is preventing terrorism.  Why they might be disenchanted with or angry at the Republican Party.  Maybe they‘re angry because they need immunity because of the Republican Party?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  On this date in 1979, Mr. Ed, the deep voiced palomino star of the CBS sitcom of the same name, passed away.  Age uncertain.

Actually it was the second Mr. Ed, a look-alike who had been used for publicity after new episodes of the series ended in 1966.  The original Mr.  Ed, a pedigree horse called Bamboo Harvester who‘s ancestry could be traced back to the 1880s had been put down in 1970 at age 21 after old age problems with kidneys and arthritis.  Of course that wasn‘t Mr. Ed‘s real voice.  It was supplied by an actor named Alan Rocky Lane (ph) because of course Bamboo Harvester was a gelding and he was ashamed of his high, squeaky voice.

Let‘s play “Oddball.”

We begin in Moscow where presidential debates are a little bit more free form than ours.

That‘s candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky manhandling the campaign manager of rival candidate Andrei Bogdanov.  Bogdanov sent his campaign manager out there because he threatened him.  It looks like you made the right call.  Thankfully, nothing like this ever happens here.  OK, maybe once.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Sorry, Tony.

UINIDENTIFIED MALE:  Keep your hands off of me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Guys, please.  Joe, please.  Folks, I‘m sorry you had to see that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Why?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s not right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  To a candy shop in Orland Park, Illinois and a bear heist caught on tape.  This is a tape of three youths entering the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory.  In the upper right hand corner of the screen, note Truffles.  The oversized plush bear sitting in a chair.  Watch as the shocking footage shows the youth unfastening, lifting and stealing the bear and doing the truffle shuffle out the door.

The shop owner is pulling out all the stops to get Truffles back, offering, and I quote, “a box of chocolates or something” for the safe return of the bear.  I don‘t see how this doesn‘t get wrapped up quick.

If you dare to join me on this next project, I will try to go inside the mind of President Bush and deconstruct today‘s news conference.  Don‘t wear your good boots.  This, this was the good moment.  This is when Barack Obama became the Democratic front-runner?

The comedy stylings of Dana Milbank ahead.  All of this ahead.

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

Number three, best revised talking point.  Tony Snow back with Fixed News.  You‘ll remember his colleague Bret Baier tried to sell the Bush as Abraham Lincoln meme only he that Bush and Lincoln are the same because of Lincoln, quote, “the country essentially hated him when he was leaving office.”

Mr. Baier not realizing that Mr. Lincoln was not leaving office.  He was assassinated.

Snow got closer while on “The Colbert Report.”  “Lincoln as late as late 1864 was telling his guys to get ready, the next incoming administration of George McClellan.”

Yeah, but then Lincoln actually won something.  Sherman took Atlanta and Lincoln got reelected.  You left that point out, Tony.

Number two, best dumb criminals.  Two guys in Sidney, Australia.  They walked into a bar there, brandished machetes, and told the customers to lie on the floor and surrender their wallets.  They had not noticed that 50 of those customers were members of a local motorcycle gang.  The burglars are recovering from their injuries and their new tattoos.

Number one best dumb criminal individual, police in Aachen in Germany said they caught an elderly shoplifter.  He was trying to hide a stolen suit under his clothes, but he had forgotten to take out the hanger first.  Sir, your hook is showing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  “1984” had newspeak, we have Bush speak.  Rhetoric designed to obfuscate reality and to quell descent.  “1984” now meant (ph) Bush speak.

In our third story on the COUNTDOWN, the country was treated to a full 45 minute dosage of it this morning.  The president holding a news conference this morning to show his version of events.  The surge in Iraq is working, the Iraqi government is making political progress.  American is not headed towards a recession.  And of course Democrats are trying to kill us all by refusing to give telecom companies immunity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT:  At issue is the dispute over the telecommunication companies should be subjected to class action lawsuits because they are believed to have helped defend America after the attacks of 9/11.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The telecommunications companies are believed to have helped the government spy on Americans now?

Mr. Bush is back to believes, not known.  Earlier this month the had finally admitted they had helped, whoops, he‘s back to known now and back to that stuff about it‘s legal.  It‘s the kind of legal that you need immunity for just like it was illegal.  This was 20 minutes later.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  It was legal and now, all of a sudden, plaintiffs attorneys, class action plaintiffs attorneys, you know.  I don‘t want to try to get inside their head.  I suspect they see a financial gravy train.  Trying to sue these companies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Aside from the fact it was the Republicans in Congress who refused the losses the telecoms might have in court, the president just accused American civil liberties lawyers who are seeking to protect the liberties enshrined in that Constitution thing of being money grubbing trial attorneys.  What about the rights they are trying to protect?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL PLANTE, CBS NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  You can get the government to protect telecom companies from lawsuits but there‘s no recourse for Americans who were caught up in this.  I know it‘s not intended to spy on Americans but in the collection process, information about everybody gets swept up and then it gets sorted.  So if Americans don‘t have any recourse, are you telling them what it comes to their privacy to suck it up?

BUSH:  I wouldn‘t put it that way, if I were you in public.  You‘ve been around long enough.  Anyway - yeah - um.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  I think I‘m going to send Bill Plante a candygram.  Of course not on that point.  You can‘t publicly tell the American people to suck it up when you take away their civil liberties, you can only publicly scare the pants off them so they acquiesce to what you want to do.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Allowing the lawsuits proceed could aid our enemies.  Because the litigation process could lead to the disclosure of information about how we conduct surveillance and it would give al Qaeda and others a road map as to how to avoid the surveillance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The president already evidently forgetting that classified material such as surveillance techniques will not publicly be divulged in a trial, if it‘s even allowed at all even though Scooter Libby‘s attorneys used that defense at every turn.  The only aid such proceedings might give would be to Bush‘s political enemies who could use telecom evidence to prove the administration also broke the law.  As the highly unlikely hypothetical the telecom companies will stop helping the government entirely.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Without the cooperation of the private sector, we cannot protect our country from terrorist attack.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Of course, a week ago tomorrow they all lined up and decided to continue their cooperation any.  But you cannot protect this country?  What the hell are we paying you for?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Some in Congress say we have nothing to worry about it because if we lose the cooperation of the private sector we can use the old FISA law.  Well, they are wrong.  FISA, was out of date and did not allow us to track foreign terrorists on foreign soil quickly and effectively.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Would you please read the memos.  Open your mail.  That claim has been vigorously disputed by the chairman of the House and Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, they wrote a joint op-ed this week that read, quote, “in emergency, they NSA or FBI can begin surveillance immediately and the FISA court order does not need to be obtained for three days.  When U.S. agencies provided critical intelligence to our German allies to disrupt a terrorist plot last summer, we relied on FISA authorities, those who say that the FISA is outdated do not appreciate the strength of this powerful tool.”

Senator Pat Leahy going even further.  He compared the president playing politics with national security to a little child playing with matches.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  No renewal of the PATRIOT Act, I mean the Protect America Act is dangerous for the security of the country.  Just dangerous.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Whatever it‘s called.  As to what else is dangerous, the president accusing Democrats of putting Americans at risk because of their policy about Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Congressional leaders are sounding the same call for withdrawal.  I guess when it comes to pushing for withdrawal, their strategy is to stay the course.  If we followed their advice a year ago, Iraq would be far a different and more dangerous place than it is today.  And the American people would be at greater risk.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of international risk, our own chief White House correspondent David Gregory is checking to see if the current occupant knows any more than his potential successors about developments in Russia and coming up short.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  The Democratic candidates, when asked about the new Russian leader, Dimitry Medvedev, didn‘t know a great deal about him.  I wondered what you could say about him?

BUSH:  I don‘t know much about Medvedev either.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  I‘m going to send David two candygrams.

Maybe a nickname and a quick peek into his soul would help, Mr.  President.  And it‘s not just foreign affairs the president professed ignorance of, but domestic concerns as well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION:  What‘s your advice to the average American hurting now, facing the prospect of four dollar a gallon gasoline.  A lot of people facing .

BUSH:  What did you just say?  You‘re predicting four dollar a gallon

QUESTION:  A number of analysts are predicting four dollar a gallon gasoline this spring when they reformulate.

BUSH:  That‘s interesting, I hadn‘t heard that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Yet four minutes later, when he was asked where money for his presidential library might come from, he said this .

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  We just announced a deal and frankly I‘ve been focused elsewhere, like on gasoline prices.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  He‘s focused on the gas prices that he doesn‘t know about.

It‘s nice to see this presidency is finishing up strong.

An obscure Australian magazine breaks the gentlemen‘s agreement and reveals that England‘s Prince Harry is on the front lines in Afghanistan.  Drudge calls it his exclusive so the British are enraged at Drudge.  So there is good news tonight.

And the American distributor of rage, Bill O says it was not a topic worthy of the Democratic debate.  Waste of time.  Hurts the country.  And he proceed to then spend more time on it than we did at the debate.  Worst persons ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Not perhaps since it kept mum about King Edward VII and the married American lady has the British media actually stayed this silent this long.  But it‘s all out tonight.  Where Prince Harry has been for 10 weeks.

Leading our brief look at celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs,” Harry has been fighting in Afghanistan on patrol with Gurkha troops fighting the Taliban serving as an air strike coordinator.  The British media today releasing these videos and interviews with the prince who says he‘s amused no one knows where he‘s been or what he‘s doing except his fellow blokes.

Actually an Australian women‘s magazine revealed the covert mission last month.  No one seemed to notice it until today when the Drudge Report claimed it as an exclusive.  Poor Drudge.  Doesn‘t get the exclusive but does get the blame.

A British network newscast implied if Harry or other British or American troops suffered increased attacks or injuries or deaths in Afghanistan, it will be, quote “blood on his hands.”

Harry had wanted to fight in Iraq, but was denied because of fears he would be a special target.  The prince saying he is well aware of his nickname, “The Bullet Magnet” and tries to keep a low profile.

The British military says it is not sure he will stay in Afghanistan now that the secret is out.  He may have already have been moved out.

The day after Roger Clemens told reporters to get a life, he‘s the story he belittles has become a federal case.  The FBI now confirming it is investigating whether Clemens lied to Congress.  This two weeks after he told a House committee under oath that he never used muscle-building drugs.

And the day after the committee asked the Justice Department to investigate because of significant questions about his truthfulness.

The committee pointing out that Clemens‘ testimony has been contradicted by his former trainer and fellow teammates.  Clemens‘ attorney talking tough, saying we always expected an investigation, so what‘s new?

Wasn‘t speeches, wasn‘t the policy, wasn‘t the personality, exactly what Senator Obama says did make his poll numbers soar ahead.

But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s “Worst Persons in the World.”  And a brief preface here.  All week, I avoided mentioning him.  So proud, we were going to put out a press release and stuff.  Ah, well, at least we can run the animated introduction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O‘REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST:  I don‘t want to go on a lynching party unless .

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The bronze to Joshua Kristofferson of the motivational coaching business in Provo, Utah, called Prosper.  Employee Chad Hudgins says his department was asked by Mr. Kristofferson to go to a hill near their office.  According to Hudgins, Kristofferson asked Hudgins to lie down his head toward the downhill part and then he had the other employees hold Hudgins‘ arms and legs.  Then, says Hudgins, Kristofferson produced a gallon jug of water over Hudgins‘ mouth and nostrils.  He allegedly waterboarded him.  And says Hudgins, while he thought he was drowning, he could hear Kristofferson telling the other employees they needed to work as hard at sales as Hudgins had just been working to breathe.  Nice.

Mr. Krisofferson, phone for you, president is calling.

Runner up, Bill O.  Almost got through the week.  Tonight he announced al Qaeda was linked to Saddam Hussein.  Last night, he was complaining that somebody posted to a comments board at huffingtonpost.com the sentiment that Nancy Reagan should die soon.  “What‘s the difference between the KKK and Arianna Huffington?  I don‘t really see any difference between Huffington and the Nazis.”

Death wishes, Billy?  You personal Web site had a comment on it last year about assassinating Hillary Clinton.  The Ku Klux Klan?  It‘s been barely a week since you said, “I don‘t want to go on a lynching party against Michelle Obama unless there‘s evidence.”  This is what shrinks would call projecting.  Hire a few of them.

But our winner, oh, him again.

This is a beaut, too.  He is bitching about Tuesday‘s debate, about the question about quote, “Louis Farrakhan who endorsed Barack Obama.  That‘s important?  That‘s important but NBC News made a big deal out of it. 

The press gotcha game is boring.  Tedious.  It does the country no good.”

He then proceeded to do a six and a half minute segment about this unimportant, boring, tedious topic that does the country no good.  Then another two minutes on it later, then two and a half more minutes on it.  He did 12 minutes total on Obama and Farrakhan.  The boring tedious does the country no good topic.  Well, sir, on that subject he is the expert.  Bill ORLY, today‘s “Worst Person in the World.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Senators Clinton and Obama have participated in nearly 900 Senate votes.  They voted identically nearly 900 percent of the time.  So that‘s not what changed the Democratic race from a Clintonian route to what could be an Obama wrap up next Tuesday.

No, in our number one story in the COUNTDOWN, it was how he danced.  Senator Obama not only dancing again with Ellen DeGeneres on her show today, sort of, but telling Ms. DeGeneres his first dance on his program kicked his campaign into another gear, quoting, “my poll numbers skyrocketed after that.”  Really?

Ralph Nader who picked a vice presidential running mate today and Senator McCain and Senator Clinton not dancing yet, but there‘s plenty of time remaining.

To explore this and other yuks of the rich pageant that is this day in politics, the national political reporter of the “Washington Post,” MSNBC analyst Dana Milbank.  Good evening, Dana.

DANA MILBANK, MSNBC ANALYST:  Evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  What‘s with the dancing?  Nothing against what Obama did in particular but do we really want to see the other ones try to shake it on TV?

MILBANK:  You can see where this is going, Keith.  And remember he said he wanted to see Bill Clinton‘s dance moves to see whether he was the first black president.  But I suspect it‘s a matter of time until Obama won‘t even grant interviews to cable news hosts unless they are in fact dancing with him.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Well he won‘t be on this program.  Do you think Senator Clinton‘s campaign took the deliberate approach to the dance or not dance issue?  Did they have a split of opinions?  What did Mark Penn think?  Was it a gut feeling on Senator Clinton‘s part?  What happened?

MILBANK:  Well, if you recall the photograph of then first lady Clinton dancing in her bathing suit when they didn‘t think camera‘s were catching her and her husband on vacation, you‘ll probably know that it was indeed gut instinct.  This indeed was the one time she was very correct to follow the instinct.

OLBERMANN:  Senator Obama asked by “Us Weekly” the boxer or brief question.  Talk about questions for President Clinton.  He said, quote, “I don‘t answer those humiliating questions.  But whichever one it is, I look good in them.”

Credit him with unflappability.  That‘s unflappability, isn‘t it?

MILBANK:  I don‘t know about unflappability, both the boxers and the briefs have flaps these days.  But it was a seamless answer.  Let‘s grant him that.  This is a guy who “People” magazine has beach babes issue frolicking in the surf.  I think he missed the obvious answer that you can triangulate on this and go with boxer briefs without any difficulty at all.

OLBERMANN:  And there is no crack of light between him and the truth on this one.

All right.  This thing about McCain has resurfaced.  He was born on a military installation in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936.  American parents.  His father was a Navy officer.  This was actually debated today on Fixed News.  This is crystal clear.  Son of Americans in military service on a base.  He could have been born on the moon.  It doesn‘t matter where he‘s born.  He is constitutionally American born.  Are there rumors this is being floated by the McCain camp itself so he can drop out at some point if he really gets tired of this?

MILBANK:  If he really gets tired of it he just can drop out and he could always use that cancer thing, if he wanted to.  You can just imagine the great luck Obama or Clinton would have campaigning against him saying he should not be qualified because he was born into the military.

OLBERMANN:  And lastly.  Ralph Nader.  Vice presidential running mate Matt Gonzales.  Former president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors?  No disrespect but that‘s the best he could come up with?

MILBANK:  I was there today.  I thought for a minute it was Alberto Gonzales but it wasn‘t.  Turns out this guy has already lost a race for district attorney and for the mayor of San Francisco.  Very well-qualified to run a losing race for the vice presidency.

OLBERMANN:  And to not succeed Ralph Nader when he is not elected. 

Dana Milbank of the “Washington Post” and MSNBC.  Thank you, Dana.

MILBANK:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,765th day since the declaration of Mission Accomplished in Iraq.  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.

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2007 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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