updated 7/31/2008 11:58:16 AM ET 2008-07-31T15:58:16

Guest: Craig Crawford, Rachel Maddow, Richard Wolffe, Margaret Carlson, Christian Finnegan              

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

McCain backs off the Landstuhl ad.  Accused of distortion, caught using video of Obama visiting the troops, to argue that Obama refused to visit the troops, the campaign‘s official blogger now writes, “It does now seem that Barack Obama” didn‘t go “for reasons other than a lack of photo-op potential.”

So on to the next ad McCain will eventually have to retract.  Obama is not Hitler, he‘s not a liberal, he‘s not a Muslim, he‘s not Jimmy Carter second term, he‘s not William Jennings Brian, he‘s Britney Spears.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR:  He is the biggest celebrity in the world—but is he ready to lead?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The Obama campaign answer, “Oops, John McCain did it again.”  And Obama‘s answer—he‘s ready to lead and he‘s ready to—duel.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m ready to duel John McCain on taxes—right now, right here.  I‘m a quick draw.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Calling Zell Miller.

And the continuing adventure of the first campaign in which you should not listen to the candidate.  The John McCain campaign spokesman claiming John McCain doesn‘t necessarily speak for the John McCain campaign.

Bushed: Contempt of Congress, Karl Rove cited, the feeling, obviously, is mutual.

Worst: FOX does the Obama/Osama switch again; and the gun control activist who is actually a spy for the pro-gun movement.

And “Dancing with the Stars” featuring—former Vice President Dan Quayle?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN QUAYLE, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT:  The question is whether we‘re going to go forward to tomorrow or we‘re going to past to the—to the back.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Could be worse, he could be starring on, “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?”

All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

(INAUDIBLE)

OLBERMANN (on camera):  Good evening.  This is Wednesday, July 30th, 97 days until the 2008 presidential election.

While the McCain campaign today began to back slowly away from its first dumbfounding TV commercial of this week, it also dropped a trail of bread crumbs from when it has to climb down from its newest advertisement stretch.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: The McCain campaign operations director, selling hardest (ph) the bizarre contention that Barack Obama is actually Britney Spears—just a celebrity, not a leader.  He was the campaign manager for the re-election bid of Arnold Schwarzenegger, the man elected governor of California straight from the ranks of celebrityhood (ph) whose movie “True Lies” runs again this weekend on TBS.

On his Web site today, McCain‘s official blogger admitting, the Arizona Republican got it wrong when he approved this message implying that Senator Obama had canceled his visit to a military hospital in Germany because the media would not be allowed into that medical center with him, quoting the back track, “It does now seem that Barack Obama snubbed to the troops for reasons other than a lack of photo-op potential,” but the initial reports were less clear.

That‘s right; Senator McCain is blaming the media.  Attack first, check facts later, blame the media last.

But in case you thought the Arizona Republican is attack-free tonight, as we mentioned, he has approved this brand-new message that isn‘t so much misleading as misguided.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR:  He is biggest celebrity in the world—but is he ready to lead?  With gas prices soaring, Barack Obama says no to offshore drilling and says he‘ll raise taxes on electricity?  Higher taxes, more foreign oil that‘s the real Obama.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m John McCain and I approve this message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  One former McCain strategist has today called that ad “childish.”  John Weaver noting that McCain himself is qualified as a celebrity ever since he was shot down by the North Vietnamese.

But on a conference call, McCain campaign manager, Rick Davis, defending the ad and disparaging the Democrat for, in effect, being more popular than the Republican.  Saying of the attention that Obama received during his trip abroad, quote, “It‘s more something you‘d expect from someone releasing a movie than running for president.”

McCain senior strategist, Steve Schmidt who runs the day-to-day operations of that campaign and help reelect over (ph) celebrity Schwarzenegger, explaining all that went into the decision to feature Ms.  Spears and Paris Hilton.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

STEVE SCHMIDT, MCCAIN SR. STRATEGIST:  What we decided to do is, is find the top three international celebrities in the world.  And I would say, you know, from our estimations, Britney and Paris came in second and third.  So, from our perspective, we have, in this ad, the three biggest celebrities in the world.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Yes, if this is still 2005.

Senator Obama on the campaign trail in Missouri, is wondering what his opponent actually stands for other than for attacking him, also, responding in kind, ad for ad this evening.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OBAMA CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR:  He‘s practicing the politics of the past.  John McCain.  His attacks on Barack Obama: not true, false, baloney, the low road, baseless.  John McCain: same old politics, same failed policies.

Barack Obama supports $1,000 middle class tax cuts; an energy plan that takes on oil companies, develops alternative fuels, and breaks the grip of foreign oil.  That‘s change we can believe in.

OBAMA:  I‘m Barack Obama and I approve this message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Time now to call in MSNBC political analyst, Craig Crawford, also, of course, contributing editor with CQPolitics.com.

Good evening, Craig.

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

OLBERMANN:  We can pick this celebrity ad by any corner and shake it and see how silly it might be, which the celebrities that are included that Schmidt link to Schwarzenegger and Weaver‘s observation about McCain‘s own celebrity status, and the fact that large numbers of people actually really like Britney Spears and some of them even like Paris Hilton—but there must have been a point for McCain‘s people to do this.  What is that underlying point?

CRAWFORD:  Right.  Britney is a star, was nominated for an MTV Awards. 

So, she‘s really big now, on a comeback.

You know, the strategy here appears to be—go after Obama‘s greatest strength, which is his celebrityhood or popularity or however you want to put it.  You know, McCain adviser some weeks ago told me, we‘re going to have to puncture his balloon before he floats out of our hands and this is part of that effort.

OLBERMANN:  But you have to—that effort has to be done artfully.  There‘s that famous Lesley Stahl story, her critical report on then-President Ronald Reagan and she gets a call from Mike Deaver and expects screaming and angry and said she gets a thank you for all that beautiful footage of Reagan smiling and addressing the happy crowds and all that.

Is that the real headline here that McCain has just spent a lot of money to show pictures of his opponent getting cheered by 200,000 people who are waving Americans flags?

CRAWFORD:  Absolutely.  You know, I did get a kick out of this argument that I‘m hearing from McCain, we heard about it in the primaries against Obama, “All you with all your big crowds and eloquent speeches and all those big votes you get.  You know, if it wasn‘t for that, I‘d be winning this race.”

I mean, it‘s almost as if they‘re trying to attack him for being popular—celebrityhood and everything else.  But, you know, these things may stick with some people.  I mean, there are some people who have some reservations about Obama and a lot of voters, unlike those of us in the junky class who aren‘t that familiar with it.

So, they‘re trying to define him in their own way.

OLBERMANN:  The back track on the Landstuhl ad to the degree that there was, you know, there was a back track, there was a blogger.  It was McCain‘s blogger but there was a blogger and that was it.  There‘s been no statement or anything.  But even that, was that done because they were really getting pounded?

I mean, there were investigative newspaper pieces today on whether or not Obama thought he was going to bring the media with him or never had the plan in his head at any point, but turns it was the latter.  Was it done that way or was it simply done because the usefulness of the controversy to advancing the message had expired anyway?

CRAWFORD:  I think that‘s one reason the celebrity ad came out so quickly.  You know, part of the strategy here is—once you get caught, change the subject, and launch a new charge.  You know, someone who practices these dark arts once called this, told me he called this the “red frog/green frog” strategy.

What it means is you shake a big ugly frog in your opponent‘s face and to voters, you say, “Look at this ugly frog” and then when they‘re—just as they‘re reacting to it and dissecting it, then you get another frog up there and say, “Look at this frog.”  You just keep switching the frogs—the ugly frogs, and that‘s what this strategy appears to be.

OLBERMANN:  But one of the ugly frogs that was used today also was this McCain hit on this word “arrogant” again regarding Obama and the campaign certainly did, and yet at the same time, a poll has come out, the Opinion Research did for CNN and on the arrogance question, 63 percent answered no to the question on whether or not Obama is arrogant -- 63 no.  McCain only got a 66 no.  Basically, this is a statistical arrogance tie.

So even if the negative narration breaks through the imagery, is it likely to have any kind of impact if the facts are so decidedly against the narration?

CRAWFORD:  Well, maybe since Obama‘s actually the one who appears to be winning, it‘s easier to call him arrogant than the challenger McCain as he appears to be behind.  You know, again, what they have tried to do here, something I‘ve seen for campaigns going back to 1988, in particular—I remember this stuff starting—where you try to find something that voters are concerned about with the opponent and then you build on that storyline by adding episodes, adding facts, because what happens is—people, once they‘ve drawn a conclusion, they don‘t scrutinize the facts as much if it confirms something they already believe.  That‘s what they‘re trying to do with this arrogance stuff.

OLBERMANN:  And, obviously, it plays right into that national crisis over Paris Hilton.

Craig Crawford of MSNBC and CQPolitics.com.  Great talking to you again, Craig.

CRAWFORD:  Good to see you.

OLBERMANN: As the Obama response ad suggested, Senator McCain was eviscerated in the print media not only for getting the facts wrong in the Landstuhl ad but also the for the sharpening (ph) negative turn his campaign has taken and it appears not all Republicans approve his message.

Some Republicans are telling the “New York Times,” they, quote, “worry that by going negative so early, and initiating so many of the attacks himself rather than leaving them to others, Mr. McCain risks coming across as angry or partisan in a way that could turn off some independents who have been attracted by his calls for respectful campaigning.”

Let‘s turn now to our own Rachel Maddow, the host of the “Rachel Maddow Show” on Air America Radio.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Lost in all this—what is McCain offering as the reason for people to vote for him?

MADDOW:  Well, he‘s not Barack Obama.

OLBERMANN:  OK.

MADDOW:  That‘s the reason to vote for him.  And while that might sound like a pitiful grounds for a man with the kind of career that John McCain has had, to try to win the presidency, honestly, even though it sounds kind of depressing, that might be the strongest political ground that he‘s got.

I think that a national election that is a referendum on Bush and McCain and the Republican Party in the last eight years, is an election that Barack Obama wins in a landslide.  An election that is quite asking Americans essentially what they think about Barack Obama, which is John McCain has actually turned this campaign into at this point, that‘s an election that Barack Obama might win, but he might not.  As depressing and sort of pitiful as it is, this might be exactly where John McCain wants the campaign to be.

OLBERMANN:  Does that explain this quote of the year from yesterday, McCain tells Stephanopoulos that in terms, at least, of Social Security reform, tax increases were “not off the table” no matter what he said about not raising taxes, and a spokesman comes out and says, “McCain might not really be speaking for the McCain campaign.”

Are they that lost so early in terms of the head-to-head and issue-to-issue?  Are they that dedicated to simply—don‘t vote for Obama, he‘s filling the blank?

MADDOW:  Yes, vote for not Obama.  It‘s essentially what they‘re saying.  I mean, that‘s not the only example of the McCain campaign saying that John McCain doesn‘t speak for the campaign.  They did the same thing on affirmative action—essentially saying, “Don‘t listen to what John McCain says, just allow us to be a vague, not Obama presence in the corner that you might vote for if we succeed in scaring you enough about Barack Obama.”

I mean, that‘s, I think, politically how it functions.  But if you take it on its face, what they‘re really saying, if John McCain doesn‘t speak for his own campaign, what kind of president would he be?  Is he going to legislate or lead the country with notes or with written communiques, would we not be allowed to trust what he said then either?

OLBERMANN:  It would be like the one the great football quarterback, the late Bill Walsh, retired from the San Francisco 49ers and left supposedly a play list, the actual plays that his successor George Seifert was supposed to call for the first three games of the next season.  They need (ph) to be done that way, I don‘t know who would leave on the list, maybe it would be Cheney.

MADDOW:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  This John Weaver, whom I quoted earlier—friend, confidant of McCain who quit the campaign a year ago.  To “The Atlantic,” it‘s a long quote that I want your reaction to this, “For McCain to win in such troubled times he needs to begin telling the American people how he intends to lead us, that McCain exists, he can aspire the country to greatness.  There is legitimate mockery of a political campaign now and it isn‘t at Obama‘s.  For McCain‘s sake, this tomfoolery needs to stop.”

Is that one guy who used to be on the McCain side who‘s just disappointed by what he‘s seeing or is there any actual ground swell of opinion that McCain and his campaign are making fools of themselves right now?

MADDOW:  I think this is the car crash between McCain of 2000 and McCain of 2008.  And this is, I think that this is what we‘re seeing as the reaction not only from people who have long worked with John McCain and who sort of wanted to be associated with the McCain of 2000, but to people who thought that that reputation that he carried over from those days might end up being who he was in this campaign, too.

He said he was going to be the McCain of 2000.  He said it was going to be a substance-driven campaign and that he was not going to be scurrilous and negative the way that he went after Barack Obama.

And what his campaign is doing now with a series of now four negative campaign ads, nearly all of which can be factually disproven, but the sort of pettiness that they‘re throwing at Obama, it does seem pitiful, it does seem literally sad if the guy who you thought was going to be running for president on the Republican ticket this year was John McCain 2000.

OLBERMANN:  Maybe not or maybe gotten down now to arguing about Arugula versus power bars versus McCain‘s $520 shoes.  I don‘t think we‘re seeing what we wanted to see.

MADDOW:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  Rachel Maddow of Air America and MSNBC—of course, great thanks, as always, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  This is how bad it has already gotten.  Obama has now challenged McCain to a duel.

This is how bad it‘s already gotten.  A major research project that concludes the only way to beat al Qaeda would be aptly described as the law enforcement approach.

And that Britney Spears/McCain celebrity ad, somebody tonight wants no part of it—Britney Spears.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Obama challenges McCain to duel on taxes.  The House challenges the speaker to actually allow a vote to hold Karl Rove in contempt.

In Worst: “Bill-O, The Clown” says vote for McCain so he, Bill-O, will not have to pay more taxes.

And in Bushed: The amazing conclusion by a major conservative think tank, the correct means to fighting al Qaeda—local police and military, in other words, the law enforcement approach.

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Move over Zell Miller, there‘s a duellist in town—a new one.  Move over Ian Keith Harradine and Harvey Keitel, too, and Dennis Weaver for that matter.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN: Senator Obama challenging his opponent to a duel.  Obama holding an economic town hall in Springfield, Missouri this morning, using the city‘s history as a springboard to figuratively slap Senator McCain across the cheek with his glove.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I was just reading, I was just reading that Wild Bill Hickok, he had the first duel in the town square here in Springfield and I don‘t know if people are aware of the fact that—I have not done all the full research on this—but the family legend is that Wild Bill Hickok, he‘s a distant cousin of mine.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA:  I‘m serious.  I‘m serious.  This is part of the family legend.  I don‘t know if it‘s true but that‘s the legend.  So, we‘re going to research that because I‘m ready to duel John McCain on taxes, right now, right here.  I‘m a quick draw.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  My seconds will call on your seconds.  Well, my seconds will be out, have him call on my thirds.

The McCain campaign response, “If Barack Obama wants this so-called ‘duel,‘ then why did he and his entourage run for the hills when John McCain challenged him to 10 town halls?”

So, now a town hall is a dueling ground?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCAIN:  Senator Obama says he‘s going to change Washington but his solution is to simply make government bigger and raise your taxes to pay for it.  And I want to look you in the eye—I will not raise your taxes, nor support a tax increase.  I will not do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Unless he changes his mind.

As we‘ve previously pointed out, that‘s a flop back from his flip on tax increases.  On ABC‘s “This Week,” where he told host, George Stephanopoulos, that when it comes to the possibility of payroll tax increases for Social Security, quote, “there is nothing that‘s off the table.”

A position that has provoked a scathing response from the Rupert Murdoch-owned “Murdoch Street Journal” editorial board which observed, quote, “If Mr. McCain can‘t convince voters that he is better on taxes than is the Democrat, who says matter of factually that he wants to raise taxes, the Republican is going to lose in a rout,” end quote.

We‘re joined now by our own Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.

Good evening, Richard.

RICHARD WOLFFE, NEWSWEEK:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  How damaging is it to Senator McCain when the “Wall Street Journal,” the newspaper of choice for business people and many conservatives and for Rupert Murdoch, prints an editorial with words like rout and Republican in the same sentence?

WOLFFE:  Well, you know, Keith, we often talk about and have written about the identity problems facing Barack Obama.  Is he American enough?  Is he black enough?

The identity question around McCain seems to be much more problematic.  And the identity of whether he‘s conservative enough, that‘s what the “Wall Street Journal” editorial board is going after here.  Obviously, they were worried previously about him for all sorts of reasons, on all sorts of subjects.

But with regard to Social Security and taxes, his comments have just set the alarm bell going and the strategic problem is that he keeps on having to talk to that group, to prove his credentials, which stops him from breaking with President Bush and being an independent he used to be.

OLBERMANN:  How did McCain wind up getting off message on taxes?  I mean, this is the one thing his base always wants to hear.  How could he mess it up to the degree that he has in the last week alone?

WOLFFE:  Well, he clearly had a couple of things in mind.  First of all, he likes the Ronald Reagan model and he was trying to evoke that spirit, but he was also clearly unprepared for what was an obvious question on a Sunday talk show.  And the vagueness of his approach to policies, especially a complex emotional one like Social Security is a recurrent theme on this campaign.  I think that kind of gets him into these problems where he can‘t find a way out.

OLBERMANN:  Another one, perhaps—outside of Denver last night, according to “Washington Post,” he held this fundraiser at which he earned $3.2 million and he stood on the patio of the host, the multi-millionaire host‘s house and he joked to the crowd, and the quote was, “These public projects are quite remarkable.”

In the days when that would never get repeated or might leak out three months later, perhaps that was a great joke for the environment of the people he was with, but in this instantaneous communication day, is he helping himself with a clip like that?

WOLFFE:  I think he is, in his own mind, trying to enjoy himself in some way, but his jokes have proved difficult for him.  Of course, though, is the deeply offensive joke about rape victim and the deeply distasteful joke about Janet Reno.  And, again, in another era of that kind of joke was maybe considered funny.

It‘s not just about the speed of communications here.  It‘s what you can get away with when you‘re no longer an insurgent and you‘re actually the presumptive nominee and possibly the president.

OLBERMANN:  And a repeat of the “is he helping himself” question, only this one is about Obama.  Why introduce the word duels into this equation, even in fun, even in a Springfield, Wild Bill Hickok context, since it does raise, as a duel, a debate, a showdown—it raises the question: figurative duel, yes; actual town halls, not so much?

WOLFFE:  Yes, not a smart move to evoke Zell Miller, not a smart move to really dodge town halls and then show your old mantra (ph) about it.  I have to say, the most worrying thing about this is the idea that he‘s related both to Dick Cheney and Wild Bill Hickok, whose genes does he have when it comes to shooting?  Let‘s go and find out.

OLBERMANN:  Richard Wolffe of “Newsweek” and MSNBC, setting out a possible meme for coverage in the years 2009 and 2010, at least.  Thank you, Richard.

WOLFFE:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Jesus has relocated again.  Yesterday, it was Jesus on a chino, today‘s sighting is Jesus on the back of this kitten.  I don‘t see it myself and neither does the kitten.

“Bill-O, The Clown” explains why you can‘t vote for Obama because Bill-O is already paying too much in taxes and he doesn‘t want that money being spent on people who are smoking reefers.  What he said is “reefers”.

But first, headlines breaking administration 50 running scandals—Bushed.

Number three: Mr. Speaker, the petulant of the United States-gate.  Mr. Bush fought a mortgage crisis bill that would permit homeowners who can no longer afford their payments who instead refinance with government-backed loans, instead of going under, he called the bill socialistic.  The House voted overwhelmingly for it a week ago.  The Senate did the same on Saturday.

So, the president gave up and signed it this morning, at 7:00 a.m.  with no ceremony, no witnesses, no pause (ph) that it was really his idea.

As to other legislation designed to save the victims of the mortgage crisis, he is still threatening to hold his breath.  Let me know if you do, somebody will get back it you in a week.

Number two: The oil drilling scam-gate.  The president today is demanding Congress hold a vote on its part of the national moratorium on offshore oil drilling before its summer recess.  “The American people,” he said, “are rightly frustrated by the failure of the Democratic leaders in Congress to enact common sense solutions.”

Common sense—drilling now so the companies who do the drilling can make more money now, so the price of gas will drop a nickel in 2016.

To quote Harry Truman during the 1948 presidential campaign, “How many times do you have to get or hit over the head before you see who it is that‘s hitting you?”

And number: The nexus of politics and terror-gate.  Well, this is the all-time winner.  The all-time low low.  For seven years, we have heard about how terrorism hit this country, 20 percent of the way into Mr. Bush‘s first term, by the way, because of the, quote, “law enforcement approach employed by President Clinton, Max Cleland, the Democratic Party, John Kerry, Europe, England, France, Barack Obama, me, you.”

Let me just read this verbatim by the study done by the conservative Rand Corporation which concluded that, quote, “Current U.S. strategy against the terrorist group al Qaeda has not been successful in significantly undermining the group‘s capabilities.”  So the Rand people go on to write, “In looking at how other terrorist groups have ended, the Rand study found that most terrorist groups end either because they join the political process, or because local police and intelligence efforts arrest or kill key members.

Police and intelligence agencies rather than the military, should be the tip of the spear against al Qaeda in most of the world, and the United States should abandon the use of the phrase ‘war on terrorism.‘”

So, one of the think tanks the Pentagon loves best, has deduced that President Bush has done it exactly wrong, that the war on terror is a bunch of crap, that local authorities have the best chance of stopping al Qaeda, that what John McCain is still quoting as if it were the revealed word is exactly the opposite of what we need to do if we want to put terror groups out of business, that the correct strategy is—the law enforcement approach.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Bests in a moment, and Victoria‘s panties for 9,000 dollars.  First, if you‘re buying into the recent insistence that separation of church and state notwithstanding, the United States has always been intertwined with he religion; today is the anniversary of the adoption of the national motto, the official one, “in god we trust,” the 52nd anniversary?  It only happened in 1956 as a response while, as the Congress put it at the time, imperialistic and materialistic communism seeks to attack and destroy freedom.  Fortunately, we vanquished the communism and took their imperialism and materialism from them. 

Let‘s play Oddball.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  We begin in Dunlop, Indiana and another sighting of the son of God.  Yesterday, Jesus manifested himself in a Cheeto.  Today—that looks like a scene from 2001.  Today, he‘s found a new home on the back of Sissy the kitten.  Sissy‘s owners think it is a sign of good things to come.  Sissy herself, not so happy about it. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  All right, so we‘re thinking eyes. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes, the two dark is the eyes and then—it‘s

OK. 

OLBERMANN:  We sure that‘s not the face of Satan?  Are we sure?  Moving from a Jesus cat to a cat that looks like it ate Jesus and then the apostles for dessert.  This is Princess Chunk, a 44-pound stray, just two pounds shy of the world record for fattest cat on the planet, who was picked up, with great difficulty, in Blackwood, New Jersey.  Animal control officers having no problems catching the portly pussycat.  She‘s so fat, she literally cannot run anymore.  Shelter workers are now trying to find Princess Chunk a new home, preferably one with a full fridge and reinforced timber flooring. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  When is contempt of Congress not contemptuous enough to not merit a full vote by Congress?  When is politicizing hiring at the Justice Department not corruptive enough to merit prosecution?  When it‘s Rove on the left and Goodling on the right. 

Hey, if this Dan Quayle story is true, I‘ve got the song he can compete to on “Dancing with The Stars,” you say potato with an E and I say potato with an E.  These stories, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world.

Number three, best response to four dollar gas, the guy who instead said bought six dollar gas, aviation fuel.  A 20-year-old San Jose man accused of breaking into Reed Hillview Airport there and tried to fill up his car with airplane gas which, A, will destroy the valves in your automobile engine, and B, which can only be purchased by credit card and cost 5.97 a gallon.  The airport manager postulates a secondary motive here; sometimes these people have the notion that since it‘s racing fuel, it will make their car go faster. 

Number two, best price for old, used underwear, buyers at a London auction.  One paid 8,000 dollars for a chemise.  Another, 11,000 -- 11 teen thousand—in English we call that 11,000 for a night gown, and another nine grand for bloomers, all which had belonged to Britain‘s Queen Victoria.  The Chemise was designed for her 66-inch bust, the bloomers for her 50 inch waist.  And that‘s how the Victoria‘s Secret line began. 

Number one, best dumb criminal.  A guy walks into a restaurant in Metria (ph), outside New Orleans, tries to rob the place.  First, even there, his disguise gained him attention, a woman‘s wig and pink top and a purse.  He orders two doughnuts, hands the cashier a five dollar bill.  Then, as the cash register is open, he produces a handgun and in the ensuing melee, he flees.  He got no cash.  He did not take the doughnuts, but he left the money.  His net take from this robbery, it cost him five dollars.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The Judiciary Committees of both Houses of Congress are now officially in agreement; Karl Rove should be cited for contempt of Congress.  But in our third story on the COUNTDOWN, as Congress continues swimming laps through the Bush administration‘s sea of scandal, the persistent, increasingly stupefying question is, what, if anything, will come of it? 

Today‘s events focusing on hiring and firing at the Justice Department.  The House Judiciary Committee today voting to recommend contempt charges against Rove, Mr. Bush‘s top political adviser, for defying a subpoena to testify.  But a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would not decide until September whether or not to bring this to a final vote.  Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee turned to illegal politically prejudiced hiring at the Justice Department by former officials Monica Goodling, Kyle Sampson and others.  But the inspector general of the Department, Glen Fine (ph), said that his office‘s report did not warrant prosecution because laws governing the hiring process are civil ones and not criminal. 

Mr. Fine also said there was no evidence that former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was aware of what these senior aides were doing.  Concluding that, quote, “inexperienced junior people rose to a very high level and lacked adult supervision.”

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, the Democrat from Rhode Island, expressing disbelief about that quote, “when it comes to politics, this administration has no gag reflex.” 

Let‘s turn now to “Bloomberg News” political columnist Margaret Carlson, also the Washington editor of “The Week Magazine.”  Margaret, good evening. 

MARGARET CARLSON, “BLOOMBERG NEWS”:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  The internal report from the Justice Department said laws were broken.  It recommended and used the word disbarment in there for some of the attorneys in the Justice Department.  But the inspector general is not linking any of it to Alberto Gonzales and is treating this as a civil matter, rather than a criminal one.  The House Judiciary Committee is left exactly where on this? 

CARLSON:  I want to sign on with Senator Whitehouse.  There‘s no gag reflex.  In all my years of watching hearings, I‘ve never encountered a witness who forgot so many things when he was questioned about potential illegalities as Alberto Gonzales.  It was an insult.  And if he‘s going to go Scott-free, that is criminal.  That‘s not civil.  That‘s criminal.  And what‘s concerning is it was Nancy Pelosi saying she‘s waiting until September and this all falls—everything at the Justice Department falls on the shoulders of the 31-year-old Monica Goodling, is that no one is going to pay for any of this ever. 

OLBERMANN:  But nobody—nothing, rather, is going to happen even to the Monica Goodlings of this equation? 

CARLSON:  Well, she resigned under pressure when she testified before Congress.  But I don‘t know, you leave your job.  Is that punishment enough for having the most qualified person come in for a job in the anti-terrorism unit, somebody who had actually won a prize for his anti-terrorism efforts; Monica Goodling Googled his wife and doesn‘t like her politics and then she gives a job to a moron?  You know, she made a joke of the civil service laws, and the 31-year-old was in charge and Alberto Gonzales knew nothing about it? 

Remember, we have a lot of testimony on the record now from hearings Congress held where there‘s testimony that‘s in conflict with former Attorney General Gonzales, in that he was at meetings he said he couldn‘t remember being at and there were things said that he can‘t remember hearing.  Also, government doesn‘t work in a way where a Monica Goodling does everything, you know, without adult supervision. 

OLBERMANN:  And the adult supervision comes in the form of instructions and what needs to be found out is who issued the instructions.  And to that point, the contempt citations, specifically the one towards Karl Rove; is the motive by Speaker Pelosi to put them on ice as obvious as it seems?  Don‘t let anything interfere with the November elections or is there some other possible reason to not have this vote take place until September or at all? 

CARLSON:  I think Democrats want to freeze the ball because Republicans are in such deep doo-doo now, they don‘t want to change anything, and they don‘t want to be seen as overly aggressive.  However, it could be done entirely within the rule of law, just enforcing the contempt citation without fanfare, and just let the system—let the system play out.  To be afraid to come forward and exercise your prerogatives, when this administration uses its executive privilege as an excuse for every time they broke the law.  It didn‘t work in the Clinton administration.  Remember, Keith, how many Clinton administration people were marched before Congress during Monica Lewinsky, which actually had nothing to do with giving advice to the president. 

So, it‘s not a blanket excuse, but it‘s been used that way.  And you think Democrats now in control would exercise it. 

OLBERMANN:  But didn‘t the experience that you just described and we all lived through and still live through in those terrible night sweats and flashbacks, did that not to some degree, maybe unintentionally, if you‘re a real conspiracy theorist, maybe intentionally, inoculate the Republicans against actual investigations like the ones we‘re talking about now, because of the Democrats‘ fear that the results the Republicans would be like the results fell for Bill Clinton, that the more he was pursued by the Republicans in the late ‘90s, the greater his stock rose with the public and there‘s some fear by Democrats that if they go after the Republicans right now, they‘ll make the Republicans just popular enough that perhaps McCain could slide into the White House. 

CARLSON:  Yes, and that is a reason to freeze the ball.  But let‘s just look at the two different things.  What Clinton did was about his life.  What the Bush administration did is about the country‘s life.  They violated public laws.  They didn‘t offend private sensibilities.  It is a matter for the Congress, and the public should want accountability on this, more than they wanted it on, you know, Clinton being hunted down on—because of the Lewinsky affair. 

OLBERMANN:  No disagreement there.  Margaret Carlson of “Bloomberg News” and “The Week Magazine,” thank you very much.  

CARLSON:  Thanks, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Good night.  The man who would have been one of the legends of 24 hour cable news, had he just come along a few years later, may be returning to TV, but to reality TV.  Vice President Dan Quayle “Dancing with the Stars?” 

By day she was a vociferous gun control advocate, by night a vociferous pro-gun activist spying on gun control advocates.  A remarkable story of spying in worst persons, next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Rumor that a former vice president of the United States will be on “Dancing with the Stars,” and an exclusive comment from the host of the program.  It‘s not—Plus, where McCain gets that list of the most famous celebrities in the world.  That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s number two story, our worst persons in the world. 

The bronze to Bill-O the Clown.  Somebody is sending him the talking points about how if you don‘t vote for McCain, rich people will suffer.  “Yes,” he writes, “I am part of the one percent of Americans that paid an astounding 40 percent of all federal income tax in 2006.  President Obama and a Democratic Congress will likely dole out entitlements like free health care, child care and cash payments to anyone who falls under a certain income level, no matter their circumstances.  That means—that means people who drink gin all day will get some of my hard-earned money.  Folks who dropped out of school, who are too lazy to hold a job, who smoke reefers 24/7 all will get some goodies in the mail from Uncle Barack and Aunt Nancy, funded by me and other rich folks.  There will be no drug testing, no background checks, no accountability for those receiving the government‘s largess.  If you‘re an American citizen or even an illegal alien who doesn‘t make much money, you‘ll get stuff.” 

Reefers?  M-Fer, I want more iced tea.  What Dollar Bill-O is not telling you and I, as another member of that one percent who paid an astounding 40 percent of federal income tax in 2006, will tell you is that we made 22 percent of all income in 2006.  That is believed to be the largest percentage since 1929.  And still the average tax burden for the top one percent was at its lowest level in at least 18 years.  And before Bill O shouts about where these statistics come from, they were printed in the Murdoch Street Journal.  So, remember, vote for John McCain because Bill O‘Reilly thinks he pays too much in taxes and doesn‘t want other people to get the reefers. 

The runner-up. Mary McFate (ph), also known as Mary Lou Cippone (ph).  “Mother Jones Magazine” reports this today.  Miss McFate is a 60 something woman, a quirky but constant participant in gun control organizations like the Brady Campaign.  Miss Cippone is a 60 something woman, a former figure in the National Rifle Association and wealthy pro-gun activist.  The magazine says they‘re the same person.  As Mary McFate, Mary Lou Cippone infiltrated the executive boards and learned the plans of organizations trying to decrease deaths by guns in this country, and apparently reported it back to organizations like the NRA, which are trying to increase death by gun in this country.  In other words, she was a Benedict Arnold for the gun lobby. 

But our winners, the “Fox and Friends” team over to Fixed News, did it again.  On-screen graphics, Obama‘s TV aim wanted to be introduced to U.S.; on-screen picture Osama bin Laden.  Amalgamated Barack Obama and Osama bin Laden again.  There are only two options here: “Fox and Friends” is doing this deliberately, again, in which case they should all be fired, “Fox and Friends” is doing this accidentally again, in which case they should all be fired. 

The “Fox and Friends” gang on Fixed News --  Fixed News, now Obama/Osama accident free for 20 days—check that, for no days, today‘s worst persons in the world. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It is simply hard to imagine Henry Wallace or even Aaron Burr doing whatever the equivalent of this would have been in their own times.  It is hard to see Dick Cheney doing it later.  You know that the American political scene is in a sorry state when a campaign ad compares one candidate to Britney Spears and Britney Spears is offended.  Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, two more uncomfortable mergers between entertainment and politics.  Former Vice President Dan Quayle has materialized as a possible contestant on reality competition show “Dancing with the Stars.”  Counting on the former VP, still scarred from his own self-inflicted wounds, as a remedy for, quote, low-Republican morale, at least according to GossipSauce.com.  Airtight as that source might be, COUNTDOWN sought independent confirmation.  When reached for comment, “Dancing with the Stars” host Tom Bergeron told us exclusively that, quote, “if true, it would be the second time a Dan Quayle selection surprised me.” 

And Obama, as addressed earlier in this news hour, finding himself at the apex of celebrity, topping Britney and Paris on the McCain campaign‘s own shoddy short list.  Perhaps there‘s some comfort in the vein of breaking news; Britney Spears‘ people demanding to be left out.  42 West Public Relations asking “why would we want to get Britney Spears involved in presidential politics?” 

To answer those rhetorical questions and others revolving around this hot mess at the intersection of celebrity and politics, comedian Christian Finnegan, also a contributor to VH-1‘s “Best Week Ever.”  Christian, good evening. 

CHRISTIAN FINNEGAN, VH-1:  Gutentach (ph), heir Olbermann.  

OLBERMANN:  Do McCain and Obama need to converge some sort of emergency summit now to address this campaign?  If Britney Spears wants no part of them, they and the American society must be in big, big trouble. 

FINNEGAN:  This is a national tragedy.  I think when the candidates release their official platforms, you‘ll see policy initiatives aimed directly at winning Britney‘s support, things like repealing the child seat belt laws or universal spray tan coverage and advanced—like increased investment in fry-alator (ph) technology. 

OLBERMANN:  Do you expect other celebrities would step forward to fill this political vacuum left by Ms. Spears.  Essentially, she‘s abdicated this role that has been offered to her. 

FINNEGAN:  Yes, I think that‘s what civic-minded celebrities have been waiting for, for Britney Spears to get out of the way.  When will Britney stop hogging the spotlight?  Don‘t you think that the Jonas Brothers have something interesting to say about the earned income tax credit? 

OLBERMANN:  Where did McCain‘s campaign get a list that suggested that the current number two and three in terms of world fame are Britney Spears and Paris Hilton?  Is that not—I mean, I estimated 2005 before.  It might even be earlier than that. 

FINNEGAN:  I don‘t know.  If they wanted to be current, they could have played up Obama‘s mysterious racial background by going with somebody like Vanessa Hudgens.  Who knows what she is.  But honestly, we‘re lucky they got the right decade.  If McCain had written the ad himself, it would have been something like Barack Obama is like one of those overblown starlets like Clara Bow or Lillian Gish. 

OLBERMANN:  We‘ve seen an Obama counter-ad to this, but if he went in the same vein and did a celebrity parallel between McCain and some celebrity, who could we include on that McCain list?  Does it start with not just the ones you mentioned, but also like Phyllis Diller? 

FINNEGAN:  I was actually thinking Boris Karloff. 

OLBERMANN:  Very nice.

FINNEGAN:  But I think if Obama really wanted to slam McCain on the celebrity front, he could just air that clip of Eric Estrada calling him a man‘s man on a loop.  That was creepy. 

OLBERMANN:  One thing about that ad, by the way, purely politically, somebody pointed out to me, anybody notice that it‘s a shot of an African-American man and it dissolves into two blond, two young blonds.  Isn‘t there some sort of subliminal message in there that was also being presented, never mind the celebrity stuff. 

FINNEGAN:  Keith, are you high right now? 

OLBERMANN:  No, straight as an arrow. 

FINNEGAN:  Make sure.  Did you ever notice the back of your hand, man? 

Anyway. 

OLBERMANN:  As you heard here also, the host of “Dancing with the Stars” himself has heard nothing about the Dan Quayle rumor.  This really is one of the most bizarre things I‘ve ever heard.  Is there any truth to it? 

FINNEGAN:  I‘m going to say this once and only once; Dan Quayle is a former vice president and an elder statesman of the Republican party.  Look, I‘m sure all this hoopla is very flattering, but at the end of the day, I refuse to believe he‘s going to risk bringing shame and humiliation to “Dancing with the Stars.”

OLBERMANN:  The idea that this might be some sort of public pitch for the Republican party, like the famous Nixon ten-second appearance on “Laugh-In” in 1968; how would him doing the two-steps fix the Republican missteps and for that matter his own missteps when he was vice president? 

FINNEGAN:  The Republican brand name is in shambles.  People think they‘re scary.  But what could be less scary than an aging white dork wearing a hot pink flamingo outfit?  That‘s just adorable right there.  He could be like the cuddly new mascot.  He could be like the GOP‘s version of the San Diego Chicken. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s right, if he doesn‘t pitch forward off the stage and injure people in the crowd.  Christian Finnegan, comedian and contributor to VH-1‘s “Best Week Ever,” and occasionally, when we‘re fortunate, COUNTDOWN.  Thank you, Christian. 

FINNEGAN:  Good night, sir. 

OLBERMANN:  That is COUNTDOWN for this 1,918th 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   

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