updated 8/4/2008 11:16:09 AM ET 2008-08-04T15:16:09

Guests: Chris Hayes, Craig Crawford, David Willman, Gerald Posner

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

The anthrax attacks.  Nearly seven years after “terror by mail,” it was reportedly an inside job by a top government scientist inside our own biological warfare lab in Maryland.  The suspect reportedly identified, the FBI readying criminal charges, and the man suddenly dies of a prescription drug overdose—an apparent suicide.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The FBI has been here for about a year.  I mean, we knew that they have been here for a long time.  I would see them all the time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  For motive, for explanation, there are few options and all of them are terrifying—including why people like U.S. senators were saying this in 2001.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CBS/WORLDWIDE PANTS, OCTOBER 18, 2001)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® ARKANSAS:  There is some indication and I don‘t have the conclusions, but some of this anthrax may—and I emphasize may—have come from Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  David Willman of the “Los Angeles Times” who broke the story of Bruce Ivins; and investigative journalist Gerald Posner—our special guests.

Big oil and big policy changes.  Obama proposes not a gas tax holiday but a $1,000 energy rebate and who should be funding it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  That‘s why I am proposing that we pay for the rebate by taxing the windfall oil profits of companies like Exxon-Mobil.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Wal-Mart chooses sides, warning its store managers and department heads at mandatory meetings, Obama would make it easier to unionize the chain.  Is Wal-Mart ordering its employees to vote Republican?

Worst: The Bush‘s phone in to wish happy birthday to comedian Rush Limbaugh.  The former president doesn‘t know he‘s on the radio when he lets some kind of cat out of the bag and asks Limbaugh, “Do you see our man Ailes at all?”

And, they hit him for being too black, too white, too proud, too socialist, too appeasing, too famous, too different, too popular, and today, the “Murdoch Street Journal” actually says Obama is—too skinny to be president.  Queue the strawberry milk shake at the farmer‘s market.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I‘ll tell you what, you have one a day of these, though, I‘ll gain a little weight.  I won‘t be - right, that‘s what I‘m saying.  I won‘t be such a skinny guy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  All that and more: Now on COUNTDOWN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Have you guys tried one yet?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN (on camera):  Good evening, this is Friday, August 1st, 95 days until the 2008 presidential election.

To that topic presently.  First, if reporting by “The Los Angeles Times” today is even remotely accurate, the questions about the anthrax attacks which terrified this nation late in 2001, would seem tonight to have boiled down to three.

First, was the anthrax sent by just one employee of our own government or more than one employee of our own government?  Second, when the FBI missed an easy clue, the unreported spilling of anthrax in the federal repository of anthrax, that the suspect did not report, was it incompetence or a cover up?  And third, how, if there was evidence of something askew in our biological warfare lab in Maryland as early as December 2001, why did national news organizations in this country receive supposedly reliable leaks from the Bush administration that the anthrax had originated in Iraq?

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: There is finally a suspect in the anthrax attacks.  He worked for the government‘s anthrax lab and, unfortunately, he‘s dead, as of this past Tuesday.  His name was Dr. Bruce E. Ivins.

“The Los Angeles Times” reporting this morning, NBC News is confirming tonight, that the Justice Department was preparing to file criminal charges against him for the 2001 anthrax attacks.  Dr. Ivins is dying Tuesday at Frederick Memorial Hospital in Maryland, reportedly after taking a massive dose of prescription Tylenol with codeine.

His lawyer, today, asserting his client‘s innocence in a statement, quote, “For six years Dr. Ivins fully cooperated with the investigation, assisting the government in every way that was asked of him.  We assert his innocence in these killings and would have established that at trial.  The relentless pressure of accusation and innuendo takes its toll in different ways on different people as has already been seen in this investigation.  In Dr. Ivins case it led to his untimely death.”

In Frederick, Maryland, his neighbors—stunned.  But in court documents last month, the therapist is saying that Dr. Ivins, quote, “has a history of homicidal threats,” asking for judge‘s orders to keep him away from her.

In June, another Fort Detrick scientist, Steven Hatfill who had been the chief suspect in the anthrax attacks, finally and official exonerated and receiving the $5,820,000 settlement from the government.

Mr. Ivins, having helped the FBI with its investigation of the anthrax attacks by analyzing the samples of the substance through his work as a leading expert at the elite U.S. Army bioweapons lab at Fort Detrick in Maryland, about 50 miles northwest of Washington.

Shortly after the 9/11 attacks occurs (ph), anthrax-laced letters having arrived here at NBC News, at and the Capitol Hill offices of then Senator Daschle and Senator Leahy and that company that owns “The National Enquirer.”

Former Senator Daschle saying today that, “the FBI owes it to the country to provide some accounting of their investigation and their expectations for successful conclusion.”

So far, many more questions than answers remain.

The FBI, the Justice Department, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service today, are jointly announcing that there had been significant developments in the investigation but confirming only that substantial progress has been made by bringing to bear new and sophisticated scientific tools.

At Kennebunkport, Maine, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino is telling reporters that President Bush was aware of the investigation to an extent.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANA PERINO, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  President Bush, over the years, has maintained an interest in this case and has periodically been updated by the FBI director on developments in the case, not necessarily so much in specifics, but in general, so that he can make sure that the FBI continued to work to try to solve the case.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE REPORTER:  So, was he aware that this particular person was about to be indicted?

PERINO:  The president was aware that there have been developments, but for me to answer that question would be to comment on the story that is reported in the papers this morning, which I can‘t do at this moment.  So, I‘m going to have to refer you to the Justice Department for now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  In the wake of the apparent suicide of an alleged suspect in the anthrax attacks, new questions being raised about the extent to which the attacks were used to argue for the invasion of Iraq.  On October 18th, 2001, a United States senator having raised that very possibility with David Letterman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CBS/WORLDWIDE PANTS, OCTOBER 18, 2001)

DAVID LETTERMAN, TV TALK SHOW HOST:  How are things going in Afghanistan now?

MCCAIN:  I think we‘re doing fine.  I think we‘ll be fine.  The second phase, if I could just make one very quickly, the second phase is Iraq.  There is some indication, and I don‘t have the conclusions, but some of this anthrax may—and I emphasize may—have come from Iraq.

LETTERMAN:  Oh, is that right?

MCCAIN:  If that may be the case, then that‘s when some tough decisions are going to have to be made.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re joined now by David Willman, the “Los Angeles Times” staff writer who broke the newspaper story on the apparent suicide in the anthrax case.

Thank you for your time tonight, sir.

DAVID WILLMAN, LOS ANGELES TIMES:  Good evening.

OLBERMANN:  How did we get from Steven Hatfill being the only suspect in this case, at least to the public‘s knowledge, to Mr. Hatfill being exonerated and the imminent prosecution of a new suspect who then ends up dead?

WILLMAN:  What we reported in today‘s “Los Angeles Times” is about the time that new leadership was installed on this investigation by the FBI in late 2006 -- senior investigators ordered a reassessment of all potential leads and suspects and a reassessment of all assumptions that have been made about evidence already collected, on the chance that perhaps inadequate attention had been paid to those leads and suspects.

And, I think, that hard ground-pounding around those principals yielded fruit and we have yet to see yet exactly what some of the breakthroughs have been with the advances, perhaps, in genetic analysis of the anthrax powder itself.

OLBERMANN:  If this Dr. Ivins had first aroused some suspicion, obviously, not enough, because he failed to notify his supervisors about an anthrax contamination in the lab in which he did his business in late 2001 is there any indication why it took nearly seven years to exonerate Hatfill and come to the point of being on the verge of charging Ivins?       

WILLMAN:  Those are good questions, Keith.

Hatfill, by the way, again, we reported in the “L.A. Times” in June

June 29th, in great details about the rather over-focus on Mr. Hatfill by the Justice Department and the FBI, to the exclusion of putting resources into other potentially promising leads and suspects in this investigation.

You refer to that spill and Dr. Bruce Ivins‘ role in swabbing, in bleaching, contamination by (ph) anthrax up at Fort Detrick, it turns out by his word—beginning in December of 2001, he kept it a secret, didn‘t report it to his supervisors until April of 2002, and yet, the final Army report on the incident said that, “Well, no one should be penalized here.  We don‘t want to discourage folks from coming forward and reporting accidental spills.”

So, why didn‘t the FBI or the Justice Department look more critically at that?  I think those are important questions to put to them when they‘re willing to have more of a public dialogue about how they handled this case.

OLBERMANN:  Is there, in your opinion, having covered this story, having broken this remarkable story today—is there going to be more public dialogue about this, the man, the suspect who is now basically having this pinned on him in his casket.  He is dead.  Are we ever likely to know not only what really happened but much more than we know tonight?

WILLMAN:  I expect in the next few days, the FBI and the Justice Department will attempt to make a rather thorough airing of the evidence that they had marshaled in this case.

Bruce Ivins‘ lawyer is insisting that his client would have been proven not guilty at trial, we‘ll never know.  But I think, the FBI, I would be shocked if the FBI and Justice did not bring this, the totality of the evidence out in the public square within the next several days.

OLBERMANN:  David Willman of the “Los Angeles Times,” our great thanks tonight not just for your time in joining us this evening, but also your extraordinary reporting on this stunning development in this case.  Thank you, sir.

WILLMAN:  Indeed.

OLBERMANN:  For more on the many unanswered questions, let‘s turn now to Gerald Posner, an investigative journalist and author of “Why America Slept: The Failure to Prevent 9/11,” and has also long been following this extraordinary anthrax story—as always, sir, a pleasure.

GERALD POSNER, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER:  Good to see you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  There seemed to be only two paths we can go down here and they‘re both pretty bad.  (A), this was a man working for the government and he acted alone for whatever those motives might have been; or (B), this was a guy working for the government and he didn‘t act alone.  Is there any indication at this point which of those is likelier path?

POSNER:  No, you know, there‘s not, Keith, and the frustrating part of this is—I hate it as an investigative reporter when a cold case like this is closed by suicide.

I‘ve been talking to Justice Department sources today, and let me tell you, they are rushing to wrap this thing up.  They want it over with.  His suicide, as far as they‘re concerned is the end of it.

We‘re never going to know, even if he was the person who was involved in actually pulling the anthrax out and doing it, whether he was part of a larger conspiracy, or whether he‘s just the cutout, and today he‘s dead, because they‘re not going to pursue this investigation.  There‘s no outcry for it.  That‘s unfortunate.

OLBERMANN:  For the sake of caution, and maybe we can do the outcry later.  Let‘s proceed down the loaner path.  What - there are theories about what his motive might have been.  Could this have been as comparably contained as the story from Boston 30 years ago, they‘re going to close at firehouses and suddenly there was this rash of arson fires which turns out to be set by the firemen who didn‘t want to see their firehouses closed?

And was this self-protection?  Was this self-interest, could Dr.

Ivins have somehow been protecting his own turf?

POSNER:  You know, it doesn‘t appear to be as much self-protection, but those I talked to today who wanted to and they speculate, who had been around the investigation on this, said that they thought it was more a case in which he was somebody who wanted almost to test the quality of this anthrax by actually seeing it in action—sort of like the Tylenol killer years ago, who put in, you know—remember items (INAUDIBLE) Tylenol, and dozen people ended up dead around the country and we never found who was responsible for that.

Here you have a case in which you might have an unusual, somewhat eccentric, loner, described with suicidal tendencies according to his therapist, who had a restraining order against him.  He fits the profile for somebody who might do something like this deranged.

But, again, we won‘t know because the FBI and it‘s handling of it allowed him to stay out there long enough that he was able to kill himself instead of bringing him in and locking him up for questioning.

OLBERMANN:  Well, it‘s more than just what his therapist said.  His brother told David Willman, who we just heard from the “L.A. Times,” that he thought he was omnipotent.  So, we‘re talking about somebody who didn‘t seem to be altogether there.

But let me switch over to the other half of this.  The government‘s reaction to this, from the investigation to—the Bush administration reaction, the leaks tying all of this to Iraq, getting the wrong man, Hatfill, and dogging him for years, letting the other guy continue to work at Fort Detrick.  He was still there until weeks ago, and then closed in on him so slowly that he has time to go into the psychiatric ward and then get out and then reportedly kill himself.

It smells terribly bad.  Is it as bad as conceivably as bad as it smells?

POSNER:  Oh, you know, absolutely.  And, I think, this is a case where you can just say and look, it‘s been bungled from the start, and it‘s bungled from the very beginning when they went after Hatfill, they have the wrong person.

Now, they claimed and if you read the “L.A. Times” article, it‘s very clear on this that they have new DNA technology which isolates it to a specific strain of this type of anthrax and that‘s why they know that he handled it.  There‘s a debate over that.

In addition, you‘re talking about the most secure lab in America for this type of bacteriological warfare items, and there are cameras all over and security items (ph), and supposedly he went down and swabbed with all types of material like chlorine and bleach, areas around his desk where spores were from the anthrax and nobody ever saw him on the security camera.  The FBI never picked up any example of this.

And, meanwhile, as you show with McCain, back in just a month after 2001, they are already beating the war drums in the Republican Party that there might be a tie to this anthrax attack to Iraq.  There wasn‘t any ounce (ph) of evidence to support that at that time.  There isn‘t today.  It was irresponsible of the time and it‘s irresponsible today.

This man‘s death shows that and that there is no answer from the Bush administration.  They never had a lie leading up to the war in Iraq and scaring this country into it that they shied away from, and anthrax was one of those that they embraced.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, this was American anthrax used to kill Americans.  That‘s the one conclusion, I think, we can draw out of this.  But the other thing becomes that point that you just raised about Iraq.  It‘s not just what John McCain said one night on “Letterman Show,” it was dozens of tips provided by supposedly reliable sources inside the government.  One can imagine they were all wrong.

Do you see a scenario in which simply, this government took advantage of this situation?  Whether or not—let‘s assume for a moment there‘s no pro-activity, that this was Dr. Ivins‘ flipping out to whatever degree it was required to do this—that the government simply took advantage of this to use it as a tool to build up a case to go to war in Iraq?

POSNER:  I have absolutely no doubt about that.  From everything that I‘ve done on my own investigation and following up from 2001, I‘m now more convinced than ever that there were individuals inside the Bush administration and the government who wanted the war in Iraq so badly, that they decided that if there was something that they could use to push it forward, they would.  Anthrax felt into their lap, even if he is the deranged solo killer, they used it in order to scare this care and say Iraq is somebody we have to go after, and we did.

OLBERMANN:  And in that context, there would be no rush to find the deranged, solo killer.  Investigative journalist -

POSNER:  They could rely on the blunders of the FBI.

OLBERMANN:  Indeed.  Investigative journalist, Gerald Posner—as always, great thanks for joining us, sir.

POSNER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  This presidential race, Obama goes high and low—high in emergency cash rebate to be paid for by windfall profit taxes on the oil industry; low: breaking news tonight—he is emphasizing a not highly publicized position that there should be some offshore drilling.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Finally, Obama answers McCain on gas price gimmicks:

“I‘ll see your tax holiday and your pointless extra drilling, and I‘ll raise you $1,000 per family energy rebate and a windfall profits tax,” and breaking at this hour—“some off shore drilling.”

Has Wal-Mart actually gone so far as to threaten employees to vote Republican or else?

The government‘s new rule can seize your laptop at the border and, “Bill-O, The Clown” gets caught with his ratings down.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Senator Barack Obama suggested that he could support careful, well-thought out drilling off the U.S. coast.  Not his campaign suggests tonight, the first time he has supported more drilling, just the first time he said so bluntly.

Our fourth story: Breaking news from Florida and an interview with two newspaper there, to some degree overshadowing Obama‘s answered today to the McCain gas tax holiday which will be an energy rebate funded by a windfall profits tax on big oil companies.

“My interest is in making sure we‘ve got the kind of comprehensive energy policy that can bring down gas prices.  If, in order to get that passed, we have to compromise in terms of a careful, well-thought out oil strategy that was carefully circumscribed to avoid significant environmental damage.  I don‘t want to be so rigid that we can‘t get something done.”

Obama responding to news out of Washington that a bipartisan group of 10 senators, including several conservative Democrats had finally hammered out some kind of agreement on limited new drilling.

Earlier in the day, the Obama campaign had issued this statement, “I remain skeptical that new offshore drilling will bring down gas prices in the short-term or significantly reduce our oil dependence in the long-term though I do welcome the establishment of a process that will allow us to make future drilling decisions based on science and fact.  But I‘ve always believed that finding consensus will be essential to solving our energy crisis and today‘s package represents a good faith effort at a new bipartisan beginning.”

And then, there is the crucifix to big oil: Emergency rebates to offset energy costs -- $500 for individuals; $1,000 for couples, to be paid for by the bane of the oil industry, a windfall profits tax.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Now, keep in mind Exxon-Mobil announced that it had made $12 billion almost, almost $12 billion last quarter.  More than any U.S.  corporation has ever made in a single quarter.  It‘s time we use some of those record profits to help ordinary Americans pay for record prices.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Senator Obama also re-launched a favorite election cycle phrase to pivot this election back to a referendum on the status quo.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  Do you think that you are better off?

(CROWD DISAGREEING)

OBAMA:  Now than you were four years ago or eight years ago?

(CROWD DISAGREEING)

OBAMA:  And if you don‘t think you‘re better off, do you think you can afford another four years of the same failed economic policies that we‘ve had under George W. Bush?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Meantime, one day after Exxon-Mobil announced record profits, the nation‘s second largest oil company, Chevron, announced its own.  It‘s second quarter sales -- $81 billion, its highest ever profit.

But in Congress, the cry from Republicans is, offshore drilling complete with stunts.  Minority Leader Boehner and other GOP leaders refusing to leave the House floor even after today‘s adjournment for the August recess, even after the lights and microphones were turned off, demanding a vote on offshore drilling.

To Senator McCain, in Panama City, Florida, saying he knows what Americans really want.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  They want offshore drilling and they want to drill now.  And I met with independent oil company executives recently who told me that they could utilize existing facilities to increase our oil supply in a matter of months and build new facilities in a very short space of time.  Now, that‘s what they say.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Please stop yelling at me, sir.

Let‘s call in “Newsweek” magazine‘s senior White House correspondent and MSNBC political analyst, Richard Wolffe.

Richard, good evening.

RICHARD WOLFFE, NEWSWEEK MAGAZINE:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Obama camp says this thing today, this is not a shift, he‘s talked about doing this in those fields already designated for drilling, including those that are in the offshore area—but why say this today?  Why bring this up and make it public today?

WOLFFE:  Well, I think there clearly is a shift actually, and that‘s why the candidate is spending so much energy explaining the shift and using such plain (ph) language about a compromise.

However, as the campaign points out, this is less to do with policy than it is about pragmatism, that, in fact, there are all sorts of things in this compromise that the candidate supports, like support for alternative energy and biofuel, support for Detroit to come up with new generation of cars.  And that he has the position where offshore drilling is OK as long as it‘s in the exiting leases.

But in the end, what you‘re looking at is a candidate who believes more in bipartisan compromise than in the sort of hardcore environmental principles which oppose offshore drilling.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  That‘s a policy decision and there‘s some validity to it and some reasons of criticism of it.  But, why - politically go for the partial offshore drilling tonight rather than wait to see if those magic words that he issued earlier today, $1,000 rebate, might have resonated the way the less direct ones that offshore drilling did for McCain.  Why not give that thing a chance to see if it can get up on its hind legs.

WOLFFE:  That‘s a good point and it‘s a good strategic point.  And I think that we‘ll still be debating the $1,000 rebate, because after all, the holiday gas tax holiday issue is out there.  The question of immediate relief for consumers is still going to be very relevant.

What happens today is, of course, you‘ve got a candidate—two candidates campaigning in Florida, Congress going on its vacation, and it‘s a difficult, political issue for Democrats.  They want to neutralize this because it‘s a single issue that, in a sense, the McCain campaign and the Republicans feel that they have going for them with this general election.

OLBERMANN:  The advice from Paul Krugman last night here was that Senator Obama should go after offshore drilling and the gas tax holiday, strike them hard as GOP political ploys that will not have any impact positively, virtually at all, and certainly not for 10 years.  Did he now miss that opportunity completely?  Is there no way back from this position?

WOLFFE:  Well, I think there is a way back, which is that this doesn‘t deal with the short-term issue, in fact, neither candidate‘s policies really deal with the short-term problems of gas prices, alternative energies and new generation of cars—all of these things are going to take time, so will offshore drilling.  That‘s why the rebate issue versus the gas tax holiday is the question right now of how do you help people who are suffering at the pump.

OLBERMANN:  Are the Republicans going to come back—let me ask this last strategy question.  Are the Republicans going to come back at some point over this weekend and say, “Well, Obama was against offshore drilling,” even—whatever his previous policies actually were, they certainly were not advertised to the degree that this one has been.  And now, suddenly, he is for it.

Are they going to come back and hit him as a flip-flopper?  Is that refrain is going to be sung again over the weekend, at the beginning of next week?

WOLFFE:  I‘m sure they are.  And the difficult thing is that—he‘s here for compromise and the other side is really going for the jugular.  I mean, these two elements of campaigning don‘t match up because Obama in the end is the leader of the party and they want to manage what‘s going on in Congress, as well.  That‘s a difficult difference of strategy that is very hard for the Obama campaign to control.

OLBERMANN:  Our own Richard Wolffe, also, of course, of “Newsweek” magazine—great thanks, Richard.  Have a good weekend.

WOLFFE:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Here we go again.  Save the cheerleader, save the world.

And here we go again, again.  The “Murdoch Street Journal” insists Barack Obama should not be elected because America is overweight and he‘s not—seriously.

But, first, the headlines breaking in the administration‘s 50 running scandals—Bushed.

Number three: I-35 W-gate.  A year to today since the Minnesota bridge came crushing down.  Sonja Pitt, the woman from the Minnesota Department of Transportation fired for having taking an unauthorized state-paid trip to Washington as the disaster unfolded and not returning for two weeks has found herself a new job.  She is a transportation security specialist at the Department of Homeland Security.  No, no, this country‘s Department of Homeland Security.

Number two: Blackwater-gate.  Jeremy Scahill, the author of a book on the company with its own army of mercenaries, a frequent guest here, now reports that Blackwater has now started a, quote, “private intelligence community.”  It‘s a private version of the CIA for foreign governments for “Fortune 500” corporations.

And who better to run a private CIA than former CIA counterterrorism director, J. Cofer Black, the guy in charge of that unit for the two years before 9/11 and later head of renditions and torture.  He‘s now Cofer Black of Blackwater.

And, number one: Laptop-gate.  There has been a big change at the U.S. border, but you probably haven‘t heard anything about it.  In the course of a border search and absent individualized suspicion, officers can review and analyze the information transported by any individual attempting to enter, re-enter, depart, pas through, or reside in the United States.

Analyze the information?  Translation—they can seize your laptop as you are coming into or leaving this country.  They can search through anything in it at the border site or at an off-site location.  They can copy anything they find inside your laptop or just keep your laptop for a reasonable period of time.

And even if they find nothing illegal in it, they are not required to destroy any notes they made about what they did find on your laptop.  No warrant, no probable cause, no way to stop it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Bests in a moment and the Congressman deathly afraid of lawsuits from witches.  First, on this date in 1922, the under appreciated actor Arthur Hill was born.  Tony Award winner for “Who‘s Afraid of Virginia Wolf,” star of TV‘s “Owen Marshall, Counselor at Law,” and co-star with Steve McQueen in one of the greatest Alfred Hitchcock episodes, “Human Interest Story.”  Arthur Hill is best remembered though for, appropriately enough tonight, starring in “The Andromeda Strain,” the 1971 film about American biological weapons killing Americans. 

Let‘s play Oddball. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  We begin on the Internets and a cheerleader, unfortunately kneeling out of site behind that school banner, getting flattened by a linebacker.  She‘s all right, folks.  But this is part of a wider trend.  Last year in Auburn, Washington, a last-minute adjustment to the banner left another cheerleader dazed and confused.  Don‘t ever do that.  At least the player who knocked her down stuck around to make sure she was OK.  No such chivalry with this unfortunate young lady.  Her assailant just stands up and exits stage left to rejoin the team.  What a gentleman. 

To Warrick (ph), Rhode Island, and the annual dance with your dog competition.  Contestants and their furry partners come from all around the world to strut their stuff for the judges.  Yes, here it is.  That‘s what Senator Rick Santorum warned us about. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Has Wal-Mart ordered its employees to vote only one way in the coming election?  Bill-O crows about the ratings and then gets them wrong again in worst persons.  These stories ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world. 

Number three, best throwing of stones from inside the glass house, Michael Goldfarb, a spokesman for Senator McCain, excoriating the “New York Times” for calling McCain on his lies about the race card in the paper‘s blog rather than in the paper itself.  Goldfarb as dismissed the average Daily Kos diarist as, quote, “sitting at home in his mother‘s basement and ranting into the either between games of Dungeons and Dragons.”

Goldfarb, of course, writes the McCain campaign official blog. 

Project much, buddy?

Number two, best playing of the witch card, Congressman Tim Walberg of Michigan, the only one of the 43 members of the House Education Committee to vote against a reauthorization of the Head Start program.  He has explained that a provision in the bill does not permit faith-based organizations running Head Start projects from hiring only of those of their faith.  So, say, if a Catholic Church with a head start program got a job application from a Muslim or, quoting Walberg, a Wicken from a coven in Ann Arbur, they couldn‘t turn them down. 

Congressman, you got some kind of witch infiltration in Ann Arbor? 

She turned me into a Newt. 

Number one, best business up front party in the back; Politico.com reports that about a hundred members of the business association the U.S.  Chamber of Commerce had quite the night at a D.C. Sports bar this week called The Exchange.  They ordered -- 100 people -- 208 mixed drinks, 111 shots, 43 margaritas, 11 open bottles of liquor, 37 bottles of beer and 155 pitchers of beer.  The tab was 8,204 dollars. 

At least it was for some good business cause, some lobbying effort, loosening up some foreign money?  Actually, no.  It was the celebration of the conclusion of the Chamber-Bowl, the Chamber of Commerce‘s annual softball tournament. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  In 2003 and set in the near future, Jennifer Government imagines a world run by American corporations so mighty that workers name themselves after their employers.  Hyperbole?  We‘ll ask John and Jane Wal-Mart.  In our third story on the COUNTDOWN, they are not being told how to name themselves yet, but they may have been told how to vote for themselves.  The nation‘s largest private employer using fear tactics to thwart the passage of the Employees Free Choice Act, which enables workers to unionize without secret ballot, a law Barack Obama supports and John McCain opposes. 

According to a Missouri woman, one of about a dozen workers interviewed by the “Wall Street Journal,” the meeting leader said, “I am not telling you how to vote, but if the Democrats win, this bill will pass and you won‘t have a vote on whether you want a union.  I‘m not a stupid person.  They were telling me how to vote.” 

Wal-Mart says no; “we believe the Employee Free Choice act is a bad vote and we‘ve been on the record as opposed to it.  If anyone representing Wal-Mart gave the impression, they are wrong and acting without approval.  We regularly educate our associates on issues which impact our company. 

This is an example of that.” 

Perhaps leaving the intimidation to Republican strategist Mike Murphy, who masterminded this dubious campaign for a group called Coalition for a Democratic Workplace. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hey, you don‘t have to be here.  Take a walk. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Today, when workers vote on having a union at their workplace, they use a secret ballot.  But a new law could change all that. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How you doing? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Who are you? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What you got there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My secret ballot. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Not any more it ain‘t. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Under a card check law, workers would just sign a card.  And everybody would know how they voted.  Tell the candidates to protect worker privacy. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Chris Hayes, Washington editor of “The Nation” joins us now.  Chris, good evening.

CHRIS HAYES, “THE NATION”:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  What Wal-Mart did here, clearly there was moral intimidation in this.  But do we know, Can we tell if it‘s legal intimidation? 

HAYES:  Well, we can‘t with the facts as we have them in the “Wall Street Journal” story.  Of course, You could open investigation, either through the Department of Justice or the Department of Labor.  But I wouldn‘t hold my breath on that.  The Bush administration for the last eight years has shown absolutely zero, zero instance in pursuing any instances of violations of labor law.  In fact, the Department of Labor has pivoted and put all their energy on trying to go after unions violating labor law.  I don‘t think it‘s going to be very easy with the current administration to get to the bottom of what happened. 

OLBERMANN:  Perversely, might the attempt to get X-thousand votes fro John McCain, for Republican Senate and House candidates, might this have just backfired to some degree on Wal-Mart?  Did they just bring this issue to the forefront when, maybe, whatever is left of the union base might not be particularly energized.  But if you see something like all the managers, department managers and store managers of Wal-Mart have been forced to attend mandatory meetings and listen to how well, if Obama wins—suddenly, this might be an issue after not being one for a while? 

HAYES:  I think it is going to backfire.  Not only will it backfire politically in the way that you state, but what is so delicious about the whole thing is that it shows exactly why the Employee Free Choice Act is so needed, because the mechanisms of intimidations that an employer has over an employee are so powerful that running a union election in that context has become incredibly difficult, almost impossible.  When your employer can have a mandatory meeting and sit you down in an room for hours on end, showing you anti-union propaganda, or telling you who they think you should vote for, and you have to listen to them because you can‘t walk out of that room and not get fired, those are exactly the conditions that create a system in which it‘s harder and harder for workers to unionize and have a voice in the workplace, and those are precisely the conditions that the Employee Free Choice Act is designed to remedy. 

So I think the most ironic part about this is that they‘ve shown exactly why the law that they‘re fighting is so necessary. 

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of mechanisms of intimidation, do you think that web ad from Mike Murphy will accomplish what it set out to do, or just make people remember that “The Sopranos” is off the air? 

HAYES:  Yes, I mean, look, here‘s what I would say, right?  If you‘re targeted as a worker, do you think that your employer and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and these massive businesses are going to spend 50 billion dollars so your rights are protected, that your pay can be higher?  It is sort of manifestly on its face absurd. 

OLBERMANN:  Chris Hayes, Washington editor of “The Nation,” as always, thanks for your time, Chris, and have a good weekend. 

HAYES:  You too, Keith.  Thanks a lot.

OLBERMANN:  The former President Bush joins a family phone call to wish a happy birthday to comedian Rush Limbaugh, and starts to give away something about something when he asks Limbaugh about Fox‘s Roger Ailes. 

They have his age disqualifies him, his color, his church, his youth.  Now the right wing extremists are reduced to saying Obama is too skinny to be our president, ahead on COUNTDOWN. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  You can almost hear the wheels turning at GOP master control, wait, wait, I got one.  Obama is, too—he‘s too skinny and if that doesn‘t work we‘ll say he‘s too fat.  The skinny on the Murdoch Street Journal editorial actually claiming the senator is too fit to be elected.  That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s number two story, tonight‘s worst persons in the world. 

Number three, Bill-O the clown, ventured into the audience estimates again, and in the process caught stepping on his loofah; “finally, finally the ratings for July are in.  The tv ratings causing a true reality check for CNN and MSNBC.  Fox News ranked number six in prime time.  That‘s among all cable channels.  CNN, 22, MSNBC 30, right behind the tomato channel.  Since I was off for a few days in July, I want to thank Laura Ingram, John Kasich and E.D. Hill for keeping the numbers up.” 

I‘ve got your reality check right here, goober.  In July, COUNTDOWN was the number three rated show in all of cable news, adults 25 to 54, behind Bill-O and Hannity.  We were the number two rated show in all of cable news adults 18 to 49, and we were the number one rated show in all of cable news, adults 18 to 34.  And Bill-O was third. 

Since I was off for two weeks in July, I want to thank Rachel Maddow for kicking the asses of Laura Ingram, John Kasich and E.D. Hill.  But don‘t worry, Bill, you‘re still dominating that important demographic, 65 to dead. 

Our runner up, the gift that keeps on giving, the bizarre Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Backman telling Ingram that the Democrats in Congress are so intent on blocking new energy sources that, quote, they won‘t even pass the tax credit for solar and wind right now.  Four times this summer, the Associated Press reports, Senate Republicans blocked action on the legislation that would establish tax credits for renewable reports entrepreneurs in fields like solar and wind.  When a similar bill came up in the House, Backman voted to block it.  Actually, Representative Backman could herself be the solution to the energy crisis, if we could just harness her hot air.

But our winners, the family Bush and comedian Rush Limbaugh.  The 41st president, the 43 president and the innocent bystander, the former Florida governor, phoned into the Limbaugh show today to wish him a happy birthday.  What?  There‘s more?  That‘s not enough.  Oh, yes, the current president announced he said to his father and brother, quote, listen, we ought to call our pal and let him now that we care.  Then he insisted on more drilling for oil, seriously.  Then he put 41 on the phone and 41 apparently didn‘t know they were all on the phone; quote, it‘s wonderful.  It‘s great having the family up here in Maine and all is well?  Do you see our man Ailes at all? 

Bush 41 suddenly got the hint, dropped any further reference to how appropriately Roger Ailes of Fixed News could be described by the Bush‘s as our man, and instead said, are we on the radio?  Are we?  I didn‘t know that.  I‘ll clean up my act here.  I‘m glad they told.

You know what they say.  You can tell a lot about a man by his friends.  So both Presidents Bush and comedian Rush Limbaugh, today‘s worst persons in the world. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  When we have live in a time when pollsters are willing to ask voters and when we ask ourselves which presidential candidate would we most want to have beer with, which one would we want driving by when we need help changing a tire, then maybe we shouldn‘t be surprised that in our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, there is actual serious consideration  about whether Senator Barack Obama is too skinny to be president. 

That‘s right.  The country has pretty much gone to hell over the past eight years but Obama is not eating enough junk food.  After all, two thirds of the voting age population is over weight, 32 percent obese, according to the Murdoch Street Journal.  It‘s headline, “Too Fit to be President.”  And in a poll conducted earlier this month, Obama still trails McCain among white men and suburban women on whether they identify with the candidate‘s background and values.  The notion posited that a heavier candidate would make voters feel he is more like them. 

From a housewife in Corpus Christie, Texas who voted for Senator Clinton, quote, “he‘s too new and he needs some meet on his bones.”  And you need a shrink, lady.  Another Clinton supporter, who wrote on a Yahoo Politics message board, quote, “I won‘t vote for any bean pole guy.”

As for Obama, he may be skinny, but he seems to have a little heft on the subject of how most to annoy Republicans with a response, today, while enjoying a strawberry milkshake in Plant City, Florida. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I‘ll tell you what, you have one a day of these, though, I‘ll gain a little weight.  I won‘t be as skinny.

(END VIDEO CLIP

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s turn now to MSNBC political analyst Craig Crawford, who, of course, also is about contributing editor with CQPolitics.com and is an authority on strawberry milkshakes in Plant City, Florida. 

CRAIG CRAWFORD, CQPOLITICS.COM:  That is true. What ever happened to you can‘t be too rich or too thin? 

OLBERMANN:  I don‘t know.  Is this actually capable of winning or losing Obama votes?  Is that the kind of factor this is?

CRAWFORD:  I saw this headline this morning, Keith, I first thought it must be satire, like something you would find in “The Onion.”  I went to read the piece; I thought, I‘m sure it‘s a joke.  Then two or three paragraphs in, I realized they were seriously saying this.  I‘ve hear of prejudice against fat people, but I don‘t think I‘ve ever heard of prejudice against skinny people, maybe envy.  But as a factor, I think this is just goofy.  It‘s about as goofy as saying people vote against him because he has slightly larger ears than most people. 

OLBERMANN:  I was just going to go with that.  If this doesn‘t work, it‘s the ears.  Seriously, if you‘re going to run through some crazy bat-blank reason to not vote for somebody at a rate of one of two a day, you‘re going to run out pretty quickly.  Apparently, August 1st was that over/under date. 

CRAWFORD:  Yes, and I think what they‘re trying to do—obviously, it‘s this whole campaign to say he‘s not one of us and anything they can find.  There is polling that suggests, as you indicated earlier, that some people have some concerns about that.  And when you have that, when you pull out these individual examples, even if you stretch them, even if they‘re silly, they can stick. 

OLBERMANN:  Not only is he too skinny, according to this, but he tries too hard to keep it that way by going to the gym, by avoiding junk food, by running, by playing basketball.  The McCain campaign is trying to tie some of this into their narrative that he‘s out of the touch, because, of course, we don‘t want a physically fit president.  We didn‘t want John F.  Kennedy.  We didn‘t want Teddy Roosevelt, who used to go on point to point five mile hikes.  Even Reagan, for his age.  Let‘s get somebody in there who has to serve most of his term in bed. 

CRAWFORD:  And at least we know, with Obama, you wouldn‘t have to get a new bathtub.  One of our presidents was so fat, they had to get a new bathtub for him. 

OLBERMANN:  William Howard Taft.  Now, apparently, going through them, going back through this, Wilson was kind of thin, but, evidently, the last truly skinny president was Abraham Lincoln.  We all know, Obama wouldn‘t want a comparison to a slacker like that guy.  But is there a solution to this?  Or do you just wait for it to get more and more absurd until it‘s something about his toenails?  Or does he need to respond to this by throwing back a few more beers and dropping the arugola and picking up the Twinkies? 

CRAWFORD:  You could always go drink beer with fat people, I suppose.  The more beer he drinks, the fatter he would get.  I do think, they have to make an effort to show him in some relative settings, where people can relate to him.  But it can‘t be phony, Keith.  That‘s the trouble.  If they try to do things that aren‘t natural, that he‘s not comfortable with, they‘ll see right through it.  That‘s part of the trouble with this not one of us routine, is that when a candidate then tries to deal with it, what they then will say is, see, he‘s a phony.  It‘s dangerous to try to do too much with that.  I‘ve seen the Republicans run this not one of us routine against Democrats for a long time, 20 years or more, and it‘s worked against every Democrat except Bill Clinton.  So I‘m sure they just want to play it out.  It‘s right out of their playbook.  

OLBERMANN:  Well, apparently, he got it right, because he jogged and ate junk food.  So he had the whole—he appealed to everybody. 

CRAWFORD:  Only Bill Clinton could work both sides of that, pigging out while he exercised. 

OLBERMANN:  Go for a jog, end up at McDonald‘s.  Our own Craig Crawford of CQPolitics.com, thank you, Craig.  Have a good weekend. 

CRAWFORD:  You too.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,920th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  Having never been accused of being too skinny, 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 2008 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2008 ASC LLC 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 ASC LLC‘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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