updated 7/2/2009 10:40:03 AM ET 2009-07-02T14:40:03

Guests: Mike Taibbi, Andrew Blankstein, Sharon Waxman, Chris Kofinis, Sen. Bernie Sanders, Toure

DAVID SHUSTER, GUEST HOST:  Good evening from New York.  I‘m David Shuster.  Keith Olbermann has the night off.

As a verb, “will” is used to express desire or choice.  As a noun, “will” is a legal declaration of a person‘s wishes regarding the disposal of his or her property after death.

In our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN: Both definitions of the word “will” are factoring heavily tonight in coverage of the death of Michael Jackson.

But we begin with new questions about how the pop superstar died last week at the age of 50.  The Web site TMZ.com is reporting that sources have told it, an extremely powerful and dangerous drug use for surgical anesthesia was found at Jackson‘s home after he died.  The drug called Propofol is only supposed to be available to medical personnel.  And when it is used in conjunction with powerful painkillers, it can lead to cardiac arrest.

New details tonight about Jackson‘s estate: His will was filed today in a Los Angeles court.  Written in 2002, it names Jackson‘s mother, Katherine, as the beneficiary of a family trust and at the time thought to be worth half a billion dollars.  It also names Katherine Jackson the guardian of his three children.  Diana Ross would be her successor should anything happen to his mother.  Jackson‘s lawyer and a music executive who was a longtime friend were named as co-executors of his estate.

Jackson‘s family stated today that plans for a memorial service and burial are still in the works to be announced soon.  But they added that a viewing of the body of Jackson‘s ranch Neverland will definitely not be happening.

“The Associated Press” is reporting that the billionaire Thomas Barrack who owns Neverland in a joint venture with Jackson had been seeking an exemption to bury the singer at the ranch.

Let‘s turn now to Andrew Blankstein, who‘s been covering Jackson‘s death for “The Los Angeles Times.”

And, Andrew, good evening to you.

ANDREW BLANKSTEIN, LOS ANGELES TIMES:  Good evening to you.

SHUSTER:  You reported earlier tonight the Los Angeles Coliseum is being considered as a venue for a public memorial for Jackson.  At this point, would even the coliseum be big enough?

BLANKSTEIN:  Well, it did host the 1984 Olympics.  Certainly, there would be spillover.  I mean, 85,000 people can fit there.  But many more would likely want to come to an event as big as this.  And the police are preparing for obviously something that‘s going to be huge.

There are possibly other venues in the city and, again, as you remarked, there are—there are lots of appends (ph) and things can change at the last minute.  But the Los Angeles Police Department and other agencies are preparing for something next week.

SHUSTER:  Knowing how successful Graceland is as a business venture for the Elvis Presley estate, why is it looking unlikely that Jackson will be buried at Neverland?

BLANKSTEIN:  I think one of the things is that it would really take time to change any permitting process.  Obviously, this is ranchland.  It‘s not exactly conducive to set up a business where people are visiting.  And there would be local opposition and certainly when you factor in, they were caught by surprise even by the possible funeral and memorial service up there.  This is something that probably wouldn‘t fit the timetable for what the family is looking for.

SHUSTER:  As we mentioned, TMZ.com is report thing a dangerous drug use for surgical anesthesia was found in Jackson‘s home.  What do you make of that, first of all?

BLANKSTEIN:  Well, obviously, this is something that the Los Angeles Police Department—which hasn‘t said specifically about what drugs were taken out—is going to be taking a close look.  This is something that should be only used in the controlled medical setting and when you consider that—they are going to be looking at, if it was present, who would have given this and who would have prescribed it and who would have—how would it have been used and whether it was a factor.

SHUSTER:  Andrew, when can we expect of the results of Jackson‘s autopsy and an official cause of death will finally be released?

BLANKSTEIN:  Well, they said four to six weeks for the toxicology, and that‘s still pretty much on target.  And again, the whole investigation, police investigation, is going to hinge on what the results of that are.  I mean, there‘s been a lot of speculation to different drugs and even the latest revelations, but we still don‘t know, and the coroner‘s office said that there were multiple prescription drugs.  So, it‘s still an open question.

SHUSTER:  Should we be surprised, as far as the will is concerned, by any of the revelations in the will that was filed today?

BLANKSTEIN:  No.  And the other thing is that the judge put off a hearing until next we can, to see—and then the real battle is going to take shape of who is going to control the estate.  So, there‘s still a lot to be—that‘s going to unfold in court.

SHUSTER:  A lot of people may be surprised to hear the name Diana Ross.  What was that all about?

BLANKSTEIN:  Well, obviously, it‘s a close personal relationship that goes back decades, and the one agreement, seemingly, from the will that‘s been presented and the lawyers going to court, Katherine Jackson, the family matriarch, is the first name—named the guardian.  But Diana Ross is a close personal friend of Michael Jackson and was somebody that really cared—that he really cared about.

SHUSTER:  A lot of people, of course, really care about the Beatles catalog that Michael Jackson bought off many years ago.  There‘s some speculation there might be some resolution of what happens to the Beatles catalog.  It was not mentioned in the will.  Where does that stand tonight?

BLANKSTEIN:  I think that‘s one of the other things that‘s going to unfold in court.  Because we still—we have some documents filed but we have obviously—others that could come forward and lay claim to a number of these assets.  So, there‘s still a lot that we don‘t know as far as who has a claim to them and who might come forward.

SHUSTER:  Andrew Blankstein of “Los Angeles Times”—Andrew, thanks for your time tonight.  We appreciate it.

BLANKSTEIN:  Thank you very much.

SHUSTER:  You‘re welcome.

The results of a final panic theory emerging about Jackson‘s final hours which speculates that Michael Jackson may have accidentally triggered his own death as part of a risky plan to enact the medical infirmity plan in his concert contract.

On his blog on the Web site The Daily Beast, investigative journalist Gerald Posner writes a close confidant of Jackson‘s has told him that Jackson so determined to get out his schedule of 50 concerts in London that he intentionally took a large dose of prescription drugs in order to be sent to the hospital and get out of his dates without penalty.  “Like a child who doesn‘t want to go to school,” Posner source tells him.  “Michael thought he could get away from his obligations if he had a note from his doctor.”  Posner reports that Jackson‘s personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, had been at his home at the day of his death at Jackson‘s request, providing what he thought would be a safety net.

Jackson was apparently so far in debt that he had signed the contract reluctantly.  He was said to be frail, his weight down to 112 pounds, his friends worried he would not be able to do the concert—especially after the promoter allegedly extended what was initially only 10 concerts to 50.

On March the 5th, when Jackson held a news conference in London to announce the string of concerts he told reporters, quote, “This is it.  These will be my final shows performing in London.”  “This is it” really means this is it.

Lots to talk about with Sharon Waxman, editor-in-chief of the entertainment Web site TheWrap.com.

And, Sharon, thanks for joining us.

SHARON WAXMAN, THEWRAP.COM:  Sure.  Thanks for having me.

SHUSTER:  Knowing what we do about Jackson‘s death, his physical frailty, his mental stability—does the final panic theory sound plausible to you?

WAXMAN:  I‘m really sad to say that it kind of does.  Everything that we knew about Michael Jackson was that he was signing up to do these concerts.  We knew that he was doing it out of financial under—out of financial strain that he was under.  We also knew that the people close to him in the weeks coming up to the concert knew that it was unlikely that he was going to be able to do this.

But here is another—there is a problem with that theory for me, which is that Michael Jackson has made deals many times before, and then just not followed through on them.  So, there have been—there has been a massive amount of speculation which I find horribly irresponsible frankly in the wake of his death: suicide, murder, all kinds of things that sound, you know, absurd to me on their face.

But it is possible—you know, what he is suggesting seems possible because we know that he—we started with the 10 days, as you say, and expanded to 50.  And there was nobody there to step in and say, well, Michael is not really able to do this.  But he also has—don‘t forget—backed out of concerts without overdosing or intentionally overdosing before.

SHUSTER:  But given the number of sources that are reporting that Jackson had been looking to reduce the number of dates in his concert schedule, is it at least possible that maybe he somehow backed himself into a corner?

WAXMAN:  That does seem to be the case.  I have not spoken to nor have I seen credible multiple sources reporting that he was looking for a way out of his—out of his contract.  So, let‘s step back to the side.  There have been numerous things that have been erroneously reported in the past five days.  So, I have not heard that credibly reported myself.

But it is true that I think—yes, he did back himself into a corner and, unfortunately, Michael Jackson has many—for many years, surrounded himself with people who had not had his best interests at heart, and it may well be that the concert promoter who had seen all these tickets go flying out the door, who kept adding dates, who was adding cities, might also not have had Michael‘s physical best interest at heart.

So, the people who are close to him—we know that he was frail, we saw pictures of him looking emaciated and sick—and many people, as I say, thought that he would walk up to the brink of his concert tour and somehow back out.  I don‘t think that people close to him thought that he would back out by trying to put himself into a coma.

SHUSTER:  As far as the people who had a financial interest, as far as the massive debt that Michael Jackson had, could that explain how it is that a singer known as the “King of Pop” who—as he pointed out—had come to be known for many things other than singing, was about to embark on a 50-date concert series to begin with?

WAXMAN:  He needed money.  I mean, he had come to the brink of losing Neverland.  They were auctioning off his things.

He had leveraged his stake in the Sony/ATV catalog, the Beatles catalog that you referred to before up to a—to the hilt.  He does have his own catalog, his own music, to which he retains ownership of the master recordings and of his own, the Mike Jack catalog, and of his own author‘s rights for those songs.  But he has so many debts and he‘s been—he had been defaulting on loans that had been taken out for a number of years, too.

So, he did need some way to get cash, and as—we know the music industry is in a terrible state, and the way all performers now make money is by touring.

SHUSTER:  Do you see an honest broker in terms of what really happened in all of this?

WAXMAN:  Well, what‘s interesting is that the will that emerge today named people who have been longtime associates of Michael Jackson.  And in the least position, John Branca, an attorney, who was retained a week before Michael Jackson died.  He‘d been involved with Michael Jackson for many years and then had been alienated or, you know, somehow, their relationship ended a number of years ago.

And then Michael Jackson got involved with the Nation of Islam, after the second molestation trial—and, you know, one of a series of mysterious shadowy characters who were involved with Michael Jackson and his business dealings.

Bringing the John Branca in who‘s—who knew Michael Jackson very well was probably a more—one of the more solid positions that he made in this will that was signed and written in 2002.  And, by the way, if you look at the will, you see it has M.J. signed by every single paragraph.  It‘s kind of interesting that he made that choice to give all his affairs to his business—to business associates who he‘d worked with long for many years.

SHUSTER:  Sharon, do you think that we will ever know what really happened?

WAXMAN:  I think that‘s a really good question.  I think it‘s very possible that it‘s going to end up being one of these kind of Marilyn Monroe/John F. Kennedy-type situations where there‘s endless conspiracy theories and speculation.

It will be nice—you know, with all the technology we have and the toxicology reports and an autopsy, and the knowledge of what investigators have taken from his home, we ought to be able to know.  But there were so many different competing influences and compete—and things going on with Michael Jackson‘s probably multiple doctors prescribing things.  So, I think it‘s very possible that we will never know precisely how and why he died and what led up to this tragic ending, actually.

SHUSTER:  Sharon Waxman, editor-in-chief of TheWrap.com—Sharon, thanks for coming on.

WAXMAN:  Yes, thank you.

SHUSTER:  You‘re welcome.

Coming up: The impact of Michael Jackson in the world of music even in death.  The musical material of a still-to-be-released could be endless.

But, up next: The freefall in the Republican Party isn‘t slowing.  Sarah Palin—almost a year after being thrust into the national stage—is still sparking bitter debates within her party.  And Governor Sanford‘s adultery is finally triggering a backlash among conservatives.  But what‘s behind the delayed reaction?

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  A bad week for the Christian right gets even bumpier.  Governor Sanford admits to even more sin and now the calls for his resignation are growing.  Governor Palin shows she might have some truthiness issues in the “Vanity Fair” article and triggers a fierce fight among her party.  The crisis in the GOP gets nastier.

And later, the musical vaults holding never before heard Michael Jackson performances are the pop culture flood gates set to open wide.

Next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  On November 4th, neoconservatives were asked to remove themselves from the place of residence.  That request came from the voters.  Deep down, the Neocons knew the voters were right but they‘re saying that some day they would return.  With nowhere else to go, the Neocons appeared at the home of their friend, the Christian right, the voters that also thrown them out, requesting that they never return.

Can two right-wing factions share a party without driving each other crazy?  In our fourth story tonight: No!

Two Republicans now, both presidential prospects for 2012, are having their mental stability called into question by fellow Republicans.  Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, obviously—but first, South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford.  The state Senate Republican leader responded to Sanford‘s new revelations by saying, quote, “I‘m really concerned about his mental well-being.”

Twelve out of 27 in the majority caucus, including the ethics chairman, signed a letter asking Sanford to step down.  Two more agreeing but not signing; two more say they are leaning that way.

As the South Carolina‘s U.S. senator, Jim DeMint, also Republicans, is saying, quote, “A lot of us are talking to him behind the scenes and hopes that he‘ll make the right decision.”  This after Republicans in the state said Sanford‘s future depends on the future of his marriage.

And Sanford told the “A.P.” he still loves his presumably former mistress.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GOV. MARK SANFORD ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  I don‘t want to blow up the kids‘ live.  I don‘t want to blow up 20 years we‘ve invested.  But if I‘m completely honest, there are still feelings in the way.  If we keep pushing it this way, we get those to die off, but they‘re still there and they‘re still real.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Also still real, the GOP feud over Sarah Palin.  And thanks to one of her biggest supporters, we now know that who had worries about her mental stability.  “Vanity Fair” just reported that unnamed top aides in the McCain campaign worried about her mental state, referencing the possibility of postpartum depression.

Now, conservative commentator Bill Kristol, a Palin booster, writes, and a former McCain staffer confirms, that Steve Schmidt, McCain‘s top strategist, was one of those unnamed top aides.

Schmidt himself told “Politico,” quote, “His allegation that I was defaming Palin by alleging postpartum depression at the campaign headquarters is categorically untrue.”  Which, of course, still leaves room for the possibility Schmidt does not think that he was defaming her alleging postpartum depression.

Palin has spoken, not to “Politico” or even Kristol‘s “Weekly Standard,” but to “Runner‘s World”—“Runner‘s World,” quote, “Sweat my sanity.  A great frustration I had during the campaign was when the McCain staff wouldn‘t carve out time for me go for a run.”

Mystery solved, folks.  McCain stopped her from running.  So, she went insane.

With us tonight is Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis, formerly, communications director for the Edwards campaign.

Chris, thanks as always.  Great to see you.

CHRIS KOFINIS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Good evening, David.

SHUSTER:  Chris, what kind of party elevates two people as potential U.S. presidents when leaders within that party have concerns about their mental state?

KOFINIS:  Well, it‘s a—it‘s a party that seems to have a conservative fantasy about what a president should look like and what a president should believe.  It makes you wonder if they notice who won the last election.  You know, Barack Obama does not fill the judicial conservative stereotype to say the least.

You know, then, again, maybe they are—they‘re trying to find new and innovative ways to lose presidential elections, but it really is kind of inexplicable when you think about what is being said about these two potential presidential candidates.       

SHUSTER:  After the campaign, Steve Schmidt famously urged the Republican Party to go easy on things like same-sex marriage.  Is the Palin leaked fight really a proxy for the ongoing ideological split in the GOP?

KOFINIS:  I think, to some extent, yes.  I mean, the problem I have with this is, is you listen to Republicans—you know, Republican leaders like Sarah Palin and Governor Sanford talk about family values, and when you really look at their positions and what they‘ve actually done in their lives, they seem neither to value their families or to value family values when it comes to America‘s families.

So, I think, they have a serious challenge there.  But then, when you look at in terms of the—I think the bigger picture is what, you know, Steve Schmidt is say thing is: listen, this is a party that needs to confront the reality that they need to move left.  They need to realize that the country has changed.

I think that is the kind of advice which I believe is sound advice if they want to resurrect the Republican Party.  But you are seeing this tension between these old school conservative factions that do not want to change the direction of the Republican Party.

SHUSTER:  Speaking of resurrection, Sanford clearly seems comfortable with his cheating and the “Vanity Fair” piece portrays Palin as comfortable with lying.  Politicians of every stripe lie and cheat.

But is there something unique about these evangelical right-wingers, that they know they have Jesus in their soul, so their slips are either justified or forgiven, but their essential characters are always good in a way that others are not?

KOFINIS:  You know, I don‘t—I‘m not sure it‘s a question about whether, you know, they may believe that.  But I don‘t think it‘s a question about whether the American people believe that.  I think the bigger problem they have and the problem that folks—like Sarah Palin and Governor Sanford had and other Republican leaders—is they spent their political lives passing judgment on others.

I mean, all you have to do is look back at those old Sanford ads when he ran for governor, when he talks about family values.  He talks about character.  He talks about honesty.  I mean, it really does make you almost want to vomit at this hypocrisy.

And that is, I think, the crux of the Republican Party‘s problem.  That they have leaders of the party that are becoming symbols of hypocrisy on the key values that they supposedly profess, and that is not—again—a recipe for renewing the Republican Party.  It is for making the Republican Party what I think it‘s become—a joke, with a lot of the American people.

SHUSTER:  If we assume that Sanford goes down does, the Palin feud die as easily?  Or is that rooted in the bigger values problem that you were referring to in the Republican Party?

KOFINIS:  Well, David, I‘m going making a bold prediction right here on COUNTDOWN.  The Sarah Palin story is not going to go away any time soon.  Sarah Palin is the ever ready bunny of American politics‘ gossip and scandal.  And you can almost predict that you are going to have, at least, another three to four years of this story line continue.

And, I think, from the GOP‘s perspective, nothing could be worse.  And from the Democratic Party‘s perspective, nothing could be better.  But, I think we are going to be talking about Sarah Palin for many shows to come.

(LAUGHTER)

SHUSTER:  Chris Kofinis, Democratic strategist and former communications director for the John Edwards campaign—Chris, great as always to see you.  Thanks for coming on.

KOFINIS:  Thanks, David.

SHUSTER:  You‘re welcome.

Today, President Obama promised health care reform this year.  With six month left in ‘09 and a divided Democratic Caucus, is he in danger of promising a bit too much?  Senator Bernie Sanders weighs in on what needs to happen to make health care reform a reality.

And nothing says good times like a parade of pigs—a parade of roasted pigs—a parade of dressed-up roasted pigs.  That‘s next in Oddball.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  Bests in a moment, and a case of assault and battery.

But first, on this date in 1979, the world learned the joys of portable music with a prototype the size of a paperback book.  It set eager gadget geeks back about $340.  Thirty years later, it‘s about a useful as your VCR.  Nevertheless, happy birthday to the Walkman.  Your kids will want to look it up on Wikipedia.

And with that, let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in Balayan, Philippines, where a thanksgiving festivities are underway.  First, residents douse each other with water.  Next, it‘s time for the parade and a time-honored tradition of a roasted pig in costume.  Locals go to great lengths to come up with themes for their hogs, and this year‘s pandemic category attribute to swine flu.  Over-political correctness has somewhat spoiled the event, noticeably absent from this year‘s celebration—the age-old practice of putting lipstick on a pig.

To Westland, Michigan, via the Internet, and the case of a raccoon getting his head stuck in a pickle jar, spotted in a tree by one Good Samaritan.  Pest removal was called, the little guy was rescued, the jar was removed, and the animal was set free.  The raccoon did suffer some trauma though, not from getting his head stuck in a pickle jar, but from getting stuck between that guy‘s legs.

And finally tonight, Washington, D.C., our annual reminder the Fourth of July is right around the corner.  Secure your mannequins and the watermelon.  The good folks at the Consumer Products Safety Commission have released this year‘s firework safety video and reminding us all not to take our thumbs for granted and don‘t leave big sis in charge of the sparklers.

A note to our viewers: we are not mocking firework safety, just merely enjoying it.

Al Franken will be joining the Senate soon as the 60th senator caucus with the Democrats.  What new pressure does that put on the president and Congress to finally get something done about health care?  Our special guest is independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

And unlike Michael Jackson never released a live album, but the company promoting Jackson‘s comeback tour says they have enough material to make not one but two live albums.  What should happen with this treasure-trove of material?

These stories ahead.

But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s Top Three Best Persons in the World.

Number three: Best assault with a salted weapon.  Police say, the couple picture there, James Earl Taylor and Mary S. Childers were both charged with domestic assault last week after a verbal altercation escalated into a Cheeto fight.  We are not sure how, but police say the two assault each other with the puffy snack food.  Thank heavy they were puffy and not crunchy because neither person was injured or scarred—and unless you count their orange stained fingers.

Number two: Best new law.  Starting today, if you live in Oklahoma, you will no longer be legally allowed to have the whites of your eyes tattooed.  SB-844 bans what the Oklahoma Academy of Opthamology says was an increasingly popular practice of turning white eyeballs into zombie eyes by injecting them with permanent ink.  The academy says the practice caused blindness, and now kiddies will have to cross the border into Kansas for their eyeball ink. 

Number one, best advice from a higher being.  Joe the Plumber, AKA Samuel Wurzelbacher, down in Texas for some tea partying, did an interview with the website World Net Daily.  Mr. The Plumber was asked about possible future plans to run for public office.  Joe replied, quote, “I hope not.  You know, I talked to God about that.  And he was like, no.” 

Talk about a straight talk express.  Clearly, God isn‘t aware of your work helping America through the difficult and uncertain time when we all switch from analog to digital television.  I hate to disagree with the big guy, but please, please, please, run for office. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  In the election of Al Franken from Minnesota, Senate Democrats have gained a colleague and lost an excuse.  Our number three story tonight, with Republicans threatening to block a vote on fixing health care, the Democrats now have the numbers, 60 votes, to steam roll past Republican filibuster, possible Republican filibuster. 

But do they have the will?  With Franken arriving in Washington next week, Democrats in the Senate now have enough votes on paper to prevent Republicans from blocking any vote they want with a filibuster.  It takes 60 votes to end filibusters, with the process known as closure, essentially closing down debate and moving on to the vote. 

Democrats have more than 50 votes for a health care reform.  But the big question has always been, can they get enough votes to stop Republicans from filibustering?  The issue not just political but intensely personal for millions of Americans, as President Obama witnessed at his town hall on health care today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Basically because of the damage that the radiation and things, I‘m no longer able to work, and I have no health insurance.  Now I have a new tumor.  I have no way to pay for it.  Doctors without paying 100 dollars or 150 dollars to come to their office.  I can get checked into a hospital.  With their engineer program, they will release me.  But that costs a lot of money. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  While Mr. Obama promised to address her individual situation, it remains less clear how far he will go on the national stage.  One of the two independent senators caucusing with the 58 Democrats is now demanding the party close ranks to block a filibuster.  We will talk with him in a moment.

The other independent senator caucusing with the Democrats won his primary in 2006 saying, quote, I can do more for you and your families to get something done to make health care affordable to get universal health insurance.  He then went on to win the general election saying, I have long supported the goal of universal health care. 

But now Joe Lieberman has joined a handful of Democrats who have cold feet about allowing a public option, raising the question, will Lieberman and other Democrats who oppose it still allow the senators who support it to have an up or down vote on something that most Americans already support? 

Joining us now, as promised, the independent senator who supports a public option and universal health care, for that matter, Bernie Sanders of Vermont.  Senator Sanders, thanks for joining us. 

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT:  My pleasure. 

SHUSTER:  If we stipulate that Lieberman and a handful of Democrats may be a lost cause for you on health care, who has the power to at least make them help you at least end a Republican filibuster? 

SANDERS:  Well, this is the way I look at it: I mean, as you heard at President Obama‘s—town meeting today, we have a disastrous health care situation in this country; 46 million uninsured, more underinsured, 20,000 people dying every year because they don‘t get to a doctor in time.  A million people going bankrupt because of medical related bills. 

So I think that what the last two elections were about, 2006 and 2008, was that the American people saying, we are tired of right wing extremism.  We are going to trust the Democrats to move us in a very different direction, including health care. 

And in my view, what the American people want, what the polls show, is the American people overwhelmingly want a national health care program, guaranteeing health care to all people.  They want to make sure that people are not going bankrupt.  And they want to make sure that we do it in a cost-effective way. 

And one of the key components of that—I happen to be a strong proponent of a single payer system.  I think that‘s the only way to really tackle comprehensive universal health care in a cost-effective way.  That‘s not going to happen because of the power of the insurance companies and the drugs companies. 

But at the very least, at the very least, what we should be talking about is a strong public option to compete with the private insurance companies, which will look like a Medicare for all programs, something like Medicare, except for people of all ages and you provide subsidies for low and moderate income people. 

My view is that it is wrong to say that it takes 60 votes in the Senate to pass a bill.  It doesn‘t.  It takes 60 votes, as you have just indicated, to end the Republican filibuster.  Republicans are filibustering every other day on virtually every important coming down the pike.  They want to do nothing. 

We now, with Al Franken on board, have 60 votes in the caucus.  And my view is that every one of those people in the Democratic caucus should be saying to the Republicans, sorry, you are not going to prevent health care reform; we are voting for cloture.  We are voting to end your filibuster.  And now we are going to go forward and pass a strong health care bill, which begins to address the very serious crises facing millions of Americans. 

What I also think is that of some of the Democrats, for whatever reasons, choose not to vote for final passage, that‘s their business.  I can understand that.  But the key issue here is stopping the Republican filibuster.  And then, if we end up with 52 or 53 votes in the Senate, to pass a strong bill, strong bill, with among other things, a public option to compete with the private insurance companies, that‘s good enough for me. 

SHUSTER:  In other words, Democrats vote the way you want, but at least allow an up or down vote to take place.  If that fails, why will it fail? 

SANDERS:  Well, you know, in my own view, we should not be naive about what goes on in Washington.  And that is the reason we pay the highest prescription drug taxes in the world, the reason we are the only country in the industrialized world that does not have a national health care program is largely attributable to the enormous power and money of the insurance companies, and the drug companies, who in the last ten years have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in lobbying and campaign contributions. 

I think right now they are spending something like a million dollar a day to prevent us moving into the direction that the American people want us to move in.  You know, one of the problems that I just have a hard time understanding; a recent poll out by the “New York Times,” it said 72 percent of the American people want a public option to compete with the private insurance companies.  They want that choice of going outside of the private insurance companies.  Ninety percent of Democrats wanted that option. 

So to me, it seems like a kind of no-brainer for the Democratic caucus to at least say that we are going to stop the Republican filibuster.  Republicans don‘t want to do anything.  They are not serious about health care reform.  That‘s fine.  Let‘s reach out to them.  Let‘s try to bring them on board.  But if they want to filibuster, we are going to say no to that filibuster and move forward and do what the American people want. 

SHUSTER:  On that point, on the power and influence of the insurance industry and their lobbyists, at some point, if it is necessary to get a good bill passed, isn‘t the responsibility on you to specifically start naming names and say that he or she is selling us out to big insurance? 

SANDERS:  I think it is more complicated than that.  I mean, I think you have conservative Democrats, who are conservative in a number of issues, for a number of reasons.  I‘m not going to ascribe motives for those people.  But all I am saying is that right now I think it is reasonable, given the fact that the Democrats have been given the responsibility for moving this country in a new direction, certainly including health care, that at the very least, every Democrat should be able to say look, the Republicans don‘t want to accomplish anything, and we are going to end that filibuster. 

And at the end of the day, I may not end up voting for a strong piece of health care reform legislation for reasons A, B, C.  I want to explain it to my constituents.  That‘s fine if people do that.  But I think that given the fact that we have a strong majority in the House, we have a Democratic president, we now have 60 votes in the Democratic caucus, at the very least, every Democrat should stand up and say no to the Republican filibuster, and allow us to go forward. 

If they choose to vote against the final passage, that‘s their right. 

SHUSTER:  Of course, it would take getting every Democrat to do that. 

Do you think that you would get that? 

SANDERS:  Well, that‘s what I think we should—that‘s what I think we should have, and that‘s what I‘m fighting for.  You know, at the end of the day, if we can rally public support for a strong health care reform, piece of legislation, you may get a couple of Republicans as well.   I think the American people know that there is something wrong when we were spending twice as much, almost twice as much, per person on health care as any other country, and yet our health care outcomes are not nearly as good as many of our international competitors. 

SHUSTER:  Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.  Senator, thanks so much for your time tonight.  We appreciate it. 

SANDERS:  Thank you for your interest in this issue. 

SHUSTER:  You‘re welcome.  The godfather of Michael Jackson‘s youngest son reveals private photographs of what life is like when your dad is the King of Pop.  And Jackson‘s resurgence on the charts in death.  His music is selling through the roof, but will those sales be nothing compared to never before seen individual video of Jackson rehearsing for his comeback tour?  Details ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  Michael Jackson‘s will was filed with a Los Angeles court today, leaving his mother Katherine custody of his three children.  So far, no one has come forward to challenge that.  While legalities are yet to be decided, an inside look into the pop icon‘s life as a father.  In our number two story, exclusive photos of Jackson and his three children without a swarm of paparazzi, without their masks. 

Al Malnik, friend of Jackson and godfather of Jackson‘s youngest child, Prince Michael II, also known as Blanket, is sharing his family photos with NBC News.  It‘s long been rumored that Malnik is Blanket‘s biological father.  Malnik denies the allegation. 

Instead, he describes his relationship with Jackson and his children as extraordinary, noting that Jackson was filled with humility and sensitivity, and that his reported drug problem is, quote, exaggerated.  Malnik telling the “Today Show‘s” Meredith Vieira this morning, the love he had for his kids equaled the love he had for his fans. 

Our correspondent is Mike Taibbi.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKE TAIBBI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Blanket‘s first birthday party with Michael, Prince and Paris, a happy father sandwiched by his daughter and oldest son.  A straw hat on the trip to Acapulco.  An Afro wig for a ‘70s theme party at the Malnik‘s Florida home.

The Tabloids have long had a field day over Jackson‘s habit of only taking his children out in public when they were veiled, their faces obscured.  But the tactic worked. 

The kids could go anywhere with the Malnik‘s kids.  Jackson‘s Paris and Prince are in the white socks and black shoes like their dad, and no one would  recognize them.  They were just kids. 

That would have changed, of course, if the public had seen them at the movies with their dad.  The children will be in the spotlight now as competing versions and interpretations of any wills are presented. 

No matter what though, says probate lawyer Paul Kanin, the Jackson children will be taken care of first. 

PAUL KANIN, ATTORNEY:  If he has designated these kids as his specific beneficiaries, they will have some money.  Then there may be other people looking to play parent or custody because they have a financial incentive. 

TAIBBI:  That part of the fight can go on a while. 

KANIN:  Yes, that would be a sad thing. 

TAIBBI:  These images of Jackson and his family and friends are anything but sad.  Other friends from that era—Jackson seemed to be embroiled in ruinous molestation charges, for which he would be found not guilty—say in his recurring despair, he made it clear who should care for his children in his absence. 

FIRPO CARR, JACKSON FAMILY FRIEND:  Michael Jackson wants Katherine Jackson, his mother to have his children.  That‘s what he told me. 

TAIBBI:  In these clearly happy moments, there was no hint the pop legend was thinking of having anyone else care for his children.  They were his. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER:  Mike Taibbi reporting. 

Coming up, Jackson‘s music is selling through the roof.  What buying frenzy awaits all of the never before seen or heard Jackson rehearsal tapes?  That‘s next on COUNTDOWN. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  With the death of Michael Jackson comes the cashing in on Michael Jackson.  Elvis Presley, Kirk Cobain, Tupac Shakur are all worth more now financially than when they were alive.  But in our first story, none will approach the financial legacy of Michael Jackson.  There is this newly released video from May auditions for his London tour showing the dancers who made the final cut meeting the man in the mirror for the first time.  It doesn‘t even—

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I have someone here that would like to finally meet you. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  It doesn‘t even show any video of Jackson performing and it is just ten seconds long.  But today, it is being seen around the world.  AEG Live, the company that backed the tour, has more than 100 hours of film of Jackson rehearsals, enough to make two live albums and possibly even a theatrical release. 

There could also be another live album coming from the recording of his final rehearsal at the Los Angeles Staples Center.  Then there was the mysterious Dome Project, his last video, finished just two weeks before he died.  And according to Tommy Matola, who owns the distribution rights to Jackson‘s music, dozens and dozens of songs that didn‘t end up on his album. 

Since his death, the King of Pop is also back on the top of the charts.  There have been 2.6 million downloads of his songs.  He is the first with more than a million in a week.  He has 25 of the top 75 songs in the hot digital song list. 

The three bestselling albums in the United States, the top five spots on iTunes and his MP3 albums took every slot on Amazon‘s best seller‘s list. 

Joining us now is Toure, who is a contributing editor for “Rolling Stone” magazine and also an MSNBC contributor.  Thanks for being with us. 

TOURE, “ROLLING STONE”:  Sure, thanks for having me.

SHUSTER:  Toure, obviously the money out there for anything Michael Jackson is astronomical.  What can you tell us about all this new material we are hearing about, the Dome Project, a secret library of more than 100 songs he made for his kids, and a number of unreleased tracks he made with other artists? 

TOURE:  You know, any time you make an album, there is going to be a few songs you don‘t release.  Sometimes there is a lot of songs you don‘t release.  I have talked to artists who have done 100 tracks for an album and then they release 10 or 15. 

So there‘s always going to be more stuff.  Generally unreleased songs are unreleased for a reason.  But in a situation like this, you know, the demand becomes extraordinary.  People want to get their hands on anything that they can get.  I know that Michael Jackson made a lot of songs with Will.I.Am, which could be interesting, depending on your taste.  Will.I.Am is a pop master.  He knows how to make songs that the world will dance to. 

Now, some people are not fans of Will.I.Am, find some of that stuff a little corny.  You know, it depends on what direction they went with that stuff. 

SHUSTER:  If the release of the AEG rehearsal videos shows a thin, sickly Michael Jackson, as opposed to a healthy superstar, will that affect their value or legacy? 

TOURE:  You know, there‘s no affecting Michael Jackson‘s legacy.  Let‘s get that clear.  He‘s cemented as the King of Pop, our generation‘s Elvis, bigger than Elvis in the history of music.  So that‘s not going to change. 

Now, if we see this video and he looks a little strange, that‘s only going to be going to the concept of the later years he was a little different. 

The thing I‘m most excited about is live recordings from what AEG made.  You know, being—we have never had a Michael Jackson live album.  And he was a master at live performance.  So that would be a really exciting addition to the Michael Jackson catalog. 

SHUSTER:  Tour, do you Neverland will become this generation‘s Graceland, maybe a museum with walking tours, the whole bit? 

TOURE:  I‘m really excited about this idea.  I think this is going to happen.  I mean, Santa Barbara County, a Tony county; they don‘t necessarily want all the tourist traffic from around the world.  So they are going to fight this a little bit.  But I‘m pretty sure that Jackson and his people are going to win.  They are going to turn Neverland into a Graceland-type thing.  They are going to have a huge house that you can visit. 

All that stuff that Jackson was going to auction off, that he pulled off the block, you can see that.  You can look at the rides.  This is a 2,600-acre facility.  So there‘s a lot of room to charge people, what, 50 dollars 75 dollars, 100 dollars.  Hang out on the grounds for several hours, do the rides, look at some animals, go through the museum of Michael Jackson. 

And I mean, certainly, if any pop star deserves a museum, it is him.  Look, we can‘t sell Neverland.  They have been trying to sell Neverland, you know, as a regular real estate deal.  Can‘t be done.  So this is the thing that makes the most sense. 

SHUSTER:  There is a guy who lives Neverland, who is charging 40 bucks admission for what he calls the Michael Jackson heal the world gathering.  Can the Jackson-heirs stop this kind of exploitation. 

TOURE:  I‘m sure they are going to try.  You know, any time you have a pop star like Michael Jackson, leeches like that are going to come out of the woodwork to do what they can. 

SHUSTER:  Toure, as far as the tracks that could still be out there, anything in particular you are looking for? 

TOURE:  No.  I mean, the live material is the stuff that excites me the most, you know.  That is the stuff that‘s really going to extend the legacy a little bit more.  What did it sound like when he did some of the older songs now?  The voice changes as time goes on.  You know, the—the sound of young Michael Jackson is different than the sound of off the wall Michael Jackson, or “Dangerous” Michael Jackson, when the voice was a little deeper. 

So it will be interesting to see what the voice sounded like at this point.  That‘s the center.  You know, a lot of people focusing on what does the body look like?  No, no, no.  What does the voice sound like? 

SHUSTER:  Toure, contributing editor of “Rolling Stone,” thanks so much for coming on.  We appreciate it. 

TOURE:  Thank you.

SHUSTER:  You‘re welcome.  That will do it for this Wednesday edition of COUNTDOWN.  Up next, Alison Stewart with an MSNBC special on the death of Michael Jackson. 

I‘m David Shuster in for Keith Olbermann.  Thanks for watching.  

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