updated 3/23/2004 3:37:04 PM ET 2004-03-23T20:37:04

Guest: Dennis McCullough

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

Politically motivated, reckless, faceless:  The White House assessment of the criticisms of Richard Clarke.  The Bush administration‘s former counter-terrorism coordinator blasts the president‘s handling of al Qaeda before 9/11 and after it.  We‘ll ask a former colleague who Richard Clarke really is. 

The Middle East destabilizes by one more step:  Israel assassinates the founder of Hamas.  And the Palestinian group vows revenge against the U.S.

And that high-value target along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border? 

There may now a considerable discount. 

John Kerry, he is not weak on defense.  So, says another republican senator. 

It‘s wabbit season:  It was not bad enough that the woman killed the two day old bunnies with a shovel, it was not bad enough that she was an agriculture teacher, no she had to be an agriculture teacher killed two day old bunnies with a shovel in front of her students. 

And meet Big Foot:  Our guest tonight, the man who says he posed for this famous film.  This may be hard to believe, but some people don‘t think this film of Sasquatch is authentic.  So what if he is wearing a belt? 

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  That it would become a political football, was inevitable.  On whose watch that is, that 9/11 occurred and whether or not George Bush and his administration messed up, but that it would all be thrust to the center of the political stage by a registered republican who receive his first presidential appointment from Ronald Reagan.  That was a surprise. 

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, what didn‘t we know?  When didn‘t we know it?  And what, if anything, did President Bush choose not to know?  All courtesy of the former White House counter-terrorism chief, Richard Clarke. 

In interviews over the weekend and in a new book published today, Clarke insisted the Bush administration deprioritized al Qaeda and terrorism upon taking office, ignored his constant warnings and pleadings for meetings and urgent preparations, and after the attacks, immediately tried to pin 9/11 on Iraq. 

And while the White House may not like to hear it, the decision to deprioritize al Qaeda was confirmed last week by Roger Cressey, like Clarke, a counter-terror expert in both republican and democratic administrations. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROGER CRESSEY, FMR. COUNTER-TERROR OFFICIAL:  They did not come in with terrorism as a issue on the tip of their tongue.  There was not this sense of urgency.  The ticking clock, if you will, to get it done sooner rather than later. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The administration‘s first treasury secretary, Paul O‘Neill, had put it another way, that most of the Bush team thought President Clinton had been, quote, “Overly obsessed with al Qaeda.”

In a moment, General Richard Downing, who worked along side Richard Clarke in the Bush administration counter-terrorism force, and then again in the Bush administration, on who this man is and whether or not he could have ulterior motives. 

Before that, in his “60 Minutes” interview, last night, Clarke predicted that his former colleagues in the Bush administration would, quote, “launch their dogs on him.”  As White House correspondent, David Gregory, reports Clarke was right—David.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID GREGORY, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, tonight a senior White House official says the president used the Clarke book as a political assault by a disgruntled former adviser.  It was the president himself who ordered his team to launch an unprecedented counterattack. 

(voice-over):  Today a White House in full crisis mode with the president‘s top foreign policy and political advisers hitting the airwaves and calling reporters to undermine Richard Clarke‘s stories as detailed in his book, “Against all Enemies.”  The White House even took the rare step of issuing this memo.  A point-by-point response to what it calls “Clarke‘s myths.” 

Press secretary, Scott McLellan, went further, suggesting that Clarke, who served for eight years under Bill Clinton, is looking for a scapegoat, having failed himself to detect 9/11 plot. 

SCOTT MCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Again, these threats did not develop overnight; they had been building for quite some time. 

GREGORY:  Officials accused Clarke of trying to hurt the president‘s chances for re-election.  Citing his ties to Senator John Kerry‘s foreign policy adviser and the timing of the book, right in the middle of the campaign.  The force of the counterattack is directly related to how politically damaging the book could be.  In it, Clarke, a counter-terrorism expert who also worked for the president‘s father, and President Reagan, accuses this President Bush of brushing aside the al Qaeda threat, even refusing to have high-level meetings about how to confront Osama bin Laden before April of 2001.  Here in an interview with CBS‘s “60 Minutes”:

RICHARD CLARKE, FMR. COUNTER-TERRORISM EXPERT:  He ignored it.  He ignored terrorism for months when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11.  Maybe.  We‘ll never know. 

GREGORY:  After the attacks, Clarke writes, there was near obsession within the White House of pinning the attack on Saddam Hussein.  Which Clarke argued, there was no evidence to support.  Roger Cressey, Clarke‘s deputy in the White House, and now an NBC News consultant, remembers being in the room when the president pulled Clarke aside the day after the 9/11 attacks to, in Clarke‘s words, put the pressure on. 

ROGER CRESSEY, NBC NEWS CONSULTANT:  The impression was pretty straightforward.  If the president—you know, his first thought was to take a look at Iraq culpability. 

GREGORY:  Today, White House officials contend the president wasn‘t trying to steer the investigation toward Iraq, he simply wanted to follow every lead.  As for ignoring al Qaeda before 9/11, they say it‘s not true, that the White House ordered Clarke to develop an anti-al Qaeda strategy in March of 2001.  What the president wanted, however, was to improve upon the Clinton strategy. 

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER:  We needed a broad and comprehensive strategy that would not roll back al Qaeda, which had been the strategy of the past, but would eliminate al Qaeda. 

GREGORY (on camera):  The White House is sensitive about Clarke‘s book because it raise as critical question for the campaign:  Whether the war in Iraq was a legitimate part of the war on terror or a dangerous diversion that has put America at greater risk—Keith.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  David Gregory from the White House, tonight.  Many thanks. 

Now, for an insight on the man behind the controversy, we return to—or turn, rather, retired U.S. Army General Wayne Downing, now an NBC analyst, but formerly the national director for combating terrorism, and a former colleague of Richard Clarke‘s. 

General Downing, good evening.  Thanks for your time.

GEN. WAYNE DOWNING, FMR. ANTI-TERROR OFFICIAL:  Thanks Keith.  Good to be here. 

OLBERMANN:  Right off the bat sir, tell me who Dick Clarke is and whether any of the ulterior motives ascribed to him might have any basis in fact. 

DOWNING:  Well listen, Dick is probably the best bureaucrat in the non-pejorative sense of that word, that I‘ve ever met.  I mean, he was really was able to get thing done in Washington.  I knew him, both as an active duty military officer and then he was one of the guys who recruited me to come back in the government after 9/11 to take over and form a new Office of Combating Terrorism.  He‘s good guy, he‘s very, very strong.  I think on this particular issue, I quite frankly am shocked with some of the things that Dick has said.  I can only speak authoritatively about those things that I was involved with from about the end of September.  But, I think Dick was very emotionally involved in 9/11.  He lost friends in it, and I also think there may be some ego things here, because Dick‘s position in the Bush 43 White House was perhaps not as prominent, he didn‘t have the access to the president that he enjoyed with President Clinton, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  General, Mr. Clarke‘s comments though, do not come in a vacuum, they‘re not a complete surprise.  They, to some degree, echo the ones O‘Neill several months ago in anticipation of his book—or the book written with his material.  They echo, to some degree, what Roger Cressey said, it was even included in David Gregory‘s report, just there.  There is a picture, whether it‘s accurate or not, showing a White House that was focused on Iraq before 9/11 and still focused on Iraq after 9/11.  You were there after 9/11.  Is that a valid picture?  Is it a complete picture? 

DOWNING:  Well, I can tell you, when I walked in there, the end of September and started to form my new office, the Office of Combating Terrorism, believe me, the No. 1 priority was al Qaeda and the Taliban.  Then when we rolled up the Taliban, that six-week, really, miracle operation that the Special Forces and the CIA guys conducted, then we turned our attention to al Qaeda around the world. 

Now, the link that, I think, we were concerned with Iraq—and we weren‘t just concerned with Iraq, we were concerned with the Pakistanis, also, Keith, was the link with WMD.  Because al Qaeda had shown us that they would use any weapon at their disposal and if they could get a nuclear weapon or a chemical weapon, we knew that they would use it.  So the interest in Iraq, I believe, stemmed from that.  But I never saw that type of emphasis on Iraq and I was just there two-and-a-half weeks, I mean, that‘s when I hit the White House after 9/11. 

Also, Keith, that‘s not the president‘s style.  I mean, I‘ve had many, almost daily, encounters with the president and the almost year that I was in that job.  He was never intimidating.  And I always felt that you could go to him with any set of facts, even though it might be contrary to what he believed or others, and I always felt that I got a very, very fair hearing.  So that‘s how I see it, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Lastly sir, there‘s an article in the “Washington Post,” April 2, 2000.  It contained a quote that I found chilling in retrospect.  It‘s about Richard Clarke, it was stated by an Israeli terrorism expert named Ehud Sprinzak, and the quote reads:

“In America, there is a morbid fascination with greater-than-life technological threats, which you don‘t see in other countries.”  Again, this is from 2000, “Clarke has an ax to grind.  It makes him big.  If nobody talked about catastrophic terrorism, what would people like Dick Clarke be doing?”

General, obviously Mr. Clarke had very good reasons to grind that ax.  To your knowledge, did he continue to grind that ax in 2001, and if so, did enough people see him doing it? 

DOWNING:  Well, sure he did.  I mean, Dick—you know, Dick is a black and white guy.  I have great respect for him, I consider him a colleague, a trusted colleague.  Don‘t agree with him on some of the things that he said in this book, but certainly he did he rub people the wrong way because he tried to force them to do things.  But I also believe, and the things that came out of the White House today, and it reinforces the style that I was accustomed to operating with, Keith, is that he had plenty of opportunities to bring his ideas forward in the deputies committee.  So, he had his opportunities to push his agenda. 

OLBERMANN:  The former national director for combating terror, MSNBC analyst, General Wayne Downing.  Thank you very much for your time and your insight tonight, sir. 

DOWNING:  Thanks Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Our fifth story continues with yet another question of what we did or did not know and when.  Anybody seen that high-value target near the Pakistan border lately? 

Last Thursday, the Pakistani president, General Pervez Musharraf, told reporters, his forces on the Afghan border were fighting hundred of Muslim militants and suggested they could be guarding a high-value target, later believed to be the al Qaeda No. 2.  Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri.  We noticed here, at the time, that the story might ultimately prove to be a red herring.  At the very least tonight, it has begun to smell a little bit around the gills.  Pakistani officials say they will test the DNA of dozens of—or rather, half dozen militant that they killed to determined just who they did kill.  But so far, there is no sign of Dr. Zawahiri.  Instead, Pakistani forces have discovered a mile-long tunnel leading from a heavily fortified compound, besieged last week, to a dry stream bed about a mile away.  And they are suggesting that the tunnel might have been used, quote, “at the start of the operation” presumably for Zawahiri and others to escape. 

And more on the theme of tonight‘s fifth story:  What don‘t we know and when did we start not knowing it?  A biographer of the creature, his followers call the “doctor.”  Today‘s claims that al-Zawahiri told him al Qaeda had obtained so-called “suitcase nukes.”  U.S. officials insist it‘s not scientifically possible that the old Soviet Union never even perfected it, even the U.S. never managed to build a nuclear device that weighed less than 163 pounds. 

If it looks, to this nation‘s embarrassment, that we really don‘t know what‘s been going on along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, that same confusion seems to work to American advantage in Gaza.  Israeli rockets eviscerated the founder of Hamas, the Islamic militant group.  Hamas immediately vowed revenge, not only against its standard nemesis, Israel, but also against the U.S. American sources were insisting that the Israeli government gave this country no advanced warning of the hit on Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, but as Martin Fletcher reports from Jerusalem, that seems to matter little, right now. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARTIN FLETCHER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It was 5:20 in the morning, a bodyguard pushed the Hamas leader, a paraplegic, in his wheelchair to the mosque, when suddenly three Israeli rockets smash into them, tearing apart Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, killing three of the bodyguards and wounding two of his sons.  At first shock and bewilderment, then rage.  As hundred of thousand of Palestinians poured into Gaza streets behind Yassin‘s coffin, they called for revenge.  Hamas leaders swore with this assassination, Israel has opened the gates to hell. 

ABDEL AZIZ RANTISI, HAMAS LEADER:  The road is opened.  There will be (UNINTELLIGIBLE) no revenge, it‘s an open door. 

FLETCHER:  Israel‘s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon personally ordered Yassin‘s assassination, Israel‘s second attempt in six months to kill him.  Israel called Yassin the “mastermind of all evil,” a man who sent 52 suicide bombers, who killed 288 Israelis.  With Israel considering a complete pullout from Gaza, the assassination is part of Sharon‘s attempt to start Hamas from taking control, there. 

ALON BEN-DAVID, ISRAEL ANALYST:  By eliminating one of their senior leaders, Israeli defense establishment believes that stop or at least stall this process of transferring the Gaza Strip into the hands of Hamas. 

FLETCHER:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) may back fire.  Today in the West Bank, thousands promised a new uprising against Israel.  And Palestinian militants from the Alaza (ph) brigades and Islamic Jihad, all swore to join hands with Hamas in taking quick and bloody revenge. 

Israel‘s response?  Lock down. 

(on camera):  These are the last of the Palestinian workers returning to Gaza.  Israel sealing off completely the West Bank and Gaza strip from Israel, trying to stop more suicide bombers, trying to stop Hamas‘s revenge. 

(voice-over):  But, already in the north, Israel trading fire with Izbala (ph), this afternoon, Islamic militants in Lebanon who fired at Israeli positions.  Israel‘s bracing for bombs while swearing to kill more Hamas leaders. 

Martin Fletcher, NBC News, on the Gaza border. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN:  The terror blame game and terror events, behind us now.  Coming up tonight‘s No. 4:  Little newborn rabbits intended to teach kids about farming, instead turning into props about the grim realities of life and death.  The teacher kills the bunnies in front of her class of students. 

And later, Big Foot:  The myth, the legend, the hoax?  We‘ll talk to this man. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Up next, tonight‘s No. 4 story in your preview:  Lesson plan A, bury the bunnies alive in front of the students.  Lessen plan B, hack the bunnies to death in front of the students.  Perhaps on Ag teacher in Florida has gone too far.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It was, she thought, an unpleasant but realistic lesson to her agriculture students at Plant City High School in Florida.  Sometimes animals are born without the strength to survive.  Sometime it really is in their best interests to, as they say on the farm, “put them down.”  Probably not, however, using a shovel and doing it in front of the class, especially not when the animals in question are day-old rabbits. 

Our fourth story in the COUNTDOWN:  Animal and perhaps human cruelty.  Jane Bender, the Ag teacher with a 30-year spotless personnel record is under review tonight for having chopped up a pair of newborn sickly rabbits with a shovel as her class looked on.  The rabbits had apparently been rejected by their mother.  Students say Bender first tried to get the students to bury the bunnies alive, the kids refused, offered to bottle feed the newborns.  Bender, instead, killed them.  One student promptly threw up. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RYAN HARRELL, STUDENT WITNESSED BUNNY KILLINGS:  I did cry.  After that I was angry that she did it, because she didn‘t have to do it in front of us. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Ms. Bender‘s only comment, thus far, she made a ‘bad decision.”  Sergeant Dennis McCullough of the Hillsborough County Animal Services in Florida investigated this case.  He joins me now on the live line. 

Sergeant, good evening. 

SERGEANT DENNIS MCCULLOUGH, HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY ANIMAL CONTROL:  Good

evening to you, sir.

OLBERMANN:  Regardless of the fact that this teacher did this in front of students, is it a criminal act?  Is she facing charge of what kind?

MCCULLOUGH:  She is not facing criminal charges, this was investigate by the  sheriff‘s office of the Hillsborough County and it was decide that they would not press criminal charges.  However, that did not preclude us from filing civil charges, which we did. 

OLBERMANN:  What could happen?  Are these fines?  Is there, I guess it‘s a reasonable question to ask—is there jail time involved? 

MCCULLOUGH:  No, sir.  There‘s no jail time involved in this, but basically what we did, we cited her for two counts of animal cruelty.  The penalties are $620.  She has a choice either to pay the fine or to appear in court on May the fifth. 

OLBERMANN:  Any idea what she‘s could doing, yet?  Is she going to court? 

MCCULLOUGH:  I have no idea, sir.  We‘ll find out as time goes on. 

OLBERMANN:  How did you find out about something like this in the first place?  How does news like this go from a classroom with some students in it to animal welfare services? 

MCCULLOUGH:  Well actually, it was rather unique.  We received a letter from PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and in their letter they outline that they had received an e-mail from a student at Plant City High School in Hillsborough County, and in that letter—e-mail, it outlined what had occurred. 

OLBERMANN:  Sergeant, from this distance we only get a snap shot of what the reaction there must be.  I know a little bit of something about Plant City, Florida, it‘s not Tampa; it‘s certainly not rural, either.  Is there shock over this?  Is this well known in the community?

MCCULLOUGH:  I believe word‘s gotten out recently and—you know, the response that we‘ve gotten from the community, so far, is shock that this actually did happen. 

OLBERMANN:  Sergeant Dennis McCullough of Hillsborough County Animal Services in Florida, many thanks for your time tonight, sir. 

MCCULLOUGH:  Thank you, sir. 

OLBERMANN:  And so we go from the disturbing to the disturbinger.  It is a scene repeated hourly now at all the major airports in the country: 

Something suspicious in the carry on bag.  In this case, the severed head of a seal.  A man bound for going Denver from Logan Airport in Boston, claimed to be a biology professor, said he found the seal already dead on a local beach and then cut the head off to bring back for educational purposes, to Denver.  The man was allowed to board his flight, the seal stayed in Boston, an investigation continues. 

So, it is curtains for our No. 4 story tonight, and not a moment too

soon

Straight ahead us though, those stories that can never make the front page, but we‘ve made it our responsibility to make sure you don‘t miss them.  They meant to do what you‘re seeing there.  “Oddball” is up next. 

And later, catching the Ohio sniper suspect:  It was not as easy as phoning it in.  Phoning a tip from the Vegas strip, 911 putting up quite a fight before the police finally moved in.  You‘ll hear the calls for yourself. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Time to pause the COUNTDOWN so we can turn to the news equivalent to building implosions. Let‘s play “Oddball.” 

Now, this is a coincidence.  This would be Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia getting imploded.  We think it was imploded; it‘s possible that the old dump just finally collapsed under its own ugly weight.  As Philadelphia Phillies‘ baseball announcer Harry Kalas would say, “It‘s outa here!”

The stadium had been considered an eyesore of biblical proportions in both baseball and football since the day it opened 33 years ago, a week from Sunday.  But anybody besides me no longer quite as enthusiastic about demolition as we used to be, say, four years ago? 

And ordinarily, “Oddball” avoids cliches like the plague.  A skydiving grandma—who care?  So what if Pauline Mercian of San Diego celebrated her 85th birthday by going skydiving for the first time? I mean, she made it, didn‘t she?  Where‘s the news?  Well, actually there isn‘t any news except it allows us to rerun one of our favorite pieces of Internet video.  The lesson to all skydivers, veteran and novice, courtesy another skydiving granny, do not skydive with false teeth. 

Liftoff! We have liftoff! 

And move over all you plagiarizing journalists and all you football coaches who padded your resumes, an unprecedented correction appearing in yesterday‘s editions of the “New York Times.”  A correction about a wedding article in the paper.  Riva Gola-Ritvo, now Mrs. Allen Slifka, quote, “Did not graduate from the University of Pennsylvania or receive a master‘s degree in occupational therapy or a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of Southern California.” The “Times” apologized, quote, “for the erroneous account of the bride‘s education which she supplied.”  In other words, she padded her own resume in her own wedding notice.  Anyone knows of any reason why Dr. Ritvo should not marry this man?  OK, OK, not all at once.  You, you in the front, you‘re first. 

COUNTDOWN resumes its the trek to No. 1. Straight ahead of us:  The No. 3 story, Senator Kerry taking to the slopes, and some of his republican counterparts slip sliding away from the White House party line about the democratic nominee. 

And later, the former president, Jim Carter, a Nobel Peace Prize winner with hardly peaceful words for President Bush or Prime Minister Tony Blair. 

These stories ahead, first here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Newsmakers” of this day:

No. 3:  Three 14-year-old school boys in Czechoslovakia, their horticulture teachers thought they were growing tomato plants.  Then they started to smoke the leaves.  It was marijuana.  The absence of tomatoes didn‘t catch anybody‘s eye.  Huh?

No. 2:  Kristi Michelle Parramoure of Daytona Beach, Florida, who accomplished the seemingly impossible over the weekend.  She has been arrested for flashing during a wet T-shirt contest. 

And No. 1:  The General Assembly of Tennessee with many middle and high schoolers compaining—complaining, rather, of back problems.  The assembly is considering regulating the maximum weight of school textbooks.  Well, you could make them lighter just by taking out all that evolution stuff!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Just when you thought this country‘s politics were more polarized than at any time since the attack on Fort Sumter, up ride two senators to defend John Kerry‘s record on defense.

The first was John McCain, a Republican.  The more recent one was Chuck Hagel, another Republican.  Our third story, strange bedfellows indeed, given that one of the early tenets of the president‘s reelection campaign is the attempt to portray Senator Kerry as soft on defense.  After one of his comments set rumors ablaze that Senator McCain might actually be considering a run as Kerry‘s V.P., McCain buried that idea, but he also didn‘t do the Bush-Cheney team any favors on “The Today Show.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”) 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  I do not believe that he is—quote -

·         “weak on defense.”  He is responsible for his voting record, as we all are responsible for our records.  And he‘ll to have explain it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Then there is the newer of the two bedfellows, Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, another Republican again straying from the herd on the Kerry-is-soft-on-defense trail, this from ABC‘s This Week. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THIS WEEK”)

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL ®, NEBRASKA:  The facts just don‘t measure the rhetoric.  I mean, you can take a guy like John Kerry who has been in the Senate for 19 years and go through that voting record.  You can take it with Biden, Hagel, any of us and pick out different votes and then try to manufacture something around them. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  In a moment, do the Hagel and McCain remarks signal a fissure in Republican ranks, or is it something else?

First, the latest polls, which is right on the money for topicality this time, addressing defense.  And although it was conducted before the remarks of former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke, addressing that nightmare, too, the Bush reelection team crediting its first wave ads of anti-Kerry with the immediate results reflected in a new “Newsweek” poll, Bush and Kerry dead even. 

A month ago, “Newsweek”‘s numbers told a very different story.  The president was trailing by three percentage points, 45 to Kerry‘s 48.  Of course, all this horse betting going on well within the margin of error, four points.  But for the more clear-cut and certainly more revealing numbers, there‘s this survey from Zogby.  Asked who they would want in office if another terrorist attack would hit the U.S., 51 percent said President Bush.  Only 40 percent said John Kerry. 

So what do the numbers and those comments from Senators Hagel and McCain mean for the candidates? 

Joining us now from Washington for today‘s political roundup me is Jim Fallows, the national correspondent for “The Atlantic Monthly.” 

Good evening to you, sir.

JAMES FALLOWS, NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT, “THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY”:  Good evening. 

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s start with the poll numbers first.  It basically I guess confirms what‘s been suspected, that in the event of more terrorism here, President Bush has the nation‘s confidence.  Is there a way for John Kerry to respond to that or is he never going to be able to make enough of a dent in it to make the risks of bringing the topic up worthwhile? 

FALLOWS:  I think of all the polls we‘ve seen in the last six months, including those ones showing Howard Dean as our next president a couple months ago, this is the one that probably is lowest on the actual probability or credibility ratio, just because, if there were another terrorist event in the United States, which, of course, we all don‘t want to occur, no one has the slightest idea what the political ramifications would be. 

It would depend on what it was, what the circumstances were, how the administration reacted, etcetera, etcetera.  So I think there are lots of straws in the wind for each of the candidates and the parties.  But I think this one is not one that either Republicans or Democrats should be basing their plans on. 

OLBERMANN:  Although it would be useful in the assumption that there is not any other terrorist activity in this country before the elections in that it is sort of indicative of where people‘s minds are. 

But tying into these now of course are these new Richard Clarke remarks and his book, which are amazing, and the White House‘s response, which may be even more amazing.  They had a spokesman on “HARDBALL” an hour ago on this network with a folder, damning evidence in this folder that Clarke‘s publisher may have pushed the release date up on the book to coincide with his testimony before the 9/11 Commission this week. 

It is March and yet again, they are politicking as if this was late October. 

FALLOWS:  It‘s true. 

And it think one reason for that is that I don‘t believe there‘s been an open contest before in which both parties‘ nominees were so apparently set eight months before the election.  And so that‘s why.  When President Clinton was running for reelection in 1996, he began an advertising campaign earlier than this even in the election cycle.  But Senator Dole was not yet set as the Republican nominee.  So it was anti-Republican, pro-Democrat, as opposed to anti-Dole.  And it is now anti-Kerry, in addition to being—having the normal partisan configurations. 

OLBERMANN:  Lastly to this unlikely prospect of the two senators, Hagel and McCain, defending John Kerry‘s voting record on defense when their own party‘s president is campaigning in large part on the idea that Kerry is weak on defense, can you explain that one?  Where did McCain and Hagel come in on this? 

FALLOWS:  Oh, I think what‘s intriguing here is that, yes, McCain and Hagel are both Republican.  But the more important thing is the two of them, plus Senator Kerry, are the three best known combat veterans of Vietnam in the U.S. Senate, with Max Cleland not being there anymore. 

And there has been a certain affinity between these people, especially McCain and Kerry over the years.  And they were both doing their POW more than a decade ago.  And particularly on the defense issue, I think there‘s a kind of solidarity they have saying this guy, who with us was in combat in Vietnam is not one we‘re going to let be criticized as being soft on defense.  And that‘s sort of a third or fifth party in the whole affair.

OLBERMANN:  And in the context of politics the way they are, it is I guess refreshing to see anything that crosses party line at any time for any reason. 

FALLOWS:  Indeed.

OLBERMANN:  Jim Fallows, the national correspondent for “The Atlantic Monthly,” also author of a must read-book from a while back called “Breaking the News,” many thanks for your time, sir. 

FALLOWS:  My pleasure.

OLBERMANN:  Continuing our third story and even more strange bedfellows, there‘s always been a sacred fellowship among former presidents, an invisible line in the sand of criticism that prevents the former chief executives from directly attacking the current occupant of the White House. 

But our former President Jimmy Carter has now officially crossed that line.  In an interview with the British paper “The Independent,” the Nobel Peace Prize winner plainly saying that the war in Iraq was based on—quote—“lies or misinterpretations,” charging that Bush and his British counterpart, Tony Blair—quote—“probably knew that many of the allegations were based on uncertain intelligence.”  Carter going even further, saying that the war has a personal taint.  As he put it, “I think that Bush Jr. was inclined to finish a war that his father had precipitated against Iraq.”

That wraps up the third story on the COUNTDOWN.

Next, on the No. 2 item on the menu, why did it take 12 hour and 16 different phone calls to get a sniper suspect into custody?  Then the hunt for little green men getting a $13 million boost.  And if you own a computer, you helped pay for it. 

Those stories ahead.  First, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 

DAN ABRAMS, HOST, “THE ABRAMS REPORT”:  Why not just go through process of saying, look, he‘s only been on trial for the murder of eight federal agents.  What about the 161 other people? 

BRIAN WICE, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  Because, regardless of what a rat Terry Nichols is—and let‘s make no mistake about it—this guy is on the four-man bobsled team from hell—you can only kill him once. 

SILVAN SHALOM, ISRAELI FOREIGN MINISTER:  I had a very good meeting with Vice President Bush.  We are talking about various issues.  Ah, Vice President Cheney, of course.  I‘m sorry.  That‘s fine. 

(LAUGHTER)

JESSE VENTURA, FORMER GOVERNOR OF MINNESOTA:  I would tell him to veto it, because of the fact that the Constitution is there to protect human and civil rights.  It‘s not there to limit them. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  New information about the tipster who spotted the Ohio sniper suspect in a Vegas casino and just how persistent he had to be to get an allegedly—quote—“armed and dangerous” man into police custody, our second story on the COUNTDOWN.  And it‘s next.

Stand by.  Thank you. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It is a phrase as old as the democracy itself.  Justice delayed is justice denied.  And what is the equivalent saying when the police keep hanging up on you while you try to turn in the man they want in a high-profile yearlong series of highway shootings? 

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the arrest of Charles McCoy Jr., apparently despite the best efforts of 911 operators in Nevada to screw the whole thing up.  But first, tonight in Ohio, McCoy remains in jail.  Judge Ted Barrows allowed him to waive his scheduled appearance this afternoon at the Franklin County Municipal Court. 

McCoy‘s attorney did not ask for bond to be set.  He is charged with felonious assault for a shooting last December 15.  Additional charges from as many as 24 shootings on the I-270 highway are still pending.  McCoy‘s family says he suffers from mental illness.  His own mother describing him as paranoid schizophrenic.  Our NBC affiliate in Columbus is reporting that McCoy‘s defense will likely center around his mental state. 

One wonders what kind of state Robert Conrad Malsom was in after McCoy‘s arrest.  He was the gambler in the Stardust Casino in Las Vegas last week who recognized McCoy from the wanted picture on TV.  Except he had recognized the wrong guy.  He had spotted a real estate agent from Kenosha, Wisconsin.  But the real McCoy in this case was also in the same casino at the same time.  And as he hunted for the wrong man, Mr. Malsom tripped over the right one. 

He finally found McCoy‘s car in a motel parking lot.  Of course, he then had to make 16 phone call to police over 12 hours before he finally convinced 911 dispatchers his matter was slightly urgent.  Despite being repeatedly transferred and cut off, Malsom pleaded with dispatchers to take action and apprehend McCoy. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) 

911 OPERATOR:  911 emergency.  Do you need police, fire or medical? 

CONRAD MALSOM, TIPPED OFF POLICE:  I need police. 

911 OPERATOR:  This is the police.  How can I help you? 

MALSOM:  OK.  My name is Robert Malsom.  Today at noon, I saw the Ohio sniper shooter tonight.  We were at the Stardust.  I made a positive I.D.  and I was ignored by your police.  The car is on the Ohio State Patrol Web site and I just made the I.D. at the car at the Budget suites.  I want squads for this to meet me and I‘ll show them where it is.  I want squads at Industrial Road. 

MALSOM:  Sir?  Sir?

911 OPERATOR:  You need to call our nonemergency number, 311. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

911 OPERATOR:  Las Vegas metro police?  This is Troy (ph). 

MALSOM:  Troy.  My name is Malsom.  I believe I spoke to you earlier.  I saw the Ohio beltway sniper in the Stardust today.  I have now found the car which he is driving. 

911 OPERATOR:  That would be dispatch.  Hold on.   

(END AUDIO CLIP)

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

911 OPERATOR:  911 emergency, police, fire or medical? 

MALSOM:  Police. 

911 OPERATOR:  What‘s the address? 

MALSOM:  3100 Industrial Road, the United States post office.  And it is life-threatening.  Could you please get metro here immediately?

911 OPERATOR:  What is going on there? 

MALSOM:  It‘s life-threatening, ma‘am.

911 OPERATOR:  What is going on? 

MALSOM:  I can‘t get through to 311. 

911 OPERATOR:  If it is life threatening, I need to know what is going on. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Our No. 2 story thus segues with our traditional pause in the COUNTDOWN to bring you the night‘s celebrity news and gossip we call “Keeping Tabs.” 

And like those Vegas 911 calls, it, too, consists of something almost obscene caught on tape. 

Basketball player Steve Francis of the Houston Rockets picked a bad time for bad language.  You already know about the controversies over rough language on live TV.  Well, there‘s also a separate one about rough language in basketball.  The victims were my old friend Jim Gray and the audience watching on ESPN cable. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Take it away, Jim. 

JIM GRAY, ESPN:  Steve, what happened there at the end of the half? 

STEVE FRANCIS, HOUSTON ROCKETS:  That call was some (EXPLETIVE DELETED) man.  That‘s all I‘m saying.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, there it is. 

(CROSSTALK)

GRAY:  How did you manage it? 

FRANCIS:  We‘re out playing hard.  If the refs are going to keep acting like that, we ain‘t going to keep playing like that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Francis came back later to apologize to Gray and the audience.  The audience should be used to it.  It has happened about once per sportscast since, oh, about 1985. 

At the beginning of February, Shaquille O‘Neal of the Los Angeles Lakers was suspended without pay for one game for profane language toward a postgame TV interview.  The punishment cost him $295,000 in salary.  Nothing yet from the basketball league about any actions against Francis or any tape delays in the future. 

Speaking of obscenities, if you‘re a regular viewer, there‘s nothing more I like than movie remakes, either of classic films or classic TV shows, like “Bewitched,” the perfect vehicle for the late great Elizabeth Montgomery.  Columbia Pictures will now try it on the big screen with Nicole Kidman as Samantha, Shirley MacLaine as her mother, Endora, Michael Caine as her father, and Will Ferrell in the jinxed role of Samantha‘s husband, Darrin. 

Ever bought a computer?  You may have helped fine life in outer space.  Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, which, by the way, full disclosure, is itself co-founder of this here network, has pledged another $13.5 million towards the construction of the Allen telescope array, 350 radiotelescopes, total cost to Allen, about 25 million fish, which will search the universe for out-of-town radio signals, really out of town.  Some will be online by the end of this year, so we might yet get an explanation for the Bill Gates haircut by early 2006. 

Tonight‘s top story still ahead.  Here‘s the hint.  Our next guest claims to be this man. 

But first, in honor of Will Ferrell‘s incarnation as Samantha Stephens‘s mortal husband, a look at his predecessor, Darrin Stephens played by Dick York for the first five years, until, poof, in 1969, York, suffering from a crippling back condition, morphed into Dick Sargent.  Dick Sargent would die young of prostate sergeant in 1994. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Nobody ever exactly mistook it for the videotape of Neil Armstrong landing on the moon, nor even for the shots of Lindbergh touching down in Paris at Le Bourget Field after the first trans-Atlantic solo flight. 

But our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight focuses in on what is still a pretty famous piece of film and the man who says—yes, that‘s me.  For almost four decades, these images known as the Patterson film were the very debatable best evidence of a half-man, half-ape missing-link, yeti kind of creature living in the Northwest called Sasquatch and Bigfoot.  That was until a paranormal investigator by the name of Greg Long got in touch with a retired Pepsi bottler by the name of Bob Heironimus. 

Bob is Bigfoot.  Such is the claim in Long‘s book, “The Making of Bigfoot.” 

Joining me now from Yakima, Washington, Bob Heironimus, and, from Los Angeles, Robert Kiviat, the owner of Kiviat Productions, which is currently in the preproduction phase of the television special on the Bigfoot legend. 

Gentlemen, good evening. 

Mr Heironimus, let me begin with you here.  Why, after almost 40 years of keeping this a secret, have you decided to come clean now about you portraying Bigfoot in this thing? 

BOB HEIRONIMUS, CLAIMS TO BE THE MAN BEHIND BIGFOOT:  Well, after 35 years of watching this on television numerous, numerous, numerous, numerous times, I think it is time that people knew truth.  I was the man in the Bigfoot suit. 

OLBERMANN:  How did that happen?  How did you come to be there?  And what was the purpose of it? 

HEIRONIMUS:  I was approach by Roger Patterson and offered some money to wear the Bigfoot suit in Northern California in 1967. 

OLBERMANN:  How much money did you ever get it? 

HEIRONIMUS:  He offered me $1,000.  I never saw a dime of it all these years. 

OLBERMANN:  Just another part of the hoax. 

Mr. Kiviat, you produced a TV special, “World‘s Greatest Hoaxes Exposed.”  In that, you had identified another man as being the man in the suit.  What made you believe Bob Heironimus? 

ROBERT KIVIAT, KIVIAT PRODUCTIONS INC.:  Well, we were looking at all the evidence and there was one individual that had come out who had said he worked at a film company that exploited the film in feature films. 

And when Bob Heironimus emerged after the airing and said, look, the guy you‘re pointing to or your informant is pointing to is wrong, but I am the guy, I thought there was a breakthrough either way.  The point is, we were trying to get to the bottom of the story.  We didn‘t know for sure if the informant was telling us the truth.  And I really thank Bob Heironimus for coming out and finally putting this particular film to rest, I believe. 

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Heironimus, we‘ve received, since we advertised your appearance here, an extraordinary amount of e-mail, people who firmly believe that you could not possibly be the man in the film, either because they think it is somebody else or because they think it is really Bigfoot.  How do you respond to them? 

HEIRONIMUS:  Well, if you read the book, the investigation that Greg Long done on this Bigfoot thing, there should be no surprises at all.  I was the man in the suit. 

OLBERMANN:  Sir, when computers and film analysis came into being, a lot of people studied and restudied this film and said, hey, wait a minute, two things.  Bigfoot is wearing a belt of some sort.  And it looks like he has got sneakers on.  Do you remember?  Were you wearing a belt or a harness of some sort to keep this costume in place? 

HEIRONIMUS:  No, there was no belt.  There were no slippers. 

OLBERMANN:  So were you walking on?  Were there bare feet inside the costume or what was that? 

HEIRONIMUS:  I was walking in my stocking feet inside the costume.  Yes, the manufacturer of the suit has some kind of a gorilla feet attached to the suit. 

OLBERMANN:  Goodness. 

Mr. Kiviat, I guess the overarching question about all this here is, why would anybody make this film in the first place?  And why do we buy it all, have we all bought it for so long? 

KIVIAT:  Well, the reasons why they made the film apparently were for money.  But also, there appears to be a lot of evidence that there was a larger plan to really create a Bigfoot myth in that part of the country.  Basically, at this point, I believe people have a belief in these kinds of mysteries. 

And one of the things I‘ve tried to do in network programs is get to the bottom of them.  And a lot of other producer for years had not really done due diligence trying to get to the bottom of it.  And I just think we‘re finally getting to these great mysteries.  And one way or the other, I think we need to get to the bottom of them and prove, one way or the other, if they‘re real or not.  So...

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  Bob Heironimus, one last question and then we‘ll let you go.  Are you happy that you were Bigfoot in this film or ashamed?  Or don‘t you care one way or the other? 

HEIRONIMUS:  Well, at the time that I made the film, I didn‘t care one way or the other.  I just wanted the money.  Now it‘s time people knew the truth.  It‘s time people knew the truth. 

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  Bob Heironimus, the man behind the suit.  And Robert Kiviat of Kiviat Productions, we‘re out of time.  We thank you for your time this evening. 

Thank you much, gentlemen.

KIVIAT:  Thanks.

HEIRONIMUS:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Before we depart the strange world of bizarre Bigfoot hoaxes, the No. 1 thing you need to know about our No. 1 story, if you can‘t wait for Robert Kiviat‘s Bigfoot special, you may want to bide your time over with one of his other titles.  You remember “Alien Autopsy.”  I think that was—that goes back to our Paul Allen story, but we‘ll just leave that alone. 

Let‘s recap the five COUNTDOWN stories tonight, the ones we think you‘ll be talking about tomorrow.

No. 5, a scathing criticism of the current administration‘s handling of al Qaeda and terrorism both before and after 9/11 from former counterterrorism coordinator Richard Clarke.  The Bush administration denies the charges, saying Clarke is motivated by politics and by a desire to sell his new book on the subject.  Four, a scandal brewing in Florida after a high school teacher clubs, or carves up really, two baby bunnies to death with shovel in front of her students, her ag class.  She says it was the human thing to do.  The authorities say it counts as two charges of animal cruelty.  She may be fined. 

Three, the battle for the White House crossing party lines to some degree.  Senator Chuck Hagel become the second Republican in as many weeks to disagree with the Bush-Kerry characterization of John Kerry as soft on defense.  No. 2, the taped tale of the sniper suspect arrest.  It takes 12 hour and 16 different phone call to police in Las Vegas before they are convinced the suspect was even in Sin City.  And No. 1, Bigfoot exposed and here on COUNTDOWN. 

Yes, next you‘ll be telling me we really didn‘t go to the moon. 

That is COUNTDOWN.  Thanks for being part of it.  I‘m Keith Olbermann. 

Good night and good luck.  My feet, by the way, size 13 ½.

END   

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