updated 4/29/2004 10:26:25 AM ET 2004-04-29T14:26:25

Guests: David Yonke, David Gergen, Larry Star

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

In the name of God:  It reads like a gothic horror story.  Priests accused of the ritual murder of a nun over Easter weekend nearly a quarter of a century ago. 

Fallujah again:  Two black plumes of smoke rising over the city, fighting in three separate areas, and this, say the officials, is not the all-out offensive. 

An all-out offensive on president‘s pre-9/11?   He testifies to the commission with the vice president by his side.  What is this?  Tag team wrestling?  We‘ll ask Pat Buchanan. 

And the guy wearing his ex-wife‘s wedding dress.  They laughed when he put all this on eBay.  They won‘t be laughing after the thing sold for nearly $4,000.  The man behind the white spot joins us tonight, live. 

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  It is the most faith-based thing in the history of humanity.  It is the most un-provable and the most influential and that is not always for the good. 

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight:  In the name of God.  A new debate over the pledge of allegiance, a new protest 11 months in advance about how Jesus will be depicted on stage, and welter of books to be published to refute the reinterpretation of the Bible as a kind of secret decoder ring. 

And first, a train wreck of a story from inside a Catholic church in Toledo, Ohio, utterly repellent and something from which it is almost impossible to avert your eyes.  A popular priest accused of ritualistic murder of a nun over an Easter weekend and today, suspended by the church from celebrating the sacraments.  Today, told by the diocese, that it will not pay his legal bills.  Our correspondent is Kevin Tibbles. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEVIN TIBBLES, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It was the chilling Easter weekend murder of a local nun 24 years that stunned Toledo, Ohio, and remained unsolved until now.  More than 200 people attended the funeral of Sister Margaret Pahl in April of 1980, after she had been found stabbed some 30 times and strangled.  Presiding over her funeral, Father Gerald Robinson.  Father Robinson is now charged with her murder. 

CHIEF MIKE NAVARRE, TOLEDO POLICE DEPARTMENT:  Utilizing new technology and expert witnesses, the detectives were able to establish probable cause. 

TIBBLES:  The body of 71-year-old Sister Margaret was discovered in the chapel of Toledo‘s Mercy Hospital where she worked as a caretaker, and the priest as a chaplain. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hello, father. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hi, Father.

TIBBLES:  Parishioners are stunned. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We were all shocked about it because we all loved him here. 

TIBBLES (on camera):  Five months ago, Toledo‘s Cold Case Squad decided to take another look at the murder after a local woman accused Father Robinson of abusing her as a child in satanic rituals.  Investigators say Sister Margaret may have been killed in a similar ceremony, but would not elaborate. 

(voice-over):  When found, the nun was surrounded by the lit candles, her arms folded across her chest.  The Catholic Church, in Toledo, says it is doing everything it can to assist the investigation. 

MICHAEL BILLIAN, TOLEDO CATHOLIC DIOCESE:  Certainly, we want to be also emotionally and spiritually supportive of the Sisters of Mercy, Father Robinson, and any other people who are involved in this process.  And we await justice to be done. 

TIBBLES:  Father Robinson has now been arraigned on $200,000 bail. 

Kevin Tibbles, NBC News, Chicago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  David Yonke is the religion editor for Toledo‘s daily newspaper, “The Blade.”  He finds himself covering a murder investigation. 

Mr. Yonke, thanks for your time, tonight. 

DAVID YONKE, RELIGION EDITOR, “THE BLADE”:  Thanks, Keith, nice to be here. 

OLBERMANN:  This boggles the mind.  What has been the impact in the Catholic community in Toledo? 

YONKE:  Well, the Catholic community is hurting, I mean, this comes

after all these other problems with—you know, the sex scandal, we‘ve had

·         you know, donations are down.  We‘ve had a lot of problems.  We‘ve got a new bishop here who took over in December and now—you know, a murder trial involving a priest and a nun. 

OLBERMANN:  Two amplifications in the story itself, as Kevin Tibbles just reported it, when this woman came forward to complain that she had been abused in a ritual involving Father Robinson, what did the church do when she complained? 

YONKE:  Well, initially, they put a couple of their own investigators on it, but they essentially dismissed her testimony.  But, one of the people on the people on the board that heard her testimony ended up forwarding that to law enforcement authorities on his own. 

OLBERMANN:  Did he do that without the approval of the church?  I‘m trying to gather just how possibly culpable, at least in extending the investigation or hindering, in some sense, the investigation the church might be considered or might be accused of being. 

YONKE:  Well, certainly there‘s people looking into the possibility of cover-ups, but—you know, on their behalf, these allegations sounded so outlandish that—you know, they‘re kind of hard to fathom that priests were involved in some kind of satanic rituals and all kinds of abuses. 

OLBERMANN:  The second amplification from Kevin‘s report, “new technology establishing probable cause.”  They‘ve been talking about blood transfer patterns, is that correct? 

YONKE:  That‘s right.  It‘s the pattern that the—one of the weapon left on an altar cloth initially they didn‘t see anything there, now 24 years later, they say they have greater technology in order to link the weapon to the crime scene. 

OLBERMANN:  Last question, what happens to Father Robinson, now?  Is he going to be indicted?  Is he going to make that bail somehow? 

YONKE:  Well, parishioners and supporters are raising money.  Some are putting their houses up with the—in order to raise the money for his bail.  He‘ll probably be getting out soon, maybe tomorrow.  Then there‘s expected to be a grand jury indictment on—sometime this week, and then a hearing on Monday morning. 

OLBERMANN:  David Yonke, the religion editor of the Toledo “Blade.” 

Many thanks you for flushing this out for us, sir. 

YONKE:  Oh, you‘re welcome. 

OLBERMANN:  And the fear of God would seem to have been lost if the accusations are true on Father Robinson, but not on an unnamed suspect who kidnapped a 77-year-old woman in Gastonia, North Carolina.  Edna Hodge was abducted from her home in that city, this is about 25 miles west of Charlotte.  This by an armed intruder who bound her with duct tape, demanded $1,000 that he said he needed to get his own mother out of jail, he then drove her away Ms. Hodge.  But, she kept talking to the man.  “She told him,” says her son, “that whatever he did the lord was watching and he needed to think before he did anything.”  The man evidently thought, Ms.  Hodge was found unharmed at a convenience store half a mile from her home. 

Than, she says, is where her abductor let her go. 

Continuing the fifth story:  The name of God wedging its way not only into congress, but also into partisan politics.  It was Washington state representative, Jim McDermott‘s turn to lead the House in the pledge of allegiance. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP.  JIM MCDERMOTT (D), WASHINGTON:  I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  A spokesman for McDermott said he left out the words “under God” because they are currently under review by the Supreme Court.  A Texas republican had a quite different explanation, Pete Sessions claiming, McDermott, quote, “embarrassed the House” and proved that quote, “the liberal wing of the democrat party launched yet another salvo in its ongoing battle to drive a wedge between Americans and the values and ideals we hold dear.” 

Yeah, like freedom of speech and freedom of worship. 

Of course, if the novel, “The Da Vinci Code” were fact, rather than fiction, all of this would be academic.  In the book, the Bible and most of Christianity is a cover-up for a reality in which Jesus Christ was a popular, but eminently mortal preacher, that there was a Mrs.  Jesus Christ, better known to history as Mary Magdalene and they had children, whose descendants are alive and well living in France.  The “New York Times” reports that the novel has inspired no less than 10 rebuttal books being published this month and next.  As our correspondent Jim Cummins reports for Dallas, foremost of the answers comes from the pastor of Wesleyan church. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM CUMMINS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It‘s been a blockbuster best seller, six million copies sold in 13 months.  “The Da Vinci Code,” Dan Brown‘s fictional thriller with search for the holy grail, with clues into Da Vinci‘s works and references to alternative Christian writings, some shocking like Jesus was married and had children.  Now the counter-offensive, as many as 10 books debunking Brown‘s best seller will hit the book stores in the next two months, many of them by Christian publishers.  Dr. Jim Garlow‘s book criticizing Brown is already out there. 

My concern is simply this, that he blends a lot of historical fact into the fiction, but then twists the historical facts a great deal and people who read it are taking it seriously. 

CUMMINS:  A favorite target?  Jesus and Mary Magdalene were husband and wife. 

GARLOW:  There‘s no evidence in the scripture anywhere that he was married to her, as Dan Brown tries to claim, and most assuredly, no such truth in the notion that she was some kind of a sexual companion of Jesus, as Dan Brown also tries to claim. 

CUMMINS:  In the end, Garlow believes “The Da Vinci Code” could help people become better Christians.

GARLOW:  If they do the historical analysis that I hope they‘ll do, then I believe they‘re going to discover the reality that their new testament is reliable and that Jesus is truly the son of God, who he claims to be. 

Jim Cummins, NBC News, Dallas. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And the fifth and final component to tonight‘s fifth story, the faithful may be playing catch-up on “The Da Vinci Code,” but they will not be when it comes to Jesus in a diaper on stage.  As we told you, night before last, the British production “Jerry Springer, the Opera,” will move to San Francisco next March and then Broadway next October.  The American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family, and Property, and the Catholic League now say they will begin, right now, to try to stop the American production.  Largely because in one scene, Jesus is shown on a talk show wearing a diaper and telling an interviewer, quote, “actually I‘m a bit gay.”  There‘s also the report that the production contains a few bad words -- 8,000 of them. 

COUNTDOWN opening tonight with all things divine.  Up next, tonight‘s No. 4 story:  Eight years in office, now about eight weeks to get the book out.  The Clinton Memoir, David Gergen will explain its political ramifications. 

And later, we‘ve picked the new flag for the new Iraq.  Iraqis have responded with fury and fire.  Not winning the hearts and minds on this one, evidently, an explanation ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:   No. 4 in tonight‘s COUNTDOWN list of big five stories is up next.  Your preview:  President Clinton‘s impact on decision 2004, could it be published or have John Kerry‘s publicity parish.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  For a time, the political bent of book publishing was entirely tilted to the right—no longer.  Sunday‘s “New York Times” hardcover nonfiction best seller list has the works—or will have the works of Richard Clarke at No. 1, John Dean at No. 4, Craig Unger and Al Franken also in the top 15 with, with only Karen Hughes and Sean Hannity appearing on the list from the right.

Bob Woodward‘s book is too new to have made that list.  Ambassador Joe Wilson‘s comes out next week and then the big kid gets out of school. 

Our fourth story in the COUNTDOWN, Bill Clinton‘s memoir, “My Life” will hit bookshelves in late June, which is especially interesting, given that he has not finished writing it yet and it‘s even more interesting because the people presumably most interested in buying it, desperately wanted to see that book hit the shelves by then. 

Random House‘s canop (ph) in print is going for a first run of a million and a half copy, 50 percent more than they made at Simon and Schuster of Clinton‘s wife‘s book a year ago.  But, it‘s not the volume that‘s the story, it‘s the timing.  David Gergen‘s own book “Eyewitness to Power” is no longer on the top seller list, but it still rates four and a half stars out of five among the reviewers at amazon.com, and we should note also it‘s available still in paperback, digital, hardcover, and large print form. 

David, good evening.

DAVID GERGEN, AUTHOR “EYEWITNESS TO POWER”:  Hi.  Thank you for the publicity. 

OLBERMANN:  You‘re very welcome.  So, about this other book by

President Clinton,

GERGEN:  Sure.

OLBERMANN:  The democratic belief that the release date will be in late June and the premise that he would have overshadowed, to some significant degree, the Kerry campaign or the convention if it had been later than that.  Do you buy that? 

GERGEN:  Well, I think there was some danger that had it come out in September or October, it would have sucked a lot of the oxygen out of the Kerry campaign.  But, I think any fears that the democratic fears about having the book come out now during the campaign, say in June, when it‘s now going to be published are overblown.  I actually think, Keith, that the Bill Clinton book is going to help the democrats, I tell you why:  It‘s going to give Bill Clinton a lot of air time.  John Kerry needs some surrogates; he needs some people speaking up for him, he doesn‘t have that the way that President Bush does, he has Cheney and everybody else out there.  And, there‘s nobody in this country better at speaking for the democratic cause than Bill Clinton and he‘ll—you can be sure he‘s going to be on your show, he‘ll be on other television shows.  He‘ll not only be defending his presidency, but telling us why we need a democratic president.  So, I think that in the long run, Bill Clinton‘s book is very likely to be a great help to the John Kerry campaign. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, I was confused by that too, in the “New York Times” story of about two weeks ago, they quoted an unidentified close associate of Kerry as saying, actually, “if it comes out any time before the election, it‘s not particularly good for us because he takes up a lot of oxygen,” and I read that and thought that‘s kind of insulting to everybody, isn‘t it?  It implies that people can‘t watch a Bill Clinton book tour and vote for John Kerry at the same time, and it also suggests on the other side of the equation, that some people would not vote for George Bush unless they were to be reminded in the first person how much they used to hate Bill Clinton.  It‘s kind of a cynical view, even in a cynical time. 

GERGEN:  Well, we do live in a cynical time, there‘s no question about that.  I think it‘s just wrong-headed and you can understand when you‘re running the campaign, like—such as the Kerry campaign, you want to control everything, it‘s really—just as the White House would like to control what‘s going on in Iraq.  You don‘t like to have things affecting your campaign that are beyond your control.  But even so, I think if you look at the Al Gore campaign, of four years ago, he ran away from Bill Clinton and I think it was a big mistake for him and he paid the price for it.  Instead of wrapping himself around the Clinton economic record, the jobs, the prosperity—you know, he distanced himself and, I think, he failed to mobilize democratic voters. 

Bill Clinton has found his voice in the last months of his ex-presidency.  He is now sort of in his stride and he has the capacity to write the most interesting memoirs we‘ve had from any president in years.  Most of these memoirs, as you know, are pretty dry, even turgid.  I think he has the capacity to write a really terrifically interesting memoirs, and more importantly, as he gets on television, he is going to have a lot of air time to present the case of why a return to the democratic party is a good—is in the country‘s interests and that‘s—I can‘t tell you how much I think that John Kerry misses having a surrogate operation for him.  He‘s having to take on—every time Cheney goes out, he has to—John Kerry has to go out there and do all the hard labor himself.  He needs someone like Bill Clinton out there for him. 

OLBERMANN:  You mentioned the content of the book itself and how interesting potentially it could be. 

GERGEN:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  Just out of the blue, I‘m asking this.  What would you read that book for?  What would you like to see Bill Clinton describe? 

GERGEN:  I—he has one of the most interesting minds in American public life and he has a—I used to tell him—you know, Mr. President, when you retire, if you ever want to become a commentator, you‘ll sweep all the rest of us away because you have such insight into these things and you have—he has almost a journalistic take on things, but it‘s—with a lot of depth and subtly and I would—you know, the—his editor, Robert Gottlieb, has already said, this book is terribly interesting.  He calls it “an astonishment.”

I‘d bet that the—this book us going to—if he‘s capable of writing.  I don‘t know what he‘s written and he‘s—of course he‘s furiously writing away.  This being Bill Clinton, we‘re going to have the last draft about five minutes before it‘s—before it goes to press.  But, he‘s capable of running things that are terribly insightful. 

OLBERMANN:  And as you said, journalistic.  The one in-person conversation I ever had with him, he recited to me the list of the 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers roster from first to last.  When I told him he left one man off, he wrote the man‘s name down.  I‘m sure it will come up somewhere. 

David Gergen, from “U.S. News and World Report,” Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and we mention again, “Eyewitness to Power,” still available. 

GERGEN:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Thank you sir.  Take care.

Tonight‘s No. 4 story behind us, right around the corner, “Oddball” and yet another guy trying to escape the cops.  The nightly COUNTDOWN car chase score card is ahead. 

And later, one man‘s parting shot towards his ex-wife.  He thought first of getting even, then he thought of trying to get rich.  He may have gotten both.  The eBay wedding dress guy joins us live. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We rejoin you just in time to pause the COUNTDOWN and take a much-needed adventure into the land of big puffy sheep and hero kangaroos and guys on the run from the law.  Let‘s play “Oddball.” 

And we begin tonight in Austin County, Texas, with the COUNTDOWN car chase of the day.  Obviously, the driver of the runaway pickup truck was not watching last night because this guy won‘t pull over.  Checking the “Oddball Scoreboard,” once again, we see it‘s cops: 40, guys who think they can escape the cops: zip. 

And the streak is alive, thanks in no small part to the police advantage called spike strips.  The driver was thrown from the vehicle during the rollover; he is in fair condition, lucky to be alive.  He‘ll have plenty of time to contemplate all that where he‘s going:  The big house!

Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe, it‘s run away sheep that they‘re worried about.  You may recall the saga of “Shrek” on the loose for six years and unshorn.  A New Zealand Marino ram looked like a cloud come to earth.  So popular is sheep sheering in kiwi land, so popular did “Shrek” become that they televised his hair cut.  You are looking live as the world famous barber to the sheep, champion sheerer David Fagan cut off the 14 inch thick, 60-pound fleece; the wool to be sold to benefit a pediatric cancer charity.  Oh wait, they got David Fagan to do the cutting and not Harry Sheerer? 

From the small island nation to its big island nation neighbor to the west, and for the first time ever, the Australian SPCA has given its Animal Valor Award to a kangaroo.  As we told you last September, when her owner, farmer Len Richards, was knocked out by a falling tree limb, Lulu came to the rescue, squawking for half an hour until his nephew investigated, guarding Richards in the interim.  Today Richards said of his roo, “I‘d be pushing up daisies if it weren‘t for Lulu.  I‘m over the moon that she‘s being recognized as a hero.”  I didn‘t make the quote up.  Lulu promptly accepted her Animal Valor Award and then threw it over the fence in front of the capitol steps. 

COUNTDOWN picks up with our No. 3 story, next.  Your preview:  A fighting continues in Fallujah, critics attacking coalition tactics.  The defense secretary has a heated response to those questioning the U.S.  choice of targets. 

And later, what did the president know and when did he know it?  Pat Buchanan joins us for the preview Mr. Bush‘s joint appearance with the vice president, tomorrow, before the 9/11 Commission. 

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

No. 3  Mike Rickert pitched a perfect game for Bowler High School in Wisconsin against Iola high, last Thursday, April 22.  No big deal, except that his father, John Rickert, had also thrown a perfect game, also for Bowler High School, also against the Iola, also on April 22 in 1982.  And then, it was also a Thursday. 

Also, No. 2:  Druzhba has become the subject of Moscow‘s newest public statue.  Who is Druzhba?  Druzhba was the top processed cheese snack of the soviet era.  Well, it‘s either that or put one of the statues of Trotsky back up. 

And No. 1:  Sharon Luck, the dumb criminal of the week, robs a bank in Dallas, puts the money in her purse, goes directly to another bank to open a savings account, opens the purse in order to hand the money to the teller and that‘s when the pack attached to the money detonates and covers her in pink dye.  Kaboom.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Another day, another deadline passed in Fallujah.  And as insurgents in Iraq‘s most volatile city failed to heed yet another ultimatum to hand in their weapons, the cease-fire looked and sound a lot more like ceaseless fire. 

In our third story tonight, the fighting also continue on other battlefields, from the new Iraqi flag that Iraqis are already burning to the mosque that is not really a mosque.  As the war heats up, the clash over meaning is intensifying.  Before the stories symbolism, though, the hard facts on the ground. 

A second straight day of fighting sending clouds of smoke spiraling into the sky above Fallujah and the barrage of firepower did not cease when the sun went down, U.S. warplanes dropping as many as 10 500-pound bombs on that city before 300,000 souls.  While U.S. military commanders insisted these were purely defensive responses, pleas for restraint came from as high up as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. 

But Donald Rumsfeld brushed aside such criticism today with his own defensive responses. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  Here‘s a wonderful picture that just give you a little sense of, this is the mosque in An Najaf.  And you can see they have all kinds of religious instruments called rocket-propelled grenades and AK-47s.  That‘s what they do in their mosques.  So that isn‘t in the paper. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And another paper Mr. Rumsfeld certainly does not approve of, the new wanted poster floating around Iraq, and two of the military‘s top commanders featured as wanted men, and the reward for their capture said to be $15 million. 

One man who may not be wanted for much longer there is Ahmad Chalabi.  Our chief correspondent, Lisa Myers, reporting now that the organization headed by the Iraqi who has had the wholehearted endorsement of many top-ranking Pentagon officials is now under investigation. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA MYERS, NBC CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 

Members of the Iraqi national Congress and its leader, Ahmad Chalabi, were airlifted into southern Iraq the day Saddam‘s government fell. 

Chalabi was the president‘s guest at the State of the Union.  Even today, the INC gets $340,000 a month from the Pentagon to feed the U.S.  intelligence information.  But NBC News has learned that members of the group are now under investigation by Iraqi police in Baghdad, allegations of abduction, robbery, stealing 11 Iraqi government vehicles, assaulting police by firing on them during the search.  This Iraqi police official says one doctor claims, he was kidnapped at gunpoint. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator):  They found him, took him to an unknown place, and after he got back to his house, he discovered they took $20,000.  We caught the suspects and they said they were from the INC.

MYERS:  Iraqi authorities tell NBC that three INC operatives are under arrest and an arrest warrant has been issued for the INC‘s chief of intelligence.  The INC confirms its offices were searched six times and 11 cars seized.  But officials say they‘ve done nothing illegal. 

MUDHAR SHAWKAT, IRAQI NATIONAL CONGRESS:  There is something going on which basically is what it appears to me is trying to put political pressure on the INC for what one reason or another.

MYERS (on camera):  All of this comes in the wake of findings that key intelligence on weapons of mass destruction provided by Chalabi‘s group was false, perhaps even fabricated. 

(voice-over):  In fact, the former head of the weapons hunt questions why a group that provided—quote—“fabricated information” is still on the U.S. payroll. 

DAVID KAY, FORMER CHIEF U.S. WEAPONS INSPECTOR:  Once taken, excused, twice taken, you‘re an idiot.  I think we‘re now in the point of we‘re really an idiot. 

MYERS:  Tonight, a Pentagon spokesman says he knows nothing about the police investigation, but that the $4 million taxpayer dollars going to Chalabi‘s group already is being reviewed. 

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Somebody did not review the matter of something selected by the Iraqi Governing Council.  It would not seem like much of an issue.  Then again, how many controversy a year do we have over this symbol in this country?

The new national Iraqi flag.  A crowd into the besieged city of Fallujah set fire to a replica of the new banner today.  In the northern city of Mosul, more than 1,000 protesters turned out to denounce the flag.  The complaint?  The colors, blue, light blue, yellow and white.  The blue stripes on the bottom were meant to represent the country‘s two great rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, the yellow the color symbolizing Iraq‘s Kurdish minority. 

It is that light blue in the crescent that‘s the problem.  Iraqis see it and see the light blue of the Israeli flag.  There‘s also the question of what is not there.  Nearly every Arabic nation has some combination of red, black and green in their flag, but not on the new Iraqi one. 

For some insight into why this new flag is already such a flammable symbol, we‘re joined now by Raghida Dergham, a senior correspondent for the London-based Arabic newspaper “Al-Hayat.”

Raghida, good evening. 

RAGHIDA DERGHAM, NBC FOREIGN AFFAIRS ANALYST:  Good evening to you. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, I assume that the light blue is like President Bush talking three years ago about a crusade in Afghanistan, inadvertent, uninformed.  But I gather that it is not being read quite that innocently in the Middle East. 

DERGHAM:  Not from that point of view. 

It resembles the dictate of an occupation that wants an acceptance of Israel and an imitation of Israel in Iraq.  And that‘s how it is perceived.  Now, there is a sober argument as why not to rush with the flag, which is that the interim government is supposed to take over from the occupation on June 30.  And it is really, it is only understandable that people should want to wait until such an interim government takes office.  And at that point, yes, talk about a flag. 

But I wanted to add that they‘re talking now about making the crescent blue. 

OLBERMANN:  Will that improve the situation or is there some hidden problem that no one has researched in this country or in the interim body in Iraq that will then come up and bite us all once again? 

DERGHAM:  Well, listen, on a serious note here, I think it is beyond the flag itself. 

I think they fear, many of the Iraqis fear that there is an occupation and that the flag under occupation is a statement.  And I think that it is a rejection of what the United States is trying to tell the Iraqis, no matter what these days.  There is a lot of anger.  And, as you know from what is happening in Fallujah, thing are not going that well. 

OLBERMANN:  And from the symbolism back to the reality, and in Fallujah particularly.  The military analysts in the last few days have been big on the idea, have been hitting again and again the idea that in Fallujah in particular, if major firepower were not used by the coalition forces in those sets of circumstances that obtain there, that Iraqis themselves would have lost respect for the United States. 

I‘m wondering what your take is on this.  Is this another cross-cultural bad assumption train wreck like the flag or is there some truth to that idea? 

DERGHAM:  Oh, it could be another spin. 

Look, there is a need to step back from all this and see what would work for the United States and for Iraq.  I don‘t think the military solution in Fallujah or in Najaf and Karbala, the holiest places for the Shiites, is going to really bring us closer to a peaceful solution or to an end of occupation. 

I fear that more of the military confrontation will take us into a really bad situation for the United States and for the Iraqis.  Look, the end of occupation can be done peacefully if it is done soberly and people think about it.  What is really frightening everyone right now is that maybe there is an intention to escalate and therefore lose the option of making a peaceful Iraq and lose the option of ending the occupation and the fear here is of course to get into the quagmire of Iraq. 

OLBERMANN:  Raghida Dergham, the senior correspondent for “Al-Hayat,” many thanks for joining us tonight.

DERGHAM:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Hearts and minds and flags, the third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight.

Up next, No. 2, testimony from two, the president and the vice president answering questions about 9/11 together.  Then later on, it‘s a man, baby.  This stunning bridal wear model we first told you about last night will join us live. 

All that head, but, first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. FRANK LAUTENBERG (D), NEW JERSEY:  Chicken hawk.  If anyone is curious about what a chicken hawk is, I‘ve got a definition right here on this placard.  We see the chicken in a uniform with medals. 

QUESTION:  So what‘s Gary Sheffield‘s review of Puff Daddy‘s—“P.

Diddy‘s” debut on Broadway? 

GARY SHEFFIELD, PROFESSIONAL BASEBALL PLAYER:  Well, I was asking my wife, I said where is he reading from?  And she said, no, he has to remember this.  I said, really? 

QUESTION:  So two thumb up? 

SHEFFIELD:  I would give him four. 

DOLLY KELTON, 97 YEARS OLD:  They fingerprinted me.  And I said, is this going to be on my record forever?  And they said, no.  But I do doubt that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The double dose tomorrow at the White House, as both the president and the vice president will answer questions together from the 9/11 Commission.  Politics and policy—our second story next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It says something about the president of the United States.  What exactly probably depends on your political orientation. 

But on this eve of Mr. Bush‘s closed-door testimony before the 9/11 Commission, testimony he will give with Vice President Dick Cheney seated at his side, White House spokesman Scott McClellan actually felt compelled to tell reporters that he expects Mr. Bush to answer most of the questions, not Mr. Cheney.  Gee, thanks. 

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the president, the vice president and the commission.  They will begin at 9:30 a.m. Eastern before all 10 commissioners.  They will not be under oath.  Their comments will not be recorded, nor will there be a stenographer present.  Commission members will be permitted to take notes.  Mr. Bush is expected to have White House counsel Alberto Gonzales with him and perhaps other White House officials as well. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I look forward to giving the commissioners a chance to question both of us.  And it is—it will be an ample—it will be a good opportunity for these people to help write a report that hopefully will help future presidents deal with terrorist threats to the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Spokesman McClellan reiterated the point, saying, this is not an adversarial process.  And later on, this isn‘t something where it‘s a game of gotcha. 

Well, that would be a first in this completely political year.

Joining me now, former presidential candidate, adviser and speechwriter, MSNBC‘s own Pat Buchanan. 

Good evening, Pat.

PAT BUCHANAN, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hi, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Mr. Bush and Mr. McClellan are kidding about this, right?  Do they expect anyone to believe that they‘re not expecting a game of gotcha, when Mr. Bush is going to be accompanied by Mr. Cheney and the White House counsel and other staffers and basically everybody except his mom and dad? 

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  Look, I do believe this. 

I do believe the president of the United States is going to—probably, he and Cheney have talked and the president says, I will be answering all the questions that are directed to me, Dick.  And I do not want to you step in unless you feel there‘s some vital necessity to add something because we don‘t want the perception coming out of here, which is the perception going in, that I‘m taking a test and I have got a straight-A student sitting beside me who can help me.  We don‘t want that impression left. 

And I think the president will answer most of the questions.  He is not under much pressure, Keith.  He is not under oath.  It is a closed session.  There‘s no recording made of it.  They got note-takers on both sides.  So I think the president is not under great pressure. 

OLBERMANN:  What then do you expect the focus will be?  The questions, will go in what direction?  Is the president vulnerable in any area, and how will he be attacked and defended by those 10 commissioners? 

BUCHANAN:  Here‘s how—what I would do with the president.

I would say, Mr. President, you‘re in that schoolroom when you heard the second plane went in there.  Your immediate thoughts as you were being taken out, going to Barksdale Air Force Base, who did you think did it?  And did the August 6 memo come to mind, that this was probably bin Laden or al Qaeda.  And if he said no, I would say, have you not focused on that and didn‘t you get the message there that this was the real threat? 

So I would try to find out why it was the president did not instinctively think of al Qaeda and bin Laden.  And then I would pursue that line of questioning. 

OLBERMANN:  After this is over tomorrow, Pat, is this going to look like the scene from the movie “Airplane,” where the reporters run so fast into the phone booths that the booths fall over?  Are we going to get heavy leakage from the commissioners, both Republican and Democrat? 

BUCHANAN:  Every reporter worth his salt has got his guy who is going to call him or whom he‘s going to call.  And you have got White House aides.  And they‘re going to be putting out the word that the president was brilliant, he was crisp, he was on top of his game.  He was in control.  It was the president answering all the questions.  That will be coming right out of there. 

And if our reporter don‘t get it, they ought to be talked to. 

OLBERMANN:  And we‘re going to have you talk to them, too. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  MSNBC‘s political analyst Pat Buchanan, as always, sir, thanks for your insights. 

BUCHANAN:  Good night.  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  Good night.

That‘s tomorrow.  Today, not the president, but his policies questioned and before the Supreme Court, the question, whether holding American citizens as enemy combatants is unconstitutional.  Right now, two American are in military detention, Yaser Hamdi, captured with the Taliban in Afghanistan, and Jose Padilla, arrested in Chicago, accused of planning to set off a radioactive dirty bomb. 

Both have been indefinitely imprisoned in a Naval brig, no access to lawyers, nor U.S. courts.  At the Supreme Court today, justices questioning the indefinite nature of the detention and several implied that some kind of military tribunal might be an appropriate venue for suspects to proclaim their innocence while not jeopardizing national security. 

And now not national security, but national obsessions, the stories of celebrity entertainment, glamour, glitz and svitz (ph).  We call it “Keeping Tabs.” 

And there won‘t be dirty words.  But if the decency police want a new target, how about the promotion for ABC‘s “20/20”?  Friday‘s program, the first incidentally of the May sweeps period, will feature five couples, each vying for the privilege of adopting the baby of an unmarried 16-year-old girl from Akron.  The network promoted the show much in the manner of a reality TV program, calling it “Be My Baby.”  Producers claim it is really a documentary about process, not some sort of “Survivor” in diapers. 

But that‘s only one of two ABC Friday night programs getting slammed.  The decision to have Ted Koppel read allowed the names of more than 500 Americans killed in the war in Iraq during “Nightline” was today characterized by “The Washington Post”‘s TV columnist as a—quote—

“content-free stunt designed to tug at our heartstrings and bag a big number on the second night of the May ratings race.”

“Nightline” producers claimed they had no idea that sweeps were under way.  Wow.  If that‘s true, here‘s free advice from a colleague.  The camera that‘s on is the one with the red light on it. 

Tonight‘s No. 1 story is next.  This man will join us live next, unless he runs away. 

First, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top two photos of this day. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Finally to the top of the COUNTDOWN.

And we are proud to say that we earnestly believe that we were the first national television newscast to bring you the story of the man in the wedding dress on eBay.  Of course it wasn‘t just a wedding dress.  It was his ex-wife‘s wedding dress.  He was trying to raise enough money to get some tickets to go see the Seattle Mariners play a few baseball games, maybe some beer.

But when bidding closed at 6:37 p.m. Eastern daylight time today, the price it reached was $3,850.  The page hits had exceeded 5.8 million.  Now, the dress might be worth something, but it seems most of the price owes to the sell, not only singular job of modeling, but also the commentary, which includes priceless observations about the ex, such as: “Thank the Lord we didn‘t have kids.  If they would have turned out like her or her family, I would have slit my wrists.”

And then there‘s addendum about the publicity and e-mails the seller has received: “Most were thanking me for the laugh.  You‘re entirely welcome.  Five years of misery was well worth the hardy guffaw that was my pleasure to give you.”

Until now, he has been known only as the guy wearing his ex-wife‘s wedding dress, but now we can introducer you to man behind the taffeta, Larry Star of Seattle, Washington.

Mr. Star, good evening.

LARRY STAR, SOLD EX-WIFE‘S WEDDING DRESS: Yo, dog.  That is my Randy Jackson impression. 

OLBERMANN:  Very nice.  And may I say that is a lovely dress you are wearing tonight.

STAR:  Thank you.  Thank you very much. 

OLBERMANN:  What were you expecting when you did this?  I‘m assuming you didn‘t expect you would get five wedding proposals out of the deal. 

STAR:  There were a lot more.  I get over 6,000 or 7,000 e-mails.

And a lot of those were not only wedding proposals, but sexual trysts as well, so, crazy.  There‘s a lot of crazy Americans out there. 

OLBERMANN:  Something to spend the $3,850 bucks on, obviously.

STAR:  Obviously, yes.

OLBERMANN:  I have to ask this one, too.  Among those e-mails, have you heard from the ex by any chance? 

STAR:  Not heard from the ex, but I pretty much expect to.  So...

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  We will just leave it there. 

STAR:  Yes. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Somewhere in here, there had to have been a publicity tipping point.  I was just going to say here, the pictures on eBay, you put a white dot covering your own face to protect your identity.  And, on the other hand, you went on “The Today Show” this morning and you‘re now primping  your hair.  So the anonymity boat has sailed, my friend.

STAR:  Hey, hey.

OLBERMANN:  When did this, as they say, start to get good to you?

(CROSSTALK)

STAR:  I just want to say, KISS unmasked.  You know what I‘m saying?

OLBERMANN:  OK.

STAR:  They had a run.  They unmasked.  Here I am, unmasked.

You know what I hate?  I hate my hair. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

STAR:  I look like one of the lost Bee Gees, Larry Gibb. 

OLBERMANN:  You have been wearing the dress way too long, I think.

STAR:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  It may be a little tight around the neck and it‘s cutting off the oxygen.

What do you do for a living?  I am assuming that you are not on the modeling staff of “Modern Bride” magazine.  At least you weren‘t before now. 

STAR:  Yes, I will be, right?  There‘s a good gig coming up.

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

STAR:  I‘m a computer geek during the day and I play in a band at night.  Guitar. 

OLBERMANN:  OK, so, now it was—on eBay, it was listed as $18,500 as the high bid.  And then the thing started to drop today.  Did that concern you?  How did all that work?  Were those all phony bids that were thrown in? 

STAR:  Yes.

It reached 99 -- it maxed out, the counter, at eBay yesterday, at $99 million, believe it or not. 

(LAUGHTER)

STAR:  And so eBay security came in and took off and weeded through the ones, that bids that seemed that they were legitimate and after more going through—eBay was terrific.  They worked with my constituent all day long.  And my buddy Brannon (ph) and eBay, they just were fantastic. 

OLBERMANN:  So, the upshot is this is, it was a $1,200 dress or, as you write, looks like a $1,200 shower curtain, and it sells for $3,850.  Are you taking that $2,650 as pure profit or are you thinking of it as payment for what appears to have been an absolutely joyful marriage? 

(LAUGHTER)

STAR:  Yes, it‘s profit.  I think maybe put a down payment on a motorcycle to get the M‘s game.  You know what I‘m saying?

OLBERMANN:  Yes, I see.  And I am presuming you get a picture of the woman who bought that dress to see if it looks better on her. 

(LAUGHTER)

STAR:  Yes.  Yes.  True. 

OLBERMANN:  Larry Star, it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, but apparently it‘s best to have loved and lost and then humiliated and profited from the ex on national TV.  Congratulations.

STAR:  Thank you very much. 

OLBERMANN:  Thank you for your time. 

STAR:  Bye. 

OLBERMANN:  It‘s wonderful.

Before we leave you, the No. 1 thing you also need to know about tonight‘s No. 1 story.  Larry‘s dress seem pricey to you?  No.  The most expensive wedding dress ever, the bride from Brooklyn who walked down the aisle in last year in this gown worth $300,000, made of 50 years of silk, studded with 300 karat diamonds, 3,000 Swarovski crystals.  And, presumably, we‘re going to have another four years before we see it on eBay. 

All right, let‘s recap the five COUNTDOWN stories, the ones we think you‘ll be talking about tomorrow.

No. 5, heaven and hell on Earth, from a priest charged with murdering

a nun, to a kidnapped woman scaring off her attacker by using God as a

witness, to Christian protests over the Jerry Springer opera that does open

here until next March.  Four, the new book from Bill Clinton.  He has not

even finished writing it yet, but Democrats are happy with the release date

·         happier—June, late June, earlier enough they think not to overshadow their convention and the election, and our guest, David Gergen, saying it may actually help Kerry‘s campaign. 

Three, insurgency in Iraq, U.S. forces on the offensive for the second day in Fallujah, while protesters in that town turn their fiery anger from the American flag to a new Iraqi one that they say looks like the Israeli flag.  Two, a double appearance before the 9/11 Commission tomorrow.  President Bush and Vice President Cheney will both sit down for a private session answering questions about the attacks.  It will not be recorded.  It will not be transcribed.  It will not be on the record.  No. 1, Larry Star, who sold his ex-wife‘s wedding dress on eBay for the grand total of $3,850.  And he looked just great in it, didn‘t he?  Slimmed his hips.

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

Good night and good luck. 

END   

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