updated 4/30/2004 11:09:24 AM ET 2004-04-30T15:09:24

Guests: Colonel David McIntyre, John Hargrave

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

“I,” says the president, “enjoyed it.”  He and the vice president met the 9/11 Commission.  What did he tell them?  Why did two commissioners leave early? 

Ten more Americans dead in Iraq, and Pentagon intelligence says much of the insurgency was organized by Saddam Hussein‘s secret service long before he was toppled. 

Should you smoke in your car with your kids in your car?  Obviously no, but should there be a law against it? 

And an empty school bus, a high-speed chase, and a naked hijacker. 

What more could we ask for in a news story? 

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.  

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening. 

He probably told reporters in the rose garden that he enjoyed testifying at the 9/11 Commission this morning, and that he answered every question.  They said afterwards that both President Bush and Vice President Cheney were “forthcoming and candid in their answers.”  But, in our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN, tonight, on the record, nobody is being either forthcoming nor candid about what they actually told the 9/11 commission today. 

What did the president say and when did he say it?  In a moment, the analysis from MSNBC‘s Pat Buchanan.  First, our White House correspondent David Gregory has unearthed some of what the president told the commission -- David.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID GREGORY, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, today‘s historic meeting lasted more than three hours.  It was described as “cordial and productive.”  Several sources telling NBC News that the president revealed new details about the chaos of 9/11. 

(voice-over):  At the White House on the morning of September 11, officials were alarmed more attacks were coming, and an airliner heading from Spain to the U.S. was a big worry.  They wanted permission to shoot it down if necessary. 

And today, the president told the commission, he issued that order shortly after arriving at Strategic Command Headquarters in Omaha.  He learned later, he said, that the plane turned back to Madrid, it was not part of the attack.  It was just one example of the confusion of that day, an area of interest for the commissioners. 

The president in the Rose Garden when the private session was over:

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I think it helped them understand how I think and how I run the White House and how we deal with threats. 

GREGORY:  The 10 commissioners arrived this morning through a side entrance of the White House.  The White House would not allow the session to be recorded, nor was a transcript made.  Later the president brushed aside critics who questioned why the president insisted on meeting with the commission with Vice President Cheney by his side. 

BUSH:  If we had something to hide, we wouldn‘t have met with them in the first place.  We answered all their questions. 

GREGORY:  As expected, a big focus today was that Presidential Daily Briefing from August of 01, a briefing which included references to al-Qaeda‘s desire to hijack airplanes.  Sources familiar with the session said Mr. Bush stuck to his position that the briefing contained no specific threat information. 

And NBC News has learned that today, Mr. Bush was critical of his former counterterrorism chief, Richard Clarke, who was questioned whether the White House did enough to unearth the 9/11 plot. 

(on camera):  In a rebuke to his own Justice Department, President Bush began today‘s session with the commission by criticizing Attorney General Ashcroft for his attacks on Democratic commissioner Jamie Gorelick.  Aides said later, the president does not approve of finger pointing—

Keith.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  David Gregory at the White House, many thanks. 

On the record thus far, about the meeting, only Mr. Bush, Scott McClellan, the statement from the commission and the Commissioner Jim Thompson, the former Republican governor of Illinois, but as we get from David, an outline at least, of what was discussed this morning.  Let‘s go to former presidential adviser and candidate, MSNBC‘s own Pat Buchanan. 

Pat, good evening.

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC ANALYST:  Hey, Keith, how are you? 

OLBERMANN:  Based on what David just reported, there was considerable interest in the president‘s actions, whereabouts, his time line on 9/11 -- was this, as the president himself said, to help them, meaning the commission, understand how we, meaning the White House, deal with threats? 

BUCHANAN:  Apparently it was, but the commission, 95 percent of the questions, apparently, went to the president from one source.  And everybody says the president was candid and forthcoming and we‘ve got Lee Hamilton‘s statement just in, I think, Keith, he said “it was a marvelous meeting with the president.  His comments were candid, forthcoming, excellent meeting, very productive.” 

So apparently, the president really told them sort of what happened, descriptive, stories, and probably very engrossing for what it was like in the chaos in the White House with the president going to Barksdale, Omaha, before heading home. 

OLBERMANN:  Now, as you said, that suggested—what Mr. Hamilton just released suggests, this is all described as cordial and happy and yet we hear from David Gregory that Mr. Bush took some sort of swipe at Richard Clarke in front of the commission.  He criticized the attorney general for criticizing Commissioner Gorelick.  That doesn‘t sound like it was entirely cordial and happy. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, I think the president may be right this—on the criticism of Ashcroft.  Ashcroft, as I understand it was this: that they‘ve released, apparently, they declassified some documents that point to Jamie Gorelick far more as a substantial figure in setting up this wall and the president was saying, “look—you know, this is—don‘t do this stuff out of school, let‘s treat the commission with respect.” 

I think that makes the president look good, the fact that he came out in the Rose Garden and he put the spin on it himself.  OK, it was very favorable, but it is being backed up.  I think he—I mean, it looks to me like the president and Cheney aced their oral exams, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  And on that subject, I don‘t want to make you out to be a mind reader or anything, but I want to play a snippet of what you said here last night and then read you some of Jim Thompson‘s remarks that were made today.  The tape first:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUCHANAN:  They‘ll 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. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  That was Pat Buchanan last night.  This is Governor Thompson in the “AP” this afternoon:

“There was some laughter from time to time.  The president is a bit of a tease.  There were no tense moments.  I thought the president gave a five-star performance.  I wish the American people could have seen it.”

Well, you clearly got that one right, Pat, but to the point...

BUCHANAN:   But Keith, I‘ll tell you what, Jim Thompson looks like cabinet material in the second administration to me. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  And in any future Pat Buchanan administration. 

But to the point, if this is accurate, if what Lee Hamilton said is accurate, maybe Lee Hamilton is a more neutral observer on this than Jim Thompson, did Mr. Bush miss an opportunity, both in terms of the good of the republic and the families of the victims of 9/11, and for his own political needs, did he miss an opportunity by not letting the American people see what Jim Thompson called “a five-star performance?” 

BUCHANAN:   You know, you got a very good—very good point there, Keith.  But look, what you got to remember, when he‘s not under oath, and it‘s in private, and it‘s not being recorded, the president is first rate in personal communication.  If it had been under oath there, and he‘s got to worry about everything he said, my guess is you would not have got that presidential humor. 

I mean, what he got was he got them in the oval office, they‘re sitting there, they got all these notes sitting on their lap, he‘s got a tremendous advantage.  Frankly, it turned out to be a brilliant coup by the president and a lot of folks were critical going in. 

OLBERMANN:  But it will now be a brilliant coup in an anecdotal sense. 

BUCHANAN:   Last question, Vice Chairman Hamilton, Commissioner Kerrey left after two of the three hour session, their offices both said they had previously scheduled appointments.  Kerrey had a meeting with Pete Domenici. 

I ran into Kerrey at the Yankees/Red Sox game on Sunday.  If they said today, he‘d left this once in a lifetime opportunity because he had to get back to New York to see the Yankees play again tonight, I would have an easier time believing that.  What‘s going on here?  How do you walk out of this meeting? 

OLBERMANN:  I do not know how you walk out of it.  And Kerrey went to a meeting with Pete Domenici?  He couldn‘t have put the lunch off for two hours?  I think he showed disrespect for the president and vice president.  You know, Bob Kerrey was on “Comedy Central” mocking the interviews coming up today.  I mean, with Mr. Stewart there on “Comedy Central.”  Lee Hamilton said he had to introduce the Canadian foreign minister or something, he should have gotten somebody else to do it.  And, I think that they did not respect their own commission.  And I don‘t think they respected the president and vice president.  I mean, in a private meeting in the oval office with Cheney and Bush about the most important event of our time.  Not good. 

BUCHANAN:   And beyond just the respect and the obvious requirements -

·         serious requirements, how could you not want to be literally the fly on the wall in that meeting?  I don‘t, I don‘t understand it either.  We‘re in agreement as usual. 

MSNBC‘s Pat Buchanan, I‘m sure we‘ll get more details on this in the ensuing days.  We‘ll have more to talk about then.

BUCHANAN:  You take it easy, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Thanks as always, sir.

Continuing with the fifth story:  Response to Terrorism.  If the president‘s meeting with the 9/11 Commission was unprecedented or nearly so, so was the news out of Los Angeles, today.  Nobody knew how credible it was, but officials actually revealed what they knew about a terrorist threat there, including date and location.  Emphasizing the information was uncorroborated, and the credibility of the source unknown, LAPD, nonetheless, told Angelino‘s they had been tipped as to a possible attack today at one of the malls near the federal building on Wilshire Boulevard in west Colonel David McIntyre Bob Faw World War II “Operation Tiger.”,Los Angeles. 

That could have been any of a dozen places, from the open-air 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica, to the Titanic Beverly Center just outside Beverly Hills.  It would later prove the information consisted of exactly one phone tip called into the operations center of the Department of Homeland Security in Washington.  An anonymous caller saying four people planned to blow up a mall in west L.A.  The caller then asked, now can you make me a citizen?  Officials nonetheless thought that the specificity of the threat meant the public had to know. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHIEF WILLIAM BRATTON, LOS ANGELES POLICE DEPT.:  It was specific to a date, today, the 29th.  It was specific to a geographic area adjacent—in the vicinity of the federal building, and there was other information that I‘m not at liberty to disclose, but enough information to warrant us taking the actions that we took. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Retired U.S. Army Colonel David McIntyre joins us now from Washington, D.C.  He‘s an expert on terrorist threats and now teaches Homeland Security at Texas A&M University security. 

And thank you for your time tonight, sir.

COL. DAVID MCINTYRE, U.S.  ARMY (RET.):  Good to be with you.

OLBERMANN:  NBC News is quoting a senior U.S.  intelligence official who‘s saying he‘s mystified by this threat, that there were no overseas intelligence reports that would confirm or corroborate it.  That he saw the story first while watching cable TV and said, “what the hell was that about?”  It‘s unclear how much or how little the officials in L.A.  would have known the nature of this source, but did they make the right decision to go public anyway? 

MCINTYRE:  Oh, probably did.  What this really shows, this is really a case study, and I‘m so glad you showed this tonight because the American people are just getting a glimpse of what their law enforcement‘s dealing with every day.  I talked, last week, with a junior law enforcement member down in Texas who‘s part of the terrorism task force.  Now that he‘s in, working with the FBI, he‘s astonished at how much of this comes in on a daily basis, what he has to wade through, the hard decision that have to be made.  So, did they make the right decision?  Gee, we‘ll never know, except in retrospect nothing happened and I guess we just have to accept that‘s part of the way the life works today.  I would rather have them make this decision and be a mistake than not say anything and we‘re reporting a different story, tonight. 

OLBERMANN:  In terms of public perception, there‘s been so much anxiety and even frustration over the nonspecific threat, the color codes, the general generalized statements, “look out for something, we don‘t know what.”  Even if this was just some yahoo calling in hoping to get a green card, was it worth making it public in the sense of reassuring people that occasionally, specific information does come in and it does get acted on and it does get passed along when it reaches some sort of minimum standard, like this apparently did?

MCINTYRE:  Yeah, I think that‘s probably true.  I think it‘s—I think the public should be reassured that we now have a large number of people working at communication systems that works in Washington and all the way down to county police and law enforcement at every level.  That‘s very important.  Now, are we going to get everyone right?  No. Was this one exactly right?  Perhaps not.  But this kind of thing is taking place on a daily basis and that‘s a far cry from what we were doing only two years ago.

OLBERMANN:  Does it serve, as a last question—does it serve perhaps, as a kind of unplanned dry run for a major city‘s counterterrorism effort?  Or conversely and perversely, could it a dry run for terrorists? 

MCINTYRE:  Well, it‘s always a dry run for terrorists, they drop something and watch to see what we do and then do something a little differently next time.  What it really should be though, the people this really ought to energize is the business community.   And, if I have one concern right now, is that the business community is not taking this seriously enough.  They have a responsibility for their employees, for their customers.  They ought to be thinking about what happens, when it happens—when they come back next time, because these people are coming back.

OLBERMANN:  Colonel David McIntyre, now of Texas A&M.  Many thanks for  your time tonight, sir.

MCINTYRE:  Good to be with you, sir. 

OLBERMANN:  COUNTDOWN opening tonight with terror questions of the 9/11 Commission and in the aftermath of concerns in L.A.  Coming up, tonight‘s No. 4 story:  The secrets of war on the day that the World War II memorial opened in D.C.  We‘ll also take you to another memorial.  A key moment in that war is remembered, it had been officially denied for 40 years.

And, later another war: the war over smoking.  Drive while you smoke with your kids in your car?  Not if a California measure becomes law.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Our No. 4 story is up next, a World War II secret is revealed at last, the rehearsal for D-day that went terribly wrong, and those lucky enough to survive were threatened with court-martial if they ever talked.  They‘re talking now.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Washington is known for its memorials to Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln, for the Korean and Vietnam wars, nearly every union general from the Civil War who could swing a leg over a horse.  There‘s also a relatively new and striking participatory one for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the president who lead U.S.  to victory in the Second World War.  And in the fourth story in the COUNTDOWN, there is also a memorial for the 16 million men and women in uniform whom he led.  The National World War II Memorial opened, though not yet dedicated, that will happen May 29.  It was opened in advance because truly, with World War II veterans dying at the rate of 1,100 per day, the commission sponsoring the memorial would like as many veterans as possible to have the chance to visit.  Organized veterans groups will start touring the site next week and the dedication ceremony is expected to draw as many as 800,000 people next month. 

There had been another ceremony for some of the men of the Second World War.  It was in a place you never heard of about a part of D-day you‘ve also never heard of.  Slapton Sands, England, “Operation Tiger.”  This was the warm-up for the allied liberation of Europe, D-day minus seven days.  So secret, it was officially denied by this government for four decades.  A denial that angered those who survived because they felt it dishonored those who did not.  Our correspondent, Bob Faw, at the other World War II memorial.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BOB FAW, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In a ceremony medieval and modern, two American veterans returned to England for the first time in 60 years.  Confronting their past and exercising demons.

ANNOUNCER:  ...and explosions make the factors as much like the real thing as possible.

FAW:  But, just one week before D-day, in “Exorcise Tiger,” the dress rehearsal for landings on Utah Beach, German gunboats torpedoed three lumbering American ships and 749 America servicemen died. 

RONALD DREZ, WAR HISTORIAN:  A very dangerous place to be. 

FAW:  They were sitting ducks. 

CHARLIE BRUBAKER, SURVIVOR:  Yeah.  It is a terrible thing when you think about it. 

FAW:  Chelly Rubaker was a 20-year-old machinist mate, then.  Radioman Steven Sadlon, also 20 then, survived by jumping into the icy waters of Lime Bay. 

STEVEN SADLON, SURVIVOR:  You ever want to see somebody just cornered, screaming and—you know, running around, burning.  It‘s just a horrible sight. 

FAW:  Saddlen could only watch and listen to his shipmates dying. 

SADLON:  And they‘d be screaming, “help, help!” Then after a while, you wouldn‘t hear no more “help.” 

FAW (on camera):  Survivors say the operation here was so secret, some were threatened with court-martial if they ever discussed it, and the losses were so disastrous and embarrassing, “Exorcise Tiger” was hushed up, For 40 years the U.S.  military wouldn‘t admit what happened. 

(voice-over):  Though many men were buried with honors in England, “Exorcise Tiger” was not publicized, much less hailed, leaving scars six decades later.

SADLON:  Deep, deep bitter.  What bothers me is all those people that died, they got no recognition.  I can‘t get over it. 

Good to so you. 

Nor can Charlie Brubaker, he‘s the clown comforting hospital patients. 

Because he survived when so many didn‘t. 

BRUBAKER:  I‘ve been blessed and I want to give back. 

FAW:  Only this weekend when the two 80-year-olds joined commemoration ceremonies did “Exorcise Tiger‘s” wounds start to heal, and when they laid a wreath for the fallen. 

BRUBAKER:  And rest in peace and God bless you all. 

FAW:  And onlookers cheered, any lingering bitterness vanished. 

SADLON:  The words just can‘t say how happy I am of all this. 

FAW:  Another wreath laying for the fallen.  More tears, more pride. 

For “Exorcise Tiger,” 60 years and for some, still only moments ago. 

Bob Faw, NBC News, Slapton Sands, England. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Our No. 4 story, to borrow a phrase, “The greatest generation.”

Straight ahead on COUNTDOWN those stories that will not get a number, but we have to include in our show, anyway—“Oddball,” including one of the weirdest hijackings in recent memory, up next.

And later, it could not be “American Idol” if it didn‘t have a

controversy.  After a week of accusations and mudslinging, the viewers may

have settled the question whether or not there‘s racism on the show.  Stand

by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We rejoin you with the COUNTDOWN and immediately pause it to bring you the day‘s roster of the ridiculous, it‘s line up of the looney, in short, let‘s play “Oddball.” 

A Georgia driver collides with an empty school bus at about 6:30 this morning in the town of Doraville.  As police arrive, the driver emerges from the vehicle, he‘s naked.  He‘s also running from his car into the school bus.  He shoves the bus driver out of the seat and takes off and soon, we have the COUNTDOWN car chase of the day. 

So let‘s go to the “Oddball Scoreboard.”  Cop: 41, Morons, naked or otherwise who think they can elude cops:  0.  But, this time the cops had extra help.  The naked bus hijacker was stopped when the drivers of a concrete pumper truck and a tractor-trailer eventually pinned him to a retaining wall on a freeway.  This all happened long before the bus was to have picked up the kids so they did not to have see a naked guy hijack their vehicle, nor did he have to hear them sing, “Hail to thee, the bus driver, the bus driver, the bus driver.”

Meanwhile from Tabriz the north to Golestan the Caspian Sea, three little letters are defining life in Iran—UFO.  State television has shown video of a sparkling white disk, not this disk but one like it, filmed over the capital city of Tehran on Tuesday night.  It also reports a bewildering variety of colors in the night sky.  Green and purple rays shooting out over some cities, red and blue ones over others.  The popular theories on the ground, those are American spaceships, those are Martians who want to take over Iran, and from the spoil sports at the Astronomical Society of Iran, those are light patterns  from the planet Venus filtered through impurities in the atmosphere. 

Yeah, right, like there‘s a planet called Venus. 

And now to the “Mr. Sprinkles Car Wash” in Springfield, Massachusetts.  A man driving by it noticed a very familiar looking car waiting in line for a cleaning.  It was his other car, a 1995 Honda Accord which had been stolen just a few hours earlier.  He called police, they were waiting for the perpetrators as they emerged from the car wash.  Arrests made for car theft and possession of 13 pounds of marijuana.  For the punch line of this story, we give full credit to the writer Peter Johnson of the “Springfield Republican.”  “Why did the thief take the stolen car to a car wash?”  he writes.  “He wanted to make a clean getaway.”

Coming up, back to the COUNTDOWN and your preview of our third story, tonight:  If you‘re the leader of the free world and you‘re thinking about going to war, who are you going to call?  Donald Rumsfeld?  Evidently not.  The secretary of defense‘s surprising admission tonight on “Hardball.” 

Then later, an old family favorite reaches the end of a long, long road.  But first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Newsmakers” of this day:

No. 3: Esteban Palafox of Stanton Island, New York.  That worst of humans, the child beater, supposedly angry because his 10-year-old son had missed three days of school, he allegedly beat him with a piece of beef jerky.  The 15 inch Slim Jim Hulk Size Stick. 

No. 2: International Billiards rivals, Quinten Hann and Mark King.  After 10 years of bitterness during World Snooker Championship, they have decided to settle all this in a boxing match.  Boys, at least use cue sticks or pieces of beef jerky. 

And No. 1: Continuing the imagery, Russia‘s first “Museum of Erotica” is opening in St. Petersburg, and its owner says the first big exhibit will feature private parts of the infamous lecherous, malodorous, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), good old Father Gregory Rasputin.  He was murdered in 1917 by members of the Imperial Family who thought he was leading them to destruction.  But, fortunately for the visitors to the Museum of Erotica, part of him was pickled.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Iraq tonight seems like a series incongruities, each one of them less likely than the last.

Trying to negotiate a peace deal in Fallujah, U.S. Marines are using Saddam Hussein‘s old generals as go-betweens.  There‘s also a report that much of the resistance in Iraq was planned in advance of his own defeat by Saddam.  And just to round it out, the secretary of defense told MSNBC‘s Chris Matthews tonight that it‘s true the president never really asked him whether or not this country should go to war in Iraq. 

The third story on the COUNTDOWN, the Iraq war now, then, and before it even began.  On the ground, the news is as grim as it has been in weeks.  In a southern Baghdad suburb, eight U.S. soldiers were killed today and four more wounded.  As they searched for roadside bombs, a suicide bomber in a station wagon detonated his charges.  Another soldier died in the city when his convoy was hit by insurgents firing rocket-propelled grenades.  And a 10th trooper was killed when a roadside bomb went off in the town of Baquba.

As of today, 533 American soldiers have died from hostile fire in Iraq, 100 of them in April. 

Now to the unlikely horse trading in Fallujah.  Marines who had been expected to try to take the city by storm are instead trying to talk their way to an end in hostilities, with mixed results.  They have been speaking with four Saddam Hussein‘s former commanders who have made an offer they say will restore calm to that city: let them create a 1,000-man Iraqi militia for Fallujah so they can work out agreement with the insurgents who killed American contractors and soldiers, even giving some of them jobs with the new militia.

The Marines were for it until the Pentagon pulled them up short, accusing local commanders of freelancing a deal that had not been approved.  An airstrike by three Marine F-18 Hornets followed all this, along with more clashing on the ground. 

Back here, however, there were no clashes between the president and the secretary of defense about going into this war, nor, evidently, between the truth and Bob Woodward‘s account of how, other than National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, President Bush felt he did not need to ask any of the principles, including Donald Rumsfeld, about whether or not this country should go to war. 

Here on MSNBC tonight, Rumsfeld with a surprising answer on “HARDBALL” when Chris Matthews asked him about Woodward‘s version, asked him if the president had ever asked him, should we go to war in Iraq?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “HARDBALL”)

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  he did not ask me, is the question.  And to my knowledge, there are any number of people he did not ask.

(CROSSTALK)

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Does that surprise you, as secretary of defense?

RUMSFELD:  Well, I thought it was interesting.  He clearly asked us, “Could we win?”  And I said, obviously, that the military are sure that they can prevail in that conflict, in terms of the changing of regime.

He asked if they had everything they needed.  He must have asked 5,000 questions over a period of a year about this, that and the other things.  What could go wrong?  What about a humanitarian crisis?  What about an environmental crisis?  What about internally displaced people?  What about a fortress Baghdad?  Thousands of questions along those lines. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  And tonight Secretary Rumsfeld added that had the question was not really necessary.  The president‘s point was—quote—“He said I knew where Rumsfeld was,” so he did not have to. 

Just one of a series of startlers about Iraq tonight. 

Let‘s get reaction from the former commander of the 24th I.D. in the Gulf War, now MSNBC military and national security analyst General Barry McCaffrey.  Thanks again for your time, sir. 

RET. GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, NBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Good to be with you. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, goodness, I got Secretary Rumsfeld‘s point about how Mr. Bush knew where Mr. Rumsfeld was.  But doesn‘t the act of taking this country to war at least require the military-end members of the Cabinet to sit around a table at least once and maybe as a formality raise their hands and say, yes, I‘m in favor of this? 

MCCAFFREY:  Keith, I have a sense of total disbelief about the entire assertion. 

I cannot understand how we could possibly have not had the most senior levels of the Cabinet personally solicited on their advice.  I actually think it must have happened.  They must be dissembling by saying there was not a narrow signing up for the war, yes or no.  But I simply don‘t believe the president would have not consulted carefully with his most senior advisers. 

OLBERMANN:  So I think, in some senses, that‘s what Rumsfeld was saying, that there were 5,000 questions and they were all asked for particular details.  But there was never the proverbial head count. 

MCCAFFREY:  Well, again, I think this is careful selection of words.  I don‘t believe that the president of the United States didn‘t ask the secretary of defense, the secretary of state, and others, do you think this is something that will achieve our objectives?  Do you agree with what I‘m doing?  What do you think, Don?  I don‘t believe it. 

OLBERMANN:  As we said, it‘s been a day of...

MCCAFFREY:  It would be worse if I did believe it, I might add.  If did I believe it, I would wonder, what‘s going on here? 

OLBERMANN:  The day was full of a lot of questions, like what‘s going on here back on the ground in Fallujah.  How did this negotiation with Saddam Hussein‘s ex-generals get started and did it hurt coalition efforts in that city? 

MCCAFFREY:  You know, it looks to me as if we‘re really making this up as we go along.  I would like to see a negotiated outcome of Fallujah.  There‘s about 10 downside risks of going into the city.  If we don‘t take down this insurgency, if we have some nonsense fig leaf, a couple of generals, 1,000 guys that are going into this big city, we‘ve lost almost a battalion‘s worth of Marine in fighting there over the last two weeks. 

I think, in a tactical sense, if we back off the city, we may constrain in a strategic sense our presence in Iraq.  The weak are despised.  Strength is admired.  This would, in my judgment, represent a fundamental misjudgment.

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, General, there was an extensive piece in “The New York Times” today about Pentagon intelligence having constructed a pretty good link between the insurgency in Iraq today, in Fallujah and in other places, and a plan that was devised by Saddam‘s secret police long before the war actually started, essentially preparing a resistance even before you lose a war. 

We‘ve heard of this before.  Obviously, there was a brilliant PBS special about six months ago about Winston Churchill putting 2,000 soldiers literally in holes in the ground in Great Britain in the event that the German had invaded there and overrun England.  But still, a preplanned resistance, is that kind of unorthodox in war? 

MCCAFFREY:  Well, first of all, I certainly wouldn‘t compare it to the British preparedness to resist Nazi invasions  This minority regime murdered 300,000 Iraqis. 

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  Just mechanically, I guess.  The comparison is mechanical or procedural. 

MCCAFFREY:  Yes, well, at the time, Keith, I said I thought there had been an audible called at the line of scrimmage to go to ground.  We went in with inadequate military power.  These people walked in with their guns, their money, their leadership.  We didn‘t get into the Sunni Muslim area for weeks after the beginning of the attack. 

Of course they set it up.  And I think there‘s been a loose coalition from the start, not a command center or a bunker underground.  But, clearly, lots of these Fedayeen, the SRG, the intelligence service went to ground and now they‘re trying to regain control of the country.  They want control of Iraq back. 

OLBERMANN:  General Barry McCaffrey, as always, sir, thanks for your time.  Thanks for joining us. 

MCCAFFREY:  Good to be with you, Keith.  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  Before we leave this disturbing topic, more disturbing picture from the ground.  They‘re disturbing in this case because they allegedly show Iraqi prisoners being mistreated by Americans.

Shown first last night on “60 Minutes II” on CBS, these picture are said to have been taken in a prison near Baghdad.  CBS says it has dozens more.  No war on record has not brought out some degree of brutalization, physical or otherwise, on every side.  Nonetheless, an investigation of all this is under way. 

And Brigadier General  Janis Karpinski, who was responsible for the prison and three others, has been suspended.  So have 17 soldiers under her command, including six military police officers who now face court-martials. 

And more controversy over ABC‘s already controversial decision to devote tomorrow‘s “Nightline” to a reading of the name of U.S. fatalities in Iraq.  The broadcast has been canceled by eight ABC affiliates that happened to be owned by a company with a history of heavy donations to the campaigns of President Bush and other Republicans.  The memorial edition of “Nightline” will not be carried by the eight ABC affiliates owned by Sinclair Broadcasting Group. 

The nonpartisan Center For Responsive Politics says Sinclair executives have given more $16,000 in hard money, more than $120,000 in soft money to Mr. Bush and other Republicans since 2000 and nothing to any Democrats.  Ted Koppel is to read the names and show the faces of more than 500 dead American service personnel, but not on the Sinclair ABC stations, which include the ones in Saint Louis and Columbus, Ohio.  A Sinclair Group spokesman said that is—quote—“contrary to the public interest.”

That concludes the third story on the COUNTDOWN.  No. 2, next, like to smoke in the car?  Got kids?  Might want to think about avoiding California.  And later, “American Idol” has been accused of a lot of things, sarcasm, fetishism, even cretinism.  But racism? 

Still ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Few agree it‘s a good thing to light up if there are kids in the backseat of your car, but is it up to the government to force you to stub it out? 

Our second story on the COUNTDOWN is next.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  When in New York City you could still smoke a cigar in an office filled with women and enclosed by sealed windows, the state of California already had laws against smoking in the workplace.  It was the first to pass regulation against smoking at bars and at restaurants.  There are some laws there about smoking at the beach.

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, there soon may be another California ordinance that bans people from smoking in their own cars, specifically assembly bill No. 2997, which states: “A person shall not smoke a pipe, cigar, or cigarette in a vehicle in which there is a driver or passenger who is 18 years of age or less.”

In other words, not all cars, just those with kids in them.  So could possibly argue with that?

Apparently, John Hargrave.  He is an Internet humorist and the editor of Zug.com, self-described as the world‘s only comedy site.

Mr. Hargrave, good evening.

JOHN HARGRAVE, ZUG.COM:  Hi, Keith.  How are you?

OLBERMANN:  Not bad.  But, as I flash back as a former child myself, my queasiest memories are of riding in a car, windows closed, the driver, not one of my parents, but one of my parents friends, smoking like a chimney.

Why shouldn‘t that be illegal?

HARGRAVE:  Well, I‘ve been a passionate defender of smokers rights for the last nine years, Zug.com, Z-U-G.com.

OLBERMANN:  Thank you for the plug.

HARGRAVE:  Yes.  And it started out when I saw my co-workers outside in the cold in the hail and sleet, kind of standing over an open sewer grate huddled together for warmth trying to take a drag off a cigarette.  And, Keith, that‘s just wrong.  I think that‘s unfair to the smoker.  And what they‘re doing in California right now I feel is honestly a violation of our civil liberties.

OLBERMANN:  But you feel this way in a rather—you come at it from rather left field here.  You don‘t smoke, but you describe yourself as an advocate for smokers rights?

HARGRAVE:  That‘s correct.  And like you, I had smoking experiences growing up.  My father smoked.  My grandmother smoked.  It was kind of a family tradition in my household.  And aside from growing up with chronic asthma, I‘m perfectly healthy today.

OLBERMANN:  See.  Exactly. 

And you‘ve—so you‘ve never smoked? 

HARGRAVE:  No.  Do not smoke cigarettes, no. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, I smoke pipes occasionally, cigars.  I can go 12 hours.  I can go 24 without nicotine, longer.  Why can‘t parents hold off until the kid is out of the car?  I mean, there is some indication that smoking parents do lead on occasion at least to smoking children.  And I don‘t mean because they‘re in flames. 

HARGRAVE:  Right.  Do you have kids, Keith? 

OLBERMANN:  No, not yet. 

(CROSSTALK)

HARGRAVE:  If you have ever had the joy of taking a long-distance road trip with five screaming kids, you can‘t wait. 

OLBERMANN:  Right.  Well, don‘t you pull over and throw them out? 

(LAUGHTER)

HARGRAVE:  I suppose maybe they will be enacting legislation against that next, too. 

OLBERMANN:  Oh, they probably already have that one on the thing here. 

HARGRAVE:  Yes.  Right.  Throwing children from a moving vehicle I‘m pretty sure is against some law. 

OLBERMANN:  But one of the arguments about this is that this is something that we should encourage people not to do out of respect for the kids and their health.  But it occurs to me that no driver does anything in this country except out of fear of getting caught. 

If there were not laws, nobody would stop at an intersection.  They would be driving up on the sidewalk.  Maybe what we‘re talking about here is not restricting the rights of smokers, but maybe we‘re restricting the driver‘s desire to drive everywhere at whatever speed they want. 

HARGRAVE:  Well, you may be right.  I don‘t know if it‘s the smokers rights, the drivers rights, but I feel that it‘s our rights as Americans.

And, you know, what‘s going to be next?  Are they going to make belching in front of kids illegal?  Because if they come out with some kind of study that says that secondhand intestinal gas is dangerous for the kids, my own child will be taken from me, because I am very gassy. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, you are opening up an entirely new can of worms that we do not—or can of beans that we don‘t have time for. 

HARGRAVE:  Right. 

(LAUGHTER)

HARGRAVE:  I eat a lot of cheese, also. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  Humorist John Hargrave.

As the late comedian Bill Hicks used to say, remember this, nonsmokers:  Nonsmokers die every day. 

Thanks for your time today, sir. 

HARGRAVE:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  From smoke gets in the mirrors while driving to smoke gets in your eyes and other gauzy musical equivalents of the silly celebrity and gossip news we bring you each night under the title “Keeping Tabs.” 

We begin with “American Idol.”  All right, this is a show about singing.  So perhaps the cries of it being rigged, being racist, can they be put to rest now?  A record number of viewers called in and voted, and the young man who became public enemy No. 1, out of 28 million votes, John Stevens, was finally voted out of the program. 

The red-headed 16-year-old drew the ire of millions last week when he got more votes than each of the three divas who had been favored by the judges.  But after his performance this week, Simon Cowell offered this critique.  “It was like chocolate ice cream and an onion.”  Well, that‘s better than Simon, who‘s just like an onion. 

A newspaper ran the headline, “Could This Guy Kill American Idol?”  hypothesizing that if Stevens would have won, the show would have been canceled.  Can we have both, please?

Speaking of franchises about to go belly up, how about the Hollywood Walk of Fame?  Once, one of three criteria needed to be met, great talent, great career longevity, or just great age.  Apparently, you can go 0 for 3 and still get your own star on the walk of fame.  Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, still weeks from their 18th birthday, are now immortalized outside the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood.  They are the first twins to get a star, a single star, this despite the efforts of their publicist, who has been asking the media to stop referring to the pair as the Olsen twins and instead start calling them Mary-Kate and Ashley.

Five more words are required here.  Don‘t necessarily curb your dog. 

Television‘s only 57-year-old overnight success is getting married again. 

The property mogul just proposed to long-term girlfriend Melania Knauss.  For Donald Trump, first an Ivana, then a divorce, then a Marla, then a divorce.  Now Melania. 

Trump says the wedding date will be in a—quote—“not too long period of time.”  No truth to rumors she gets six weeks to get him more business or he tells her, you‘re fired. 

And in the spirit of the Donald, we‘d like to take this opportunity to bring on a little bit of shameless self-promotion.  Switch on “Last Call With Carson Daly” tonight after “Conan O‘Brien” on your local NBC station and you‘ll see his special guests, Lorraine Bracco, me, and Carson‘s own wisdom tooth removed from his own mouth just before airtime.  I‘m afraid the tooth was the most interesting of his guests.  Be there.  Aloha.

Tonight‘s top story, driving off the road and into the history books next.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It was one of the most popular songs of 1905.  In a time when the sales of sheet music determined such things, it was, in fact, so popular that it was still in the top 20 in 1906 in Brazil.  “Come away with me, Lucille, in my merry Oldsmobile.”  When Teddy Roosevelt was president, an Oldsmobile could be merry, but today, all it apparently can be is old. 

Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, 107 years of automaking is over. 

They have manufactured the last of the Oldsmobiles. 

As you watch this report from our correspondent Kevin Tibbles, consider this.  If you own an Olds, as of this afternoon, it just became a classic car. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEVIN TIBBLES, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Harry Patterson (ph) of Cincinnati is a car lover.  And his passion, the Oldsmobile. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s a 1973 Delta 88 Royale. 

TIBBLES:  Going back 40 years, he‘s had five Oldsmobiles.  He currently owns four.  But today, his collection became history. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It was handsome looking.  It had sleek lines on it.  It was a very clean vehicle.  It dressed up nicely.  It looked nice with the top down. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing):  In my merry Oldsmobile.

TIBBLES:  One hundred seven years after the first Olds, today, in Lansing, Michigan, G.M. rolled out the last copy of the last model, the Alero.  Named for its founder, Ransom E. Olds, the brand was soon dogged by its name, old. 

ANNOUNCER:  The young mobiles from Oldsmobile. 

TIBBLES (on camera):  The car that had so much muscle in the ‘60s and ‘70s eventually lost its traction with consumers.  Surpassed by both imports and other manufacturers in both style and appeal. 

(voice-over):  Story Oldsmobile of Lansing was there for the good times, the glory years. 

LEO JEROME, STORY AUTOMOTIVE GROUP:  You went to a country club, you didn‘t drive a Cadillac.  You didn‘t drive a Lincoln.  You drove an Oldsmobile. 

TIBBLES:  But cars like the 442, Delta 88 and Toronado quickly became a thing of the past.  By the ‘80s, Oldsmobile‘ image became stodgy. 

The response? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing):  This is not your father‘s Oldsmobile.

TIBBLES:  And no advertising campaign could save it. 

Billy Sliecker (ph) worked in the Lansing plant for 50 years. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The memories the people who got of the Olds will still always be there. 

TIBBLES:  Gone the way of the Studebaker, Packard, DeSoto, the last Olds will come to rest a few miles from the plant at the Oldsmobile Museum. 

And for Harry Patterson. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Driving that car in the open air, until you experience it, there‘s no way to describe it, especially when you‘ve got a nice girl sitting next to you by your side. 

TIBBLES:  A love affair for more than a century, heading down the highway to history. 

Kevin Tibbles, NBC News, Chicago.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And it matched his hat. 

Before we leave our No. 1 story and Oldsmobile, one more thing you need to know.  It‘s COUNTDOWN‘s favorite Oldsmobile of all time, the 1921 Touring Car discovered in the back of a feed store in Fontana, California, then made into a star in the opening segment of “The Beverly Hillbillies,” black gold, Olds, that is.

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

No. 5, conversation with the commission.  The president and the vice president spent three hours meeting privately with 9/11 commissioners inside the Oval Office.  Sources say the president stuck to his premise that he received no specific threat information in an August 6 briefing on al Qaeda in 2001.  Four, the official and unofficial memorials to World War II.  The war memorial opens and so do memories about the rehearsal for D-Day, so secret that survivors could not talk about the 749 American fatalities. 

Three, the current war in Iraq, the secretary of defense confirming to Chris Matthews that he was never asked for his advice about whether or not to go or no-go on the war against Saddam Hussein.  Two, banning smoking in your car with your kids in your car, California legislators considering a law that would make it illegal to light up if you‘re riding in a car with your kids.  And No. 1, goodbye, Olds friend.  The 107-year-old brand is now history.  The last Oldsmobile ever rolls off the production line. 

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

Good night and good luck. 

END   

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