updated 5/24/2004 11:05:06 AM ET 2004-05-24T15:05:06

Guests: George Mitchell, Asa Hutchinson, Gary Gerstenfeld, Herbert Goldstein, Will Durst

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

Now the appalling pictures move among still more new images from Abu Ghraib Prison—videos.  Have we seen too much or not enough? 

The FBI tells law enforcement agencies what to look for in potential suicide bombers.  Just an ordinary checklist or are they worried about something?  We will ask the undersecretary of Homeland Security, Asa Hutchinson. 

You know gas prices are incredibly high.  What you don‘t know is that some gas stations have lost the ability to count that high. 

And this is the latest hot bed of presidential campaign activity? 

Putting the action back into the Political Action Committee. 

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  Now, here come the videos.  Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, tonight:  There is yet another wave of disturbing images from Abu Ghraib Prison.  They are distinguished this time by their depravity and by the fact that some of them move, thus providing a context that something of a play-by-play of the interrogation techniques involved.  They are being seen against the backdrop of the news that the Pentagon is investigating eight more possible—possible homicides of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan.  First, though, Jim Miklaszewski from the Pentagon with the latest grim evidence—Jim.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, tonight the Pentagon announced its investigation of the deaths of 37 prisoners killed in U.S.  custody in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Even as more photos, and now videos, of prisoner abuse have emerged. 

(voice-over):  The digital videos provide a shocking new dimension to the torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib Prison.  First obtained by the “Washington Post,” the videos show Army Specialist Charles Graner strike a naked prisoner then drag another across the floor.  Graner, described as the ringleader of the abusive military guards, methodically movers one naked prisoner into position to provide the foundation for the human pyramid seen in previously released photos.  Hyder Saber Ahmed (ph) was one of those prisoners seen in the photos. 

He said he was stripped naked, beaten for hours, and feared he would die from the torture.  New still photos show a sadistic pattern of abuse and humiliation.  A naked prisoner cuffed at the anxious and covered in feces, others hooded and handcuffed, some in painful stress positions, a well-known technique used to soften up prisoners for aggressive interrogations. 

In statements to investigators, Iraqi prisoners claim they were sexually fondled by female guards, forced to eat food out of toilets, and witnessed a U.S. translator rape a young boy. 

Pentagon sources tell NBC News, Colonel Thomas Pappas, in charge of military intelligence and interrogations at Abu Ghraib, will likely face criminal charges.  And that M.P.  Commander Brigadier General Janice Karpinski is expected to receive disciplinary action next week. 

But critics claim the ultimate responsibility goes all the way to the top, including secretary Rumsfeld, who approved more aggressive tactics for interrogations. 

SCOTT HORTON, INTL. LEAGUE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS:  All the checks that existed on the conduct of the interrogators were being removed. 

MIKLASZEWSKI:  Today, the U.S. released more than 450 prisoners from Abu Ghraib, with plans to release 2,000 more, soon. 

(on camera):  And tonight the Justice Department announced the first criminal investigation of a civilian contractor for alleged prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib—Keith.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Jim Miklaszewski, at the Pentagon.  Many thanks. 

While the off the record line from the State Department tonight, is that everybody knew more photos were coming and that the country‘s reputation could now only be affected by how the military justice system prosecutes the guilty, that is not what the head of the State Department said in the aftermath of the latest photos dump.  Secretary of State Colin Powell appearing on the syndicated radio program of our former colleague, Laura Ingram, credited the media with showing the initial photos and revealing how bad things were at the prison, but then wondered if enough was not now, enough. 

He said:  “I don‘t know that we need to keep drumbeating in every single day now because they have hundreds of photos.  What more do we need to know about this tragic situation?  Let‘s get on with it and let‘s get back to fighting the war.”  End quote.

Few are better versed to suggest what we should do next, than a veteran of both international diplomacy and the U.S. Senate.  Former Maine Senator George Mitchell, a key broker in peace talks in Northern Ireland and Middle East, joins us from New York. 

Senator Mitchell, good evening.

GEORGE MITCHELL (D), FMR. U.S. SENATOR, ME:  Thanks Keith, good to be here.

OLBERMANN:  So, have too many photographs been released for the overall good, or too few? 

MITCHELL:  One of the consequences of having a free press is that you don‘t get to dictate how many are released or not released.  I think that the administration‘s problem is it wants two things and they‘re really mutually exclusive.  On the one hand, no more release of photos, on the other they‘d like the issue to either go away or at least get off the front pages.  And as long as there are photos out there, as long as you have a vigorous competitive free press, that‘s going to be seeking out more photos and publishing more photos, it‘s not going to get off the front page. 

OLBERMANN:  Is there a right or a wrong on this, if all things were equal, is the government making the mistake by not getting it over with, not simply getting all of the remaining photographs out?  Or is the media wrong for, as you say, competing with this story? 

MITCHELL:  Well, it‘s impossible for someone like me, who has not seen the photos, to be able to make a judgment on that, but I think the reality of the situation is that if these photos exist they are going to get out, that‘s already happened, we have seen that.  The “Washington Post” has published some more, they say they have dozens more.  Inevitably other news organizations will ferret them out or somehow they‘ll come to them and they will be leaked out, dribbled over time.  I think that all news organizations have an obligation to make a judgment on each photo and on each video.  There may well be photos which add to further public knowledge of it, on the other hand there may be some which don‘t add anything, they‘re merely cumulative and which may have a shock value that suggests they shouldn‘t be printed. 

OLBERMANN:  If it is agreed that internationally, and especially in the Arab world, that these images are incredibly damaging to at least U.S.  prestige, and their provocative, obviously, is there any validity to the argument that more of them becoming available internationally keeps that wound open, or can that wound not get any more open than it already is? 

MITCHELL:  There is, of course, some validity to the argument, but the problem is it is used all the time and doesn‘t work in democratic societies.  We have an open society and we have a completely free and vigorous press.  There are downsides to that, but the benefit of it far outweighs the downside, and so what we are seeing is a situation that is easily predictable and that, I think, is not going to be cured by appeals to people not to do things.  In every war we have been in, there have been these appeals made.  In every difficult situation that any administration finds itself in, that—has argued and will argue that publication of information or photos or videos will make things worse, and there‘s some truth to it.  But, the consequence is, I think, that they are going to get out, they are going be released and, I think, the administration, at some point, will have to make a decision that the only way to move off this is to make everything public and try to move from there. 

OLBERMANN:  How would making everything public impact in Iraq, in the Middle East?  Is that the right decision there, in addition to being, in your opinion, the right decision here? 

MITCHELL:  Well, I don‘t know that it‘s the right decision anywhere.  It‘s going to have an adverse consequence.  But, there‘s no alternative which doesn‘t have an adverse consequence.  If the pictures dribble out over time, it‘s the same information being released only over a longer period of time.  Is that a good situation?  The problem here that the administration faces is that there is no good choice.  There is no alternative.  You can‘t keep this stuff bottled up forever, that‘s just the nature of a competitive, vigorous free press.  And as a consequence, we‘re going to be hurt badly in the Arab world and really, not just the Arab world, the Muslim world and beyond.  Remember Keith, only about one out of every five Muslims is an Arab, most Muslims are not Arabs, but in the rest of the world, as well, this hurts us and is going to continue to hurt us.  The question is how do you deal with it?  And I do think that the only effective way is through an open, transparent, and vigorous prosecution of those responsible, thorough investigations that demonstrate to people that the American system of justice is the true corrective in all of these situations. 

OLBERMANN:  The former senator from Maine, George Mitchell.  Many thanks for your perspective and your time tonight, sir. 

MITCHELL:  Thanks for having me, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Continuing the fifth story with the developments pertaining to another image from this war and new details about who may have and who may not have killed Nicholas Berg.  A spokesman for coalition forces announcing today, that four people have been detained in connection with the murder of the 26-year-old Philadelphia-area man.  Two of them have been released, but military officials telling NBC News that the people in custody are not believed to be Berg‘s killers, instead they are identified as members of a group that abducted Berg and then sold him to another group -- a group presumably associated with the Jordanian-born terrorist Abu al-Zarqawi. 

But, if that is not complicated enough, the “Associated Press” has also linked one of Saddam Hussein‘s nephews to the arrested men, although exactly what his role might have been remains unclear.  Which takes the fifth story to terror in this country. 

In a moment, the undersecretary of Homeland Security, Asa Hutchinson, will join us to, we hope, provide some perspective to these developments.  They start with the scare. 

The FBI‘s weekly classified intelligence bulletin to law enforcement agencies, warns them again to be alert to the possibility of suicide bombers within the U.S. The usually clues are underscored, people wearing heavy clothing on warm days, people who smell of chemicals, people who have wires trailing from their jackets. 

“Time” magazine reported the latest internal warning and also reported that there was no hard evidence suggesting anything eminent. 

On the other hand, two of the Amtrak high speed trains from New York to Washington, the Acela‘s were stopped en route last night and inspected by police with bomb sniffing dogs.  An Amtrak spokesman says an anonymous caller phoned in a threat.  The trains were delayed for about a half hour each, one near Philadelphia‘s 30th Street Station, one near the stop at Baltimore Washington International Airport.  Nothing was found on either train. 

More train worries in New York.  The transit authority there has proposed banning photography in the subways.  It is a staple of the behavior of tourists, but they fear it could become a means of information gathering by terrorists.  The New York Civil Liberties Union says a blanket ban on taking snapshots in the subway is quote, “grossly excessive.” 

And in a development from the most tragic and most realized fears about trains, Madrid‘s 311 atrocities.  The Oregon attorney arrested two weeks back after fingerprints of his were supposedly found on a bag of detonating charges in Spain has now been released.  Spanish officials now say those were not Brandon Mayfield‘s prints. 

A lot going on.  As promised we‘re joined by the undersecretary of Homeland Security, Asa Hutchinson. 

Mr. Secretary, good evening.  Thanks for your time.

ASA HUTCHINSON, HOMELAND SECURITY, UNDERSECRETARY:  Good to be with you. 

OLBERMANN:  Can you comment on the magazine report about the suicide bombing briefing?  Is that standard stuff or was there something specific involved? 

HUTCHINSON:  Well, it‘s too law enforcement to be alert, primarily, based upon historical reporting and on what we see overseas, as a method of terrorist operation, and so this is something that law enforcement should be alert about, be educated upon.  But it‘s not something that should alarm the public, just a precautionary method that we take. 

OLBERMANN:  As we said, there are a number of things going on on this subject, tonight.  The two Amtrak trains that were stopped and searched last night, obviously anything on the northeast corridor route raises a red flag, since those trains go through Penn Station, right underneath where the Republican Convention opens 100 days from now.  Do we know what that was? 

HUTCHINSON:  Well, we‘re still looking that that, but it certainly illustrates the fact that we are looking very closely at the safety of the tracks, the Department of Transportation, as well as, the rail line officials themselves.  We do look at this both from what happening there, but also trying to relate the information to other things we have, so it‘s something that should not have been there, we‘re trying to get to the bottom of it. 

OLBERMANN:  About the proposal in New York City revealed today about banning photography in and on the city subway to, in theory at least, keep terrorists from casing those subways.  Is that, as its critics have charged, too much?  Is that over the top or that something that a good argument can be made for? 

HUTCHINSON:  Well, you can certainly make a good argument for it.  This is an example of the flexibility that the local transit system should have.  New York City understands their system, what the security measures are in place and what their citizens need.  So, we respect that decision.  What we have done, of course, is set some federal standards for security, looking at some of the best practices that we have around the country. 

OLBERMANN:  And about, finally, the release of Mr. Mayfield in connection with the Madrid atrocities, he‘s a Muslim, he was arrested because of a fingerprint match.  Now, it turns out that was not a fingerprint match.  And I know that this was the FBI‘s case and not your department, but when people have worries about counterterrorism measures, is this not exactly the scenario that they worry about?  How do you reassure them that the civil rights and the safety of the homeland can be balanced when something like this happens? 

HUTCHINSON:  Well, because you have processes in place.  He was in the United States.  There‘s the due process requirements that are in place.  You have judge supervision of these matters.  And, you know, in this particular case, which if is an FBI case and I don‘t follow all of specifics of it, but precautionary methods—measures were taken.  It was a matter under investigation, still under review, and the process, the court system, will continue to review it. 

OLBERMANN:  Asa Hutchinson, the undersecretary of the Department of Homeland Security.  Great thanks again for your time tonight, sir. 

HUTCHINSON:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  And to close the fifth story on a much needed lighter note:  Talk about terror weapons, documents unsealed today in London revealing that toward the Second World War the British were thinking of unleashing kamikaze pigeons.  A thousand pigeons each with a two-ounce explosive capsule landed at intervals on a specific target might be a seriously inconvenient surprise.  So wrote a Royal Air Royal wing commander, at the time.  The so-called pigeon committee was thinking the birds could drop munitions or even biological weapons.  They evidentially were not thinking that pigeons have this annoying habit of flying away and then flying home. 

COUNTDOWN opening with the war on terror from Iraq to Homeland Security to history.

Straight ahead, the road to the democratic nomination might take a little longer than we all thought.  Why would he offer his party‘s nomination, John Kerry may say, “give me five weeks to think about this.” 

And later, the growing mystery around little “Courtney” or little Akasha.  Last night we told you about the news that her mother has found, now a man has come forward claiming to be the girl‘s father.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Our No. 4 story is next.  The dog days of summer may not see John Kerry‘s democratic coronation go exactly as expected or when expected, in today‘s politicians as your favorite pooches.  This no joke.  Which is the pit bull, the question is, and which is the beagle?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It was in 1884 that the Civil War hero, General William Tecumseh Sherman, shooed away republicans urging him to seek the presidency by sending his famous terse acerbic telegram that read:  “If nominated I will not accept, if selected I will not serve.”

Our fourth story in the COUNTDOWN, tonight:  120 years later an odd update from the presumptive democratic nominee for the White House.  John Kerry saying, in effect, if nominated I will not accept until I get all the funds I need to get elected.  The Kerry campaign confirming that he is considering not formally accepting the nomination at the convention in Boston this July.  Not that he‘s having second thoughts about running—put your Hillary Clinton conspiracies away, thank you.  It‘s because the moment Kerry officially accepts the nomination his campaign spending will be limited to the $75 million handed to him and President Bush equally under the federal campaign funding acts.  Once you are the nominee, you can not raise private funds nor spend your own.  The Republican Convention ends five weeks after the Democratic one does, thus giving Mr. Bush‘s supporters that much more time to pony up. 

“We are looking at this and weighed other options very seriously,” Kerry‘s spokeswoman, Stephanie Cutter told the “Associated Press,” “because we won‘t fight with one hand behind our back.”

As if you needed any, that logistical slight of hand provides further evidence that politics today is a dog-eat-dog world.  Two people have now taken that expression seriously and literally.  One is Jeannette Wright, a Texas author who has written a book called “Men are Dogs: A Women‘s Guide to Choosing Her Breed of Man.”  The other is our correspondent, Bob Faw, who contributed to tonight‘s forth story by getting Ms. Wright to apply her analogies to the White House. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BOB FAW, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  “If you want a friend in Washington,” said Harry Truman, “get a dog.”  In Plano, Texas, where she lives with her chiropractor husband, one Borzoi and a Norwegian Elk Hound, author Jeannette Wright has gone one step beyond.  She says politicians resemble dogs and not just because they need to be petted and can make terrible messes.  The president, for example, Ms. Wright sees him as an Irish Setter.

JEANNETTE WRIGHT, AUTHOR, “MEN ARE DOGS”:  He tends to be real playful and sometimes easily distracted. 

FAW:  To her, the vice president is a schnauzer. 

WRIGHT:  No nonsense, hard working kind of guy. 

FAW:  If you like German Shepherds, she says, you‘re going to love John Kerry. 

WRIGHT:  He sometimes can be accused of being somewhat aloof and distant, and German Shepherds have a tendency to be that way, so he‘s had to work hard to kind of be more outgoing with people. 

FAW:  But some of this is predictable, Ralph Nader as a Bull Terrier. 

WRIGHT:  When he grabs hold of an issue he‘s not going to let go. 

FAW:  Which makes former President Bill Clinton a Hound-man or Beagle. 

WRIGHT:  They love to chase after things, whether it‘s a domestic policy issue or women, they will go nonstop. 

FAW:  Wright won‘t say whether she‘s a Republican or Democrat and this, after all, is just one woman‘s opinion, but it‘s also another indication, if one is needed, that politics really has gone to the dogs. 

Bob Faw, NBC News, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  And, before we close the No. 4 story, out there has been an unexpected development in the investigation into the leak that disclosed the CIA career of the wife of former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.  Our colleague, Tim Russert, moderator of “Meet the Press” and the Washington bureau chief of NBC News, has received a subpoena to testify before the special grand jury investigating that leak.  Russert was not the recipient of any leaked information.

In a statement tonight, he and NBC News indicated they would fight the subpoena in federal court because of the potential chilling effect on reporting.  As the president of NBC News, Neal Shapiro said, in the statement, quote:  “The American public will be deprived of important information if the government can freely question journalists about their efforts to gather news.  Sources will simply stop speaking if they fear those conversations will become public.”

COUNTDOWN now past its No. 4 story.  Up next that time of night when COUNTDOWN throws its arms into the air and screams, “Wee!” “Oddball” up next.  Kind of cold for May, isn‘t it?  What‘s—where are their clothes?

And speaking of throwing your arms up in the air, SUV drivers disgusted with high bills at the gas pump, now sales of the popular road warriors hitting a big-time slump.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We rejoin you and we pause the COUNTDOWN now to bring you the little reminders from the world of weird news about how life is like a roller coaster—ups and downs and you scream and you‘re naked—you‘re naked?

Let‘s play Oddball.

Surrey, England, they say this is a new world‘s record, not that there was really an existing record.  Eighty-two students braving cold temperatures and pouring rain, say nothing of braving living in Surrey, depants and road Nemesis Inferno, one of the country‘s fastest roller coasters.  Despite G-forces of between four and five, it was a successful ride.  Thankfully the phrase “you must be this tall” is the only requirement to get onboard. 

In Berlin meet the W.C. Ghost talking toilet seats, being marketed to women who are fed up with their husbands‘ aim.  The gadget mounts under the seat rim and if lifted, a computer chip plays a stern female voice which announces, quote, “Hello, what are you up to, then?  Put that seat back down right away, you are not to pee standing up.  You will make a right mess.”  A million, six-hundred thousand of these have already been sold.  The manufacturer hopes to—hope to expand to Britain, Canada, and Italy.  Of course ladies, I hate to burst the bubble here, but you know, the man‘s response to this may not be to cooperate.  He might simply just wonder about the effect on a computer chip of the application of liquid forcefully applied from a short distance. 

Next, the newest stride in the battle against obesity, the DDS system from Scientific Intake.  Its makers claimed today users can lose weight simply by placing this insert in the roofs of their mouths while they eat.  See scientists have found that people take smaller bites of food if their mouth is already half filled with a big hunk of plastic.  One study showed that most patients using the device lost about a pound a week.  Unfortunately, the rest of the patients ate the device.  I just made that up, I‘m sorry.

Another “Oddball” in the record books.  Story No. 3 is up next, your preview:  Little “Courtney” or little Akasha.  First she had no parents to speak of, now there are two people fighting over her, the update up next.

And later, politics and poles.  Not the polls we usually talk to you about.  Could strip clubs be that all important swing vote in the presidential election?  All right, let me kill the suspense: the answer is no.

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

No. 3: Lawrence McMillan wanted to see his daughter.  He lived in Ireland, she in England, about a $20 flight away, so of course he tried to get there by stealing a yacht.  He can‘t sail it either, so they had to come rescue him.  He‘s been sentenced to 14 months in jail, now.  I don‘t want to think about how he might try to escape. 

No. 2: Jan Bojda head of the Children Services at the public library in Evanston and part of the board that refused to remove a kid‘s book because it contained a picture of a burglar with a gun.  She explained, “A good library collection should have something to offend everyone” like a good newscast.

And No. 1: Sebastian Gallardo and Nazareno Rodriguez they have escaped from the prison at Winifrede (PH) Argentina by unscrewing the cell door.  But before beating it, they left the guards a note apologizing for the inconvenience.  Police say the suspects are consider armed and extremely polite.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Not 48 hours ago, she was a little girl without mother or father, abandoned by one and missing the other.  Tonight, there are adults who claim to be each, who tell conflicting stories, and who have called her by different names.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, the only thing everybody agrees on now is that the abandoned 3-year-old girl really is named Akasha and not Courtney.  You will recall she unknowingly made headlines after her father left her with a woman in a Baltimore apartment complex, supposedly telling that woman he had to go get some money to rent an apartment, that he would be right back.  And three days later, he had not come back.  The woman called the authorities. 

All the little girl could tell them was that her name was Courtney, she didn‘t know her last name, she was from Brooklyn and she was Puerto Rican.  Yesterday, her mother, Patricia Harper, came forward, told authorities that the girl‘s name was Akasha, she was from Brooklyn, the Baltimore neighborhood, not the New York borough, and that she was not Hispanic, but African-American. 

She also said the father had absconded with Akasha two years ago.  Now Robert Persons has told “The New York Post” that the mother abandoned him and their daughter when Akasha was 15 months old.  He says he didn‘t abandon the girl.  He left her with a friend and was then wrongly arrested on a drug charge. 

Patricia Harper‘s attorney is Gary Gerstenfield.  He joined us last night by phone as this story changed.  He joins us again.

And thank you, again, sir for doing so.

GARY GERSTENFIELD, ATTORNEY FOR HARPER:  Well, thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  I gather that this Mr. Persons is indeed the father, but that his story is not quite as he would have the rest of us believe? 

GERSTENFIELD:  You mean in terms of being accurate? 

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

GERSTENFIELD:  He has a version.  No, it is not accurate.  I mean, he was in a crack house.  And he was arrested and charged with drug charges.  He claims he was there to get clothing for his daughter. 

OLBERMANN:  So, all right, to the other end of this and your client. 

Where are we in the custody issue with your client and the little girl? 

GERSTENFIELD:  Well, it‘s a good question.

We are starting the process now of reuniting the little girl with her mom.  She will actually meet her mother on Tuesday.  It is going to be a controlled process with social workers standing by.  And we are hopeful that it will be good. 

OLBERMANN:  So, the courts, as I understand it correctly—and you were saying this last night and the children‘s service department was saying this last night, too—they are all satisfied that your client is indeed Akasha‘s mother? 

GERSTENFIELD:  Yes.  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  So where do you go from that legally from this point? 

From getting that established, what is the legal process? 

GERSTENFIELD:  Well, simply because the Department of Social Services is satisfied that Patricia is Akasha‘s mom, that‘s not necessarily a legal determination.  That is just sort of the beginning of the process.  Ultimately, the judge is going to have to make that determination. 

So, what is happening and what we started today and what we are working on and working toward is completing all of the investigations, the home studies, all the things that need to happen in what is called a CINA case.  And that‘s what we now have.  CINA stands for child in need of assistance.  Clearly, this is a child in need of assistance. 

And so there‘s a whole process.  And it is a very good process.  What I can report to you is that the Department of Social Services is working very hard and we are at this point very satisfied with what they are doing. 

OLBERMANN:  Besides satisfaction with the process, how is Patricia Harper doing?  How does she feel now? 

GERSTENFIELD:  Well, when I told her that she would be seeing her daughter, she immediately—there was a sharp—we told her.  I was on my cell phone.  And she made this sharp noise like some kind of scream and then started crying. 

Now, she just had a beautiful baby three weeks old now.  And so she told me that it almost feels likes she is having a second child all over again.  So she is thrilled beyond imagination. 

OLBERMANN:  Goodness.

Gary Gerstenfield, the attorney for Patricia Harper, once again, thanks you for your time, sir.

GERSTENFIELD:  Sure.

OLBERMANN:  As he mentioned last night, the legal intricacies of this case may be much easier to resolve than the emotional ones.  Robert Persons is basically the only parent this little girl has known. 

If you will recall this case of Kimberly Mays, the girl who learned at age 9 that the mother and father who raised her were not her biological parents, she had been switched at birth with another baby girl who later died of a disease.

Dr. Herbert Goldstein was the court-appointed psychologist in that case.  And he joins us once again here to talk about yet another child put in yet another impossible position. 

Dr. Goldstein, thanks for your time.

DR. HERBERT GOLDSTEIN, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST:  Thank you for asking. 

OLBERMANN:  Is it that?  Is it an impossible situation for this little girl? 

GOLDSTEIN:  Well, it is a very, very confusing situation for the little girl.  The man who she has known as her only parent apparently is now being labeled a kidnapper.  She is about to meet her mother, who she has never known before because she was too young as an infant.  She will have no memory of her mother. 

And the entire issue of bonding and relationship and trust certainly has the possession of being compromised with this little girl at this time. 

OLBERMANN:  Two things that adults probably look at in this situation that would seem at first blush to mean a lot to us and I gather don‘t really mean that much, one being that the little girl kept saying she missed her mommy.  Well, obviously, she didn‘t really know her mommy.  And the other being the name thing, Akasha or Courtney. 

I gather that is not that big a deal, as it turns out. 

GOLDSTEIN:  Well, it is a little bit hard to know in any particular case.

But children refer to mommy.  A significant female figure is called mommy.  And if you know that a child will sometimes call a neighbor mommy, will sometimes call an aunt mommy, a young child.  And so, that really doesn‘t mean mother in a biological or certainly a legal sense.  When it comes to names, I sort of have to chuckle because was she called Courtney by her father?  Was she called Courtney by herself?  I have a 3 ½, 4-year-old granddaughter who went for weeks insisting that her name was George.

And that was George who was Stuart Little‘s brother.  And she wouldn‘t respond to anything but George.  And, by the way, right now, she is Dora.  So this is a perfectly normal 3 ½, 4-year-old child who obviously has a number of different names other than hers, Sophie (ph). 

OLBERMANN:  Hopefully, it is as easy, the rest of it for Akasha as easy as perhaps dealing with the name situation will be.

Dr. Herbert Goldstein, the psychologist who treated Kimberly Mays, we thank you again for  your time, sir.

GOLDSTEIN:  Thank you very much.

OLBERMANN:  Wrapping up No. 3 on the COUNTDOWN, a case of Akasha. 

Up next, the untold story of high gas prices, a numerical crisis at the pumps.  It would ordinarily be our second story straight ahead, but it isn‘t really.  We‘ll explain that.

Later, lying at Martha Stewart‘s trial for lying. 

That ahead, but, first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”) 

MIKE MYERS, ACTOR:  Antonio Banderas.  He makes anything interesting because he will tell a story and go, Mike, yesterday, I had this sandwich.  Let me ask you, have you ever had the marshmallows?  They are quite profound. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The good news about being president is, you can say what you think.  And the bad news is, no one cares anymore.  So—but I can do that.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Some in this class are graduating with honors.  Others may have spent a little less time in the library.  But you earned your degrees.  And you too can leave today with high hopes.  I speak with some authority here.

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH:  I‘ve seen how things can work out pretty well for a C student. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You the man!

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Still ahead, a void in the COUNTDOWN due the spike of the price of gas.  We‘ll explain that in a moment, maybe.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

OLBERMANN:  Our second story on the COUNTDOWN, Well, this just in, there will be no second story on the COUNTDOWN.  That‘s because we have run out of the No. 2.  It is on loan to the Texaco down the street. 

Now that the average price of a gallon of gas has officially past the $2 mark, gas stations across the country are actually reporting a shortage of those plastic No. 2‘s to put above the pumps, literally.  It is a sign of the items that is a few digits shy of being complete, gas stations borrowing, begging and ordering new twos as fast they can.  And while they are at it, maybe they might want to stock up on a few threes, all of which may finally drive a wedge between those oldest and most passionate of highway lovers, the affluent and their SUVs.

What size and horsepower have brought together, let no oil man rend asunder, except, as Robert Hager reports, when feeling up your SUV requires filling out the paperwork for a second loan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERT HAGER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  After a decade or more of dominance, could there be strains in America‘s love affair with big SUVs like these or pickups?  Could the price of gas spiraling higher every day finally be taking a toll? 

(voice-over):  Sales of SUVs were off lost month, some say 5 percent, some say 15 percent, especially the big ones like Ford Expeditions or Chevrolet Suburbans.  GM has even had to offer its first incentives ever for the huge Hummer H2.  Is it higher fuel prices?  Some drivers sure are complaining, like Oscar Ventura in California.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It is about $50 a week.  So I can‘t afford it. 

I‘m going to sell it and I‘m going to buy a four cylinder. 

HAGER:  Paul Roberts (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Definitely, if I had to buy another car right now, it would definitely be an economy car.  Definitely.  Maybe a Honda or something. 

HAGER:  But automakers say it is premature to write an end to the heyday of the big SUVs and others note that, for some time, action has been shifting to smaller so-called crossover SUVs. 

National Automobile Dealers Association economist Paul Taylor. 

PAUL TAYLOR, ECONOMIST:  Well, they are buying the crossover utility vehicles, such as the Ford Escape and the Toyota Highlander, the Toyota RAV4, the Buick Rendezvous.

HAGER:  Meantime, there‘s also a lot of interest in economical hybrid gas-electric vehicles, ford‘s planned new version of its Escape and the Toyota Prius. 

(on camera):  So, with no relief in sight from high gas prices, some feel the next few months are going to be crucial in determining what is going on with a lot at stake for U.S. automakers, who depend on SUVs and pickups for 60 percent of profits. 

Robert Hager, NBC News, Rockville, Maryland.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  From the high price of gas to the high price of lying about ink.  It is a bizarre story that kicks off our celebrity news gossip and accused perjury segment, “Keeping Tabs.” 

Somebody may have fibbed during the trial of the high doyen of household hints.  Prosecutors insist it will leave them more liable to having Martha Stewart‘s conviction overturned.  But today, they have accused Secret Service ink expert Larry Stewart, no relation to Martha, as having made eight false statements at the trial.  He had testified about whether two parts of the same worksheet covering Stewart‘s sale of ImClone stock had been written in the same ink or in two different inks. 

And the most famous beard in recent sports history is now history.  Johnny Damon, center fielder of the Boston Red Sox, had gotten so hairy that—well, listen to the greatest of the baseball announcers, Vin Scully, as he describes to his L.A. Dodgers viewers just how hairy Damon was. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

VIN SCULLY, SPORTSCASTER:  Have you seen pictures of Johnny Damon in the papers, Red Sox outfielder, 2-0.  Holy mackerel.  I‘ll tell you who he reminds me of, only me now, Charles Manson.  How would you like to have somebody say you look like Charles Manson?  I got his bubblegum card, right?  Gee whiz.  Oh, well. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Charles Manson. 

Damon, nicknamed “Caveman” because of the season‘s new beard, got it all shaved off this afternoon before 1,000 Boston fans as part of a publicity stunt for a razor company.  He got paid 15 grand which went to two children‘s charities.  While his fans, who call themselves Damon‘s disciples, wonder what to do now—that was a quick shave—Boston authorities are telling residents that with all that hair they should expect that all their drains will now run slow for the next two months. 

And we would like to correct a COUNTDOWN error.  A week ago tonight, we reported on the birth of the first grandchild of MSNBC Network President Rick Kaplan.  We inadvertently showed this picture and identified it as the newborn, Jack Heggoritch (ph).  In fact, this is young Jack, who though he is only one week old, is considering suing us.  We apologize. 

Tonight‘s No. 1 story, how well do you know your neighbor politically? 

How well do you want to know him politically?  That is next.  Stand by. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  As you may have noticed earlier, when John Kerry‘s people said he might delay formally accepting the Democratic nomination for five weeks so he can either exploit or not be exploited by a fund-raising loophole, the race to determine what‘s weirder, politics or politicians, is endless and it‘s a perpetual tie. 

Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, the naked truth about the exotic dancer factor in the presidential race and the naked truth about your neighbor‘s role in the presidential race.  Just log on to fundrace.org.  The nonprofit Web site has gathered a list of all the individual contributors and contributions to presidential candidates since January of 2003.  They‘ve spliced it with a location search engine.  So, if you want to know which candidate has been buoyed up by the financial largess of your boss, your neighbor, your friends, your enemies, just type in their name or just type in your own address and up pops a list, a nice easy, lazy way of snooping from the privacy of your own computer. 

And it provides you not just the who, but also the how often and the how much.  It can also tell you what kind of people are giving to which candidates.  Right now, Mr. Bush tops the grassroots index of small contributions from across the country.  And he tops the devotion index, which tracks repeat donations and financial sacrifice, while Mr. Kerry tops the list of donations on the fat-cat index, getting the most money from the wealthiest Americans. 

And it was the legendary 19th century British Prime Minister and political master Benjamin Disraeli who called politics the climb up the greasy poll.  This is not what Mr. Disraeli meant.  But the Association of Club Executives has launched a unique campaign at strip joints from Wisconsin to Ohio to North Carolina.  Owners are asking customers to take their eyes off the girls just long enough to fill out a voter registration form. 

And come November, they hope the newly minted voters will vote against George Bush.  Republicans admit they have not targeted strip club owners or patrons as a voting bloc, but the owners think a second Bush administration might target their entire industry for closure.  The campaign has already convinced one young voter, 21-year-old dancer Shalen Kay (ph).  She has cleaved from her original party.  “I used to be with a Republican,” she says, “but now, with all this, it‘s changed my views.”

Joining us now with his views on all this, the host and co-producer of his own program for PBS, “Livelihood,” people satirist Will Durst. 

Will, thanks for coming back on the show. 

WILL DURST, POLITICAL SATIRIST:  Hey, how you doing, Keith? 

OLBERMANN:  Not bad except for this thing here, this strippers against George Bush stuff, as I said, naked politics.  If you‘re running for president, do you want stripper and their patrons supporting you or do you want them opposing you? 

DURST:  Well, you know, every time that there is one action this way, there‘s going to be an inaction exactly the opposite, people who feel—there will be lap dancers for Bush and pole shiners.  And it is going to happen. 

And people will say, you can‘t have that?  You can‘t say our whole industry.  So I want to see the reverse.  If they‘re going to have voter registration in strip clubs, I want to see a two-drink minimum in the Senate gallery.  I want to see a happy hour at city hall.  I want to go the other... 

OLBERMANN:  I think there‘s a lot of evidence that there‘s already a two-drink minimum in Congress on the way in the front door.  But that‘s a larger question for another time. 

DURST:  Some of these guys should be 86‘ed. 

OLBERMANN:  I guess the lesson overall here is that everybody now is their own special interest group.  You got two people, you got a special interest group, right? 

DURST:  Well, I‘m a political comic.  And we‘re definitely for Bush. 

OLBERMANN:  Why? 

DURST:  Editorial cartoonist?  Political comment—because what are you going to do with Kerry?  God, he‘s so boring.  What do you say about John Kerry?  He looks like the Lincoln animatron that has escaped from Disney‘s Hall of Presidents.  That‘s it.

You get one joke there.  So Bush is—it‘s a cornucopia of delights. 

It is an embarrassment of riches. 

OLBERMANN:  Back to the first half of the story tonight, this Web site that allows to you track the political contributions of your neighbors.  Isn‘t there something un-American about having your political affiliation revealed without your consent? 

DURST:  Yes, kind of like getting outed in San Francisco? 

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

DURST:  You know, the paper, these people are actually Republicans. 

Or, in Lincoln, Nebraska, do you believe that we have Democrats here? 

I think it is kind of creepy.  I really do.  But it‘s America.  It‘s free information.  I think we‘re going to enter information overload, is what I think is going to happen. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, but given the fact that we‘re asking now about what Bush and Kerry did or didn‘t do and did or didn‘t throw in 1971 and 1972, data has a longer shelf life.  I mean, this could have a chilling effect on political donations and the race for president 20 years from now, right? 

DURST:  It could.  But then think of the ways that it is actually good.  For one thing, you won‘t have to paw through your neighbor‘s garbage anymore.  So it might hurt the rubber glove industry. 

But you know, I don‘t think there‘s a lot of secrets in who is giving what.  I think you can pretty much, a lot of times, for 85 percent of the time, you‘re correct in guesstimating someone‘s political party just by their haircut. 

OLBERMANN:  Or by pawing through the neighbor‘s garbage. 

DURST:  Or by pawing.

OLBERMANN:  Which is the image I will leave of you here for the moment. 

People satirist Will Durst, seen on PBS with his own program, “Livelihood,” thanks for being with us again, Will.  Appreciate it. 

DURST:  Have a great weekend, man. 

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

No. 5, detainee death and abuse, six more deaths in Iraq, two in Afghanistan, now under investigation, even as now “The Washington Post” obtains pictures and the first videotapes from inside Abu Ghraib.  Four, unacceptable position, John Kerry considering not accepting his party‘s nomination as president in July, but delaying it until after he continues to raise funds in the month of August. 

Three, the case of Akasha, two people now claiming to be the parents of the abandoned 3-year-old.  No. 2 the SUV slump, sales of Humvees and other gas-hungry cars down.  And stations are reporting they don‘t have enough plastic twos to post the price.  And No. 1, going to the grassroots, strippers and the men who love them and how they could decide the presidential election.  We have officially hit bottom. 

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

Thank goodness it‘s Friday.  Good night and good luck. 

END   

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