updated 6/1/2004 11:03:54 AM ET 2004-06-01T15:03:54

Guests: John Dean, Dan Briody, Harry Shearer

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

Another war time Memorial Day:  Little time for remembrance in Iraq where the Najaf cease-fire has broken down. 

Others in memoriam:  American history loses Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox and Senate Watergate Committee Counsel Sam Dash. 

Martha‘s latest bid to avoid the big house:  Community service, teaching underprivileged women to start their own businesses—like cleaning businesses.  Martha wants to train cleaning ladies?  Ugh.  Harry Shier joins us on that. 

And the problem with late season skiing:  Actually, this is cheese chasing from England and it‘s a really bad idea. 

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening. 

Memorial Day, a time of remembrance of heroes who fought for our freedom.  With the World War II Memorial open this past weekend and the 60th anniversary of D-day looming this next one, we have rightly focused on the men who did their fighting in war, especially those who did not return from battlefields ranging from Lexington and Concord to Baghdad and Nasiriyah.  Our full and solemn coverage of how they were remembered in a moment.

But on our fifth story in the COUNTDOWN tonight, perhaps we are considering Memorial Day too narrowly.  There are also those to be remembered on this day whose uniforms were ordinary business suits and whose battlefields were those of conscience and law, and two of them died 48 hours ago.  Both ironically, served during Second World War.  One on the staff of the National Defense Mediation Board in Washington, the other as a bombardier navigator over Italy, but that was not when their heroism, if we may call it that, was expressed.  Their year was not 1945, but 1973.  They were Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor appointed to investigate the Watergate scandal, and Samuel Dash, the chief council of the senate select committee on the presidential campaign activities.  And they each died on Saturday.  The very day the World War II Memorial was formally dedicated. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN (voice-over):  Few men have made greater impressions on American history in a shorter time than Archibald Cox.  Appointed by Richard Nixon as special Watergate prosecutor on May 18, 1973, he was fired just five months and two days later.  He had infuriated Nixon by subpoenaing eight of Nixon‘s surreptitious secret tapes.  The firing was perhaps the tipping point of Nixon‘s presidency.  It certainly was news, in a way almost inconceivable today, of the highest magnitude. 

ANNOUNCER:  The “Tonight Show” will not be seen tonight so that we may bring you the following NBC News Special Report. 

JOHN CHANCELLOR, NBC ANCHOR:  The president has fired the special Watergate prosecutor, Archibald Cox, and he has sent FBI agents to the office of the special prosecution staff and to the attorney general and the deputy attorney general and the president has ordered the FBI to seal off those offices.  That‘s a stunning development and nothing even remotely like it has happened in all of our history. 

OLBERMANN:  When Nixon told Attorney General Elliott Richardson to fire Cox, Richardson resigned.  When Nixon told Richardson‘s deputy, William Ruckelshaus, to fire Cox, Ruckelshaus too, resigned. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The general reaction to the developments of today? 

WILLIAM RUCKELSHAUS, DEPUTY ATTY.  GENERAL:  Well, you—there‘ll be announced out of the White House later on.  I can‘t say a thing. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:   There will be? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Does it have to do with the resignation of the attorney general? 

RUCKELSHAUS:  Well, it might, but you‘ll to have get it from them. 

OLBERMANN:  It was the Saturday night massacre, and it turned public perception of Watergate from a political controversy into the end of a presidency. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  An investigator appointed to investigate scandals, was fired because he insisted on investigating scandals. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The president may have an even more grave constitutional crisis on his hands. 

QUESTION:  Well, how do you expect to succeed in this job?  How could you expect to succeed? 

ARCHIBALD COX, SPECIAL WATERGATE PROSECUTOR:  Well, I thought it was worth a try.  I thought it was important.  If it could be done, I thought it would help the country, and if I lost, what the hell? 

OLBERMANN:  Archibald Cox‘s successor would ultimately force the release of the critical tapes and that would end Nixon‘s presidency.  Cox, law professor at Harvard University for nearly 40 years, former solicitor general of the United States, died Saturday at home, aged 92. 

Sam Dash, once the district attorney of Philadelphia, was the man who guided the probing of the Watergate scandal by the senate committee during the same year as Cox‘s brief tenure as special prosecutor.  “I scripted it like a story,” Dash later said, “like a detective story.”  A story not without its grim humor, as seen in this exchange with Nixon‘s first attorney general, John Mitchell, about the plans of the lead Watergate plumber, G.  Gordon Liddy. 

SAMUEL DASH, CHIEF COUNSEL, SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE:  Since you were the attorney general of the United States, why did you throw Mr. Liddy out of the office? 

JOHN MITCHELL, ATTORNEY GENERAL UNDER NIXON:  Well, I think Mr. Dash, in hindsight; I not only should have not only thrown him out of the office.  I should have thrown him out of the window. 

(LAUGHTER)

DASH:  Well, since did you neither...

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Samuel Dash, who resigned in protest, after four years as ethics consultant to Independent Counsel Kenneth Star, died Saturday after a long fight with heart disease.  Mr. Dash was 79. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Our next guest not only knew both Archibald Cox and Sam Dash, he was one of the key individuals in both the Watergate scandal and its investigation and later in the analysis of it as history.  He has invoked it in the title of his latest book, “Worse than Watergate,” now in its ninth week, on the “New York Times” best seller list.  Former White House Counsel to President Richard Nixon, John Dean. 

John, good evening. 

JOHN DEAN, FMR. COUNSEL TO NIXON:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Do I exaggerate when I suggest that both of these men qualified as American heroes? 

DEAN:  I don‘t think so, I think that‘s a fair assessment and they are certainly two lawyers with remarkable integrity.  They were men who were dedicated to public service.  They were either teaching, largely, through most of their life or they were dedicated to serving the government or in some other public capacity.  They really were extraordinary in the fact that two of them would come together.  In fact, it‘s ironic, also Keith, that the two men actually sort of met formally on their first time on the same day they died.  May 29 of 1973.  It really makes it an irony. 

OLBERMANN:  We know, John, what ensued, obviously, after Richard Nixon fired Archibald Cox.  What would have happened, do you suppose, if he hadn‘t fired him? 

DEAN:  That‘s a good “what if” question.  I think that Cox‘s strength, obviously, was the fact that he refused to resign.  I think that Cox would have probably pursued the tapes and it ultimately would have come out very close to where it did come out.  And that because he was going to be relentless in following it, ultimately, Leon Jaworski, who would follow Cox would, indeed, pursue the tapes and take them right to the supreme court.  So, I suspect Archie Cox would have take the same course.  And what Archie Cox did in setting the course of Watergate, when he hired the staff for the Watergate Special Prosecutor‘s office, that staff stayed behind after he left and really became the basis upon which Leon Jaworski found himself working when he took over the job. 

OLBERMANN:  What did Mr. Cox think of his own role in history?  Do you recall that from that time and from subsequent interactions with him? 

DEAN:  Well, I talked to his biographer, Ken Gromley, who did a fair time—a law professor, who did good biography of Cox, and I think that Cox is such a modest individual that he would dismiss any role in history, but it‘s clear that he won‘t be remembered as a solicitor general.  He‘ll always be remembered as the Watergate special prosecutor, although he was both. 

OLBERMANN:  To turn to Sam Dash, in his own words, the man who scripted Sam Irvin‘s Senate Committees investigation, obviously given your own role testifying so exhaustively and influentially before that committee, you must have interacted with him greatly. 

DEAN:  I did.  In fact, I knew Sam before Watergate, and one of the reasons I decided to sort of go in with Sam very early when I realized that I was in a real serious contest with the president of the United States, was that I trusted Sam.  He was a man, as I say, of great integrity.  He was also fashioning the case as we talked, I realized, he was fashioning the case like would as a prosecutor, rather than presenting it to the jury, he was presenting it to the American public to educate the public while he was simultaneously conducting an investigation to get to the bottom of Watergate.  So, he really filled two roles and did them quite well.  I don‘t think history will obviously remember Sam in the same way it does Cox, but to me, Sam‘s role was much more important than Cox.  Without Sam, we would have never uncovered the tapes.  Without the Senate Watergate hearings, you really never would have started the public understanding what was going on, and a lot of witnesses decided to cooperate because of Sam, and you‘re talking to one. 

OLBERMANN:  John, perhaps the most remarkable thing in retrospect and in context, if the Watergate hearings began today, if this all had occurred in the last year, rather than 32 and 31 years ago, would it have been possible to get the bipartisan result that certainly occurred towards the end of the investigation, certainly towards the end of the Senate Committee, that sense that half the country would believe Richard Nixon was right and half would automatically believe he was wrong, was bypassed somehow.  Did Sam Dash contribute to that?  Did Archibald Cox contribute to that?

DEAN:  Well, it didn‘t—it didn‘t start out as a bipartisan, sort of, undertaking.  Certainly, there was an effort early by the Nixon White House, while I was still in the White House, to paint Sam Dash as a democrat and as a partisan.  There was also the same effort with Archie Cox to paint him as a Kennedy democrat.  Obviously, the democrats controlled the congress at that time and I suspect, a lot of people have argued, you know, if the republicans controlled the Congress, Watergate never would have gone in the direction it did go.  In fact, during the Clinton impeachment, a lot of people told me that very fact, that this was payback time to do to the democrats what the democrats had done to the republicans when Nixon was in the White House.  So, I—it wasn‘t purely bipartisan, by any stretch, until late in the game when the evidence came out and both sides realized that had this president was in deep trouble and that indeed, he had abused his powers severely and this case was made because of the tapes, and the tapes resolved all issues, if you will, and they still are resolving the issues. 

OLBERMANN:  John Dean, informer White House counsel, now author of “Worse than Watergate,” as we look back on the deaths of Archibald Cox and Sam Dash, on the same day.  Not unlike, I guess, Jefferson and Adams dying on the same day on the fourth of July in 1826.  As always, my friend...

DEAN:  Ironically. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  Many thanks for your time, as always. 

DEAN:  Thank you.  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  The fist story in the COUNTDOWN now complete.  Up next, as promised:  Ceremony and solemnity this Memorial Day, as America gathers to honor its fallen soldiers. 

And later, the current war in Iraq:  Civilians and coalition troops under fire as the Iraqi Governing Council misses its own deadline for picking new leadership.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  On Memorial Day, a nation at war gathering to remember those lost in past and present conflict.  And incredibly, today—today, the death of the last widow from our Civil War.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We have observed Memorial Day, or as it was more readily known, “Decoration Day,” since 1868.  Originally proclaimed as a day of remembrance for the dead of the Union Armies in the Civil War.  The original date of May 30 was not legally adopted by any state until 1873 and it was not recognized in the South until after the armistice that ended the First World War in 1918. 

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN:  Its past may be imprecise and even contentious, but as evidenced today at Arlington National Cemetery, at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, at the new World War II Memorial, and at 1,000 other venues, its meaning, in this time of war, is exact and profound.  Our correspondent in Washington is Carl Quintanilla.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CARL QUINTANILLA, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Whether you were too young to know about it or old enough to have lived it, today‘s celebrations overshadowed by a harsh reality for all of us—a Memorial Day during wartime.  In Washington, under umbrellas and somber skies, veterans from 50 organizations laid wreaths at the tomb of the unknowns.  World War II vets in town to see their new memorial. 

NORMAN LOCKSLEY, WORLD WAR II VETERAN:  This means everything.  I‘m here because of the men in my battalion who did not come back. 

QUINTANILLA:  A holiday as political as it was emotional.  At Arlington National Cemetery, a standing ovation for Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.  The president visibly moved, as he read the last letter from a fallen U.S. soldier in Iraq to his wife. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  “Go outside and look at the stars and count them.  Don‘t forget to smile.”  This is the quality of the people in our uniform. 

QUINTANILLA:  John Kerry campaigning on his own war record visited the Vietnam Memorial with the family live William Bronson. 

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Oh, so young.  Huh?

QUINTANILLA:  One of 10 soldiers officially to have his name officially added to the wall today. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  William F.  Bronson, Jr. 

QUINTANILLA:  But it was Iraq that grabbed attention.  In Santa Monica, California, where war protesters read the names of more than 800 killed, and in Naperville, Illinois, parade Marshal Colonel James Hickey, it was his soldiers in the 1st Brigade Raiders, who captured Saddam Hussein. 

Troops in Baghdad today, held their own service at Camp Victory, eulogizing both American soldiers, and the Iraqi security personnel who died with them. 

LT. GEN. RICARDO SANCHEZ, CMDR.  COALITION FORCES IN IRAQ:  They must not have died in vain.  We must not walk away from this mission. 

QUINTANILLA:  On this Memorial Day 2004, remembering those who fought for freedom and those still fighting. 

Carl Quintanilla, NBC News, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  As it has been since May of 1945, Memorial Day has fallen hard in front of the remembrances of probably the greatest battle of the 20th century, D-day.  For the 60th anniversary of the invasion of Hitler‘s fortress Europe, comes chilling, but not necessarily disturbing news of the preparations for the latest commemorations.  The London newspaper the “Daily Telegraph” reporting that the French have said that they will shoot down any planes that wander into the airspace above the Normandy beaches this weekend.  At least 16 heads of state, President Bush and Queen Elizabeth, among them, are to attend.  Advanced anti-aircraft missiles are supposedly in place, and in the very bay, the allies crossed six decades ago, the American aircraft carrier, George Washington, and the French vessel, Charles de Gaulle, will be patrolling the waters along with, reportedly, submarines.  And that would all be after the mine sweeping. 

And while the French prepare for this weekend‘s celebrations, MSNBC is preparing special coverage of the 60th anniversary.  You can tune in for “A Celebration of Heroes” starting Friday, continuing throughout the weekend.  We will bring you a special he edition of COUNTDOWN at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, Saturday, focusing on the untold stories of that day, including an interview with the individual who became, what may be, the most famous veteran of the epic invasion. 

And one more irony of timing on this Memorial Day, incredibly, the last widow of a Civil War veteran died this morning, on the day originally established to remember the dead of the Civil War.  Alberta Martin was 21 years old in 1927 when she married William Jasper Martin, formerly Company K of the 4th Alabama Infantry.  William Martin was 81 years old at the time.  Alberta Martin was a widow with a 3-year-old son.  It was thought to be a marriage of convenience, then the martins had their own son.  William Martin, the Confederate veteran, died in 1931, two months later, his widow, Alberta, married his grandson.  Alberta Stewart Ferrell Martin has suffered a heart attack three weeks ago, she was 97 years old. 

Two down, three numbers to go on the COUNTDOWN. First the news that knows no number, but where else would you see grown men chasing cheese down a hill?  “Oddball” is next.  And later, back to the world of serious news, somewhat.  Like Martha Stewart trying to avoid the big house by teaching other women how to clean the house.  Harry Shearer will join us to ponder Martha‘s community service proposal, ahead on the big show.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re back and we pause the COUNTDOWN now, because the weird and the stupid take no holiday.  Let‘s play “Oddball.” 

And we begin with one from the file of “strange things people do in other countries.”  This dates back at least 200 years, some say it goes back to Roman times.  It‘s the big annual Cheese Roll down Cooper‘s Hill in Gloucester, England. 

Mmm, cheese roll!

Not much explanation needed here.  They roll a big hunk of cheese down the hill and a bunch of morons chase it, stumbling, rolling, snapping ankles down the way.  The winner of the race gets the actual seven-pound hunk of Gloucester cheese to take home.  The runners up get to walk with a cane the rest of their lives. 

And in response to the escape two months ago of one of its gorilla residents, the Dallas Zoo has begun to isolate some of its giant primates, and just like you with your kids, anesthetize them with Disney video.  Five of the western low-land gorillas have been moved to an indoor holding area since the March breakout, which three people were injured.  To keep them busy, keepers have been showing them, particularly 14-year-old Patrick, TV.  “We tried to put on sports,” keeper Cindy McCaleb tells the “Dallas Morning News,” but he really wasn‘t interested.  Patrick, it turns out, likes “National Geographic” specials.  But he and the other gorillas all really like cartoons.  Particularly “The Little Mermaid,” “Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “The O‘Reilly Factor.”

And now, perhaps, the worst marketing idea ever.  If you were going to pick an historical theme for a funeral parlor, which would you go to the greatest lengths to avoid?  That‘s right—The Titanic.  Yet that is exactly how the owners of the Heritage Funeral Home in Spokane, Washington, have remodeled their reception room.  The dock, the bridge, the first class dining room, even the iceberg itself, all a motifs in which you can say goodbye to the departed.  Inadequate life boats, arrogant designers, and the recordings of the Titanic‘s orchestra gradually being literally drowned out, are not available. 

And if you think this is bad, last year the Heritage dressed the parlor up like King Tut‘s tomb.  Special note to them:  More than 250 authentic Titanic items will go up for auction next month.  Among the items to be sold at the South Street Sea Port in New York on June 10, a lifejacket, a name plate from a life boat, an actual titanic chair.  In this context, they‘re called auction lots.  In other contexts, you‘d call them “what the grave robbers found.”

Back to the COUNTDOWN and our third story tonight, with less than a month to go before the U.S. officially hands over power to the new Iraqi government.  The decision on who will lead that government is now passed the deadline. 

And later, on COUNTDOWN:  Free Franken.  Why Al Franken is now offering his radio host services gratis.  These stories ahead, first here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Newsmakers” of this day:

No. 3:  Jeremy Haack, the manager of one of 11 Minnesota gas stations that have been fined because of their gas prices—because they are too low.  A new law protecting gas station owners in Minnesota from competitors who are undercutting them.  There‘s not enough gouging going on here!

No. 2:  Riders of the famed Coney Island Cyclone Rollercoaster, stuck for half an hour, they were, after a woman‘s wig blew off and got caught in the mechanism.  Another hairpiece-related amusement park nightmare. 

And No. 1:  Chris Weathersbee, the goat farmer from Corinth, Vermont, is accused of attacking a school bus that had stopped in front of his place, hitting it with an aluminum tube because he feared a quote “major goat escape disaster.”  Well, sir, all right thinking Americans fear that, but that does not mean we go whacking school buses, now does it? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  This day of remembrance of wars passed brought fresh reminders that wartime present is as violent as ever. 

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight beginning with the grim reality that Americans do not need to be fighting on the front lines to still be in harm‘s way.  In Saudi Arabia, the manhunt continues for the three suspects who escaped after Saudi security forces helicoptered in to break up that hostage siege that had targeted foreign oil industry workers;

22 of them were killed, including one American.  A fourth suspect believed to be the ringleader was caught. 

Today, Saudi police were searching a hotel room the suspects may have used looking for forensic evidence and any explosives that they may have left behind. 

News more poignant, still, also somewhat lost in the holiday weekend.  Pat Tillman, the first professional athlete killed in American combat since 1970, turns out to have died probably from friendly fire.  The U.S.  military now says Tillman, who put a lucrative career in the National Football Field on hold to become an Army Ranger, probably fell in Afghanistan when another U.S. Ranger mistakenly fired on a friendly Afghan fighter. 

When the Americans with that Afghan returned fire, Tillman was shot. 

His family was informed on Friday. 

Previously, Tillman had served in Iraq.  There tonight, the four-day old truce between U.S. forces and the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is not holding.  Two Americans were killed in overall fighting in the city of Kufa.  More violence in Baghdad.  Insurgents there set off a 500-pound car bomb by remote control just outside coalition headquarters, four Iraqis killed there. 

And political infighting to report in the selection of an interim government, the deadline for which came and went today.  The Iraqi Governing Council wants one of its own to hold the job of president.  The Americans and U.N. are trying to make sure some outsiders are on the short list for the job.  Not surprisingly, the council is claiming interference.  An announcement expected by tomorrow. 

The thousands of private contractors working in Iraq already know about kidnapping and about controversy.  And by now, you know that before he was vice president, after he was defense secretary, Dick Cheney used to run a little company called Halliburton, the oil conglomerate and so much more.  Now it is holding several reconstruction contracts there worth several billions of dollars. 

Whether or not the vice president has continued to influence his old company or vice versa has been a constant topic with his critics.  Eight months ago, Tim Russert asked him about it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS”)

TIM RUSSERT, HOST:  Were you involved in any way in rewarding those contracts? 

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Of course not, Tim.  Tim, I had—when I was secretary of defense, I was not involved in awarding contracts.  That‘s done at a far lower level. 

Secondly, when I ran Halliburton for five years, and they were doing work for the Defense Department, which, frankly, they‘ve been doing it for 60 or 70 years, I never went near the Defense Department. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  That was then.  Now what about this, an internal Pentagon e-mail obtained by “TIME” magazine sent by an Army official?  It refers to high-ranking hawk Douglas Feith and his role in granting final approval to one of the Halliburton contracts. 

Dated March 5, 2003, weeks before the invasion had begun in Iraq, the e-mail says final approval—quote—“contingent on informing the White House tomorrow.  We anticipate no issues since action has been coordinated with the vice president‘s office.”  The subheadline in the “TIME” piece asks, “Did Cheney OK A Deal?”  A loud no emanates from his office, saying the vice president—quote—“has played no role whatsoever in government contract decisions involving Halliburton since the year 2000.”

And the Pentagon said the e-mail was nothing more than—quote—“We wanted to give the vice president‘s staff a heads-up.”  Halliburton‘s role in Iraq and Dick Cheney‘s role in Halliburton is a subject of endless study. 

Dan Briody is the author of “The Halliburton Agenda: The Politics of Oil and Money.”  He joins us now from Hartford.

Mr. Briody, good evening. 

DAN BRIODY, AUTHOR, “THE HALLIBURTON AGENDA”:  Good evening.  I‘ve seen a lot of troubling stories involving the vice president and Halliburton.  But to me, this isn‘t one of them.  Is the vice president getting kind of a raw deal here?  Where is the impropriety supposed to be? 

BRIODY:  Well, first of all, I think that it is the appearance of impropriety that matters in this case.  And I think the American people deserve to feel good about the work that‘s being done in Iraq and who is doing it and how those contracts were rewarded. 

Now, an e-mail like this undermines the ability for Americans to feel good about that.  And I think, in particular, we have seen Dick Cheney give rounded answers, dishonest answers to us before.  And this certainly qualifies as that, I believe.  Here, he is saying with Tim Russert that he had absolutely nothing to do with this and had no knowledge of it whatsoever.  This e-mail clearly refutes that statement. 

OLBERMANN:  How does it refute it?  As I mentioned, the Pentagon said this is a heads-up to the vice president‘s office, so nobody got blindsided. 

BRIODY:  Right. 

OLBERMANN:  Is there something nefarious in the phrase “action has been coordinated”?  Or, again, where is the problem supposed to be? 

BRIODY:  Well, there‘s two problems. 

The first problem is the fact that Cheney said that he had absolutely no influence involving of or knowledge of in any way.  This e-mail refutes that statement pretty definitively, I would say.  He obviously had knowledge of the contract prior to its awarding. 

The second thing is, if you look closely at the timing of this e-mail, it first says that, contingent on forming the White House tomorrow, we anticipate no issues since action has been coordinated with the V.P.‘s office.  They‘re talking about giving a heads-up to the vice president tomorrow for an action that has already been coordinated with the V.P.‘s office.  So I don‘t think the explanation that the administration is giving in this case holds up. 

OLBERMANN:  Could Mr. Cheney be a victim here of something of an echo chamber?  Rightly or wrongly, he gets pounded for three years about Halliburton.  Then there‘s a contract awarded to Halliburton.  And if his office and the Pentagon are telling the truth, Cheney had nothing to do with the awarding of that contract. 

But, in also their version of the truth, he‘s not surprised when the next round of questions will come out, so they e-mail him in advance.  Haven‘t the critics kind of boxed him in?  He‘s presumed guilty and he‘s also not permitted any warning of the next time he‘s going to be presumed guilty? 

BRIODY:  Well, I think we have to look at what we talked about earlier, the appearance of impropriety, OK?  So this contract was run up the flagpole.  It was sent to the V.P.‘s office and Dick Cheney approved it, essentially, said it‘s OK.  Go ahead with this contract.  I‘ll deal with the political fallout. 

Now, as an American citizen, with my money being spent on this no-bid massive contract, which is reaching $9 billion right now, I deserve to—I deserve a little more consideration, I think, in that contract-awarding process, especially when there are many qualified companies to do the oil infrastructure repair work that this particular e-mail is dealing with. 

OLBERMANN:  Dan Briody, the author of the Halliburton agenda, the politics of oil and money, thanks for joining us, sir.  Good night.

BRIODY:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  And one final note in our No. 3. look at the wartime part of the wartime day remembrance, Saddam souvenir, another item from our friends at “TIME” magazine tonight, a report that Saddam‘s gun has made its way from the spider hole in Iraq, where it was confiscated last December, to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, where President Bush keeps it in his private study off the Oval Office. 

Private study, you say, as in rendezvous central for that former president named Clinton and that White House intern named Lewinsky?  One and the same, is our reply.  Some days, you couldn‘t do any better by making this stuff up.  That wraps up No. 3 in the COUNTDOWN, war and politics and interns. 

Up next, it‘s not just a sport for playground bullies anymore.  One of the most transparently violent sports in history is making a comeback.  And later, the man behind one of the most powerful CEOs on television gives us his insight on Martha Stewart‘s latest plan to avoid serious jail time. 

But, first, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He says he‘s on—call.  He‘s got fours over here, eights over here.  Greg Raymer is the world champion, the World Series of Pokers.  A full house!

RUPERT GRINT, ACTOR:  It‘s really weird.  (INAUDIBLE) I remember when we first had a big one of these.  It was just like so weird.  This is just even weirder.  It‘s scary.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I listened carefully to what Esther had to say.  And I think you may have already heard the best speech of the day. 

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON:  But when she finished, I said, now, Esther, if you really had the same hairdo and wardrobe since the sixth grade, you were some spiffy sixth grader in that suit.  That‘s all I can say. 

(END VIDEOTAPE) 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  In 1965, my elementary introduced a new sport to us called dodgeball.  Now, we were only dumb third graders, but we knew we had been had.  This dodgeball was exactly the same as the game from the year before, which was called bombardment.  Later generations were smart enough to ban this rubber ball version of shooting fish in a barrel, not ourselves. 

In our second story on the COUNTDOWN, not this one either. 

Dodgeball, as Tom Costello, is back, in the gyms, in the movies, on

TV. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM COSTELLO, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  10:00 p.m. in Columbus, Ohio, and the OSU campus is wide awake.  Forget about finals.  For 90 minutes, this is all that matters. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s crazy, man!  It‘s crazy!

COSTELLO:  Another sudden death game of dodgeball.  From college campuses to after-work rec centers and start-up leagues, a dodgeball revival is zipping through the country.  And Hollywood will give the sport a boost this summer when it launches “Dodgeball” with Ben Stiller. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “DODGEBALL”)

BEN STILLER, ACTOR:  You ready for the hurricane?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSTELLO:  Already, there are competing national dodgeball championships.  And extreme dodgeball is coming soon to TV, today from Portland, Oregon. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And that‘s my boss.  And that‘s my boss. 

COSTELLO:  To Los Angeles.  Thousands of adults are turning to an old childhood game to blow off steam. 

MICHAEL COSTANZA, L.A. DODGEBALL SOCIETY:  You don‘t have to be the best athlete.  You don‘t have to be the most coordinated. 

KIMBERLY ESTRADA, L.A. DODGEBALL SOCIETY:  I think it‘s just that sense of being a kid again. 

COSTELLO:  And for many, that makes it personal. 

ZACK MYLANDER, DODGEBALL PLAYER:  I was always the last kid picked, the fatter kid.  But when you play dodgeball here, it‘s like you‘re adults.  You‘re amongst your peers. 

COSTELLO (on camera):  If you were one of those scrawny kids in grade school, this is redemption, a chance to exercise those old elementary school ghosts.  I happen to know one of those kids. 

Come on!  Come on!

(voice-over):  The strategy hasn‘t changed much over the years, duck when you have to, use a little body English.  And if you‘re old and wily, find yourself a blocker. 

(on camera):  You look great right there.  Just stay right there. 

(voice-over):  For 36-year-old Greg James (ph), a three-time national champion, it is about settling old scores. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It is kind of like dealing with your demons from the past. 

COSTELLO:  Across the country, the game we all feared or loved as kids is back. 

Tom Costello, NBC News, Columbus, Ohio. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  From dodgeball to baseball, as we segue into the world of celebrities and gossip and ex-presidents, the segment we call “Keeping Tabs.”

And the William Hung bubble may have just burst. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM HUNG, SINGER (singing):  The old ball game.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Name that tune.  That‘s all that was recorded of our friend singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” at the seventh inning at SkyDome in Toronto yesterday, “butchered it,” reports the Associated Press.  The Toronto Blue Jays report that, because of Hung‘s presence, they had more requests for media credentials than they had even on opening day.  Wow, nine instead of eight. 

Nobody recorded the full rendition, complete with what “The Toronto Globe and Mail” called the first fractured note, when he was reportedly greeted by boos and catcalls. 

Another man who has never slowed down for a second by booing has begun his spring offensive.  Former President Bill Clinton gave the convocation address to the Cornell University‘s graduating seniors on Saturday morning.  This is how sorry they are.  Most were reported home early Friday night so they could make the speech‘s 9:00 a.m. start time.  For shame; 21,000 attended, barely 3 ½ times the indoor convocation record set by me. 

Mr. Clinton told Cornellians to defend, define, and expand a more perfect union.  Next up, publishing‘s annual big thing, BookExpo America.  Mr. Clinton will deliver the keynote address Thursday  in Chicago.  His book, “My Life,” hits stores June 22. 

Tonight‘s top story, cleaning hotels 101 with Martha Stewart and our guest Harry Shearer is next. 

First, a breaking news story out of Seattle, where the 35-year-old monorail built originally for the World‘s Fair there in 1963 was bought to a standstill early in rush hour about 5:00 p.m. Pacific time, when smoke began to pour out of one of the blue monorail cars just as it was on the south side of the Experience Music Project in Seattle.  The trains were evacuated by fire crews.  The fire was reported under control around 5:30 p.m. Pacific time. 

As of this hour, no official word of any injuries, although there have been medics reported seen on the ground treating some of the passengers, who had to be evacuated down those hook and ladders you see in Seattle.  Monorail fire in Seattle, Washington, apparently under control and no early reports of any serious injuries, in fact of any injuries, at this time. 

COUNTDOWN will continue after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It is just 18 days now until Martha Stewart hears how and how long a judge thinks she should go to prison. 

But in our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, the high doyen of household hints has her own idea of how and how long, and it‘s a doozy, community service in which the emphasis is on the service, as in the service industry.  The thoughts of world watcher Harry Shearer in a moment.

First, our correspondent Ron Allen on Martha‘s plan to use her powers to solve America‘s cleaning lady crisis.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARTHA STEWART, DEFENDANT:  Put your moose on a damp rag like that.

RON ALLEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Martha Stewart apparently hopes the entrepreneurial skills she used to build an empire can help keep her out of jail.  She faces up to 16 months for lying, conspiracy and obstructing justice.  But the domestic diva has a plan she pitched to a New York organization that helps low-income women start their own businesses.  “Newsweek” Keith Naughton, broke the story.

KEITH NAUGHTON, “NEWSWEEK”:  Sort of a Martha maids cleaning school, if you will, to teach women to start their own cleaning services so that they could bid on contracts for homes or hotels or offices. 

ALLEN:  Stewart hopes to convince a judge to let her do 1,000 hours of community service work, instead of spending that time in prison.  But her convictions fall under strict sentencing guidelines. 

ROBERT MINTZ, ATTORNEY:  The rules are the rules.  And this judge is going to have virtually no opportunity to sentence Martha Stewart to something other than at least some time in jail. 

ALLEN (on camera):  And Stewart faces another problem.  Legal experts say judges tend to give lighter sentences to someone who admits guilt.  Stewart, however, maintain her innocence as she appeals. 

(voice-over):  Despite her reputation for creativity, Stewart is not the first felon to suggest community service. 

SEAN COFFEY, ATTORNEY:  It is a bit convenient that the time they choose to do this particular bit of charity work is a few days before they‘re going to be sentenced possibly to prison. 

ALLEN:  “Newsweek” reports Stewart came up with the cleaning company idea because she was having trouble finding good help at home.  And she may need it.  After sentencing next month, experts say she‘ll be spending plenty of time away from home. 

Ron Allen, NBC News, New York. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  The last time we needed somebody to turn to, to assess the alternative reality that Martha Stewart‘s interaction with our criminal justice system has become, we thought of only one man.  We asked much that day of the writer/actor/satirist and director Harry Shearer.  We even asked him in the persona of one of his most famous characters, Mr. Burns from “The Simpsons,” for the best advice to Ms. Stewart, one fantastically rich mowing to another. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HARRY SHEARER, ACTOR:  I would advise Martha to do as I would, go to prison, take your medicine, wait until they privatize the prison, and then buy the dump. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Joining us once more to assess the latest turn in the endless Stewart saga, Harry Shearer. 

Harry, good evening. 

SHEARER:  Good evening, Keith.  I‘m delighted to be your designated Martha expert. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Am I overreacting here or is this a little Marie Antoinette-ish, let me teach the rabble to be cleaning ladies? 

SHEARER:  Overreacting?  I would suggest that the machine that is numbering the stories on COUNTDOWN has been struck by a virus, because the fact that this is a No. 1 story is the dictionary definition of slow news day. 

But it is a bit peculiar.  Look, the only thing that would be a little bit more self-interested and peculiar is if Michael Jackson were convicted of being the king of Alcopop and then announced he was, as a public service, opening a bartending service for inner-city youth. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

So, by the way, on your first point, we have to plead guilty.  The machine has been broken since it was installed. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  But getting back to Martha here, what else could we have, do you suppose, in the Martha Stewart college of in lieu of jail time knowledge, besides this cleaning lady course? 

SHEARER:  Well, geez, there‘s a lots of ways to set a table. 

There‘s...

OLBERMANN:  Because there‘s a set-a-table crisis in this country, is there not? 

SHEARER:  There really is.  And the two are combined, because if Martha succeeds with the cleaning lady school, you know, the worst-case scenario is, we‘ll send a message that corporate malfeasance does not go punished.  But the good scenario is that we‘ll have a core of cleaning people who finally know which drawer the silverware goes in. 

OLBERMANN:  You raise a great point.  Is there indeed a Pandora‘s box element here that if the judge...

SHEARER:  Well, there‘s a Pandora‘s drawer. 

OLBERMANN:  Well, yes, and it has got the perfect paper inside the drawer, too. 

But if the judge buys this scheme, are we now going to see all the Enron executives teaching the poor little Texas boys how to jump claims for oil wells or buy baseball teams with no money down or something? 

SHEARER:  Yes, sure, or if Jimmy Swaggart ever gets caught again, teaching post-teenage girls how to act flirtatiously for money. 

Look, this is no secret that the wealthy, the celebrated, and the talented in our society get to do this kind of in lieu service more often than not.  And it‘s a good thing because the wealthy and talented and celebrated are really bad in jail. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  The joke you did for us last time about waiting until they privatize the prison and then she should buy the dump—we have jury consultants.  Now Martha Stewart has a sentencing consultant.

SHEARER:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  Have we privatized not the prisons, but we‘ve privatized the justice system? 

SHEARER:  Well, you‘ve put your finger on it, Keith, and you have poked your nose in it, too. 

Yes, consultants have done such marvelous things for radio and for television news...

OLBERMANN:  Oh, yes.

SHEARER:  ... that it is time to bring their magic to the criminal justice system. 

And, in fact, I was in the jury pool for a day on the Robert Blake case.  And you know, if you go through that experience, and you realize just how very—they pay jurors in California now less than the people that Martha Stewart is going to train to be cleaning ladies.  And you just want there to be a tithe on jury consultants and sentencing consultants to pay jurors a little bit more to be the beasts that these people are riding on the back of. 

OLBERMANN:  Let me wrap this up with you while you‘re here. 

SHEARER:  Yes. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Thank you. 

I can‘t resist asking.  And I think I just got part of the answer. 

SHEARER:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  “The Simpsons” is now locked up for umpteen years?  This other great national crisis has been averted?

SHEARER:  Yes, our great national nightmare is over.  We have got at least two more years of “The Simpsons.”  So save your money and stay tuned. 

OLBERMANN:  Excellent!

SHEARER:  Yes, I think s. 

OLBERMANN:  I don‘t want to step on the man while he‘s actually doing it and I‘m doing the weak imitation. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  The one and only Harry Shearer.  And we should mention, in a newscast in which we memorialized Archibald Cox and Sam Dash and were joined by John Dean, Harry portrayed Gordon Liddy in the movie “Dick.”

SHEARER:  Yes, sir.

OLBERMANN:  So we got another plug in there.  Go out and rent that and Harry gets 25 cents. 

SHEARER:  You bet. 

OLBERMANN:  As always, Harry, many thanks.

SHEARER:  Thanks, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Take care. 

SHEARER:  You, too.

OLBERMANN:  Before we close off COUNTDOWN, let‘s get back to the picture in Seattle, where we‘re now hearing reports that, in this monorail fire, which was reportedly under control, though you can see, I think, some damage to the third car from the left, that perhaps some people, some of the passengers on board the Seattle monorail, which is part of the public transportation system there—this is not like the one at any of the amusement parks in Los Angeles or in Florida—that some of the passengers may have jumped from the monorail. 

That‘s unconfirmed.  We also have unconfirmed reports of medics treating people on the ground.  However, at about 5:00 Pacific time, we know that fire broke out on one of the Seattle monorail trains.  It was reported under control by about 5:30.  And those ladders you see in the picture there from Seattle, hook-and-ladder extension ladders in which passengers and personnel were used—used to escape the vehicles—no reports of injuries at this hour.  Stay tuned to MSNBC for further details as available. 

That‘s COUNTDOWN for this Memorial Day.  Thanks for being part of it. 

I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Good night and good luck. 

END   

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