updated 6/28/2004 10:53:01 AM ET 2004-06-28T14:53:01

Guests: Andrew Kohut, Steve Emerson, Mark Goulston

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

President Bush in Europe: 5 days of high pressure meetings as the president puts the full court press on for help in Iraq.  And before leaving, he gave a contentious interview with Irish TV. 

(CROSSTALK)

CAROL COLEMAN, IRISH “RTE”:  ...Indeed Mr. President you didn‘t find weapons of mass destruction...

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) let me finish. 

WITT:  The war on terror, the next generation: an alarming scene caught on tape.  Young boys re-enacting a mock beheading.  What‘s happening in the war for the hearts and minds of the Arab world? 

The heat over “Fahrenheit 9/11”: it won rave reviews in France, but how will Americans in the audiences react?  The film hits screens nationwide tonight. 

And the week that was for Bill Clinton: All the reviews, all the records, and now to top it all off, the other woman, Monica Lewinsky finally breaks her silence. 

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WITT:  Good evening and welcome to COUNTDOWN. I‘m Alex Witt in for Keith Olbermann, tonight.  For the majority of America‘s allies in Europe, the war in Iraq has always been a tough sell and 15 months after the first tanks rolled across the Kuwaiti border, converting the holdouts hasn‘t gotten any easier.

At No. 5 on the COUNTDOWN, tonight: shuttle diplomacy in a divide of election.  The president and Mr. Bush arriving in Dublin today, the first stop of a European tour.  It wasn‘t always a warm welcome with protesters to contend with.  And on the airwaves, an Irish reporter a little more aggressive then the well-behaved White House press corp, getting Carol Coleman of TV network “RTE” to stick to the script wasn‘t easy, but you can not say that the President Bush didn‘t try. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Saddam Hussein had weap—used weapons of mass destruction against his own people, against the neighborhood.  He was a brutal dictator who posed a threat.  Such a threat that the United Nations voted unanimously to say Mr. Saddam Hussein...

COLEMAN:  Indeed Mr. President, but you didn‘t find the weapons of mass destruction. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUSH:  May—may—may I finish?  He said the United Nations said “disarm or face serious consequences,” that‘s what the United Nations said.  And guess what?  He didn‘t disarm.  He didn‘t disclose his arms, and therefore, he faced serious consequences. 

But we have found the capacity for him to make a weapon.  See, he had the capacity to make weapons, he was dangerous.  And no one can argue that the world is better off with Saddam Hussein—if Saddam Hussein were in power. 

COLEMAN:  But Mr. President the war is a more dangerous place today. 

I don‘t know why whether you can see that or not.

BUSH:  Why do you say that?

COLEMAN:  There are terrorist bombings every single day.  It‘s now a daily event.  It wasn‘t like that two years ago. 

BUSH:  What was like September 11, 2001?  It was a relative calm, we thougt...

COLEMAN:  But it‘s your response to Iraq...

(CROSSTALK)

BUSH:  Let me finish.  Let me finish please.  You answer the questions, and I‘ll answer them, if you don‘t mind.  On September 11, 2001, we were attacked in an unprovoked fashion.  Everybody thought the world was calm and then there have been bombings since then, not because of my response to Iraq, there were bombings in Madrid, there were bombings in a Istanbul, there were bombings in Bali, there were killings in Pakistan. 

COLEMAN:  Indeed, Mr. President, and I think Irish people understand that, but I think there are a feeling that the world has become a more dangerous place, because you have taken the focus off al-Qaeda and diverted into Iraq.  Do you not see that the world is a more dangerous place?  I saw four of your soldiers lying dead on the television the other day, a picture of four soulders just lying there without the slightest... 

BUSH:  You know, listen, nobody cares more about their death than I do. 

COLEMAN:  Is there a point...

BUSH:  Let me, let me finish, please.  Please.  Let me finish.  And then you can follow-up, if you don‘t mind.  Nobody cares more about the deaths than I do.  I care about it a lot.  But I do believe the world is a safer place and becoming a safer place.  I know that a free Iraq is going to be necessary, part of changing the world. 

Listen, people—people join terrorist organizations because there‘s no hope.  And there‘s no chance to raise their families in a—in a peaceful world where there is not freedom.  And so the idea is to promote freedom and at the time protect our security.  And I do believe the world is becoming a better place.  Absolutely.

I wouldn‘t be doing this.  I wouldn‘t have made the decisions I did if I didn‘t think the world would be better.  Of course.  I‘m not going to put people in harm‘s way, our young, if I didn‘t think the world would be better. 

COLEMAN:  Why is it...

BUSH:  Let, let, let me finish.  And so yes, I can turn to my friend Bertie Ahern and say “thank you, thanks for helping, and I appreciate it very much.”  And there‘ll be other challenges, by the way. 

COLEMAN:  Why is it that others don‘t understand what you‘re about? 

BUSH:  I don‘t know.  I don‘t—history will judge what I‘m about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WITT:  Then they played nice, chatting about Europe until Emily Post returned to the Middle East and the question: if democracy in the region is America‘s goal, why not start with Israelis and the Palestinians?  Here‘s the president‘s reply.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  We‘ve got a democracy in Turkey.  You‘ve not a democracy merging in Afghanistan.  You‘ve got a democracy in Pakistan, there...

COLEMAN:  But it shouldn‘t that be on the top of your list? 

BUSH:  Please, please, please, for a minute, OK.  It would be better if you let me finish my answers and then you can follow up, if you don‘t mind.  And what I‘m telling you is democracies can emerge at the same time that a democracy can emerge in the Palestinian state. 

I‘m the first American president to have called for the establishment of a Palestinian state.  The first one to do so, because I believe it is in the Palestinian people‘s interest.  I believe it‘s in Israel‘s interest. 

And yes, we‘re working, but we can do more than—you know, one thing at a time and we are working on the road map with the—with the quartet to advance the process down the road.  And like Iraq, the Palestinian and the Israeli issue is going to require good security measures. 

COLEMAN:  And it more even-handedness from Americans? 

BUSH:  And we‘re working on security measures.  In America, I‘m the first president to ever have called for a Palestinian state.  That‘s, to me sounds like a reasonable balanced approach.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  The president plans to press this case in the European Union and Ireland, tomorrow, then it‘s on to the next hurdle, a summit with NATO in Turkey.  Protesters already taking to the streets of Istanbul, but it‘s the protest inside Monday‘s meeting that the president really has to worry about. 

His last real chance to get international help on Iraq will need 25 other NATO countries before the June 30 handover.  United States originally hoped at the alliance would offer some foreign troops to aid the coalition.  But, after strong protests from France and Germany, that idea was scrapped.  Instead, NATO has tentatively reached a deal to help the new Iraqi leadership train Iraq‘s security forces. 

And it‘s not just international allies that Bush has to convince, but voters here at home.  A new poll shows that for the first time since the war began, a majority of Americans say the war was a mistake.  According to the latest Gallup/CNN/USA Today survey, 54 percent Americans agree that sending troops to Iraq was a mistake, that‘s a 13 point jump from just three weeks ago. 

But when asked about the economy, voters were much more upbeat, 47 percent approving of the way Bush is handling the economy, a 6 percent jump from the beginning of this month. 

And those mixed results may help explain how tight the race remains.  Mr. Bush edging out Mr. Kerry 48 to 47 percent, and Mr. Nader holding on with 3 percent. 

Those are margins that don‘t give either candidate much wriggle room and the fearsest campaign season have yet to even begin.  Joining us now to look at just how close the election could be is pollster Andrew Kohut, director of the PEW Research Center. 

Mr. Kohut, thanks for joining us tonight, we appreciate it. 

ANDREW KOHUT, POLLSTER, PEW RESEARCH CENTER:  Happy to be with you.

WITT:  The PEW Research Center came out with a really interesting poll today, suggesting that swing voters were a lot more scarce in this election then they‘ve been in the past.  In your survey sir, 21 percent of registered voters were undecided or subject to change their mind, that‘s a really big difference from four years ago.  Look at these numbers: 32 percent were swing voters then.  Is that an indication of how polarized this country has become? 

KOHUT:  Well, it is.  Not so much generally polarized, but they have strong feelings about President Bush and second term elections are about the incumbent president, and you either love him or you hate him.  And we have 80 percent of the public, at this point, saying one way or another, and it‘s pretty evenly divided -- 40 percent committed to Kerry, 40 percent strongly committed to Bush and 20 percent, which is fewer than usual. 

Generally at this stage in the campaign, we only have—we have about 1-3 voters saying they might change their mind.  We have as many committed voters as we typically have in October—have had in October in the last three presidential elections.  So it‘s something special.

WITT:  Let‘s turn to Mr. Kerry‘s candidacy, now.  He has had an especially hard time getting into the headlines this week, with Mr.  Clinton‘s book tour, all the violence out of Iraq.  Can he win by just flying under the radar? 

KOHUT:  Well, the real issue is conditions.  The public is still coming—grappling with the decision about whether they want to re-elect President Bush, and at some point if they come to the decision that they don‘t, they‘re going to turn to Mr. Kerry and look at him with a lot more scrutiny and with a lot more attention than they‘ve given him so far. 

And he‘s had—as you said, he‘s had a lot—has had a hard time.  The news has been dominated by all sorts of things, most of them, bad news out of Iraq.  And that has sort of helped him, but he really hasn‘t been in the picture in terms of public reception.  It‘s still pretty much about President Bush.

WITT:  This is an interesting point to note, 6 months ago, before Mr.  Kerry secured his spot as the Democratic nominee, Mr. Bush always seemed to do worse in the polls when he was pitted to be an unnamed democrat.  Mr.  Kerry trying to be that unnamed Democrat?

KOHUT:  Well, no one can be as favorable as an unnamed Democrat or an unnamed Republican, they always test better than the real candidates because respondents in the polls can read into them into what they want.  But when we have live candidates, we get different reactions. 

WITT:  All right.  Andrew Kohut of PEW Research, thank you so much for your time tonight, we appreciate it. 

KOHUT:  You‘re welcome.

WITT:  COUNTDOWN opening with presidential politics, both here an abroad.  Tonight‘s No. 4 story straight ahead, an alarming game caught on tape: kids at play doing a mock beheading.  What these images mean to the war on terror. 

And later, the return of a serial killer: investigators confirm Wichita‘s BTK Strangler is taunting authorities in letters, so will he start killing again?  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  The countdown to handover is now at T minus five days, but with the transfer of sovereignty right around the corner, it‘s not clear if Iraq is on the brink of independence or chaos.  At No. 4 tonight: what will independence bring?  A day after nearly 100 people were killed in a string of attacks, cabinet members of the new Iraqi government vowed there will be a showdown with insurgents. 

But the promised face-off already seemed to be in evidence in Fallujah today, where U.S. forces bombed several locations in the city famous as a hot-spot for insurgents. 

Pentagon correspondent, Jim Miklaszewski has the story about a strike that have nearly missed on of the leading terrorist in Iraq—Jim. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT:  Alex, the No. 1 target in Iraq remains the terrorist suspect Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.  Now it‘s not clear that American war planes had Zarqawi in their sights today, but the U.S. military is growing more desperate by the day to get him. 

(voice-over):  The U.S. military claims more than 20 terrorist fighters were killed in a massive air strike on this suspected safe house, outside of Fallujah today, as seen on “al-Jazeera.”  But if Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was here, he got away. 

Military officials say fresh intelligence indicated Zarqawi may have been in the area, but he was not among the dead.  Already blamed for the recent wave of suicide bombings, it‘s believed Zarqawi is preparing to unleash an even deadlier string of terrorist attacks. 

NBC News has learned that in the past few days, U.S. intelligence has intercepted messages from Zarqawi directing his followers to carry out new suicide missions.  And there‘s new evidence Zarqawi has plenty of foot soldiers and support. 

Intelligence officials say the terrorist group Turkish Hezbollah, believed responsible for last November‘s deadly bombings in Istanbul, is working directly with Zarqawi in Iraq. 

M.J.  GOHEL, TERRORISM EXPERT:  Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has enabled the Hezbollah groups to obtain penetration into Iraq in order to attack the U.S.-led coalition, a capability, which they formerly lacked.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MIKLASZEWSKI:  Sources report that teams of U.S. Social Forces just missed capturing Zarqawi during several raids in recent months, but U.S.  military officials are growing increasing frustrated that despite the massive manhunt, Zarqawi‘s still on the loose and becoming more deadly more than ever—Alex. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WITT:  All right, Mick, thank you very much. 

And we should note that the military‘s claims that it killed 20 people in that attack are hotly disputed by sources in Fallujah, who claim that U.S. jets hit only a vacant house.  But, as U.S. scrambles to locate the terrorists behind these attacks, there is disturbing new evidence of how a new generation of radical Islamists is being groomed. 

A grim up date to the childhood game of cops and robbers.  This video, posted on a militant Web site, shows a group of young children performing a mock beheading.  The children‘s imitation, so detailed, that the young boy seen standing in the middle, appears to deliver a lecture shaking his finger at the camera while his pretend henchmen stand by with wooden rifles.  His young captive kneels in the same manner as the real-life hostages we have seen over the past few weeks, and just like the real videos, this one has a predictable ending.  The boy removing a shiny object and then quickly bending over to finish his victim. 

Horrifying images that are just another reminder that the violence reverberates, not just across borders, but across generations.  Joining us now to assess how such images are being used to recruit tomorrow‘s terrorists, is Steve Emerson, an MSNBC terrorism expert. 

Good evening, Steve. 

STEVE EMERSON, MSNBC TERRORISM EXPERT:  Good to see you, Alex. 

WITT:  I‘ll tell you, “horrifying,” something of an understatement of an adjective to describe these pictures.  Steve, can you explain where this video was posted?  How it was being used, as well? 

EMERSON:  Well, it was posted in—out of London, out of a mosque that‘s associated with Abu Hamza al-Masri who was only indicted recently for ties to terrorism, and unfortunately Alex, although this got a lot of attention and it was taken off the London Web site, the sad and disturbing reality is that it‘s far more prevalent in terms of heroicizing and lauding the militant Islamic—you know, values by young generations—in terms of young generations of young Muslims around the world done by Islamic leaders, schools, the Internet.  And this is a problem that far transcends the actual issues of terrorism, because it goes into the whole issue of recruitment of young militants who ultimately might turn out to be terrorists.

WITT:  Steve, it‘s not the first time we‘ve seen this kind of thing, because we‘ve seen images of young children pretending to be terrorists before, most notably, in the Palestinian territories, that‘s where babies are sometimes dressed up to look like suicide bombers, as we see here.  Are kids really being groomed to say “I want to be a suicide bomber when I grow up?” 

EMERSON:  Absolutely.  In fact Alex, in 1994, I did a film called “Jihad in America” it aired on public television, and it earned me the condemnation of a lot of Muslim groups, but it revealed a lot of the indoctrination.  And there was one scene, in the United States, of a young Muslim kid at a summer camp near Chicago taking a branch and saying I slaughtered the Jews, and then they got around the campfire and yell and scream—and sang songs on behalf of Ahmed Yassin the leader of Hamas in support of suicide bombings.  That was in 1994. 

There were books that we have collected in the last few years, calling for young martyrs to volunteer around the world.  So I think, unfortunately, the reality is that the ideology is there.  We just don‘t pick it up unless somebody actually catches them in the act of posting it, as they did on the Internet. 

WITT:  Steve you also shared another very disturbing video with us this week, a rap video, it showed masked men intercut with images with terrorist attacks.  Is that another level of sophistication in the battle for hearts and minds?  Because it looked very Westernized and very well produced. 

EMERSON:  Well, certainly that jihad video, they‘re—I call it MTV meets jihad, was produced out of London by another radical organization that posted it on the Internet and designed, as you just stated, to appeal to a new generation, either of Westernized Muslims or even possibly of non-Muslims, such as John Walker Lindh. 

Clearly, this was a very sophisticated hip type of appeal that used rap music and sycophance and used words such as calling for death to Bush and Blair, as well as death to the infidels. 

WITT:  All right, terrorism expert, Steve Emerson, thanks for your time tonight, we appreciate it.

EMERSON:  You‘re welcome.

WITT:  COUNTDOWN now past out No. 4 story.  Up next, a much-needed breather from the day‘s big headlines.  “Oddball‘s” next, and it doesn‘t get too much weirder than this guy‘s hobby. 

And later, Bill Clinton‘s “My Life” is breaking publishing records, but for Monica Lewinsky, my life is ruining her life all over again.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  I‘m Alex Witt in for Keith Olbermann and we pause the COUNTDOWN now, to move from the news that makes you go “hmmm” to make the stories that make you say “Whaaa?”  Let‘s play “Oddball.” 

And if it‘s Friday, it must time for the car chase of the day, and we‘re back in L.A., of course.  The men in this car are suspect to the armed robbery of a cell phone store.  During the chase, they reportedly threw the money out of the window, possibly they knew how these things usually end.  If they had checked the “Oddball” scoreboard, they‘d have seen it‘s cops 49, guys who think they can escape the cops, nothing. 

Two passengers bailed out at different points to make it on their own and were arrested before police used spike strips to stop the car and end this chase after almost an hour.  And this guy‘s not going to risk flashlight beating or worse, he surrenders to the LAPD and gets wrapped tight for a nice long trip to the big house. 

To Masontown, Pennsylvania, where no one knows how to make a political statement better than Greenpeace.  We don‘t chose sides here on “Oddball,” and if someone in favor of burning coal wants to scale the side of a 750 foot smokestack to hang up a sign, we‘ll show that, too.  But, the six activists at the top of this chimney may never see it, they‘ve been arrested and face felony conspiracy and destruction of an energy facility charges, which could lead to 20 years in prison and a half a million dollars in fines.  The group allegedly cut open a security gate, and snuck past guards, climbed up and enjoyed the view for several hours.  “Hey, I can see my biosphere from here.” 

And finally: rollin‘, rollin‘, rollin‘, Ludkan Baba is rollin‘ rawhide.  It‘s the rollin‘ holy man of Pakistan and he‘s on the move again.  This time, he‘s rollin‘ the 1,500 miles to the city of Lahore, where the hopes to meet the Pakistani president and congratulate him on the ongoing peace process with India.  Baba has never heard of Hallmark, I guess. 

He‘s rolled over 20,000 miles in the last few years, all part of his mission for peace.  This latest trip should take several weeks, depending on the traffic, but Baba keeps himself nourished by drinking tea and smoking up to five packs of cigarettes a day.  I wonder if he rolls his own.

“Oddball‘s” in the record book.  Up next, tonight‘s No. 3 story: 

After all the headlines, headaches and hype, “Fahrenheit 9/11” is opened for all of Americans to see.  Will audiences be walking away with all the facts or fallacies? 

And later, Arnold Schwarzenegger, perhaps the GOP‘s biggest star, what role will he be playing in the presidential campaign? 

First, here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Newsmakers” of this day:

No. 3: Fifty-six year old Gary Eagan, the new Iron Butt Association record holder for a transcontinental trip from Alaska to Key West, Florida on a motorcycle.  Eagan made the 5,600 mile journey in just 100 hours, despite one crash in Alaska just a couple hours after he started.

No. 2: The fine folks at the Park Place Medical Center.  We found the WMD‘s and they‘re in Texas!  A small fire in a soda vending machine forced the evacuation of the Houston Hospital yesterday when the Freon gas inside reacted with the flames to form phosgene, a poisonous gas that was used as chemical weapon in World War I.  No one was seriously injured.

And No. 1: “Friend‘s” star, Matthew Perry who reportedly dove into a swimming pool to save a young boy at a barbeque in Hollywood, California.  The 2-year-old was so going to drown and Chandler Bing saved his life, could you be anymore heroic?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  The parallel so often drawn between politics and entertainment are usually metaphorical and occasionally literal. 

But in our No. 3 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, they are quite simply a mix of the strange and unexpected that can only be described as bizarre. 

And we begin tonight with “Fahrenheit 9/11,” a little political film that you may heard mentioned once or twice or 3,000 times.  So it should come as no surprise that most showings tonight in New York City are sold out.  More surprising perhaps the lines of hundreds wrapped around theaters in Oklahoma City and Dallas.  Projections that this could be the largest documentary film opening ever are not unwarranted.  But maybe calling the movie a documentary in the first place is.

Here‘s NBC‘s Lisa Myers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NARRATOR:  The true story that will make your temperature rise. 

LISA MYERS, NBC CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  But how true is it?  The film‘s sometimes embarrassing video of Bush administration officials is authentic. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “FAHRENHEIT 9/11”)

JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL (singing):  Let the Eagle soar.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MYERS:  Though some argue certain shots amount to cheap shots. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “FAHRENHEIT 9/11”)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers.  Thank you. 

Now watch this drive. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MYERS:  The powerful story of Lila Lipscomb, whose son was killed in Iraq, is also undeniable.  But, on other key points, critics say this so-called documentary is either wrong or deliberately misleading.  The war in Iraq, to drive home the point that the children of the powerful aren‘t dying in Iraq, Moore ambushes politicians on Capitol Hill. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “FAHRENHEIT 9/11”)

MICHAEL MOORE, FILMMAKER:  Congressman, Michael Moore.  How you doing?

(CROSSTALK)

MOORE:  Good.  Good.  I‘m trying to get members of Congress to get their kids to enlist in the Army and go over to Iraq. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MYERS:  But Moore left out what Congressman Mark Kennedy went on to say. 

REP. MARK KENNEDY ®, MINNESOTA:  My nephew had just gotten called into service and was told he‘s heading to Afghanistan.  He didn‘t like that answer, so he didn‘t include it. 

MYERS:  Bush and the Saudis.  The film trades ties between the Bush

and bin Laden and Saudi royal families, then suggests the Bushes—quote -

·         “might be thinking about what‘s best for the Saudis, instead of what is best for you.”

ROGER CRESSEY, MSNBC COUNTERTERRORISM ANALYST:  The Bush family‘s relationship with the bin Ladens and the Saudis had nothing to with do with our decisions in the war on terrorism.  To so say so is simply unfair. 

MYERS:  Finally, Saudi flights after 9/11.  The film suggests that planeloads of Saudis, including the bin Laden family, were allowed to leave the U.S. after 9/11 without proper vetting. 

However, the 9/11 Commission says, “Nobody was allowed to depart who the FBI wanted to interview.”

(on camera):  One character in this film suggests that President Bush is even worse than Osama bin Laden, one of the excesses and distortions that may undermine the credibility of Michael Moore‘s message.

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WITT:  And while audience members of every political stripe flocked to theaters to either cheer or heckle Mr. Moore‘s latest effort, some filmmakers are gearing up for a cinematic response.

The American Film Renaissance, an anti-Moore film festival, has announced a September schedule and will such titles as “Michael Moore Hates America” and “Michael and Me.”  But not all films in the three-day program bash the “Fahrenheit 9/11” director.  Another of the 10 confirmed films is about conservative pundit and author Ann Coulter is entitled “Is It True What They Say About Ann?  Why, Yes.  Yes, It Is.”

And from the man whose politics made him a celebrity to a man whose celebrity made him governor of California, we continue our third story with Arnold Schwarzenegger.  The GOP‘s biggest gun in an interview with “The New York Times” has made clear his willingness to participate in and lend his support to the president‘s reelection efforts during the Republican National Convention in August. 

Not a man with whom low self-esteem is ever associated, Schwarzenegger said—quote—“If they‘re smart, they‘ll have me obviously in prime time.”

To discuss just how the GOP might harness such high-wattage star power, I‘m joined now by our star MSNBC political analyst and “Congressional Quarterly” columnist Craig Crawford. 

Craig, good evening to you.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Alex, I loved hearing you sing in the “Oddball” segment there. 

(LAUGHTER)

WITT:  Well, I‘ll sing for you later. 

(CROSSTALK)

CRAWFORD:  I remember the Christmas party.  You know how to sing. 

WITT:  OK, let‘s move on really quickly, Craig.  I‘m afraid we have to.

And, clearly, humility strains do not equate with the governor.  But he‘s not entirely wrong here, is he?  Wouldn‘t it be in the party‘s best interests to put a movie star politician in prime time? 

CRAWFORD:  Sure would.  As boring as these conventions may be, anything to goose it up a little bit would be wonderful.  And Schwarzenegger is a star of the party.  He runs the biggest state in the country and would be the ninth largest nation if it were a country. 

WITT:  Mr. Schwarzenegger, Mr. Bush, they‘re not totally in step politically.  The governor skews more moderately, doesn‘t he, particularly on social issues like abortion rights.  Is that going to likely play poorly with the president‘s conservative base, though? 

CRAWFORD:  They might grumble a bit, Alex.

But I‘ll tell you, this guy is deeply loved throughout the party because of the future, the potential, the fund-raising skill and so on.  At the California Republican Convention before the recall vote in California back in last fall, I remember a lot of conservatives flocking to Arnold Schwarzenegger.  The star power there sort of trumps any concerns they have about his social positions. 

WITT:  OK, Craig, we‘re talking right now about electing a president.  However, it seems, earlier this year, some members of Congress, they already attended the coronation of the messiah. 

Yes, everybody, you heard right.  At what was billed as an awards banquet to recognize ambassadors for peace, dozens of members of the House witnessed as one of the honorees, host of the ceremonies, Reverend Sun Myung Moon, in full silk and ermine, was literally crowned.

And yet, that is not the weirdest part.  The Reverend Moon, who refers to himself as father and as the head of the Unification Church, probably best known for its mass Moony marriage ceremonies, in a speech following his coronation said that, in a vision, a reformed Adolf Hitler vouched for him, calling him—quote—“none other than humanity‘s savior, a messiah, returning lord and true parent.”

Huh?  Craig, that whole event took place three months ago.  Why are we just hearing about this now? 

CRAWFORD:  You have got to wonder how this guy even gets through security at the airport, much less gets a crown on Capitol Hill. 

It‘s all about money, Alex.  This is somebody who can pump a lot of money into the system.  He owns a newspaper in Washington, “The Washington Times,” which is an alternative, a conservative alternative to “The Washington Post.”  And so a lot of politicians have grabbed on to his coattails. 

This was a particularly amazing scene, though, not only crowning anybody in the seat of democracy, but someone like him, who, as a matter of fact, was convicted of tax fraud back in 1982.  But the money makes a difference.  Most of us write a letter to our congressman, we get a form letter back.  This one gets a crown. 

WITT:  Yes, but, Craig, do you think these members of Congress, they‘re going, all right we‘re going to associate with him because he‘s a media mogul and they‘re not worried of the association being tainted? 

CRAWFORD:  You would think they would.  The invitation that went out was clear that he was involved.  The Washington Times Foundation sponsored it, which he owns.  So I don‘t know how they weren‘t clear about what was happening, but that‘s been the case made by a lot of the congressmen who showed up later.  They said they didn‘t realize he was going to be there because some of their constituents were being honored.  I‘m not really tracking that argument. 

WITT:  And you saw the invitation.  It was quite clear what was going on here, right, in your eyes? 

CRAWFORD:  Sure.  And I think a lot of this is—it happened sort of under the radar.  It was way back last March.  And this more recently has come up and been talked about. 

But everybody holds their nose around Washington with Reverend Moon because he did buy the United Press International and “The Washington Times.”  And they try to do a credible job of what they do.  But they‘re always tainted by him. 

(CROSSTALK)

WITT:  But you‘re talking about this going under the radar.  Do you think there are going to be any repercussions here?  I mean, we are talking about someone who calls himself the messiah in a Senate building?

CRAWFORD:  Well, everyone who showed up there, was involved, like Norm Coleman, the senator from Minnesota elected to replace Paul Wellstone, they‘re all running for their lives away from it, saying they know nothing. 

And no one has yet found out who authorized this event happening in a Senate office building.  So it‘s a little tough to find the fingerprints now. 

WITT:  All right, Craig Crawford, colorful columnist for “The Congressional Quarterly.”  How did you like that alliteration?

CRAWFORD:  I love it.

WITT:  Thanks a lot for joining us tonight, Craig.  Appreciate it. 

CRAWFORD:  Good to see you.

WITT:  And you.

And, finally, in our weird tales of Washington file, the would-be senator whose alleged practice of taking his wife to sex clubs has cost him a president seat.  Republican hopeful Jack Ryan withdrew from the Illinois senatorial race this afternoon after a week‘s worth of front-page stories detailing his divorce papers.  In them, his ex-wife, Jeri Ryan, between known as Seven of Nine from “Star Trek,” says he tried to get her to perform sex acts with him while others watched in sex clubs. 

The peculiar world of politics making our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight.  Up next, a community on edge as a notorious killer resurfaces three times in three months after a quarter century of silence.  Then, later, it‘s official.  Britney Spears is now firmly on schedule to bypass J.Lo when it comes to the art of easy engagement. 

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MELVIN CALHOUN, PRETENDS TO BE A BULL FROG:  Old bull frog sitting on lily pad getting ready to jump off. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”)

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST:  Here is a promo for his appearance last night. 

(CROSSTALK)

NARRATOR:  Bill Clinton talks with Larry, answering whatever questions weren‘t already asked by Dan Rather, Oprah Winfrey, Katie Couric, Charles Gibson, “TIME” magazine, and National Public Radio, with questions like, where did the title of “My Life” come from, what‘s Oprah like, and where did you get that shirt?

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “LARRY KING LIVE”)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I went in there and I thought, oh, my God, there‘s our fruit cobbler which I hadn‘t seen in 3 ½ years.  And I tried to avoid at least grabbing it with my hands.  Chelsea and I, even more than Hillary, we really loved that fruit cobbler.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  It‘s a flashback to fear for a small Kansas town.

In the ‘70s, Wichita was terrorized by a serial killer for several years.  Then, as suddenly as he appeared, he vanished and wasn‘t heard from again for over 25 years.

In our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the BTK killer is back.  In 1974, 15-year-old Charlie Otero came home from school and found his entire family brutally murdered.  The killer later directed a local reporter to a note in the library.  That note revealed his nom de plume, the BTK killer, for “bind, torture, kill.” 

He murdered at least seven people, tying their hands and feet with elaborate knots.  Men, women, children, no one was safe.  His last known victim was Nancy Fox in 1977.  BTK himself called the police to that scene, then he simply disappeared.  This past March, the killer resurfaced.  An envelope with the return address of Brian Thomas Killman (ph), BTK, was mailed to the local paper. 

Inside were images of the body of Vicki Wegerle, strangled to death in 1996, as well as a copy of her driver‘s license.  Until then, police had not linked BTK to her murder.  Today, two more communications from BTK were authenticated.  Police received a letter earlier this month that details the murders of the Otero family.  And in May, another was sent to a Kansas television station.

Joining us now, former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt. 

Good evening, Clint.

CLIFF VAN ZANDT, MSNBC ANALYST:  Hi, Alex.  Good evening.

WITT:  Here we have a serial killer who has apparently been completely dormant for nearly a quarter of a century.  Where has he been?  Why has he come back now?

VAN ZANDT:  This guy is all over the map, the time he was doing this, Alex. 

We‘ve got somebody, he strangles his victims.  He shoots them.  He stabs them.  He kills men, women, and children.  And then he drops off the map.  This guy didn‘t just fall off the turnip truck.  He‘s been somewhere.

The question is, has he been in jail?  Has he been institutionalized?  Or, unlike other serial killers, was he able to kind of suck in this terrible instinct and live within the community and now he‘s coming back again because he wants fame?  And some things have probably happened in his life that makes him want to be known at this point. 

WITT:  So, Clint, if he‘s looking for publicity, is it wise for us to be giving him what he wants? 

VAN ZANDT:  Well, I think so, because I would rather see this guy talking to us and writing to us, than going out and doing something else. 

Some people say, wait a minute, the guy is 55 or 60 years old.  Well, so am I, Alex.  We can still be a threat at that age.  And I don‘t want to minimize this guy, but he is a threat.  He has killed.  He can do it again.  But while he‘s writing, he‘s not killing.  So keep those cards and letters coming in, BTK.

WITT:  Clint, there were several people who came face to face with the killer.  He spared the children of one of his victims.  He failed to kill another.  He was also spotted by a postal clerk.  So what do we know about this guy that might help us identify him? 

VAN ZANDT:  Well, we‘ve had him described as somewhere between—right now, he‘s probably somewhere between 5‘9“ and 6 foot.  He‘s probably about 55 to 60 years old.  He‘s a white guy, maybe—probably very thinning blond hair.  He has a gap between his front teeth. 

And this is someone who would follow this story very close over the years.  And recently, he would really, really be interested.  Now, of course, we‘re talking about everyone in Wichita, Kansas, who‘s interested.  But now we have to take the physical description, see who was back in Wichita at that time and see who has this tremendous interest and where has this guy been all these years?

But something in this guy, Alex, he stood up and he said, hey, here I am.  I want to be remembered.  And he‘s doing everything he can to make us remember who he is and what he did. 

WITT:  Clint, you mentioned Wichita.  I know you recently gave a speech in that city.  How is the community handling this news that BTK is back? 

VAN ZANDT:  I‘ll tell you what.  I‘ve talked to people there, Alex, who are just absolutely frightened.  They talk about sleeping with guns next to their bed.  They‘re locking doors.  They‘re afraid for their family. 

BTK used to cut the telephone lines.  People come in the house and check their phones to make sure the work.  This is a frightened community.

WITT:  A frightened community, but we‘re glad that you‘re to help us through it.  Clint Van Zandt, thanks so much.  Appreciate your time. 

VAN ZANDT:  Thank you. 

WITT:  And now from the scary headlines of our No. 2 story to the banner headlines of the world of tabloids. 

This just in—well, it wasn‘t really just in.  I wanted to give our next story a sense of urgency.  We have an update on the “Playgirl” magazine survey to determine which news anchor, in the opinion of their readers, is the absolute sexiest.  Out of 18 guys in the running, the host of this show, Keith Olbermann, is a close second behind Sean Hannity. 

And which anchors has Keith beat out so far?  Well, the competition has been very stiff, but right now, Keith is ahead of such stud muffins as Andy Rooney, Wolf Blitzer and Geraldo. 

You only have days left to vote, people.  Give Keith a welcome back present next week.  You go to COUNTDOWN.MSNBC.com to register your vote for Keith. 

Whoops, she‘s doing it again.  Britney Spears is getting married, and this time to her dancer boyfriend, Kevin Federline.  “People magazine” reports that the two are engaged and Spears‘ publicist and record label have confirmed this.  The engagement came as a surprise to many, except for the fact that recently Britney has had to spend a lot of time off her feet after knee injury forced her to cancel her summer tour. 

No date has been set for their nuptials, nor for their annulment, for that matter.  But there are rumors that the couple have booked a room in Vegas for the happy and semi-annual event.

Up next, one tawdry affair, two very different views of it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WITT:  And so we arrive at the end of a week where the headlines and hype have been dominated by just one person, presidential author Bill Clinton, making him and his autobiography a natural fit for our top story tonight.

Only, we at the COUNTDOWN are curious.  Is there more than one book?  Why, we ask, would “The New York Times” review the same book twice?  And how, we ask, could they be so dramatically different?  The first review calls the Clinton book sloppy, self-indulgent and often eye-crossingly dull.  Ouch. 

But days later, someone else deems it the richest American presidential autobiography, calling Clinton a much better writer than Reagan, Ford, Nixon or LBJ. 

Well, we looked into this.  At nearly 1,000 pages, “My Life” could have been three or four books, but Mr. Clinton did in fact write only one.  We‘re told it‘s not unusual for “The Times” to publish two reviews of the same book, one in the daily paper, the other in the Sunday book review section. 

Once we get going, hard to get us to stop.  We‘re also puzzled about whether Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky had the same relationship.  Today, we heard from Ms. Lewinsky for the first time since Mr. Clinton embarked on his book-selling media blitz.  And to us, it sounds like the former paramours are speaking the language of love in different tongues. 

You‘ll recall, the former president told Dan Rather he had an affair with the former intern—quote—“just because I could.”  But in an interview on British television tonight for which she may have been paid, Monica disputes that—quote—“I was really upset when I first heard it.  It was because he wanted to.  If it was something he did because he could, why call me, why fake all the emotions?  This is a mutual relationship, from the way it started to all the way through.”

Does that sound like the same relationship to you? 

Here to help us sort it out tonight, Dr. Mark Goulston, a couples therapist and career coach for Sherwood Solutions in Los Angeles. 

Dr. Goulston, thanks for joining us on COUNTDOWN. 

DR. MARK GOULSTON, COUPLES THERAPIST:  Glad to be here. 

WITT:  Is what we‘re hearing from Clinton and Lewinsky this classic relationship disconnect, a “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” kind of thing? 

GOULSTON:  Absolutely. 

Why should they be any different than husbands and wives who are on different wavelengths?  I think what was going on with Clinton is that he needed someone to keep his adrenaline running.  And I think the adoration of a wide-eyed young girl, certainly something he wasn‘t probably getting at home from Hillary, is something that was very seductive to him. 

Also, to have a crush on one of the most powerful and charming people in the world and have them respond to you was certainly something that sort of stoked her fire, too.  I think many people are looking at the book because they want to know what he was thinking.  And I think one of the answers is, he wasn‘t thinking anything. 

When men get stressed, they can still stay focused on what they need to.  But when it crosses over to being distressed, they focus on relief, something that will give them a way to get out. 

WITT:  All right, Dr. Goulston, I want to pause for a second to hear what President Clinton had to say about Ms.  Lewinsky in an interview with Katie Couric.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”) 

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  She‘s a really intelligent person and a fundamentally good person.  And what I hope is that she will not be sort of trapped in what Andy Warhol referred to as everyone‘s 15 minutes of fame. 

KATIE COURIC, HOST:  Do you think she will be, though? 

CLINTON:  I don‘t know.  I‘m pulling for her.  It‘s just a choice she‘ll have to make. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)  

WITT:  Now, let‘s compare that to what Monica Lewinsky said—quote -

·         “I spent the past several years working so hard just to move on and to try and build a life for myself.”

Dr. Goulston, it sounds like they‘re saying the same thing, but do Ms.  Lewinsky‘s actions back that up?  Now, money may have been a huge factor here, but I‘m going to ask this anyway.  If she wants to move on, why speak at all at this point? 

GOULSTON:  Well, we see in all the reality shows and probably their affair was one of the biggest reality shows of the last decade, when you are suddenly a somebody, not for any talents you have, but for some notoriety, and you go back to being anybody, it‘s the same as feeling nobody.

And I think that‘s why we‘re having mixed feelings about this.  We can be sympathetic when she was a young intern, but now this is several years later and it‘s tough to believe that her motives are pure. 

WITT:  So what she‘s saying, she‘s telling a British newspaper that, even after years of therapy, she‘s still tormented by this affair, all the publicity.  You‘re saying some women never get over traumatic young love?  Could this be the case with Monica? 

GOULSTON:  I think men and women often never get past the peak in their lives.  And I think what President Clinton is saying, he hopes that she‘ll move on to a regular life, as opposed to just having this as her only memory. 

WITT:  All right, Doctor  Mark Goulston, our thanks for your time tonight here on the COUNTDOWN. 

GOULSTON:  Sure.

WITT:  And that‘s it for the Friday edition of COUNTDOWN.

I‘m Alex Witt, in for Keith Olbermann.  He‘s going to be back here on Monday.  Meantime, have yourselves a great weekend. 

Here we go.  Batter up.  Strike.

END   

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