updated 10/27/2004 10:22:35 AM ET 2004-10-27T14:22:35

Guest: Howard Fineman, Mary Fetchet, John Dean, Harvey Levin

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?  Another $70 billion for Iraq, another 22,000 U.S. troops for Iraq?  What kind of politics is this one week before the election? 

And how long before we know the outcome of the election?  Recount lawsuits?  One of them, two, 20? 

John Dean tonight on how long before we‘ll know who won and why he says we‘re being moved towards a nonshooting civil war. 

The speaker spoke, the 9/11 families believed him.  The bill they wanted will not pass in time. 

And your entertainment dollars in action indeed.  We didn‘t ask, you volunteered.  Thousands of dollars now pledged to keep the Bill O‘Reilly tapes from being erased. 

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  This is Tuesday, October 26.  Seven days until the 2004 presidential election and thus seemingly, the worst time for the incumbent administration to ask Congress for $70 billion more dollars in emergency funds to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Also seemingly the worst time for the Pentagon to ask to increase U.S.  troop strength in Iraq by 22,000 Americans.  And also seemingly the worst time for Iraq‘s prime minister to come out and accuse the U.S. of great negligence in the deaths of 50 Iraqi military trainees. 

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, is this any way to run a campaign?  The “Washington Post” today quoting sources in the Pentagon and the House appropriations committee as saying that the Bush administration intends to seek about $70 billion from Congress in February of next year.  The Associated Press tonight reports that that figure could be as high as $75 billion.  The paper quotes a White House budget spokesperson as saying that the final decisions on the supplemental spending request, the fourth on Iraq since April 2003, would not be made until shortly before it was sent to Congress.  But it also quotes the Republican chief of staff at the appropriations committee as saying, “I don‘t have a number and administration officials have not been forthcoming, but we expect it will be pretty large.”

As apparently will be the temporary increase in the number of American troops on the ground in Iraq.  “USA Today” reporting a Pentagon plan to boost U.S. service personnel there by about 18 percent.  The premise is to raise troop levels from the current figure of 138,000 to nearly 160,000.  Those additional 22,000 soldiers and other personnel to be there to provide security for the Iraqi elections next month.  Those 22,000 Americans would according to four Department of Defense officials come from two groups, Americans currently scheduled to be rotated home, whose returns would be delayed.  And troops not scheduled to be deployed to Iraq until later next year, whose rotations into the battle theater would be hastened. 

The president‘s challenger hastened to respond to the twin jaw-dropping stats.  John Kerry was speaking in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where he clearly had done the math. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Now this morning we have learned that the president wants an additional $70 billion of your money early next year for Iraq and Afghanistan, bringing the total cost to date to nearly $225 billion.  This is the incredible price of rushing and going it almost alone in Iraq.  Mr. President, what else are you being silent about?  What else are you keeping from the American people?  How much more will the American people have to pay? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The bad news continued from Iraq.  The same man who came to the White House to thank this country and praise its leaders on September 23 has today accused this country and its coalition partners of great negligence in the ambush deaths of 50 Iraqi soldiers in training last Saturday.  Prime Minister Ayad Allawi also told the Iraqi National Council, quote, “you should expect an escalation in terrorist attacks.”  The trainees were murdered 95 miles east of Baghdad as they left their camps on leave to go home.  Their buses were stopped by insurgents at a fake check point.  Many of the bodies were found in rows, shot execution fashion in the head.  Prime Minister Allawi blamed the coalition for poor security.  Quote, “there was great negligence on the part of some coalition forces.”

The terror group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is claiming responsibility for the slaughter of those Iraqi troops and tonight come new charges that the Bush administration passed up several opportunities to take out Zarqawi when it could have well before the war began in Iraq.

Zarqawi, a Jordanian militant with ties to al Qaeda accused of most of the violence we have seen in Iraq since the invasion.  Senior Pentagon officials now telling the “Wall Street Journal” that in the spring 2002, the U.S. military had Zarqawi in its sights, tracking him down in Iraq, drawing up a number of plans to go after him and sending those plans to the White House.  The president personally, say those “Wall Street Journal” sources, rejected those plans choosing instead to wait. 

This is not the first time such reports have surfaced.  NBC News having reported in March that the Bush administration had several chances to wipe out Zarqawi‘s terrorist group and perhaps Zarqawi himself, but it never pulled the trigger. 

And an update of another NBC News report.  Specifically what we know about what may have happened to that huge stockpile of Saddam Hussein‘s most deadly conventional explosives.  Nearly 380 tons worth discovered missing in Iraq.  NBC News has learned that the first U.S. military unit to reach the al Qaqaa weapons installation did so on April 4, 2003, two weeks into the war, arriving to find, in the words of army officials, quote, “looters everywhere carrying out whatever they could on their backs.”

Another unit arrived one week later, but military officials say those troops were not actively involved searching for weapons including the high explosives.  It would be nearly two months before the first U.S. weapons inspectors arrived.  When they did they found all of the explosives gone. 

Pentagon officials now saying it‘s possible Saddam Hussein had the explosives moved and hidden before the war began, but they say that apparently without any hard intelligence to back that claim up. 

The cynics among us expected an October surprise out of the Bush administration possibly involving Iraq, but who could have guessed one, the Tuesday before the election in which the surprise seems to be on the incumbent.  To try to sort this out, I am joined by “Newsweek‘s” chief political correspondent and NBC and MSNBC News analyst Howard Fineman. 

Howard, good evening.  I am mystified by this.  There are too many Republicans quoted in these stories about the $70 billion or $75 billion and the 22,000 more troops for Iraq for those two stories to have been Democratic plants or leaks a week before the election.  How did this get out now and what kind of damage does it do to the Republican incumbency?

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”:  Well, I think part of it is the budget process that was grinding on and was going to have to have some numbers supplied.  So that was part of it.  Just the sort of bureaucratic machinery of Washington.  But on top of that, you have a city, Republican and Democrat alike with great doubts about the Iraq policy right now and great doubts about the future and prosecution of the war.  There are plenty of quiet Republican enemies of this policy at this point, including quite a number in the Pentagon and quite a number on Capitol Hill. 

So it wasn‘t just the Democrats.  It could easily have been Pentagon people, some disgruntled Republican people and the timing was awful for the president.  And good for John Kerry who has basically been surfing on the news for the last couple of months. 

OLBERMANN:  There is no other word to use.  During the debates, the president mocked Senator Kerry for criticizing the Iraqi prime minister Mr.  Allawi.  Today Allawi essentially laid those 50 deaths outside Baghdad Saturday on great negligence on the part of coalition forces.  We are the coalition forces.  How are the Republicans responding to this? 

FINEMAN:  Well, I talked to White House officials tonight who are choosing to blame it on the translators, Keith.  That‘s always what you do when you get in a diplomatic bind like this.  And it‘s true that if you read the statement by Allawi carefully and listen to what the other members of his coalition government, his government are saying, they are saying it‘s the coalition as a whole.  They are just saying it‘s partly perhaps poor training or poor foresight on the part of the Americans who were training them.  But they are not tonight choosing to interpret this at the White House as a great slight on the United States.  They say they will cooperate in whatever investigation Allawi wants.  They are trying to downplay it as best they can. 

OLBERMANN:  We have talked for months about the politician‘s greatest enemy, especially in a campaign:  events.  How if the news was to be bad from Iraq over the last x number of days, it could literally sink Mr. Bush in the bid for re-election.  Is this chain of events the kind of things we‘ve been talking about, or are these concepts, missing explosives, another budget increase, another troop increase, are they not tangible enough to impact the elections at this late date? 

FINEMAN:  I think anything is tangible enough.  It‘s that close, Keith.  I think this is more evidence for the doubters of the policy.  I think most of the people who doubted the policy were already opposed to the president.  There is a sliver of undecided vote out there and who knows.  Another figure of $75 billion, which goes not to the theory of the doctrine of preemption but to the budget and to tax policy and what people are paying out of their pockets may have an impact in states like Ohio and Pennsylvania and Michigan where people are very concerned about the economy and very concerned about their pocketbook. 

OLBERMANN:  We will see.  Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” and MSNBC and NBC News, as always, great thanks, Howard.

Howard always clarifies this stuff and then we have to go back and muddy it back up again by—no, not him, the latest on him coming up.  We muddy it up by reading the polls. 

I‘ve got a tie, I‘ve got a Bush by five, I‘ve got a Kerry by two.  What you do want first?  The tie?  How about the tie.  The latest national poll from the “Los Angeles Times,” 48-48 among likely voters.  The paper‘s analysis of its own poll: “It is not that the country is more enamored of the president and wants to continue with his policies, it is that Kerry is not closing the deal.”

“The USA Today”-Gallup poll showing the president with a five-point lead, 51-46.  Last week, it had been Mr. Bush by eight.

The major daily tracking polls—Reuters and Zogby.  First, the president extending his lead on the first day in which leaning voters have been put into this mix as well.  Pollster John Zogby warning, if Kerry is looking to undecideds, look again, there may not be enough left.

Yet in “The Washington Post” sunset tracking poll, it‘s 50-48 Kerry, the challenger gaining another point since yesterday, when it was 49-48.

And there is one more political result tonight, one that a lot of people thought they saw coming, but hoped they were wrong about.  It is the result of what seemed like a story from the movie scripts of Frank Capra.  A small group of 9/11 family members accidentally runs into one of the most powerful men in Washington, and he promises them that despite all odds, he will get a compromise passed before the election that would establish a new office of national intelligence director. 

Unlike a Capra movie, this one does not have the Hollywood ending.  The negotiations have apparently broken down for good.  In a moment, one of those 9/11 family members joins me.  First, to refresh you on this story, here is part of Monica Novotny‘s report from October 12th

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MONICA NOVOTNY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  They weren‘t supposed to meet with Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert.  It was literally an accident.  A wrong turn down an unfamiliar hallway in the Capitol led them to his inner sanctum, where the speaker made them an unexpected promise, to get the 9/11 intelligence reform bill to the president by Election Day. 

For Carol Ashley, Mary Fetchet and Beverly Eckert, it was divine intervention.  

MARY FETCHET, MOTHER OF 9/11 VICTIM:  I don‘t think it was a coincidence.  I feel that our family members that died brought us down that path.  And are pushing us forward, really, to do what should be done. 

NOVOTNY:  Since September 11, these women have devoted themselves to making America safer.  Their mission, to push legislation through Congress before November 2nd, restructuring the intelligence community based on the core recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. 

And the result of their meeting with Speaker Hastert?  His promise to push the 9/11 bill through the system in days, not months or years.  A response that surprised the women and Washington.

NBC producer Mike Viqueira. 

MIKE VIQUEIRA, NBC NEWS:  What most congressional observers had thought all along was that the bill would not be done until after the election, when Congress is due to come back for a lame-duck session. 

NOVOTNY:  But can the speaker keep his word? 

VIQUEIRA:  The speaker is probably the most powerful man in Congress.  If he really wants to follow through on that promise, in all likelihood, he can do so. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Monica Novotny on Speaker Hastert‘s promise, now in danger of becoming an empty one.  You just met Mary Fetchet in that report.  Her oldest son Brad worked in the World Trade Center, an employee of Cantor Fitzgerald, like two of my college classmates, Evan McAmady (ph) and Mike Tanner (ph), who also perished that day. 

Ms. Fetchet has been working ever since then, fighting for an investigation into what happened so that it never happens again. 

She joins us now from Washington.  Thank you for your time this evening. 

FETCHET:  Hi, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  From what you can tell there, is this over?  What has happened? 

FETCHET:  Well, we hope it‘s not over.  We‘ve been continuing to meet with the conferees and their staff, we‘re continuing to walk the halls of Washington, and we‘re pushing for the reforms to be in place. 

We support the Senate version of the bill, because the 9/11 commissioners support it as well.  It really reflects the 9/11 Commission report and the recommendations that they made. 

OLBERMANN:  The answer to this might be obvious, certainly would be obvious to you being in the middle of all this, but why was it so important to get this bill passed before Election Day and on the president‘s desk before Election Day? 

FETCHET:  Well, I think there should be a sense of urgency.  Reports in the news are very misleading with regard to homeland security, with regard to 9/11 reform.  Although they are a step in the right direction, it‘s not a strategic plan in place, as the 9/11 Commission is recommending.  We really need somebody in charge.  We need a strong national intelligence director.  We need a National Counterterrorism Center, and we need a civil liberties board in place, particularly if you‘re talking about immigration law enforcement reforms. 

OLBERMANN:  At best, all of these reforms, all of these improvements are uncertain.  So what now?  What would you say to Dennis Hastert after the chance encounter of meeting him and the promise that was made and where we stand right now? 

FETCHET:  Well, I think it‘s actually beyond Dennis Hastert.  If you looked at “The New York Times” today, you see that actually the Pentagon is blocking this bill.  And when we met with the White House, we actually went to the White House, I think, a week later and met with Judge Gonzales.  And he mentioned to us that the bill would probably not be completed until after the new year.  We were shocked by that. 

In that meeting, too, we were just there to try to ask for their support and to collaborate with their efforts in the Senate bill and the commissioners who all seemed to be on the same page.  And again we found that we were getting mixed messages from the White House, that truly, I think there are two camps in the White House, some that support the legislation and some that don‘t. 

And that‘s a major concern.  You know, I can‘t understand.  We were  warned pretty early on that the Department of Defense, the Armed Services and the Appropriation Committees would try to railroad this process.  And I think the reality is that‘s what‘s happening today. 

OLBERMANN:  Mary Fetchet of Voices of September 11th.  Everything changed after 9/11, except the things that didn‘t. 

Many thanks for your time.  We wish you the best of luck continuing the project. 

FETCHET:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Good night.

Just how divided is this country?  Maybe not as divided as you would initially think. 

We‘ll take to you Lancaster, Ohio, where Democratic and Republican headquarters are on top of each other, literally. 

And the falafel factor fund.  I‘ve made the offer to preserve the O‘Reilly-Mackris tapes, and America is giving until it hurts.  So to speak.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  All politics local they say, and in one locale all politics is in the same office, literally.  Upstairs, downstairs, with Democrats and Republicans in Ohio.  And John Dean on the prospects of another election tie. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Still ahead of us tonight, something you don‘t hear a lot about on the air.  What happens if there is no definitive result a week from tonight or a month from tonight, or a year from tonight?  John Dean will join us. 

Of course if you really believe there is no difference between the two parties anyway, we have got something to fuel your fondest conspiracy theory, as well. 

Our fourth story in the COUNTDOWN, Lancaster, Ohio, where you can find county Democratic headquarters is at the intersection of Main and Broad Streets, and county Republican headquarters is at the intersection of Main and Broad Streets. 

COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny joins us now with the story of this crossroads of the nation and how it updates that old theory that politics makes strange bedfellows.  Monica, good evening.

NOVOTNY:  Yes, it does.  Keith, good evening. 

About 30 miles outside of Columbus, there is a two-story brick building filled with volunteers working for both candidates.  Now, these are two campaigns led by two lawyers fighting for Ohio‘s 20 electoral votes, and it‘s all happening under one roof, although that might be news to the Republicans. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I didn‘t even know they were here. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I didn‘t know that until this evening. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s the first time I noticed them. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This is the first time I‘ve ever seen them. 

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  Republican volunteers staying on message at 120 East Main Street, Lancaster, Ohio‘s GOP headquarters.  Apparently, they never noticed the Democrats hard at work at 120 ½ East Main. 

That would be right upstairs. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes, we have plenty... 

JAMES LINEHAN:  It‘s been absolutely frantic.  There is something to do every day. 

NOVOTNY:  Each night attorney James Linehan turns his office into a phone bank for the Kerry-Edwards campaign. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We have canvassing.  We have phone banks.  We have yard signs to distribute.  We have literature to distribute.  There is something going on every day.

NOVOTNY:  Linehan knows exactly where and who his competition is. 

Attorney Steve Davis, the local Republican Party chairman. 

STEVE DAVIS:  I‘ve known James Linehan since we were kids.  We graduated high school together.  I like James.  I like some of the people he‘s got up there with him tonight.  But we are in this office every night with our volunteers. 

LINEHAN:  We disagree strenuously, but we are neighbors. 

NOVOTNY:  Same town, same school.  They even chose the same profession, just not the same political party. 

So their messages may be different.  But just one week before Election Day, their methods are not. 

DAVIS:  We‘ve got wranglers, we‘ve got runners, we‘ve got flushers, we‘ve got phone bankers, we‘ve got door-to-door folks.  They just can‘t wait to get out there and do their job for the president. 

NOVOTNY:  Lancaster, the county seat of Fairfield County, where voters gave President Bush 62 percent of the vote in 2000, leaving the Davis team downstairs confident. 

DAVIS:  It‘s checkers and chess.  And we are playing chess. 

NOVOTNY:  While the team upstairs fights an uphill battle. 

LINEHAN:  We are the Boston Red Sox of this presidential campaign.  The Red Sox had the curse of the Babe.  I guess we have the curse of Ronald Reagan. 

SANTANA BOBO, KERRY VOLUNTEER:  Yeah, it‘s a friendly competition now. 

Ask me next week, and it might change.  We might be coming to blows. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  They believe in who they are working for.  We just know who is the better candidate. 

NOVOTNY:  Under this roof, they agree to disagree. 

LINEHAN:  I often will contact Steve and ask him for opposing view points.  I think too often in our community, in any place, people get set in their position and they are just unable to hear the other side. 

NOVOTNY:  The key for running a good race here, respecting your rival. 

DAVIS:  It‘s a small town and a long life.  And the people who live that way get to stay. 

LINEHAN:  Bet you state dinner we get at least 40 percent of the vote.

DAVIS:  Double it.

LINEHAN:  It‘s a bet.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOVOTNY:  All that aside, both the Republicans and the Democrats say the final stage of this ground war is unlike anything that‘s been staged in Fairfield County.  Democrats have about 100 volunteers making calls across the county, across the state.  And over the last seven months, the Republicans say they have made 50,000 calls to registered voters. 

OLBERMANN:  And they talked about next week. 

NOVOTNY:  Right.

OLBERMANN:  What about the week after that?  What if this goes longer?  Have they got rentals on both of those offices?  What happens if it‘s—especially since Ohio is so pivotal to this election, what happens after that? 

NOVOTNY:  Well, as you noticed, they are both lawyers, and so they are both prepared for the recount, and they both say that they are ready to step in at a moment‘s notice if there are any voter issues in Ohio. 

OLBERMANN:  Are these the kind of people who if there aren‘t issues in Ohio, might wind up dealing with the issues in Florida or the issues in X, or Y or Z? 

NOVOTNY:  I don‘t think so.  I think that they are really focused on Ohio, and even the Democrats, even they said, look, we may not win this in our county because we know that this is a long shot for us, but if we can just help, maybe Kerry can win the state. 

OLBERMANN:  COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny reporting on—and how often can we say this—Democratic and Republican headquarters in Fairfield County, Ohio.  Many thanks. 

The tooth, whole tooth and nothing but the tooth.  Yes, that is what that is, and they are stealing it.  “Oddball” is straight ahead. 

And it doesn‘t get any odder than turning a botched rock song into a hoedown on live TV.  Ashlee Simpson, earning her place tonight in a very elite and exclusive COUNTDOWN club.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We are back, and we pause the COUNTDOWN now for our nightly segment devoted to distracting you from the day‘s real news with funny pictures and goofy people, besides the candidates. 

Let‘s play “Oddball.”

And we begin with the tooth fairy caught on tape.  Surveillance cameras in front of the Desert Dental Alternatives Offices (ph) in Cathedral City, California—that‘s near Palm Springs—caught three vandals trying to steal a four-foot tall tooth from in front of the building at about 3:00 a.m. 

The thieves did not get far with said tooth.  Apparently, it was too heavy.  So they left it a few feet away.  The offices offering a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest of the vandals, and they hope to be able to return the tooth to its owner, former President Jimmy Carter. 

Perhaps at the same time they will dress up the tooth with a fancy “Hello Kitty” inlay or sparkling rhinestone.  A Japanese dentist is offering these services to patients in his office outside Tokyo.  Using adhesive glues and handmade ornaments, Dr. Koichi Nogomoto (ph) has taken the “glad to see you saved that food to eat later” look, and made it into high art.  The tooth ornaments will come off naturally after about three months, or sooner, depending on how much granola you eat.

Finally, in non-tooth news, we return to the Taiwanese legislature, always good for fistercuffs and inter-parliamentary wrestling matches.  Today, a food fight.  The debate was over whether Taiwan should spend billions to buy weapons from the United States.  But, soon the parliamentarians had their own ballistic boxed lunch launch.  The battle of the flying chicken, the eggs and rice.  No one was injured except the chicken, though officials believe it was already dead and in pieces before the incident. 

If you thought the 2000 recount in Florida was tough, how about a series of recounts, with the Supreme Court consisting of only eight judges voting?  John Dean on recount the sequel next.  And is a settlement looming in O‘Reilly-gate or could your pledge still help us preserve the tapes?  Those stories ahead. 

No. 3, researches at Sainsbury‘s, the British supermarket chain, they are now selling lettuce that stays fresh if you leave it on your windowsill and put water on it.  It will keep growing after you buy it.  And, of course, it will then eventually take over the world. 

No. 2, theme warning here.  The Allerca Company, which today says that by 2007, it will be able to deliver the first-ever hypoallergenic cats; 27 million of us are allergic to cats.  But we won‘t be allergic to these cats.  The company makes no promises, however, that the allergen-free cats won‘t ignore you, just like regular cats. 

And, No. 1, if your love your dander-free cat and he passes on, the ForeverPet Company says it will clone your cat for you, $19,950 for the first clone, $4,995 for additional copies.  I‘m Earl Scheib and I‘ll clone any cat for $29.95.  Right. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It was, most commentators said, the kind of thing this country would see once in a century, the 2000 presidential recount.  Unfortunately, said commentators may have been being optimistic. 

Our third story in the COUNTDOWN, unless, that is, you‘re one of the people who believes that 2000 was actually the last year of the 20th century and thus 2004 is part of a different century.  In a moment, former White House counsel John Dean lays out the worst-case scenario days, months, even years of legal wrangling over next Tuesday‘s election, the equivalent of a new Civil War. 

First, the most astonishing poll number of the entire campaign, by partisan agreement that we do not think we will have a clear winner by a week from tomorrow.  According to the latest Associated Press poll, 69 percent of Democrats think there will not be a clear winner as of election night; 56 percent of Republicans agree.  Put those numbers together and six out of 10 Americans are expecting overtime. 

One of them, I suspect, is my next guest, former White House counsel during the Nixon administration, author of the best-selling analysis of the Bush administration, “Worse Than Watergate,” and most recently, writer of the FindLaw column “The Coming Post-Election Chaos,” John Dean.

John, welcome back.  Good evening.

JOHN DEAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Is there a chance that we will get a clean election result next Tuesday night? 

DEAN:  Well, we certainly have all the makings for a perfect storm.  I‘ve never seen anything quite like it.  And given what we had in 2000, both sides are looking at election returns much differently this time than they ever have before.

So I think we do have little likelihood of a very clean and crisp announcement on the night of November 2. 

OLBERMANN:  This is now bipartisan.  I gather that the Democrats are as prepared to contest every nook and cranny of this great land as the Republicans are.  Is that right? 

DEAN:  Well, not only are they prepared.  It‘s already started.  There is a lot of litigation already going. 

What‘s happened this time is, the lawyers have studied the law going in.  They are anticipating trouble.  They are actually in a sense looking for trouble on both sides.  We have a history of Republicans who have sometimes tried to disqualify Democrats.  We have had a history of Democrats rolling over, which they‘ve decided they are never going to do again after 2000. 

And with somewhere around 10,000 minimum, maybe as high as 150,000 lawyers out cruising around, looking for trouble, I think we‘ve got a clear sign of the potential for trouble. 

OLBERMANN:  As if we needed another wild card, the wild, wild card this time was revealed to all of us only yesterday with the announcement of the health of Chief Justice Rehnquist.  You‘ve not only got the prospect of all this going back to the Supreme Court, maybe in several different component parts, a magnification of what happened in 2000, but does his thyroid cancer pose the prospect of the court not being able to decide, that there might be only eight healthy justices? 

DEAN:  Well, I think what will happen—let‘s say Rehnquist is still out and somehow unable to come into the court.  I actually was curious about that.  And I thought that he probably could vote whether he was in the court or out of the court. 

So I contacted a former law clerk from the Supreme Court and discussed it and found out there is no question.  He can cast his vote even if he is not at the court.  He can do it from his hospital bed.  He can do it from his home.  He can do it from every place but the hereafter. 

OLBERMANN:  That would certainly add weight to the idea that the process was entirely political, even within the Supreme Court. 

Is the damage to the Supreme Court—is it still—can the Supreme Court survive additional damage after the sort of wearing-off of some of the assumed luster four years ago? 

DEAN:  Keith, I think the last thing in the world that this court really wants is to have to take this case on again and resolve an election dispute. 

Last time they did it, we now know that several of the clerks who were disgruntled did something very unusual.  They spoke out about what was happening inside the court, how political it was with the five who voted to put Bush in the White House.  And I don‘t think they want to go there again.  The court, really, its only authority is the persuasion of its logic and its reasoning.  It has no army.  It has no real enforcement mechanism. 

And when people lose faith in the court, we are in serious trouble.  So I think they will do everything they can to stay out of it.  But I can also tell you, in my research for my article, I found that Mr. Rove, who is obviously the key political operative for George Bush, is somebody who is prepared to litigate ad nauseum and to go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Indeed, he tied up the Alabama Supreme Court for almost over a year when his candidate for the Supreme Court of Alabama, which is an elective post, lost the election.  And he took on the election and overturned it. 

OLBERMANN:  I made a joke here last week that if all the Democrats lived in one part of the country and all the Republicans lived in another, we would have already heard shooting in the distance. 

But the last paragraph in your column has this ominous ring to it.  To quote it: “It does not seem to trouble either Rove or Bush that they are moving us toward a 21st century Civil War.”  We have a bona fide prospect of another Civil War during the 1876 presidential election disaster.  How serious are you when you invoke that most awful of our phrases, civil war? 

DEAN:  Well, I thought it ought to be thrown up as a storm warning for the mood the country is in right now, where it‘s certainly true with the elites on both the left and the right.

Now, what‘s happening out there in the middle, a lot of people say that, well, they are not as reactive as the elites.  But, certainly, there are people who are ready to go to war on these issues and ready to go to war on this election, and they are not prepared to have either side lose or their side lose.  This is not healthy and that‘s why I threw that out there, because if we maybe focus on these problems in advance, we won‘t go where we shouldn‘t go. 

OLBERMANN:  We can hope, and then someone can sue us and force us to hope the other way. 

John Dean‘s latest article is called “The Coming Post-Election Chaos.” 

And his latest book is “Worse Than Watergate.”

John, as always, many thanks, sir. 

DEAN:  Thank you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  The countdown within the COUNTDOWN nearing completion here, too.  You are just mere minutes away from your Bill O‘Reilly news of the day.  The negotiations and the offers are pouring in from all across our great land. 

And Castro‘s comeback.  Less than a week after his fall, our live, continuing coverage of the fall of the dictator that literally continues next.  Take it easy. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  I offered Andrea Mackris $99,000 not to destroy the O‘Reilly tapes.  And now it seems America is trying to outbid me in this project—that story next here on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Some men are born telethoners.  Some achieve telethoness. 

And others have telethons thrust upon them.

Our No. 2 on the COUNTDOWN, who knew?  When I offered to pay off the $99,000 of debt reportedly accumulated by Bill O‘Reilly‘s accuser, Andrea Mackris, it was supposed to be a self-contained thing.  She, we were told, was about to settle and agree to destroy the tapes of her dubious conversations with a man old enough to be her father. 

Somebody had to do something.  So I volunteered.  And then you volunteered.  The latest on the settlement talks in a moment.  First, the continuing e-mail tide, viewers and Bloggermann readers pledging, without being asked, to contribute to the save-the-tapes fund.  We don‘t have one. 

Your entertainment dollars truly in action, day 14 of the Bill O‘Reilly investigations.

Some sample e-mails.  “I don‘t have a lot of money,” writes Rosemary from Ravena, New York.  It‘s Ravena.  “But I can afford to pledge $10 to save the tapes.  I used to be a huge O‘Reilly fan.  He has read two of my e-mails on the air, but slowly, you stole me away.”

Rosemary, when he read your e-mails, was he wearing pants? 

From a viewer overseas: “I‘ll give 50 pounds sterling, whatever that translates as in dollars.  Your show is only shown on a Friday night in Britain, while we have the dubious pleasure of watching Bill every night of the week.  Oh, the humanity.”

Jonathan, glad to know we‘re on.  None of us in the office had heard. 

From Susan in Tucson: “Your show is wonderful.  We look forward to the time COUNTDOWN comes on each day.  But this O‘Reilly bit is nonessential and, frankly, I don‘t care about that idiot and his problems.  So I would not give a red cent.”              

Nor should you.  This is not an actual pledge drive.  I and I alone will pony up $99,000 and offer that as Mackris‘ attorneys are smiling quietly to themselves.  But in spirit, you are willing and thusly we thank you.  The grand total of your hypothetical offers tonight reaching $24,216. 

So, anyway, what happened to that supposedly imminent settlement deal? 

Harvey Levin, creator, executive producer of television‘s “Celebrity Justice” and an old former colleague of mine, joins us again. 

Harvey, good evening.

HARVEY LEVIN, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, “CELEBRITY JUSTICE”:  Hi, Keith.  Or should I say Jerry? 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Thank you very much kindly.

Anything happening here in O‘Reilly-gate? 

LEVIN:  They are still negotiating. 

I know that, as of late this afternoon, it was still going on.  The clock is ticking, Keith.  I think Friday is the big day, because they are scheduled back in court.  And if O‘Reilly gets hold of any tapes that do exist, they are going to know not just the weaknesses of his case, but the strengths—the weaknesses in her case as well.  And I think it could make the settlement offer go down, down, down.  So I think this thing is going to settle in the next couple of days.

OLBERMANN:  But it seems to me, and maybe I‘m mistaken about this, but we actually have two deadlines, one legal, one media, this Friday, as you say, the show cause hearing, in which Ms. Mackris might have to give up the tapes, and, as you said, we might but context or whatever, but also next Wednesday, because if the election actually is decided on time, it‘s my guess that the news media will be going back to Bill O‘Reilly‘s house in one big swarm.  So he also has a deadline.  He needs to get this over with, too, doesn‘t he? 

LEVIN:  You know, I think that‘s probably true, Keith. 

But the bigger thing, honestly, this is about money.  And this woman wants a lot of money from Fox and from O‘Reilly.  And her leverage is—leverage is the unknown.  People fear the unknown.  As long as O‘Reilly doesn‘t know exactly what it is that she may have said on the tape, but knows what he may have said, then he is feeling like, how strong is her position? 

My guess is she‘s put all her firepower in the lawsuit.  So there may be things she didn‘t want to put in that weaken her position.  And if O‘Reilly finds out what that is, then she is going to lose some of her leverage.  Her best effort to settle is going to be in the next three days.  If he gets hold of these tapes, if his lawyers do, and it looks like she is baiting him or entrapping him or seducing him, it‘s not going to be as good for her, because she‘s not going to be sympathetic to a jury, and his lawyers are going to know that. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  There is probably a segment on the tape that‘s just about leverage, too. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  But the last question has to be, where is the smart money going, Harvey?  Are we ever going to hear these things or are they just going to float off into history without us getting a chance to enjoy the rich tapestry of his life? 

LEVIN:  Honestly, here is my feeling about it.  I think this case—

I‘m guessing this case is going to settle this week. 

But the solace, you could go to Red Hot Video for $3.99 a night.  You can get pictures as well. 

OLBERMANN:  Harvey Levin of television‘s “Celebrity Justice,” as always, providing alternatives. 

My friend, many thanks. 

LEVIN:  See you, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Just a reminder, Bloggermann is young, but feisty.  The official blog of the show and its not so genial host, read it only at COUNTDOWN.MSNBC.com.  Remember our motto.  You never know what it‘s going to be about because I never know what it‘s going to be about. 

A seamless segue, then, into the worlds of celebrity, gossip, and a 78-year-old dictator who thinks he‘s a break-dancer or an X-Game participant or something like that.  “Keeping Tabs” takes us to enticing Havana.  You will recall that, last Thursday, Dr. Fidel Castro forgot the timeless advice.  Watch that first step.  It‘s a lulu -- 9.1, 9.1, 9.2.  Oh, and an 8.9 from the French judge.

Castro shattered his left kneecap.  He has now reappeared on Cuban state television to announce that the country will end circulation of U.S.  dollar bills.  Also, no more stairs.  Stairs are forbidden.  And underwear will be worn on the outside. 

One of the great voices of American song has been stilled.  Robert Merrill has passed away at the age of 87.  He was considered the country‘s leading baritone and one of the stars of the Metropolitan Opera in New York for 30 years.

Once a wedding singer, a man who performed at bar mitzvah, a man who appeared in a low-brow movie called “Aaron Slick From Punkin Crick,” and, perhaps most famously to later generations, as the man who belted out the best and one of the fastest versions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at baseball games, especially at the World Series, Robert Merrill once confessed to being always afraid that, in front of those big baseball crowds, he would forget the words to the anthem, so he said, he would write them on his hand. 

He died Saturday of natural causes while watching the first game of the baseball World Series. 

After that, it‘s hardly fair to say our No. 1 story tonight is about another singer.  Let‘s just say we have a new member of COUNTDOWN‘s Apology Hall of Fame.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The critic from “The Atlanta Journal Constitution” has declared she has—quote—“the vocal range of Rex Harrison.” 

You may recall he was the actor who spoke most of the songs in the movie “My Fair Lady.”  Fine if you were also “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.”  Not so fine or if you are Ashlee Simpson, alleged singer. 

Our No. 1 on the COUNTDOWN, day two of the lip synch that didn‘t work.  As we reported yesterday, her father, manager Joe Simpson, calling top 40 radio stations on both coasts, blaming it all on a case of acid reflux disease, Ms. Simpson herself calling in to MTV to say the same.  She had another shot at it last night at the Radio Music Awards live—quote—

“singing”—unquote. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ASHLEE SIMPSON, SINGER (singing):  Well, it‘s my turn now.  I‘m talking back.  Look in my eyes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Don‘t save the tapes.  Don‘t save the tapes. 

“The Washington Post” reporting today that Ms. Simpson‘s excuse wasn‘t totally incorrect.  Her drummer on “Saturday Night Live” was indeed supposed to push a button that would start her backing track, something Ms.  Simpson says every girl should have. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SIMPSON:  I was so ready to go.  And then Saturday night came, 6:00.  I have severe acid reflux.  And it started acting up.  And I couldn‘t speak.  I couldn‘t talk, and I was like, whatever, no matter what, because I never have had to sing to a backing track, which most artists, by the way, do, big artists on big shows. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  A major acid reflux malfunction. 

Well, blame that, if you must, the “everybody is doing it line.”  That works, too.  But it is for the first and most genuine they-a culpa that we induct 19-year-old Ashlee Simpson into the COUNTDOWN Apology Hall of Fame. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”)   

SIMPSON (singing):  On a Monday, I‘m waiting.  Tuesday, I‘m fading.

I feel so bad.  My band started playing the wrong song.  I didn‘t know what to do, so I thought I would do a hoedown.  I‘m sorry. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DAN RATHER, CBS NEWS:  It was a mistake.  CBS News deeply regrets it. 

Also, I want to say personally and directly, I‘m sorry. 

JANET JACKSON, MUSICIAN:  Unfortunately, the whole thing went wrong in the end.  I am really sorry. 

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I know that my public comments and my silence about this matter gave a false impression.  I misled, including even my wife. 

KOBE BRYANT, NBA PLAYER:  I‘m so sorry.  I love my wife so much. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “BET TONIGHT”)

SEN. TRENT LOTT ®, MISSISSIPPI:  In order to be a racist, you have to feel superior.  I don‘t feel superior to you at all.  I don‘t believe any man or any woman is superior to any other... 

ED GORDON, HOST:  Did you always hold that view? 

LOTT:  I think I did. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TONYA HARDING, OLYMPIC SKATER:  I feel really bad for Nancy, and I feel really lucky that it wasn‘t me. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”)

JAY LENO, HOST:  What the hell were you thinking? 

(LAUGHTER)

HUGH GRANT, ACTOR:  I think you know in life pretty much what‘s a good to do and what is a bad thing.  And I did a bad thing.  And there you have it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”) 

STEVE IRWIN, CROCODILE HUNTER:  Sweetheart, who do you want to be when you grow up? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Just like my daddy. 

MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, “THE TODAY SHOW”:  Steve, let me...

IRWIN:  Poor little thing. 

LAUER:  Let me jump in here.

LAUER:  You know what?  I‘m sorry, Matt. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER ®, CALIFORNIA:  Yes, that I have behaved badly sometimes.  For those people that I have offended, I want to say to them, I‘m deeply sorry about that.  And I apologize. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  No words in my heart can possibly express the terrible pain and suffering.

RICHARD NIXON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  That some of my judgments were wrong, and some were wrong.  They were made in what I believed at the time to be the best interests of the nation. 

JIMMY SWAGGART, TELEVANGELIST:  Please forgive me.  I have sinned against you, my lord.  And I would ask that your precious blood...

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

OLBERMANN:  I believed Jimmy Swaggart used the acid reflux explanation, too. 

And I‘m sorry.  That‘s all we have time for tonight.

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

Good night and good luck. 

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2004 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2004 FDCH e-Media, Inc. (f/k/a/ Federal Document Clearing House, Inc, eMediaMillWorks, Inc.) ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and FDCH e-Media, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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