updated 12/14/2004 2:18:47 PM ET 2004-12-14T19:18:47

Guest: Michael Musto, Jason Dearen, John Harwood

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow? 

The jury has spoken in the case of the murder of Mrs. Laci Peterson. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The people of the state of California vs. Scott Peterson.  We the jury in above entitled cause fix the penalty at death. 

OLBERMANN:  Full reaction, full coverage, ahead.

Weekend at Bernie‘s.  The president‘s nominee for homeland security withdraws, amid scandals about his home, his land, and his security. 

Didn‘t think the electoral college vote could change, did you? 

How John Kerry lost a vote today.  How he reasserted himself anew in the Ohio recount.  How a Congressman insists laws may have been broken during that recount.

And worst movie line ever? 

VAL KILMER, ENTERTAINER:  You can be my wingman any time. 

OLBERMANN:  How about worst Christmas song ever? 

(DOGS BARKING “JINGLE BELLS”)

OLBERMANN:  That‘s a lot of worsts right there.  All that and more now on COUNTDOWN. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.   Eleven days from now it will have been, two years since an unknown woman from Modesto, California, more than eight months pregnant and apparently the beneficiary of a happy marriage, disappeared from her home.  In her absence, what would later prove after her death, she and all around her were vault into the kind of inexplicable prominence that history will probably be too flummoxed to analyze. 

Now, our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the murder of Mrs. Laci Peterson, was today sentenced to death, her husband.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Have you arrived at a verdict with respect to the penalty phase of this case? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We have, your honor. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Read the verdict? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The people of the state of California vs. Scott Peterson, we the jury in the above entitled cause fix the penalty at death, dated December 13, 2004. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The jury taking 11 hours over the course of there days to reach its recommendation, and it is only that at this stage.  Today, though, asking for more than a dozen pieces of evidence, including what might have been a telling sign of the verdict to come, a poignant photograph of the victim. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY BERATLIS, PETERSON JUROR:  I realized that this was an important decision.  There were not just Scott Peterson‘s life, but the lives of many people.  And I wanted to make sure that I made a conscious effort to do what was right in my heart. 

STEPHEN CARDOSI, PETERSON JUROR:  Through listening to testimony, the evidence, everything in court, as well as, listening to the fellow jurors while deliberating, it just seemed to be the appropriate justice. 

RICHELLE NICE, PETERSON JUROR:  Scott‘s inconsistent statements and those puzzle pieces that were thrown out, we put back into the puzzle and it spoke for itself. 

A big part of it was at the end the verdict, no emotion.  No anything.  That spoke 1,000 words.  That was loud and clear.  Today the giggles at the table, loud and clear.  I heard enough from him. 

BERATLIS:  I would have liked to have heard something out of his mouth, yes, anything.  A plea for—for his life or just his opinion on everything that went on in the last, you know, two years.  But I never got that and I couldn‘t use that for any decision making and I realized that.  But I would have liked to have heard something out of his voice, at least some kind of—maybe tell him—even if he said to me we were wrong as a group I would have respected that, but there was no emotion on that. 

CARDOSI:  If he was innocent, he—he lost his wife and his child and he didn‘t seem to faze him.  And while that was going on, they were looking for his wife and his child, he‘s romancing a girlfriend.  That doesn‘t make sense to me at all. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Peterson‘s attorney, Mark Geragos, who missed his clients conviction, spoke only briefly after his clients sentencing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK GERAGOS, DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  Obviously we‘re very disappointed.  Obviously we plan on pursuing every and all avenues for appeal, motions for new trial.  All I‘d ask is that you respect Jackie and Lee‘s and the family‘s privacy for the next week or so.  At some point shortly, they‘ll make a statement or do a press conference and at that time they‘ll agree to field whatever questions if they will.  In the interim, I hope that you can understand that it‘s a very difficult time.  And that‘s all I‘ve got to say.  Thank you very much. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Just as much difficulty if not more for the family of Mrs.  Laci Peterson.  They received some small measure of solace from today‘s decision. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RON GRANTSKI, LACI PETERSON‘S STEPFATHER:  What a nightmare.  It hasn‘t changed.  It‘s still a nightmare.  It should never have happened.  It‘s hurt too many people for no reason.  But justice was served.  Our police department did their job.  Our friends, family, country searched for Laci everywhere.  There wasn‘t one place that wasn‘t searched.  They had no -- no reason to doubt that it was Scott who did what he did, and he got what he deserved. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Throughout this process we have sought the observations of Jason Dearen, who has been covering the trial from the beginning of the process for the “San Mateo County Times.”

Jason, joins us again.  Good evening, sir. 

JASON DEAREN, “SAN MATEO COUNTY TIMES”:  Good evening. 

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s start as always with tone.  We could only hear, it sounded very subdued, bordering on the anticlimactic. 

What did it look like? 

DEAREN:  Well, it was certainly somber in the courtroom.  It was hushed.  And the families, Scott and his attorneys looked exhausted, they‘re faces ashen and they had no real reaction to the jury‘s verdict.  There was some soft crying from his mother and others on that side, but it was a very subdued reaction.  And Scott as he has been throughout the whole process, just sat and stared at the jury and didn‘t react. 

OLBERMANN:  The interaction between Peterson and the jury members, always that potential stare down moment in a capital case or any significant case. 

Was there any interaction? Was there any eye contact back and forth? 

DEAREN:  Yes, definitely.  I mean, when they filed by Scott Peterson I saw a couple of glances from the jurors.  The verdict was read, but the big interaction was between the jurors and Rocha‘s, Laci Peterson‘s family.  I saw one juror, juror 11, when she left the stand give a nod to Sharon and her family.  Other juror gave kind of a wink.  Others, you know, gave a good, long stare as they walked by. 

But to Peterson, they walked by him, maybe a casual glance, but none of these types of stares, you know, looking at the man that they just sentenced to death, looking him in the eye or anything like that.  In fact, a lot of them looked away as they passed and looked towards the judge.  And the judge, himself, as well reading the final instructions to the jury, his voice was quaking.  He needed water.  He seemed very emotional today, much more so than I‘ve seen him in the—almost a whole year of watching him do pretrial motions and the trial too.  He seemed—everybody just seemed very exhausted.  And I guess, you know, it‘s been a long process and everybody‘s kind of collapsed and moved forward today. 

OLBERMANN:   And concluding on that point again, Jason, you mentioned briefly what some of the family members‘ reactions were.  Give me a little bit more on that. 

Was there—was there reaction out of Scott Peterson‘s parents, out of Laci Peterson‘s parents of note? 

DEAREN:  I know that Laci Peterson‘s sister sat there, she was crying. 

Her boyfriend was sitting behind here, he put his hand on her shoulder.  She reached up and grabbed it and was clutching his hand.  Her brother and Laci‘s stepfather, Ron Grantski, sat right next to Sharon Rocha, the mother, who‘s head was bowed.  I saw after the verdict was read she was crying into a tissue.  And she looked over at the Peterson family not with spite or anger or anything like that, it almost looked as she‘s was looking over them feeling sorry for them and what they‘re having to go through. 

But it was very subdued, very somber.  There were tears.  But none of the reactions we got during the guilt verdict.  It was, you know, no outburst of sobbing.  No real sound at all.  It was like a vacuum in the courtroom, it was silence. 

OLBERMANN:  Jason Dearen, with the “San Mateo County Times,” as always, a great word picture.  And our great thanks for joining us. 

DEAREN:  Thanks a lot Keith.

OLBERMANN:  For all the drama of today, the jury‘s recommendation is still just that.  The judge will formally sentence Scott Peterson on February 25.  Then there is the lengthy appeals process, 2002 the last time the state of California actually executed a death row inmate, one who had been convicted 22 years earlier. 

For more on what we might expect next, we turn the host of the “ABRAMS REPORT,” MSNBC‘s Dan Abrams. 

Dan, good evening.

DAN ABRAMS, HOST “ABRAMS REPORT”:  Hi, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  As Jason Dearen noted, both sides seemed prepared for this.  Mark Geragos, obviously, we heard say afterwards he‘d do whatever he could to make sure that the jury recommendation is never acted out. 

Does he have a shot at accomplishing that?

ABRAMS:  He has shot, not a good shot.  But he‘s got a shot.  There are issues on appeal.  Anytime you‘re in a case where jurors are dismissed during the deliberation processes, there are going to be issues on appeal, particularly when the defense has objected to some of those jurors being dismissed.  And so the defense in this case will undoubtedly argue that this jury was tainted. 

It‘s a tough argument to make.  It‘s always tough to guess why jurors did what they did, to second-guess juries.  Basically, we try not to do that, because if they allowed that to happen in every case, every single high-profile defendant would spend a lot of money looking back at why the jurors did what they did, and challenging it.  But in this case, they have a shot.  But it‘s still a long shot.

OLBERMANN:  So when we heard the cherry red-haired juror say that they took all those puzzle pieces out and put them back in, in a very provocative-sounding remark, that, although it is provocative to us, is irrelevant in terms of an appeals process? 

ABRAMS:  I think it‘s going to be very tough to win an appeal based on that.  What they‘re really hoping is that they‘re going to be able to demonstrate that one of the jurors who was dismissed from the case earlier shouldn‘t have been dismissed at all, and that maybe that juror would have made the difference.  Maybe that juror would have hung the jury. 

If they can show that on appeal, they may have a real issue.  But this judge apparently believed that it wasn‘t just that this juror wasn‘t getting along with the other jurors, it wasn‘t this juror disagreed with the other jurors, this judge made a decision this juror can‘t fairly deliberate on the case anymore.  If that‘s the case, then the defense won‘t win, but I do not think that the defense is going to have a very good shot at getting it overturned based on what these jurors have said now. 

One final point, though, they have a better shot at getting the death part of it changed, overturned, to become life than they do having the entire verdict thrown out.  

OLBERMANN:  And of course that can go on indefinitely.  Is this one of those cases where the appeals could last, the whole process, presuming even that the judge agrees with the recommendation, could go on for decades?  I mean, early this year the state of California was finally prepared to execute a man named Kevin Cooper, who had hacked four people to death in 1985.  That has been delayed again.  There‘s a hearing on Wednesday.  That‘s now going on its 20th anniversary. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, 20 years is not uncommon in the state of California.  More people are on death row in the state of California than any other state, and it‘s not because juries are putting them there, it‘s because there‘s a backlog there.  It‘s because only 11 people have been executed since 1978 in the state of California, and yet they have something like 638 people waiting. 

OLBERMANN:  MSNBC‘s Dan Abrams outside the courthouse in Redwood City.  Dan will be back at the top of the hour with a full hour of coverage of the Peterson penalty phase.  Dan, as always, great thanks. 

ABRAMS:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  There were stories, more stories about Bernard Kerik, it seems, than there used to be about Charlie Sheen.  How did he wind up as the nominee for homeland security in the first place and what the heck happened in this case? 

And is there going to be a need for a new Defense nominee?  Donald Rumsfeld under fire from his fellow Republicans now.  The phrase used today, “no confidence.”  You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The White House called it a, quote, “colorful past.”  But despite the two reported simultaneous affairs, the arrest warrant and the conflict of interest over the Tasers, it was only the illegal nanny that took Bernard Kerik out of the running for a cabinet post. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It seems a mixture of farce and disbelief that the presidential nominee for what is still at the moment the top security and intelligence job in the nation could have been enveloped in reports of not just one mistress but two of them at the same time, having sent cops to the homes of news executives on behalf of one of those women, being linked second-hand to a company suspected of mob connections, having had an arrest warrant put out on him, and having had a significant conflict of interest over Taser sales. 

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, “Burn, Baby Burn!”  The White House says it knew all this it calls Bernard Kerik‘s, quote, “colorful past,” and insisted today the only reason he withdrew from consideration as secretary of homeland security was that he could not be sure about the tax and immigration status of an old nanny. 

The fallout from the withdrawal of the nomination of the former police commissioner of the city of New York continued to expand today like the proverbial ripples in a pond.  White House press secretary Scott McClellan said today that, quote, “the lawyers looked at all these issues,” that the White House knew about the lawsuit over the alleged affair with a former employee of the New York Department of Corrections, of the failure to report financial gifts, of the arrest warrant over delinquent fees on a condo. 

The Taser thing?  Well, that was in “Newsweek” last week.  Somebody must have seen that.  It, insists McClellan, is all about the nanny.  Not about Judith Regan, who published Kerik‘s memoirs and reports “The New York Daily News,” added to them.  The paper today says Kerik, who was married, quote, “visited Regan‘s Central Park West apartment almost daily, and occasionally stayed the night with his police detail camped outside.”  It also reports Kerik‘s relationship with Ms. Regan overlapped one with a New York City corrections officer, who discovered a love note from Regan to Kerik left in an apartment he reportedly kept for liaisons with each woman. 

The Regan story also spills over into police controversy.  “The Daily News” also reporting that while she still worked for Fox News, Regan‘s cell phone disappeared, and Kerik allegedly sent five top New York City homicide cops to the homes of Fox News staffers, because Regan suspected somebody at the network had stolen the phone.  Fox threatened suit.  Kerik denied ordering or approving that investigation.

Kerik‘s New York godfather of sorts, former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, dropped Kerik like a first baseman on steroids, and over the weekend backed quickly away from the scene.  Giuliani apologized to President Bush.  Today, press secretary McClellan said that gesture was nice, but he was not sure the president thought it was actually necessary.

At the center of the storm, however, the sorries were flying almost as fast as the new accusations. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BERNARD KERIK:  I apologize to anybody that‘s been brought into this unnecessarily, particularly the mayor, the president and his administration, Judith Regan and Panero (ph).  You know, my withdrawal is my fault.  What happened between me and the White House is my fault, it‘s nobody else‘s, and I‘ll deal with it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Tomorrow he‘ll be apologizing to the New York Yankees for wearing that hat.

Everybody connected to the debacle seems to be trying to do the most convincing impression of Claude Raines in “Casablanca,” proclaiming he‘s shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here. 

Joining me to pick a winner and cut through the immense political spin on all this is John Harwood, the national political editor of “The Wall Street Journal.”  John, good evening. 

JOHN HARWOOD, “WALL STREET JOURNAL”:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  If the White House really knew about Commissioner Kerik‘s colorful past, didn‘t somebody perceive him as the kind of man who could be politically blackmailed in a new way on a new issue every day for a month? 

HARWOOD:  Well, you‘d think they would have come to that conclusion, Keith, but what happens is, sometimes the administrations and presidents—and remember it‘s George W. Bush who picked this guy after all, not Rudy Giuliani—George W. Bush is the guy who had to make the phone call and offer him the job—they get entranced by the appeal of a particular nominee, and Bernie Kerik is somebody whose fame and notoriety comes out of 9/11.  That‘s also where George W. Bush really drew on the wellspring of his own support nationally.  Rudy Giuliani did as well that day.  And he looked back to that powerful, symbolic relationship in picking this guy, who was a little part Sipowicz, and part Dirty Harry.  There‘s an appeal, a macho appeal to that, and they ended up with egg all over their face. 

OLBERMANN:  Obviously these things aren‘t black and white.  It‘s probably not that they knew all this and ignored it, or they didn‘t know any of it, but to the degree that they didn‘t know some of his past, what does that say about the White House vetting possess and its grip on political realities these days? 

HARWOOD:  I think you have to—well, obviously, they made a huge mistake in this case.  On the other hand, this is not a White House that‘s made a lot of mistakes in this process.  By and large in the first term and in this term, they‘ve had a fairly efficient vetting process.  They lost Linda Chavez, the initial nominee to be labor secretary in the first term, and now they‘ve lost Kerik.  They embarrassed John Snow, their treasury secretary, with a lot of backing and forthing over whether he was going to be retained, but by and large this has worked well.  But you know, this is a president who‘s got a lot to do in this second term, and any day or any week that you lose to a controversy like this is one you can‘t get back. 

OLBERMANN:  Second-term curse starting already.  Lastly, though, the other side of this thing, the Democrats, especially New York Democrats, all supported Bernie Kerik with big golden, glowing terms here.  Maybe my cynicism detector is very sensitive today, but is it possible they all said, Bernie Kerik, he‘s great, we‘ll support him to the last, because they knew that if he‘d been approved, he would have been the bottomless bag of peanuts in terms of political scandal? 

HARWOOD:  I doubt it.  Keith, now, you could be cynical about this and reach a diferent conclusion, which is they saw a whole lot of money there for New York City if he were the secretary.  They complained that the administration as it had been operating was shortchanging the security needs of New York City and they saw Bernie Kerik as a natural ally there. 

OLBERMANN:  Just as long as some of my cynicism is rewarded.

HARWOOD:  That‘s right.

OLBERMANN:  John Harwood, national political editor of “The Wall Street Journal.”  As always, sir, great pleasure.  Many thanks. 

HARWOOD:  My pleasure. 

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of police, this man here is not having a seizure, he‘s having a seasonal attack of some sort.  He meant to do that.  “Oddball” would, not surprisingly, be upcoming. 

And this is just one of the most wince-worthy moments in cinema history.  Get ready for four more. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re back.  We pause the COUNTDOWN of the day‘s important national, international and Scott Peterson news for our nightly perusal of strange stories, animal news and America‘s scariest police videos.  And when I say scary, I mean scary.  Let‘s play “Oddball.” 

We begin in Providence, Rhode Island, where once again the extreme pressures facing area traffic cops have driven another officer towards the edge.  This is retired patrolman Tony Lapore (ph), and it‘s actually an annual ritual for the dancing cop to show up for the Christmas season and flail around in dangerous holiday traffic.  He‘s been doing it every year since 1991, and they haven‘t hit him yet.  A guy in Pittsburgh used to do this about 40 years ago. 

Lapore (ph) has become a local celebrity over the last decade.  He‘s got his own Web site, he sells dancing cop dolls, and he hires himself out for birthday parties.  It‘s (UNINTELLIGIBLE) show to see the dancing cop in action for the holidays, and a safe one too, so long as he‘s not allowed to carry anything sharp. 

From scary police videos to a truck robbery caught on tape here in Sakau (ph) province in Thailand.  The driver of the truck had to leave it by the side of the road with a flat tire and walk away to get help.  And look at who has shown up.

The truck was filed with tapioca, and the woods were filled with elephants.  How many times do we have to warn people about things like this happening?  When the driver returned, the elephants ransacked the truck and its sweet tapioca booty.  He turned on the video camera to get a look at the elephants, and then they fled.  And a nearby peanut truck was untouched. 

To Beijing for the first annual Miss Artificial Beauty contest.  It is the first ever beauty pageant exclusively for women who have undergone plastic surgery.  Contestants ranged in ages from 17 to 206.  The night was open to anyone who‘d undergone plastic surgery to completely change their appearance.  That beautiful brunette there, former mob witness Sammy the Bull Gravano. 

Nineteen finalists moving on from the preliminary event to the plastic surgery finals.  On the 11th of this month, the winner will then compete for the title of Joan Collins. 

Technically, George W. Bush just got elected president today.  He even picked up an extra vote in the Electoral College.  But the machinations go on in Ohio, and there has been another John Kerry sighting among them.

And the Broncos may have won yesterday, but this is no victory salute from the quarterback.  Those stories ahead. 

Now here are COUNTDOWN‘s “Top 3 Newsmakers” of this day.  

No. 3, Brian Mundell of South Glens Falls, New York.  He has been arrested for grand larceny.  Could face as much as four years in prison if convicted.  Police say he stole the Coke machine from the muffler shop where he works, and brought it home to use in his trailer.  Smuggled it out under his clothes, did he? 

No. 2, Willie Bell of Buffalo, New York.  He was arrested after two dozen people chased him six blocks, caught him, held him until the police got there and arrested him for robbery.  He had just swiped the collection basket from their church, during Mass.  Next time, sir, try something subtle, like stealing the Coke machine.

And No. 1, Daniel Kilberg and Thomas Wall in Garden City, Long Island, New York.  The two 17-year-olds arrested for attempted grand larceny, possession of burglary tools, namely, hedge clippers.  The police say the two guys leaned a ladder against a wall of the Garden City Burger King, climbed up to the roof and began to cut the giant SpongeBob SquarePants loose in broad daylight, as employees and patrons looked on. 

Just when you think you‘re the dumbest criminal of the day, you realize you‘re not even close to these idiots. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  You may have thought November 2 was Election Day in this country.  In fact, it was today, the day the people who actually elect the president cast their votes in their various state capitals around the nation.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, no big deal, of course.  It‘s a formality, excepting of course John Kerry‘s sudden demand that his lawyers get to inspect 92,000 ballots in Ohio in which no vote for president was recorded, and that motion to Ohio‘s Supreme Court to freeze the electoral vote until after there is a full investigation, And that, as the state begins its recount, two election observes in Green County, Ohio, were told that the voting records had been sealed and they could not longer look at them.  Other than that, nothing much. 

We begin in the state capital, where the casting of Ohio‘s Electoral College votes, which decided the election, went off as planned.  The logistics here are direct.  All the votes are recorded here today.  They are not to be opened until a joint session of Congress on January 6.  If there is any dispute or controversy, the Electoral College results from any individual state may be formally challenged if one member of the House and one of the Senate submit such a challenge in writing. 

It is not likely.  At the same hour, Green Party candidate David Cobb, co-sponsor of the Ohio recount, addressed supporters on the steps of the Capitol in Columbus, but the protests, planned to coincide with the Electoral College voting, pretty much fizzled out.  Almost nobody showed up.

Meantime, more than two weeks in the making, what were interestingly described by the Associated Press as dissident groups finally filed their much-talked-about legal contesting of the Ohio vote.  Attorney Cliff Arnebeck of a group calling itself Alliance For Democracy was joined by the Reverend Jesse Jackson in asking Ohio‘s Supreme Court to formally review voting there.  And they accused the Republican campaign of—quote—

“high-tech vote stealing”—unquote. 

Also in Columbus, Michigan Congressman John Conyers convened his second voting forum in the last six days.  He and other congressional Democrats wrote to Ohio Governor Bob Taft, asking him to delay the Electoral College vote until irregularities there had been investigated.  Through a spokesman, Taft declined. 

Conyers also accused Ohio‘s election officials of attempting to—quote—“stonewall” and—quote—“obstruct” the recount.  And he said that a series of events in Xenia, Ohio, over the weekend—quote—

“appeared to violate Ohio law.”

Xenia, that‘s the county seat of Green County, not the TV superhero played by Lucy Lawless.  It saw something strange Friday and Saturday, but accounts diverge widely over what that was.  Two election observers from the coincidentally named Green Party say they were in the middle of inspecting voting records in Xenia on Friday when they were informed that the records had been locked down under the instructions of Ohio‘s secretary of state, Kenneth Blackwell.

Blackwell‘s press secretary, Carlo LoParo, telling COUNTDOWN late today that, in the event of a recount—quote—“All ballots, poll books and poll lists must be sealed to protect the record.  Those documents can only be accessed in the presence involved in the recount through bipartisan election officials, at least one Democrat and one Republican.”

In other words, Green county kicked out the Green Party observers because there were no Republican or Democratic observers in there at the same time.  But the Green Party observers say more went wrong the next day. 

When they returned to the county board of elections on Saturday morning,

they found the building unlocked and voting machines and voting records

left out in the open.  The county says, yes, the building was unlocked, the

voter records were safe in locked room inside the county board of elections

building that just happened to have been unlocked the night after the

secretary of state ordered all voting records sealed and secured with the -

·         quote—“utmost care”—unquote. 

And speaking of utmost care, that would seem to describe the approach of 2004‘s Democratic presidential nominee, who, when he has appeared in the Ohio voting irregularity saga, has done so in the manner of a cross between Godot and a stealth bomber.  Senator John Kerry got back in it last night when his election lawyers in Ohio wrote to each of 88 county board of elections asking to see 92,000 very curious ballots.  Those 92,000 ballots registered no vote for president, not Kerry, not Bush, not Michael Badnarik, not Michael Paruka (ph), not Haywood Jacuddleme.

Kerry‘s attorney, Donald McTigue, says a visual inspection of those ballots is allowed under state law, the idea being that tabulating equipment might have missed presidential votes on the ballot the first time through.  McTigue also made 10 other requests on Kerry‘s behalf, including permitting independent technicians to check election equipment, especially computer-based voting machines and tabulators, all of which calls for another edition of what the hell is going on in Ohio?

And I‘m pleased to be joined again by Howard Fineman, “Newsweek”‘s chief political correspondent and MSNBC analyst.

Howard, good evening.

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Hi, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  John Kerry first.  If he doesn‘t want to make it look like he‘s invested in the outcome of the recount and even perhaps the attempt to investigate these irregularities in Ohio, he‘s not doing a good job of that, is he?  What the hell is going on with John Kerry in Ohio? 

FINEMAN:  He is not really invested.  He‘s barely making a loan here.  It reminds me of the whole Kerry campaign, the most famous quote of which was, I actually voted for that $87 billion before I voted against it. 

It‘s a case of being neither here nor there once again.  I think, if John Kerry and his people thought that there were serious, potentially upsetting, overturning type irregularities in Ohio, they would have said so on election night or the next day.  And they spent all night on election night studying that very carefully.

One reason Kerry was late coming out—one of several reasons Kerry was late coming out for his announcement and waited until the next day was all of his lawyers in Ohio were checking that carefully.  I talked to all of them and talked to them again recently.  They said there‘s no reason to think that the results would have been different.  And then Kerry then sort of let the thing alone. 

But then a lot of party activists, especially a lot of African-Americans, but others, said, look, there may be serious irregularities here.  We need your support and he‘s kind of halfheartedly lent his effort to their concerns. 

OLBERMANN:  On the other hand, if Secretary of State Blackwell and the Republicans in Ohio do not want to make it look like they have something to hide in that see, they‘re not doing a good job of that, are they?

FINEMAN:  No

OLBERMANN:  What the hell is going on in Xenia with Ken Blackwell?

FINEMAN:  Well, leave aside the “Xenia-phobia.”

I think the more serious question that a lot of people have raised about the way Ken Blackwell has behaved is that they kind of slow-walked the count, so that there would be no possibility of a full recount before the events of today, in other words, before the electors met to actually vote.

And once those electors voted, that‘s a sort of solid evidence of regularity in the process that it would be hard in Congress to overturn.  And that‘s I think the most serious criticism, is that he really kind of slow-walked the thing in a kind of stalling maneuver.  What‘s going on in Xenia, unexcusable also.  If they‘re so concerned about security, they should have locked the door. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, kind of helps that way. 

FINEMAN:  Right. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, but you‘re right.  The political protest to this now has to go within the Senate and the Congress to kind of a Defcon 1 stage, and that‘s not likely to begin with.

But in the long-term thing about what most of the people who are involved in this seem to be about, which is whether or not there were voting irregularities and what needs to be fixed about them, one more question about the politics of this.  As on the fringes as the mainstream politicians have been trying to keep this, John Conyers last week hinted and then back away from the idea of this challenge to Ohio‘s electors on January 6.

But now he‘s conducting these hearings on the road in Ohio.  And relative to Secretary Blackwell, he used that phrase, such an action appears to violate Ohio law.  For several weeks, the whole thing looked like it‘s teetered on the edge of being a mainstream political catfight. 

FINEMAN:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  Is it going to teeter into that mainstream?

FINEMAN:  I think it‘s unlikely.  I think even if John Conyers decides to sign a format protest, I don‘t think you‘ll see anybody in the Senate joining in. 

But whether it‘s mainstream or not to the media, it‘s a mainstream concern of the American people.  There‘s nothing more fundamental than the right to vote.  There‘s no more serious topic in our democracy.  And polls show that there are tens of millions of people, not just fringe elements, who have serious doubts about the way our elections are conducted, about whether their votes are counted, about the legitimacy of the system.  And that‘s important to always remember. 

OLBERMANN:  Well said. 

Howard Fineman, chief political analyst for “Newsweek” and MSNBC analyst.  And I wasn‘t being satirical there.  Well said. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  Thanks, as ever, for your insight, sir.

FINEMAN:  Sure. 

OLBERMANN:  One quick note on this also.  The Electoral College count did change today.  One of 10 electors voted not for John Kerry, but for John Edwards.  It is assumed to have been by accident.  So, your scoreboard now reads buy 286, Kerry 251, Edwards one.

Elsewhere, Republican senators, two, secretary of defense, nothing.  Two GOP stalwarts blast Donald Rumsfeld.  Back here, with Dick Clark out of commission this holiday season, get ready for a new rockin‘ year new eve new host.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Harsh words for the secretary of defense from two prominent fellow Republican, and harsh words from Michael Musto on the worst Christmas songs ever.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It is exactly a calendar year since the U.S. found Saddam Hussein down the equivalent of a septic tank.  Over the weekend, eight of his lieutenants began and then quickly ended a hunger strike, which pretty much consisted of a missed breakfast. 

Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, would that the violence there could cease so suddenly.  A suicide car bomber claimed at least 13 lives outside the Green Zone in Baghdad today, al Qaeda ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi already claiming responsibility for that attack.  None of the victims were U.S.  soldiers.  But at least one of them died today north of Baghdad in a vehicle accident.  Two Marines were killed in action Baghdad.

And the U.S. military says seven Marines were killed yesterday in two separate ends incidents in the Anbar Province in western Iraq.  That includes Fallujah.  There have been reports of U.S. airstrikes and sporadic gunfire in Fallujah, which U.S. forces took control of last month, they said.  The Marines may have been ambushed there, the U.S. military saying it can provide no further details because other troops could be put at risk.

An unexpected conclusion as to who is contributing to putting them at risk from two top Republican senators, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld.  Senator John McCain of Arizona this afternoon dropping the subtly from his previous negative assessments of Mr. Rumsfeld.  After criticizing him again to the Associated Press for troop levels and for strategy, McCain was asked again if he had confidence in Rumsfeld‘s leadership, to which the senator replied—quote—“I said no.  My answer is still no, no confidence.”

McCain‘s Republican colleague from Nebraska had already said almost the same thing, saying Rumsfeld owed those soldiers who questioned him last week in Kuwait far more than a—quote—“flippant comment.”  As to the president‘s retaining Mr. Rumsfeld, Chuck Hagel said he will live that decision.  He will have to defend that decision.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL ®, NEBRASKA:  Well, the secretary of defense reports to the president of the United States.  I‘ve had any differences with this secretary of defense and I‘ve been very clear on it.  I don‘t like the way he has done some things.  I think they have been irresponsible.  I don‘t like the way we went into Iraq.  We didn‘t go in to Iraq with enough troops.  He‘s dismissed his general officers.  He‘s dismissed all outside influence.  He‘s dismissed outside counsel and advice.

He‘s dismissed a lot of inside counsel and advice from men and women who have been in military uniforms for 25 and 30 years. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Last week in Kuwait, Mr. Rumsfeld was also asked whether and why active duty units seemed to get newer equipment and Reserve and Guard units older equipment.  A possible connection to that, analysis by “USA Today” finding that part-time National Guardsman are more likely to die in Iraq than are full-time soldiers serving here. 

A quarter million regular Army soldiers have served or are serving in Iraq; 622 have died.  That is one out of every 402 soldiers.  Comparatively, 37,000 Army National Guardsman are in Iraq; 140 have died, which is one for just 264 Guardsmen, a death rate that is higher by 35 percent, extraordinarily higher when compared to Vietnam, where nearly 60,000 men died and only 94 of them were National Guardsmen.  The number of Guardsmen dead in Iraq is already 46 higher than it was in Vietnam. 

We segue now into the nightly news of celebrities and entertainment.  And it appears Dick Clark was way too optimistic about New Year‘s Eve after his mild stroke last week.  There will have to be a substitute host, Regis Philbin.  “It will feel strange watching it on TV, but my doctors felt it was too soon,” Clark said in a statement today issued from his hospital room in Burbank, California.  Glad they found somebody younger.  Philbin is 73.  Mr. Clark is 75.

He has been hosting the annual New Year‘s Eve festivities since taking over from Mark Twain in 1887. 

And his team is in second place in its division, the AFC West.  So

when quarterback Jake Plummer lifted a single digit towards his own team‘s

fans yesterday, he was not proclaiming we‘re No. 1.  The Denver Bronco has

now apologized for yesterday‘s gesture, which occurred after he threw an

interception in the first quarter of a game that Denver eventually won.  He

·         quote—“It wasn‘t directed to our fans.  One guy got into my head a little bit.”

And, as a fan, you think you have no influence whatsoever, no voice. 

From bad behavior to just plain bad.  We just saw No. 1.  We will now give you the No. 1 worst movie ever and the No. 1 worst Christmas song ever. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  They made two lists and checked each one twice.  As the Yuletide looms, we are presented with two lists of worst things ever. 

Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, our friend Michael Musto joins us in a moment to review the official list of the five worst Christmas songs ever and first, the five cheesiest lines in movie history, as voted by 2,000 film fans in Great Britain.  Winning with a remarkable 33 percent of the vote from the movie “Titanic,” that iceberg of an utterance. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “TOP GUN”)

VAL KILMER, ACTOR:  You can be my wing man any time. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “GHOST”)

PATRICK SWAYZE, ACTOR:  I love you, Molly. 

DEMI MOORE, ACTOR:  Ditto. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL”)

ANDIE MACDOWELL, ACTRESS:  Is it still raining?  I hadn‘t noticed. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “DIRTY DANCING”)

SWAYZE:  Nobody puts baby in a corner. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “TITANIC”)

LEONARDO DICAPRIO, ACTOR:  I‘m king of the world! 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Ah, just as bad now as it was in 1997. 

As promised, Michael Musto of “The Village Voice.”

Michael, good evening. 

MICHAEL MUSTO, “THE VILLAGE VOICE”:  Hi, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll get to the worst holiday songs in a moment.  First, these movies.  I‘m the king of the world from “Titanic,” is it the worst line ever? 

MUSTO:  Well, I‘m worried, first of all, that I like some of these lines, like that one.  And I‘m worried that, where is gobble gobble from “Gigli”?  Hello?  That was cinema at its finest.

So, of course, these are lines from movies that people actually saw. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

MUSTO:  And they were chosen by British people.  They voted Tony Blair into office.  So I don‘t know.  Yes, I‘m the king of the world, it is annoying, but it works in the context of the movie.  Out of context, you‘re thinking, I‘m the king of the dorks.  What are you doing?  First of all, you‘re supposed to be in steerage.  What are you doing with rich people standing on the front of the boat?  You could get hurt.  Of course, the boat is going down anyway.  So be my guest. 

OLBERMANN:  I cheered when he drowned just because of that line. 

MUSTO:  I didn‘t get that far. 

OLBERMANN:  I noticed there‘s no movie on the top 10 that is older than 1987.  That‘s a lot of bad cultural history we‘re losing here.  What about from “Love Story,” love never means never having to say you‘re sorry?  I thought that was the worst. 

MUSTO:  Well, that was from the book.  So you should blame Erich Segal for the original version of it.

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

MUSTO:  Well, where‘s Liz Taylor in “Cleopatra”?  Caesar, what‘s burning? 

(LAUGHTER)

MUSTO:  Where‘s “Showgirls”?  Take your boobies and get out of here. 

This isn‘t a watermelon patch. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s right.  And it was the boobies that were burning in “Cleopatra.”

All right, let‘s switch gears, the list of the worst Christmas songs ever is courtesy Edison Media Research.  Order now and you‘ll get these bombs. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(BARKING)

HAYA DOIN BOYS (singing):  On the fifth day of Christmas, my paesan gave to me five pinky rings. 

BARBRA STREISAND, MUSICIAN (singing):  Jingle bells, jingle bells,

jing jangle.  Jingle bells, jingle bells, jing jangle.  Jingle bells,

jangle bells

SEYMOUR SWINE AND THE SQUEELERS (singing):  I‘ll have a blue Christmas without you. 

TREY PARKER, ACTOR (singing):  Fall on your knees and hear the angel‘s voices. 

(END AUDIO CLIP) 

OLBERMANN:  Michael, Cartman from “South Park” singing “O Holy Night,” is that really worse than Cher singing “O Holy Night”?  At least Cartman had the excuse of being a fictional character. 

MUSTO:  I‘ve never seen them both in the same room.

(CROSSTALK)

MUSTO:  Again, I‘m worried.  I love all these songs.  It‘s basically a bunch of barnyard animals and Barbra Streisand.  And, first of all, Barbara‘s Jewish.  Why is she singing Christmas songs? 

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

MUSTO:  But beyond that, she sounds like she is—I know she‘s not on crack, but she has inhaled some sugar or something.  She‘s singing very fast.  She‘s turning that into like a scat jazz song. 

OLBERMANN:  And a helium thing going on there.

But, once again, historic bias.  Where are Alvin and the Chipmunks? 

MUSTO:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  That was enough to—I think my parents were ready to kill me because I kept playing that record about 1963 again and again and again. 

MUSTO:  Well, did people say, we will vote for dogs and pigs, but not chipmunks?  That‘s ridiculous.  Their version of “All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” is magic at its finest. 

OLBERMANN:  There‘s another one.  There‘s like three or four chipmunk Christmas songs. 

MUSTO:  I hate to break it to you, Keith.  They have a whole Christian album.  I‘ve done my research.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, that‘s right.  Look, I swear, I have not looked at the album itself since about 1967.  That‘s why it‘s just coming from the back of my childhood mind.  But it was all—you‘re right.  It‘s all bad. 

MUSTO:  It‘s the vinyl equivalent of “Gigli.”  And it must be remembered.  It must be put on these polls. 

OLBERMANN:  And we will stick up for it.  We will make sure that happens, so that, next year, history is correctly given credit for its bad music and bad movie lines as well. 

MUSTO:  These songs are turning me atheistic.  I just don‘t believe in Christmas anymore.  I just believe in cheesy songs. 

OLBERMANN:  Ah, the inimitable Michael Musto, columnist for “The Village Voice,” friend of COUNTDOWN, as always, sir, thanks for joining us. 

MUSTO:  Alvin forever. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

That‘s COUNTDOWN.  Thank you for being part of it. 

Dan Abrams next from California with more on the Peterson verdict. 

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   

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