updated 2/11/2005 2:29:08 PM ET 2005-02-11T19:29:08

Guest: Richard Ben-Veniste, John Pike, David Folkenflik, Laura Trevelyan

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

9/11, 52 separate FAA security briefings mentioning al Qaeda or bin Laden in the five months before the attacks.  The airline agency warned of suicide hijackings in this country.  Yet the FAA did nothing.  9/11 commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste joins us. 

We have nukes.  The official words from North Korea.  They said they‘re saying it because Condoleezza Rice called them “an outpost of tyranny.”  What do we do now? 

What do we do now about Jeff Gannon, and who should do it?  A senator asks the White House for all paperwork about his press credentials. 

Credentials questioned in England.  Prince Charles will have a new Mrs., but while he may become king, she will never become queen. 

And I don‘t know much about art, but I know this is a garbage dump, and this makes the most beautiful park in the country look like one. 

All that and more now on COUNTDOWN. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.  For most of the day since the awful morning of 9/11, the United States government has done its best to portray the world-changing events of that day as unimaginable, unforeseeable, and most importantly, unpreventable. 

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, new evidence that that portrayal is simply not true.  A portion of the 9/11 Commission report revealed today shows that between April and September of 2001, leaders of the Federal Aviation Administration received 52 intelligence reports specifically mentioning Osama bin Laden or al Qaeda or both, and that the FAA even warned airports of the prospect of suicide hijackings, ending in, quote, “spectacular explosions,” and told them that if one were attempted, quote, “a domestic hijacking would probably be more preferable.” 

Previously unreleased declassified section of the 9/11 Commission report is now out.  “Intelligence that indicated a real and growing threat leading up to 9/11,” its authors concluded, “did not stimulate significant increases in security procedures.”  Even though almost half of the 105 FAA intelligence briefings between April and September 10, 2001, mentioned bin Laden and/or al Qaeda.  Even though five of those briefings discussed their training or capability to conduct hijackings.  Even though the FAA had distributed a CD-ROM presentations to airlines and airports which cited the possibility of a suicide hijacking.  Even though aviation officials conducted classified briefings for security officials at 19 American airports to specifically warn about the bin Laden threat.  Even though on July 17, 2001, in proposing to make airport screening more stringent, the FAA cited the presence of terrorist cells in the U.S. and, quote, “their interest in targeting the transportation sector.”

The report concludes that the FAA and specifically its then administrator James Garvey would not push for more air marshals, and that an FAA official said airlines did not want to have to give up revenues from ticket sales for the seats that the marshals would have had to occupy. 

It also concludes the FAA would not increase airport screening procedures for weapons.  And finally, quoting the report, “throughout 2001, the senior leadership of the FAA was focused on congestion and delays within the system and the ever-present issue of safety, but they were not as focused on security.”

In the FAA‘s defense, none of the briefings it received in 2001 specifically suggested that such and such a group was planning such and such a series of hijackings, on such and such a Tuesday morning.  But the names and details it would fill those blanks in so horribly were all in the FAA‘s hands for at least five months before the attacks. 

We are fortunate tonight to again be joined by one of the members of the 9/11 Commission, Richard Ben-Veniste.  Mr. Ben-Veniste, good evening.  Thanks again for your time. 

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, FORMER 9/11 COMMISSIONER:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Reading the specific portion of the commission‘s findings, is it fair to say that if the FAA should not have known that this could have been coming in New York and Washington on September 11 from al Qaeda, that they should have known that this could have been coming somewhere in this country sometime in the immediate future from somebody? 

BEN-VENISTE:  The intelligence communicate as a whole, Keith, as we pointed out repeatedly during our open hearings, and again in our final report, we had a great deal of information.  We knew that terrorists had planned to use planes as bombs on many occasions before.  We had our own experience with it.  We had a pilot who crashed a plane on the White House lawn.  We had a plot involving crashing a plane into CIA headquarters.  There was a plot to crash a plane into the Eiffel Tower. 

So we knew that suicide hijackings were a possibility. 

What the FAA didn‘t know, and something that disturbed us greatly, was that terrorists were here in our country, learning to fly commercial airlines.  And something very important happened in August of 2001 with the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui.  As one of the FAA controllers testified at one of our public hearings, when I asked him, what was it that was in the hands of our intelligence community that you would have wanted to know about prior to 9/11?  He said simply, we didn‘t know they could fly the plane. 

OLBERMANN:  This report about the FAA is not a smoking gun, but it might be—I don‘t know if the analogy is fair—a gun counter at a hunters‘ store.  Do you know why this was not released with the rest of the commission‘s work and why so much in this particular report is redacted? 

BEN-VENISTE:  Well, there are two issues here, Keith.  The body of this information is in our final report, and was discussed in our open hearings.  It was our intention to make as much information available to the public in as timely a fashion as possible.  This monograph was produced a couple of weeks after our 9/11 final report came out. 

But there‘s absolutely no reason why it was redacted by the administration in the way it was.  I‘d show page 65, 66, there‘s absolutely no reason why in the national security interests we have to have this cult of secrecy persisting.  There‘s far too much secrecy.  It‘s important to keep secrets when they involve our national security.  But it is disruptive and I think counterproductive of our democratic institutions when people are given authority to simply redact things, cross them out, black them out, without regard to true national security interests.  It just fosters these conspiracy theories that continue to pop up. 

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s see if we can place this in some sort of a larger context.  As I said, the government stance for what as of tomorrow will be exactly three years and four months, has been that there was no possible way that 9/11 was preventable.  I want to play a portion of Dr. Rice‘s testimony to your commission and then ask you a large frame question. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER:  I do not remember any reports to us of kind of strategic warning that planes might be used as a weapon. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Is that statement true about the entire government?  Is this another case of not putting the two most vital pieces of information together?  In other words, didn‘t the FAA know what Dr. Rice did not know? 

BEN-VENISTE:  Well, certainly as I said, Keith, within our intelligence community, there was a lot of information about the potential use of planes as weapons.  I mean, we had the intifada, we had countless episodes of suicides, and the process of a suicide being used in conjunction with a terrorist act.  So we knew that, and we knew that terrorists had considered using planes. 

What we didn‘t know was any specific about where or when an attack was coming.  A prescient group of CIA analysts in early August of 2001 created a presidential daily briefing, August 6, which warned that the spectacular attack, which everyone was anticipating, could well occur in the United States. 

OLBERMANN:  Richard Ben-Veniste, of the Washington law firm of Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw, and of the 9/11 Commission.  Thank you again for your service on that, sir, and thank you again for your time tonight. 

BEN-VENISTE:  You‘re very welcome, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  Tonight, looking backwards internationally is only almost as terrifying as looking forwards.  The government of North Korea suddenly announced today it has nuclear weapon, it won‘t resume disarmament talks anytime soon, and that the bombs are defensive measures against what it called “the grave situation created by the U.S. hostile policy toward the DPRK.”  That would be the Democratic People‘s Republic of Korea. 

The statement does not quote President Kim Jong-Il in its English version.  No, it actually refers to, quote, “nukes,” unquote.  It says the announcement was provoked in part by remarks made in, quote, “the president‘s inaugural address and the State of the Union address and the speech made by the secretary of state at the Congress hearing to get its approval, et cetera,” unquote.

Specifically, the statement refers to Secretary of State Rice‘s references to North Korea as one of the, quote, “Outpost office of tyranny.”  The reaction here. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE:  This is an unfortunate move, most especially probably for the people of North Korea because it only deepens the North Korean isolation from the rest of the international community. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Well, what do we do now.  I‘m join by John Pike, the director of globalsecurity.org, an expert on nuclear weapon proliferation.  Mr. Pike, good evening.  Thanks for you time.

JOHN PIKE, DIRECTOR OF GLOBALSECURITY.ORG:  Good evening.  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  The North Koreans are saying we‘re ready to destroy them or try to topple the regime or otherwise act aggressively toward them, so they have these nukes.  Why did they say this and is it true? 

PIKE:  I think they said it, because it is true.  I think they‘ve said it because of Kim Jong Il likes to control the pace of event.  Things have pretty much been calmed in the six-party talks last year.  And I think that Kim Jong Il believes that he can have his cake and eat it, too.  That he can have a nuclear deterrent against the United States, so we don‘t think about military action against him, the way we did against Saddam Hussein. 

And that he can continue to get economic assistance from primarily South Korea but also China, because those countries fear that if sanctions were imposed on North Korea, North Korea might collapse and they‘d have a refugee crisis on their hands. 

OLBERMANN:  So in this context, what do we do? 

PIKE:  Well, leadership is what happens when all your choices are bad.  And I think the Bush administration has a real good opportunity for leadership here, because the choices are bad.  They were contemplating military strikes against North Korea‘s nuclear and other facilities in early 2003.  But by June of that year, they decided not to do that.  They‘ve been negotiating since then, and the negotiations are going nowhere.  They‘re deploying missile defenses to try to deal with it, but though don‘t seem to be working.  And Kim Jong Il has the option of doing additional things like today‘s announcements to make it impossible for to us forget that we have a problem.  It‘s not clear what the administration is going to do.  Because all of the choices are bad. 

OLBERMANN:  Is this to some degree the Bush doctrine being used by another country to bite us in the back side?  I mean, we say we see a threat to our security, we‘re entitle to act first.  And then we‘re not equating the rightness or wrongness of the argument, but the North Korean say they see a threat to their security, so they‘re entitled to act first? 

PIKE:  Well, I think that it is difficult for some Americans to remember.  But we‘re still at war with North Korea.  We have a choice with them, but there has never been a peace treaty ending the war that many Americans, including my father fought in back in the early 1950‘s.  So we still have some hostile relations to work through. 

OLBERMANN:  The nuclear proliferations expert, John Pike.  Great thanks for your time and perspective. 

PIKE:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  If the 9/11 FAA report and Kim Jong Il turning into General Jack D. Ripper from Dr. Strangelove did not make you feel bad enough, there is also Amber Kenny (ph).  She is the Colorado woman who told news organizations that a nonprofit group called Hometown Heroes, that her husband, an army specialist serving in Iraq, had been killed on January 29.  Killed when he took a bullet aimed at an Iraqi child. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Have you guys heard the news? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No, what? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  My husband was killed over in Iraq. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Amber, no!

(END AUDIO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Two problems.  Amber Kenny is really 24-year-old Sarah Kenny of Grand Junction, Colorado.  And her husband whom she identified as Specialist Jonathan Kenny, is actually a fellow named Michael Kenny.  And he isn‘t dead.  He didn‘t take a bullet for an Iraqi child, and he is not even in the military.  No branch of the military currently has a member named Michael Kenny.  Amber/Sarah‘s I think I need some serious counselling.  As the old joke goes, if you would like a second opinion, I think so, too. 

From make believe tragedies to make believe reporters.  A surprising admission from the White House about what it knew about Jeff Gannon, AKA James D. Guckert. 

And when reporters said he took steroids, baseball‘s Jason Giambi did not deny it, but he would not admit it, either.  A strange, strange news conference. 

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Do you publish on a regular basis?  Do you use a false name or an alias?  If so, you too could become a White House correspondent.  Next we talked to a reporter who‘s actually spoken to Jeff Gannon, AKA James Guckert, AKA hotmilitarystud.  Standby.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The reporter who wasn‘t really a reporter, who wrote for a news organization that wasn‘t a news organization, under his name that wasn‘t really his name, has now been defended in many quarters in the last 24 hours because his untidy personal life has been dragged into the equation. 

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, live by a blog, die by a blog.  A Delaware newspaper has confirmed that Jeff Gannon of Talon News is really James D. Guckert, who had registered a series of Internet domain names for gay pornography sites.  And the press secretary to the president of the United States claimed that prior to the eruption of the whole story, he knew that Jeff Gannon was not the man‘s real name. 

Nonetheless, Gannon/Guckert believes he was done in by the left wing conspiracy, telling the newspaper, “The News Journal” of Wilmington, Delaware, “ I asked the question at a White House press briefing and this is what happened to me.  If this is what happened to me, what reporter is safe.” 

Then again, what makes you are or were a reporter?  That title is

largely bestowed by the access one achieves, like into the White House

press room.  Press Secretary McClellan, today, explaining off camera why Gannon/Guckert achieved that entry.  “As the press secretary, I don‘t think it‘s the role of the press secretary to get into picking and choosing who gets press credential.  He, like anyone else, showed that he was representing a news organization that published regularly, and so he was cleared two years ago to receive daily passes.” 

We‘ll skip the mean-spirited joke about passes, and instead quote a lyric from an old Smothers Brothers satire of the old west song “Laredo.”  I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy.  I see by your outfit that you are a cowboy, too.  We see by our outfits that we are both cowboys.  If you get an outfit you can be a cowboy too. 

National Public Radio‘s David Folkenflik has interviewed Gannon/Guckert.  David, joins us now.  Good evening, sir.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, NPR:  Good evening to you.

OLBERMANN:  David used to be the TV columnist and writer for “The Baltimore Sun,” so this is pretty odd for us.  He used to interview me.  We‘ll now try it the other way around.

FOLKENFLIK:  We‘ll see how we do.

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s address first this premise that his privacy has been violated by linking him to these dubious Web sites.  When you interviewed him, did he see that as out of bounds himself? 

FOLKENFLIK:  He was really distraught.  I spoke to him several times over the past few days, but at some length on Monday.  He felt that his privacy had been violate, and also, he had said that the attention he had drawn on a lot of the liberal blog sites had engendered calls to family members.  He said his mother had gotten a lot of hateful comments and unsolicited calls, and that it was—is clearly something he was very upset about.  He wept at one point during the conversation. 

OLBERMANN:  Some White House correspondents in the last few days had compared him to a lifeline from the TV quiz show, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”  But did he give any hints that there was anymore to it than that, that he was more like the shill in the crowd when the guy is up on the buckboard trying to sell the medicine to the yokels? 

FOLKENFLIK:  He argued quite the contrary.  I mean, when I‘ve spoken to people in the White House press corps, they say he‘s served as an extraordinarily useful foil by asking questions—I believe you showed some last night—that were really more statements of support than anything else.  He argued that he is just a guy who is a conservative, writing regularly at that time for TalonNews.com, a conservative news site.  He said he met the president twice, both times at Christmas parties where other reporters were present for sort of grip-and-grin photographs.  And that other than that, he had no special in or relationship. 

OLBERMANN:  Apart from whatever access he had to the Senate Intelligence Committee memos about Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame, I‘m thinking that the real issue here is about being in the building, essentially.  Senator Lautenberg of New Jersey today asked the press secretary, Mr. McClellan, for all documents relating to Gannon‘s press credentials, presumably to try to jump-start an investigation somewhere.  But why is anybody, reporter or not, physically in the White House with this kind of dicey past and with a false name?  And this, I‘m shocked to discover there‘s gambling going on here attitude from Mr. McClellan, does no one vet White House correspondents? 

FOLKENFLIK:  Well, it‘s worth teasing out a couple of things here.  The first thing is that Mr. Gannon, or Mr. Guckert, whatever you want to call him, did not have a permanent hard pass, which is a distinction without a difference for most people, but it means he didn‘t have an automatic entry.  Each day he applied for a temporary pass.  He did have some background checking, but it wasn‘t the same kind of full FBI check that a report would get were he to be going for the permanent pass. 

Secondly, he had applied for a similar kind of permanent pass on Capitol Hill under the name James Guckert, his real name.  It leads one to believe, although the White House hasn‘t confirmed this, that he would have had to submit his real name, his real, you know, information, Social Security number, what have you, even to get that temporary pass from the White House. 

OLBERMANN:  Extraordinary.  David Folkenflik of National Public Radio, who has spoken to Mr. Gannon-Guckert.  David, great thanks. 

FOLKENFLIK:  Good to join you. 

OLBERMANN:  Will the Gannon-Guckert story have a chilling effect on blogs, journalism, military stud Web sites?  Who knows?  But our “Oddball” segment always has both chills and frills. 

Speaking of them, Prince Charles popped the big question again, this time to Camilla.  No, not the earlier one about living in her underwear.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re back, and we take a short break from our countdown of the day‘s real news, because if you thought the James Guckert story was bizarre—well, it was—let‘s play “Oddball.”

And here comes the rooster!  It‘s lunar new year‘s day in Shingyang City (ph), China, so of course, you know what that means.  You don‘t?  It‘s time to celebrate the year of the rooster by dressing up in a tutu, doing a little song and dance number, and then throwing yourself into the frigid waters of an icy cold stream.  Ow, my tutu!

Yes, you too can walk like a rooster this year, especially if you lose two toes to frostbite.  Actually, ice sawing (ph) -- swimming in English, Chinese word is swimming (ph) -- is a popular winter activity in northern China, every year, with many participants saying it brings positive health benefits, like blue lips and freezer burn. 

To Michoako (ph), Mexico, the winter home to millions of endangered monarch butterflies.  Oh, there‘s one.  This year, the butterflies will be wintering with a police escort.  Mexican authorities are trying to put a stop to the illegal logging of forests, which is threatening the monarchs‘ habitat.  So 90 federalis, police officers and 40 local law enforcement officers, will be standing guard until March when the butterflies migrate north once again. 

So illegal loggers, take a few weeks off, and we‘ll see you in the spring. 

Ridiculed as the other woman for years, Camilla Parker Bowles will soon be married to the future king of England.  But she will not be the future queen. 

And the pope today, a very public exit from the hospital with the whole world watching.  These stories ahead. 

Now here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day. 

No. 3 -- there are three updates tonight—No. 3, is Tammy Jean Warner.  Do you remember her?  The woman arrested for allegedly giving her husband a fatal enema using two bottles of sherry?  She says she didn‘t do it; he did it to himself, and it was probably the way he wanted to go.  “He would drink,” she says, “but his favorite was enemas.” 

You know what they say, keep your friends close and your enemas closer. 

No. 2, Algie Howell.  We told you about his resolution in the Virginia State House of Delegates banning the wearing of low-rider pant and the exposing of underwear therein.  It passed 60 to 34, but it has now been killed by the Virginia State Senate because of all the negative national media attention.  Sorry!

And No. 1., Fox News Channel.  It placed an ad on the TV Newser Web site, seeking applicants for the position of fact writer.  Hey, good for them!  They‘re branching out into something new—facts!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Mommy, the 5 and a half-year-old girl said plaintively, she doesn‘t look like a princess.  It‘s obvious to 5-year-olds, it‘s probably obvious to everybody else, Camilla Parker Bowles is no Princess Diana.  Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, but she will succeed her. 

As we turn to world figures tonight, Britain will have another royal wedding.  Buckingham Palace announcing that the man next in line to the British throne, Prince Charles, will marry Mrs. Camilla Parker Bowles on Friday, April 8 at Windsor Castle. 

That‘s right, the same Camilla with whom he cavorted even while married to an increasingly desperate Diana.  The same Camilla to whom Charles once said in a telephone conversation that was unfortunately recorded by eavesdroppers that he would like to live in her underwear. 

70 years ago, a similar engagement nearly topple the British royal family.  It caused the king to abdicate, Edward VII, largely because he and his divorcee Wallis Simpson, would not accept a morganatic marriage in which she could never become queen. 

Charles and Camilla have no such problems.  They will marry at a civil, not a church, service.  And she will become princess consort and never queen whether he ever becomes king or not.  Joining me now to discuss this news, BBC political correspondent Laura Trevelyan.

Laura, welcome back, good evening. 

LAURA TREVELYAN, BBC POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  There were no leaks, there was no warning, how did they keep this news a secret? 

TREVELYAN:  Amazing, isn‘t it?  Well, it‘s taken them 35 years.  Remember they first met in 1970.  They first appeared together in public 6 years ago.  Last year for the first time, Camilla showed up in the household accounts, very significant in the royal family.  And now this is happening. 

But really, this is the path of least controversy.  This was something that had to be cleared up before Charles could possibly become king.  How could you have this unofficial companion who had no recognized status hanging around the show.  So, really, this has been cooked up between the Buckingham Palace, between Downing Street, between the prime minister, the Archbishop of Canterbury and of course the Prince of Wales himself. 

And this has been so long in the planning, probably at least 6 years since that first public appearance together.  But they managed to keep it very secret except there was a leak, of course, in a newspaper in London.  And so they bought the announcement for today.

OLBERMANN:  When they met in 1970, they were both single.  There was a relationship before she was married, after she was married, after he was married.  And I know this is an awfully naive question, especially in light of the labyrinthine description of what had to be done to get them to this state here, but why didn‘t they just get married in 1970 or 1971 or 1972? 

TREVELYAN:  Well, it was a different world than, 35 years ago.  The royal family was not the more media savvy organization it is today.  And one of the reason was that in 1970, Camilla was thought to have a bit of a past.  She was thought to be, perhaps, a little bit too racy to be the future wife of the king. 

Now, ironic, of course, in view of what happened.  Diana was thought to be a much more suitable bride 11 years later.  She was young.  She didn‘t have, if you like, a relationship history. 

But also, one of the reason was, that although they seemed to have had a fling in 1970, they didn‘t actually find one another properly as it were until just after the Prince of Wales married Diana.  So, it seems odd, but I think the times are very different 35 years ago than what they are now. 

OLBERMANN:  Indeed.  Is she still seen in England as a villain in the break-up of the Charles-Diana marriage?  And if that is true to any degree, does it have any implications?  Does it tell us anything about whether or not he cares anymore about being a popular king, or even a King? 

TREVELYAN:  Absolutely.  This has been so carefully managed, so carefully, methodically plotted.  Don‘t forget that Diana called Camilla a rock filer.  And that‘s a phrase that has gone down very much in the British public. 

If you look at the snap polls that were done today in Britain, self-selecting opinion polls, people who rang up TV polls and the rest of it, they show 7 out of 10 of the British people opposing this relationship.  Now, those are not scientific polls, they‘re self-selecting. 

If you look at the slightly more scientific polls, they suggest a slight majority do approve of the relationship: 40 percent approving, 36 percent against the marriage.  A lot of people just not knowing. 

So it is very, very tricky.  Many people feel Diana was martyred (ph) at the moment that she died.  There were so many people who support her, who adore her, who worship her image feel that Camilla could never and should never take over her.  And so many people remember that famous interview with Martin Bashir when the Princess of Wales said there were 3 of us in this marriage.  And many people can never forgive either Camilla or Charles for that. 

So they‘ve had to tread extremely carefully.  And that‘s why you have this very complicated marriage where they‘re having a civil ceremony in Windsor.  And then they‘re going to have a blessing, a religious blessing with the Archbishop of Canterbury.  And that‘s all being done so as not to offend anybody. 

OLBERMANN:  Yeah.  The only thing not in this equation here would be doing it by video conferencing. 

TREVELYAN:  Will it be televised?  That‘s the big question.  We don‘t know yet. 

OLBERMANN:  Goodness!  Laura Trevelyan from the BBC, thanks very much for your insight.  And I‘m sure our respective invitations to the wedding are already in the mail.  So, I‘ll see you there. 

TREVELYAN:  I‘m planning my hat (ph), Keith.

OLBERMANN:  From the ridiculous to the sublime, the pope is out of the hospital 10 days after his health crisis, greeted by throngs of faithful and as many paparazzi.  The pontiff riding back to the Vatican from Gemelli Hospital in the famed pope mobile.  The short drive, carried live on Italian television, another indication of the Vatican‘s unusual openness during this most recent of health crises.

The Chief Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls telling the media, John Paul has made a full recovery from the laryngeal tracheitis that necessitated his rush to Gemelli.  Doubts about that had been ignited after the pope‘s weekly address on Sunday.  And further fueled yesterday when he was unable to preside over Ash Wednesday services for the first time in the 26 years of his papacy. 

The pope will slowly resume a normal schedule, making his weekly address from Saint Peter‘s this Sunday before attending a one-week Lentin retreat. 

From Gemelli to Giambi.  Two news conferences and not an admission between them, but the baseball player is very sorry, it‘s just that he won‘t say very sorry about, or if it‘s about steroid use. 

And more details in the allegations against Bill Cosby.  Now it is a purported pay-off offer.  Those stories ahead. 

Now, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day including a homegrown one.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It‘s an interesting lesson for those of you who are worried about a college career, Andrew has a PH.D and I got a C.  And look who‘s working for who.  Anyway...

ANN CURRY, ANCHOR TORTURE:  I can‘t go into the trees.  Let me go, let me go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Is he just going into the tree?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No, that‘s not the way to do it. 

DAN ABRAMS, HOST, ABRAMS REPORT:  Coming up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews.  I‘ve got a minute left here before the end of the show.  So every once in a while, ladies and gentlemen, we don‘t time out the show perfectly, or I speak too quickly, or I speak slower than usual.  That means we have an extra minute here for me to just—just talk to you guys one-on-one.  So let me tell you something, this is an opportunity that I‘ve been waiting to have to thank my staff, and I want to thank everyone on the set.  You guys have been great, really.  Everybody.  Thank you.  So much. 

How much time do we have left?  Thirty more seconds.  OK.  We‘ll take it really slow with the wave.  Bye!

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  He did not dispute that he told a San Francisco area grand jury that he‘d used steroids and human growth hormone.  He did not dispute reports that his New York Yankees employers tried to in essence fire him from a contract under which he was owed another $82 million, because he had used steroids.  But in our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, over the course of two separate news conferences this afternoon, one for print journalists and one for everybody else, baseball‘s Jason Giambi never admitted using steroids, never admitted telling the grand jury that he had done so, and at least 10 times said he could not be specific, could not comment or could not go into detail because of legal reason. 

He did, however, do an awful lot of apologizing for creating distractions. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JASON GIAMBI, NEW YORK YANKEES:  You know, I feel like I‘ve let a lot of people down, and I want to say that I‘m sorry.  I feel like I‘ve let down the media.  I feel like I‘ve let down the fans.  I feel like I‘ve let down the Yankees, and also I feel like I‘ve let down my teammates.  So you know, I‘m here to say I‘m sorry, and hopefully someday I‘ll be able to be more specific about that.  But the one thing that, you know, I can tell you is when I went into the grand jury, I was truthful.  The biggest thing is, you know, this is a start.  And hopefully, you know, get this distraction out of the way from my teammate before I get to spring training. 

I understand how the young—even Little Leaguers feel.  There‘s no doubt about that.  You know, I understand how they definitely feel, and that‘s why, you know, I‘m sorry.  But like I said, I hope their parents pass on the message, hey, like I said earlier, this is a guy who faces his problems, he‘s not running from them.  He‘s dealing with them.  And you know, he‘s trying to go forward.  And he‘s not a quitter. 

Everybody, you know, makes mistakes.  And hopefully, you know, you always look for that second chance.  And hopefully, people will find it in their heart to give me a second chance, and go from there. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  The first player implicated in the steroid scandal to speak publicly, Giambi was specific in one area only: Asked about Jose Canseco‘s new book in which Canseco purportedly will describe how when they were all players with the Oakland Athletics, he, Canseco and Mark McGwire all did steroids together.  Giambi said that was, quote, “false.” 

Somebody else has also ripped Canseco‘s new tell-all, baseball Commissioner Bud Selig.  Among the dozens of angles leaked to publicize Canseco‘s book, his claims that baseball‘s owners, including his one-time boss, former Texas Rangers Chairman George W. Bush not only knew about steroid use by players in the ‘90s, but encouraged it, on the premise that home runs would always draw more fans.  Especially after the disastrous strike that canceled the 1994 World Series. 

Selig described that as, quote, “nonsense,” adding, quote, “never once have I had an owner or general manager, player, anybody suggest to me that we ought to do anything that enhances home runs,” unquote.

Baseball historians agree that the first time the owners actually did something to increase home runs was in 1910. 

And from sports to weather.  As in, it‘s coming down so hard, Bill Cosby had better be wearing a hat.  Our celebrity and entertainment section “Keeping Tabs,” opening again tonight with still more revelations about the accusations against the Cos.  This time, according to “The Philadelphia Daily News,” he offered to pay off the woman who told authorities he drugged and groped her, and that the pay-off is what‘s on the tapes of phone conversations with Cosby, that the woman earlier claimed she has and has turned over to authorities. 

This was the week Philadelphia area authorities were to decide whether or not to press charges against the entertainer.  That could mean an announcement tomorrow.  Cosby, through his attorney, has categorically denied all allegations against him. 

And once again, it‘s your entertainment dollars in action.  Day 451 of the Michael Jackson investigations.  And the jury questionnaires in the case prove once again it‘s a small world after all -- 243 members of the jury pool filled them out; juror number 87 says his uncle is a friend of Jackson‘s.  Juror No. 95 said a friend works at Neverland.  Numbers 10 and 243 have been there.  And one 43-year-old woman had to explain that she kind of knows the defendant.  Quote, “My niece in law‘s sister has dated Ely, Michael‘s cousin, and we have attended family functions with Ely.” 

Can you diagram that?  My niece in law‘s sister dated his cousin? 

And this may be a coincidence.  But yesterday I was a guest on Al Franken‘s radio show, and today he declared he will not run for the Senate next year. 

He, Al Franken, has openly discussed running against Minnesota Senator Norm Coleman in 2008 for the Senate seat formerly held by the late Paul Wellstone, but when Democratic Senator Mark Dayton yesterday announced that he would not seek reelection for his Minnesota seat in ‘06, speculation arose that Franken might return to the state in which he grew up and run for that office. 

Franken today said he will honor his commitment to the Air America radio network for at least two more years, and if he decides to run in ‘08, he‘ll move back to Minnesota.  He didn‘t say which town. 

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  So is the stuff we say passes as art these days.  Trash art, literally.  And I will literally trash art, too.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Artists never admit this, but the coolest thing about being an artist is that you can make anything, be it the Mona Lisa or an American flag composed of painted bottle caps, and you can call it art.  And woe betide anybody who contradicts you. 

Our No. 1 story on the COUNTDOWN, I don‘t know much about art, but I know you can‘t criticize it, because anything, anything could be called art. 

Two examples tonight.  In a moment, the craft they put up outside my house.  But first, COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny is here with what some critics might call craft, but at least it‘s in a more appropriate venue.  Good evening, Monica.

MONICA NOVOTNY, COUNTDOWN CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, good evening.  In fact, what you‘re about to see is art, with a capital A.  What makes it different?  It‘s lovingly created by artists using materials you might call gently used, or more literally, garbage. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s amazing.  It‘s so in the now.  You‘re coinciding with the garbage at that certain point in time.  And that‘s when art happens.  It‘s synchronicity. 

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  They‘re making a masterpiece at the dump. 

Proving one man‘s trash really can be another‘s treasure. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You can pretty much find anything and everything here. 

NOVOTNY:  A unique San Francisco program developed in 1990, where artists receive a small stipend to create at a city dump for three to six months.  With the goal of showing just how much we consume, toss and waste each day, artists like Hector Dia Mendosa (ph) inspiring residents to recycle. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We basically go shopping for trash.  You have a little shopping cart, and you put on your gear, your hard hat, your vest and your gloves and all that.  

NOVOTNY:  Though it may sound unusual, even unsavory, it‘s not new. 

TARA MCDOWELL:  Picasso uses newspaper clips.  And artists like Joseph Carnal (ph) scavenge the city streets.  Artists have been using found materials, at least through the beginning of the last century.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I was interested in creating a body of work with the materials that were non-biodegradable, materials that I use for packaging, bubble wrap, packaging peanuts, styrofoam, stuff like that.

NOVOTNY:  And now, two artists new to the program ready to dump-dive. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s a Geiger counter.

This morning, I found these crutches.

I don‘t know if he‘s Ken or if he‘s G.I. Joe or what, but look at that fly that‘s stuck to his leg.  That‘s just so interesting. 

NOVOTNY (on camera):  The artists spend anywhere from 20 to 40 hours a week here.  They have 24-hour access to the site and to the 2,600 tons of garbage that are dumped here each day six days a week. 

(voice-over):  At the end of each residency, a gallery-style showing in their studio, with more than 500 members of the art world keeping their noses out of the air. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Kind of a cool thing to do to go to an art show at the dump. 

NOVOTNY:  Maybe, but the age-old question remains: Is this art? 

MCDOWELL:  Of course it‘s art.  What makes it good art is not the materials that are being used, but the final product. 

PATRICK HAYWOOD, ARTIST:  Just sitting there in the dump on its own, it‘s not art, but when I take it out and begin to have it—hold a conversation with another piece or with a space, then it becomes art. 

NOVOTNY:  But not every piece is ready for public consumption. 

(on camera):  Have you ever looked at something and thought, that is just not art?  It‘s still trash?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We can‘t always tell the difference.  Things have been accidentally thrown away because of that. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOVOTNY:  Forty-nine artists have completed the program thus far.  And most of their artworks are purchased, at prices ranging from $2 to $2,600, or displayed throughout the city in public spaces, office buildings and government offices. 

OLBERMANN:  Not counting the ones that get thrown away. 

NOVOTNY:  Exactly.

OLBERMANN:  COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny.  Great thanks as always.

NOVOTNY:  Thanks.

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, there are the Gates.  The Gates are not Bill and all the little billionaires, but rather the latest art project by the man known as Christo, the guy who once filled a California valley with yellow umbrellas and once dressed up the Reichstag in aluminum fabric.  Fortunately, he did that in 1995. 

The Gates are these things, oversized track and field hurdles that the artist and organizers claim are saffron in color, but which are in fact simply screaming psychedelic paint orange, the same awful color they make road cones in, and those stupid barrel things that block off traffic lanes. 

They‘re sticking 7,500 of these along the pedestrian walkways of Central Park in New York City.  They look like a terrible mistake of some sort.  Like somebody was trying to build something and ran out of money.  And they‘re going to get worse.  They‘re not finished yet!  Later, there‘ll be vast, billowing orange bed sheets hanging from each one of them.  And then it‘ll look like rotting shells of giant lobsters are littering the park. 

New York City believes that between 90,000 and 200,000 tourists will come to town to see them between now and February 27.  As you already know, there are a lot of morons out there. 

There are three problems.  First, I live across the street from Central Park.  I don‘t have to.  It‘s my choice.  I don‘t seek your sympathy.  But I do it because Central Park is inherently beautiful, winter, summer, spring and fall.  And it‘s almost non-commercialized.  I can‘t see a billboard or an advertisement from my window.  And not a lot of people in a city anywhere in this country can say that. 

I do not need a bunch of giant glowing orange croquet wickets fouling it up!  To say nothing of 200,000 people standing around staring at it all hours of the day, pretending it looks good. 

Problem No. 2: Despite the tourism, despite the private funding by Christo and friends, $20 million worth -- $20 million for this! -- the city says it‘s going to have to put hundreds of cops in Central Park to protect the Gates.  There have already been attempts to vandalize and graffiti-ize them. 

My alibi is airtight, and I also will not testify against my neighbors. 

The city will spend thousands of dollars of my taxpayer money to pull the cops from things like, oh, counterterrorism, crime prevention, to make sure that nobody spray-paints any of the 7,500 Gates with the message “this stinks!”

Lastly, there‘s that awful, awful color.  And its inspiration.  Meet Mrs. Christo, Jeanne-Claude.  Now every time I see one of these nightmare, cheesy, poorly-spaced, garish, ugly things despoiling the view of the simple natural beauty of Central Park, I got to think about this dame, too!

Thanks a bunch, Christo.  And you should be glad that there‘s no legal definition of art.  Or you would not be building gates in my neighborhood.  You would be breaking rocks somewhere. 

That‘s COUNTDOWN.  Thank you for being a part of it.  A tribute to Dan Abrams for ending his show 30 seconds early. 

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

Come on, let‘s get out of here.

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

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2005 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2005 Voxant, 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 Voxant, 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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