updated 7/18/2005 7:46:14 AM ET 2005-07-18T11:46:14

Guest: Johnathan Turley, Alfie Dennend, Tim Meyer

ALISON STEWART, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

And the beat goes on in the Karl Rove probe.  New details of another phone conversation with the reporter.  OK, so aside from the legality of it all, did Rove break an oath he signed just before being part of the executive branch?

The investigation in the London attacks is developing at breakneck speed.  The suspect alleged to be involved in the bombmaking is in custody in Egypt.  The latest headlines from NBC‘s terrorism task force.

Harry may be good at magic, but Charlie has oompa-loompas in his pockets.  “Willie Wonka” hits the big screen...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “WILLIE WONKA”)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, I believe they‘re going to treat us to a little song.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  And Harry Potter hits bookstores.  Is installment six a page-turner?  We won‘t spoil the plot, but we‘ll talk to someone who‘s already finished the book.

All that, and our favorite stories of the week.  No pushing, no shoving.  There‘s plenty of room for everyone to see tonight‘s big five.

And good evening.  I‘m Alison Stewart, in for Keith Olbermann, on a night when a boy wizard appears on bookshelves amid fears that details about muggles and Malfoys will leak out before the stroke of 12:00.

We can promise you this much, Karl Rove is not guilty of leaking the plot of the new Harry Potter book.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the source who must not be named.  New details reported today revealing that the president‘s top political adviser did speak to columnist Robert Novak before he wrote an article identifying Ambassador Joe Wilson‘s wife as a CIA officer.

Only, here‘s the twist.  Rove says Novak already knew who Valerie Plame was, Rove reportedly replying, quote, “I heard that too,” unquote, confirming it as a second source for the columnist.

NBC News has also learned Rove told the grand jury he had no motive to attack Plame or Wilson.

The Republican National Committee seizing on today‘s new details, saying it shows that Rove was, quote, “a consumer of the information in question, not a producer,” end quote.

For more on the possible impact of today‘s developments, we‘re joined now by Jim Vandehei, the White House correspondent for “The Washington Post.”

Jim, nice to have you on the COUNTDOWN with us.

JIM VANDEHEI, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Good to be here.

STEWART:  Is the issue here who said what to whom and when?  Or is it the White House may have misled the public about something?

VANDEHEI:  Well, it depends.  You have to split the issues here. 

There‘s a legal side and there‘s a political side.

And the political side, it‘s been proven absolutely clear over the last week or so that the administration‘s initial denial, that they had nothing to do at all with this leak, is clearly not true.  At the very least, Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, and others inside of the White House were aware of the leak, or were aware of the information about Joe Wilson‘s wife being a member of the CIA and had talked about it to reporters.

So on the political side, he‘s under a lot of pressure, and there‘s this big question about, you know, White House credibility that the White House is trying to deal with.

On the legal side, it‘s still not clear.  We don‘t know what the prosecutor is looking at precisely and where he‘s going to go with this investigation.

STEWART:  Well, let talk about on the journalistic side.  Of all the information that came out today, as a journalist, what do you think was the most spun piece of information?  And what was the most substantive?

VANDEHEI:  I think the most interesting thing here is that you now have, you know, allies of Karl Rove saying that he wasn‘t a recipient of the information but actually—or not a supplier of the information, he was actually a recipient of it, and got it from Bob Novak, who really started this whole controversy with his July 2003 column.

So it‘s still unclear, where did that information come from?  How did Novak get it?  Or how did Karl Rove get it initially, or Scooter Libby?

STEWART:  We know that Rove has spoken to two reporters, Robert Novak, as you mentioned, and Matt Cooper, we all know about Matt Cooper, who thought he was going to go to jail.  Now, your paper, “The Washington Post,” reported in 2003 that two senior White House officials called at least six journalists, get our map straight, to discuss the identity of Wilson‘s wife.

If it‘s revealed that Rove spoke to other reporters, does this get a little more problematic for him?

VANDEHEI:  Well, it‘s important to figure out, when did these phone calls take place?  Remember, one of the first things that the special prosecutor did was, he subpoenaed the phone logs to figure out who Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, and others inside the White House were talking to.

And they want to figure out, were people leaking this information before it became public in the Novak column, or after?  If it happened after, legally speaking, there‘s not as big of an issue, because it‘s in the public domain, and therefore, people can talk about it and can gossip about it.

If it was done before, then the prosecutors probably looking at it to see, is the there a pattern where they were trying to smear Joe Wilson by outing Valerie Plame?

STEWART:  “Washington Post” White House correspondent Jim Vandehei. 

Great thanks, and have a good weekend.

VANDEHEI:  You have a good weekend too.  Thanks.

STEWART:  The White House still silent on the subject of Mr. Rove, sticking to its new mantra that it cannot speak until the investigation is over.  So when is it going to be over?

Here to answer that and other questions on our mind, Georgetown University law professor Jonathan Turley, who has worked on a number of similar cases.

Jonathan, welcome back to COUNTDOWN.

JONATHAN TURLEY, LAW PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY:  Thank you, Alison.

STEWART:  Let‘s start with this, talking about today‘s developments.  From a legal standpoint, does it matter how Karl Rove got the name and identity of Wilson‘s wife, or if he confirmed it, as long as he was involved in making it public, is he still liable?

TURLEY:  Well, it does matter.  If he received some of this information not from a reporter but as part of his official duties, he could very well be guilty of violating this provision.  But one has to remember that this section, section 421, is a really poorly crafted, poorly thought-out provision.

And it requires very high level of proof.  But there‘s actually three provisions, and one has not been discussed much, and that does not require that necessarily that you received it from a classified source.

But I think the most likely area where Rove has to be worried about, the area I would be most worried about, would be a charge under 18 USC 1001.  And that is a crime for lying to a federal investigator.                  And there‘s another provision for lying to a grand jury.

Those are the that types of provisions that people get indicted for in this town.  It‘s often how you respond to a controversy, as opposed to the original subject of the controversy, that sends to you Club Fed for a few years on a criminal charge.

STEWART:  I‘m hearing echoes of Martha Stewart in that answer.

TURLEY:  Well, you know, this is a town where, frankly, you know, these types of scandals bring their own life.  And it‘s surprising how many seasoned people will make the mistake.  They‘ll go and testify to a grand jury early on.  They‘ll say things that could be misleading.  And then later testimony contradicts that, or they made a statement to a federal investigator in the first few days that turns out to be false.

That, those are the tripwires.  And, you know, Karl Rove knows, I think, the rules of that game.  I mean, his biggest problem is, he‘s Karl Rove.  I mean, he‘s the guy that liberals tell their children about to scare them into behaving, you know, late at night.

And, you know, he is so close to the president that this prosecutor cannot leave until he‘s looked at every inch and every statement and every piece of evidence to clear his name.

STEWART:  I think you just described Karl Rove as the boogeyman, possibly.  The White House keeps telling us that no one is going to talk until the investigation is over.  When do you think it‘s going to be over?

TURLEY:  Well, you know, you should prepare yourself, because one of the other common mantras used in this town is, Well, the criminal investigation‘s over, now there‘s a criminal charge, and there‘s a trial, and we don‘t want to impede it, or the prosecutors don‘t want us to make statements.  So you could very well have a new justification.

The fact remains that for the White House, it always is an issue of whether the public needs to know.  Frankly, some of the questions asked Scott McClellan, in my view, he clearly could answer.  I don‘t see how that would complicate a criminal investigation.  It‘s a choice, but it‘s a political one, not a legal one.

STEWART:  And why haven‘t we heard from Robert Novak, the columnist that Rove spoke to?

TURLEY:  Well, that is equally curious, in my view.  You know, there is a standard in media that journalists are expected to tell their status, whether they‘ve cooperated or not.  You‘ll notice that “TIME” magazine has done so.  Other reporters have done so.  They‘ve made it clear what they said or where they are.

I‘ve never heard of a prosecutor saying, You can‘t even say whether you cooperated.  After all, Rove‘s attorney has said, not just what his position is, what he said in front of the grand jury.  And so it really raises additional questions about Novak.

I mean, Novak really started this whole, you know, controversy.  And his refusal to speak, I think, frankly, is reprehensible.

STEWART:  We shall see, and this is to be continued.  Constitutional law expert Jonathan Turley, thanks for your perspective.

TURLEY:  Thank you.

STEWART:  The chief justice of the Supreme Court with a very clear message.  William Rehnquist is staying put.  How that announcement impacts the choice to replace Sandra O‘Connor.

And another big arrest in the London bombing investigation.  We‘ll analyze the latest developments and ask why we‘re cutting back on security on our nation‘s transportation systems.

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  The big question this week, go or no-go?  And we‘re not just talking about the space shuttle “Discovery.”

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist.  Yes, he did go to the hospital.  And when he did, earlier this week, Washington went into a frenzy, the speculation that the chief justice would have no choice but to retire, handing President Bush his second Supreme Court vacancy in two weeks.

But as our correspondent Pete Williams reports, Mr. Rehnquist said his retirement was a no-go.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETE WILLIAMS, MSNBC JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Chief Justice Rehnquist was back at work today, slowed a bit after a short hospital stay with a fever, facing concern about his health, but no longer facing questions about his plans.  “I am not about to announce my retirement,” he said late last night.  An extraordinary statement for a sitting justice.

He said he‘ll continue to perform the duties of chief justice as long as his health permits.  Rehnquist said he wanted to end what he called the speculation and unfounded rumors of his imminent retirement.  They peaked last week as President Bush was returning from his trip overseas.

Columnist Robert Novak made this flat prediction on CNN.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, CNN)

ROBERT NOVAK, COLUMNIST:  The time of retiring is going to be as soon as the president is back in the country, as soon as Air Force One lands in the country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Can we expect any news about your retirement today, sir?

WILLIAMS:  Such speculation kept photographers on watch at his house. 

Last night‘s statements seemed intended to put a stop to that too.

With Rehnquist staying, the White House now knows it has just one vacancy to fill, the seat held by Sandra Day O‘Connor.  That takes a politically appealing option off the table, balancing two nominations to please different groups of voters.

STUART TAYLOR, COLUMNIST, “NATIONAL JOURNAL”:  For example, if they nominated a fervent conservative to replace Rehnquist, then maybe the right would accept someone a little bit less conservative, someone on the more moderate side, to replace O‘Connor.

WILLIAMS:  And it means both liberal and conservative pressure groups can now focus all their energy and money on a single front.

STUART ROTHENBERG, POLITICAL ANALYST:  The problem for the president is that both sides, both the right and the left, are as much after the blood sport as they are after the nomination.

WILLIAMS (on camera):  Even though President Bush has just one seat to fill now, it‘s likely he‘ll have a chance to move the court further to the right with at least one more vacancy before his term ends.

Pete Williams, NBC News, at the Supreme Court.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  And now to the other big no-go of the space shuttle “Discovery” and NASA‘s attempt to determine exactly what and exactly when.  The answer is, essentially, who knows?  Officials have said the shuttle would launch no sooner than late next week.  Now they‘re offering no possible dates.

NASA is grappling with that faulty fuel sensor, and they are no closer to understanding what exactly is wrong with it.  If they can‘t get “Discovery” up by the end of the month, they‘re looking at a September launch.

It was billed as one of the most important events of our time.  You‘re thinking we‘re rolling the wrong video, I bet.  No, it is the air guitar championship.  Dude, coverage on Oddball!

And the wait is almost over.  Harry Potter fans are all in a lather and all lined up to get their very own copy of the latest Potter product.

Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  I‘m Alison Stewart, revving up for that part of the COUNTDOWN where the gadgets are gold, the rednecks are royalty, and air guitar is music to our ears.  It‘s the bluffoonery of life, extra cheese, hold the anchovies.

Let‘s play Oddball.

And they‘re off to Pamplona‘s sister city, Belmont County, Ohio, where they take the bull out of the running of the bulls and insert a healthy dose of cow patties.  It is officially call the Running of the Rednecks.

And it‘s Bubba ahead by a nose, Billy Bob get him past, nope, here comes Earl Jr.  Every year, fans hurl their beer bellies over this pasture to get the best seats for the Jamboree in the Hills Musical Festival, four days of country music, 100,000 fans, portable toilets.  Priceless.

And if you think this guy is a refugee from Running of the Rednecks, think again.  He is a finalist in the third annual U.S. Air Guitar Championships.  He wasn‘t the winner, but COUNTDOWN just loves this fellow.

OK, it‘s a Wonder Woman wannabe, a long way from Tom Cruise in his underwear.  (INAUDIBLE).  But this year‘s (INAUDIBLE) is so impressive, we hit all the (INAUDIBLE).

Which brings us to this year‘s winner.  Contestants get just 60 seconds each and are judged on technical merit, stage presence, and their ability to make the performance look real.  Real what?  Not so sure.

Other requirements, the instrument must be invisible, and it must be a guitar.

The winner will be on Monday‘s “TODAY” show just as soon as he jets in from his own private.

And watch carefully, it‘s Japan‘s so-called two-sided TV.  That‘s right, it allows people sitting on different sides of the telly to watch separate channels.  Just one problem.  They haven‘t worked the audio out yet.  One possibility, of course, would be headphones, or two TVs.

Ahead on COUNTDOWN, the latest from London on the terror attack investigations.  A day of big arrests and new clues that the bombings were tied to al Qaeda.

And the resolve of people to stand against terror.  We‘ll talk to the man behind the Web site that‘s getting attention around the world, WereNotAfraid.com.

Those stories ahead.

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

Number three, Mr. David Heath of Pennsylvania, allegedly keeping a little too busy in the love department, the 26-year-old trainer getting caught in an affair with a 16-year-old girl, a girl he was caught text messaging during his wedding reception after his marriage to another woman.  Smooth move, Captain Communication.

Number two, Representative Dennis Kucinich.  He was having a little trouble finding a woman.  Well, that‘s all over.  The former presidential candidate is engaged.  Remember there was this national contest at one time to find Kucinich a bride?  Instead, he found Elizabeth Harper all on his own, a British woman who works in Chicago and now is a potential first lady.  That‘ll raise his chances of winning the White House from zero to zero.

And number one, Melissa Tanner, an Oklahoma woman.  She split a case of beer with her boyfriend, and it gets worse, because she split the case of beer right before she gave birth.  Mom‘s blood level was four times the legal limit.  The baby‘s was three times the legal limit.  And when asked what she was going to name the child, Tanner told a friend, quote, “Maybe Milwaukee‘s Best.”

She‘s in jail now, which only means that under the jail must have been occupied.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  The investigation has spanned just over one week and crossed four continents.  With the bombers responsible for carrying out the suicide attacks identified, there are some pretty huge pieces of the puzzle still missing.

Quoting London‘s police commissioner, quote, “Who encouraged them? 

Who trained them?  Who the chemist?”

Our number three story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the latter, at the very least, may have just fallen into place.  In police custody in Cairo, Magdy Mahmoud al-Nashar (ph), the Egyptian chemist who studied and taught at Leeds University, and who authorities suspect manufactured the bombs that killed at least 54 people, including the bombers, one of whom had already gotten the attention of U.S. authorities.

Our correspondent Lisa Myers has the details from London.  Lisa?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA MYERS, MSNBC CHIEF INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT:  Alison, tonight intelligence sources tell NBC News that one of the bombers was on a U.S.  terror watchlist, because his name had come up in a previous investigation of an al Qaeda plot in Britain.

(voice-over):  Today it was Friday prayers at the mosque of one of the bombers.  And police pored over the apartment of the suspected bombmaker, biochemist Magdy al-Nashar.  In Egypt, Nashar‘s family said he was arrested yesterday at this Cairo mosque and is innocent.

ROGER CRESSY, MSNBC TERRORISM ANALYST:  It‘s a strange development.  If al-Nashar was the bombmaker, was the technical brains behind the explosives, why should he go back to Egypt right away, where the likelihood of his arrest was quite high?

MYERS:  British sources say that while Nashar has links to the bombers, some believe he is not involved in the attack.

Intelligence officials increasingly believe that in planning and recruiting for this attack, all roads lead to Pakistan, where four people were detained today.  Authorities are investigating bomber Shahzad Tanweer‘s (ph) time there, including his visit to this religious school in Lahore, co-founded by Osama bin Laden.

Intelligence sources also were investigating whether Tanweer met in Pakistan with an al Qaeda operative who masterminded the 2002 attack that killed two Americans there.

Intelligence sources say another suicide bomber, Jermaine Lindsay, was put on a U.S. terror watchlist not long ago, because his name came up when the British rolled up an al Qaeda plot here last year.

M.J. GOHEL, TERRORISM EXPERT:  It appears that the recent bombing in London was not a one-off, standalone operation.  It was probably a follow-on operation from previous plots, which our British intelligence was able to foil.

MYERS (on camera):  Today, the parents of the bus bomber issued a statement saying, “We would have done everything in our power to stop him,” and urging the public to cooperate fully with authorities, Alison.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  Lisa Myers from London tonight, thank you so much.

Our own mass transit system is responsible for the safe travels of millions of riders each day, the vast majority thinking it is only a matter of time before something similar happens here.  The latest AP/Ipsos poll shows nearly 60 percent of Americans believe that a terrorist attack on a bus, subway or a train is inevitable, that number surprisingly unaffected by the events in London and analysts telling the Associated Press this has (ph) remained consistent over the course the last few years.

However, a figure that may change, the amount the Department of Homeland Security will spend to keep mass transit secure from such attacks.  That is going to actually decrease.  Senators from both sides of the aisle had sought to increase appropriations for bus and rail systems in the wake of the London bomb.  Those measures ultimately defeated.  The approved Senate bill for next year‘s Homeland Security spending: $31 billion for airport and border security, $100 million for buses, subways and trains.  That‘s $50 million less than this year.

Homeland Security Department secretary Michael Chertoff calling it a matter of prioritizing.  Quote, “The truth,” he said, “is a fully loaded airplane has the capacity to kill 3,000 people.  A bomb in a subway car may kill 30.”  A tough sell to as many as 54 grieving families in London tonight, where the investigation into the terror bombings continues.

Roger Cressey is the former counterterrorism coordinator of the National Security Council staff and is currently an MSNBC terrorism analyst.  Nice to see you, Roger.

ROGER CRESSEY, MSNBC TERRORISM ANALYST:  How are you doing, Alison?

STEWART:  I‘m well, thanks.  Let‘s begin with the arrests in Pakistan today.  Do they suggest the investigators are close to making a tangible al Qaeda link here?  Is that even possible?

CRESSEY:  Well, this is the big question, this British-borne Pakistani that authorities are looking for right now.  Is he the link to the al Qaeda leadership still in Pakistan and Afghanistan?  Key question.  Then, of course, the other issue is whether or not the individuals picked up by the government of Pakistan today are at all related to the London bombings or if there‘s another plot going on or these guys are just al Qaeda-related—all open issues right now that require some answers.

STEWART:  Well, let‘s think about this.  The fact there are so many ties to previous al Qaeda plots and suspected operatives, and the addition of one of the bombers on the watch list here in the States—is it fair to assume this is an evolutionary process?

CRESSEY:  Oh, I think so.  Look, we do not know still whether or not this was al Qaeda-inspired or al Qaeda-directed.  In some respects, it doesn‘t matter, but the big question for some time now is whether or not bin Laden, al Zawahiri and the rest of the remaining leadership of al Qaeda still have the operational control over what remains of their network.  If the London bombing was an al Qaeda-directed attack, and a lot of people in the intelligence community believe that it was, that‘s a pretty serious development.  It means Bin Laden still has the capability to reach out against Western targets.  And of course, that means we‘re still in his crosshairs, as well.

STEWART:  Let‘s talk about the actual investigation itself.  Early on, investigators warned it would take weeks, months before we even had any preliminary answers.  And now we‘ve had this flurry of arrests and potential leads.  What does that suggest to you?

CRESSEY:  Some very good investigative work by the Brits and some support from European, and hopefully, U.S. intelligence officials.  What it means is that when you go through this painstaking process of reviewing closed-circuit TV, doing the forensics and some of the other real difficult investigative work, you also have to have a bit of a break.  And the break came when one of the bombers‘ families notified British authorities that the bomber was not—wasn‘t around.  He was—he was missing.  And they were able to piece that together with the CCTV footage and begin a process that led to a couple of these breaks.

STEWART:  One of the people suspected in creating this whole event is that chemist, el Nashar.  He‘s denied any involvement, citing the fact that he actually planned to return to Leeds from Cairo.  He hadn‘t even cleared out his apartment.  What do we know about him?  And why was he under the radar?

CRESSEY:  We don‘t know much more about him.  I mean, he was either unbelievably stupid, unbelievably arrogant in thinking he could go back to Cairo and not get picked up, or maybe there‘s guilt by association at work here.  Certainly, the Brits have enough information on him that would require the Egyptians to pick him up.  But the key question for him is, besides his direct association to the London bombing, did he have any associations with other members of al Qaeda, if, in fact, he is part of the al Qaeda network?

STEWART:  And we will obviously continue to cover this story.  MSNBC terrorism analyst Robert Cressey—excuse me, Roger Cressey.

CRESSEY:  That‘s my brother.

STEWART:  Well, you can tell him to have a good weekend, as well.

CRESSEY:  OK, Alison.

STEWART:  Thanks a lot.

Today marking another tragic milestone since those devastating terror attacks, the first funeral.  Twenty-year-old Suhara Islam (ph) was buried during a private service, her family remembering her as, quote, “a true Muslim,” a statement from the family reading, in part, quote, “She had the whole world ahead of her.”

The whole world remembering, as well, participating with Londoners in yesterday‘s moment of silence.  In Madrid, where the memory of the attacks there still lingers, an official characterized the moment as solidarity against barbarism.

Another example along a similar theme, found not in public squares but on the Internet, and with one added twist, fearlessness, Werenotafraid.com created by London residents in response to last week‘s bombings.  Pictures are being sent by people around the globe, all variations on the theme.  According to the site‘s creator, Alfie Dennen, it‘s currently getting as many as six submissions per minute, with more than 7,000 images already posted.

I spoke with Alfie earlier this evening.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

Why‘d you start this site, Alfie?

ALFIE DENNEN, WERENOTAFRAID.COM:  It started because a friend of mine had sent an image from his phone when he was on the King‘s Cross train, once he‘d got out, and I published that.  It went all around the world very fast.  And in the thread, the comment thread that was running through that, we had outpourings of support from every corner of the globe.  And I thought that the sentiment of not being afraid in the face of this was at least something for me which was definite.  And I just had the idea, and I thought I‘d do it.

STEWART:  Was the response almost immediate?  You just got an inpouring of pictures?

DENNEN:  It basically happened, I think, mainly over around six hours, and it just showed the interconnectedness of the Web.  You know, it got picked up by a couple of places, just blogs, and then it got picked up very quickly by German and Italian media.  And then it kind of spread that way.

STEWART:  You have quite a few pictures on the site already.  What are the requirements, should I want to send one in?

DENNEN:  Well, the requirements are very simple.  Just show imaging saying that you‘re not afraid and—you know, in your own way.  I mean, there are submission guidelines in terms of what we would prefer, which is that at least have a message.  You know, don‘t send a picture of your dog just by itself or something.  And that‘s kind of evolved over time, as well.  So, I mean, we won‘t publish anything that‘s gung-ho, Let‘s go and kick their ass, because, you know, that‘s not what it‘s like, as we found, because, in fact, they‘re actually British.  They were raised British, and it‘s kind of like fighting yourself.  So we tend not to publish anything like that.

STEWART:  It‘s kind of interesting because when you‘re so pro-something, it can obviously bring out the anti in people.  Have you gotten any anti-Muslim entries?

DENNEN:  We‘ve had a few, I mean, a surprisingly small amount, considering we‘ve had something like 30 million individuals on the site over the last five days.  So I can count on two hands and two feet the amount of nasty stuff that we‘ve had.  So I‘m pretty surprised and glad of that, as well.

STEWART:  For you personally, why was this important to do?

DENNEN:  Well, at the time, it was important because a friend of mine had been in the crash.  I‘d found out early on that my family was fine.  You know, I called around.  And then as time went on and I had the idea, I thought it was good one and just a nice one that we should do.  It became more important because I think it‘s come to represent, in a way, the first time that a global voice has emerged from something which is generally led by the voice of either the government or the media representing the voice of the people, which would generally be, This is how the people feel.

By I think that by giving very a simple voice which is saying that you‘re not afraid, however that‘s interpreted by the people that see and it want to send in, is a pretty unified message.

STEWART:  Well, good and simple are important enough, I think.  Alfie Dennen, creator of Werenotafraid.com.  Thanks for taking the time tonight.

DENNEN:  Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART:  It is a kid‘s dream, maybe a parent‘s nightmare, the weekend‘s shaping up, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” making its big screen debut nationwide tonight.  At the same time, kids are leaning up to get their hands on the sixth book in the Harry Potter series.  And parents?  They‘ll be opening their wallets, basically.

A COUNTDOWN world exclusive.  We‘re not going to spoil the plot, but we‘ve got someone that managed to get around the rules and security to get an early copy of the good book.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  It‘s Christmas in July, kids!  Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN tonight is in itself a twofer because Santa brought us not only a shiny new bike—AKA, the much anticipated opening of the film “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”—but also a pony.  That would be the much anticipated release of the sixth Harry Potter novel, “Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince,” set to hit shelves tonight at the strike of midnight.  Kids and geeks everywhere may rejoice.

In a moment, we‘ll be joined by a man from Indiana who, without even breaking into an armored truck, got his hands on a copy of the Potter book, oh, back on Monday.  But first, which of these two heavyweights will take the top billing with the middle school set this weekend?  Our correspondent is Michael Okwu.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL OKWU, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  This weekend in this corner at a book store near you, Harry Potter and his newest adventures with wizards and warlocks and Muggles, oh, my.  And in this corner, also to vying for your kids‘ eyes, the film remake of a delicious classic.  It‘s enough to make anyone hungry for fantasy dance like an oompa-loompa.

ANNE THOMPSON, “THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER”:  The weekend is odd because you do have this enormous book and all the children lining up and a great deal of frenzy at the same time as “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” which is going to be going after the exact same audience.

OKWU:  And who doesn‘t love chocolate?  But at the same time, Potter is catnip for kids.

(on camera):  Barnes and Noble says after the clock starts ticking at 12:01 Saturday morning, they expect to sell 50,000 copies of “Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince” every hour that first day.

THOMPSON:  I guess the question is, are children going to stay home in their beds for three days to read Harry Potter instead of going out on an opening weekend?  And we really have no precedents for this.  We don‘t know.

PAUL DERGARABEDIAN, EXHIBITOR RELATIONS:  I think if you have a family and you have kids and they want to see “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and they also want to get the Harry Potter book, what are you going to do?  You got to do both.

OKWU (voice-over):  For the kids, a long-awaited summer read and a golden ticket at the box office.  Michael Okwu, NBC News, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STEWART:  Inadvertent sneak peeks of “Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince” have been reported throughout the week despite the heavies of Scholastic Publishing laying down law with the book sellers.  A 9-year-old boy at a Eckard (ph) drug store in upstate New York was shopping with mom when he saw the book just sitting out there, even discounted, so he grabbed a copy.  When Scholastic got wind of the gaffe, they asked the family to return the book, which they did, but not before junior read a couple of pages.

Our next guest has read more than a couple of pages, and he‘s ready to give us the book‘s first pseudo-review.  Jim Meyer has, in fact, finished the book before most of us will ever get a chance to start it.  And Mr.  Meyer joins us now from Indianapolis.  Jim, good evening to you.

TIM MEYER, BOUGHT POTTER BOOK MONDAY:  Hi, Alison.  Thanks for having me.

STEWART:  First of all, how did you come to own a copy of “Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince” five days before it was released?

MEYER:  The book here, I have in hand.  I was out at lunch on Monday with a co-worker and happened to be coming back to work after eating and just was in the right place at the right time, and it was out on display.

STEWART:  ... that book.  Had to show it, didn‘t you!

MEYER:  Yes!

STEWART:  Had to show it, didn‘t you!

MEYER:  ... without the book...

MEYER:  I‘m sorry—yes, without the book, I‘m just another guy, you know, on the street.

STEWART:  Oh, it‘s all inside.  You read it.  You can‘t take that away.  Why did you decide to go ahead start reading, instead of alerting the book store about the mistake?  And I understand Scholastic contacted you, as well.

MEYER:  Yes, Scholastic did, in fact, contact me and my co-worker that both of us got the book.  They were less than pleasant with the two of us on the fact that we did, in fact, have a copy in advance.

STEWART:  What does that mean, “less than pleasant”?  Explain.

MEYER:  They just weren‘t very nice to us.  I‘ll just leave it at that.

STEWART:  All right.  So why didn‘t you return it to the book store, then?

MEYER:  You know, I knew that it wasn‘t coming out until 12:01 tonight and wanted to be the first person to read it.

STEWART:  Well, I know you don‘t want to reveal specifically what happens in the book, and we really—we don‘t want to know, but we just want to know, how is it?  How would you rank in it term of the other books?  Far better, the best, not quite as good?

MEYER:  I would have to say it‘s probably the best thus far.  I really liked all of the books.  This one has a lot of background information.  There‘s—you know, Rowling is starting to tie up all the loose ends.  So if you‘re a fan of Harry Potter, you certainly won‘t be disappointed.

STEWART:  Any shocking revelations?

MEYER:  Quite a few.

STEWART:  Quite a few.  All right, my curiosity is...

MEYER:  Quite a few.

STEWART:  ... quite piqued.  Now, has anyone else read it?  Did you let it out of your sight?  Did you give to it anybody to read?

MEYER:  I have not.  My wife is next on the list to read it, so she‘s going to start it tomorrow morning.

STEWART:  And if you hadn‘t lucked out on Monday, would you be standing in some line tonight?

MEYER:  No, I‘d be in bed.  I would pick up a book tomorrow morning just when I was out running errands.  But no, I wasn‘t going to be dressed as a wizard, waiting out with all those people at midnight.

STEWART:  All right.  Tim Meyer, one more time, show everybody the book.  Rub it in.  Very nice.  We appreciate your time tonight.  Tim Meyer.

MEYER:  Thanks for having me, Alison.  I appreciate it.

STEWART:  All right.

One guy that won‘t be enjoying it, Pope Benedict XVI.  He thinks Harry Potter stunts the spiritual growth of young Christians.  And here to explain all of that is this guy—man—Father Guido Sarducci.  And he‘s got some ‘splaining to do.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

STEWART:  Two hundred and seventy million Harry Potter fans can‘t be wrong, unless, perhaps, the dissenting voice happens to belong than none other than, oh, the pope.  Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN tonight:

Potter v Pope.  There was a time, hearkening back to 2003, when the Vatican approved of the bespectacled hero, saying most children, quote, “grow up with fairies, magic and angels in their imaginary world,” unquote.

But it turns out that same year, Gabriel Cuvi (ph), a devout Catholic, sent then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger a copy of her book, “Harry Potter, Good or Evil.”  He later responded in the letter saying, quote, “It is good that you enlighten people about Harry Potter because those are subtle seductions which act unnoticed and by this deeply distort Christianity in the soul before it can properly grow.”

Tonight, we bring you the icing on our cake.  Friday‘s cake, actually.  It‘s the apple of our eyes, the shine of our shoes, the splendiferous amplification of our most fantastically happily digressions.  I‘m dizzy after reading that.  It‘s COUNTDOWN‘s favorite five of the week.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over):  Number five: That there is a flamin‘ moron, or just a feller in love.  Todd Grannis of Medford, Oregon decided the best way to get his little lady‘s hand in marriage was self-immolation, followed by a dip in the pool.  On bended knee, he asked his girlfriend to marry him, and rumor was she was scared what he‘d do if she said no.  A COUNTDOWN reminder, kids.  Do not try this at home—the lighting yourself on fire thing and the getting married thing.

Number four, Tokyo, Japan.  Let‘s see what‘s in the blue container over there.  Oh, hey, kids, new game, ninja in the box.  It‘s actually a terror drill or a Ginsu infomercial.  Truth is, every year since 9/11, Japanese law enforcement has conducted one of these anti-terror exercises.  This one is to practice stopping Jackie Chan from sneaking a bomb into the country.

Number three: Down the coast, in Osaka, Japan, is a bunch of robots playing soccer, 300 teams from 31 countries competing here for the Robocop‘s (ph) robotic soccer championship.  Kicking they have down.  Goaltending, not so much.

Number two: It‘s the racing of the groundhogs in the Netherlands.  Look at them go.  Pushing their electric scooters at top speeds of up to six and seven miles an hour, these seniors put on the racing exhibition to promote mobility for, well, for the elderly.  A team from Rotterdam took home the checkered flag, along with the world‘s greatest grandpa T-shirt, a tube of Bengay and reduced bus fares to the retirement capital.

Number one: Sam Folimin is finito, but not before the Toros had something to say about it.  No doubt missing their terminal fate in the ring, this year, the bad news bovines took it out on the yahoos that jogged them down the road to slaughter.  Over a dozen gorings and countless tramplings of the neckerchiefed ninnies made the fact that all the bulls go to heaven slightly easier to swallow.  Viva los.....

(END VIDEOTAPE)

But of course, our number one-plus-plus-plus story of the night is the release of the new Harry Potter book.  But we can‘t for the life of us understand what the pope‘s got against Potter.  So joining me from Rome via San Francisco, a man who knows something about the subtle seductions the pope‘s been talking about, gossip columnist for the Vatican‘s newspaper “L‘Osservatoria Romano,” Father Guido Sarducci.

Father, are you there?  Father Guido Sarducci possibly?  He can hear us?  Well, let‘s try this.  Father Guido Sarducci, what do you think the pope‘s problem is with literature?  Last time I talked to you (INAUDIBLE) “Da Vinci Code.”  He didn‘t like that.  Now he doesn‘t like Harry Potter. 

Is this a publishing issue?

Father Guido Sarducci, unfortunately, the big guy upstairs isn‘t letting the audio (INAUDIBLE) do their job, so we‘re going to have to check back with you about this pope situation.

That is it for the COUNTDOWN tonight.  Tucker Carlson is up next.  He‘s got a “SITUATION” or two on hand.  Thanks for watching MSNBC.  Have a good, safe weekend.  Keith‘s back on Monday, by the way.

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

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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