updated 10/12/2005 9:27:58 AM ET 2005-10-12T13:27:58

Guest: Harry Shearer

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

The New York City subway plot.  Hundreds of police mobilized, thousands of commuters scrutinized, hundreds of thousands taxpayer dollars spent, millions of residents worried, or worse.  And it was reportedly all made up by the informant.

Too much reality in Pakistan.  The earthquake, followed by an aftershock, and winter weather.  And could the temblor have struck Osama bin Laden‘s hiding place?

The CIA leak investigation, the plot thickens.  The June 2003 conversation between Scooter Libby and Judith Miller?  Scooter reportedly didn‘t tell the prosecutor about it.

And, Dear Governor G.W.B.  The Harriet Miers birthday card to then-Governor George W. Bush, his response to her, “No more public scatology.”  We‘ll explore what that might mean with Harry Shearer.  “Best governor ever,” or, how to succeed to the Supreme Court without really trying.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.

Our correspondent Pete Williams quoted an intelligence source last night who thought this might be true.  Today, “The New York Post” is quoting several sources who confirm it.  The New York City subway terror threat was a fabrication by an informant.  One of the paper‘s sources says the individual has admitted he made it all up.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, for those four days in New York, apparently we had nothing to fear but fear itself, “The New York Post” describing the threat as a, quote, “hoax.”  Pete Williams quotes three federal officials who say it‘s premature to leap to that conclusion, because his U.S. military handlers have not yet gotten back to the informant.  The informant was not being detained.  Two of those officials say there is reason to believe the guy made it up, perhaps for money.

And as Pete reported yesterday, the informant had already been particularly good on information inside Iraq, but wrong about threats to the U.S. on 15 previous occasions.

The “New York Post” says the informant was a Pakistani, and that the three bombers he said were headed to New York were real individuals, and were really arrested, but none of them turned out to really be al Qaeda.

An unidentified counterterrorism source talking to “The New York Times” summed it up neatly, “There was no there there.”

So there was reason to be skeptical, as so many of us were, when the mayor of New York talked about credible intelligence, at almost the exact moment that people in many of the agencies that supplied him that intelligence were dismissing it as everything except credible.

Among those who had their doubts, our MSNBC analyst, founder of GlobalTerrorAlert.com, Evan Kohlmann.

Evan, good evening.

EVAN KOHLMANN, FOUNDER, GLOBALTERRORALERT.COM:  Good evening.

OLBERMANN:  In this whole saga, did we see a textbook example of when the public should be skeptical?

KOHLMANN:  Well, you know, it‘s hard to blame here the mayor of New York or the New York Police Department.  They really had the best intentions in mind.  They were trying to protect American lives, and particularly the lives of New Yorkers.

But, yes, I mean, I think this plot needed a serious second look by federal authorities, by local authorities and state authorities, before they went public with it.  And again, I understand the need for people to be informed, and there‘s no saying that a plot like this could not happen, or will not happen in the near future.

But looking at the information behind this plot, immediately, when they did lie detector tests on other people that were captured, they passed the lie detector tests, and they said they had no idea what was going on.  They had no idea about any plot in New York.

And we have previous experience in dealing with this exact same problem.  Abu Zubayda, a top al Qaeda commander, when he was captured in Pakistan, did exactly this.  He fed us false information for weeks to interrogators in the hopes of scaring us, telling us about plots against supermarkets, plots against shopping malls.  For weeks, we were on high alert.  And it turned out to be a hoax.

So yes, I mean, it‘s hard to blame anyone specifically.  But certainly, you‘d want to think that next time, there would be a lot more caution involved in issuing such an unprecedented and really frightening public warning.

OLBERMANN:  The thing that still troubles me is that the city of New York obviously did not get this information from an NYPD source in Baghdad or a bureau there or a precinct there, it was from the FBI and the CIA, maybe Homeland Security, maybe the military.  But even before the mayor held his news conference last Thursday, people at all those agencies were telling the media, This isn‘t a credible threat.  This isn‘t a credible source.

How can New York, or any city, take the information from the federal agencies but not accept their analyses when they are so certain about their analyses?  These were not, Well, maybe, maybe you‘re doing a little more.  This is, No, this guy does not know what he‘s talking about.

KOHLMANN:  Well, I think this is a major warning sign.  It‘s evidence of the level of mistrust and misapprehension between various agencies of the U.S. government.  Frankly speaking, New York police and New York counterterrorism investigators don‘t trust that the FBI or the Department of Homeland Security have developed themselves enough in order to counter the problem of terrorist cells here in the United States.

The reason is, is because they know, and this is true, that we know very little about what al Qaeda‘s exact intentions are inside of the United States.  We really don‘t know.  And the (INAUDIBLE), the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security, I don‘t believe pretend otherwise.

As a result, the New York police go to all ends.  But it‘s a cry for help.  I mean, this is an indication of how little we know, not how much we know.  And I think that‘s something that the American public needs to be aware of.

OLBERMANN:  If somebody somewhere can just make up a story about a threat, and as long as he gives names and dates and has some sort of track record, even batting 50 percent here, he can wind up changing how 8 million people (INAUDIBLE) live their lives for four days.  What do we do to keep the concept of a local terror warning from turning into the equivalent of the time-honored phony phoned-in bomb threat?

KOHLMANN:  Well, I think first of all, we‘re going to want to balance the independence that New York has been given, in terms of developing its own independent counterterrorism program, with a closer relationship with federal agencies that are really responsible for disseminating this information.  There must be a relationship of trust and understanding between New York authorities, the DHS, and the FBI.

There cannot be this public infighting, because if there‘s this kind of infighting in a public atmosphere, imagine what‘s going on behind the scenes.  That‘s really disturbing.

OLBERMANN:  Evan, stand by a moment.  We have a second story to ask you about in a minute.

First, touching on the New York mistake from last week, a reminder that tomorrow night during COUNTDOWN, we‘ll be bringing you a special report, the nexus of politics and terror, those occasions in the last three and a half years when bad news for the administration has been followed by a terror warning or other terror event, tomorrow night on COUNTDOWN at 8:00 p.m. and midnight Eastern.

Now, that other terror story tonight, the thought may have occurred to you the moment you heard about the horrible (INAUDIBLE) earthquake at the foot of the Himalayas, and how it had devastated the region surrounding the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.  Isn‘t that where Osama bin Laden is supposed to be hiding?

The word from the Associated Press is simple and direct.  Quoting, “No evidence suggests that the deadly earthquakes that rocked Pakistan on Saturday injured or killed the world‘s top terror leader, Osama bin Laden.”  Of course, if that could be truly ascertained quickly, it would imply we knew, more or less precisely, where he was.  And there‘s no evidence to suggest that, either.

The quake, which has killed between 20,000 and 30,000 people, maybe more, was reported to have hit hard a banned Pakistani militant organization, some of whose fighters were accused of complicity in the 2002 attack on the Indian parliament.  A political spokesman for Lashkar I Taliba (ph) said that the mosques, hospitals, schools, seminaries, and many of the members of the organization were obliterated in Saturday‘s disaster.

Let‘s bring MSNBC counterterrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann back in.

If we don‘t really know where bin Laden is, how do we know, or why do we presume he was not affected by the earthquake?

KOHLMANN:  Well, I think it‘s rife speculation so far.  We really don‘t know.  So far, there‘s been no affirmative evidence saying that he‘s dead.  But there‘s no way to say one way or the other.  And from what we do know about al Qaeda communications, even if he was killed, and al Qaeda wanted to announce that, that kind of an announcement might not come out till days afterwards.

OLBERMANN:  You don‘t want to wish an earthquake, or any other problem, on a country to adversely affect a tiny group of its citizens.  But might there be a kind of ancillary effect here, an impediment to these means by which bin Laden supposedly communicate to the outside world, since the travel around Afghanistan and Pakistan is so extraordinarily disrupted now?

KOHLMANN:  Well, there‘s no doubt that this earthquake has done some damage to at least some of al Qaeda‘s allies, like Lashkar I Taliba.  But if you‘ll notice, if you look at videos of al Qaeda training camps, you don‘t often see pictures of skyscrapers or water-treatment plants or levee systems.  And so the effect of this earthquake on al Qaeda is not exactly the same as the effect, say, of Hurricane Katrina on the United States.

And in some ways, al Qaeda may actually serve to benefit from this.  And traditionally in times of catastrophe and natural disasters, al Qaeda has stepped in in the form of religious charities that have distributed money within these regions, including a lot of it going to actual militant groups themselves.

In fact, a CIA report concluded that one such group that‘s currently active in the earthquake region, they‘ve in fact donated $100,000 already to this cause, has diverted up to 50 percent of its funding over the last decade to groups like al Qaeda, Al Kamalas Famia (ph), the Algerian armed Islamic group.  In fact, this group was banned from Pakistan in 1995 when it was used to help train members of the suicide bomb squad that attacked the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad.

So yes, it would seem on its face that this would make it more difficult for these folks to organize.  But in fact, the earthquake can serve as a cover.  The chaos and confusion, the lack of Pakistani government attention right now focused on terrorism, can serve as a distraction to help al Qaeda re-form itself in the meantime.

OLBERMANN:  If the earthquake can be used as a cover by terrorists, can it be used by people trying to stop terrorists as a cover?  Is this—would there be a scenario in which one of our agencies would put (INAUDIBLE) seemingly aid workers on the ground in, in the, in the affected regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan and, and, and look for bin Laden or try to in some way impede al Qaeda or take advantage of the situation?  Is it practically useful?

KOHLMANN:  Well, one would hope that would be the case.  But let‘s also remember that a lot of the resources that we have in that region right now are being divided up, divided up between, you know, helping in the hunt for terrorists, and also trying to help the Pakistani government deal with this national disaster.  Certainly, there‘s an awareness that we want to gain, we want to curry favor among the Pakistani people.  Part of that is, we want to be seen first and foremost in the earthquake relief effort.

Unfortunately, that also diverts resources from the hunt for terrorists.  So hopefully, we can manage both at the same time.  But with the ongoing war in Iraq, and other problems, you know, elsewhere around the world, we‘re going to have to see whether that kind of focus can be maintained.

OLBERMANN:  Evan Kohlmann of GlobalTerrorAlert.com, doing double duty with us tonight.  Great thanks, Evan.

KOHLMANN:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  As to the bigger picture on the earthquake, it seems implausible...

KOHLMANN:  My pleasure, thank you.

OLBERMANN:  ... that it could get worse, but it has.  Today, a major aftershock and a burst of winter weather.  And surrounding the occasional glorious news of survivors being pulled from the rubble, there‘s the awful truth that this is now almost entirely a recovery effort.

From the devastated city of Balakot, Pakistan, our correspondent is Bill Neely of our affiliated British network ITV.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL NEELY, ITN REPORTER (voice-over):  In the ruins of Balakot‘s school, they break through the collapsed floors.  But what they bring out is a sight beyond sadness.  It‘s a little girl in a green dress.

She and nearly 200 other boys and girls have already been pulled out and lifted away.

And the work has paid off.  A French rescue team using cameras to probe deep down into the school saw a face.  Three and a half days after he was trapped in his classroom, a scared little boy.  He‘s about 15 feet down.  Now, it‘s critical the roof doesn‘t collapse.  Slowly, astonishingly, the boy‘s limp body is pulled from the hole and handed to his father.

Four other children were rescued like this.  Four-year-old Fraz (ph) was too bewildered to eat or drink.  Out of 400 children, he is one of the very few who survived.

(on camera):  The conditions here for rescuing anyone are getting worse.  They think there are still the bodies of 150 children in this school.  The last two little girls they pulled out alive, that was 18 hours ago.  And even that seems amazing.  But the weather is getting much worse now.

(voice-over):  The rain lashed down on the bodies of children who had not yet been claimed by their parents, perhaps because their parents, too, are gone.

A sorrow beyond words.

This is Bill Neely for NBC News in Balakot, Pakistan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Back in the U.S., back to the movable icehouse feast.  For weeks, we have been following the story, and the FEMA ice that never got to the Gulf.  Tonight, another blockbuster chapter.

And the new chapter in the outing of the CIA agent Valerie Plame.  A member of the White House staff reportedly was not forthcoming with the grand jury about all of his conversations with a particular journalist.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  He means it, he says, in terms of determining policies and priorities.  But the phrase must have hit a nerve with many in the Gulf Coast today.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, the president saying the federal government will support the plan developed in New Orleans, whatever that is, that the response to Hurricane Katrina will be in local hands.

While that sank in, a happy milestone for a change, New Orleans is finally dry.  Six weeks after Katrina hit, an Army Corps of Engineers spokesman says flooding in the Crescent City is now limited to a little puddle here and there.

As to the president, he was on his eighth visit to the disaster area since Katrina hit, stopping by in Covington, Louisiana, this morning to help build one of the Habitat for Humanity homes, and to reiterate to Matt Lauer, in an exclusive interview for the “TODAY” show, his responsibilities to the region.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “TODAY”)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I do my job as best I can.  And one of the things that we do is, we respond to crises.  And as I told the people, if I didn‘t respond well enough, we‘re going to learn the lessons.  If there‘s any mistakes made at the federal level, I of course accept responsibility for them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  If there‘s any mistakes made at the federal.  If, if.  This, with the saga we have periodically updated you on, how FEMA literally didn‘t cut no ice, mutating yet again today.  Not only did millions of pounds of ice never make it to the hurricane victims, but, as chief investigative correspondent Lisa Myers reports in the newest chapter tonight, the emergency folks have now decided to save the excess ice for future use.  And you are paying for it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA MYERS, CHIEF MSNBC INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The rocky coast of Portland, Maine, is nowhere near hurricane territory.  Yet 163 truckloads of excess ice, bought for Katrina victims, are now stored here, 1,600 miles from the Gulf Coast.  Cost to taxpayers, $153,000.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS ®, MAINE:  And FEMA is so disorganized that it‘s buying ice, trucking it all over the country, and placing it as far as possible from the people who could use it.

MYERS:  FEMA is now paying to store 65 million pounds of excess ice in a dozen facilities from Maine to Idaho.  And in hundreds of trucks, motors running round the clock.

Dan Russell‘s (ph) ice company has worked for FEMA for years.  He says the cost to taxpayers is absurd.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A $6,000 load of ice is costing her between $25,000 to $35,000.

MYERS:  We previously told you about a truck of ice that left Wisconsin on September 6, went to Louisiana, then was rerouted by FEMA to Georgia, South Carolina, and Maryland.

Well, after that, the truck was sent to Iowa, and the ice put in storage.  Then when Hurricane Rita hit, that ice was packed up again and taken back to Louisiana, then on to Texas, where it‘s been sitting for the past four days.

(on camera):  FEMA argues that storing ice costs less than buying new ice and enables a faster response to the next disaster.  But Russell‘s and others argue that with transportation costs, it would be much cheaper to let it melt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s a lot smarter to dump the ice.

MYERS (voice-over):  After driving through 22 states, one frustrated trucker did just that, to the delight of some very appreciative creatures.

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re hoping that was at a zoo.

We have rare video tonight of a FEMA planning meeting.  Actually, it‘s the always-healthy body politic in Taiwan.  Perhaps these guys could use a truckload of ice.

And the Harriet Miers nomination.  She called him the best governor ever.  He asked her to stop the public scatology.  The bizarre correspondence between the future nominee and the future president.

All of it ahead on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Time once again to shirk the mantle of serious news and bring you instead the stories we just can‘t keep to ourselves, unfortunately.

Let‘s play Oddball.

And we begin once again in Taiwan, land of legendary parliamentary brawls.  In fact, we‘re beginning to wonder if the government there does anything but fight.  Well, you wanted a robust democracy.  Lawmakers are in fact so accustomed to fighting that they now show up for votes with these handy homemade protest placards, which are very useful for knocking down the opposition.

But despite the wooden weapons, the only serious injury was inflicted by a flying cell phone, which smacked one unfortunate lawmaker upside his head.  An appropriate missile choice, considering the fight originally kicked off over the communications bill.

And in England, apparently this is the only country in the world where a children‘s game can become a legitimate sport, except the United States.  This is the 41st annual World Conker Championships, C-O-N-K-E-R, conker.  The contestants tie horse chestnuts onto strings, then try and smash each other‘s nuts.

What?  What?  That‘s the goal.  You win by cracking the other guy‘s chestnut with your chestnut.  You people.

Two hundred fifty-six men and 64 women spent Sunday doing this.  Then two of them were crowned Conker King and Queen and made to sit on a Conker Throne.  And then they went back to their lives that are even more boring than those titles imply.

Also tonight, new details emerging in the CIA leak investigation, a new connection also between Judy Miller and the special prosecutor.  We‘ll also take a look at the special prosecutor‘s background, why some say he was a bad pick by the White House.

And how real is the threat from bird flu?  Just how close are we to the dire predictions of a global pandemic?

These stories ahead.

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

Number three, Kirby Hanson, executive with the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.  She notified nearly 30 of the volunteers at the visitors‘ center that they had become emeritus volunteers.  They were completed their ousters here were completed with thank-you certificates signed by Nancy Reagan.  In short, they were fired for being too old.  Many of them note they are younger now than Mr. Reagan was when he was president.

Number two, Juventino Vallejo Camerena, a homeless man from Pomona, California.  He hopped on a Union Pacific freight train Sunday night and declared he was hijacking it, with a bow and arrow.  The engineer quickly pressed the emergency button outside the cab to disable the whole train.  Police eventually shot Mr. Vallejo Camerena, and not with a bow and arrow.  He‘s OK, although nobody yet knows where he thought he was going to hijack a train to.

And number one, the National Hurricane Center.  When tropical storm Vince became a hurricane over the weekend out in the ocean, that left the hurricane honchos with just one name left on the official 2005 list, Wilma.

Wilma!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  There are those who have long suspected that what we know about the leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame‘s identity and the investigation that has followed is only the tip of the cliched iceberg.

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, cliches become cliches largely by being true.  More of the frozen mass revealed tonight, according to the “National Journal,” the vice president‘s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, did not tell investigators about a key conversation with “New York Times” reporter Judith Miller.

That story, that Mr. Libby failed to mention the conversation which took place on June 23, 2003, when interviewed by the FBI in October and November of that year, or during either of the appearances he made before the grand jury in 2004, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald apparently only having learned about the conversation just days ago, asking Judith Miller to testify again tomorrow, presumably about that conversation.

His investigation, apparently not the first time Miller and Fitzgerald had clashed, National Public Radio bringing to our attention another case involving Ms. Miller‘s reporting, her story in June 2002.  on charities suspected of funneling money to al Qaeda, Mr. Fitzgerald also the prosecutor on that case, arguing that Ms. Miller‘s phone calls managed to tip off a suspect that a raid was impending, a federal Judge dismissing Fitzgerald‘s request for Miller‘s phone records in that case, a decision the prosecutor is still appealing.

The possible meanings of this in a moment with Craig Crawford.

First, as widely observed, the special prosecutor, Mr. Fitzgerald, is of a rare and threatening species in Washington, the bureaucrat who does not leak.  Who is this man?  And if he does not leak, how did he get so far in his line of work?

MSNBC‘s chief correspondent in Washington, Norah O‘Donnell, can at least answer the first of those questions for us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 

Patrick Fitzgerald has been called the toughest prosecutor in America, a bulldog as relentless as he is brilliant.

RON SAFER, DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  If somebody recommended him to the administration as somebody who would run out some ground balls and go through the motions and get this done, that they were now out of a job.

O‘DONNELL:  Fitzgerald, a six-foot, 200-pound rugby enthusiast, likes to play rough, and his career shows he likes to tackle big-name targets, first making his name by jailing mobster John Gambino in 1994.

JAMES COMEY, FORMER DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I once told a Chicago newspaper that Pat Fitzgerald was Elliott Ness with a Harvard law degree and a sense of humor.

O‘DONNELL:  He indicted Osama bin Laden back in 1998, in a conspiracy that included the bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa.  After the president named him U.S. attorney in Chicago in 2001, he charged former Illinois Republican governor George Ryan with public corruption.

PATRICK FITZGERALD:  The citizens of this state deserve honest government.

O‘DONNELL:  Recently, he‘s targeted Chicago‘s Democratic mayor, Richard Daly‘s office, for giving friends political jobs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He is fearless.  He is he a political.  He is somebody who is interested solely in doing what he believes is right.

O‘DONNELL:  Born poor in Brooklyn to Irish immigrants, Fitzgerald‘s father was a doorman in Manhattan.  Young Patrick went to the prestigious Regis High, a Jesuit prep school, then Amherst College and Harvard Law School.

But he now faces his biggest challenge, probing the leak of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame.

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  If you think of Fitzgerald and compare to earlier prosecutors going all the way back to the time of back to the time of Nixon, here is someone who potentially could have the fate of the Bush administration in his hands.

O‘DONNELL:  Fitzgerald has been dogged over the past two years, interviewing the president in the Oval Office.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  As the special prosecutor has made it clear, has made it clear, that he doesn‘t want anybody speculating or talking about the case.

O‘DONNELL:  He‘s questioned the vice president, his chief of staff, Scooter Libby, and this week, Karl Rove for the fourth time.  Friends say Fitzgerald is apolitical and a straight shooter.  But critics charge he‘s gone too far by threatening journalists to give up their confidential sources.

MATTHEW COOPER, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”:  It is a very sad day.

O‘DONNELL:  And jailing “New York Times” reporter Judith Miller.

VICTORIA TOENSING, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Fitzgerald has a reputation for being very brain-smart and for being honest, but not necessarily for being judgment smart.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O‘DONNELL:  And in fact, Keith, many people I spoke to today described Fitzgerald as very intense.  And some lawyers familiar with the case have expressed concern that Fitzgerald may be acting creatively with the law.  There‘s talk that he‘s shifting his focus toward perjury, conspiracy, and/or obstruction of justice charges, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Our chief Washington correspondent, Norah O‘Donnell. 

Great thanks, Norah.

O‘DONNELL:  My pleasure.

OLBERMANN:  And, as promised, here to help us digest today‘s new developments, our own Craig Crawford, also of “Congressional Quarterly.”

Good evening, Craig.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, “CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY”:  Hi, there.  We may need a Ouija board for this story before it‘s over.

OLBERMANN:  But, but, with the Ouija board, at least we can ask a couple questions with facts in them, or apparent facts.  We have two bits of new information, new in the last few days, that Libby talked to Judith Miller on June 23, 2003, and reportedly did not talk to Patrick Fitzgerald about any of that anytime since.

If the second part of that is correct, does it then even matter what the first Libby-Miller conversation was about?

CRAWFORD:  It may not.  I also have to wonder, why didn‘t Judy Miller talk about this earlier?  And presumably, she also didn‘t testify about it, as apparently Scooter Libby did not.  Of course, she just found her notes, and that‘s what has revealed this meeting.

OLBERMANN:  The story has always been supposedly about context and where these contacts between reporters and figures in the White House intersected with this big picture about the Bush administration reaction to criticism.  Has it been shortsighted of us in the media to remain focused for so long on just that one week in July, where they were all talking to each other, when apparently Joe Wilson had been shopping around his article on weapons of mass destruction for a period of months before then?

CRAWFORD:  Well, that is a lot of the material we had to work with that was coming out.  There are so many parts of this story that come out later.  But yes, I think we have been a bit like the blindfolded man holding the elephant‘s trunk, thinking it‘s a tree.  It‘s just much bigger than we imagine.

And also, I think the overdrop here of the fact that this White House was engaged in a fairly desperate effort, I think we can now see, to deal with the fact there was no WMD found, and they had sold a war based upon weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  And then when that was seen not to be true, they started, in this case, attacking one of their critics.

And I think what this will lead to, if there are indictments in this case, is a lot of rethinking about those days.  And there may be a lot more things come out.

OLBERMANN:  One other thing here that‘s not so much WMD as it is NPR, this story that was—David Folkenflik reported today, that Judith Miller and Patrick Fitzgerald had this history, that clash private (INAUDIBLE) -- previously.  Is there significance to that?  Does that put also this entire story in a different kind of context?

CRAWFORD:  I think we‘re going to see an effort to discredit this prosecutor, I think Norah‘s package made it clear, that‘s a lot tougher in this case than, for example, in Tom DeLay‘s case, where that prosecutor has a Democratic Party background and all those allegations.

But in this case, this might be one story that some might use to discredit him if he doesn‘t, I, because he may have had this vendetta.  There‘s this evidence of this background of fighting this reporter.

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, there is another reported question here, and it‘s not to throw cold water on the “National Journal” report about Libby not revealing this conversation in June of 2003, but if Fitzgerald is as leakproof as advertised, where could that story today have come from?

CRAWFORD:  Lawyers that many times in these grand jury investigations, back in some of my reporting days on these kinds of cases, I found that to be true.  Many times the lawyers for witnesses want to tell you things that are going on to help their client.  That one case, I did see a story a few months back on leaks from testimony to this grand jury, Associated Press referred to it as a source in the legal profession, acknowledged.  That was certainly a clue to me that that was a lawyer.

So that is one possibility.  I can‘t imagine this prosecutor could possibly tolerate or allow any leaks from his own shop when he himself is investigating leaks in the potential crime for that.

OLBERMANN:  Well, that one source could have been a bailiff or somebody.  Craig Crawford of MSNBC...

CRAWFORD:  Yes, that‘s right.

OLBERMANN:  ... author of “Attack the Messenger,” great thanks, as always, sir.

CRAWFORD:  Good to be here.

OLBERMANN:  Craig mentioned the Tom DeLay case.  A small development in the other Washington wasp hive.  Mr. DeLay strikes back.  Lawyers for the recently indicted, recently recused House majority leader have now subpoenaed the man who got DeLay indicted.  The subpoena asks Travis County, Texas, district attorney Ronnie Earle and two of his assistants to appear in court to explain their conduct with three separate grand juries from which they sought those indictments.

The attorneys also want the grand jurors released from their oaths of secrecy so they can answer questions about the prosecutors.  DeLay‘s lawyers contend the DA manipulated the different grand juries.

Also tonight, Harriet Miers‘ Supreme Court nomination just got more interesting.  Why was then-Governor Bush telling Miers to cut back on the public scatology?  What the heck is public scatology, anyway?  Harry Shearer will answer the questions that probably won‘t come up in the congressional hearings but should.

And the global bird flu concerns.  What‘s being done right now to stop the disease in Southeast Asia before it explodes into a worldwide pandemic?

Coming up on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  With the caveat repeated that we have sometimes heard worse on this subject and wound up wondering where the epidemic went, our number two story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, more news about bird flu that will scare you into something.

The Bush administration‘s top man on health joining an inspection on the ground in Thailand today.

Our correspondent Charles Hadlock reporting that the issue throughout Asia seems to have passed from efforts to stopping the flu from spreading from there to simply worrying about what happens when it does.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHARLES HADLOCK, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  An international delegation, including the U.S. health secretary, put on protective suits today and toured a virus-free chicken coop in Thailand.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It only takes one spark to set this virus off.

HADLOCK:  That‘s what has happened in some of Asia‘s poorest countries, the ones least able to contain a major human health crisis.

DR. FREDERICK LEUNG, HONG KONG DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH:  Once there‘s human-to-human transmission started, the—it will be exponential.

HADLOCK:  So far, Vietnam is the hardest hit, 41 dead.  The U.S. and China are helping to vaccinate 260 million birds.  But the disease is still spreading, as poor farming methods allow sick chickens to wander entering into villages.

In Indonesia, three people are dead.  The country has not been aggressive at killing infected birds because it doesn‘t have the money to reimburse farmers.

Twelve people have died in Thailand, which has only 100,000 doses of antiviral medication.  No country has enough to treat even a quarter of the population, so the focus continues to be on containment.

Hong Kong is clear of the virus for now but resigned to the fact it‘s coming.

LEUNG:  We cannot stop that from happening.  Definitely pandemic will come.

HADLOCK:  Hospitals, nursing homes, and clinics are monitored for signs of influenza.  Every incoming passenger at the airport is electronically scanned for fever.

(on camera):  Experts fear that if the disease becomes contagious among people, someone boarding a plane in places like Hong Kong could easily spread the deadly flu around the world within hours.

LEUNG:  The virus doesn‘t apply for visa to go travel.

HADLOCK (voice-over):  Especially when the deadly virus is traveling from farm to farm, country to country.

Charles Hadlock, NBC News, Hong Kong.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  There‘s no clean segue possible tonight into our update on the world of celebrity and entertainment, keeping tabs.  We have sad news about the passing about one of television‘s comedy greats of the ‘50s.

And first, the most cosmopolitan movie character ever will never go away.  Bond.  James Bond.  This guy‘s the new one, Daniel Craig, Bond number six, but blond Bond number one.  Blond bombshell.  He will succeed Pierce Brosnan in the 21st Bond film, “Casino Royale.”  Of course, they already made “Casino Royale” as a spoof whose point was that it included seven different characters named James Bond, including Woody Allen.  Throws the count of Bonds off a bit.

Daniel Craig has been in some films, like “Road to Perdition” and “Layer Cake” but is best known for swooping in on Sienna Miller after Jude Law cheated on her.  Ms. Miller was reported to be shaken, not stirred.

And it was one of the greatest arrays of comedic talent in the history of television, the Steve Allen edition of the “TONIGHT” show.  Allen himself, of course, and Tom Poston, Don Knotts, Bill Dana, Dayton Allen, and Louis Nye.  We learned today that Louis Nye passed away Sunday in Los Angeles.  He had lung cancer.

On the Allen show, his recurring character was Gordon Hathaway, the unbearably irrepressible advertising executive who could boast about anything, and invariably wound up as one of Allen‘s man-on-the-street interviewees.  As Hathaway, Nye greeted Allen in one way, and one way only, “Hi-ho, Steverino.”  It became a national catchphrase for a time in the ‘50s.

Louis Nye‘s career endured for another five decades.  He was in “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” as the father of the character played by Jeff Garland, as recently as 2002.  Louis Nye was 92 years old.

Inside the President Bush-Harriet Miers relationship.  Birthday wishes and scatology.  You can‘t make this up.  Harry Shearer joins us to discuss one of the most bizarre roads to the Supreme Court ever.

That‘s ahead.

But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s list of today‘s three nominees for the coveted title of Worst Person in the World.

Nominated at the bronze level, Richard Steven Bubba Crosby.  If you were a baseball fan, I really need not say anything else.  The outfielder who thinks he‘s with the Flying Wallendas.  Bubba Crosby.  Thank you, Bubba.

Tonight, a rare one-twofer here, two worsts in one story, a high school senior in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, doing homework as part of a class project on freedom of dissent and the Bill of Rights, tacked a photo of the president to a wall.  The tack was placed somewhere on the president‘s head in the picture.

The student then took a photograph of the photograph with his own thumb in the frame, giving the thumbs down.  So you can see this now.  The student then dropped off the roll of film to be developed at the photo department of the Kitty Hawk Wal-Mart.  And they called the police, who, in turn, called the Secret Service.  Two Secret Service agents went to the high school, confiscated the picture of the picture, interviewed the student, interviewed the teacher, threatened to turn the whole matter over to local the U.S. attorney.

And then somebody realized they had a really bad public relations nightmare on their hands.  So the runners-up, the Secret Service, but your winner, the folks in the photo department at the Wal-Mart in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.  They are today‘s Worst Persons in the World.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Felix Frankfurter fought his way out of the tenements, first of Vienna and then of New York City‘s Lower East Side.  Thurgood Marshall, the grandson of a slave, overcame being refused admission to the University of Maryland Law School in 1930 because he was black.  Even William Moody overcame the stigma of having been one of the prosecutors who lost the Lizzie Borden murder trial.

There are many roads to becoming a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.  Most of them are arduous and have a touch of the Horatio Alger to them.

And then there‘s the Harriet Miers route, which we learned today included a birthday card to the future president who would nominate her that read, Dear Governor G.W.B., You are the best governor ever.”

Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, “best governor ever.”

Two thousand pages of official correspondence and personal notes made public by the state of Texas after an open records request, shedding little light on Ms. Miers‘ legal thinking, but leaving little doubt as to her thinking about the man who wants her on the nation‘s highest court, Ms.  Miers showering then-Governor Bush with praise that is anything but faint in the course of frequent correspondence during her tenure as the Texas lottery commissioner, including these birthday wishes to the governor on his 51st in July 1997, “You are the best governor ever,” Miers writes, “deserving of great respect,” adding, in a separate note later that year, “Keep up the great work.  Texas is blessed.”

The admiration apparently mutual, Governor Bush writing back to wish Ms. Miers a happy 52nd birthday, telling her to “never hold back your sage advice,” ending with the postscript—and this is where it gets weird—

“No more public scatology.”

You heard me, scatology.  We don‘t think it‘s some sort of jazz or blues reference, as in the study of the scat singing style f Louis Armstrong, rather “scat” as in, “one, vulgar language related to excretory functions, two, obsession with excrement, preoccupation with excrement or obscenity, three, the scientific study of excrement, especially for diagnostic purposes.”  Well, thank goodness for the last part.

For our own diagnostic purposes tonight, time to call in Harry Shearer, actor, writer, social critic, and an old friend of COUNTDOWN.

Good evening to you, sir.

HARRY SHEARER, ACTOR/WRITER:  Good evening, Keith.  As a former scatologist, I greet you warmly tonight...

OLBERMANN:  That‘s—yes.  This is...

SHEARER:  In the third sense of the word, in the third sense of the word only.

OLBERMANN:  Thank you, great, excellent.  This is a president who is well known for malaprops along with policy.  Have we misunderestimated him?  Do we really thought to use the word “scatology”?

SHEARER:  I think he‘s so deep into modern philosophy, what he meant was “eschatology.”  Look it up.  But, you know, look, this is a wonderful story, because in his days as an oil man, George W. Bush roamed all over the state of Texas looking for a gusher.  And in Harriet Miers, he finally found one.

OLBERMANN:  Eschatology, by the way, before we leave that subject, here‘s the definition of it.  We were ready for you.

SHEARER:  Excellent.

OLBERMANN:  “The body of religious doctrines concerning the human soul in its relation to death, judgment, heaven, and hell.”  Well, you know, if he did mean that word, you know, was it...

SHEARER:  Right on, baby.

OLBERMANN:  ... (INAUDIBLE)...

SHEARER:  For the base.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, I mean, as you‘re saying, could it have some sort of religious meaning here?

SHEARER:  Yes, I think they probably were chatting about issues of the soul, as opposed to the study of excrement.  That would be my bet.  But, you know, I‘m a naive kind of a guy.

I just want to say, in all fairness, and the most amazing quote from Harriet Miers, separate from this data dump, was, of course, that she had said previously of George W. Bush, “He‘s the most brilliant man I‘ve ever met.”  But—and people have taken that the wrong way, because in fairness, there‘s also some other greetings that she sent.  She once sent birthday greetings to the creators of what she described as “the finest movie ever made.”  It was the writers and directors of “Ishtar.”

And she also greeted “the greatest, the coolest singer in the world, Frank Stallone.”  So, you know, she‘s all over the place.

OLBERMANN:  The search committee theme that we have running through the Bush administration...

SHEARER:  Yes.

OLBERMANN:  ... the idea that the heads of Mr. Bush‘s various search committees simply come back to him at some point and say, Um, you know, (INAUDIBLE)...

SHEARER:  You know, it‘s me.

OLBERMANN:  ... yes, couldn‘t find anybody.  If you‘re stuck, I‘ll do it.  Is that the way it works?

SHEARER:  I looked all over the country, Keith, and the best person for this job is moi.  It‘s a one, you know, Dick Cheney, Harriet Miers, it‘s the way to the old man‘s heart, I guess, is just to say, you know, We did the most --  If a corporation hired a head-hunting firm and they came back and said, Look, we looked, we talked to the head of GM, we talked to the head of GE, we looked at all these CEOs, but really, it‘s me.  It‘s just me.

OLBERMANN:  The other theme that has been struck by this is the idea that there‘s an unusually large percentage of independent women who are brought in by this president to key positions around him, which should be applauded loudly, I would think, by various segments of the political population that would not be otherwise applauding.

But I‘m gathering that you might see something—there‘s some, some element to this that the rest of us are missing, or some (INAUDIBLE) undercurrent here?

SHEARER:  Well, the—yes, part of the message, I guess, is, if you look at Condoleezza Rice and now Harriet Miers, he does seem to have a taste for strong women who, in the locution of the wire services, are childless and never married.  And I don‘t know what that‘s saying, but it‘s there.

I do -- (INAUDIBLE) the thing, I think, that‘s most bizarre about this is that almost the adolescent nature of the praise she‘s lavishing on him, as if, you know, you‘re never too old to be a teenage girl.  But, you know, that, and it‘s rare that you find in one person both intellectual rigor of a Supreme Court justice wrapped in the body of a fan club president.

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, I couldn‘t help notice, there‘ve been two openings on the court this summer, and nobody suggested that one of your characters on “The Simpsons,” Judge Schneider, should be nominated.  Does the judge feel overlooked, insulted?  Does he regret not having sent a birthday card to the president?

SHEARER:  Guilty of not being a woman, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Or the head of a search committee, Judge.

SHEARER:  That‘s correct.

OLBERMANN:  Well, you know what?  We—I mean, there‘s too much of a paper trail on Judge Schneider too, it occurs me, (INAUDIBLE)...

SHEARER:  Well, there‘s a celluloid trail on him first.

OLBERMANN:  (INAUDIBLE), there it is, and a script trail.

The one and only Harry Shearer, host of “Le Show” on radio and the Internet. and the backbone of “The Simpsons,” and though while not a judge himself, he does play one on...

SHEARER:  Play one on TV.

OLBERMANN:  ... (INAUDIBLE).  All right, thanks for finishing that. 

Thanks for being with us, Harry.

SHEARER:  Thank you, Keith.  Always a pleasure.

OLBERMANN:  And it‘s always ours.

That‘s COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Keep your knees loose.  Good night, and good luck.  Oh, I got to throw this now.  Sorry.  Forgot.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now with Rita Cosby, “LIVE AND DIRECT.” 

Good evening, Rita.

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

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