updated 10/21/2005 10:15:58 AM ET 2005-10-21T14:15:58

Guest: John Harwood, Leon Panetta, Nathan Burton

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

The president says something about the effect of the CIA leak investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There's some background noise here, a lot of chatter, a lot of speculation and opining.  But the American people expect me to do my job, and I'm going to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  He's going to, amid reports that Karl Rove told the grand jury who his source was about Valerie Plame, Scooter Libby.

Hello!  Best smile in a mug shot ever.

Hurricane Wilma.  Back to a category four, but also just beginning to make its presence felt in Cancun, Mexico.

And an arrest in the murder of a wife of a prominent attorney and TV analyst, a story that is getting even more disturbing.

“I think it is basically retarded.”  Basketball's most soft-spoken superstar on the league's new dress code for players.

And guess who's got jury duty!  Woo-hoo-hoo.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

The president of the United States today dismissed the growing controversy over what his political brain and the vice president's chief of staff had to do with the CIA leak, as, quote, “background noise.”

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, perhaps, but if it is, as anybody who's ever been to a loud restaurant could tell you, background noise can quickly get loud enough to eliminate all of the foreground.

The testimony of two central figures clashing, not only with each other, but with other witnesses as well, reportedly.

Here's a brief scorecard.  Sources familiar with the testimony telling the Associated Press that the president's senior adviser, Karl Rove, and Cheney chief of staff Louis “Scooter” Libby, were exchanging information about their conversations with reporters before the name of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame was first published on July 14, 2003.

Plame, you no doubt know by now, married to Ambassador Joseph Wilson, an outspoken critic of the Bush administration's case for war in Iraq.  How her name became known to Rove and Libby still depends entirely on whom you ask.

Confidentially, “The Washington Post” reporting that Rove told the grand jury, he may have learned who Plame was from Libby himself, the Associated Press quoting sources who say that Libby told Rove he heard about Plame from NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert, the accounts conflicting with the timeline and with the testimony of two other journalists, “New York Times” reporter Judith Miller, who said that Libby mentioned Ms. Plame to her for the first time on June 23, 2003, while Libby says, according to sources, that he learned Joe Wilson's wife's name and the fact that she worked at the CIA from Tim Russert.

But if Libby did not call Russert until early July, that would have been more than a week after his conversation with Miller about Plame would have taken place.  Yes, it sounds like Abbott and Costello and who's on first?

NBC News standing by its previously issued statement saying, in fact, “Mr. Russert told the special prosecutor that at the time of that conversation, he did not know Ms. Plame's name or that she was a CIA  operative, and that he did not provide that information to Mr. Libby.”

As we mentioned, public stands taken by the president on all of this today, not dissimilar to sticking your fingers in your ears and saying, La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Lot of chatter, lot of speculation and opining.  But the American people expect me to do my job, and I'm going to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Let me call in “Wall Street Journal” national political editor John Harwood for guidance.

Good evening, John.

JOHN HARWOOD, NATIONAL POLITICAL EDITOR, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL”:  Hey, Keith.  You want me to opine a little bit?

OLBERMANN:  Please, if you would opine, and write things down on your scorecard, because trying to keep track of who supposedly said what to whom and when is proving to be even more difficult than divining or opining whether anyone actually committed a crime here, not to mention what charges might actually be forthcoming from the prosecutor in the next week or so.

Your assessment, in general, of today's developments?

HARWOOD:  Look, this is the most confusing story.  Nobody has a good handle on the facts.  We're hearing all these accounts.  We still don't know who Judy Miller's other source for the name was, by her own account  We don't know who learned what first, and what came from reporters.  It's all circular.  And I think we got to wait till Patrick Fitzgerald comes out and tells us what he has concluded, because he's the one who's got access not just to the grand jury testimony, but to all the physical information, the e-mail traffic and the phone logs and that sort of thing, that will help put it together more definitively.

OLBERMANN:  The “Washington Post” version of this, which could be completely inaccurate, of course, but its version had a source familiar with Rove's account.  It quoted that individual.  It can't be too many people.  Whoever it is, does just the fact of that thing appearing in the paper today say that somebody tried to throw Scooter Libby under a bus today?

HARWOOD:  Well, it depends.  I mean, it could be that.  But it also depends on where the fact first came from.  Did it come from somebody on Rove's team initially?  Or did it come from a law enforcement source?  Somebody at the FBI?  We don't really know.

You know, another way of looking at the same information, even though, I admit, it looks, when you see it in the newspaper, like some—like Rove is hanging Libby out to dry, but it also could be simply the imperfect recollections of people on a conversation that may have been fairly innocent to those guys.  They were describing, in the “Post” account, the two officials recounting their conversations with reporters who they said told them who Plame was.

So, you know, how sinister is that, really?  It's not obvious from—on the face of it.

OLBERMANN:  Does this story go, has it already gone, will it never go from being merely a leak investigation story to a—the administration deceived the country story?

HARWOOD:  No, I think it is that, Keith.  I think you're exactly right.  I talked to a White House official the other day who said, You know, the—of all the problems we've had, the biggest one is the perception out there, which is held not by the majority of American people, but the—a number of people who is growing, that the president deliberately misled the country to take them into war.

This raises that in two different ways.  One, that it's a controversy about an investigation of WMD that turned out not to be there.  And secondly, it's a blow to the administration's credibility.  Because remember those White House spokesmen came out initially and said, None of our people were involved at all.  Well, we know that's not true.

OLBERMANN:  The president's comment about background noise, and that's what this is today, that's really his first acknowledgment that he's heard anything about this story.  Does it have any significance besides being a simple acknowledgment that it's out there?

HARWOOD:  You know, he would be foolish if he didn't acknowledge it.  This is one of the worst periods that I can remember, in covering Washington for more than 20 years, for a White House, the combination of domestic agenda crashing, Hurricane Katrina, and all the difficulties associated with that, the leak case, the Tom DeLay investigation, now troubles over Harriet Miers.

He's got to acknowledge that this is a very, very tough time, and he's not—they're not going to pull out of it quickly.

OLBERMANN:  Did it remind you of anything?  Is it that sort of boilerplate presidential-speak when things are getting bad?

HARWOOD:  No.  I mean, I thought back to times during the second Clinton term when Clinton was just in a world of trouble over the Lewinsky case.  And, of course, he had troubles with Whitewater and a special counsel before the Lewinsky thing popped up.  But remember, at that time, Bill Clinton was dealing with a hostile Congress in his second term.  This is a problem for a completely Republican-controlled Washington.  And that makes it remarkable.

OLBERMANN:  Indeed.  “Wall Street Journal” national political editor John Harwood.  As always, sir, great thanks for your time.

HARWOOD:  You bet.

OLBERMANN:  An adviser to the president at odds with an adviser to the vice president.  That might be office politics as usual, historically speaking, inside the West Wing.  But that it might be happening in this White House, where president and veep seem often to be operating as one, and where loyalty is valued above all else, it seems especially noteworthy indeed.

Our next guest, uniquely qualified to comment on what can and does go on inside the West Wing, Leon Panetta, serving as President Clinton's chief of staff from July 1994 to January 1997.

Mr. Panetta, thank you for your time.

LEON PANETTA, FORMER CLINTON CHIEF OF STAFF:  Nice to be with you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  We don't know if Karl Rove told the grand jury that Scooter Libby may have been his source in the leak case, but we do know somebody familiar with Rove's account, that's the way it was phrased, told “The Washington Post” that.  Based on your experience inside that building, are they now playing “Survivor” inside the White House?

PANETTA:  Well, you know, it makes for a poisonous atmosphere in the White House, because you've got this investigation going on.  It's being played out in the front pages of the newspaper, played out on television.  The staff is beginning to wonder, is the next knife going to go into their back?

At the same time, it got a focus on all of the other issues that they're confronting in the White House.  So this is not a good time to be in a White House when you've got a scandal brewing.

OLBERMANN:  Now, of course, you chronologically missed the real fun inside the Clinton White House in '98 and '99.  But I imagine that you know quite enough about it anyway.  To the point that you just raised, how and how well does business get accomplished in a White House when everybody has to check the papers or the Web sites every day, every night, to see who is supposed to have said what about which of his colleagues?

PANETTA:  It's tough enough to operate in the White House under normal circumstances.  I mean, you can imagine this president has to deal with a war.  He has to deal with the problems of disasters, of hurricanes, problems in Capitol Hill nominations, a whole series of challenges, diplomatic, et cetera.

And then on top of that, to have a scandal that is consuming some of the key members of the White House staff, it just creates an undermining feeling that the staff suddenly loses its traction and its focus, and that, you know, that can be trouble.  This is really a point in time where the chief of staff, someone in the White House, is going to have to exert some tremendous discipline, because things can fall apart real fast.

OLBERMANN:  A version of the question that I just asked John Harwood, translate presidential-speak for me, if there is such a language.  President Bush said today this was just background noise.  He's going to keep doing his job.  The American people elected him to do that.  Is that language universal from any president of any party at any time?  And if so, does that mean anything else other than what he actually said today?

PANETTA:  Well, I think if you scroll back to the second term in the Clinton administration, you probably heard the same words from President Clinton.  You probably heard some of the same words from President Reagan during Irangate.

I mean, the reality is that a president of the United States is going to tell the country, you know, This is all background noise.  It's not something I'm thinking a lot about, because I've got to deal with the problems facing the country.  And indeed, a president does have to do that.  After all, that's his primary job.

But make no mistake about it, it isn't background noise in the White House right now.  It's something that they're paying a lot of attention to.  And whether they like it or not, whether the country likes it or not, it clearly detracts from the president's ability to do his job.

OLBERMANN:  This question may sound a little bit inside-baseball-ish, but I think it returns to the mainstream as it goes along.  Every item in a news broadcast has its own page in the computer rundown.  And we think, unintentionally, this page in the rundown for tonight's show was given a title by our producer that shook me.  The title simply was, “White House in Crisis.”

I already hosted a news show on this network that had that title some years ago.  Is it applicable now?  Is, in fact, in your opinion, this White House in crisis?

PANETTA:  Well, I don't think there's any question that, you know—just look at the issues that they're confronting, with a war that's bogged down in Iraq, with the problems that they face with Katrina, the collapse there, with the problems of energy prices going through the roof, with the nomination for the Supreme Court in trouble.  And then, if you add on top of that, a scandal involving the highest aides to the president in the White House, you've got a White House in crisis.

OLBERMANN:  Well, if we—if and when we get nostalgic for the simplicity of 1998, I'm going out for a drink.  Leon Panetta, former chief of staff for President Clinton, now of the Panetta Institute, great thanks for your perspective and your time, sir.

PANETTA:  Thanks, Keith.  Nice to be with you.

OLBERMANN:  And in the other high-end political drama of the day, you may love him or you may hate him, but you're going to go crazy over his mug shot.  Former House majority leader Tom DeLay, already indicted, already deploying counter-prosecutor-chafflike measures, and today, turning himself in, and making art.

Ohh.

Mr. DeLay seeming to forego all mug-shot conventional wisdom by embracing the portraiture opportunity.  Check out the wide smile, the rosy glow, the button on the lapel.  Not a hair out of place.  Should the congressman still be searching for a 2005 Christmas card photo, this could easily make the short list, which would tie in nicely if the DeLay family holiday newsletter is to include a criminal prosecution paragraph.

We never thought we'd say this, but right here, right now, at the historic moment of his induction, Tom DeLay is, without a doubt, the snazziest-looking member of the COUNTDOWN Mug Shot Hall of Fame.  Say, six-figure exterminating contract.  Mr. DeLay joining a suspicious-looking cast of characters, no matter what the eventual verdict may have been.

Take former colleague James Traficant.  His hairpiece asked for and received a separate trial.

Hair no doubt a sore subject with this suspect.  Apparently he was cuffed halfway through getting his do done.

This gentleman charged with abusing harmful intoxicants.  We're guessing, just guessing, that the can of gold Rustoleum spray paint they found with him had something to do with it.

The eyes, always telling us everything we needed to know about the runaway bride, Jennifer Wilbanks.  Cable news celebrity has been built on much less, my friend.

And from our celebrity-celebrity file, two standouts, the DeLay mug shot failing to achieve the Puppet Theater potential of one Michael Joe Jackson.

And last but never, ever least, Nick Nolte, still the yardstick against which all mug shots will be measured forevermore.

Many thanks to our friends at the SmokingGun.com.

Also tonight, this video, purportedly showing American soldiers burning the bodies of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, an allegation that could touch off a firestorm in the Middle East.

And a terrible crime that has become even more chilling.  A 16-year-old arrested, accused of bludgeoning to death the wife of a prominent attorney.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  In the wake of the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison and contentions of Koran desecration at Gitmo, a new allegation of abuse by American soldiers, this time in Afghanistan.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, a video purportedly showing soldiers burning the bodies of dead Taliban fighters, by itself, a violation of Muslim burial belief, more relevantly, a possible violation of the Geneva Convention.

And as Jim Miklaszewski reports from the Pentagon, amplifying the problem, as it all happened, a psychological operations team jeered at the enemy about the desecration.  Technologically, we've done what we could to lessen the graphic impact of the video.  But we warn you, these images may still be disturbing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, MSNBC PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The video, shot October 1, shows U.S. soldiers burning the bodies of two Taliban fighters who had been killed in a firefight the day before, the burnings an act of desecration in the Muslim world.  Freelance cameraman Steven Dupont was embedded with those U.S. forces.

STEVEN DUPONT, CAMERAMAN:  They said to me, Look, you know, we've been told to burn the bodies, because the bodies have been here for 24 hours, and they're starting to stink.

MIKLASZEWSKI:  But Dupont reports a second group of soldiers used the burnings for psychological warfare.  Over loudspeakers, the soldiers taunted any Taliban within earshot, announcing that the bodies were burned facing west, considered another desecration to Muslims.

DUPONT:  They deliberately wanted to incite that much anger from the Taliban.

MIKLASZEWSKI:  The reaction from the U.S. military in Afghanistan was swift and harsh.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The U.S. (INAUDIBLE) forces find these alleged acts repugnant.  And they are contrary to our values.

MIKLASZEWSKI:  Concerned the incident could incite the kind of Muslim backlash that followed reports of Koran desecration at Guantanamo Bay, the State Department went into worldwide damage control and sent talking points to every U.S. embassy in a Muslim country.

But some experts fear that with these images, the damage may already be done.

SHIBLEY TELHAMI, MIDDLE EAST EXPERT:  And that clearly plays into the hands of those radical organizations that are trying to recruit people against the United States.

MIKLASZEWSKI (on camera):  The U.S. Army and Afghanistan have already launched separate investigations.  And if the allegations are substantiated, the soldiers involved could face criminal charges.

Jim Miklaszewski, NBC News, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, Wilma gets ready to whip Mexico as hurricane-weary residents in Florida prepare to again get out of the way.

And is the unusual weather triggering botanical miracles?  The smelly flower to beat all smelly flowers, next, in Oddball.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We're back, and we pause the COUNTDOWN now for a brief glimpse into bizarro world of Australian medicine, German botany, and Samaritan car rentals.

Let's play Oddball.

We begin Down Under in the backwards land of Australia, where some Aussie doctors think they've got the answer for the baby who's not sleeping through the night or not taking to the bottle, acupuncture, for babies.

Corky, doctor, the kid won't stop hollering.  Well, stick him with a hatpin, Bruce.

The acupuncturist swears it's working, and says her waiting room is filled with babies just lined up to get poked with little tiny baby needles.  In a couple of years, when all these kids can talk and walk, they'll be lining up to poke her with needles.

To Stuttgart in Germany, where they say sometimes, you just have to stop and smell the giant 20-foot freak flower, even though it stinks like 10 tons of rotting flesh.  It does that to attract flies, which it then eats.  Lovely.  It's called a giant Titan aram flower.  But, ahh, that which we call a Titan aram by any other name would still smell like a dead guy.

This one set a new record for height, almost 20 feet tall.  It sprouted overnight from a bulb planted in 1994, which is ironic, because it smells just like socks I wore in 1994.

And finally, our Oddball Good Samaritan of the Week.  Is she an Oddball, or a Good Samaritan?  You decide.  Memphis, Tennessee, Ms. Belinda Krush (ph) rented a car this week.  She opened up the glove compartment and found $,2700 in cash stuffed in a paper bag.  There it is.  Instead of doing what you would have done, make a beeline for the nearest casino, she did what I would have done.  She turned the money in to the police.

Now, I might have that backwards.  Maybe you would have turned it in, and I—

Turns out the money was left behind by the owner of a local Chinese food restaurant, who said he's very grateful to have it back, and is considering giving Ms. Krush a reward, extra fortune cookie with purchase.

Back to the grim news, and it is grim, about the murder of the wife of attorney and TV commentator Daniel Horowitz.  Police suspecting a teenager looking to commit credit-card fraud might have been the culprit.

And another crime too heinous to even comprehend, a mother accused of throwing her three small children off a pier because voices told her to.

Those stories ahead.

Now, fortunately, here are COUNTDOWN's top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, Nicolay Kuklev, an artist whose latest work has been unveiled in Samara, Russia, southeast of Moscow.  It's a cat lying on a windowsill over a heater.  It is a monument to the invention of the radiator in St. Petersburg, Russia, 150 years ago.  A monument.  To a radiator.

Number two, Daphne the duck, star of “Ducktastic,” a new comedy directed by Kenneth Branagh opening tomorrow night in London's West End.  Duck-napped, stolen.  I'm very concerned, said the producer.  She had done 30 performances and was our best duck.  Fortunately, there's an understudy named Saber.  And a duck is born!

And number one, Eric James Torpy pleaded guilty in Oklahoma to shooting with intent to kill and robbery.  The agreed-upon sentence, 30 years.  Then Mr. Torpy said, Can we make it 33 years?  You heard it.  He added more time to his own sentence.  Thirty-three, he explained, is the uniform number worn by his hero, basketball player Larry Byrd.

And I guess he can take some solace that he wasn't a fan of hockey's Wayne Gretzky, the immortal number 99.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It moved so quickly and so strong that in just hours it shattered decades of hurricane records, becoming the most intense storm in Atlantic history.  Our third story in the COUNTDOWM, Wilma, the last and most certainly not the least of the Atlantic hurricanes, at least of the ones from the preseason names list.  We are now out.  Going from a Category 2 storm to a huge Category 5 monster in just six hours, and currently, heading right for us. 

Wilma has weakened slightly since its overnight explosion, but not by much.  It is still, in the words of the weather service, a potentially catastrophic Category 5 hurricane.  And even though it is expected to shrink a bit in the Gulf, it is already enough of a threat to force the evacuation of visitors in the Florida Keys and could still be a Category 4 by the time it hits land.  And right now that looks like somewhere on the east coast of Florida.  Let's get the latest from NBC Weather Plus meteorologist Bill Karins. 

Bill, good evening. 

BILL KARINS, NBC WEATHER PLUS:  Good evening, Keith.  Way too many questions still left with this storm.  But let's get to what we do know.  This is a monster Category 5.  It has been a Category 5 since early this morning.  And the key to the whole forecast, believe it or not, is this storm which is sitting over the top of Kansas currently. 

This storm, if it is strong enough, could weaken.  The high-pressure system responsible for record highs over the Southeast the last couple of days, could allow the storm to turn further north and definitely head towards Florida.  If this storm does not weaken, this area of high pressure, this storm is going to sit where it is, possibly for three or four days.  This could be a long, drawn-out event. 

Let's get to the storm.  And you can see this black line indicates the path.  And look how squirrelly this thing has been.  Up and down.  And now for the last about 12 hours, pretty much in a northwest heading.  And it is not a good time to be anywhere in the Yucatan.  From Cancun to Cozumel, you could be dealing with a Category 4 or 5 storm as we go throughout the next couple of days. 

The latest in from the hurricane center, still at 160 miles per hour.  And that pressure still at an amazing 892.  Even now, although it has weakened slightly since earlier this morning, this still would be in the record books.  West-northwest at 7 is the general heading. 

And this is where it gets interesting.  We followed these computer models.  We're very still limited by all our technology.  And earlier today all of these computer models took this thing all the way up through the Yucatan, through the Gulf and there somewhere into South Florida.  We only have one computer model now that kind of does this loop-de-loop over the Yucatan and then back south of Cuba.  Three of the other big ones all take it up dangerously close to Cancun.  It looks like Cancun could get the worst of this storm.  And then it goes through South Florida. 

But now instead of Friday-Saturday, it looks more like a Sunday possibly into Monday time frame for South Florida.  Many more days to prepare, that's the good news, but waiting this thing out, you hear about that hurricane fatigue. 

Category 4 or 5 as we go throughout the next couple of days, all the way up right along the coastline here of the Yucatan.  We could see 15 to 25 inches of rain from Mexico all the way through central Cuba.  And with the high mountains there in Cuba, that could be very problematic. 

Now for the tricky part, if the storm gets picked up by that storm we talked about earlier, that's out in Kansas, this is the storm track.  It still could go as far north heading up to about Cedar Key, Florida, that's just north of Tampa, or anywhere from Tampa southwards all the way down to Key West.  There's a good reason why they call this the “cone of uncertainty” because this probably will be changing in the days to come. 

But right how that the hurricane center, this is their best guess scenario of what's going to happen.  Notice the numbers.  Category 3, as Keith mentioned, we expect a weakening trend.  Category 1 after it goes across the state of Florida.  So as of now, we're saying a 2 or a 3 at landfall in Florida and then weakening to a 1 and heading out in the open Atlantic.  And right now it should miss the Outer Banks and also should miss New England.  But that could change.  It could still be a close call for those areas. 

So once again, it is amazing.  We're counting on this storm here to actually be the moving thing for the storm.  So we'll continue to give you the latest here on Hurricane Wilma, a Category 5.  It should stay that way, Keith, for at least tonight. 

OLBERMANN:  And a State Department bill has just urged U.S. citizens to avoid travel to Cuba.  So Cuba is clearly on the hit list here.  NBC Weather Plus meteorologist Bill Karins, many thanks. 

The administration also urging other people in Wilma's possible path to take this storm seriously.  At the same time, defending its response to the last Category 4 hurricane to hit this country.  The secretary of homeland security publicly defending his role in the Katrina debacle on the Hill today.  Michael Chertoff saying, quote: “I'm not a hurricane expert,” and by placing blame for federal failings on then-FEMA head Michael Brown. 

But as Lisa Myers reports exclusively tonight, Mr. Brown's e-mails during the crisis show there were failures at every level.  And they have pricked the conscience of a top FEMA aid who has broken ranks and testified to Senate investigators. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA MYERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Wednesday, August 31st, much of New Orleans is underwater.  A FEMA official inside the Superdome sends an urgent Blackberry message to his boss, Director Michael Brown. 

Marty Bahamonde, said to be Brown's eyes and ears within the city, writes: “The situation is past critical.  Hotels are kicking people out.  Thousands gathering in the streets with no food or water.  Estimates are many will die within hours.” 

Bahamonde tells Senate investigators, he doesn't remember getting a response to that e-mail but later was forwarded this one.  Brown's press secretary Fredding (ph) about Brown's dining plans for that evening. “It's very important that time is allowed for Mr. Brown to eat dinner, she writes, given that Baton Rouge is back to normal, restaurants are getting busy.  He needs much more than 20 or 30 minutes.” 

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS ®, MAINE:  That is just appalling.  >>

MYERS:  Senator Susan Collins says Brown's inner circle seemingly failed to grasp the urgency of Bahamonde's warnings. 

COLLILNS:  There is this extraordinary disconnect between what he is reporting and the reaction back in Washington. 

MYERS:  Bahamonde expressed his frustration about the dinner e-mail writing: “Oh, my God!!!!!!!!  Just tell her that I just ate MRE and went to the bathroom in the hallway of the Superdome along with 30,000 other close friends, so I understand her concern about busy restaurants.” 

(on camera):  Bahamonde also says officials at all levels of government failed to act on his early warnings that this key 17th Street levee had failed.  He says local and FEMA officials had 16 hours to warn the public and no one sounded the alarm. 

JOHN COPENHAVER, FMR. FEMA REGIONAL DIRECTOR:  People should have been told that New Orleans was going to flood. 

MYERS (voice-over):  Today in Congress, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff disputed FEMA Director Brown's claim that state and local officials were to blame for the debacle. 

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY:  I'm not going to judge others.  I did not have a problem dealing with state and local officials. 

MYERS:  Today a homeland security spokesman did not dispute the e-mails, but says they don't present the whole picture of FEMA's efforts. 

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Meantime, visions of Powerball jackpots dancing through your head?  Those multimillion dollar dreams can quickly turn into nightmares.  You'll meet some of the losing winners in a moment. 

And more of Sizemore.  You may remember yesterday's pornographic DVD release, now comes a denial from Paris Hilton.  Oh boy.  Those stories ahead. 

But first here are COUNTDOWN's top three sound bites of this day. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY LENO, HOST, “THE TONIGHT SHOW”:  In fact, it hailed today, on Hollywood Boulevard.  It hailed.  And of course, there was the panic.  You know, they thought it was raining crack!  Oh, my God! 

(LAUGHTER)

MIKE MATTHEWS, TURKEY CALL MAKER:  A really good place to make turkey calls. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  In here, Mike Matthews continues to try and master a foreign language. 

MATTHEWS:  The turkey has 21 vocalizations. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A kind of Morse code that he learned from the experts. 

MATTHEWS:  Listening to wild turkeys is something I've been doing for years. 

BILL O'REILLY, HOST, “THE O'REILLY FACTOR”:  You ought to know this.  The world could blow the hell up, he would be giggling.  Ah, this is a riot!  How many people are dead in Katrina?  How can we make fun of it?  Let's get Colbert in here, let's get the other guy, Lewis, in here, we'll make fun of the hurricane. 

You see, that's what you do.

JON STEWART, HOST, “THE DAILY SHOW”:  You know, I will say this.  We do add insult to injury. 

O'REILLY:  You do. 

(LAUGHTER)

STEWART:  But, but.

O'REILLY:  See, he's an honest man.  He's an honest man. 

STEWART:  But you add injury. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Your odds of winning a lottery like the $340 million Powerball are roughly equivalent to your odds of waking from a dream tonight having suddenly constructed a new unified theory of physics to which Stephen Hawking will come to your house and say, damn, why didn't I think of that? 

Nevertheless, in our number two story in the COUNTDOWN, there I was last night, putting in my $10 like everybody else, for the pool of 200 tickets from our office, purely on the theory that just in case I cannot afford to have my staff in the position of being able to buy and sell me.  But as COUNTDOWN's Monica Novotny reports now, perhaps my real fear should be what happens to all of us if we win. 

Good evening, Monica. 

MONICA NOVOTNY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  That's right, Keith.  Good evening. 

By now, you have probably heard the story of Jack Whittaker (ph), the West Virginia contractor who won a $315 million jackpot on Christmas Day in 2002.  Now, less than three years later, his family is part of the long list of winners who have watched the dream of millions turn quickly into a nightmare. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The nation's largest Powerball winner, I'm happy to present to you, from Putnam County, Mr. Andrew Jack Whittaker right here. 

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  When lady luck smiles, it feels like a miracle.  But for too many with the golden ticket, winning big is a blessing and then a curse. 

SUSAN BRADLEY, AUTHOR, “SUDDEN MONEY”:  There is a great American myth that money is good and more is better.  The truth is, is that a windfall, sudden money from any type of event, actually can cause as many problems as it can solve. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  People look at you and expect you to live out their fantasies.  And somehow, if you don't do it, they're disappointed in you. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I gave a lot of it away.  That's what my problem was.  Then I had to borrow to pay my taxes. 

NOVOTNY:  Financial planner Susan Bradley works with lottery winners. 

BRADLEY:  A big lottery win usually starts off with a lot of extreme behavior. 

NOVOTNY:  And often ends that way.  Since Jack Whittaker's $113 million payout in 2002, he has been charged with assault and drunken driving.  He lost his marriage, even his 17-year-old granddaughter Brandy, who disappeared last year, was later found dead. 

In 1998, Phyllis Klingbeel (ph) sued her own son Michael, claiming he failed to share the $2 million jackpot he won. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Her son called her and told her, mom, we won. 

NOVOTNY:  She eventually settled out of court for about 20 percent of the prize money.  Louis Snipes (ph) picked the winning numbers for his wife in 1988.  They won $31.5 million.  But she and her sisters wanted the payout. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I'm the one that won the lottery.  I'm working with a scalding hot welder every day trying to get by.  I do not have $31 million.  That makes me feel terribly cheated. 

NOVOTNY:  After four years of litigation, the former family split the winnings and split for good.  Paul McNabb (ph), Maryland's first lottery millionaire, endured kidnap threats to his children, repeated break-ins, and ended up driving a cab in Las Vegas. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Viva Las Vegas, as Elvis would say.  Thar she blows, baby.

NOVOTNY:  And so if the winds of good fortune blow your way, experts say take some time to focus on the things money can't buy. 

BRADLEY:  What they should be thinking about is who are they now because of this?  What has changed in their lives and what kind of new decisions do they have to look at? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How do you think your life is going to change? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It's not.  If I can help it, it's not going to change.  I'm content with my life. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOVOTNY:  Since it started in 1992, the Powerball jackpot has been hit 173 time with 202 different winners and more than $6 billion in jackpot money paid out.  And the odds of winning tonight, 146 million to 1.  But we have 200 tickets. 

OLBERMANN:  And Charlie was happy when he won that chocolate factory, wasn't he? 

NOVOTNY:  He did have the golden ticket. 

OLBERMANN:  COUNTDOWN's Monica Novotny, great thanks. 

NOVOTNY:  Thanks.

OLBERMANN:  Tom Sizemore never won the lottery nor an Academy Award, but he was in two movies nominated for them.  And his descent from that sort of success to porn DVDs of his own life provides a thoughtful segue into our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news “Keeping Tabs.” 

To whatever depths he sunk he did not take Paris Hilton with him, so says she.  Yesterday we reported the release of a pornographic collection called “The Tom Sizemore Sex Scandal” in which he explains how he suffers from priapism, it's a disease that causes prolonged sexual arousal and forces the sufferer to be active for longer than average, and let himself be taped with various partners for 70 minutes and do an interview about it with the DVD producers and then claim Paris Hilton seduced him. 

That's some disease that priapism.  Today Hilton responded, Sizemore said she had lingered at his house after a party there, then walked over to him and explicitly suggested they sleep together.  He also said he found it abrupt when she just left in the morning. 

Yes, she should have made him breakfast or knitted him something.  Hilton's spokesman issued a statement on her behalf: “It's disappointing that Mr. Sizemore has to use my name to sell his DVDs.  He is not an acquaintance of mine, nor have I ever had intimate relations with him.” And she would remember.  Well, no, maybe not.  Righteous indignation from Paris Hilton.  What a world. 

Not outrage but outage from William Shatner.  His.  Back.  Hurts.  Bad enough to require a trip to a Manhattan Beach hospital.  The 74-year-old Shatner was overtaken by lower back pain during the shooting of his ABC series, “Boston Legal,” for which he won an Emmy last month.  After having been checked out, Shatner was pronounced fit and returned to the set.  And no, doctors did not say he had hurt his back by carrying around James Spader every week. 

And at the top of the COUNTDOWN, a magic trick of Biblical proportions.  Sure, he has made the Statue of Liberty disappear.  And now David Copperfield says he is going to get a woman pregnant without, you know, any of this Tom Sizemore stuff. 

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.”  Bronze:

Jira Ware (ph), an Australian insurance broker, he was such an alcoholic that he had a deal with his own bosses that he just wouldn't come back from lunch on Fridays because he was too drunk.  He would make up the work on weekends.  They gave him time off to see a shrink every other week.  Nothing worked.  They let him go, so he sued them, claiming he had been discriminated against for having Attention Deficit Disorder.  An Aussie court has just awarded Mr. Ware $10,000. 

Also nominated, the Living Proof Christian Broadcasters.  Five years ago, the folks who run the FM radio station at Maynard High School in suburban Boston asked permission to increase the signal power from 10 watts to 250.  As soon as they did that, that made their frequency open to anybody who wanted to apply for it and who could convince the FCC they would better serve the public.  The FCC has revoked the school's license and given it to Living Proof Christian Broadcasters.  Christian obviously just a brand name there. 

But the winners, Sinclair Broadcast Group, the right-wing nuts—sorry, the TV station owners who last year had fired their own Washington news bureau chief, Jon Lieberman, because he objected to Sinclair's effort to dress up the Swiftboat ad guys' attacks on John Kerry as a news documentary.  Last May, Sinclair objected when Lieberman got a journalism award.  Now Sinclair has sued Lieberman, seeking $17,000 in damages for what he said last year, $17,000.  You know, boys, it is going to take you more than $17,000 to buy your souls back from the devil!  Sinclair Broadcast Group, today's “Worst Persons in the World”!  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Finally, to the number one story in the COUNTDOWN tonight, and simply put, for his next trick, illusionist David Copperfield says he will impregnate a woman on stage using only magic.  Yes, yes, like I said before, big deal.  Didn't Tom Cruise just do that? 

“In my next show I'm going to make a girl pregnant on stage,” Copperfield tells a German magazine. “Naturally, it will be without sex.” Copperfield is currently touring Germany, he said he would keep the rest of the act's details to himself. 

But last year he did the same Stunt in Detroit, telling a Michigan newspaper in advance, “don't worry, it's all tastefully done and we do a sonogram to prove she's pregnant.” As to the German version, nothing about child support, who the woman is, if he's going to claim this as an immaculate conception, and what he's going to do when the angry German or Austrian villagers come after him bearing flaming torches and pitchforks just like in that there movie. 

Let me call in Nathan Burton, not only one of the top magic draws in Las Vegas, but also himself a witness to one of Mr. Copperfield's previous immaculate conceptions. 

Thanks for your time tonight, sir. 

NATHAN BURTON, MAGICIAN:  How are you doing, Keith?

OLBERMANN:  Not bad, I want to know about this, though here.  We all don't want to spoil any surprise for anybody, but I don't feel like we're violating the secrets of Houdini here.  This is a publicity stunt.

BURTON:  We're not going to expose any magic here.  We're not exposing magic here, I'll tell you that right now. 

OLBERMANN:  What happens as this bizarre stunt unfolds? 

BURTON:  OK.  Before I get started, hey, I just want to tell you, Keith, I have a little prediction in this envelope, we're going to get to that later.  But Copperfield picks a lady from the audience, totally random choice, brings her up on stage.  And to kind of get her in the mood, he does a card trick.  Because, you know, what girls don't like card tricks?  Whatever. 

(LAUGHTER)

BURTON:  So, Keith, you're going to be my lady from the audience. 

OLBERMANN:  Oh great. 

BURTON:  I'm going to kind of show you what happens.  So pretend like you're the lady going to get pregnant. 

OLBERMANN:  Great.

BURTON:  So you have a totally free choice, are these all different, Keith?  Check them out.

OLBERMANN:  Yes, they do appear to be different. 

BURTON:  They're all different?

OLBERMANN:  Yes.

BURTON:  All right.  I'm going to turn them around so you can see the backs.  You have a totally free choice.  Just tell me stop at any point. 

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Stop at any point, right there.  Yes, OK, that one. 

BURTON:  You want that one. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, sure, why not?

BURTON:  All right.  I'm going to bring it up real slow to the top, just like that, nothing funky.  You're easy, I like that, Keith.  Take a look at your card.  You got it? 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  OK.

BURTON:  Now then a little Barry White muse play—Barry might—blah, I can't talk.  Barry White music, plays.  The girl—he produces some pickles for the girl, a little bit of ice cream, they hook up a sonogram to her stomach.  You actually see the baby on the projection screen in the sonogram.  And the little baby finds out the card and matches up.  It's a great trick.  If you're going to do magic, I want to practice that one, making a girl pregnant. 

OLBERMANN:  Wow.  So you've seen this?  I mean, did you know the person who was—who this trick was played on? 

BURTON:  Actually, I went to the show.  My mother comes to town like three or four times a year.  I took her to David Copperfield's show, and then David picks my mother and takes her up on the stage, impregnates my mother and now I have a brother named D.C., David Copperfield. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  So the end result of this, if I'm following all this here, babies come from card tricks, is that it? 

BURTON:  You know what?  Us magicians, anything we can do to help hook up with girls.  But no—yes, basically there's a card trick and the baby helps with the prediction. 

OLBERMANN:  All right. 

BURTON:  You know, it's all about trying to find the new angle in magic.  You can't stay with the same old stuff. 

OLBERMANN:  But I was going to ask you that, as a prominent

professional in this field, is there a line of self-publicity—publicity

·         now I can't say it—Barry White music—self-publicity that a magician should not cross?  I mean, when Copperfield says, you know, Hollywood special effects, modern technology, people expect more, I'm forced to deliver more, is he just being realistic? 

BURTON:  I mean, we're competing against your news.  I was watching the news.  That's a lot to compete against.  You've got movies, you've got TV, I mean, you've got some great stories tonight.  So let's see, a card trick or what you have on the news?  So we have really got to push the envelope. 

I mean, I work in Vegas every night and the trick I close my show with is called “The Microwave of Death.” And I have a giant-sized microwave oven on stage.  I jump inside of it, I have to escape within 10 seconds or else.  Well, you know, it counts down, sometimes I don't make it out in time and you know I push the envelope and I get a little burnt. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, my COUNTDOWNs are exactly like that every night.  I never get out of the thing fast enough.  Last question, what was my card, if you picked it out there, do you know what it was? 

BURTON:  Well, like I said, I have a prediction here.  I'm going to open it up.  It was before the show.  I'm going to reach in here, nothing funny.  Let's see what do we have on here? 

OLBERMANN:  Did Keith pick the two of clubs?  That is—you are correct, sir.  Congratulations. 

BURTON:  Let's make babies, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  I'm used to having it happen the ordinary way, but thanks for the thought.  Magician Nathan Burton, great, thanks for your time tonight in straightening this up for us.  Thank you, sir.

BURTON:  All right.

OLBERMANN:  That's COUNTDOWN, I'm Keith Olbermann.  Keep your knees (ph) loose, you'd have to after that.  Good night and good luck.

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

END   

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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