updated 10/25/2005 9:28:01 AM ET 2005-10-25T13:28:01

Guests: Jim VandeHei, Terry Holt, Dan Shulman

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

Are the indictments in the mail?  Is the president yelling at his staff?  Is the reporter on her way out?  And what does Martha Stewart have to do with all this?  Another day of tense anticipation in the CIA leak investigation.

Nightmare in Baghdad.  At least 20 dead after three enormous explosions, one at the Palestine Hotel.

Wilma reaches Florida.  Preparation and evacuation, let us count not the injured, but those now without electricity.  The number was 2.5 million.

And the number is White Sox, two games, Astros none.  He hit the ball real hard.  I hate to say I told you so, but I told you so.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

There are no indictments, no idea if the prosecutor has any, or if they would be for perjury or for witchcraft.  But the couching has now begun, the comparison yesterday, from Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas, is that Karl Rove, Scooter Libby, and whoever else may be in the bull‘s eye at the White House, if any, are the political equivalents of Martha Stewart.

An odd comparison, given that two years and 24 days ago on MSNBC‘s “HARDBALL,” the then-chairman of the Republican National Committee was asked if, quote, “it‘d be worse than Watergate.”  And Ed Gillespie replied, “Yes, I suppose so, in terms of the real-world implications of it.  It‘s not just politics.”

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, to borrow a title from MTV, the real world, Washington, whether top White House advisers Rove and Libby prove to be bit players in that reality series, or wind up being forced to take on starring roles, only the special prosecutor, Mr. Fitzgerald, knows, some Republicans already saying that any indicted administration officials should resign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS”)

SEN. GEORGE ALLEN ®, VIRGINIA:  I think they will step down if they‘re indicted.

TIM RUSSERT, HOST:  And they should.

ALLEN:  Yes, I do think that‘s appropriate.  But I don‘t see where if they‘re in the midst of an indictment.  But let‘s not say they have been indicted.  Let‘s see what happens, rather than getting into all this speculation and so forth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  If charges are forthcoming, it would mark the first time in 130 years that a sitting White House official had been indicted, fellow by the name of Orville Babcock, the private secretary to and close friend of President Ulysses S. Grant, apparently the last person to hold that dubious distinction during the infamous Whiskey Ring tax evasion and kickback scandal.

Today‘s Republicans already preparing for the public relations battle, the evident strategy, attack the criminal charges as the work of an overzealous prosecutor, as we mentioned, Senator Hutchison of Texas all but knitting ponchos for Mr. Libby and Mr. Rove.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS”)

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON ®, TEXAS:  Look at Martha Stewart, for instance, where they couldn‘t find a crime, and they indict on something that she said about something that wasn‘t a crime.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Martha Stewart, for God‘s sake.

Very few people, it seems, willing to publicly defend one of the reporters at the centers of the investigation.  Judith Miller‘s employers, “The New York Times,” now raising questions about her conduct, the “Times”‘ ombudsman saying the paper needs to address Miller‘s, quote, “clear issues of trust and credibility,” public editor Byron Calame writing that Miller‘s accounts of the reporting that landed her in jail for refusing to testify, quote, “suggested that the journalistic practices of Ms. Miller and ‘Times‘ editors were more flawed than I feared,” unquote.

One of those editors, executive editor Bill Keller, writing to the “Times” time staff in an e-mail last week that Miller may have misled the paper by saying she was not one of the recipients of the leak about Valerie Plame‘s CIA identity, Miller‘s attorney calling the newspaper‘s criticism of her “shameless.”

Jim VandeHei, White House correspondent of “The Washington Post,” has been leading the advance of this story for weeks and joins us now.

Good evening, Jim.

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

OLBERMANN:  To quote a cliche, it‘s quiet, it‘s too quiet.  There was a Reuters report early today that maybe Mr. Fitzgerald would be notifying those who were being indicted today.  CBS News reported tonight that the guesswork is Wednesday is the key day.  Is there any news?  Even scraps?

VANDEHEI:  I would like to say there is, but there really isn‘t.  I mean, all we can do is, again, sit back and read the tea leaves.  You know, we do know that he—that the—Fitzgerald did start a Web site last week, did put up this paper that showed that early on in the investigation, had authority to also look into not just the root crime of leaking a covert CIA agent‘s name, but also whether there was obstruction of justice or perjury committed during his investigation.

So a lot of lawyer in the case say that‘s probably a pretty solid clue that we‘re going to see something this week.  And it‘s safe to say it‘s going to be Wednesday or Friday, because that‘s when the grand jury convenes.

OLBERMANN:  The CBS report tonight also indicated that while Mr. Libby and Mr. Rove might wind up being indicted, that they would be, quote, “secondary players,” and that the actual leaker of Valerie Plame‘s identity is somebody else.  CBS called him, rather creatively, I thought, Mr. X.  Is that just more tea-leaf reading speculation?  Or have you heard similar things?

VANDEHEI:  I mean, we‘ve always thought that there‘s probably some people involved in this that we‘re not aware of.  We still don‘t know who the second source is for Robert Novak, who, if you remember, is the columnist who was the first to out Valerie Plame as working for the CIA and talking about her role with her husband, Joseph Wilson.

But it‘s not clear.  I mean, clearly he has talked—Fitzgerald has talked to dozens of people in the White House, the CIA, the State Department, the vice president‘s office.  He‘s cast such a wide net, it would not be surprising to see him snag somebody we‘ve not been thinking about.

OLBERMANN:  It‘s a surprise to note the absence of spinning in politics, but really, we have not had it in full measure until Senators Allen and Hutchison spoke out over the weekend.  Senator Hutchison‘s office already has had to issue a clarification today that, well, you know, gosh, perjury is a crime and all, and she wasn‘t saying otherwise.

But does that kind of—bringing Martha Stewart into it, does that underscore that it‘s going to be hard for Republicans to undermine Mr.  Fitzgerald‘s credibility, if he does indict, and hard for Democrats to undermine it if he doesn‘t?

VANDEHEI:  I think it would be really hard for Republicans to go after Fitzgerald, mostly because, A, we haven‘t heard anything from Republicans during the two-year investigation.  Fitzgerald was appointed by a Republican, remember.  And unlike these past independent counsel investigations, there hasn‘t been a lot of bellyaching from conservatives or Democrats about his independence.

And you take Hutchison, for instance, when it was Bill Clinton and they were talking about perjury, she was talking about how that is at the heart of the rule of law, and you cannot undermine or degrade the importance of perjury or cooperating and being honest in an investigation.

OLBERMANN:  You mentioned, lastly, this—the investigation Web site being established last week, which might be, really, the only tangible news that we actually have in front of us, and the only suggestion that indictments might be coming.  Is it fair to read in, because of that, and to all the beehive activity in Washington, that the Republicans in the White House have prepared themselves for the worst?

VANDEHEI:  Oh, absolutely, Republicans have prepared themselves for the worst.  I know the Republican National Committee and other allies of the White House have gamed out different plans for best-case scenario, no indictments, or as one joked, only reporters get indicted, to the worst-case scenario, where you have mass indictments.

And you have to do this.  You have to be ready.  You have to be able to prepare yourselves to defend the president at the end of the day if you‘re a Republican, especially if it‘s a lot of indictments or indictments of key figures, because you‘re going to want to distance the president.  You can have all this hand-wringing and strategizing you want about going after the prosecutor.  At the end of the day, this is a very difficult one for Republicans to defend on, if it turn out that, say, a Scooter Libby or a Karl Rove are indicted or implicated in this.

OLBERMANN:  Jim VandeHei, the White House correspondent of “The Washington Post,” as always, sir, thanks for your help tonight.

VANDEHEI:  You have a good night.

OLBERMANN:  That this week could bring indictments against senior members of his administration, putting the president in a mood described today as “frustrated, sometimes angry, and even bitter,” according to unnamed Bush associates, quoted by “The New York Daily News” today.  You would not know it, looking at today‘s cabinet meeting, at least the videotape thereof.  By having Karl Rove literally sitting behind him, the president still figuratively standing behind his man.

Nevertheless, the prospect of losing Rove, reports “The Daily News,” has the president is lashing out at aides.  Quoting, “The president is just unhappy in general and casting blame all about,” says one Bush insider.  “Andy”—that would be chief of staff Andy Card—“gets his share, Karl gets his share.  Even Cheney gets his share.”

NBC‘s David Gregory, quoting sources downplaying that story, not by denying it, but by saying angry outbursts are not unusual from the president.  Gee, that helps.

“The Wall Street Journal” highlighting the inevitable, that the investigation likely to lead to wholesale turnover of White House staff, something that is not uncommon in second terms but would, in this case, White House veterans telling “The Journal,” quote, “fuel the public sense that the administration is losing control.”

All which of brings us again to a question of terminology.  Is this just another in the endless historical parade of political controversies through which every president since Washington has had to steer, or is it, in fact, the White House in crisis?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER:  This is an MSNBC special, “White House in Crisis.”

Here is Keith Olbermann.

OLBERMANN:  Good evening.

In a dramatic development tonight...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Now you know how my hair got gray.

Well, I figure, if I‘m going to have a flashback, you‘re going to have a flashback too.

Joining me now to talk everybody down, Terry Holt, spokesman for last year‘s Bush-Cheney reelection campaign.

Mr. Holt, thank you for your time tonight.

TERRY HOLT, BUSH-CHENEY ‘04 CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN:  Thanks, Keith.  I‘m happy to be here.

OLBERMANN:  Anybody hates to rely on a story that‘s pinned on unnamed associates, like the story that was in “The New York Daily News” today, but from the White House, our correspondent David Gregory reporting, as I just mentioned, that his sources aren‘t denying any of that.  They‘re just saying that angry outbursts are not unusual for Mr. Bush.  A, is that true?  B, does that kind of defense help the president or hurt him?

HOLT:  No, that‘s not really the president that I know.  George W.  Bush is a tough guy.  He‘s certain about his convictions.  He knows where he wants to take the country.  And he‘s exacting about the facts.  This is a guy who knows an awful lot about the job he does.  And he has it—does it—has done with it great confidence.

But frankly, I think a story like this is easy to get in the paper these days, because there‘s so little else to go on but speculation.  I feel like this is the kind of story that some staffer kind of wanted their 15 minutes in the sun.  But I‘m not sure how this matters that much.  Wouldn‘t you be angry if something like this was happening, and you were the president?

OLBERMANN:  I‘d be angry—were I the president, not only would I be angry, but a lot of other people would be as well.

Its admirers and its critics have been uniform well into this year about crediting this White House with superb, innovative political stagecraft and coordination.  But as this CIA investigation comes to a head, there seems to have been something of a lack of focus in terms of, for want of a better turn, spin, damage control, direction, political statements.

Is that a fair assessment?  Are the political marching orders still coming from the White House?  Or is there a sense that everybody‘s pretty much on their own here?

HOLT:  Well, I mean, this is like us waiting for the next hurricane. 

We don‘t know if it‘s going to be a category 5 or just a tropical storm.  And if that‘s the case, there‘s a degree of uncertainty.  Uncertainty is the ultimate worst thing for any political organization.  But if they‘re smart, and if they do their jobs correctly, they will keep their head down.

You know, no story coming through the White House on any given day is going to wait for any other story.  And while this goes on, there‘s still a nomination to the Supreme Court to deal with, and dozens of other issues.

So I think most of the people that are down there are doing their jobs and keeping their head down and just waiting for this to go over.  I think it does present people with a sense of frustration, a sense of waiting, but ultimately, when it happens, it‘s the moment at which we can turn the corner.  And I think people are waiting to turn the corner.

OLBERMANN:  When it comes to the attempt to explain, before that corner is reached, as Jim VandeHei just pointed out, the interpretation of events from Senator Hutchison of Texas yesterday certainly seemed a little odd to me, and it required a clarification from her office today, that if people might be indicted for perjury or obstruction of justice, those would be, she used the term, “technicality.”

A previous president of the United States was impeached on one charge of perjury and one charge of obstruction of justice, and that was it.  Is that read, whether she‘s had to clarify it, whether she wasn‘t sure what she was saying yesterday, whatever the cause for it, was that read a little self-destructive?

HOLT:  Well, I don‘t think that it‘s proper to call perjury a minor thing.  The president has called it a serious thing.  And, in fact, he‘s brought honor and dignity back to the White House, as he said in 2000, by holding the law to high esteem.

And so I think it would be a mistake to turn back on that.  I‘m not sure that it would be a smart political move, after all, as other reports have mentioned tonight.  We haven‘t taken a shot at Fitzgerald.  He has conducted an investigation without leaks, and he has done it generally correctly.  It‘s more like the Clinton administration of past years to demonize the prosecutor.  Remember what he did, Ken Starr, for example.

It‘s not the road we want to go down.  At the end of the day, most Republicans are concerned about this president and getting his agenda passed.  It‘s not about staff, it‘s about the president.  It‘s about his ability to do his job in the next three and a half years.

And we need to focus on that.

OLBERMANN:  So then our last, and the running question, this old and familiar term, “White house in crisis,” is it valid to use it now, or not?

HOLT:  Well, there‘s certainly been an awful lot of bad news and even some mistakes made over the last few weeks.  I think everybody remembers the press conference where, you know, the president was put in a very tough spot.  I think, if anything, if I were the president, I‘d be very upset to have been put in a position like he was a couple of weeks ago with those soldiers in Iraq, to have that story unfold the way it did.

But ultimately, this president is going to do his job no matter what.  Remember, it‘s the president got elected, not any of his staff.  And he will turn this corner, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  GOP strategist, Bush-Cheney campaign spokesman from a year ago, Terry Holt.  Great thanks for your time and your perspective, sir.

HOLT:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  At least one thing seeming to go swimmingly today for the Bush administration.  The president‘s pick to replace Alan Greenspan as the Fed Reserve chairman, so far, well received, almost universally.  Even that is kind of a good news-bad news situation.  Ben Bernanke, the top White House economist, being hailed as the anti-Harriet Miers.

Unlike the embattled Supreme Court nominee, Mr. Bernanke‘s credentials unquestioned, even if this is another case of Mr. Bush promoting from within.  Educated at Harvard and MIT, Bernanke having served as chairman of Princeton‘s economics department.  He‘s even worked for the Fed before, becoming a member of its board in 2002.  Senator Kennedy has issued a statement of support.  And upon news of the nomination today, stocks jumped.

Also tonight, a coordinated extraordinary attack, even for Baghdad.  Three massive explosions in successive, one in the square in which the statue of Saddam Hussein was famously toppled.  At least 20 dead.

And after days of waiting, Hurricane Wilma finally hit Florida. 

Ferocious but survivable.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The geography, the symbolism, and the timing are inescapable.  A main target (INAUDIBLE) was what is still the main outpost for Western journalists in Iraq.  Another of the targets, the very square in which the statue of Saddam Hussein was famously knocked down shortly after the U.S. Army entered Baghdad.

And the timing was placed somewhere between the opening of Hussein‘s trial and the 2,000th American service death in Iraq.

Three massive, coordinated explosions, 20 or more dead.

Our correspondent in Baghdad is Richard Engel.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICHARD ENGEL, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The blast was so powerful, it could be seen, heard, and felt all over Baghdad, one of three in a carefully executed ambush.  The assault began just before dark in the square where, two and half years ago, Saddam‘s statue was torn down.

Suddenly a security camera caught a Suburban filled with explosives.  The goal, to crack through the 15-foot concrete walls encircling the Palestine and Sheraton Hotels, home to Western journalists and one of the most fortified compounds in Baghdad.

Minutes later, another bomb, an SUV packed with explosives and ball bearings.  Then, a suspicious truck, a huge cement mixer, tried to sneak through the breach made by the first blast and drive up to the hotels.  But U.S. troops fire on it.  The truck backs up, trying to get closer to the hotels.  U.S. troops keep firing.

And then the truck explodes, a massive fireball.  Less than 50 yards away, in the car with its hazard lights flashing, was NBC‘s Baghdad chief, Karl Bostick (ph), and his security team.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

KARL BOSTICK, NBC BAGHDAD BUREAU CHIEF (on phone):  (INAUDIBLE) been trying to stay together.  We‘re not moving.  We‘re not getting out of the car.  We‘re trying to negotiate with the police.  And it‘s a very, very tense situation.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ENGEL (on camera):  Tonight, a senior U.S. military commander tells NBC News an American machine-gunner likely set off the truck bomb before it could get any closer to the hotels and cause many more casualties.

Richard Engel, NBC News, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  As Richard just reported, NBC‘s bureau chief in Baghdad, Karl Bostick, was right there by the Palestine Hotel when the bombs went off.

Here‘s Karl‘s own account of the attack.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOSTICK:  And all of a sudden, everything went orange around us.  It felt as though car was lifted off the ground and landed with a thump.  Another 10, 15, 20 feet, there was another bomb waiting for us.  At that time, you know, I was thinking, we should maybe try to get out of here.  Let‘s drive further.  And our security guy says, No, let‘s stop here, pull over to the side.  Not even a minute, maybe 45 seconds later, another kaboom right next to the car.

If we had driven into that, forget it.  I can tell you that, because that was even worse, that was even closer.  That should have been us.  That could have been us.

You stop and you think, you relax, and it‘s OK.  And then again, it‘s in your face.  This is, Oh, my God, they‘re after us.  It‘s going to happen again.  And then you try to start the car, and it doesn‘t start. 

(INAUDIBLE), Let me get out of the car.  He says, No, stay in the car.  I says, What are you trying to do, kill us? And then a third boom.  We said, Fine.  You know, you don‘t know what else to say.

I shouldn‘t say it.  I almost felt like, Well, what part of me could I afford to lose, and still be alive?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  NBC‘s Baghdad bureau chief, Karl Bostick, recounting his day in and back from hell.

From the serious to the seriously messed up.  In Oddball, we will introduce you to the littlest, cutest bear hunter you‘ve ever seen.

And later, scandal at a strip joint.  Boy, that‘s news.  A corporate card and a night on the town can get you into a lot of trouble.  But a quarter of a million dollars‘ worth?  That‘s either a lot of lap dances, or a lot of laughs.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We‘re back, and we pause our COUNTDOWN of the day‘s real news for a brief trip down the candy aisle of gratuitous video and stupid people.

Let‘s play Oddball.

We begin in Oakland, Maryland, for opening day of the extremely controversial bear-hunting season, hundreds of hunters entering the woods of western Maryland in an attempt to lower the population of black bears in the area.  And today, the first bear was brought down by an 8-year-old girl named Sierra Styles (ph).  And isn‘t she precious?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SIERRA STYLES, BEAR HUNTER:  I like animals, but that was—really being happy to get one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Daddy‘s little princess gave the 200-pound bear both barrels in the chest for her first-ever kill, a special moment in any 8-year-old girl‘s life.  She was on her family land with her father and grandfather, both of whom apparently ran away screaming like little girls when they saw the beast, leaving little Sierra to blast away.

OK, I just made that last part up.  Sorry.

To the Stella Hills Elementary School in Bakersfield, California, where the school motto must be, Childhood Obesity, Shmildhood Shmoshmesity.  The school is celebrating excellent academic achievement by all the little kiddies by giving them a world-record-sized ice cream sundae.  Yes, well, it‘s a school record, anyway.  Forty pounds of ice cream, two gallons of hot fudge, all served up in the local school gymnasium Friday.  But later that afternoon, Stella Hills had the worst track and field showing in school history.  Oh, ice-cream headache, ooh.

Also tonight, Hurricane Wilma barrels across Florida.  Millions in the dark tonight.  We‘ll show you how it looked when the powerful category 3 storm finally hit.

And the Chicago White Sox now have five chances to get the two wins they need for the first world championship they‘ve had since 1917. Somebody told you it might be a Chicago sweep.  World series analysis ahead with ESPN Radio‘s Dan Shulman.

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

Number three, Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska.  When some of his Republican colleagues tried to rescind funding for the $453 million Twin Bridges to Nowhere in Alaska, so the money could instead be spent to rebuild the Gulf Coast, Stevens threatened to resign if the Senate, quote, “decides to discriminate against our state.”  Yes, Senator, Hurricane Katrina hit you in Alaska real hard.  The Senate knuckled under.  The bridges will be spent, and the $443 million of our money will be wasted.

Number two, Maryland gubernatorial hopeful Doug Duncan.  At a campaign lunch over the weekend, a county commissioner began to choke on some chicken.  Mr. Duncan performed the Heimlich maneuver on him, saving the man‘s life.  Now, you watch.  At every campaign stop, every candidate will try it on somebody, whether they‘re choking or not.

Number one, William Shatner.  Turns out his bad back pain of last week, so bad that he had to leave the set of “Boston Legal” to go to the hospital, owed to a kidney stone.  He‘s not only recovered, but he‘s also discovered that after 50 years of acting this way, he can now say his lines without pausing like that.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

WILLIAM SHATNER:  Picture yourself in a boat on a river with tangerine trees and marmalade skies...

(END AUDIO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It would be an inspiring milestone in a different context.  Since the 1850s, when hurricanes in the Atlantic were mostly the concern of the whaling ships putting out from New Bedford, Massachusetts, the record had been 21 named storms in one year. 

It‘s been broken now with another month still to go in the season.  Our third story on the COUNTDOWN.  That‘s the statistic sending a shudder through Florida.  It has just weathered its eighth hurricane in the last 15 months. 

Wilma, finally arriving early this morning with Category 3 force, killing at least six people there, and leaving literally millions without power.  Our correspondent, Kerry Sanders, is in Naples, Florida, 22 miles north of where the storm made landfall—Kerry?

KERRY SANDERS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, it‘s still blowing, but Hurricane Wilma is gone.  And just about every street in Naples looks like this one.  Overturned trees, buckles sidewalks, damaged houses. 

Tonight, assessment teams have fanned out across Florida to determine how bad of a hit the state took. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SANDERS (voice-over):  Hurricane Wilma roared ashore in the predawn darkness, targeting southwest Florida.  Packing winds of 125 miles per hour, the Category 3 storm peeled back roofing shingles, toppled huge trees, knocked down traffic lights, flattened signs from their usual perches. 

Tonight, electricity is out across much of south Florida.  At various times of the day, Wilma, 400 miles across, covered 70 percent of Florida, from as far north as Jacksonville to the tip of the state, Key West.  More than 12 million residents experience hurricane- or tropical-force winds. 

In Key West, police estimate 40 percent of the island‘s submerged.  Storm surge pushed water in some spots thigh-high.  Even portions of famed Duval Street underwater. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We‘re not doing this again, never ever. 

SANDERS:  The eye of the hurricane, with the most intense winds, passed over tiny Everglade City at daybreak, causing severe damage.  Today, the only way for this community of fishermen to get around was by boat or on swamp mobiles. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It sounded like a couple of tornadoes were coming through.  The house was rocking.  It was pretty bad. 

SANDERS:  In Naples, Austin and Kaleb Sparks (ph) rode out the hurricane playing video game inside a bedroom closet.  Their mom, Wendy, sorry they stayed. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I would evacuate next time.  I would. 

SANDERS:  Wilma raced across the state, hitting the Miami and Fort Lauderdale areas with more punch than residents had expected.  One man was killed by a falling tree.  High rise windows, shattered. 

GOV. JEB BUSH ®, FLORIDA:  We cannot say it enough.  It is more dangerous after a storm than it is during the storm. 

SANDERS:  In the chaos, a handful of resident in Miami-Dade looted a convenience store.  Tonight, as survivors surveyed the damage, experts estimate losses could exceed $6 billion. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANDERS:  It will be a long night for most in this state without electricity.  In many counties, they‘re already handing out ice and water.  And other counties will do so tomorrow—Keith? 

OLBERMANN:  Kerry Sanders in Naples, great thanks. 

Less than 10 hours after coming ashore, the eye of Hurricane Wilma was, as Kerry Sanders reported, out of Florida.  But that still meant that sustained winds of 105 miles an hour and torrential rains were dragged right across the middle of the state. 

One of the storm‘s last stops before exiting stage right back into the Atlantic, West Palm Beach, where we find our correspondent, Ron Mott. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RON MOTT, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Wilma hit hard here, downing trees and power lines, setting golf carts on fire at this country club.  And it hit twice, first the eastern side, usually the strongest swept through, then a surprise.  The storm strengthened and delivered a stronger hit from the back half, the typically weaker western side. 

(on-screen):  That tree that you see behind us was tilted the other way before the storm.  And we sort of joked that that tree might find its way back upright.  It is down there and then some. 

MOTT (voice-over):  And Hurricane Wilma left some churchgoers in tears. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It kind of breaks my heart. 

MOTT:  This is all that‘s left of Our Savior Lutheran Church. 

PASTOR STEPHEN WIPPERT, OUR SAVIOR LUTHERAN CHURCH:  One of the fellows on the phone told me it was all over the street, the church was just literally on the street.  And you come look at it, it certainly is. 

MOTT:  But the congregation is determined to rebuild. 

WIPPERT:  What‘s happened here is going to work out for our good somehow. 

MOTT:  Faith and hope in the wake of a terrible storm. 

Ron Mott, NBC News, West Palm Beach, Florida. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Ron one of the dozens of correspondence who braved the peak of the storm this morning to bring viewers the obligatory wind-swept reporting, despite an admonition from the governor of Florida. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

J. BUSH:  To see these characters on television reporting the news and putting themselves in harm‘s way doesn‘t do much good either.  It creates a bad example, I think, for others.  They think somehow this is fun.  It isn‘t fun. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This is the bus stop right here.  And I just want to give you an idea of how high this storm surge is.  I‘m sitting here, and you can see the water is just overcoming this bus stop. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This wind is really beginning to pick up now.  This might be a gust of about 90 miles an hour, maybe 100.  So things are quite extensive right here.  But now we‘re beginning to get the rain here. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s really difficult to face the camera here, because this is sand blowing in my face on the beach.  You can see the surf is really up. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Let me show us what‘s happening, in terms of the gauge we‘re showing.  I‘m clocking at the moment about 40 miles per hour or so where I am.  We have seen up to 50, 60 miles-per-hour gusts here in Punta Gorda. 

MATT LAUER, HOST, “TODAY SHOW”:  To get a check of the rest of the morning‘s weather, let‘s try and communicate with Al Roker again.  He‘s got the earpiece in his ear.  Al, can you hear me?

AL ROKER, “TODAY SHOW” CORRESPONDENT:  All right, guys.  I can hear you now, just for a brief moment.  The winds are—Cornell, pan down.  This is how I‘m staying out here. 

Mike, our camera guy, is holding on.  It is brutal out here.  Man, this property we‘re at, it‘s a resort.  I mean, they are losing trees left and right.  It is unbelievable. 

That‘s what‘s going on around the country.  Thank you, Mike.  Here‘s what‘s happening in your neck of the woods. 

You know, Matt, our truck operator, Tom Vare (ph) said, “Don‘t you wish you had your weight back?”  Right about now, I do. 

KATIE COURIC, “TODAY SHOW” CORRESPONDENT:  Oh, are you OK? 

ROKER:  We‘re OK.  We‘re OK.  We‘re OK.  We‘re coming inside. 

LAUER:  Yes, that‘s a good idea.

COURIC:  Do that, Al. 

LAUER:  That‘s a good idea.

COURIC:  Wouldn‘t it be easier if he just held on to that rod-iron gate behind him? 

LAUER:  Yes, I don‘t think there are a lot of people applying for Mike‘s job right now, either. 

COURIC:  Anyway, Al is fine. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  “Al is down.  Al is down.”  Wilma exits.  Alpha arrives in the Atlantic.  This mean now, officially, it‘s the busiest hurricane season in 150 years of record-keeping, the 22nd storm this year. 

It first made land over the Dominican Republic.  It killed eight people on the western part of the same island—that‘s where Haiti is—before moving toward the Bahamas as a tropical depression.  Alpha is not expected to hit the U.S.

Could it do more damage than one St. Louis businessman inside a New York strip club?  “Your bill, sir, $241,000.  Don‘t forget to tip the coat check gal.” 

And big time tab news.  Paris Hilton said she didn‘t know Tom Sizemore, was not intimate with Tom Sizemore.  Eh, one of the two ain‘t bad.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  What would 30 bottles of champagne cost you?  Well, let‘s go high-end here and get only bottles of 1985 Dom Perignon Rose Magnum at $926 a piece at auction.  That‘s $27,980.  That‘s a lot. 

But it‘s barely a third of what St. Louis businessman Robert McCormick wound up paying for 30 bottles of champagne in one night on the town in New York City, $96,000. 

Our number two in the COUNTDOWN, speaking of barely, the paying was done at a strip club where the total cost of the night‘s thrills, chills and excitement was $241,000.  And despite the businessman‘s protestations that the club multiplied what he actually bought by a factor of 12, its proprietor said it had him sign repeated waivers that he was not drunk, and knew what the price was, and it kept notifying his credit card company.  And, oh, by the way, that credit card company agreed with the club. 

The further mind-boggling details from our own Alison Stuart. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALISON STEWART, MSNBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Twenty-two years ago, Rob McCormick was St. Louis senior headed to college.  Today, he is the latest poster boy for CEOs gone wild.  New York tabloids reports the Savvis Communications chairman was charged $241,000 by the Manhattan strip club Scores. 

And the tab?  Went on the company credit card. 

JIM WILSON, OWNER, CITY SCAPE NEW YORK:  I do have a VIP champagne room which goes for $1,000 an hour, just for the club. 

STEWART:  Jim Wilson, owner of gentleman‘s club City Scape New York, says many white-collar types have traded golf clubs for strip clubs, when it comes time to do business. 

WILSON:  I do know people that I know personally that have spend $20,000, $30,000 in one night in the clubs of Manhattan. 

STEWART:  Twenty grand is what Robert McCormick admits to dropping at this club, not $241,000.  Now, the court will settle that dispute.  But a group of executives at a high-end club, raking up a six figure bill, is quite possible, according to one former dancer. 

LILY BURANA, AUTHOR, “STRIP CITY”:  It really is an environment created to cater to this sense of white-collar entitlement, and they deliver in spades, so... 

STEWART:  Lily Burana is a stripper-turned-journalist. 

(on-screen):  What was the biggest tip that you ever got in a night? 

BURANA:  For me, the biggest tip I ever got in a night from a single customer was $2,500.  But I do have peers in the strip club industry for whom that would make them laugh. 

STEWART (voice-over):  Robert McCormick was not available for comment.  But his company stands behind him and is contesting the charge, telling NBC News, “Savvis is working with legal counsel to resolve the claim and protect the interests of Savvis, its shareholders, customers and partners.  The case does not impact our ability to deliver superior products and services.” 

Business deals and high heels, an open secret. 

BURANA:  Is corporate networking in the environment of an upscale strip club good business?  Absolutely.  Is it good taste?  That‘s debatable.

STEWART:  Alison Stewart, NBC News, New York. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Her peers. 

Champagne there, or as it also known, the human racer, providing an appropriate segue to our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news “Keeping Tabs,” where there might have been alcohol involved in the he-said-she-claimed-she-never-said between actor Tom Sizemore and, well, whatever title you would give Paris Hilton. 

You may recall that Mr. Sizemore has driven his acting career off the cliff by participating in a DVD called “The Tom Sizemore Sex Scandal,” in which he is shown in bed with four women and then also tells an interviewer about a night of passion with Hilton at his home after a party there in 2001 at her suggestion. 

She promptly denied it all, saying, quote, “He is not an acquaintance of mine, nor have I ever had intimate relationship with him.”  Today, DVD producers produced this.  Perhaps this will refresh your memory.  But she‘s not naked. 

And it‘s not exactly Mr. McCormick from St. Louis Goes to Scores, but there are a lot of honked-off people at another New York institution today.  The Learning Annex, having hosted a much-promoted how-to-succeed speech to 10,000 paying customers from Donald Trump. 

On local radio, Trump had repeatedly joked about how crazy they all were to have paid him $1.5 million for this.  We thought he was joking.  In fact, for up to $500 a ticket, listeners got such unique pearls of Trumpian wisdom as, quote, “Never, ever, ever give up.”  And, “Be brutal.  Be tough.  Just go get them.”  Why not, “Up and at them!  Up and at them”?

The star on NBC‘s “Apprentice,” resume point Trump mentioned liberally.  He spoke for about an hour and thus at a rate of about $25,000 a minute.  And that‘s how to succeed. 

What happens when a guy who hit no home runs this season trumps the other team‘s ace relief pitcher in game two of the World Series in the bottom of the ninth?  The stuff of which potential sweeps are made.  Analysis in a moment. 

But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s list of today‘s three nominees for the coveted title of “Worst Person in the World.”  A good group tonight. 

The bronze goes to the inimitable Department of Homeland Security.  It has awarded a grant of $36,300 to the Kentucky State Office of Charitable Gaming, 36 grand of our money to be spent keeping terrorists from raising money by playing bingo in Kentucky.  The first thing I thought of. 

The runner up, in a close vote tonight, Ann Coulter, who told her audience at a Republican fundraiser last Thursday in Gainesville, Florida, that the Iraq war was a, quote, “magnificent success,” and added, quote, “Frankly, I‘m not a big fan of the First Amendment.” 

A reporter for a University of Florida newspaper noted, “The Republicans got in the spirit of the night while enjoying an SUV-size trailer full of Budweiser beer.”  Hell, if I had to listen to that crap she spouts, I would have had some, too. 

But the winner, oh, he‘s back!  The big giant head again, explaining to his radio audience that we won the Second World War because of “spanking.”  Quote—no, no, don‘t laugh yet—quote, “In the Great Depression, every American got spanked, and those Americans went to war during World War Two and won the very intense conflict, and showed bravery across the board.  The Greatest Generation almost down to the man was spanked because that‘s the way we did it in America.  OK?”

Do you get the feeling he‘s about four minutes away from being committed?  Bill O‘Reilly about spanking.  Hey, can we call Andrea Mackris? 

Bill O‘Reilly, today‘s worst person in the world!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  So, seen any of that World Series, or were you one of the lucky ones who knew what was going to happen in advance because you read my predictions on the blog and heard them on the radio?

Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, a great series so far, unless you‘re a Houston Astros fan, or Brad Lidge, or you were relying on Roger Clemens. 

Here‘s the audio part of the prediction from last Friday on the “Dan Patrick Show” on ESPN Radio. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAN PATRICK, ESPN RADIO HOST:  You want to give your World Series prediction? 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, I think we are—unfortunately, we‘re in agreement aren‘t we? 

PATRICK:  You‘re jumping on the White Sox bandwagon?

OLBERMANN:  Yes, sir.  And I‘m the one on the White Sox bandwagon, yes.  Quickly, I think the sweep, or five games, possibly that quickly.  I don‘t know that Roger Clemens is going to come up big tomorrow. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Our lips never moved.

Sure enough, Saturday night in game one, Clemens exited early—really early—third inning or earlier, for the third time in his 33 postseason starts.  He put the Astros in the hole 3-1.  They rallied to tie the game, only to lose it at ultimately 5-3. 

Then there was the other specific part of the prediction, from our Bloggerman blog for last Thursday, October 20, writing about the game-losing homerun that Houston relief ace Brad Lidge surrendered to Albert Pujols in game five of the N.L. championship. 

“Why,” I asked, “didn‘t Houston Manager Phil Garner pitch him last night?  Do you want to see him try to get back up on that horse in his first World Series appearance?  No.  No, you don‘t.” 

After the Astros had tied it in the top of the ninth last night, Lidge, in his first appearance since the fateful home run to Pujols, gives up the even more fateful home run to Scott Podsednik, who did not hit a single one during the regular season.  White Sox 7, Astros 6. 

Great news, if you happen to be Scott Podsednik or someone who said of the Astros, quote, “There‘s an excellent chance they could get swept by the Chicago White Sox.”  A pleasure again to be joined by ESPN Radio‘s primary play-by-play man during the regular season, Dan Shulman, who‘s hosting its coverage of the World Series. 

Good evening, Dan.

DAN SHULMAN, ESPN RADIO:  Hi, Keith.  I‘d like the Powerball numbers when we‘re done tonight, if you don‘t mind.

OLBERMANN:  I‘ll do what I can.  It‘s not a constant thing, unfortunately. 

First of all, most importantly, two great games to watch. 

SHULMAN:  They really were.  And I had the pleasure of being down in the camera bay, just beyond the White Sox third-base dugout last night, Podsednik hit the home run. 

I have no vested interest in either team winning, but to be at field level for a walk-off home run in the World Series and to be 15 feet from home plate when they pile on one another, as the White Sox were going nuts on the field—I mean, I‘m a lot like you, just a big baseball fan and always have been.

And to be that close to that big of a moment was really special.  And these have been two great games.  Not good conditions to play baseball in, but two really exciting baseball games.

OLBERMANN:  Now the Brad Lidge situation, as we discussed when you were good enough to join us last week, it‘s no shame for a great relief pitcher to be beaten on a home run by one of the great hitters of the time in Albert Pujols. 

But it is another thing if it‘s Scott Podsednik with 24 career home runs.  Does this underscore the question that I just raised again?  Should his first appearance after that Pujols home run have been in a do-or-die situation in the World Series?  Or should he have pitched in the last game of the series against the Cardinals, just to get him back on that horse? 

SHULMAN:  I mean, obviously, in hindsight, you can look back and say that‘s the case.  And I know you‘re not using hindsight.  You had it on your blog. 

And all I can tell you is, when I was doing that game on ESPN Radio, and in the top of the ninth, when the Astros were hitting, a right-hander got up in the Astros pen.  And I looked out to the bullpen and I said, “Brad Lidge is up in the pen.”  And then our producer tapped me on the shoulder and said, “No, it‘s Dan Wheeler.”  And I was absolutely shocked. 

There was some talk he had pitched four times in five days.  He might have been a little bit tired.  He might have been a little bit under the weather.  I don‘t know if either one of those things are true. 

I thought it would have been in the best interest to get him in there.  Brad Lidge, as we discussed last week, and as we saw again last night in the interviews he gave, this is a tough guy, this is a resilient guy.  He‘s not backing away.

He says he‘s going to go out there with his best stuff and keep doing it.  This is a great relief pitcher, one of the best in baseball.  I think what got him last night—and for all of those—and, you know, I took a lot of statistics in college myself.  But for all the statisticians who say speed doesn‘t matter, I think Brad Lidge was worried about walking Scott Podsednik, because a walk turns into a double, because Podsednik‘s going to steal second. 

So Lidge grooves a two-one fastball down the middle of plate, saying, “Well, it‘s not like he‘s going to hit a home run.”  Lo and behold, a miracle happens.  He hits a home run, after not hitting one the entire regular season. 

I still think Brad Lidge is a great relief pitcher.  And the Astros have their best pitcher on the mound in game three in Roy Oswald.  But if Houston‘s got a one-run lead going to the ninth, and Lidge comes into the game, it‘s going to be interesting to see if he believes in himself 100 percent to go out there and do the job that he‘s done so many times. 

OLBERMANN:  Indeed.  There is such thing as relief pitcher trauma.  And one note about Podsednik:  He did hit 12 home runs last year during the regular season.”

About Roger Clemens, one of the greatest pitchers of all time. 

SHULMAN:  Yes. 

OLBERMANN:  But his time is not necessarily the postseason.  A couple of numbers that I dug up in frustration yesterday having watching the game Saturday night. 

Thirty-three career postseason starts in which his team has now won 16 and lost 17.  And seven times he‘s been given a lead of two or more runs in a game and given that lead back.  Inside his greatness, is there something inexplicably unreliable, or was this all about a hamstring so bad that they had to give him a Cortisone shot after the game? 

SHULMAN:  I have to assume game one was about the hamstring.  I looked at his numbers a little bit, too, because it‘s interesting that he hasn‘t done as quite as well as you would expect he‘s done. 

I think one thing that factors into it, the vast majority of his playoff appearances have come since 1999.  He didn‘t appear that often in the playoffs with the Red Sox.  And, of course, there were only two rounds back then.  Most of those years never went to the playoffs with Toronto. 

He‘s been in the playoffs most of the time as a Yankee and an Astro.  Since he turned 37 years of age—he‘s still the great Roger Clemens, but he‘s no longer a 130-pitch complete-game monster like he used to be. 

In the last seven years, Keith, three complete games, total, regular season for roger Clemens.  He‘s coming out of games earlier.  He‘s weakening a little bit earlier. 

The reason I don‘t think that you can say there‘s something inexplicably wrong about him in the postseason, one example, what he did against Atlanta in game four, in that 18-inning game, coming in out of the pen on two days‘ rest, three innings.  He was outstanding.  I think he‘s just been the victim of a little bad luck and, in this case, a bad hamstring. 

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll see if they go to him in five game, if there is one.  Dan Shulman, hosting the coverage of the World Series on ESPN Radio, resuming tomorrow night in Houston.

Thanks again, Dan.

SHULMAN:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Enjoy the rest of the series.  Keep your knees lose.  Good night, and good luck.

Our MSNBC coverage continues now with Rita Cosby, LIVE & 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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