Guest: Mike Wise; David Margolick; Richard Wolffe
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
Hammer time up? Tom DeLay spinning an easy win in his Texas primary, but the numbers tell a completely different story. Why it could be lights out for the Exterminator's political career.
Jack the Hat makes fun of the denials. “You're really no one in this town,” he says, “unless you haven't met me.” “Vanity Fair”'s exclusive interview with Jack Abramoff, our exclusive interview about their exclusive interview.
Bonds away. If you believe the vast and detailed allegations of steroid use by Barry Bonds, shouldn't his seven MVP awards, his single-season and career home-run records, be erased from the books? And if you can banish Pete Rose or the 1919 White Sox for crimes for which they were never convicted in court, can't you also banish Barry?
Banishment to jail or just her house, for the Tampa-area teacher who admitted to having sex with her 14-year-old student.
And images you will have a hard time believing. Five members of a Turkish family, walking exclusively on all fours. Reverse evolution?
All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
Good evening from Tampa, Florida.
H.L. Mencken said it about his fellow newsmen, but it seems to apply better today to the politicians we cover. They keep saying the same thing in the desperate hope that if they repeat it often enough, it will eventually become true.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, Tom DeLay insists that his troubled triumph yesterday in the primary for his House seat from Texas was a quick dance in the spring rain, and everybody in Washington except Mr. DeLay insists that the first time they saw Jack Abramoff was in that videotape of him wearing the black hat, the one that scares little children.
Developments tonight in both stories that suggest the following sneering quote, Yes, and Barry Bonds never used steroids.
Congressman DeLay spinning his primary victory as a landslide, vindication, he says, that his legal and ethical problems are behind him.
Not so fast, Quick Draw.
While Mr. DeLay did win decisively with 62 percent of the vote, it was his worst showing in a primary ever, the first time he has garnered less than 80 percent in any primary in the length of his career, in effect, nearly 40 percent of the Republicans in his district, some of the staunchest Republicans in the country, now turning against him, an indication that Mr. DeLay might have a hard fight ahead in the general election, as a result, our friends at “Congressional Quarterly” changing the rating for the race from Leans Republican to No Clear Favorite, the numbers also telling a different story for the president tonight, making his 10th trip to the Gulf Coast since Hurricane Katrina, in New Orleans today, saying the levees will be better than before.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just got a briefing from the Army Corps of Engineers that said we're on schedule to repair the damage by the June 1 deadline. They are identifying and correcting design and construction deficiencies. So that as we go into, into the start of the hurricane season, the levees will be equal or better than what they were before Katrina.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: That in apparent conflict with a statement in the article in today's “New Orleans Times Picayune,” which reports that the heights of the flood walls and levees now being rebuilt are based on research nearly half a century old, the calculations based on data from 1959, not updated when new research in the 1970s increased the size and intensity of a worst-case scenario storm.
As the political storms continue, time to call in, as we often do, “Newsweek”'s White House correspondent, Richard Wolffe.
Good evening, Richard.
RICHARD WOLFFE, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE: Good
OLBERMANN: Starting with Congressman DeLay, 40 percent of the reddest of Red State Republicans in his district voted against him yesterday. His Democratic challenger in the general election will be a former congressman who lost his seat as a result of the DeLay redistricting plan in Texas. Could this be just as significant for all Republicans as it appears to be for Mr. DeLay?
WOLFFE: Well, you know, I'm sure Tom DeLay is like Gloria Gaynor singing “I Will Survive.” And he has a good reason to say, look, he got 60 percent of the vote, and that's a pretty good margin.
But Tom DeLay is in a weaker position than other Republicans. And if you just compare what happened to him and President Bush in his own district in 2004, you see why. He polled about 9 points lower than Bush in his own district. And that's a problem for him. If he loses 6 or 7 points more, he's lost his seat.
And that's why this 40 percent figure is so important, to have that large a number of Republicans vote against you suggests that at least some of them may well vote for his opponent come the general election. That's a really troubling sign for him personally.
OLBERMANN: You mentioned the president turning to him and New Orleans. It was a week ago tonight that you and I were discussing the Hurricane Katrina tapes. Seven days after that, Mr. Bush, 10 trips now to the Gulf Coast since the storm, talking up today how much significant progress has been made, promising more money for more rebuilding, which is kind of ironic, because it's a Republican president throwing money at a problem again.
But is it a coincidence that the money comes, but the words don't?
WOLFFE: Well, the White House says that money was never a problem. It also says that—and quite rightly says that these kinds of trips are planned long in advance.
What matters here—the money has been out here for at least three weeks or so, especially on the housing piece of this. But what matters here are these pictures you're looking at now, because they're all framed to make the president look like a man of action. He's got his sleeves rolled up, he's speaking at a backdrop of cranes.
Even, remarkably, when he flew over the lower Ninth Ward by helicopter, normally the press flies ahead of him so that they can picture him waving as he steps off the helicopter. This time around, they let the media photograph him in his helicopter as he looked over the scene.
So all of this is the man of action, not the sort of passive, that strange, bizarre, passive video we saw of him in those pre-Katrina videos. Yes, so a lot is about image making. They do have something to trumpet and shout about, there is a lot of money on the table. But right now, this is a political problem that they're still struggling with.
OLBERMANN: Yes, and those images still indicate that all of this has happened six months after the storm itself.
Let me switch to the other big issue with the president, the Dubai
ports deal, and Congress and its fight with him. The Republicans in the
House tonight attached legislation that would block the takeover to a
supplemental budget bill. In the Senate this afternoon, the Democrat Chuck
Schumer secretly attached an amendment to the lobbying deal, so he can vote
· or the Senate can vote, he and the Senate, can vote on this ports deal.
Two questions about this. What does it mean for the White House that even his own party does not willing to be ready to wait for the 45-day review to be over? And could this backfire on the lawmakers? Are they seeming too eager, too political, maybe before all the facts are in?
WOLFFE: I'm not sure Chuck Schumer ever sees a danger in seeming too political or eager, or any—doing anything in secret, for that matter.
Look, the Congress knows that this 45-day review is a token gesture, but the administration and the company have said that it's basically irrelevant, and it isn't going to change a thing. And they're also feeling a lot of pressure from their constituents. I mean, look, the president likes to (INAUDIBLE) -- promote democracy. And this is democracy in action.
People have been calling up their members of Congress. There's 60, 70 percent disapproval for this deal. So they want to block it. And the president has basically—is watching his party go in a different direction. They're running for reelection, he's not.
OLBERMANN: “Newsweek”'s White House correspondent Richard Wolffe, with the roundup from Washington tonight. As always, sir, great thanks for your time.
WOLFFE: Any time.
OLBERMANN: One part of the Tom DeLay career rehab plan, ending his friendship with the convicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff, the former majority leader, who once called Mr. Abramoff one of his closest and dearest friends, today no longer even talking to him, many of Mr. DeLay's colleagues on Capitol Hill taking it one step further, not just not talking to Mr. Abramoff, but now insisting—pretending, perhaps—never to have known him at all, Mr. Abramoff, as you might imagine, disputing that quite vehemently, telling “Vanity Fair” magazine in an exclusive interview that he once worked very closely with some of the most powerful Republicans in Washington, despite any claims to the contrary.
Quoting Mr. Abramoff from that interview, “Any important Republican who comes out and says they did not know me is almost certainly lying. For a guy who did have—or did all these evil things that have been so widely reported, it is pretty amazing, considering I did not know anyone. You are really no one in this town unless you have not met me.”
Hard to believe, but that slim, bearded fellow on the right with Congressman DeLay is indeed Jack Abramoff.
The interview and article, the work of “Vanity Fair” contributing editor David Margolick, kind enough to join us now.
Thank you for your time tonight, sir.
DAVID MARGOLICK, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, “VANITY FAIR”: My pleasure, Keith.
OLBERMANN: From your interchange with him, how much does it appear to rankle Mr. Abramoff, anger him, perhaps, that all these politicians he used to associate with are not just distancing themselves, they're claiming never to have met him?
MARGOLICK: Well, I think it really gets under his skin. I mean, he's somebody who's generally very careful about what he says these days. He doesn't give many interviews. He's very concerned about the sentencing that he's going to get from the judge. Everything hangs in the balance. And he's a man who measures his words. But clearly, he's very annoyed when people pretend never to have met him.
OLBERMANN: Why not, then, prove that he has met them, prove his association? Certainly he could do that with the president if he released the photographs of the two of them together, even selling them for what would be a huge sum of money? Did Mr. Abramoff offer a reason to you why he has not done that, or at least has not yet done that?
MARGOLICK: Well, this is an interesting thing. I mean, despite everything, Jack Abramoff is still a very partisan man. He's a partisan Republican. And when the Democrats said they were going to make great hay out of any White House picture showing him with Bush, he promptly changed his mind about selling the pictures. He was originally tempted to do it, but he instantly decided that, you know, why give aid and comfort to the enemy? So he decided not to do it.
I mean, another interesting dimension to that is that he would not get to keep the money, any money that he made from the pictures. There was—there were offers in the low seven figures for these pictures, but the money would go to the Indians, who are owed restitution under Abramoff's plea agreement.
OLBERMANN: Now, as to this other symbolism here, as we're seeing again with this endless videotape, and the hats and the weight gain, hat—did he, did he talk about this, about the 50-pound weight gain and the, and the, the wearing the black fedora to, to court that day, that, that, that this becomes his image? Did, did, did this come up in your conversations with him?
MARGOLICK: Well, we talked about it a lot, because the symbolism in this case is very important. I mean, the weight gain, I think, is personally very embarrassing to him. This is a seriously physical fit guy, generally. I mean, he was a weight lifter in high school, he set records that stood in his high school for many, many years. He's somebody who has always taken care of himself, and he's gone to seed. And I think he's embarrassed by that.
The black hat business is really kind of a bum rap. And on this, I feel very sympathetic to him. He's an Orthodox Jew, he's been an Orthodox Jew for 40 years, or almost 40 years. Orthodox Jews cover their heads when they go out, they wear yarmulkes or they wear hats. And in fact, he put on a black hat because he thought that wearing a yarmulke would subject him to charges that he was excessively and recently pious.
So he put on his black rain hat instead, and he got pilloried for it. And I think it's really—that part of, that part of it all is rather a bum rap.
OLBERMANN: And the way you phrase it, it certainly sounds that way.
MARGOLICK: Well, you know, in fact, he didn't, you know, he didn't subject his clothing to a focus group. He put on what was in the closet.
OLBERMANN: Let me ask you about this upcoming sentencing. You wrote in the article that, quote, “The best guess is that Abramoff will be sentenced in a year or two and spend at least a few years behind bars.” But since your article, closed, there were changing events in this, a judge Monday refused to delay the sentencing by more than to weeks, it's going to go to the 29th of this month, even though the lawyers for both sides favored a longer delay, Mr. Abramoff's lawyer now threatening to name names unless the sentencing is in fact postponed.
And two questions are necessary about that. Do you feel the Jack Abramoff you met is ready to follow through on his lawyer's threat to sell out, even though those are his fellow Republicans, get those names out there completely? And would Mr. Abramoff be adequately prepared for the possible long prison term might begin sooner rather than later?
MARGOLICK: Well, Jack Abramoff at this point doesn't have a lot of cards to play. I mean, basically, he's exchanging all of the information he knows for a more lenient sentence. And I don't think anything is going to deter him from that.
I mean, the reason that this—these events in Miami throw things off is because the prosecutors and Abramoff have a deal. And if there's kind of a maverick judge in Miami, as opposed to the sentencing judge, the other sentencing judge, in Washington, it could throw a monkey wrench into the whole deal.
But Jack Abramoff's deal requires him to talk, and talk freely and fulsomely, and that's what he's doing.
OLBERMANN: David Margolick, whose interview with Jack Abramoff appears in the latest issue of “Vanity Fair” and is a must-read, as anybody who follows politics will tell you. Many thanks for your time tonight, sir.
MARGOLICK: My pleasure, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Also tonight, the latest in the Alabama church burnings. Three young men under arrest. It was not about the religion, it was not about the race. Their motive seems almost unbelievable in its simplicity.
And news from here in the Tampa Bay area, the teacher who pleaded guilty to having had sex with her then-14-year-old student is back in court. Why both the defense and the prosecution are fighting to keep Deborah LeFevre (ph) out of prison.
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: When a series of fires destroyed or damaged nine Baptist churches in Alabama last month, it did not appear that the burnings were racially motivated.
Now, in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, three college students have been arrested there. And in a very real sense, their motivation proves to have been even more disturbing. Nothing racial, nothing religious. They just like to see buildings burn.
And as our correspondent Don Teague reports, they were caught literally by the tracks they left behind.
DON TEAGUE, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The fires hit nine rural Alabama churches last month sparked a wave of fear across the state. But tonight, three Birmingham college students are under arrest, charged with arson and conspiracy.
TROY KING, ALABAMA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Because of their work, what we have today is a reign of terror.
TEAGUE: According to a federal complaint filed today, 20-year-old Matthew Floyd and 19-year-olds Russell Lee Debusque (ph), Jr., and Benjamin Nathan Mosely (ph), were out shooting deer on the night of February 2. They were driving in Floyd's SUV when they set fire to two churches, then went on to torch three more.
JIM CAVANAUGH, ATF AGENT IN CHARGE: After they lit the first two fires in Biff (ph) County, that it became too spontaneous after they saw the fire trucks and the lights, it became very spontaneous. That's in the complaint, that's indicative of an excite-and-thrill motive.
TEAGUE: Four nights later, according to the complaint, they burned four more churches in what Mosely told investigators was a diversion.
(on camera): But police weren't thrown off the trail, because the suspects' SUV left tire tracks at six of the crime scenes.
CARL TRUSCOTT, ATF DIRECTOR: There some tire tracks and some impressions that did lead us to the successful conclusion in this case.
TEAGUE: The tires were B.F. Goodrich brand, like this one. ATF investigators traced the purchase of those tires to Matthew Floyd's mother, which led them to him. Today, at the remains of Ashby Baptist Church, Pastor Jim Parker was both relieved and saddened.
PASTOR JIM PARKER, ASHBY BAPTIST CHURCH: I really feel bad for them and their families. And our prayers and concerns go out for them.
TEAGUE: If convicted, the suspects could face at least five years in prison for each fire, all for what one of the men allegedly told a witness was a joke that got out of hand.
Don Teague, NBC News, Brierfield (ph), Alabama.
OLBERMANN: Also tonight, what happens when an amateur biker tries a 50-foot jump stunt? All right, quick refresher course. This is not what they mean when they say stick the landing.
Speaking of crashing, at baseball spring training, the revelations about Barry Bonds and steroids eliciting almost no surprise, and almost no on-the-record comments, though the commissioner has just spoken. Now, the question is, should Barry Bonds be banished, and his records erased?
That's ahead as COUNTDOWN continues from Tampa.
OLBERMANN: We have received literally thousands of e-mails over the last three nights complaining about our new set for the show. And by literally thousands, I mean nearly 30. Apparently I'm not doing a good enough job reminding you that we're coming to you live from Tampa, Florida, this week. This is a temporary situation. We'll be back at home on the regular set on Monday, if I feel like it.
And meanwhile, the guy who designed this set is crying now. So I hope you 30 kvetches are happy.
Let's play Oddball.
We begin with scary video from Bike Week in Samsula (ph), Florida. A stunt man making a 50-foot jump on a motorcycle today missed the landing ramp on the way down and crashed. The rider, a member of the Ball of Steel Stunt Show, was taken to a local hospital and is in stable condition. The incident occurred at Supotnick's (ph) Cabbage Patch in front of a crowd of thousands who had gathered for the annual Coleslaw Wrestling event.
Coleslaw wrestling? Oh, we'll definitely be looking into that.
There is no time like the present. Yes, it is a major draw, the Bike Week, each year. Amateur women wrestlers going at it in a double-elimination tournament in a giant vat of shredded cabbage, mayonnaise, and various delectable seasonings. The winners here go on to the finals in London on Saturday.
No, that's—they're actually here in Florida. Let's just hope the slaw keeps till Saturday.
You know what goes great with coleslaw? Lobster. Well, maybe not this one. This is either Kiwa hirsuta (ph), a new species of lobster discovered in 7,000 feet of water off Easter Island, or Bubba the Lobster's relatives have squandered their inheritance on fur coats and bling-bling.
Finally, to the Upshire (ph) County Courthouse in West Virginia, where security cameras have captured a new species of dumb criminal, the Zabolatni. Twenty-eight-year-old Sarah Zabolatni had just paid a speeding ticket on her way out of the courthouse. She stole the rug from the courthouse lobby. Mercy. Didn't even wait for the other guy to get out of the room. Police say she had the thing in her home. They add, it really tied the room together.
She was charged with petty larceny and sentenced to five days in the Big House.
(INAUDIBLE) Florida judge not far from here wants to pull the rug out from under the wishes of Deborah LeFevre and the family of her victim that she stay out of jail. The latest on this tawdry relationship between teacher and student.
And no, they have not all lost their contact lenses. A family in Turkey seems to be showing no less than a genetic mutation. It's a mutation that could hold no less than the key to human evolution.
Those stories ahead.
But now, here are COUNTDOWN's top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, the Cedar City, Utah, Police Department, evidence room there had been plagued by thefts of seized of marijuana several times over recent months, 23 pounds of pot vanishing since October. They have a suspect in custody, the 17-year-old son of one of the officers. He'd been sneaking Daddy's keys. How long did it take you to figure that out?
Number two, Mrs. Sally Ball of Battle Creek, Michigan. Says she was horrified to pick up the newspaper to read the details of a Girls Gone Wild event in her town recently, not just because of the lurid details of the wet T-shirt contest, et cetera, not just because her two sons were in attendance, but because she and her husband bought the tickets to it for the boys as a birthday gift. The sons had requested that gift. They told Mom and Dad it was a rock concert.
Girls Gone Wild, a rock concert.
Number one, editors of “Portsmouth” magazine in New Hampshire. Last month was the magazine's most-eligible-bachelor issue. Featured as the cover boy, 26-year-old Jared (ph) Hogan is, quote, “every woman's dream guy.” (INAUDIBLE) couple things here. He's been arrested a few times for DWI, driving on a suspended license, reckless conduct, DWI again, criminal mischief. Oh, and according to Mr. Hogan himself, he's gay. But other than that, ladies, this is the total package.
OLBERMANN: Three-and-a-half months ago in this very city of Tampa, former teacher Debra Lafave escaped jail time by pleading guilty to having had sex with her then 14-year-old student. Our third story in the COUNTDOWN, she tried to get exactly the same kind of deal today in another courthouse about 97 miles north of here in Ocala. But this time, as our correspondent Kerry Sanders reports, the judge wouldn't swallow it.
KERRY SANDERS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Every time 25-year-old Debra Lafave comes and goes from a courthouse, there is a crowd, cameras, reporters, the curious. And therein lies the rub, say Florida prosecutors.
MARTIN LAZORITZ, CHILD PSYCHIATRIST: She was very anxious dangerous what had happened, his anxiety was compounded by the media coverage.
SANDERS: A leading state psychiatrist says if Lafave's alleged 15-year-old victim is forced to testify about their sexual contact, it could add to his emotional damage.
LAZORITZ: No, I don't know that he needs counseling right now. He needs to be able to play basketball in anonymity.
SANDERS: Wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet next to her stiletto heels, the former Tampa school teacher came to court today hoping for a plea deal. Three years community control, seven years probation. No prison time.
Lafave already struck the same deal on the same charges of having sex with the same student in nearby Tampa. In this case both the prosecutor and the defense say avoiding a full-blown trial is in the best interest of the victim.
The boy's mother says it is why she agreed to the first plea deal.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And if we had continued along this path, this would follow him forever. And my prayer is that he can leave this behind him.
SANDERS: But the judge in the second case says he's not sure that serves justice.
JUDGE HALE STANCIL, FLORIDA CIRCUIT COURT: The witnesses in most cases do not enjoy testifying. Rarely does one find a witness who enjoys testifying in a court before a jury and being cross-examined by the opposite attorney.
SANDERS: Some say the way Debra Lafave is being treated raises an ugly double standard in the court system, that were she a man and her victim a young girl, there would be no plea deal.
(on camera): But prosecutors say that's just not true. They say in the last year there have been in this district 150 similar sexual offender cases, 40 percent, they say, pled out allowing the guilty to avoid prison and the victims to avoid testifying.
(voice-over): In about a week, the judge says he will decide if Debra Lafave can join that 40 percent or if she should stand trial. If convicted and sentenced under Florida law, she could get 16 years in prison.
Kerry Sanders, NBC News, Ocala, Florida.
OLBERMANN: It's not here in Florida but rather in California where another potential child molester is actually behind bars thanks to a group of teenage boys. They stung him while they were really trying to prank one of their own friends. They set up a fake Weblog pretending to be a 15-year-old girl to try to lure in one of their buds who had recently been dumped by his girlfriend.
Instead, as Peter Alexander reports tonight, they lured in an online predator.
PETER ALEXANDER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was intended as a harmless online prank, but it led high school freshman Mitch Arafinian (ph) face to face with a suspected sexual predator.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It says: “If you want to know anything else just ask and I'll tell you.
ALEXANDER: Using the popular teen (ph) networking Web site myspace.com, the boys created a profile for a make believe girl they named Jessica.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Blond, she was 15, she was a sophomore, and she was pretty hot. She was the ideal girl for like any high school guy.
ALEXANDER: The boy's goal, to have the made-up Jessica flirt with one of their friends trying to get over a broken heart.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To prove to him that there was more fish in the sea, that there is more than one girl.
ALEXANDER: But police say they ran into a shark, 48-year-old Michael Ramos.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: “Who I would like to meet? you,” he says.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Scary (ph).
ALEXANDER: Ramos began sexually propositioning Jessica, unaware he was actually e-mailing teenage boys.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we just went along with it and we set up a meeting with him in the park.
ALEXANDER: This park, in broad daylight.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We really didn't even expect him to show.
ALEXANDER: But Ramos did.
SGT. WILLIAM MEGENNEY, FONTANA POLICE DEPT.: Thank God these kids had the forethought to give the police department a call and explained what was occurring.
ALEXANDER: Officers arrested Ramos. He's now behind bars facing a felony charge for an attempted lewd act with a child. And he's not alone. Just last week the FBI arrested two men. The first federal sexual assault charges involving minors on MySpace.
Internet safety experts say it's a wake-up call for kids and their parents.
STEVE DEWARNS, WWW.INTERNETCHILDSAFETY.NET: Social networking sites have made it real easy for predators to come into contact with children because children are posting up personal information about themselves.
ALEXANDER: A lesson not lost on these teens.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You go on there and talk to your friends but sometimes they are not really your friends. They could be anybody.
ALEXANDER: Peter Alexander, NBC News, Rancho Cucamonga, California.
OLBERMANN: And tonight, what is presumably more proof that child molestation can and does happen to absolutely anyone. The actress Teri Hatcher of “Desperate Housewives” says she's breaking a 35-year silence, admitting that she was abused by a family member when she was very young.
In an interview with Vanity Fair magazine, Ms. Hatcher says her uncle molested her for three or four years beginning when she was only 5. She never told anyone about the molestation until she found out that she had not been the only one he touched.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LESLIE BENNETTS, VANITY FAIR: Three-and-half years ago, her parents were moving out of their house and having a garage sale. And her mother showed Teri some clippings from the local paper which revealed that her uncle, who by then was divorced from her aunt, had been arrested and charged with child molestation because the girl next door had killed herself and had named him as the reason.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Realizing that she had to make sure her uncle went to jail, Teri Hatcher went to the local district attorney's office. The sex crimes prosecutor says the case would have been dismissed if she had not come forward with her account of her victimization. Her uncle eventually pleaded guilty to four counts of molestation and was sentenced to 14 years in prison. Teri Hatcher told Vanity Fair she did not speak of the case until now because she did not want anyone to think she might be using the case to promote her career, which three years ago was in significant decline.
A different kind of family drama, half a world away, scientists studying siblings in Turkey who walk on all fours. This is not some sort of gimmick. Might it be evidence of evolution in reverse?
This might be. Donald Trump's take on his own daughter, something you never want to hear a dad say about his own kid. Not even—well, not “you're fired,” not “you're adopted.” Details ahead on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: It has been 147 years since Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of Species.” A Gallup poll today reporting that more than half of Americans still believe man was created exactly as described in the Bible. A traveling Darwin exhibition has been having trouble finding sponsors who aren't afraid associating with the great scientist will alienate other people.
Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, a discovery that would appear to fly in the face of that poll, five brothers and sisters in Turkey who spent their entire lives walking on all fours.
As our correspondent Donna Friesen reports, the scientific community is abuzz, but whether this is a breakthrough in the study of human evolution or merely an anomaly is still being hotly debated.
DONNA FRIESEN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In remote corner of rural Turkey live the Luch (ph) family, 16 children, five of whom walk like this. Discovered last year, they have triggered a fierce debate. Are they evidence of backward evolution?
It's been 3 million years since our ape-like ancestors developed the ability to walk upright, and some scientists believe the Luch children have reverted to an instinctive behavior deeply encoded in the brain but abandoned in the course of evolution.
This Turkish scientist is doing genetic tests on the siblings. “We hope it will shed light,” he says, “on the genetic story of what helped humans to move from crawling to walking.”
Unlike gorillas and chimps which walk on their knuckles, the Turkish siblings use their heavily calloused palms as heels, keeping their fingers angled up from the ground. And though they are certainly unique, some experts doubt it is any revolutionary.
PROF. OSMAN DEMIRHAN, CUKUROVA UNIVERSITY, TURKEY: It would certainly be wrong and simplistic to look at these people and say, wow, we have discovered something that's going to tell us a lot about where we came from.
FRIESEN: More likely, they believe, a unique genetic mutation like the so-called wolf boys in Mexico who were covered head to toe with thick hair.
DEMIRHAN: These potentially can be ancient genes that are just flying around in our genome and then pop up every so often when the right—or maybe the wrong pair of people get together and have a baby.
FRIESEN: The children are mentally handicapped and have limited language skills. “They tried to start walking at 10 months,” says their mother, “but began using their hands and never walked normally after that.”
At home they're just part of the family. But to the world and to scientists they have become a source of wonder.
Donna Friesen, NBC News, London.
OLBERMANN: From missing links perhaps to musical chairs perhaps, in our nightly round-up of celebrity and entertainment news, “Keeping Tabs.” And ABC's Diane Sawyer has reportedly set her sights only “World News Tonight.” The co-anchor of “Good Morning America” has told both friends and colleagues that she wants to host the evening newscast full-time. She has already been substituting for the injured co-anchor, Bob Woodruff.
All this according to the celebrity Web site tmz.com, which says that Ms. Sawyer is convinced that Katie Couric of NBC's “THE TODAY SHOW” will jump networks to anchor “The CBS Evening News.” Ms. Sawyer reportedly wants to make her own move and become the first full-time solo woman anchor first.
GMA co-anchor Charles Gibson, who came close to getting the evening news slot, and has substituted for Bob Woodruff, is unhappy about Ms. Sawyer's intentions. That also according to TMZ.
As for “World News Tonight” co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas, due to leave the newscast for maternity leave some time later this year, she has been said to have been asking a lot of questions.
Onto the more pedestrian, a temporary restraining order sought by David Hasselhoff's estranged wife against the former “Baywatch” star. This is like the lead news story in Germany tonight. Tmz.com reporting this one, as well, that Pamela Hasselhoff asked an L.A. superior court judge for that restraining order on Monday.
The judge did not grant it but did order Pamela and David Hasselhoff to stay away from each other. The court papers are confidential, however, because they contained detailed mental health information. The couple filed for divorce in January. No word about who will get custody of KITT.
Meantime, multiple divorcee Donald Trump providing us with tonight's ick factor, joking that he might date his own daughter if he were not her father. Trump appeared with his 24-year-old daughter Ivanka on ABC's “The View” and was asked how he would react if she showed up in Playboy magazine.
“It would really be disappointing,” he said, “not really, but it would depend on what's inside the magazine.” He added, “I don't think Ivanka would do that, although she does have a very nice figure. I've said if Ivanka weren't my daughter, perhaps I would be dating her.” Trump's representative said that “The Apprentice” star was absolutely joking.
Nobody on the spring training field where I was at today was joking about Barry Bonds. On the other hand, nobody seemed surprised about Bonds and steroids. Now, now what? Should he be banished from basketball forever and forced to take his records with him? That's ahead.
First, time for COUNTDOWN's list of today's nominees for “Worst Person in the World.”
At the bronze level, city officials in Cape Coral, Florida, apparently did nothing to answer the repeated complaints of resident Robert Paine (ph) about the, quote, “public copulation” in the parking lot next to his house. Mr. Paine was so disgusted by the activity and the used contraceptives that he picked them all up and planted a condom garden on the main street. He's gotten their attention.
Tonight's runner up, Dolores Smith (ph), hotel maid in Charleston, South Carolina, arrested after a fight with another made that started in the laundry room reportedly over the last roll of toilet paper. It spilled out into the parking lot. Smith was armed with a mop. The other employee only had a plunger.
But the winner, James R. Hood (ph) of Granville, Ohio, arrested for making obscene phone calls in the middle of the night, 2,630 of them in 20 days. to random people in eight different countries. Now this sounds like a job for FOX security. James R. Hood, today's “Worst Person in the World.”
OLBERMANN: It is certainly one of the 10 most quoted bits of movie dialogue ever, the most when the context is the absurdity of the denial by somebody involved by wrong-doing. “I'm shocked,” says Claude Rains, portraying Captain Renault, shutting down Rick's Bar in the film “Casablanca,” “shocked to find that gambling is going in here.” That's when the great actor Marcel Dalio, as the croupier, hands Rains a pile of money. “Your winnings, sir.” “Thank you very much,” Rains whispers.
Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, it's the day the book excerpt hit the magazine racks, the one in which enough evidence of steroid use is presented to convict a baseball player 10 times the strength of Barry Bonds. Oh sorry, Barry Bonds is the player with 10 times the strength of Barry Bonds.
The reaction? Bonds' former manager didn't know there were that many kinds of steroids and asked, what am I? A detective? He is now, Dusty Baker, the lead candidate for the Claude Rains role if they ever remake Casablanca. On newsstands and in mailboxes today, the latest issue of Sports Illustrated, including an extensive except from “Game of Shadows,” the book by San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, which details Bonds' steroids spiral.
Reaction to the publication largely no comment as baseball, the industry, begins to consider what to do with the player closing in on two historic milestones: Babe Ruth's epic 714 career homers, and the actual record of 755 held by Hank Aaron.
Bonds, at the Giants training camp in Arizona adding little to his initial reaction yesterday when he said of the book, quote: “I won't even look at it. For what? There is no need to.” He did post on his official Web site today a brief statement. “I want to thank you for all your e-mails and the words of support and encouragement yesterday. I continue to be focused about this spring and the upcoming season. Later, Barry Bonds.”
Then there was that Casablancian reaction to the excerpt from the Chicago Cubs manager, Dusty Baker, who formerly managed Bonds in San Francisco for 11 years. “I read it, man. I was lost. I didn't even know there were that many kinds of steroids. I've even seen steroids. I didn't even know what kinds of steroids or steroids other than the kinds you used to fight allergies. I was quite surprised with the detail that was in there.”
Your winnings, sir: two divisional titles, a wild card, a National League championship, and three manager of the year awards while with Bonds in San Francisco. A great man, Dusty Baker, but this is an unfortunate comment.
Late this afternoon, Baseball commissioner Bud Selig made his first comment on the story, telling a news conference, quote, that there would be an investigation. “I will review all the material that is relative in every way. Obviously we have only seen part of things, but we will review everything there is to look at. At some appropriate time I will have further comment, but until that point in time, I will have no further comment. This story has just happened, I want to be very careful as to how I respond.”
Bonds continues to deny having intentionally used illegal performance-enhancing drugs. It is unlikely we will see an 11th-hour confession, sort of the larger question facing baseball, even if Bonds plays as infrequently as he did last season when he was purportedly injured, he will pass Ruth, if he's healthy he could wind up owning the all-time home run record. What happens then?
Bonds has never been a popular player. He has always been crowd-pleaser, packing stadiums at home and away, but even that tide has seemingly turned. News today that Bonds is getting death threats regarding his continued pursuit of those home run records.
How does baseball remedy baseball, the game? Let me call in the expertise of Washington Post sports columnist Mike Wise.
Good evening, Mike.
MIKE WISE, SPORTS COLUMNIST, THE WASHINGTON POST: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Bud Selig today at that news conference also said that if he had a choice, “I would go and have a root canal job.” We have got that remark. We have got fans who seem no longer to be behind Bonds. What happens now? Is there a conversation with Bonds and Selig? Does Bonds suddenly retire? How is this going to play out?
WISE: I think if you're Bud Selig, you have to bring Barry Bonds into the Major League baseball offices and have a conversation that you might have had with Pete Rose at some point, which is, if you come clean, nobody is going to say boo. Everybody gets a second chance in this country and you can go and you do not have to be ridiculed at every ballpark in America, other than Pac Bell.
If you don't, guess what, you should retire because you are really hurting the game of baseball.
OLBERMANN: The last two days at the ballparks I was at, there was among the players, managers, executives that I talked to obviously no surprise about this, none whatsoever. Also nobody willing to talk except Dusty Baker and he probably should have kept quiet.
But what I heard was kind of calm resignation. Yes, Barry's got to go. He had some defenders, but not many. Does that jibe with what you heard and does baseball have the collective will to make did happen, whatever way it needs to have happen?
WISE: I do think they still have a strong player's union and the idea that they could force somehow Bonds' retirement won't happen. But I also believe for the good of the game, I mean, some of the players, some of the player representatives have to get to Barry Bonds in some way and say, you know, these guys have got you in this book. Mark Fainaru-Wada is a wonderful reporter, so is Lance Williams, they have got you in this book, and the people who have been breaking news on this all year.
He was using enough steroids to supply all of East Germany in the '80s, Keith. I don't know if you saw some of the list.
WISE: And I've got to think to myself, if you can't prove that you are innocent in this case, well, you really have got to consider retiring or coming clean. I think there is only two things to do.
OLBERMANN: The records, especially given his nearness to the home run record, there is precedent for—people asked me about this, and I said, well, you know, there is precedent for at least ignoring old records. And guy named Tip O'Neill hit .492 in 1887, they counted walks as hits that year. Nobody considers that the record. There was a pitcher who struck out more than 500 men in one season when the pitchers were 10 feet closer, nobody considers that the record. They are still in the records books, but they are ignored.
Is that what's going to happen here with Bonds? Are there asterisks? Are there pre-interleague play records that go to Roger Maris? What do we do about the records?
WISE: It's a tough one. You know, my heart told me that you put an asterisk there, you make sure that people know that this was the steroid generation, and anybody that's been proven to have used steroids in either grand jury testimony or otherwise, you put names to it. My head tells me that you can't cast aspersions on a whole generation of players because a few guys used syringes and pills to hit their balls out of the park.
I've got to think that at some point Barry Bonds is going to be publicly humiliated enough that whatever asterisk, whatever actions baseball could take really wouldn't matter because the bottom line is people know he used to achieve these records. And I think if you are Hank Aaron, you can't show up at his hall of fame induction ceremony.
OLBERMANN: What do you do and how do you answer this one, which I got this 55 times today at the ballpark? Not convicted of anything, very often in his—the time in his career these things were not illegal, not tested positive for these things. What do we do? Invoke the fact that the 1919 White Sox were never convicted of anything either?
WISE: Right. Shoeless Joe still deserves to be in the hall. I don't know. That's a tough one. I just think that Barry Bonds didn't take anybody's children, he didn't kick anybody's dog. He did cheat the game, I feel at this point, and I don't think that—you know, I don't think you can look at him the same ever again. And if you do, then you are lying to yourself about how those balls got out of the park.
OLBERMANN: Yes or no, that's about all the time I'll have for the answer to this question. Would you agree with me, if you are the commissioner of baseball, you throw him out if he won't go and say, go ahead, sue us, we will get a restraining order?
WISE: No, I can't throw him out of baseball. I just couldn't. I'm sorry. Are you mad at me, Keith?
OLBERMANN: No, I'm not, but you're wrong. Mike Wise of The Washington Post, who is usually right, great, thanks for your time.
WISE: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: That's COUNTDOWN for this, the 1,042nd day since the declaration of “mission accomplished” in Iraq. I'm Keith Olbermann. Keep your knees loose. Good night and good luck.
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