Guests: Richard Wolffe, Paul F. Tompkins; Tom DeFrank
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
The acronym of the week, ISG, the Iraq Study Group, James Baker‘s committee, meets today with the administration. Will it be a study in how to get out of Iraq fast while saving face?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I‘m not sure what the report is going to say. I‘m looking forward to seeing it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: But are the hawks and doves realigning?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA: I believe that there are a lot of things that we can do to salvage this, but they all require the presence of additional troops.
SEN. CARL LEVIN (D): We cannot save the Iraqis from themselves.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
OLBERMANN: Richard Wolffe on the politics, General Barry McCaffrey on the logistics, and Tom DeFrank on the administration of Bush 43 suddenly looking like a lot like the administration of Bush 41. Is it father knows best, or make room for Daddy?
The new Congress, the new speaker has her first new fight. She wants Jack Murtha as the majority leader, but Steny Hoyer may have more chits to call in.
And it will be Senator Feingold. He will not run for president.
Washington‘s Martin Luther King Memorial, long overdue, finally getting underway.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FORMER PRES. BILL CLINTON: If he were here, he would remind us that the time remains ripe to do right.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The arrest in the white powder case. The feds think they have the guy who sent threats to Pelosi, Letterman, Stewart, even here.
Wondering what happened to the deer for whom trick or treating went so horribly wrong? There‘s breaking news.
And what do you do when you have no celebrity marriage, no talent, no fans, and no real money coming from the prenup? Kevin Federline plays the I have a Britney Spears sex tape card.
All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
This country‘s politics, especially about Iraq, were bizarre enough after the electorate disproved Isaac Newton and shut off all the gravity last week.
But now, in our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, it‘s all gotten curiouser still. The Bush administration‘s chief remaining ally is seeking what is still probably unthinkable in the White House, help from Syria and Iran. The president‘s new partners in the Democratic Congress are seeking a formal phased withdrawal of American troops, to begin as early as March. And the man who hopes to lead the president‘s party in a little over two years wants to send in more troops.
Back at the ranch, the president and his chief advisers were meeting with men they hope brought with them the political parachutes out of this mess, the Iraq Study Group. It‘s headed by Bush 41‘s secretary of state, James Baker. Some of the commission‘s findings already leaked out, like the withdrawal or redeployment the Democrats want. We‘re getting help from the neighborhood, which the British, as of tonight, now want.
But the final document is not due until the end of the month.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: I‘m not going to prejudge the Baker commission‘s report. I was pleased to meet with them. I was impressed by the quality of the—of their membership. I was impressed by the questions they asked. They‘re—they‘re—they, they want us to succeed in Iraq, just like I want to succeed. And so we had a really good discussion.
I‘m not sure what the report is going to say. I‘m looking forward to seeing it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: British Prime Minister Blair slated to address the Iraq Study Group tomorrow, while tonight, he‘s already implementing one of its possible solutions, asking Iran and Syria to help stabilize Iraq and crack down on terrorism in the region.
Back here, the incoming majority floating that redeployment option, Democrats Carl Levin and Joe Biden advocating a phased withdrawal from Iraq, starting within four to six months. The White House refused to comment on that idea, despite repeated pressing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID GREGORY, NBC CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: There‘s a serious idea on the table that‘s not just Carl Levin, it‘s others within the Democratic Party. It is a serious idea. It‘s one that presumably the Iraq Study Group is studying. And that is the notion of a phased withdrawal with some benchmarks. Is the president opposed to that, or supportive of that?
TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Like I said, as I said, what are the benchmarks?
GREGORY: I‘m asking you a question.
SNOW: No, no, no. I (INAUDIBLE), I just made the point that what you have is something that‘s nonspecific. So what are the benchmarks? I think if you—see, this is why I‘m not going to answer the question (INAUDIBLE).
GREGORY: I‘m asking you a direct question, which is—
SNOW: No, I‘m giving you a direct answer. Let me do it, and then you can come back at me, OK?
GREGORY: (INAUDIBLE), you‘re interrupting the thought. You‘re asking me questions. I‘m asking you a direct question. There is an idea on the table that is not willy-nilly, that is not opaque. It is specific. It is the idea of phased troop withdrawal that Republicans and Democrats have referred to, that has behind it the notion of pressuring the Iraqi government. Yes, there are details to be worked out, but it is still a proposition that is a serious—
Oh, you can laugh. I mean, I don‘t know how many people in the public think that‘s a funny idea.
The point is, this a serious point, and you either have a position, or you don‘t. Is the position of the president that he has no position on it?
SNOW: No, the position is, as I think I succeeded in making the point when I asked you what the benchmarks were, and were you said you didn‘t know. You give me a proposal that‘s got something to react to.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Another proposal the White House has yet to react to, even though it‘s been suggested for more than three years, that of 2008 presidential hopeful Senator John McCain, who has reiterated his call for more troops in Iraq.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MCCAIN: ... that a withdrawal, or a date for withdrawal, will lead to chaos in the region, and most military experts think the same thing. I believe that there are a lot of things that we can do to salvage this, but they all require the presence of additional troops.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: In a moment, the military assessment of whether any of those plans could work from General Barry McCaffrey.
First, the politics of it all, and I‘m joined by “Newsweek‘”s chief White House correspondent, MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe.
Richard, good evening. Thanks for your time.
RICHARD WOLFFE, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE:
Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: We‘ll divide into its components in a moment.
But as a lump thing, the White House must feel like it‘s fighting four wars in Iraq, not just one. Is the real battle there, plus more troops from McCain, or fewer from the Democrats, or the British talking about Iran and Syria, did this get more complicated for the White House today?
WOLFFE: It‘s getting more complex all the time, of course. Look, internationally, it was never simple. The British position was always actually closer to the French. It was more of a sort of deep, dirty secret there in the runup to the war. They wanted inspections, they wanted another resolution.
But set aside the international side of things for a minute which the White House has always known was difficult. At home, it‘s the domestic contours. The politics has changed so much. Until now, they thought the Democrats stood for defeat and the Republicans stood for victory.
But, of course, the voters didn‘t buy it last week. And what you‘re seeing here are two new forces emerging. The Democrats obviously feeling newly empowered, calling for—pushing harder for these troop withdrawals. And the 2008 candidates, I mean, people are setting up their committees. They‘ve got people on the ground. They‘re trying to put distance between themselves and the White House.
That‘s a very different situation. The one positive thing for the White House is that they can try and tread a middle ground between the two, try and look like a moderating force, which is obviously not how much of the country has seen them for many years.
OLBERMANN: Well, all right, some of the individual parts, from Senator Levin, and he wants to wait for the Iraq Study Group recommendations as well, and he also wants the Pentagon assessment on Iraq before he puts any resolution to start a withdrawal process in Iraq. Is all that going to come in that short window that they—that they‘re talking about? Is four to six months a pipe dream?
WOLFFE: No, it‘s not a pipe dream at all. Levin doesn‘t obviously control the timetable here. But he can be very influential, not just because he can launch investigations into contracts, but, you know, these senators are influential with the (INAUDIBLE) with the uniformed leaders in the Pentagon.
And—but the real influence here is with Jim Baker and his study group. And everybody thinks that there are going to be moves from—inspired by Baker and approved by the White House that will lead to some redeployment. Not absolute full withdrawal, not even the start of it, but some redeployment within a reasonable time frame. So four to six months isn‘t a pipe dream.
OLBERMANN: You mentioned the dirty little secret about Blair and Britain being, possibly from the beginning, closer to France‘s position than to the U.S. position. What has changed now with his comment in full-dress clothing tonight about Syria and Iran? Did the British just to some degree break away from the Bush policy about Iraq?
WOLFFE: Yes, we don‘t all dress like that over there, you know.
Did they break away? Yes, they have been closer to Syria all the way through. Look, Bashir Assad, who, incidentally, trained as an optometrist in London, he has been to Downing Street, he knows Blair, Blair knows him. They‘ve always been much more open with the channel there, and they don‘t take the same sort of good and evil view of some of these players. And been more (INAUDIBLE) -- more realistic view all the way through.
But I suspect Blair is hearing the same things about Baker. Look, these are two leaders who are in close contact, and I‘d be amazed if Blair didn‘t know this was coming down the pike through the Baker channel, and through what the administration is planning for itself.
OLBERMANN: All right, realistic views. Is what Senator McCain suggested more true to realistic at this, at this point? Or is that a—you mentioned the 2008 candidates—did he just set himself up as the Republican Party‘s Cassandra here, the one who can come back later and say, See, my idea was good, you never tried it, I should have been listened to all along?
OLBERMANN: Is that really the first campaign speech of the 2008 campaign?
WOLFFE: “I told you so” is a great slogan. But actually, an even better thing is what McCain said about Bush in 2000, which was that he thought the then-Texas governor had learned his foreign policy at the International House of Pancakes.
You know, McCain is going to be independent, he‘s going to be aggressive. And, look, yes, it‘s not a politically realistic thing to do, but it‘s certainly hawkish, and it puts him on a different track—tack from the White House. So I can see why it makes sense for him.
OLBERMANN: Flip-flop flapjacks at the I-Hop. Our own Richard Wolffe, chief White House correspondent of “Newsweek” magazine. As always, sir, great thanks for your time.
WOLFFE: Any time.
OLBERMANN: For the practicality of the plans, if any, as promised, I‘m joined now by retired four-star Army general Barry McCaffrey.
Thank you for your time tonight, sir.
GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Yes, hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: I want to start with the—where we ended with Richard, McCain calling for more troops. Assuming that that‘s, on face value, a valid proposal, would it make any difference right now, relative to what either is, or almost is, a civil war in Iraq? Or is too much, too many troops too late right now?
MCCAFFREY: Well, I—two things. First of all, it‘s not feasible. You know, I was just down at Fort Hood, Texas, a week ago. One of the units there is now deploying on its fifth combat tour.
So we could surge to fight the North Koreans, or do some dramatic escalation. But steady state, we‘ve had it. There are 17 brigades there now. We‘ve got to get it down to 10 brigades. I think by Christmas, which can‘t be done. But we‘re going to absolutely start a drawdown of troop strength in Iraq.
OLBERMANN: So clearly, the Senator Levin-Senator Biden idea, the advocation of phased withdrawal, that is a political solution, not a military one, their position being that Iraqis would only stand up if they are forced to do so. Does the political one also, though, serve, in this case, as a military solution for Iraq?
MCCAFFREY: Some of this may be inside-the-Beltway politics, Keith, because, you know, at the end of day, we‘re clearly going to come out of Iraq. The American people have walked away from the war. The capacity Army and Marine Corps and Special Operations Command to sustain it, starting to run out. You know, $61 billion shortfall in Army equipment.
So the question is, how and when. I would prefer to see privately telling the Iraqi government, Here‘s our phased withdrawal, than doing it publicly. But, you know, at the end of the day, you‘ll see the Dems pushing that argument, and probably the Baker commission, Lee Hamilton‘s commission, giving them some, you know, intellectual orchestration to getting out with honor.
OLBERMANN: Yes, the parachute idea. Now, as to what Tony Blair said tonight, advocating one of these ideas that had leaked out of the Iraq Study Group initial findings, asking Syria and Iran to help in Iraq, is there logic that we‘re missing on the surface here of asking states that sponsor terrorism to, in essence, help stop terrorism next door?
MCCAFFREY: No, I think that‘s one of the big new ideas that‘ll come out of this Iraq Study Group. I hope we adopt it. I hope we have direct engagement in both Tehran and Damascus, and with the Turks and with the Saudis. We probably need a permanent, ongoing regional peace discussion hosted by the Saudis or whoever.
But we‘ve got to find a political cap to put over the military effort. We can‘t win it on the ground with U.S. combat troops. We‘ve got to resource the Iraqi security forces so they can engage. Then we got to hope that Maliki and his government have some ability to govern, which is sadly lacking right now. Basically, this administration in Iraq is largely dysfunctional.
OLBERMANN: So sum it up for me at this point, General. A White House-Congress strategy for victory defines victory as what, now?
MCCAFFREY: Well, I wince when I hear the word “victory.” What I would hope we‘d go for is a stable Iraq under the rule of law, not attacking its neighbors, not building weapons of mass destruction, and not a giant internal threat to its own people. That ought to be achievable.
It would probably take us five or more years of continued presence at some level. We certainly have to build Iraqi security forces that can do the job internally. And we got to start negotiations with Iraq‘s neighbors, and internally with the factions.
All is not lost, as Fareed Zakaria said, but right now, we‘re losing.
OLBERMANN: We‘ll see if that—those statements from Mr. Blair are an auger of things to come in the next few weeks.
Retired Army general Barry McCaffrey, MSNBC military analyst, of course. Always an honor to have you, sir.
MCCAFFREY: Good to be with you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: To fix our losses and failures in Iraq policy, do the answers for Bush 43 rest in the minds of the men who surrounded Bush 41? A new poll showing Americans favor the old man‘s approach.
And the Democrats on the Hill, as they storm D.C. to take over Congress, will there be a knockout fight for leadership positions? Or will Speaker Presumptive Pelosi keep her party united?
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: Even as the freshman representatives start to pack up for the move to D.C., even as new senators-elect meet each other for the first time, even as the new Democratic leadership tries to figure out exactly who its leaders will be, as indicated in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, it is google-eye time in Washington. For every eyeball fixed on 2006, the one next to it is looking at 2008.
Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani the latest GOP contender to join the race for the top job today, filing papers to create a presidential exploratory committee to look at his chances. John McCain reportedly filed similar papers last week.
One potential opponent neither would be facing, Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin. He announced over the weekend, he will not be seeking the Democratic nomination for president, choosing instead to focus on Capitol Hill.
And as our correspondent Chip Reid reports, there is sill plenty to do in Congress even before the current session runs out.
CHIP REID, NBC CAPITOL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Together for the first time today, the Democratic senators-elect are a diverse group, from Jim Webb of Virginia, a Vietnam vet and former Republican, to Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who calls himself a Democratic Socialist, to Jon Tester, a flat-topped Montana farmer and butcher.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: To see them all together is joy beyond my ability to comprehend.
REID: In the House, though, Democrats returned not to unity, but to a battle between Steny Hoyer of Maryland and John Murtha of Pennsylvania to be majority leader next year, the number two position.
Number one, the speaker, is expected to be Nancy Pelosi, who, in a weekend surprise, formally endorsed her old friend Murtha, even though Hoyer is the front runner.
(on camera): But Democrats don‘t take over till January. For the rest of this year, this will be a Republican-controlled lame-duck Congress.
(voice-over): Their to-do list includes spending bills and confirmation hearings for Robert Gates as defense secretary. The not-likely-to-do list includes John Bolton to be U.N. ambassador, and approval of the president‘s domestic wiretapping program, both almost certain to be blocked by Democrats.
More than 50 newly elected House members, mostly Democrats, began freshman orientation today. Many campaigned against Washington‘s so-called culture of corruption, and they‘re getting a heavy dose of ethics.
NANCY BOYDA (D), KANSAS REPRESENTATIVE-ELECT: Nobody wants to make an innocent mistake, so let‘s know what the rules are, and keep our noses clean.
REID: Each was also given a briefing book on emergency response, everything from aircraft threat evacuation to putting on a hood to protect against chemical and biological weapons. For many new to Washington, it was a sobering sign of the times.
Chip Reid, NBC News, the Capitol.
OLBERMANN: Of course, the Democrats are not the only figures returning to power in Washington. Here come all the president‘s men—the first President Bush‘s men, that is.
And hey, there, you with the pumpkin on your head. COUNTDOWN‘s Oddball investigative unit with breaking news about this deer, and that unintentional headgear, when we continue.
OLBERMANN: Thirty-seven years ago today, Vice President Spiro Agnew took the Nixon administration‘s shot across the bow on network television news. Live on ABC, CBS, and NBC, Agnew complained about the anchors and commentators of ABS—ABC, CBS, and NBC, those who analyzed Nixon‘s speeches. “The American people would rightly not tolerate this kind of concentration of power in government. It is not fair,” or, “Is it not fair and relevant to question its concentration in the hands of a tiny enclosed fraternity of privileged men elected by no one?”
Agnew would resign the vice presidency in disgrace in 1973, Nixon would resign the presidency in disgrace in 1974. The only survivors of the speech, the network news anchors and commentators. And, of course, the co-writer of the speech, Pat Buchanan, who, within a decade, would go into television news.
Let‘s play Oddball.
We begin in Havana. And this is the Voluminous Dance Company, the only known dance company requiring that its members weigh at least 200 pounds. Not since rerun on what‘s happening have the gravitationally challenged moved so gracefully. Company celebrating its 10th anniversary with a big show at the Havana National Theater. Dancers say they love the company because it gives them a place to express themselves. This dance, of course, expresses their hope that Fidel Castro will get even sicker.
To the gridiron in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Notre Dame taking on (INAUDIBLE) Saturday Irish (INAUDIBLE) and blowout. Nothing odd about that. But what caught our eye happened on the sideline.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For Notre Dame, not so when it comes to the (INAUDIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: (INAUDIBLE) tumble into the Leprechaun‘s flag. The cheerleader appeared to be fine. The Leprechaun refused to apologize, stating she was after (ph), me lucky stars, what the hell do you want from me?
Finally, an Oddball update. Last week we brought you the story of the deer in Cascade Township, Michigan, who got his pumpkin stuck in a pumpkin. Well, tonight there‘s good news. Area children have found what they believe was the pumpkin, without the deer attached to it. Town locals have also seen a deer with no pumpkin on its head. Of course, it could be a different plastic pumpkin, and it could be a different deer. But if I‘ve learned anything in my 30 years in this business, it‘s that area children and townspeople usually know what they‘re talking about.
Also tonight, with Donald Rumsfeld on the way out at the Pentagon, and Robert Gates on the way in, a Bush family friend says the move has the fingerprints of Bush the elder all over it. Is 41 bailing out 43, or taking over for him?
And will Kevin Federline soon need to be bailed out? All other options gone, the soon-to-be Fed-ex reportedly shopping around a sex tape featuring he and the missus.
But first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, Bob Josephson, director of intergovernmental affairs for Louisiana for FEMA. No, his little group is still not popular there, but he is, after he got up onto a dunking tank at a fundraiser for the Broadmore (ph) neighborhood of New Orleans, and let residents drop him into the cold water 50 times, at $5 a pop. All right, Bob.
Number two, an unnamed drunk driving suspect in the Outback of northern Australia. Pulled over by police, he reached down to the pavement, picked up a live snake he found there, and threatened them with the snake. Fortunately for the officers, the snake did not go off.
Number one, the dumber criminal still. Leah R. Jarolimek of Cedar Grove, Wisconsin. She claims her boyfriend‘s brother gave it to her. It was the $20 bill with which she tried to buy some smokes and a bag of chips at a convenience store, the one that the clerk suspected might be a counterfeit $20, because the back was blank. Blank. Just like whoever made it.
OLBERMANN: At what might have been the pentacle of his hubris, President Bush told Bob Woodward that his father, George H.W. Bush, was, “The wrong father to appeal to in terms of strength. There is a higher father that I appeal to.”
Our No. 3 story on the COUNTDOWN, Mr. Bush now realizing, perhaps, the benefit of listening to the father who also happens to be the former president, the one who did not get the nation stuck in Iraq.
Exhibit no one, Bush‘s replacement for outgoing Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld. Robert Gates, Bush senior‘s CIA director. The White House denies that the former president had anything to do with that, but a friend of the current president telling “Newsweek” magazine, “His fingerprints,” that is the elder‘s, “are all over this.”
And though Bush 43 did not appoint the members of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, it too has Bush 43‘s virtual fingerprints and it is this blue ribbon panel that will present other options on Iraq. James Baker, III who is co-chair was one of his Bush senior‘s secretary of state and a trusted advisor. Alan Simpson, the former senator from Wyoming, a long-time friend of Bush 41 and another of the former president‘s secretaries of state Lawrence Eagleburger was just added to the panel to replace Mr. Gates who resigned in anticipation of his new job as defense chief.
And there he is standing beside then National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft in 1991. James Baker also in there. Those men are now stepping up yet again. Of course then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell were in that picture as well. What has happened to them since, very telling indeed.
Let‘s turn again to the Washington bureau chief of the “New York Daily News” Thomas DeFrank.
Tom, thanks for your time once more tonight.
THOMAS DEFRANK, “NEW YORK DAILY NEWS”: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Gates and Baker and the other, the president said he wanted a new set of eyes. Is it surprising he‘s turned to some of his father‘s eyes right now or just surprising that he waited this long to do it?
DEFRANK: No. It is not surprising. In either respect, Keith. The fact is—we‘ve gotten a echo here, I‘m sorry. But the fact of the matter is the president was frozen politically until the election. He couldn‘t do any of what he‘s done in the last week until the election was over because it would look like he was trying to figure out a way to bug out of Iraq.
But now that the election‘s over, it doesn‘t surprise me at all, because let‘s face it, the American people have rejected the current Iraq policy, if you believe in the polls, and the president got spanked pretty hard last week in the elections. The president had to do something, so I‘m not surprised now.
OLBERMANN: What, if anything, differentiates the first group of Bush 41 alumni‘s which the current president turned: Cheney, Powell, James Baker after the 2000 election, Baker again with the Iraq Study Group, from this second group: Gates, Eagleburger, Alan Simpson?
DEFRANK: Well, I thing they‘re all basically pragmatic guys. Alan Simpson, the former senator from Wyoming is basically what I would call the -- has the Cheney seat in the group, and he‘ll probably be more conservative than the rest of them. But I think they‘re all basically much more pragmatic. Actually the new group is about as pragmatic as the old group, and that is why the policy is certain to change. This is the group that had better marks in foreign policy than the current group and which is one of the reasons why Don Rumsfeld is leaving soon.
OLBERMANN: Is Simpson on there because of that broad appeal he had to Democrats? Is he kind of the ambassador from this group to the new Democrats running the Congress?
DEFRANK: Well, Al Simpson‘s got a lot of friends on the Democratic side of the aisle, but I think for the most part I would suspect that he is more of Dick Cheney‘s eyes and ears on this commission, because this is not a commission that‘s stacked heavily in favor of the Rumsfeld-Cheney point of view, to put it mildly. So, I suspect that Al Simpson is kind of a crossover candidate, but he‘s basically there to keep an eye on things for the vice president.
OLBERMANN: Tom, there was a “Newsweek” poll that has just came out that says the public favors the foreign policy approach of Bush 41 over the foreign policy approach of the current president by a wide margin. And you can ask how much did they really remember other than we were in and out of Iraq fairly quickly. But does that poll, to some degree, at least the sentiment, underscore the reality of President Bush‘s new pragmatism that he simply has no other choice but pragmatism?
DEFRANK: I think the bottom-line now is he has no other choice. No, I think this has been in the works for quite a long time. The vice president has been grumbling about the advice he‘s gotten from Rumsfeld and Cheney about post-war Iraq for a couple of years. But, I think, in the last six months, as things have taken a turn for the worse in Iraq, I think the president has brought us a greater sense of urgency to the proposition that things have got to change. And as I said earlier, he couldn‘t change until after the election, but now he knows he can‘t go along with the old policy because it is not working and the country is not happy with it.
OLBERMANN: And finally, to touchback on something we talked about at the beginning of this show, the suggestion that Tony Blair was not just throwing darts today when talking about Iran and Syria coming in to help with Iraq, the theory that that‘s going to be one of the recommendations. It‘s already leaked out to some degree that that would be something the Iraq Study Group would talk about. Are we getting an even clearer picture, as this week starts, that the Iraq Study Group is going to be that parachute—the political parachute out of the Iraq mess for this president and now for the Democratic Congress?
DEFRANK: Well, it depends on how you define “parachute out of the mess.” The president‘s not going to cut and run after complaining the Democrats were ready to cut and run. But the president is clearly going to have a significant course correction in Iraq. The policy‘s going to change significantly. If it weren‘t, Don Rumsfeld would still be there. And so I think this Iraq Study Group is part of the vehicle for making it easier for the president to change course without looking like he‘s bugging out as he claimed the Democrats wanted him to do.
OLBERMANN: Exactly what I was trying to imply. Tom DeFrank, Washington bureau chief of the “New York Daily News,” as always, great thanks for your time, sir.
DEFRANK: Thanks a lot, Keith.
OLBERMANN: From the father of the president to the father of the civil rights movement, a star studded groundbreaking in D.C. for the monument that will help keep Martin Luther King, Jr.‘s dream alive.
And the Big Apple take a bite out of Borat. An unsuspecting New Yorker did not take too kindly to his real life brush with the fake reporter from Kazakhstan over the weekend past.
Quit while you‘re ahead.
Details ahead, but first here are COUNTDOWN “Top 3 Sound Bites” of this day.
CHRISTY JACKSON, BOUGHT SPONGE BOB PORNO: I was totally not prepared.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This “Sponge Bob Square Pants” movie does contain a warning about mild crude humor, but Christy Jackson‘s children got far more than that.
JACKSON: I went outside and took the garbage out and I come back in and they are watching a girl on girl, pretty hardcore porn instead of Sponge Bob.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Jackson turned it off quickly, but the damage was already done. Her three girls, ages eight, five, and two had seen several minutes of a movie called “Busty Coed.”
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Think about be a fireman or a policeman or somebody who rescues people and then I wind up getting on television because I‘ve a big tree in my yard. And a tree I paid no attention to at all until these guys showed up and told me they wanted my big tree.
BURTON KLATT, FOUND VIRGIN MARY IMAGE GOLD: I seen a image of a horse.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But when he brought it home, his wife Carole saw something more fascinating.
CAROLE KLATT FOUND VIRGIN MARY IMAGE GOLD: I looked, and right away I seen it was the Virgin Mary holding baby Jesus.
B. KLATT: You can see the nose and the eyes.
C. KLATT: It kind of looks like she‘s her veil a little bit back on one side. I don‘t see how anyone could think we‘re nuts because they could look at it and they could see it.
OLBERMANN: Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr. with a memorial on the National Mall. We‘ll take you to the groundbreaking. And a different kind of breaking, does Mr. Britney Spears really have a smoking gun on tape with which to blackmail his wife, you should excuse the expression. That‘s next, this is COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: George Washington on October 9, 1888. Abraham Lincoln on May 30, 1922. Thomas Jennifer on April 13, 1943. And then nothing. No new memorials to the greatest of Americans until the singular tribute to Franklin D. Roosevelt was opened on May 2, 1997.
Our No. 2 story on the COUNTDOWN, when it comes to recognizing immortality in our nation‘s capitol, we have never been in a rush. So it will probably surprise you that if the Martin Luther King Memorial opens on time, year after next, it will do so sooner to the date of the death of its honoree than any of the others and by a factor of 12 year. Of course, that is then, and as Bob Faw reports from the today‘s groundbreaking, this is now.
BOB FAW, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): “Are we having a revival here today,” one of the speakers wondered.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (singing): Look where we‘ve all come from.
FAW: Partly it was also a remembrance of what happened on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, nearby, 43 years ago.
MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: I have a dream today.
FAW: A moment enshrined, but for some obscured, with the passage of time.
SEN BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS: The man we honor today did what god required. In the end, that is what I will tell my daughters.
FAW: On the so-called front yard of the nation, “This will be the first memorial not to a war, but the first,” said one organizer, “to a man of color and a man of peace.”
BILL CLINTON, FMR U.S. PRESIDENT: If he were here, he would remind us that the time remains ripe to do right.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Dr. King showed us that a life of conscious and purpose can lift up many souls.
FAW: For the once young turks of the civil right‘s movement now aging, looking on his torch was passed anew.
OPRAH WINFREY, TELEVISION PERSONALITY: For surely, if America is to be a light onto the nations we must first be lit from a light within us.
FAW: The groundbreaking ceremonial was long delayed, only two-thirds of the $100 million have been raised for a project scheduled for completion in 2008. Yes, several thousand listeners here agreed, it‘s time.
Bob Faw, NBC NEWS, Washington.
OLBERMANN: From the legendary to the flavor of the month, it is our nightly roundup of tabloid and entertainment stories, “Keeping Tabs.” And with the exact hour at which Sacha Baron Cohen‘s character, Borat, will go from refreshing to unbearable now approaching, if not eminent. There are still some people who are surprised by him like the guy who punched him in the face over the weekend.
Borat, attacked on a New York City street Saturday night after Cohen reportedly tried out his shtick game on the wrong guy. Mr. Cohen had just finished spot on “Saturday Night Live” and was walking to local drinking establishment when friends say he approached a man and in character said, “I like your clothings, are nice, please may I buying, I want to have sex with it.”
The man, unfamiliar with the act, apparently felt threatened and responded by punching Mr. Cohen in the face several times. Cohen was reportedly spared a more serious beating in consume by friends who intervened. Said to be shaken, but not seriously injured.
Welcome to New York City.
And our thanks to the Joint Federal Terrorism Task Force and a small army of FBI agents who, Saturday, arrested an alleged terrorist believed to have mailed more than a dozen threading letters filled with white powder to politicians and media figures. Everybody from John Stewart to Nancy Pelosi to David Letterman to Chuck Schumer to me and others.
Chad Castagana of Woodland Hills, California, was actually seen by FBI agents last week walking from his home to a public mailbox there and depositing a powder filled letter addressed to one of the previous recipient—me. Castagana, an unemployed sci-fi buff who had previously written anti-liberal screeds and germ warfare speculations on the Internet, was in court today facing federal charges. He could face 15 years in prison. No plea today. His detention hearing, postponed until Thursday, he will evidently remain in custody.
“City News Service” of Los Angeles reporting there was a sixth target, Viacom chairman, Sumner Redstone, and also that the day before he was arrested, Castagana told an FBI agent he sent out 17 letters. It also cites, that service does, an FBI affidavit that says Castagana “...described himself as a compulsive voter who votes Republican, and he said that he sent the letters to specific individuals because he did not like their liberal policies.”
The white powder in each envelope, and I alone received several of them with various fake return addresses, turned out to be inert. But we can now finally reveal why when the “New York Post” reported in September that I‘d gotten one, the federal investigators were annoyed. They had asked the media, even those of us who were the victims, not to report any of this. Instead the “Post” to fill up its gossip page, served as a return receipt to the alleged terrorist, it confirmed to them that at least one of his letter has been received, which the authorities feared correctly as it proved, would encourage the guy to send more.
Ignore for a second the impact on the recipients or the people who work in the recipients‘ offices or mailrooms, as the FBI itself pointed out, there were 13 separate law enforcement responses to this case in New York alone, involving four different government agencies.
“Every time the FBI‘s Join Terrorism Task Force is notified that a suspicious letter is received by a victim,” said the FBI‘s No. 2 man in Los Angeles, “dozens of response personnel deploy to the affected location to collect evidence, conduct the necessary investigation and in some cases, evacuation is required. These treats disrupt daily activity and unnecessarily detract from other important work that investigator need to do to keep Americans safe.”
Speaking of distractions, there is the divorce of Britney Spears and Kevin Federline. She‘s got the prenup, now reports that he‘s got the sex tape. That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for “Worst Person in the World.”
And as we unofficially begin that must joyous time of the year, the Christmas gift shopping season, we thought we‘d waste one last minute of your time playing you the special “Worst Person in the World” book pitch specially prepared for Amazon.com.
OLBERMANN: Hello, friends, let me tell you briefly about this handy-dandy new product. You can‘t live without it, you can‘t love without it.
Go away, I say, go away son, you bother me.
It‘s the new Keith Olbermann best seller, the “”Worst Person in the World.” And what‘s extree special-special about it is the cover works both ways. You say you like Keith Olbermann, well perfect, here‘s a book he wrote based on his popular nightly “Worst Persons in the World” segment on his popular nightly newscast COUNTDOWN.
You say you don‘t like Keith Olbermann, well there you go. The picture says a thousand words. The “Worst Person in the World” and there he is, Keith Olbermann, smirking right at you in an ill-fitting suit.
You say you don‘t like Keith Olbermann, you say you don‘t like Bill O‘Reilly, you say you don‘t like Don Rumsfeld or you say you don‘t like a horse wearing a woman‘s wig, well, this is the book for you because friends, watch carefully now, the cover is detachable you can destroy the picture of anybody you don‘t like, right in the privacy of your own home.
Nobody‘s going to stop you, nobody except the NSA and CIA and Karl Rove is going to know what you do inside the privacy of your own home. Are they?
Available right here at Amazon.com. The “Worst Person in the World” by Keith Olbermann. Bye one now because we only have thousands left.
Thank you America!
OLBERMANN: And consider this, if you make every one of your Christmas gifts this year a copy of my book, you won‘t have trouble remembering what you got everybody.
Tonight‘s nominees, the Bronze to baseball‘s New York Mets. They become the first big league club in New York ever to sell the naming rights for their new stadium. They go to Citicorp Bank for reported $20 million a year in exchange for which the park will be known as “Citi Field” instead of say, Jackie Robinson Stadium or Tim Tuffle Town.
Unhappy Mets fans already paying some of the highest ticket prices, highest parking prices, highest food prices et cetera, have already nicknamed Citi Field something that rhymes with city but which we can‘t say here. See if you can guess.
Runners up, two identified officers at the Lenowyee County jail in Adrian, Michigan—that‘s probably Lanawee—I‘m sorry, Lanawee County Jail in Adrian, Michigan. They offered an inmate a piece of cherry pie if he would be good enough to run around the cell block naked. The officers have been fired, their union has appealed saying it was the inmate‘s idea.
And your point?
But our winners, the fine folks who bring you Delta connection Flight 5238. The 6:30 p.m. shuttle from JFK in New York to Reagan Nation in Washington. In September, it was late 100 percent of the time. Not just late, 79 minutes late on average for a 53 minute flight.
Tonight, if you‘re wondering about 5283 tonight? Canceled! Those who delay or impede Delta connections flight 5283 100 percent of the time, today‘s “Worst Person in the World.”
OLBERMANN: We‘ll send this advice and we‘ll support it with another heart stopping example, one more time. Don‘t have sex on videotape. Don‘t make nude films of yourself. Don‘t. Don‘t. Don‘t.
Our No. 1 story in the COUNTDOWN Fed-ex himself, Kevin Federline, rumored to be trying to influence or if you prefer, blackmail, Britney Spears into being a little more generous on the old prenuptial agreement by threatening to release a videotape of them in (INAUDIBLE) for four hours. Ewwww, they did it again!
The sex tape dish, courtesy of “News of the World,” so add your own grain of salt, but that printed material quotes a source as saying “This vid is dynamite and Kev knows it. He has told Britney she should comply with his demands, otherwise the whole world will see her having sex. At the time, the two of them were in the honeymoon stage of the relationship and couldn‘t‘ keep their hands off each other. They did nothing all day but have sex and play the odd game of chess.”
Sounds like an odd game for them to be playing, but nevertheless.
But the sex tape, not the only Spears-Federline product to be super-sized, the prenup that Ms. Spears had her legal team draft and which Mr. Federline signed is reportedly 60 pages long. As if he‘s ever read anything 60 pages long.
Joining me now, now, Paul F. Tompkins, humorist, electrify sex tape analyst, and also a contributor to VH-1‘s “Best Week Ever.”
Good evening, Paul.
PAUL F. TOMPKINS, COMEDIAN: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: And welcome also to your new beard. Do you really buy this story about the sex tape? I mean, do the two of them have the attention span to do anything for four hours?
TOMPKINS: Well, without having seen the tape it‘s all speculation at this point, but it could be r that, you know, there‘s an hour—half an hour trying to figure out the camera, there‘s a 20-minute discussion of angles, turns into an argument, there‘s maybe 10 minutes of sex, there‘s a lengthy Chinese food delivery discussion and then perhaps a very long and ponderous speculation on what the buttons on Darth Vader‘s chest are for.
OLBERMANN: And possibly some of those belches we‘ve seen again and again. Again, you‘re making a good point here, because the assumption is there‘s one recording. Could it not also simply be edited highlights or worse, some sort of endless loop of the same segment over and over again, you know, 30 seconds played 480 times in a row, something like that?
TOMPKINS: Yeah, this is coming from Kevin Federline, it might be just a porno that he found, it‘s not even them. Or it could be that Kevin Federline thinks that four hours is a measurement of height. You know, he might be saying, “Yo, I got this, it‘s like four hours long, this tape.”
OLBERMANN: That was the length of his career as a rapper, I believe. This rather disturbing line from the source that the couple “Did nothing all day but have sex and play the odd game of chess.” Paul, what the hell is going on here? These guys play chess?
TOMPKINS: Well, the game that they play does involve a chess board and chess pieces, but it‘s a game they created themselves that they call “horse and castle party.”
OLBERMANN: Knights and rooks. They‘re actually seen.
TOMPKINS: It really is “horses and castles having a party.”
OLBERMANN: There seems to be this large number of celebrities who wind up making sex tapes, Colin Farrell, Paris Hilton—Colin Farrell is supposedly the “Screech” guy—does not anybody listen to that advice, don‘t do t it can only lead to problems, people make copies? Doesn‘t anybody think of that?
TOMPKINS: Well, Britney and Kevin historically are not maybe the best advice takers, that‘s how they got married. But also, I would say it‘s fine if you want to make your sex tape. My advice is make sure you watch it immediately, because then you‘ll destroy it immediately. That‘s the problem. People are making these sex tapes, they leave them lying around, all you have to do is watch it once. When you see that vision of yourself, you will shred that thing like nobody‘s business.
OLBERMANN: Yeah. The “Daily Mail” story also says that the original wedding ceremony, in September of 2004, was a mock wedding because Federline hadn‘t signed the prenup yet, then once he signed they had a real wedding a couple of weeks later. Is it possible that Kevin Federline was simply confused by the whole double wedding trick?
TOMPKINS: Yeah, they had a heck of a time getting him in the car for that second wedding, too. In the end they had to jangle some keys and say “Who wants to go track suit shopping?”
OLBERMANN: All right, so we know, his music career is not exactly on fire, they had this event last week where they waited for the audience to show up three hours, but he has sired a lot of children, and now he may be blackmailing Miss Spears with sex and a sex tape. Has he found his true calling at least last?
TOMPKINS: Well, for someone in Kevin‘s field, blackmailing someone with a sex tape it‘s the ultimate gigolo goal and so he‘s already kind of achieved a certain amount of success there, but the fact that Britney Spears is under 70 years old, that‘s what makes him the gigolo king.
OLBERMANN: That‘s right. That‘s going to be a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and you can guess what the logo is going to be.
Comedian Paul F. Tompkins, great thanks for your time tonight, Paul.
TOMPKINS: Thank you Keith.
OLBERMANN: That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,290th since the declaration of “mission accomplished” in Iraq.
I‘m Keith Olbermann. Goodnight and good luck.
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