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'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Feb. 22

Read the transcript to the Thursday show

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Jack Jacobs, Chris Cillizza

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

Declare victory and go home, that‘s what the British are doing in Basra.  So why is Basra listed by the Pentagon as not ready for transition?  Why is Basra ranked one of the five worst cities for violence outside Baghdad?  And why, if the British can still call Basra a victory and go home, why can‘t we call Iraq a victory and go home?

Richard Wolffe on the politics of getting another fast one pulled on all of us, Jack Jacobs on the military facts of Basra.

The latest from war-torn Hollywood, California.  After the frontal attack from mogul David Geffen, why did his former friend Senator Clinton turn it into a fight not with Geffen, but with Senator Obama?  Clinton tries to outflank Geffen with fundraisers around the community today, even taking a power lunch with the agents over at Creative Artists.




OLBERMANN:  And the war of Britney Spears versus Britney Spears.  The rehab center she checked out of hours after checking in, she‘s checked back in.

And you don‘t have to still be alive to star in the circus.  The nondecision decision in the Anna Nicole Smith case.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Richard Milstein, Esquire, as the guardian ad litem for Dannielynn Hope Marshal Stern, is awarded custody of the remains of Anna Nicole Smith.



OLBERMANN:  Oy yourself.  The judge cries a lot, a lawyer keels over in court, Anna Nicole Smith‘s supposed husband does not get the body, the supposed father of the child does not get the body, her mother does not get the body.  So who gets the body?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I got to do better than buying a pair of glasses from the flea market.


OLBERMANN:  Maybe if we wanted a verdict, we should have gone to the flea market.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Might be able to read it without glasses.


Good evening.

Lyndon Johnson would not listen to George Aiken.  Tony Blair must have listened to somebody who borrowed Aiken‘s idea.  It was Aiken, the Republican senator from Vermont, who famously told LBJ what to do about the quagmire in Vietnam—lie about it.  Quoting Aiken, “Declare victory, and get out.”

The British, their job done in Basra, pulling out 1,600 troops now, the rest perhaps by the end of next year.

Except, in our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the dob—the job is not done in Basra, not according to the Pentagon‘s latest official assessments of conditions there, British Prime Minister Blair, having pulled the rug out from under his American counterpart yesterday, announcing those troop reductions, setting a timetable for bringing home the rest, the White House, Vice President Cheney leading the charge, presenting the decision as good news, an indication that the U.S.-led military operation was succeeding, its own Defense Department having reached the exact opposite conclusion, the Pentagon‘s most recent quarterly report to Congress naming Basra as one of five cities in Iraq where violence is, quote, “still significant,” this coalition map on page 28 of the report, the areas in red, Anbar to the west, Basra in the south, labeled “Not ready for transition,” as in, transition to Iraqi control.

The real reason for the British withdrawal, that its military is stretched to the breaking point, “The Los Angeles Times” reporting today that Blair‘s decision was widely seen in Britain yesterday as a telling admission that the British military could no longer sustain simultaneous action in Afghanistan and Iraq, Britain‘s former defense staff chief, Charles Guthrie, having warned this week that the British military is approaching, quote, “operational failure,” British bases in Basra regularly coming under mortar fire, British troops fighting daily with Shia militia, the British having all but abandoned its base of operations downtown, taking shelter at the airport, as for the administration‘s claim that this amounts to good news, analysts warning the newspaper “USA Today” that a reduction in British forces could actually lead to more bloodshed between rival Shiite militias in Basra.

Let‘s call in our own Richard Wolffe, also the senior White House correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine.

Richard, good evening.


Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Yesterday, the question to the Bush administration had to have been, Hey, if the British can declare a victory in Basra and go home, why can‘t we?  Tonight, it would seem that question has to be modified.  If British can lie or exaggerate and declare a victory in Basra and go home, why can‘t we do that?

WOLFFE:  Well, Keith, as the president might say, you so glass-half-full here.  This is a situation where the British have not tried to have the same goals as the Americans.  They aren‘t trying to set up a model democracy.  They just want stability.  And they see a different strategic threat, a greater threat, from Afghanistan.  That‘s where they want to put their troops.

The administration is not looking for a way out.  If it wanted a way out, it could have seized that opportunity many times over.  Maliki said he wanted to take over security.  The Baker-Hamilton group set out a whole path where they could have found a way out.

President Bush wants to stick with this, and he doesn‘t want an excuse, he doesn‘t want to find a way out, he doesn‘t even want to face the real situation.

So, you know, this is not a case where they‘re looking for a PR reason, although they have been deeply troubled with the PR challenge that the Brits have posed them.

OLBERMANN:  For the political overview, Richard, great thanks.  Stand by for a moment so we can get a picture of the military specifics of Basra, and then I‘ve got a few more political questions for you.

WOLFFE:  Sure.

OLBERMANN:  Let me turn to retired U.S. Army colonel Jack Jacobs, Medal of Honor recipient, and, of course, military analyst here at MSNBC.

Jack, good evening to you.

COL. JACK JACOBS (RET.), U.S. ARMY:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Militarily, did the British do what Senator Aiken, did they declare victory and get out, even if the facts on the ground suggest there is not a whole lot there to call a victory?

JACOBS:  Oh, sure, there‘s a strong element of mendacity here, as Tennessee Williams would say.  The British are sick of Tony Blair.  Even his own party is sick of Tony Blair.

There‘s very strong party discipline in Great Britain, and Tony Blair is honor-bound to clean the slate for Gordon Brown, who‘s going to take over after him.  There are only 7,100 troops there, very much down from what there was before.

It‘s just a matter of time before he pulls them all out, and declaring victory and going home is probably the easiest way to accomplish the political goals that Tony Blair has set for himself.

OLBERMANN:  Jack, much has been made by this administration in the past 48 hours of the fact that Basra is largely Shiite-dominated.  That implies that the sectarian warfare is not present there.  But this Pentagon report to Congress says that does not mean Shiite militias are not fighting each other.

Let me quote this from page 17 of the report.  “The conflict in Basra, Amarah, and the south was characterized by tribal rivalry, increasing Shia competition, and attacks on coalition forces operating in the region.”

Jack, does that not sound as if British forces found themselves, to use somebody else‘s expression, caught in the middle of somebody else‘s civil war?

JACOBS:  I think all the forces there that are not Iraqi are in the middle of a civil war, and so are the Iraqi forces as well.  No, there‘s a civil war going on there right now.

The interesting thing about Basra is that it‘s been relatively quiet for a long period of time.  Violence is increasing, and the violence is between Shia factions.  Even the Shia are fragmented.  They‘re all battling each other for control.  And don‘t forget, there‘s a lot of oil down there.  And Basra‘s a main transshipment point for oil and other products in and out of the country.

OLBERMANN:  Does logic suggest that Basra will necessarily get worse once the British leave, unless the Iraqis do a better job than expected of securing the city, and even better than the British could have?

JACOBS:  You know, there‘s an interesting argument that says that the Iraqis who know the area and theoretically have a stake in the outcome ought to do a better job than the British.  But in actual fact, they‘re not ready for the task.  They‘re—and because of the infighting that I just mentioned that you alluded to, it‘s going to be extremely difficult for them to control the area.  Violence is likely to increase, and the prize of Basra is very, very important.  I don‘t think it‘s going to go down without a fight.

OLBERMANN:  All right, last question, Jack.  If Britain has concluded it can‘t do Iraq and Afghanistan simultaneously effectively, or, in the words of the former defense chief there, without approaching “operational failure,” should not the same question be asked about the U.S. military right now?

JACOBS:  Well, I think the question has been asked and answered.  Even people inside the administration, indeed Pentagon officials, have publicly stated that the Army is broke, the Marine Corps is broke, that they need to be infused with more people and with more equipment.

And we cannot continue to do the mission simultaneously all across the entire world.  The requirements that we have in southwest Asia alone indicate that we‘re not up to the task.  We had a much better position in Afghanistan, for example, about a year ago.  Violence has increased now, bad guys have stayed inside Afghanistan over the winter.  There‘s probably going to be a fairly violent spring.  Why?  Because we don‘t have enough troops there, and we have them in Iraq instead.

OLBERMANN:  MSNBC‘s military analyst Colonel Jack Jacobs.  As always, sir, great thanks for your times.

JACOBS:  Good to be with you.

OLBERMANN:  All right, let‘s bring Richard Wolffe back into this conversation.

How might the administration respond to all this?  Is it in the position of having to refute a report issued by its own Defense Department?

WOLFFE:  Essentially, it‘s cherry picking.  They want to show there are some signs of progress somewhere, as evidenced by some of these Iraqi brigades turning up in Baghdad for the new security plan.  But they think, as long as they can show some sign of progress, they can shore up support, certainly among Republicans.

But, you know, this political debate is moving at a very fast clip here, and I‘m not sure that showing signs of progress is going to be nearly enough for Congress any more.

OLBERMANN:  Let me ask you one more question about this, and then change topics on you.  Is there a silver lining in here?  Is there a chance that somebody in the Bush administration wants to see how well Tony Blair gets away with this in England?  If they throw somebody a parade there after this, if nobody calls them on stretching the truth this time, that maybe that same very loose definition of success can be used as some sort of rationalization to bring American troops home in 208?

WOLFFE:  Well, if only you could hype your way out of a war as easy as you could hype your way into a war.  I mean, the political pressures are different.  The environment is very different.  As bad as it is for President Bush right now with the war, I mean, Tony Blair is essentially being driven out of office early, because of his support for President Bush and the war.

And as bad as it is for President Bush, he doesn‘t have to think about what he‘s going to hand over to his successor.  He hasn‘t even got a preferred candidate in the fight.  So it is very different.  I‘m not sure they‘re trying to road-test arguments right now.  They‘re just trying to keep their heads above water.

OLBERMANN:  Let me read you something, Richard, that‘s coming across the Associated Press wire.  Forgive me for not looking at the camera, but I‘m just trying to read this thing verbatim here.

“Officials say”—and we don‘t know who that is, but it‘s quoted by the Associated Press—“Officials say Senate Democrats are drafting legislation to limit the mission of U.S. troops in Iraq.  The measure would effectively revoke the broad authority Congress granted in 2002.  Sources say the precise wording of the measure remains unsettled.  One draft would restrict U.S. troops in Iraq to combating al Qaeda, training Iraqi army and police forces, maintaining Iraq‘s territorial integrity, and otherwise proceeding with the withdrawal of combat forces.”

What this is all about?

WOLFFE:  Well, I‘ve said for some time on this show that this is heading toward a conflict over war powers, not funding so much as what is the authorization President Bush has for this conflict right now?  That seems to be where Harry Reid is going.  It‘s interesting that it‘s slightly different from where the House is going, in terms of requiring the administration to train up and equip troops fully.

But this is going to be a multipronged debate, an attack on the administration and the conduct of the war.  I think it‘s going to last for a long time.

OLBERMANN:  Could they, realistically, has it been established yet, whether or not a resolution from the Senate revoking the 2002 authorization would be legal or constitutional?  Can you go back and modify something, or essentially authorizing senatorial time travel here?

WOLFFE:  Well, you could, but it‘s going to get litigated.  And that‘s the fear and the concern about administration officials and former officials, that this is going to go all the way to the Supreme Court.

OLBERMANN:  Richard Wolffe of “Newsweek,” helping us out with the breaking news on this.  Great thanks, as always, sir.

WOLFFE:  Any time. 

OLBERMANN:  And in court proceedings today that did not involve squabbling over the body of a former “Playboy” centerfold, but merely the issue of how the Bush administration lied to cover up how it sold the Iraq war to the American public, the jury in the trial of Scooter Libby met for a second day, its first full day of deliberations.  No verdict yet.

Instead, the jury asked for pictures of the 19 witnesses, perhaps an effort to refresh memories of testimony.  And the court revealed that yesterday the jury had asked for a large flip chart, masking tape, and Post-its, suggesting that the jury‘s eight women and four men decided early on to map out graphically the sometimes-convoluted timelines, about who said what to who and when, about Libby leaking the identity of Valerie Plame, the wife of the war critic Joe Wilson.  Either that, or they‘re working on a school project.

Also tonight, another fine mess for the administration.  Our supposed ally Pakistan, promising tightened security to keep terrorists from flowing in and out of its border with Afghanistan, except apparently if they‘re traveling on the public bus between Pakistan and Afghanistan.

And the decision, who gets to bury Anna Nicole Smith?  And more importantly, can you bury that judge with her?

You‘re watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN:  As al Qaeda started to rebuild on the border with Afghanistan, and as Pakistan signed a truce with the tribal leaders supporting them, the amount of attacks on U.S. troops soared.  Then came news that the militants were planning a massive cross-border offensive this spring.  Under pressure, Pakistan promised to tighten the border and even to build a fence between the two countries.

But in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, as our chief investigative correspondent Lisa Myers reports, when NBC producers attempted to cross that border, not only were they never asked for any kind of ID, but neither was anybody else on the public bus they were all riding.



Attacks against U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan are escalating, fueled in part, U.S. officials say, by al Qaeda and Taliban militants in Pakistan who easily cross the border into Afghanistan to join the fight.

So NBC News decided to investigate security at one of Pakistan‘s busiest border crossings.  Two NBC News producers bought tickets for $4 each, and boarded a bus in Pakistan, destination, Jalalabad, Afghanistan.

The route took them through Peshawar through a major border checkpoint to Jalalabad.  Their bus full of passengers was waved through the border crossing.  Not once in four hours did Pakistani or Afghan guars stop them or check for travel documents.

IOBAL SAPAND, NBC PRODUCER:  Nobody asked us our documents, and not only me, there were more than 45 people in that bus.

MYERS:  The next day, our producers repeated the process, taking the bus from Afghanistan back to Pakistan.  Again, no documents necessary.

MUSHTAQ YUSUFZAI, NBC PRODUCER:  On both sides of the border, nobody checked them.

MYERS:  Locals told NBC it‘s always this way.  This man says he sometimes has a problem if he crosses the border on foot, but never a problem on the bus.

Pakistan‘s ambassador says 200,000 people cross the border every day, and it‘s not possible to check every one.

MAHITILIO ALI DURRAM, PAKISTANI AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES:  We are trying to get there.  We need help.  And right now, it‘s far from perfect.

MYERS:  Pakistan‘s Musharraf also is walking a tightrope between domestic political pressures and increased U.S. demands for tighter security.

ROGER CRESSEY, NBC TERRORISM ANALYST:  If you can‘t secure the front door into Afghanistan, how can we have any confidence that Pakistan is trying to secure the back door, such as the tribal areas, where we know al Qaeda‘s operating right now?

MYERS (on camera):  In fact, militants need not brave the elements and inhospitable mountain terrain to reach Afghanistan.  For $4, they can take the bus.

Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.


OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, Judge Judy and executioner.  Did you get the same feeling I did, that at some point this Judge Larry guy was going to turn to the camera and say, You‘ve all been punked, I‘m actually “Simpsons” star Dan Castallaneta?  D‘oh!  Whoever he is, he makes a ruling, he has a cry, and if you don‘t care squat for the Anna Nicole Smith story, we‘ll give you a story instead about squat.

That‘s next.  This is COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN:  On this date in 1862, Cornelius McGillicuddy was born.  Abraham Lincoln, of course, was still president then.  Young Cornelius loved baseball.  He shortened his name to Connie Mack.  He became first a player, then a manager, then an executive, then an owner.  He was still working in baseball when Dwight Eisenhower became president.  That would be a span of 18 presidents.

On that note, let‘s play Oddball.

And we begin in Valandabavam (ph) for India‘s version of that lousy movie, “The Fast and the Furious.”  It‘s oxcart drag racing.  More dangerous action sports that accompany the end of the harvest season.  Hundreds turn out and line the streets for the races.  All of them are rooting for a crash.  Oh, they won‘t admit it, but that‘s why they watch.  Valandabavam, hello.

Now, here‘s a man in Thailand doing squats on the back of a giant elephant.  Man, I‘ve heard about the whole sex tourism thing, but this is just --  What?  Oh, it‘s Ashrida Furmin (ph), the Guinness world record holder for most Guinness world records held.


ASHRIDA FURMIN:  Yes, to me, the real, you know, beauty of this record is that I did it on the back of a live elephant.  And I‘ve had this dream of doing a record on an elephant for many, many years.  But I‘ve had no way of really accomplishing it until I came to Thailand.


OLBERMANN:  Sure that‘s not Max Weinberg from the “Conan O‘Brien Show”?  I wonder if the elephant had a dream once too, like, Hey, I‘d really love to have some guy jumping around on my back for half an hour, because that would probably feel real good.  Oh, yay, I got my wish.

Finally to New Zealand, where fishermen have caught an extremely rare giant squid in the Antarctic waters off the southern coast.  Extremely rare when they caught it, it‘ll be medium rare by later tonight.  Seriously, how rare can a giant squid be?  We have them on the news, like, twice a week.  This one weighed in at almost 1,000 pounds, and will actually be sent to New Zealand‘s National Museum, so scientists can study it.  Yeah, throw it on the pile with the rest of them, boys.

First big fight between top Democratic contenders for the presidency erupting not over the war, but over cash.  Tonight, not exactly peace talks, but an attempt to calm things down.

And Judge Seidlin‘s six-day TV audition finally ends with exactly what the rest of us have been doing.  Now he‘s the one weeping.

Those stories ahead.

But now, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, Edgar Dieguez-Lopez of Portland, Oregon.  You heard the song, “Gotta Dance”?  Well, he wanted to go to the nightclub The Caribe in Portland and boogie the night away, but they would not let him in.  So he got a translator to help him make a 911 call to tell the police, I cannot get inside.  Police responded by showing up all right.  They arrested him for drug possession and improper use of 911.

Number two, Dataprose, the service which prints the bills for Weatherford Electric in Weatherford, Texas.  It has owned up to the responsibility it misprinted 1,300 monthly bills and sent them to customers this week, each of the bills for more than $1 billion.  A man named Richard Reddon (ph) got one for $24 billion, and it was also marked overdue.  Damn Dick Cheney energy task force.

Number one, and oh, we‘re all laughing at 20-year-old Chad Mercer of Wilmington, Delaware, arrested and charged with carrying a loaded handgun, a .357 Magnum, caught after he tripped while running because he was wearing his baggy jeans low-rider style below his underwear.  And a mighty roar goes up from a grateful nation.


OLBERMANN:  We mentioned earlier the breaking news, the “Associated Press” report know quoting aides on Capitol Hill at its sources about Senate Democrats drafting legislation to revoke the broad authority Congress had granted the president about Iraq in 2002, and thus limiting the U.S. mission there.  We will have a full update on this story before this news hours ends. 

And if you find it hard, in the interim, to believe that the first big dust-up between the leading Democratic candidates for president, Senators Clinton and Obama, would arise not over the Iraq war, but over Hollywood producer David Geffen, give yourself a good goal star. 

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, what are Obama and Clinton really fighting about?  Did they succeed in shutting down the circular firing squad today?  At least, until we get to say within two months of the first primary. 

It started after Geffen, a former friend of Bill, helped to host a

Hollywood fund raiser for Obama on Tuesday.  And, in an interview, referred

to Senator Clinton as incredibly polarizing, faulted her for not calling

her Iraq war vote a mistake, and said about here and her husband,

quote, “everybody in politics lies, but they do it with such ease, it‘s troubling.” 

Senator Clinton responded with a full-court press to firm up her Hollywood support at meetings, and a luncheon today.  While her campaign responded not to Mr. Geffen, but rather to Senator Obama, portraying him as reneging on his call for a new kind of politics.  For his part, Obama today said the issue should be the issues, not personalities or what supporters say.  But his spokesman appeared to play into Senator Clinton‘s hands yesterday, with some fairly old politics remarks about her. 

Let‘s bring in a man who shared the “Washington Post” byline on this story, Chris Cillizza.  Chris, thanks for your time again tonight.


OLBERMANN:  Did anybody in either of these campaigns wake up this morning going, oh yes, one of our campaigns, maybe both of our campaigns, are going to have to support some other Democratic nominee next year, we need to shut this crap down now.  Is it still percolating or is it calming down? 

CILLIZZA:  No, look, it‘s still percolating.  And I think it‘s going to continue to percolate.  I think what you saw yesterday was sort of a public sign of what we‘ve been seeing privately going on for a while.  Obama and Clinton are very competitive for donors, for activists, for operative types, you know campaign staffers.  So that competition has been going on for a while, a little bit of back and forth, a little bit of negative talk, nothing terrible, but sort of, you know, I‘m the best and this one is not. 

So all we saw yesterday was that bump up into the public eye.  I think we‘re going to keep seeing it because they see each other as their natural rival, and I don‘t think it‘s going to go away any time soon. 

OLBERMANN:  So, I think Senator Clinton might have gotten away with ignoring the Geffen remarks, let the thing deflate, but is she actively looking for ways to kind of strip Senator Obama of this mantle of new politics? 

CILLIZZA:  Absolutely.  Look, there is no question, Hillary Clinton and her campaign could have let this go.  The animosity between David Geffen and the Clintons goes back to 2001, the pardon of Mark Rich and so this is long-standing.  But they didn‘t want to let it go and there is a specific reason why they didn‘t want to let it go.  They believe Obama‘s greatest strength is the idea that he‘s an un-politician, this idea that he‘s bringing new politics.  He‘s not doing things how they were done in the past. 

Well, the Clintons saw this as an opportunity to bring him down a peg, to say, this guy is just business as usual.  This is the status quo, attacking the Clintons, why is that so knew, trying to poke a hole in that image.  I think we‘re going to see more and more of that.  Remember, you‘ve got to attack what you perceived to be the candidate‘s greatest strength, and Obama‘s greatest strength is that he‘s not seen as a normal, regular, every day pol. 

OLBERMANN:  And also, was there a defensive victory here from Senator Clinton, simply because she changed the subject from her vote for the Iraq war, at least for a couple days? 

CILLIZZA:  And I heard it argued a lot of different ways.  You know, Senator Clinton got some nice back-up from Governor Bill Richardson and former Governor Tom Vilsack, both of whom are running for president, both of whom said in different ways that Senator Obama should either apologize or denounce Geffen‘s remarks. 

But I also think that the fact that we had these allegations that the Clintons are liars, that you can‘t trust them that, she‘s too polarizing written up in my newspaper and every other newspaper, on the front page today, I‘m not sure that that serves the Clintons all that well either.  It rehashes all the things that people don‘t like about them and puts the onus and the burden and the focus of this campaign back on her, which is not where they want it to be. 

OLBERMANN:  And Chris, while we have you, let me close with what you know, if anything, about this A.P. report about the attempt to go back in time five years and take away the 2002 authorization, the A.P. report that the Senate Democrats are doing this.  Obviously, this didn‘t just fall out from between the cracks.  Somebody decided to leak this.  What do we know about this story and how realistic is it, or is it grand standing? 

CILLIZZA:  Well, look, I think it‘s still developing.  And I‘m not going to predict what the Senate is going to do.  Because I think on this show a few weeks ago I predicted that they would definitely vote on a resolution about Iraq, but what I think this is about is in some ways this is a do-over.  It‘s giving all these senators who are running for president a chance to say, you know what, we shouldn‘t have done this, and now we‘re going to vote to make it different. 

I‘m not sure that flies with activists though.  A lot of people have said to me, they should have voted the right way then, and going back and making up for it now is not going to change the fact that we‘ve been in this war. 

OLBERMANN:  Is this the backlash, is this the only response there could have been to a situation in which, if you block vote on a non-binding resolution, you‘re going to get something more creative and more nasty from the Democrats? 

CILLIZZA:  Right, I mean, I think what you‘re going to wind up seeing is the Senate Democrats are going to find a way to put Senate Republicans on the record about this war.  I don‘t know how it‘s specifically going to happen.  Maybe this is the vehicle, but the reality is they are going to find a way to do it, because they know it puts Senate Republicans in a very difficult place. 

A number of people in the Senate Republican conference feel as though they need to express their disapproval for this war, and so I think we‘re going to see a vote in some format that expresses a disapproval by the Senate for this policy. 

OLBERMANN:  Might have taken that non-binding option while they had it.  Chris Cillizza of “The Washington Post” and, of course, great thanks for joining us. 

Will the third time be the charm for Britney Spears?  She‘s back in rehab again.  Of course, there is plenty of time to check out again before the top of the hour, 23 minutes from now. 

And the decision is finally in from London, Buckingham Palace has given its blessing to send Prince Harry to the front lines in Iraq.  Oh, that‘s a good idea.  That‘s next.  This is COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN:  If it‘s true, it might have been bizarrely and sadly fitting.  A friendship between Britney Spears and Anna Nicole Smith.  Miss Smith wanted that, reportedly.  And though the two women never became friends, they have become competitors for TV air time.  Here it is, the split screen from about 1:20 today, with Britney Spears‘ travails at the left, and the fight over Anna Nicole Smith‘s body at the right. 

Left, right, two, one, now you now how my producers come up with those nightly COUNTDOWN number assignments.  In any event, our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, it was likely to be a Spears custody hearing canceled after she went back into rehab again.  She returned yesterday evening to the Promises Treatment Center, in Malibu, the same rehab place she had left earlier the same day, after having been there for less than 24 hours. 

This time Lynn Spears, the pop singer‘s mother drove her there.  Then today Kevin Federline‘s attorney withdrew his request for an emergency court hearing that had been scheduled for this afternoon in downtown Los Angeles. reporting that Miss Spears showed up at Federline‘s house last night to see the children and he would not let her in. 

Various sources, mostly TV entertainment shows, claim that Mr.  Federline and Miss Spears agreed that he would care for the children while Miss Spears went back into treatment, which would typically last between 28 and 45 minutes—no, days. 

This is Spear‘s third entrance into rehab, assuming she actually went to one in the Caribbean for less than one day, about a week ago.

Moving from a pop princess to actual royalty.  Even though 1,600 of his fellow soldiers are pulling out of Iraq, Prince Harry is still moving in.  The British Defense Ministry confirming that his regiment will deploy as part of a long-planned troop rotation, though exactly where they will got is being kept secret for his protection. 

One English newspaper reported that elite SAS is also deploying to keep the prince, who is third in line to the throne, safe during his tour of duty.  Prince Harry is reportedly, quote, over the moon about going to war with his unit.  Back in 2005, he said in an interview, quote, there is no way I‘m going to put myself through Sandhurst, the British military academy, and then sit on my arse back home while my boys are out fighting for their country. 

He will deploy to southern Iraq for six months starting in April, and thus, conceivably, put those other boys fighting for their country at even greater risk by himself being an incredibly appealing target for any enemy. 

Nearly two months after he died, James Brown is still well ahead of Anna Nicole Smith in the not yet buried sweepstakes, but he may cough up the lead shortly.  The six adult children of the Godfather of soul, and his companion, Tommy Rae Hynie, have finally agreed on where to bury Mr. Brown.  The location is being kept confidential. 

I‘m guessing that mausoleum in a James Brown kind of Grace Land is out then.  Miss Hynie‘s personal attorney, Robert Rosen, said the burial might take as place in the next few days.  Meanwhile, the manager of the funeral home, in charge of Brown‘s body, Charlie Reid said that he still opens the gold casket now and again.  Quoting, I do that constantly.  That‘s the only way I can actually check him, go in, open the casket and close it.  And he‘s fine. 

Well, other than the dead part!  Since there appears to be a temporary shortage of actually celebrities, I‘m going to be a guest tonight on “Late Night With Conan O‘Brien.”  That‘s tonight, technically tomorrow morning on the East Coast, 12:35 Eastern, 11:35 central on NBC.  Me, Jimmy Fallon and a bread expert, not the band, real bread, you know, like loafs. 

How did it go?  It didn‘t suck. 

Anna Nicole Smith would be turning over in her grave if they would bury the poor woman already.  Instead, the judge passes the buck.  The real question is, how in the hell did he ever pass the bar?  That‘s ahead, but first time for COUNTDOWN‘s latest list of nominees for Worst Person in the World.

The bronze to the endless pageant that is outfielder Manny Ramirez of the Boston Red Sox.  The team gave him his annual permission to show up for Spring Training several days past the official reporting deadline.  It said Ramirez had to be late because he had to attend to family reasons. 

However, according to promoters of a vintage car auction in Atlantic City this Saturday, what he has to attend to is a vintage car auction in Atlantic City this Saturday.  Well, if he‘s bringing his family. 

Our runner-up tonight, Gaytano Siverilli (ph) of Milano, in Italy.  The 63-year-old man had been cashing his father‘s pension checks for just over two years.  He had accumulated $105,000 in that span of time.  Problem was Mr. Siverilli Sr. died two years ago and Mr. Siverilli Jr. was keeping dad‘s body hidden in a freezer. 

OK, say it with me now, he was a popsicle. 

The winners, Sarah Chambers, president of the Young Republicans Club at New York University, right here in Big Town, and the media, and the protesters; 12 members of the Young Republicans decided to stage a Find The Illegal Immigrant contest today.  Somebody would pretend to be one and hide.  Those wanting to play the game, would show up, sign in, pretend to be immigration agents, and try to find the, quote, immigrant, unquote. 

By one estimate, 200 protesters showed up, to say nothing of a few dozen reporters, and the NYU Young Republicans, well 12 of them showed up to man the sign in stand.  One person actually signed up to play the game.  Sarah Chambers, president of the Young Republicans Club at New York University, today‘s Worst—though she got a lot of help from the protesters and the media—Person in the World.


OLBERMANN:  It ended, as most court cases do end, with one of the attorneys collapsing, and the ex-tennis instructor, ex cab driver judge collapsing in tears, possibly because, given a choice of legal rulings A, B or C, he selected number 37-Q.  Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, the fourth and final episode of Judge Larry, the un-reality show, co-starring a Florida judge and the dead body of model Anna Nicole Smith. 

We‘ll apply the you are there technique to this saga again, and get out of the way of the tears and the jeers in a moment.  First, abide this for about two minutes.  We‘ll zoom through the actual news that sneaked out between the judge‘s unprecedented theatrics. 

Though the custody of five-month-old Daniel-Lynne Smith has yet to be settled, today that same infant was essentially was awarded custody of her own deceased mother by Judge Larry Seidlin.  And the parties, once bitterly divided over where to bury Anna Nicole Smith, appear to have come to a voluntary agreement on the subject.  Offered the choice of whether Miss Smith‘s companion Howard K. Stern or her estranged mother Virgie Arthur should be granted custody of the body, Judge Seidlin granted custody of Ms.  Smith to her daughter‘s legal guardian, attorney Richard Milstein. 

But the judge expressed his non-binding recommendation, really a personal wish about Miss Smith‘s final resting place. 


JUDGE LARRY SEIDLIN, FAMILY COURT JUDGE:  Milstein is directed to consult with Arthur, Birkhead and Stern with respect to the disposition of Anna Nicole Smith‘s remains.  I want her buried with her son.  I—there is no shout.  This is not a happy moment.  I want her buried with her son in the Bahamas.  I want them to be together.  And I hope to god you guys give the kid the right shot. 

I sign this order effective almost 4:00.  It‘s a long order.


OLBERMANN:  And before 5:00 p.m., Miss Arthur, Mr. Stern and Daniel-Lynne‘s other self-professed father, Mr. Birkhead, walked out arm in arm to announce that they all now agree to bury Ms. Smith in the Bahamas, maybe. 

There is no way of measuring this truly, but it is a reasonable guess to think that at some point in the last week the question who gets to bury Anna Nicole Smith was probably replaced in the collective American psyche by the question, is this guy a real judge?  I‘m out of order?  You‘re out of order.  You‘re out of order.  The whole system is out of order. 

Hello Larry. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Today, the battle some say has spiraled out of control resumes in a Florida courtroom. 

SEIDLIN:  The candle is burning for us.  Time is of the essence. 

And now the dots are starting to fill in.  There‘s black and white and there‘s a lot of gray in this case. 

I want to give you the benefit of some of my thoughts.  Anna Nicole loves Marilyn Monroe, Camelot, Knights of the Roundtable, all for one, one for all. 

Anna Nicole thinks of Marilyn Monroe, Camelot, Knights of the round table, one for all, all for one.  There is only a few people that one can depend upon in a life-time.  There is only a handful.  I know.  I have a chief judge.  He‘s been chief judge 17 years.  I know this guy worries about me.   

You know, I need my glasses.  I got to do better than buying a pair of glasses from the flea market. 

So here we have Anna Nicole Smith, who is thinking of Camelot, all for one, one for all.  When immigrants come here, or our own parents come here, and they graduate high school, or they don‘t complete high school, they want us to go to college.  You try to keep exercising.  You try to eat.  you try to get a couple hours of sleep.  You try to give the baby a little hug. 

Anna Nicole Smith was one complicated individual.  Shakespeare, she could have filled maybe the character in Shakespeare in Hamlet, Ophelia.  

What age was she when she became pregnant? 


SEIDLIN:  That‘s what I wanted out of your mouth.  Now, 38, you know, is a risky time. 

BIRKHEAD:  As you get closer to 40. 

SEIDLIN:  I don‘t want to tell my wife‘s age, but we were right around

I‘m going to get in trouble for this—it‘s a risky time and every man knows it.  Every man knows that. 

We have a little tension in the air.  I don‘t want to hear any more from that corner.  I haven‘t missed a word here. 

Don‘t get slippery with me.  Don‘t get cute.  Don‘t let my smile—know the inside is tough. 

The lunch hour is coming.


SEIDLIN:  I don‘t want to hear echo.  I don‘t need echo.  I love clarity. 

You‘re trying a case in front of me, a good old southern boy. 

BIRKHEAD:  Houston, my friend Houston, yes. 

SEIDLIN:  California, listen to me.  Houston, Texas.  California, you remember the song, :California Dreaming.” 

Texas, you‘re going to want to ask Larry some questions? 

Houston‘s going to do it?  Good.  Houston, you‘re welcome.  I knew that is why you were coming back. 

Texas, I want you to start helping me, my friend.  You‘re a bright guy.  You can start stimulating this. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘ve known you forever. 


SEIDLIN:  I figured he‘s a diabetic and he didn‘t eat anything.  I can see the coloring.  Texas, I want to be with you ere a long time from now.  Here‘s my credit card.  Just buy him an orange juice.  I always pay.  Are you allowed eat a candy bar?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  A protein bar, Luna bar? 

SEIDLIN:  Give this to him. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Someone called Danny‘s father, Mr. Smith over the phone from La Joya, Texas. 

SEIDLIN:  Billy, good, you‘re in Judge Seidlin‘s courtroom, how are you doing today? 


SEIDLIN:  Would you raise your right hand. 

Madame Clerk? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Do you swear or affirm that the testimony you‘re about to give is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. 


SEIDLIN:  Billy, are you wearing boots today? 

I‘m wrapping this case up in a few minutes.  I gave little antidotes during this case to try to take the pressure off you all, to try to keep it moving, because I tell you something, in the old days, I‘d be banging some heads together.  It‘s enough baloney here.  It‘s enough baloney. 

If you were alone in my chambers I‘d tell you.  I did a lot of talking.  You know, the more you talk in this business, the worse off you are, really.  The less you say, the better.  I knew that from the beginning.  I walked into this building really, at age 26 as a kid, I was a stranger in a strange land.  And I always thought I‘d leave at 56. 

You stay 30 years.  And I wanted to walk out of here—see, it‘s true.  I wanted to walk out of here standing erect, not—I kid around with my friends and family, I didn‘t want to be carried out of here like what happened to you Texas, for a minute. 

I‘m done and I‘m not going to talk about this case ever again. 

DAN ABRAMS, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:  We have been wasting our time for three days. 


OLBERMANN:  Stay with me, Texas, me love you long time.  Of course, just when you think you‘re out, they pull you back in.  Smith‘s mother, Virgie Arthur, will file an appeal to Judge Seidlin‘s ruling in the morning, and a hearing on that will probably occur tomorrow, by which time we may all truly be envying the late Ms. Smith. 

Let‘s recap the news breaking this hour, that Senate Democrats have decided to take action to limit the U.S. military mission in Iraq.  Un-named party officials and other Capitol Hill sources telling the “Associated Press” tonight, within this last hour, that majority lawmakers are drafting legislation that would restrict U.S. troops in Iraq to specific tasks, falling under more of a support role, things like training Iraqi forces and police, maintaining Iraq‘s territorial integrity and assisting in the withdrawal of U.S. troops. 

One instance where combat would be allowed, according to this early draft, according the “Associated Press” report, fighting al Qaeda.  An exception which would also buy the Democrats a certain degree of political cover to say the least.  The plan is to drop this legislation into anti-terror measures that are already scheduled to be on the Senate floor next week. 

A spokesman for the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada declined to discuss the deliberations with the “Associated Press,” saying only no final decisions have been made on how to proceed.  Once again, the Democrats drafting legislation that would restrict U.S. troops in Iraq to more of a support role, and essentially roll back the clock, back before the authorization by the Senate and the House of the war in Iraq. 

Stay tuned to this news hour, in the days and weeks to come, for updates on this.  That is COUNTDOWN for this the 1,411th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  From New York, I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.



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