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'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Sept. 25

Read the transcript to the Tuesday show

Guests: Jane Harman, Jonathan Alter, Danny Dumas

KEITH OLBERMANN, MSNBC HOST (voice-over):  Which of these stories will be talking about tomorrow? 

The reign of terror continues.  The director of National Intelligence insists on renewal of the FISA Act and repeats that Congress, merely asking questions about Bush administration surveillance of Americans and others, would lead to the killings of Americans. 


MIKE MCCONNELL, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE:  When we see that much activity at one time, our concern is it‘s a signal. 


OLBERMANN:  The full court press to let the administration do whatever it wants, nullify whatever of your rights it can think of continues.

Including trying to terrify Senators and Congressmen by trotting out intelligence, phony intelligence, that the Capitol itself might be an imminent target.  The Congresswoman who insists that happened last month, Terrorism Risk Assessment Subcommittee Chair Jane Harman of the California, is our special guest. 

The president continues to push for endless war.  An unfathomable story that Mr. Bush is sending back-channel advice on how to stay in Iraq to Hillary Clinton. 

His public statements seem almost as nonsensical at the U.N.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: People in Lebanon and Afghanistan and Iraq ask for our help, and every civilized nation has a responsibility to stand with them. 


OLBERMANN:  Is this civilized?  Is it responsible?  The Rudy Giuliani fund-raiser soliciting donations of $9.11.  Rudy 9/11 Giuliani, 9/11‘s exploitation 9/11 of 9/11. 

Nearly as absurd, an anti-fat food commercial reenacting Senator Larry Craig‘s infamous restaurant lay-over? 


ANNOUNCER:  And Congress buys up millions of dollars of these products and dumps them on our schools.


OLBERMANN:  And the lines across America for Halo 3.  Anticipated first day revenue of more than $150 million for Halo 3.  Mania of Harry Potteresque proportions for Halo 3.  Just one question.  What the hell is Halo 3? 

All that and more, now on “”Countdown”.” 

(on camera):  Good evening.  The so-called PATRIOT Act had nothing to do with patriotism, so it shouldn‘t come as a surprise the Protect America Act has little to do with protecting Americans, nothing to do with protecting their constitutional freedoms, like privacy, and everything to do with the White House‘s effort to operate outside the law. 

Our fifth story on the “Countdown” tonight, the changes made last month to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, FISA, were apparently made under false pretensions.  Congresswoman Jane Harman on that in a moment. 

First, the Bush administration is fighting to make the changes permanent by scaring the Democratic majority into compliance.  It has worked before.  In August, Congress passed a law to expand for six months the power of Bush administration to conduct surveillance without a court‘s approval at a time when the White House is pressing Congress for swift passage of a new FISA law, even though the current legislation does not expire until February. 

The director of mass intelligence warning the Senate that al Qaeda recruits from Europe are being trained in Pakistan to carry out attacks inside the U.S. because, he says, Europeans can enter the U.S. without a visa.  He worries that Osama bin Laden‘s recent video and audio releases might be a signal to terrorist cells to carry out operations. 

Yet, as fear mongering goes, those are the appetizers.  Last month, in an interview with the “El Paso Times,” Admiral McConnell said publicly debating changes to the FISA Act would mean that, quote, “some Americans are going to die,” unquote.  Nothing ambiguous about that statement, especially when he repeated it last week in testimony to the House.  Despite the fact that the Senator Patrick Leahy began today‘s hearings by admonishing Admiral McConnell for such an irresponsible comment, it seems DNA McConnell could not help himself. 


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER, ®, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Congresswoman Askew asked you in House proceedings if you thought the congressional questioning of the administration‘s surveillance program would lead to the killing of Americans and, according to the record, you responded, quote, “Yes, ma‘am I do.”  Is that an accurate quotation? 

MCCONNELL:  Yes, sir, it is.

SPECTER:  Well, if we get into that territory, Director McConnell, tell us, and we will insist on a public session, and undertake it in a private session to find out what we need to know. 


OLBERMANN:  Thanks for sticking up for the Constitution, Senator.  Every once in a while, Mr. Specter offering a reminder that no matter how moderate, he is still a Republican.

When Senator Leahy last month asked the White House to provide the legal rationale for the domestic spying program, the council‘s office responded that much of the laws, not about surveillance, about laws could be subject to executive privileges.  Another example of the White House doing something because it feels it can. 

On Capitol Hill today, Admiral McConnell refusing to answer a question because of executive privilege. 


SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE:  Do you agree that FISA, as presently written, includes language that it is the exclusive means to conduct intelligence for surveillance for intelligence purposes? 

MCCONNELL:  Senator, you and I have discussed this before. 

FEINSTEIN:  Right.  I want to go on the record with...

MCCONNELL:  Yes, ma‘am.  And what—this is how I would execute this authority under the authorities that I hold.  But what you‘re addressing is a constitutional issue, the difference between Article I and II. 

FEINSTEIN:   All I‘m asking for is a yes or no...

MCCONNELL:  I can‘t commit one way or the other to a debate between the executive branch and legislative branch.  Under my authority, we get this law positioned right, that‘s how I would cause this community to execute our authorities.  So I would be consistent with this law.  But I can‘t solve the constitutional debate that your question is addressing at a fundamental level. 


OLBERMANN:  Time to turn to our own Howard Fineman, senior Washington correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine. 

Howard, good evening. 


OLBERMANN:  Has anyone on Capitol Hill looked at a calendar?  FISA doesn‘t expire until February.  What‘s this urgency and why the fear mongering.  And are we supposed to expect a terrorist hint, a warning of some plot by the end of the week or end of the month or when? 

FINEMAN:  I‘m up here in New Hampshire where the slogan is live free or die, which is relevant to this debate.  I called back to some of my sources on the Hill this afternoon and tried to get a sense what is going on here. 

First of all, the presidential campaign is going on.  The fear mongering is going on, as you said.  The administration wants to push this now because they think they have a better chance of getting it now than in the thick of the campaign a few months from now.  Senator Leahy‘s admonitions were ignored by McConnell today. 

OLBERMANN:  As part of the renewal of FISA, the Bush administration has asked for—this is extraordinary by itself—retroactive liability protection for private-sector companies that might have been involved in FISA activities. 

If the communications companies are not involved in things that they need protection, Howard, which has been the White House‘s claim throughout this, why would the administration now be asking for liability protection for things that AT&T and other companies have not done?  Did the White House just reveal a small, logical flaw in the argument here? 

FINEMAN:  I think it‘s a very big flaw in the argument.  Clearly they‘re concerned that some of what they‘ve been doing before this recent law was passed, and maybe since, but certainly, before could be subject to lawsuits for violations of the kinds of constitutional rights they‘re saying have not been at issue. 

So I think a very, very good point that you make.  But like so much

else in this debate, whether it‘s going to be discussed in public is a very

is a very serious and very open question.  I‘m surprised that we‘re even having this conversation, as a matter of fact. 

OLBERMANN:  You mean in case the camera suddenly shorts out or the satellite lines drops. 

FINEMAN:  We‘re right here on the Green, yes.  We‘re here on the Dartmouth Green.  You never know. 

OLBERMANN:  But there‘s one other equation to this.  No matter what we are actually dealing with, the Democrats may realize, at some point, may they not, that they‘re dealing with a lame duck administration and they could get away with growing a spine at this point, not to mention other parts of the body? 

OLBERMANN:  Well, the administration is lame duck.  But the issue of national security is a very live one, and the Democrats do—I‘ve been covering them now all over the country for a while on the campaign trail.  They‘re very concerned about this issue.  Very concerned about still being painted into the corner that the Democrats have been painted into for a generation about strength on national security.  It‘s the only issue where the Republicans are still in the ball game with them, and the Democrats haven‘t quite figured out how to handle it. 

Here in a place like New Hampshire, there is concern about this on both sides.  This is a libertarian conservative state.  People are concerned about constitutional rights here.  This is a place where the Democrats can and should stand up on this issue, but you don‘t hear them doing it all the time. 

OLBERMANN:  Why not go as full throttle on this as the Democrats have?  In other words, why not at this point say, we‘re being boxed into a corner and can‘t talk about this in public.  We have these guys making stuff up, as we‘ll hear from Jane Harman in a moment, to scare the Congress into passing legislation—to scare the Congress into passing legislation by personally threatening their lives with some sort of phony plot about the capitol. 

Why not go full throttle in response and say, you know what, the Republicans are trying to neuter the Constitution.  Why not run on that kind of platform? 

FINEMAN:  I think the Democrats are going to have to do that.  There‘s no way out of this debate for them except forward.  It‘s complex.  They need to explain to the American people what‘s at stake.  They need to take the risk of doing that, because if they don‘t do so, they‘re always going to be defensive. 

You hear out on the campaign trail Democrats talking about things like habeas corpus.  You don‘t hear a lot of Latin on the campaign trail, but the Democrats say they‘re concerned about constitutional rights.  The right to privacy is an important one. 

The polls show that the American people are willing to give the government a lot of latitude on this, Keith, but they won‘t give the government unlimited latitude.  If the Democrats have to draw the line, they better get out and starting doing it now. 

OLBERMANN:  We‘ll get them some chalk. 

Howard Fineman of MSNBC and “Newsweek” joining us from New Hampshire tonight.  Great thanks, Howard. 

FINEMAN:  Thank you, Keith.         

OLBERMANN:  As we reported, Congresswoman Harman at a forum on the Foreign Intelligence Act said that the Bush administration knowingly used false intelligence last month when it managed to convince lawmakers they should temporarily expand FISA, the same legislation they‘re trying to scare lawmakers into doing permanently. 

Earlier this evening I spoke with Congresswoman Harman about the administration‘s tactics. 


OLBERMANN:  Congresswoman, thanks your time tonight. 


OLBERMANN:  I want to get to what you told the Senator for American Progress Forum about how last month the administration played with the phony threat against the Capitol to get what it wanted on FISA.  Let me ask you about the hearing today.  In reaffirming to Senator Specter that mere questioning of surveillance by the Bush administration would lead to the killing of Americans, what in the world was the director of National Intelligence doing? 

HARMAN:  Well, this administration has been playing the fear card and do it extremely effectively.  I assume that‘s what it was.  Obviously, that disappoints me since Mike McConnell is extremely knowledgeable about intelligence programs.  I think his heart‘s in the right place. 

I would urge him to be less political and more substantive in the way he‘s handling this issue of FISA and the renewal of the Protect America Act.  I think we can do this on a by partisan basis and get surveillance right.  Right means within the laws and our Constitution. 

OLBERMANN:  And about the temporary expansion of FISA by Congress on the eve of its summer break beginning last month, this was in the wake of an intelligence claim there was a risk of an attack on the U.S. Capitol, perhaps before the 9/11 anniversary, and you told that forum, “That specific intelligence claim was bogus.”  How do you know that, and what are you implying here? 

HARMAN:  The chatter was up all summer at the level of pre-9/11 chatter.  That means the conversations our intelligence community learns about.  I was told by a member of Congress that there was a specific piece of intelligence about a threat to the capitol.  I found it.  It took some work to find it.  It‘s classified, so I‘m not going to tell you specifically what it said.  But on the face of the document it said that the intelligence community did not deem the source to be reliable. 

And that piece of intelligence, somehow without the disclaimer, I believe, was surging around the House floor.  A lot of members believed it, were worried about it.  Thought if we adjourned without in some way closing this gap on surveillance, so-called gap on surveillance, we might be putting the country at risk in August.  I think that fueled a lot of the effort to vote for something.  That something they voted for, and I voted against, was the wrong thing. 

OLBERMANN:  And this is while extra guards were being positioned around the capitol, and Senator Lott was saying—let me read the quote exactly—

The disaster could be on our doorstep,” which now makes perfect sense in light of what you said. 

The preferred dictionary definition of terrorism reads “to coerce by intimidation or fear, sees synonyms at frighten.”  Is there anyway around concluding that to get what it wanted from the House and the Senate on the 2nd of August that the Bush administration coerced by intimidation or fear? 

HARMAN:  I don‘t know who started these rumors about the bogus piece of intelligence.  I don‘t know if it was the White House.  I don‘t have any reason to believe it was Mike McConnell.  It could have been an outside group or members of the Congress.  I don‘t think it was the only thing fueling the debate. 

The clock was ticking.  They ran out the clock.  The Senate passed a bill that I thought was very unfortunate and left town, and the House‘s options were take the Senate draft or not.  And “not” would mean that the administration would continue its claim that there was a huge gap in collection. 

I actually find that quite incredible, given the fact that, at will, over most of the last five or six years, the administration hasn‘t followed FISA or all the FISA.  They admit that.  So why would there be a gap in collection? 

OLBERMANN:  Nobody doubts the existence of terrorism or terrorists or the need to act on their existence.  At this point, is our freedom beginning to be or even now already at greater risk from terrorism or from people who exploiting the fact of terrorism to gain unprecedented and perhaps irreversible rights to spy and detain and rendition and everything else? 

HARMAN:  This is quite a scary period in our history.  There are right answers.  We can get surveillance right.  I think most of us, maybe all of us in the House and in the Senate, support surveilling people who are trying to harm us.  We can do that within the careful framework of FISA. 

FISA is not broken.  What‘s broken is the view of executive power that some hold in the administration.  They claim it trumps all laws and our Constitution.  And I can‘t believe that anyone around here would be so short-sighted as to buy that, given the fact that they‘re likely to be a different president in the White House in 14 months and she may not be somebody that they would hope would be there. 

OLBERMANN:  Jane Harman of California, chairwoman of the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Intelligence, Information Sharing and Terrorism Risk Assessment.  Great thanks for some of your time tonight.

HARMAN:  Thank you. 


OLBERMANN:  The congresswoman added she believed a deal on FISA is possible.  Also that she told the intelligence agencies about the specific threat stories circulating two months ago.  They told her they had not heard of it, which makes you wonder. 

Those agencies claim to know what‘s going on behind closed doors in Germany and Iran and everywhere else, but they have no clue what‘s being said at the U.S. Capitol.           

How deep is the president‘s obsession with staying in Iraq?  Deep enough there‘s a report he has been passing how-to tips to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.  I‘m not kidding. 

The candidate who would probably trademark 9/11 if he could do so. 

The next Giuliani fund-raising theme -- $9.11 for Rudy. 

You‘re watching “”Countdown”” on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN:  Howard Hughes used to make huge donations to the National Republican Party and the National Democratic Party.  Rupert Murdoch has even hedged his bets.  But George W. Bush passing along political advice by back channels to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama? 

Our fourth story on the “Countdown,” if this story is correct, the president is saying more indirectly to the senators about Iraq than he today said directly to the U.N. about Iraq. 


BUSH:  The extremists are doing everything in their power to bring down the young democracies.  The people of Lebanon and Afghanistan and Iraq have asked for our help, and every civilized nation has a responsibility to stand with them. 


OLBERMANN:  We knew Mr. Bush also felt this way about those Republicans trying to succeed him, but the Democrats too, to the point of sends out unsolicited advice? 

So reports the right wing writer Bill Sammon is an article and in his new book about Bush, quoting the president‘s chief of staff at length on bipartisan tips for the incumbent. 

Bush has, says Josh Bolton, been urging candidates, “Don‘t get yourself too locked in where you stand right now.  If you end up sitting where I sit, things could change dramatically, especially if it‘s a Democrat.” 

Bolton continues, “He wants to create conditions where a Democrat will not only have the leeway, but the obligation to see it out.”

It goes further still.  Sammon quoting the president directly about his counterterror power grab.

“Look I‘d like to make as many decisions as I can make and do a lot of

the heavy lifting prior to whoever my successor is.  And then that person

is going to have come and look at the same data I‘ve been looking at and

come to their own conclusion.”        

Joining me now to discuss the damnedest thing either of us has heard in a long time, “Washington Post” columnist and associated editor, Eugene Robinson. 

Gene, good evening. 


Hi, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  It is, isn‘t it?  It‘s the damnedest thing either one of us has heard in a long time. 

ROBINSON:  It really is.  You could not make this stuff up.  Look, it doesn‘t matter if the majority of Americans think the Iraq war is some sort of demented misadventure.  George W. Bush is in the minority.  When it gets down to minority of one, he believes fervently in what he‘s doing. 

So apparently, he wants to be helpful.  He wants to create conditions so a Democratic president can come in and actually prolong and continue and even deepen the quagmire.  Could further besmirch our reputation in the world by keeping Guantanamo open.  He mentions he keeps Guantanamo going so the successor will have that option.  It‘s a great, great P.R. vehicle for the United States, the Guantanamo camp. 

But all this sounds, frankly, vaguely delusional, but it‘s the damnedest thing I‘ve heard in a long time. 

OLBERMANN:  It rings almost like, if  you found out now that Richard Nixon, as he‘s walking out of the White House in August 1974, with Gerald Ford, is saying here‘s how you plug leaks and how you operate the taping system at the White House.  Is there no cognizant on his part that the only question now is if the Democratic nominee is going to run on a campaign of 100% pullout or a 95% pullout?  He has no awareness of that at all? 

ROBINSON:  Apparently not.  I mean, look, he has this kind of Churchillian view of his himself, of his position in this war.  He sees it as our World War II apparently, never surrender. 

Implicit in these reports is he assumes any rational victor in the presidential sweepstakes will come into the Oval Office and immediately see the wisdom of his course of action.  I doubt that. 

I doubt that most of the Republican contenders, if elected, would continue a certain of the policies that Bush says he‘s—he would like to see going, like Guantanamo.  I think Guantanamo will be shut down almost no matter who takes over, but there you have it. 

OLBERMANN:  You mentioned Churchill, but Churchill had 40 years political experience and had changed from the Conservative Party to the Liberals, back to the conservative before he was in a position of authority where anybody believed him.  And he only got into that position of authority because they basically ran out of—everybody else was wrong and he was the last one standing there. 

The analogy seems so strange, I wonder if there‘s a political rat of some sort to be smelled here, if not this one in particular, that someone is trying to muddy up the area for people who don‘t follow this stuff—well, a Democrat will keep us in Iraq and a Republican will keep us in Iraq, so that‘s not a big issue this time around? 

ROBINSON:  I suppose that‘s possible, but just keep in mind the American people don‘t want us to stay in Iraq.  I don‘t see how that really helps very much. 

And the Democrats, you know, all they have to do is come out and say, guess what?  We don‘t really want to stay there permanently like President Bush would like us to, and by the way, we‘d like to close Guantanamo.  That kind of clears it up.  So if it‘s Machiavellian, maybe it‘s Machiavelli‘s kind of slower brother or something. 

OLBERMANN:  It‘s Machiavelli.  It‘s Prince Match-A-Belly.

ROBINSON:  Prince Match-A-Belly.  Right. 

OLBERMANN:  I‘m just looking.  January 21, 2009, they‘ll be finding graffiti in the White House men‘s room about how to stay in Iraq. 

“Washington Post” columnist Eugene Robinson.  As always, sir, great thanks for your time. 

ROBINSON:  Good talking to you, Keith.       

OLBERMANN:  Rudy Giuliani‘s fund-raiser and the bad taste it is soliciting contributions $9.11.

And anti-fat legislation supporters in the bad taste that is recreating the adventures of Larry Craig in their commercial. 

And no longer teenage, not quite mutant ninja ladies?  Gimme‘ all your smokes or I cut you.

Next on “Countdown”. 


OLBERMANN:  88 years ago today, began what might have been the greatest crisis to ever engulf a White House.  President Woodrow Wilson, completing a punishing nationwide speaking tour advocating the passage of his League of Nations after the end of the First World War, suffered a stroke at Pueblo, Colorado and was rushed back to Washington by train.  There, for weeks, the president of the United States saw no one but his wife and his doctors.  Rumors spread he was a total invalid and that Edith Wilson was running the country. 

Finally in November a group of senators was admitted to see the stricken president, who promptly erased all suspicion that he was a vegetable.  Senator Fall of New Mexico said to Wilson we‘re praying for you.  To which Wilson replied, which way? 

On that note, let‘s play Oddball. 


OLBERMANN (voice-over):  We begin at another place President Wilson spoke for the League of Nations, the Sunoco station at Richland Hills, PA.  Now, sword-wielding lady Ninjas rule the knight there.  Security camera catching two women, one with a dagger, the other with a sword, dressed as Japanese warriors, knocking over the gas station.  Have no fear, Richland Hills P.D. is keenly aware of what they‘re up against. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They were all covered in black and carrying swords.  So yes, it did appear that they were dressed like Ninjas. 

OLBERMANN:  Ninjas?  Ninjas?  It‘s like the wild west out here, only with nunchucks.  We‘ve got Ninjas.  The ladies tied up the clerk and packed a bag full of cigarettes and scratch-offs.  The women are still on the loose, so keep your eyes peeled for two chain smoking female Ninjas scratching off lottery tickets with a samurai sword.. 

To Port Maquarie (ph), Australia, where we get a glimpse at the rare white Koala.  Only a handful of these suckers on the Australian continent, so when this guy was found by himself not doing too well in the Bush, bets plucked him out and nursed him back to health.  He‘s happy about it.  The white Koala appears calm and timid.  Don‘t fool yourself Timmy.  He‘d rip your stupid face off if you gave him half the chance. 

Scientists say the Koala‘s white hair is a rare occurrence in nature. 

Scientist also note this guy‘s parents had a polar bear for a milkman. 

Finally, to Billingshurst (ph), England, and the finals in this year‘s lawn mowing racing championships.  No real mowing involved, nor any real lawn involved.  Before the green flag is dropped, competitors strip their mower of their blades, making the competition a lot less dangerous and a lot less interesting.  Nevertheless, some British guy won the race, probably, because—I don‘t really care.  Until you build a flying lawn mower, like we have here, and you start racing that bad boy around, I‘m not watching. 


OLBERMANN:  That without 9/11 Rudy Giuliani would have nothing to say is well established.  But to have a Giuliani fund-raiser and solicit donations of nine dollars and 11 cents, the mind reels.  As it will in worsts, Bill-O rips Columbia‘s invitation to Ahmadinejad and then promptly does what to Ahmadinejad?  These stories ahead, but first time for our goof balls and good guys here at COUNTDOWN‘s top three best persons in the world. 

Number three, best point, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino, a copy of the president‘s speech to the U.N. somehow wound up on the U.N.  website before he gave it.  It was what they call a marked up copy, with phonetic pronunciations for names like Sarkozy and Kyrgyzstan.  So somebody asked Perino if the president has a hard time pronouncing some of the names.  She declined to answer, saying it was an offensive question, and she‘s right.  You want to rip him for having trouble pronouncing names and place, OK.  But don‘t also rip him for taking steps to reduce the problem.  Everybody who speaks publicly has done this at least once.

Number two, best sign the animals are rising.  From the Samango (ph) Wildlife Center on the island of Borneo, a woman tourist photographing an orangutan.  The orangutan evidently got bored, tried to take the tourist‘s backpack.  The woman fought the orangutan for it.  Then the orangutan grabbed her socks and shoes, and then used his teeth to pull off her pants. 

Number one, best impression of King Solomon.  Rodney Rogers of Cincinnati, living in a house which he says he was to buy from his friends.  They dilleyed, they dalleyed, they wouldn‘t finalize the deal, he says.  Mr. Rodney Rogers got kind of upset.  He sawed the house in half, right through the sidings, the dry walls, the windows.  Another beautiful day in Mister Rogers‘s neighborhood. 


OLBERMANN:  Around the country tomorrow night supporters of Rudy Giuliani will hold house parties to raise money for his presidential campaign.  In our third story, the COUNTDOWN to 2008, if you happen to attend the one in Palo Alto, California, when you reach into your wallet to pay your way in, you will get morbid proof that despite his denials, Mr.  Giuliani is exploiting the events of September 11, 2001.  He first based his consulting business and then his campaign on the national profile he gained from 9/11. 

Now his Palo Alto fund-raiser tomorrow is called 9/11 for Rudy.  Admission per person, nine dollars and 11 cents.  His campaign denied knowledge of it today, but did not say whether it will deposit the 9/11 checks or the pennies corresponding to that national day of anguish, just a week after publicly, forcefully condemning the General Petraeus MoveOn ad.  Giuliani responded to this offense in his own camp by releasing a printed statements consisting of two whole sentences, saying the decision, quote, to ask individuals for that amount was an unfortunate choice. 

Perhaps feeling they could have raised more money by charging 2,974 dollars each.  That would be one for each of the dead from that day.  Let‘s turn to MSNBC contributor Jonathan Alter, also senior editor of “Newsweek Magazine.”  John, thanks for your time tonight. 


OLBERMANN:  This is the tough talking man who wraps himself in 9/11. 

The best he comes up with is an unfortunate choice? 

ALTER:  Politicians don‘t like to back down beyond the sort of weasel words when they get into trouble.  That‘s really nothing new.  But it is pretty shameless to try and do this.  I don‘t think they would have tried it if it were in New York, where people knew a lot of the folks who died on 9/11, or in Washington at the Pentagon.  Can you imagine, Keith, if like General Grant, when he was running for president, said let‘s hold a fund-raiser at the Appamatox court house, you know, or Vicksburg. 

If Franklin Roosevelt said we were attacked at Pearl Harbor.  Let‘s have everybody come to our fund-raiser and give a pearl.  You really don‘t mix events where a lot of people lost their lives with trying to raise money for your campaign.  It‘s just really pretty tasteless. 

OLBERMANN:  You raised an interesting question about Palo Alto and not trying it in New York.  Is there suggestion here geographically that if you weren‘t in Shanksville, New York or Washington, or you didn‘t have somebody on one of the planes or in one of the buildings, that there‘s a photo op quality still to 9/11?  It‘s a good place to stand in front of and take this picture?  Do we have a national schism on this that maybe we haven‘t recognized yet? 

ALTER:  I think that‘s a good point.  I don‘t want to speak for everybody who doesn‘t live in the area or everybody who doesn‘t know anyone who died on 9/11, like so many of us in the New York area.  But I do think that they‘re a little bit, you know, less sensitive to it.  And I think that‘s why Rudy Giuliani is not popular in New York City right now.  He has very little support for his presidential campaign.  A lot of people like Mayor Bloomberg, but they‘re not for Giuliani.  They really see his warts.  A split between them and folks in the rest of the country where Giuliani is doing extremely well and where the 9/11, 24/7 is going over big. 

OLBERMANN:  If—using his phrase, if it‘s an unfortunate choice about this thing tomorrow night in Palo Alto, the nine dollars and 11 cents, why hasn‘t he canceled it and made as big a deal as possible in canceling it?  Wouldn‘t that turn into a positive for his campaign? 

ALTER:  Well, I think that what they say is that this event, which is being hosted by former Judge Abraham Sofar (ph) was not really designed as a 9/11 event and it was some younger people that did this.  Wiser heads have prevailed.  They don‘t need to cancel the whole thing.  This is just the latest in a series of strange episodes in the Giuliani campaign. 

You had this situation where he was addressing the NRA the other day.  His cell phone went off and it was his wife Judy calling.  People wondered if it was a stunt, because the same thing happened in front of a Hispanic group a couple of months ago.  So you sort of wonder what‘s going on here.  Either his wife has him on an extremely short leash or they‘re just doing another kind of ill thought out stunt. 

OLBERMANN:  It was is schtick, but there wasn‘t any funny in it.   

ALTER:  Yes, and for them to deny that it was a misplaced joke—they tried to make it seem like it was really spontaneous.  Did she tell him don‘t ever shut off your cell phone when I‘m calling, Rudy?  I don‘t know what her message is to her husband. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes, that would bode ill for a presidency.  One last question about 9/11 and Palo Alto tomorrow.  Even if we believe the campaign denial of knowledge and essentially authorship of this, doesn‘t it still suggest that Mr. Giuliani has done nothing to discourage his own people from playing this 9/11 card whenever, wherever, as often as they think it will benefit him? 

WALTER:  Look, it is his card.  I think “The Onion” had it right.  He‘s running to be president of 9/11.  Nobody who‘s been a mayor, Keith, has ever gone directly from mayor to president.  Never happened in American history.  In order to do that, you know, his springboard is this tragic event, this a horrible attack on our country.  And there‘s something that‘s just a little bit, I think, tasteless about trying to do that. 

OLBERMANN:  Amen.  Jonathan Alter, senator editor of “Newsweek Magazine,” political analyst here on MSNBC.  As always, great thanks for joining us. 

ALTER:  Thanks Keith.

OLBERMANN:  The bad taste hits keep on coming.  Re-creating Larry Craig in the Minneapolis toilet to advocate against fatty foods. 

And he‘s the most pleasant and careful inebriated man I‘ve met.  That does not count when he gets, as police alleged, behind a wheel.  That‘s next.  This is COUNTDOWN.


OLBERMANN:  In tomorrow‘s hearing for Idaho Senator men‘s room Larry Craig, the senator will not appear, despite the fact he‘s asking a court to withdraw his guilty plea because he did not quite understand what he was doing at an earlier hearing he did not attend.  You think the guilty plea means Craig‘s days of public service are over?  No, he‘s still lending a hand to his fellow man.  You should excuse the expression. 

In our second story tonight, Senator Craig‘s infamous exploits in an airport men‘s room have inspired many a knock off on the Internets, and sadly, even on certain shameless cable news programs like this one.  Now the world of do-gooders has discovered that when video hungry cable news ignores your worthy cause, you can always Larry Craig it. 

So when the non-profit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine wanted to raise awareness about the farm bill now in the Senate, a bill which would spend tax payer money to raise money to feed American children high-fat food, like bacon and burgers, a bill supported like politicians like Senator Saxby Chambliss, who received lots of donations from the makers of high fat food like bacon and burgers, the group knew just how to get our attention. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s their dirty little secret.  Members of Congress taking PAC money from corporations producing bacon, burgers and other fatty foods.  In turn, Congress buys up millions of dollars of these products and dumps them on our schools.  Companies get rich and kids get fat.  Is your senator on the gravy train?  Find out at 


OLBERMANN:  And if you do contact your representative, do not let them get away with telling you they‘ve got a wide stance. 

From health conscious foods, a wide stance, on to our nightly round up of celebrity and entertainment news, Keeping Tabs, with Kiefer Sutherland arrested this morning on a misdemeanor charge of driving under the influence.  He was pulled over a little after 1:00 a.m. in West Los Angeles, allegedly making an illegal u-turn and he failed a field sobriety test, registering a blood alcohol lovely level somewhere over the .08 limit.  Sutherland was released at about 4:00 a.m., once he posted about 25,000 dollars in bail. 

Mr. Sutherland is famous in Santa Monica, California for events of about seven years ago, when not being a happy flyer and facing a 16 hour air journey to Australia, he intentionally become so inebriated in public that he needed to be supported as he walked out of a restaurant, but he never at any moment ceased to be polite, cordial and almost fully intelligible. 

For George Clooney no problems.  He‘s even up and running again after an accident on his motorcycle.  Mr. Clooney and his girlfriend, Sarah Lawson, appeared in New York last night at the premier of his new film, “Michael Clayton”.  Ms. Larson, rather, was a passenger on Clooney‘s motorcycle last Friday in New Jersey when he collided with a car that was preparing to make a turn.  Clooney and Larson were both wearing helmets, thus suffering only minor injures.  Miss Larson broke her big toe.  Mr.  Clooney cracked a rib and he said he was fine, quoting, just dinged up a little bit.  Get in line for that, buddy. 

Thousands line up for Halo 3.  Revenue expected to exceed the first weekend of the last Spider-Man movie.  OK, I give, what‘ a Halo 3? 

That‘s next, first time for COUNTDOWN‘s worst persons in the world.  The bronze to Congressman Duncan Hunter in California.  He had said that if Columbia University permitted Iranian President Ahmadinejad to speak there, he would lead a Congressional effort to cut off federal funds to Columbia university.  You know where they do crap like this, Congressman?  Threaten and punish universities that host unpopular speakers?  Iran.  Congrats, Hunter.  You‘re Ahmadinejad, only with a simpler to pronounce name. 

Runner up, Bill-O.  We quoted his I‘m so racist I don‘t even know I‘m racist remark yesterday about taking Al Sharpton out to dinner at the Harlem Restaurant.  “I couldn‘t get over the fact that there was no difference between Silvia‘s restaurant and any other restaurant in New York City.  I mean, it was exactly the same, even though it‘s run by blacks, primarily black patronship.  There wasn‘t one person in Silvia‘s who was screaming M-fer, I want more ice tea.” 

Well, CNN went even further.  It played the audio of Bill-O‘s astonishment that a black restaurant was a nice place.  Tonight, Bill-O has proclaimed, CNN has moved to the dark side.  Of course, CNN‘s Rick Sanchez, O‘Reilly phoned him last night and screamed at him and insisted there was no racist intent, which proves the point the man has lived 59 years without realizing he‘s a textbook passive aggressive racist. 

Our winner is Bill-O.  Not piling on here.  This is the comic relief part.  Back to Ahmadinejad.  Billy called his speech at Columbia, quote, revolting, and described the president of the school as hypocritical beyond belief for inviting him to speak there.  Bill revealed that he had invited Ahmadinejad to speak on his own TV show.  Oh, he is wonderful.  Bill O‘Reilly today‘s Worst Person in the World!


OLBERMANN:  The comparison in terms of consumer madness is to the latest Harry Potter book or the iPhone.  A comparison in terms of first day profit is to the last Spider Man movie, 150 million.  The money and the madness are about Halo 3.  Our number one story, great.  Now, what‘s Halo 3?  All kidding aside, it‘s big, big I tell you, with a million pre-orders and long lines to buy the thing.  It‘s the futuristic combat video game for Xbox, which went on sale at 12:01 this morning. 

By midnight tonight is expected to have grossed 150 million or more.  The rollout included Halo 3 parties in New York, in Hollywood with teen sensation Zach Efron, the kid from “High School Musical,” the one without the pictures.  And in Manchester, New Hampshire, where Air Force recruiters co-sponsored the launch party.  One recruiter, Christopher Johnson, saying, quote, our target market is identical to that of video game stores. 

And for all that hype, reports were rampant today that the game‘s disks were being scratched by limited edition packaging, but that the disks still played properly. 

We‘re joined by the Halo expert from “Wired Magazine,” Danny Dumas. 

Thank you for your time tonight, sir. 

DANNY DUMAS, “WIRED MAGAZINE”:  Hello, how are you doing, Keith? 

OLBERMANN:  All right.  If you don‘t rib me for being a Luddite here, I won‘t rip you for being an enthusiast.  But for the laymen, explain why this is such a big deal. 

DUMAS:  The game itself is very, very immersive.  It‘s combined probably one of the most intricate plots we‘ve ever seen in a video game with some of the most balanced game play we‘ve ever seen, along with sort of like a—kind of like a free-flowing sort of experience that kind of kind of culminates together in like the perfect storm of like plot, game play, and graphics.  The graphics on it are some of the best we‘ve ever seen. 

OLBERMANN:  So the story involves—I‘m told this.  I don‘t know it.  But it‘s a master chief and a Covenant and a Great Flood.  Help me out here. 

DUMAS:  OK, so the story itself takes place 500 years in the future.  And you play as the Master Chief, who is a—kind of like a genetically modified super soldier.  He‘s faster, sort of deadlier, bigger, stronger than any other soldier that humanity has.  You are fighting against an alien race called the Covenant.  The covenant are religiously motivated.  It is their—kind of like—religion points (INAUDIBLE)  kind of wants to wipe humanity off the map. 

That‘s what they‘re all about.  Then further complicating things is the Flood, which is a parasitic alien race that could wipe out all life in the galaxy.  It‘s your job as a Master Chief to destroy the covenant and wipe out the flood and save humanity from complete annihilation. 

OLBERMANN:  That‘s rather a lot to be doing. 

DUMAS:  It‘s more complex than just about any movie plot we‘ve ever seen. 

OLBERMANN:  So, this thing is mentioned—it is rated M for mature.  It‘s a first person shooter game.  But outside that launch party in New Hampshire, the Air Force recruiters were letting underaged kids play it in the parking lot.  I don‘t need to grill you about the arguable ills of kids playing video games any more than watching violence on TV or movies or the news, but should that M rating be taken literally on this? 

DUMAS:  You know, the violence that‘s in Halo is pretty cartoonish.  Basically, you‘re killing aliens.  They have yellow and purple and blue blood.  It‘s definitely not very realistic.  You know, it depends on the person, too.  All kids under 17 are different.  My six-year-old brother, he can play it and he can easily discern fantasy from reality.  But that might not hold true for everyone. 

I think the larger issue here is what those Air Force recruiters were doing talking to underage kids in the first place. 

OLBERMANN:  We know the answer to that one anyway.  Danny Dumas, the gadgets editor at “Wired Magazine,” thanks for being with us. 

DUMAS:  Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN for this the 1,609th day since the declaration of mission accomplished in Iraq.  I‘m Keith Olbermann, good night and good luck.



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