Guest: John Harwood, Dana Milbank, Michael Musto
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
He gets an event with the president, he gets the warm words of the president, he gets a ride back to D.C. from the president. Tom DeLay has a friend at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Had he not dived out of a moving vehicle, he might be in U.S. custody now. So we are told about the terrorist al-Zarqawi, a near-miss in February, so we are told.
And I can‘t bring this on the plane?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I‘ve seen automotive transmission, an automotive wheel, blenders, some knives that would make your skin crawl.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: What the TSA does with that stuff you can‘t bring on board. Would you believe it gets sold on eBay?
Speaking of sales, these images earned somebody a million bucks. Mr. Pitt with Ms. Jolie and Ms. Jolie‘s son on vacation. Did Angelina put the lean on Jennifer Aniston‘s hubby? Inquiring minds want to know. And you and me as well, apparently.
All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.
He is being followed by more investigators, media, and pundits than even Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. There are ethics inquiries, complaints about the violent undertones to his public comments, and embarrassing revelations of a quote in which he not only said judges need to be intimidated, but he said it in 1997.
However, disproving Mrs. Harry Truman‘s advice that if you want a friend in Washington, you had better get a dog, Tom DeLay has at least one pal left, George Walker Bush, occupation, president, the president inviting Mr. DeLay to tag along to a Social Security roundtable in Galveston, Texas, DeLay‘s home district, more or less, the always carefully screened, heavily Republican audience at a Bush event cheering for the embattled majority leader even before it began, minutes later, his most powerful friend giving a little shout-out of his own.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I appreciate the leadership of Congressman Tom DeLay in working on important issues that matter to the country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The president also saying that he talked privately with Congressman DeLay backstage, and they flew back together on Air Force One to Washington.
This quote was probably not among the things they discussed, “The judges need to be intimidated. They need to uphold the Constitution,” Mr. DeLay told “The Washington Post” in September 1997, adding that if they did not do what he wanted, quote, “We‘re going to go after them in a big way.”
So the saga of justices denied by DeLay is a little older than we are thinking.
In a moment, more on how the president‘s surprised, maybe even shocked, his audience in Galveston with one question he asked them.
First, here for a few questions about Mr. DeLay is “Wall Street Journal” political editor, John Harwood.
Good evening, John.
JOHN HARWOOD, POLITICAL EDITOR, “THE WALL STREET JOURNAL”: Hey, Keith. And you forgot one other parallel between DeLay and Brad Pitt. Tom DeLay gets stalked by the media on his beach vacations too.
OLBERMANN: No doubt.
The most obvious question about today‘s events first. Why is the president embracing a man who would hardly be listed as his best friend historically, instead of the other options, like distancing himself or, at least, as he sometimes does, feign indifference?
HARWOOD: Keith, the short answer is, he needs Tom DeLay. The president‘s trying to get Congress to do a lot of things that are very difficult right now. Social security, that‘s one of them. Action started in the Senate today in the Finance Committee. He‘s trying to get them to agree on a budget resolution. There are big splits between the House and the Senate. And he‘s also trying to get them to move on energy. The high gas prices are a major concern of this White House.
And so Tom DeLay is somebody who does get things done on the Hill. The White House has concluded, Keith, that he is likely to survive this storm, and they‘re going to win some brownie points from conservatives and fellow Republicans for standing up for him.
OLBERMANN: Obviously, this is not how the president acted during the Trent Lott controversy late in 2002. Is what you were just talking that about there, the principal difference, from Mr. Bush‘s perspective, as to why the two stories got different handlings? Or were the—did the details the reason that the stories so—were treated so differently?
HARWOOD: Well, the circumstances are different, and the president is at a point of major need on the Hill right now.
But there are also differences in the circumstances of the problems that Trent Lott and Tom DeLay had. Remember that what Trent Lott had to say about praising Strom Thurmond and his segregationist campaign in 1948 really conjured up images of a Republican Party that George W. Bush was explicitly trying to campaign against. Remember, he was the compassionate conservative in 2000, trying to banish the idea of race baiting or racial politics—wedge politics as a factor in Republican success, and Trent Lott was on the wrong side of that with those comment he made.
OLBERMANN: All right, back to today. The impact of the president‘s support, would it be fair to say that Mr. DeLay was in critical condition but is now expected to pull through? Or how would you characterize it?
HARWOOD: Well, I think the White House had concluded he was going to pull through even before today. But any good story helps Tom DeLay at this point. He‘s still not out of the woods. It‘s dependent on what else comes out, whether there are other revelations. There is a whole lot of media attention on him right now.
And if the two parties do succeed in jump-starting the ethics process on the Hill, which has been stalled in a partisan stalemate, we don‘t know what that‘s going to find for Tom DeLay.
But, you know, I think the odds makers in Washington are thinking these days that Tom DeLay is likely to serve out his term, and probably remain Republican leader during that time.
OLBERMANN: But to that last point, there‘s news tonight from the Associated Press story. They‘re quoting a source. We‘re not sure who that is. But they say that Doc Hastings, who is the chairman of that House Ethics Committee, has conceded to his colleagues off the record that the only way to break the deadlock in the committee is to roll back the rules changes that, whether they were intended to or they were not intended to, they did protect Mr. DeLay for the first part of this year.
Could that news do as much damage to him as today‘s photo-ops with the president did him good?
HARWOOD: Well, it certainly depends on what the substance of the details that go before the committee. But the House speaker, Denny Hastert, has been signaling for a few days now that he thinks that the way to get past this impasse, which has become a political obstacle, impediment for Republicans, is to roll back some of those changes, or at least permit a vote on rolling them back.
And the odds are that with moderate Republicans who are uncomfortable about the DeLay situation, were uncomfortable about the rules changes in the first place, those—if it were put to a vote, those changes likely would be rolled back.
OLBERMANN: John Harwood of “The Wall Street Journal,” its political editor. Great thanks, as always, John.
HARWOOD: My pleasure.
OLBERMANN: Also tonight, another mysterious edge to the ever-mysterious case of James D. Guckert, professional name, Jeff Gannon. Two Democratic members of Congress filed a Freedom of Information request and have now gotten the Secret Service records of his visits to the White House during his tenure as a reporter, maybe.
And maybe less to this story than meets the eye, but there is still something unexpected about those visits, at least at face value. There were more of them than there were press briefings. Guckert-Gannon said that‘s what he went to the White House for, for press briefings. Yet the FOI request by Representatives John Conyers and Louise Slaughter revealed that he was waved into the White House by the Secret Service 196 times in two years, and only 155 of those visits were for White House press briefings.
Two more were for presidential briefings, leaving 39 occasions where his presence could not be explained based on the Secret Service record. And on 14 of those, according to the news Web site Raw Story, quote, “Secret Service records show either the entry or the exit time missing.”
Easily explained, or another conspiracy?
Let‘s ask Dana Milbank, national political reporter for “The Washington Post,” and its—earlier this year, its White House correspondent, sitting gamely alongside or nearly alongside Jeff Gannon.
Good evening, Dana.
DANA MILBANK, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:
Good evening. I am also your Jeff Gannon correspondent.
OLBERMANN: That‘s true. I‘m sure that‘s at the head of your resume.
A hundred and fifty-seven press briefings plus 39 other visits. Is that a plausible ratio for a White House reporter, especially in terms of the other visits?
MILBANK: Well, the implausible part is why somebody would want to go to so many briefings. He certainly went to a heck of a lot more than did I during that time.
But it is plausible, and it‘s explainable. I think that we‘re basically down to 24, the people who have been examining this, 24 days when it wasn‘t actually a press briefing. But sometimes, the president will have some event in the Rose Garden that the press is invited to, or there‘ll be some unannounced briefing known as a gaggle.
So as much as I‘d love to engage in the conspiracy theory here, I don‘t think it adds up.
OLBERMANN: So much, though, has been made of the distinction between this hard pass, permanent media credentials, for which have to be fully vetted, and the day passes, where they basically make sure you are not armed or a recent criminal, which Gannon-Guckert got all this time.
But do you know of anybody else in any White House who has ever gotten more than 100 day passes a year? Is that the all-time record?
MILBANK: I certainly imagine that it is.
Now, here‘s an interesting thing. This wouldn‘t have occurred in the Clinton administration, because they had a rule—it was actually not set up for reporters, it was set up because of the James Carville problem. They had people who weren‘t White House staff waving in, is the technical term for it, too many times. So if you waved in more than 10 times in a 30-day period, there‘d be an alert sent out to the White House, and that—then you‘d be cut off at that point.
So Gannon could not have gotten away with this under those rules.
Clearly, the Bush White House has changed the rules as far as that goes. There‘s plenty of people coming in on day passes. But this number is probably without precedent.
OLBERMANN: And the Carville thing has nothing to do with the hair situation (INAUDIBLE).
No, this got left behind as the more sordid elements of the story emerged, but originally, a lot of this was about White House security. And here it is again, at least on the surface, 14 times when the Secret Service records don‘t indicate when he went in or when he left. But I gather that is not as unusual as it would seem to the layman.
MILBANK: Not really. I‘ve come equipped to give you a demonstration, so that when I log into the White House, I show them my White House press credential, I enter a security code, get cleared in. But when you go out, you just sort of wave the pass in front of a machine that goes beep. Sometimes the machine doesn‘t go beep, and you leave anyway. I suspect that on these 14 occasions, Gannon waved but did not beep.
OLBERMANN: So that, I think anybody who has an ID card would know exactly what you‘re talking about, as—pulling mine out from NBC here. You just do that, and you‘re not, I mean, you‘re not going to stick around to make sure you‘re logged out.
MILBANK: No, it beeps. But the other thing is, with a day pass, you just drop it in the slot after that. So if there‘s any doubt as to whether he actually left, they have the pass sitting there in this box. They can count out the number of passes issued in the beginning of the day, the number collected at the end of the day. And as long as they add up, they‘re OK.
OLBERMANN: So the upshot of all this is, though, they got some headlines, the two representatives, Freedom of Information filing results were largely free of information.
MILBANK: Free of information, except that he should get a Congressional Medal of Honor for attending so many briefings.
OLBERMANN: I‘m sure that would add to his military reputation.
Dana Milbank, the national political reporter and the former White House reporter of “The Washington Post,” who also gives demonstrations. We appreciate that. Thank you, sir.
One last political note, proving once again that in public discourse, nothing is more dangerous than outdated information. Back to Galveston, Texas, and the president‘s visit there today, in a fond remembrance of a local event, a local event that has evidently changed a little bit since he was last in town.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Do you still have Splash Day? You have to be a baby boomer to know what I‘m talking about. I‘m not saying whether I came or not on Splash Day. I‘m just saying, do you have Splash Day?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: President probably thought all the laughter was about the bawdy reputation he remembered from his youth about Splash Day early each May, on Galveston‘s East Beach. What he did not know, evidently, was that Splash Day is, well, it‘s now Gay Splash Day. In the ‘40s and ‘50s, there were appearances by Johnny Weissmuller and Esther Williams. More recently, not so much. It‘s a fully lesbian and gay event. Not Esther Williams, but some guys dressed as Esther Williams. Surprise!
Also tonight, the quest for Osama bin Laden‘s deputy in Iraq. It‘s a scene right out of a spy thriller, or perhaps an Orwell novel. The U.S. military says we almost had Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
And this sequence of events. There‘s a stock trader on Wall Street. Then 9/11 hit just blocks away. Then he went into the Marines, and today the hearings begin. Did he murder two Iraqi prisoners? Or were they about to murder him?
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: By definition, cliches sound dumb. But the dumbest of them all is, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
Because, of course, there come days when we are actually are talking about closeness and hand grenades. And today is one of those days.
Once again, we are told by U.S. military or intelligence officials that we nearly captured a hated terror suspect. For years, that was Osama bin Laden exclusively, until the story began to sound a little too much like the fictional leader of the resistance in 1984, Goldstein.
Now, again, we were supposedly close to getting Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
Our correspondent in Baghdad is Richard Engel.
RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The story unfolds like a spy novel. Once again, the most wanted man in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, used his instincts and cunning to avoid capture.
GEN. RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: I think in general, the intelligence is getting better. Having said that, we still don‘t have Zarqawi.
ENGEL: But they almost did. U.S. military sources tell NBC News Zarqawi was traveling to a meeting in Ramadi on February 20 in a pickup truck. Wary, he had a scout vehicle out front. Task Force 626, the elite special forces unit, had set a trap with surveillance drones in the sky and checkpoints on the road.
The scout vehicle was pulled over. Zarqawi‘s truck, about a half mile back, made a quick U-turn and headed in the opposite direction.
U.S. special forces chased the truck but believe Zarqawi jumped out as it drove through an underpass. Apparently, that way, he wouldn‘t be seen from the air.
Zarqawi then slipped into a nearby safe house as U.S. forces stopped his pickup.
Zarqawi was gone. But U.S. forces did find his driver, personal M-16 rifle, laptop computer, and more.
Military sources say the computer was “like finding Zarqawi‘s brain.”
It was filled with contacts, statements, and photographs of Zarqawi.
Where? In the My Pictures file.
Also seized were about $100,000 in cash and a bag full of small plug-in hard drives. The U.S. military thinks Zarqawi used the hard drives to pass on information to his operatives.
So how does Zarqawi elude capture?
STEVEN SIMONS, RAND CORPORATION: He‘s physically courageous, he is extremely cruel to his enemies, and he is seen to be fighting a noble cause.
ENGEL (on camera): U.S. military officials tell NBC News Zarqawi has told his operatives Baghdad is too hot right now to use as a base, not to settle here.
As for Zarqawi himself, the latest U.S. intelligence is, he remains in western Iraq.
Richard Engel, NBC News, Baghdad.
OLBERMANN: And then there‘s something else we were thought to be close to finding, except first, during the ground war in Iraq, it didn‘t turn up. After the war per se, it still didn‘t turn up.
Two lead American inspectors then said they were never there in the first place. And today, the last sliver of a possibility that there were weapons of mass destruction in the decade before the this country invaded Iraq officially vanished.
The final report of the Iraq Survey Group has been released. And as if written for the personal consumption of a still-doubting Vice President Cheney, it says that on top of Iraq being WMD-free before the war, there‘s also now evidence that there was no evidence that any WMD was moved from Iraq to Syria before the war for safekeeping.
The report says Saddam Hussein moved military products back and forth across the Syrian border and nonmilitary stuff as well, but that in two years of investigation and interrogation, hundreds of Iraqi officials, quote, “uniformly denied any knowledge of residual WMD that could have been secreted to Syria.”
So no WMD in Iraq after 1992, and no WMD hidden by Iraq in Syria in 2002. Oops!
A much less serious oops on our hands, buffalo on the tennis court. Where‘s John McEnroe? Is he still doing that show? No? How could you tell?
And the mother of the 5-year-old handcuffed by police is speaking out.
And apparently, she is moving out too.
OLBERMANN: So we had a meeting. And I said, We had elephants on the show, then last night there were two tigers. It‘s beginning to smell in here. And I said, No more animals. So after the elephants stampeding the Korean restaurant last week, what have we got tonight?
Let‘s play Oddball.
(singing): Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam, and the deer and the antelope play mixed doubles.
Pikesville, Maryland, hello. A herd of nine buffalo escaping from a farm this morning and walking three miles into a nearby gated community. Oh, there‘s going to be hell to pay at next month‘s owners‘ meeting.
Police used more than 10 squad cars and a helicopter to corral the group of bison into the tennis courts. They kept the beasts busy working on their backhands until an animal control trailer showed up.
Here you see a victorious buffalo vaulting over the net to congratulate his opponent on a well-played match. He will move on to face Andre Agassi in the semis.
That‘s not a doctored photograph.
Once the trailer arrived, police led the herd out of the tennis area, and then watched helplessly as it turned around and headed back into the tennis area. They finally had to take down a section of fence and back up the trailer.
Interviewed after the incident, one of the buffalo explained that for a long time, they‘d all wanted to meet Steffi Graf, and they thought she might have been there.
The beasts never made to it Methuen, Massachusetts, but somebody with a need to hide some money obviously did. Two men digging around a tree in the Boston suburb—actually it‘s closer to Lowell, Mass.—two men digging found a rotting crate filled with tin cans full of money, bills, $18,000 in 100s alone, plus 20s, ones, and twos. The oldest was from 1899, and the newest from 1929. Also coins.
That should tell you how long this loot has been in the ground. Net value to collectors, around 100 grand. And no, the money was not left there by Andy Dufresne for “Red” Redding to pick him up and use it to go meet him in Mexico.
Obscure movie reference.
Also tonight, after 9/11 unfolded blocks from his Wall Street office, he joined the Marines. Today, the beginning of their inquiry into whether or not he murdered two Iraqi prisoners.
And the story they are forcing me to cover tonight. Oh, Brad Pitt got divorced because of Angela Jolie, Angelina Jolie. That‘s it, huh? OK.
Those stories ahead.
But now, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, Sharon Rosenthal of Appleton, Wisconsin. After being found guilty of felony theft, the judge offered her a deal, 90 days in jail, or pay your debt to society by donating the 12 tickets you have for three Green Bay Packers football games next season to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Considering that the waiting list for Packers tickets is about 500 years long, she‘s still thinking about it.
Number two, an unnamed man in Fresno. Security guards heard somebody pounding from inside the trunk of a car. No, not a witness in a mob trial, a wannabe thief who managed to lock himself into the trunk of the car he was trying to break into.
Continuing the theme of competence displayed, number one, David Carpenter of Miami, arrested by the Florida Highway Patrol after he drove his motorcycle through traffic at speeds of over 140 miles an hour. He tried to escape by going the wrong way on a highway. They wound up chasing him from a plane. The troopers finally found him and his bike and his appointment calendar showing that next week, he was to take his physical to become—a Florida Highway Patrol trooper.
OLBERMANN: It has all the details of the movie, “A Few Good Men,” only made real and made more complex still by having been transplanted into actual conflict, where the clearest of days are the ones that are only shrouded by the fog of war, not those eclipsed by it. Did 2nd Lieutenant Ilario Pantano, who left Wall Street for the Marines after part of Wall Street was blown up on 9/11, kill two Iraqi prisoners in self-defense last year, or was it murder?
The Marines Article 32 hearing, essentially the grand jury stage of the prosecution, opening today in Camp LeJeune in North Carolina. And our correspondent, Mark Potter, covered it. Mark joins us now. Good evening, Mark.
MARK POTTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Good evening to you, Keith. That hearing that‘s under way now at Camp LeJeune, that Article 32, is a pre-trial investigation into whether there‘s enough evidence to actually bring about a court-martial. The hearing could last about a week. At issue are life-and-death questions involving 2nd Lieutenant Ilario Pantano, who is now charged with premeditated murder for shooting and killing two unarmed Iraqi detainees last year. If he is convicted, he could face the death penalty or life in prison.
Pantano, however, says that he shot the men in self-defense, telling NBC News “DATELINE” that the two men spoke in Arabic, began moving toward him, ignoring his order to stop.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
2ND LT. ILARIO PANTANO, U.S. MARINE CORPS: I gave them a command in
Arabic to stop. They continue. Then there was a moment of quiet. I felt
· I could feel, like, the oxygen getting sucked out of my lungs. I could feel that this thing was happening. There was this beat, and they both pivoted to me at the same time, moving towards me at the same time. And in that moment of them—you know, of them disobeying my command to stop and pivoting to me at the same time, I shot them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
POTTER: But two other members of that platoon questioned that account, suggesting that Pantano might not have been threatened. They will testify at the hearing this week. In the charging document, the Marine Corps that the 2nd lieutenant shot the two men in the back, leaving their bodies on display as a message to others. Pantano categorically denies that, again and his attorney says it‘s unfair to second-guess a Marine risking his life in combat.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLES GITTINS, LT. ILARIO PANTANO‘S ATTORNEY: Armchair quarterbacking is what I call it. You put young Marines in a position where they could lose their life if they make a mistake, and then you second-guess them after they act to protect themselves. That is the wrong message being sent to the guys who have to go and put boots on the ground in a very dangerous place.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
POTTER: At the end of the hearing, the investigating officer will write up his recommendations on whether the charges should stand. The decision on whether there is to be a court-martial and whether it is to be a death penalty case rests with the commanding general here. And by the way, Keith, the attorney says that he has not yet decided whether he will put Pantano himself on the witness stand. Back to you.
OLBERMANN: Mark Potter, reporting from Camp LeJeune in North Carolina on the case of the 2nd lieutenant, Ilario Pantano. Great. Thanks, Mark.
The night‘s other legal news might not be a series of flashpoints equal to that story, but each is worth your time. Turns out the handcuffing of children in school may not be as rare as we thought. A police chief in Bethlehem, West Virginia, cuffed a 7-year-old boy at an elementary school there last Friday. After that boy, who had been running from teachers, kicked the police officer, Chief August Banke (ph) says, the cuffs were not on tightly, and that he removed them soon afterward when the boy agreed to behave. It was not the first time that Chief Banke had been called to the school to deal with that boy, and school officials say they were following protocol in calling him that time.
Meanwhile, Inda Akins, the mother of the 5-year-old girl handcuffed in St. Petersburg, has taken her daughter out of the public schools there and she‘s moving out of the state of Florida. So says school superintendent Clayton Wilcox. The newspaper “The St. Petersburg Times” is reporting that a month ago, her landlords tried to evict her from their apartment. We told you yesterday Ms. Akins had fired her attorney and that he learned of his dismissal from the syndicated show “A Current Affair,” which signed Ms. Akins to a contract for at least one interview, in which she insists that the assistant principal was targeting her daughter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
INDA AKINS, MOTHER OF HANDCUFFED 5-YEAR-OLD: I told them that this certain person was bothering her and that I told this person to stay away from her.
That‘s the first thing that you see on the TV. And I told her several times to stay away from my daughter. If they would have left her alone if they—Ms. D (ph) wasn‘t in there bothering her, it wouldn‘t have never happened. When I got there, the police was already there, and she was already in the back seat of the police car, handcuffed. They wouldn‘t even let me near her. She was screaming and hollering for me. I was trying to act on what was going on, and they wouldn‘t tell me nothing, just told me to stay back because they‘re investigating. They told me if I didn‘t go back to my car that they was going to arrest me for disorderly conduct.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: And there is a new story from the same school at which Ms. Akins‘s daughter was handcuffed. It seems coincidental. Authorities think so. But as our correspondent, Kerry Sanders, reports, the mother of the 6-year-old now in a coma isn‘t sure.
KERRY SANDERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At Fairmount Park elementary school in St. Petersburg, Florida, the school where the 5-year-old girl was handcuffed by police, new questions now of the impact that event five weeks ago may have had on other students. Almost a month after the temper tantrum and the arrest, 6-year-old Etrevian Johnson (ph) shocked both school staff and his family. School security cameras show him walking towards his classroom, where a substitute teacher was waiting. He turns the corner. For 22 seconds, he‘s off camera, then reappears heading quickly down the hall, out a gate and off campus, running across the street. Six-year-old Etrevian was hit by a passing car.
CHANTELLE ROSS, MOTHER OF INJURED BOY: I just wonder what was going through his mind at the time. Was there a fear? It seems like in the video, he was running from something. Are the teachers threatening them, saying, Well, maybe, you know, if you‘re bad, they‘ll put handcuffs on you? And I just have to wonder at that time, was he thinking that? Was he saying, Well, you know, I really don‘t like the substitute. She‘s mean to me. So I wonder if she‘s going to put handcuffs on me.
SANDERS: School board administrators in this Florida district say they don‘t buy it and question whether the young boy and his mother could have known anything about the handcuffing incident, even though it happened last month, because it was kept mostly quiet until this past week.
CLAYTON WILCOX, PINELLAS CO. SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT: I find that, you know, honestly, almost a bizarre connection. While I understand the mom‘s in pain, I just don‘t see any connection to that.
SANDERS: The one who could best answer why he ran, if he feared being handcuffed, would be Etrevian. But he‘s in a coma in intensive care. Doctors tell his mother they‘re not sure he‘ll survive.
ROSS: It‘s like a nightmare. I keep waking up, a reoccurring dream, and I‘m still in it.
SANDERS: Kerry Sanders, NBC News, St. Petersburg, Florida.
OLBERMANN: A different kind of mystery from San Jose, California, by way of Las Vegas. And time again to put down that food, if you‘re eating any. The woman in the Wendy‘s chili fingertip case says she is eager to face charges and she knows the way to San Jose. The finger in question, key to the case. Anna Ayala originally claimed to have bitten down on it while eating her chili at a San Jose Wendy‘s about a month ago, and she even filed a claim against the franchise owner. But authorities have now charged her with attempted grand theft on suspicion that she planted the fingertip herself. They say that Wendy‘s lost millions of dollars due to bad publicity.
Today in Las Vegas, Ms. Ayala made her first court appearance since her arrest last Thursday night, and she waived extradition, a decision that will expedite her transfer back to San Jose.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNA AYALA, SAYS SHE FOUND FINGERTIP IN CHILI: I‘m ready to go back and fight this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Ready to go back as she might be, she‘s also charged with grand theft for an unrelated case, and no stranger to lawsuits, having filed several in recent years seeking cash settlements. Her lawyer, Rick Aler (ph), says she has, quote, “nothing to hide,” but authorities don‘t know, for instance, who was attached to the rest of the finger.
Also tonight, from the finger mystery to the great confiscation mystery. What happens to all the stuff that TSA takes away from you at the security checkpoint? Did you know that you could buy your belongings back on e-Bay? And 526 days of Michael Jackson investigations reaching their crescendo, the ex-wife under oath and on the stand. Not yet, of course.
All those stories ahead. Now here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, look at that. Some showers. That‘s the rain we‘re going to get tomorrow.
ALICE COOPER: OK. That‘s a tornado, right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, no, it‘s not a tornado yet, but it‘s a very intense thunderstorm. All right?
COOPER: Where‘s Ann Arbor? There‘s Ann Arbor.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And then—then...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, that‘s what you are.
COOPER: I am cool.
JAY LENO, HOST, “TONIGHT” SHOW: Hey, see Kobe Bryant in the papers?
Spent $50,000 on a ceremony where he said his wedding vows again.
Apparently, he wasn‘t listening the first time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We asked them, Would you please rate President Bush‘s sexiness on a scale of 1 to 10? He only got a 2.1 from American women. Only Indonesian women, interestingly enough, found him slightly sexier at 2.2. I wasn‘t expecting any 9s or 10s, but I thought there‘d be certainly some that were over 5. He‘s a fit guy, you know? He runs. He‘s not an unattractive man, but apparently, he‘s not very sexy.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I got to tell ya, I think I‘d become a lesbian.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: It did not start on that December day in 1996, but it can be said with certainty that it had already begun by then. The fact that the majority of passengers on domestic flights act as if they have not only never flown before, but they act as if they have never even left their own homes before.
That was when a woman in first class on a flight from Los Angeles to Newark, New Jersey, brought aboard as her carry-on luggage a tree. She fully expected the tree, which was more than four feet tall and in a planter that was at least three feet in diameter—she fully expected it would fit in the overhead compartment. She was surprised when it did not. She complained to the flight attendants.
I never did find out what they did with the tree. They might have put it in the co-pilot‘s seat and made him stand all the way to Newark. But I know what would happen to it now. For safety concerns, it would have been seized. And as COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny reports tonight, it turns out it would have then been sold.
ROBERT WEBB, PA BUREAU OF SURPLUS: This is a machete-type knife.
MONICA NOVOTNY, COUNTDOWN (voice-over): From the unthinkable to the unmentionable, it‘s hard to believe what we leave behind. Even today, people will try to get just about anything past airport security.
MARY BETH ENGGREN, PA BUREAU OF SURPLUS: It makes me wonder what goes through people‘s minds.
NOVOTNY: And if you‘re wondering what airport screeners do with all your stuff, the National Transportation Safety Administration offers it up to several state surplus offices, including this one in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Here sorters pick through boxes from eight Northeast airports—carefully. More than 60,000 pounds delivered every 90 days. Most are everyday items. Scissors, nail clippers and pocket tools top the list. But it doesn‘t end there.
WEBB: I‘ve seen automotive transmissions. I‘ve seen automotive wheels, blenders, some knives that would make your skin crawl.
NOVOTNY (on camera): So far, the TSA has intercepted more than 18 million items since 2002, 7 million of them just last year. And now that lighters have been added to their list, that number is only going to grow.
KEN HESS, PA BUREAU OF SURPLUS: We‘re looking forward to the higher-end Zippos.
NOVOTNY (voice-over): And now you can buy back what you left behind on line on e-Bay, if you can find it. Currently up for sale: 40 pounds of nail clippers, 100 pocket knives, a purple sombrero, 35 pounds of scissors.
ENGGREN: One woman sent them to Iraqi school children. Another woman informed me there were 35 pounds of plastic-handled scissors. She never had to buy scissors again in her life.
NOVOTNY (on camera): So we did a little digging to find our favorite
things that people actually tried to get on planes, like, if you can
believe it, two-and-a-half gallons of corn oil, a helium tank, this big
black salamander, and a power drill—a few of those—and lots of these
· handcuffs, the metal kind, and the furry kind.
HESS: I haven‘t seen any live animals yet, but I‘m expecting that any time soon.
NOVOTNY (voice-over): And sometimes, some things even find their way home.
ENGGREN: A woman in California called, and a pair of embroidery scissors had been handed down for generations in her family. And oddly enough, we were able to reunite her with her scissors.
NOVOTNY: So if you don‘t want to find you things here, remember, if it looks like any of this, you can‘t take it with you. For COUNTDOWN, Monica Novotny.
OLBERMANN: Thirty-five pounds, plastic-handled scissors, NTSA, $49.31. Thirty-five pounds plastic-handled scissors, NTSA, $42.72. Fifty pounds of steel scissors. Fifty more pounds. Twenty assorted padlocks with keys. Let‘s see what else have we got on the e-Bay auction. One hundred pair assorted steel scissors. Fifty stainless steel Swiss Army-type knives. Lot B2, assorted NTSA confiscated pocket knives. There‘s about 30 of those. And then, of course, best of all perhaps, a rotary plow in excellent condition, seized by the NTSA. Somebody was bringing that on as carry-on. Won‘t fit over the (INAUDIBLE)
Like they‘ve never been out of their own homes before.
Purple sombreros, automotive transmissions, blenders and machetes, which of course, sounds like the inventory of one of the rooms at the Neverland ranch. And like a perfect segue to our nightly round-up of celebrity and gossip news, “Keeping Tabs,” it‘s your entertainment and tax dollars in action, day 526 of the Michael Jackson investigations.
First to testify today, Cynthia Montgomery, who is the travel agent who testified that she was asked to arrange a one-way trip to Brazil for the family of the accuser in this case in March, 2003. That trip was abruptly canceled. The jury then heard from a Hamid Moslehi, a videographer hired to shoot Michael Jackson‘s rebuttal video after the Martin Bashir documentary. He corroborated Ms. Montgomery‘s story, to a certain degree anyway. He testified that he had overheard a Jackson associate talking about sending the accuser‘s family to Brazil. The key word here today was Brazil.
Moslehi is back on the stand tomorrow, followed by the week‘s big witness—we don‘t mean that in terms of her size -- the ex-Mrs. Jackson, the mother of his two oldest kids. Everybody, would you please greet Ms. Debbie Rowe!
Two British tabloids stand accused, meanwhile, of endangering Prince Harry. The pictures are the evidence taken by staff photographers of “The Sun” and “Daily Mail” newspapers of the prince and his girlfriend on safari in Botswana. The press secretary to Prince Charles says the photographers were driving dangerously close to Harry‘s Jeep, putting his and their lives in danger. You will recall similar charges after his mother‘s death. Both tabloid papers deny the prince was ever in any danger. We‘ll see what the photographs say.
And speaking of photographs, at first glance, it‘s just a couple on a beach with a kid. Ah, but wait. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie at an exclusive resort. Was the child rented, or is it hers? Did she break up the marriage? Did this story get debated today at the U.N.? Did I just sense the imminence of another edition of stories the producers made me do? You bet I did!
OLBERMANN: We‘re finishing tonight with another edition of stories the producers made me cover.
If there had never been a Jennifer Aniston, a Brad Pitt or an Angelina Jolie, I don‘t think we would have lost much. I‘m sure they‘d say the same thing about me, if they even bothered. Although, gee, it was pretty good.
That having been said, I‘m in a distinct minority on this. Enough people care enough that “Us Weekly” reportedly spent close to a million dollars to get pictures of Mr. Pitt and Ms. Jolie, along with Ms. Jolie‘s son, at a family-friendly resort in Kenya, hard evidence, people say—well, my producers say in gushy, gasping tones that make them sound like high school sophomores—that Ms. Jolie broke up Mr. Pitt‘s marriage.
Here it is, the smoking gun—a kid, a pail, a shovel, an actor and an actress. Case closed! She‘s a hussy. He‘s a—a—a guy. And more truly than would film of them romping naked down Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, shots of Pitt and Jolie with Jolie, Jr., indicate she‘s his girlfriend. And Mrs. Pitt, Jennifer Aniston, who filed for divorce a month ago yesterday, did not jump, she was pushed.
For meaning in this, as in so many other areas of life, we turn now to Michael Musto, entertainment columnist of the newspaper “The Village Voice.” Good evening, Michael.
MICHAEL MUSTO, “VILLAGE VOICE”: Hi, Keith.
OLBERMANN: OK. Start me from the beginning. Why do pictures of the two of them with her little boy mean that she broke up the marriage?
MUSTO: Keith, there‘s a shovel.
MUSTO: There‘s sand.
OLBERMANN: Oh, of course!
MUSTO: Equals adultery. No. You know what? It‘s really a million dollars down the drain because you could get movie still that are hotter than these. However, there is enough corroborating evidence to make this a real story. For example, when “Page 6” went with it in “The New York Post,” neither publicist of the stars called back for comment. That means where there‘s smoke, there‘s fire, don‘t you think? Also there was another getaway because they seem to go on a lot of these private getaways far away and then alert the press. And people did catch them actually canoodling, not just collecting sea shells. So you know, people‘s idea that Angelina is the whore of Babylon really seems to be catching on with a little reality here.
OLBERMANN: Now, this part is the part I care about, that—as you just mentioned, how the pictures come to be. They‘re professional quality. They have long lens at an exclusive resort in Kenya. And there‘s the story in one of the New York papers that, as you suggested, Angelina Jolie may have tipped off a photo agency as a deal, Take the pictures but leave us alone until after the vacation? Do you buy that?
MUSTO: It sounds bizarre, but that‘s the kind of thing celebrities usually do. They go away on a retreat, and then they alert the press. You know, Michael Jackson wears an oxygen mask and then says, Don‘t notice me. People do contradictory things when they‘re famous. And I think Angelina wants the cat out of the bag, and this could only help her and Brad‘s movie, “Mr. And Mrs. Slut” -- ‘Smith.” And I think...
MUSTO: I also think this will vindicate Jennifer because she was portrayed as the evil one who, you know, wanted to have a career instead of a baby. Actually, it was Brad who wanted a piece.
OLBERMANN: So what is next for all three of them, in your crystal ball prediction?
MUSTO: I actually just got a phone call. It‘s all over already. Angelina‘s back with the brother. Brad is back with Gwyneth. They‘re raise little Apple Pitt.
MUSTO: No, no, no, no, no. I‘m the wrong person to ask. I thought Britney and Jason were going to last a whole week. So I don‘t know. I just hope these two stick it out and collect lots of lovely sea shells and promote their movie. And the public will forgive them. They finally forgave Ingrid Bergman, so...
OLBERMANN: Yes, but why—and that‘s a great point contained in what you‘re saying there about Ingrid Bergman. Why, given that these are actors, and marriages of actors have been breaking up, like, once every three hours since Charlie Chaplin made his first movie—why does there seem to be still shock attending all this?
MUSTO: Mainly because we‘re lied to so frequently and so insistently. And Angelina even gave interviews after the break-up of Jen and Brad, saying that, Oh, I was just consoling Brad. I would never break up a marriage. Not only is she the whore of Babylon, her nose is growing. She‘s the new Pinocchio. Just all kinds of things are growing, and it‘s really distasteful, but I wish everybody so very well.
OLBERMANN: Obviously, as we can tell from the tone of your voice.
OLBERMANN: Somebody said this is—Hollywood is just high school lived with just more expensive cars and rides to the dance? Is that correct?
MUSTO: Well, Brad and Jen were always the—you know, the high school the football cheerleader and—football captain and cheerleader to me. And I believed in them. They were my Gibraltar. We need to believe in something, as the world spirals. They betrayed us. They broke up. And Angelina is now the evil, you know, girl from the wrong side of the tracks who comes to the high school and breaks everything up.
OLBERMANN: And brings her 3-year-old son with her, which is the worst of the whole thing. Any man will tell you, if the son is there, too, this is—the woman is going for the ring.
MUSTO: Well, the kid is safer there then at Neverland, OK?
OLBERMANN: Oh! That‘s a great finish. Michael Musto, the expert to whom we turn when celebrities get free from their leash, thank you for your time, sir.
MUSTO: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: That‘s COUNTDOWN. Thank you for being a part of it. I‘m Keith Olbermann. I‘m still not sure I care about that last story, but whatever. Good night, and good luck.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
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