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'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for May 19

Read the transcript to the Thursday show

Guest: Charlie Savage, Craig Crawford

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

The Red Cross and the Koran abuse story.  It says it reported allegations to the U.S. military two and three years ago and believed the military properly resolved them.  But the military says it has never seen any credible allegations at all.

The first lady of damage control.  Laura Bush, off to Amman, Jordan, to—to...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This is an opportunity for the first lady to put a different face on America.


OLBERMANN:  And an old familiar face at the Jackson trial.  Santa Maria, California, hello.

But the judge tells Larry King an awful truth, one he may not want to hear.  In this context, at least, he is irrelevant.

Good luck, hardly irrelevant in this story from Minnesota.  How else could the trooper have survived?

And how did they survive?  The bad sword salesmen, the blanker blanking drug dealer, the COUNTDOWN official roller-coaster tester.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Whoa, sign up for the COUNTDOWN newsletter.


OLBERMANN:  We‘ll meet them all again in tonight‘s tour of the Legends section of our Hall of Fame.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

It is hard to imagine, an American news broadcast of four years ago including both the word “Koran” and the abbreviation “Gitmo,” let alone combining those words, along with references to the International Red  Cross in its coverage of an impactful story that evidently will not go away.

But there it all is in our fifth story tonight.  In 2002 and 2003, the Red Cross reported to the American military that terror detainees at Guantanamo Bay—Gitmo—had complained that U.S. interrogators had desecrated the Koran, including putting it in a toilet.  And the organization also revealed today that, to its knowledge, the American military responded correctly, and that they have not gotten any more complaints from the detainees.

To quote Red Cross spokesman Simon Schorno, “U.S. authorities have taken the corrective measures that we required in our interventions.  We believe in this case this issue was actually followed through.”

If only the Muslim world were so satisfied.  There, the “Newsweek” retraction has done little to quell the controversy, quite the opposite, in fact, the apparent about-face merely fueling skepticism across the region, believes that the magazine has been made a scapegoat, politicians in several countries now saying the United States should make public any details of its investigation into the allegations of desecration at Gitmo.

The only problem, there does not appear to have been an investigation. 

The allegations have been surfacing and resurfacing for several years now. 

But the Defense Department now says it has not previously looked into them.

Why is that, you ask?  Well, to investigate, the Pentagon says it would need a specific credible allegation.  What it has instead, it says, is an alleged allegation.  That‘s right, an alleged allegation.


LARRY DIRITA, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN:  Those types of allegations have not previously been—there‘s not—we‘ve not previously included that in any kind of previous investigations into detainee operations, because there haven‘t been credible allegations to that effect.  And we‘ve tried to pursue specific credible allegations carefully, and we think we‘ve done that.


OLBERMANN:  So allegedly, the alleged allegations of desecration were found, incredibly enough, to be incredible.  Well, it‘s clear the Defense Department will never be confused with the Department of Education.

Still unclear is how the Red Cross could be satisfied by an investigation that the military says never happened.  Not to mention, how an allegation becomes credible, unless you investigate it.

In any event, here to help us shed some light on the story, “Boston Globe” Washington correspondent Charlie Savage, who‘s been covering the “Newsweek” Koran story and its fallout.  He‘s also been to the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay three times, most recently this past January.

Thank you for your time tonight, sir.


OLBERMANN:  If we were to take the Pentagon at its word, that it has not investigated any allegations of desecrations of Korans at Gitmo, what is it about the allegations that would allow the military to sort of immediately dismiss them as less than credible?

SAVAGE:  Well, whenever you ask the military about allegations that have been surfacing for the last two years from detainees and former detainees or their lawyers, all over the world, about Koran mistreatment at Guantanamo, they always say, Al Qaeda trains its members to lie, specifically if they‘re taken into custody.  They‘re supposed to come up with false allegations of abuse and other outrageous treatment in order to cast doubt on the credibility of the Western world.

So they say that we can‘t believe any of these stories from them.

OLBERMANN:  And yet there was a report in the “New York Times” on the first of May of this year, in which an interrogator, an unnamed American interrogator, was quoted as confirming one of these stories from one of these detainees, that several copies of the Koran had been piled up, and someone there in the American military or the officialdom there, had danced on them or stepped on them, and that the commander or one of the high-ranking officials at Gitmo was so provoked by this act that he apologized to the detainees.

Would that not imply that there was something—somebody believed these detainees at some point?

SAVAGE:  Well, it‘s hard to make sense of it.  But we do know that there was definitely a lot of tension between guards at the base and the operation, and detainees, especially in the year 2002.  Earlier this week, for example, I talked to the former warden of the base, who told me that there was so much tension just from guards touching the Koran when they would go into cells to search for contraband, that it became necessary to institute a new policy in early 2003 that only Muslims, translators or Muslim chaplains, would actually touch the Koran when it was necessary to touch it to search a cell.

So it could be that the military does have a new policy, or did institute a new policy in 2003 based on just tensions that arose from searching of cells and touching of Korans, which is blasphemy to a true believer, or a more radical believer of Islam, that a nonbeliever would touch the Koran, but that further reports of throwing a Koran in a toilet, or kicking it around, to them remains incredible.

And I‘d also like to point out that the Red Cross today said that in 2002, especially, when it was interviewing detainees in one-on-one interviews down at the operation, that it did receive multiple reports that Korans had been mistreated.  However, they did not say what that mistreatment was.  They did not confirm to me, at least, on the phone today that the throwing in a toilet or anything specific like that was what they were talking about.

So there‘s still a lot of confusion here about what exactly the “desecration,” quote unquote, was.  Was it merely touching a Koran, or was it something much more, as many detainees have alleged, but the government has never acknowledged?

OLBERMANN:  Do all these reports coalesce in any way?  In other words, when we hear about the detainees‘ complaints about Koran abuse or touching, the two ends of the spectrum there, and their lawyers‘ comments, and the things the Red Cross says it reported to the U.S. military, and the reporting that “Newsweek” retracted, are these all supposed to be about the same events?  Or, at least, are they all in the same timeline?  Are all these things supposed to have happened no later than early 2003?

SAVAGE:  There‘s certainly emerging from the cast a bit of a pattern. 

It seems like almost all the complaints center around 2002, early 2003.  And after that, even the Red Cross has said that the complaints dried up that they were hearing, and they continue to go down every three months, then spend about six weeks at the base each time, talking to detainees.  They say they haven‘t heard it since 2003.

And it‘s important to remember that the operation at Guantanamo has evolved over time.  That sort of gets lost in the puzzle.  But things that happening now or things that happened before may not be happening now, and vice versa.  In 2002, the base had just been set up.  The base was there, but the operation had just been set up.  It was very chaotic.  Memories of 9/11 were extremely fresh.  There was—it was not organized nearly as well as it is now.  And totally different personnel have been brought in, new management, new procedures have been instituted, including this no non-Muslims touching the Koran in early 2003.

So it‘s—it is entirely possible that as the base and the operation became more professional over time, problems like this stopped.  But only now are we hearing about it.

OLBERMANN:  Last question, and really, as briefly as you can, sir, the SouthCom report, the thing from U.S. Southern Command in Miami, the thing that “Newsweek” mentioned that apparently doesn‘t have Korans and toilets, do we know when it‘s—is it coming out, will it be made public?  Is it overdue?  Where is it?

SAVAGE:  Isn‘t that the question?  That report has been done for well over a month.  And it‘s been being scoured over by lawyers at SouthCom in Miami.  What are they doing?  What are they looking at?  If this report, this one allegation isn‘t in it, that‘s fine.  But I think that we need to see what is in the report.  And so far, the military has been mum on that.

OLBERMANN:  Charlie Savage of “The Boston Globe” on Gitmo and Korans and detainees.  Great thanks for your insight, sir.

SAVAGE:  My pleasure.

OLBERMANN:  The Gitmo stories, “Newsweek”‘s, the one in “The New York Times” nearly three weeks ago, now the Red Cross version, are still reverberating through the American political ecosystem.

And to help assess the continuing impact, I‘m joined now by Craig Crawford, White House columnist for “Congressional Quarterly,” MSNBC political analyst, and author of the forthcoming book, “Attack the Messenger: How Politicians Turn You Against the Media,” up to 879 from the Amazon sales list, which is a neat trick, considering the book does not come out until the fall.

Good evening, Craig.

CRAIG CRAWFORD, “CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY”:  It‘s thanks to Keith Olbermann mentioning it, that‘s what (INAUDIBLE).

OLBERMANN:  Well, we‘ll get it to 878 by tomorrow.

CRAWFORD:  All right.

OLBERMANN:  All right, so “Newsweek” never reported when these abuses of the Koran at Gitmo were supposed to have happened.  They said they surfaced late last year, the reports did.  Today we get something of a timeline from the Red Cross about 2002 and early 2003, and with this January 2003 guidelines on how to handle the Koran from the military.

Are we beginning to understand why the White House went ballistic about this, that maybe they thought they‘d tamped the whole thing down two years ago, and now here come “Newsweek,” either with new allegations, or old ones that seem or sound new?

CRAWFORD:  Yes, with all these prison scandals, the Pentagon has been sort of like sticking their finger in the dike.  And, you know, once they plug up one hole, another one leaks.  And this has been the problem all along.  And, of course, it‘s not helped by the fact that they‘re continuing these investigations, and these reports are rolling around in the military world.  And as Charlie Savage just mentioned, we‘ve got another one coming that we‘re waiting on.

So I think their hopes of keeping this under wraps were always just a faint dream.  And we‘re going to hear lots more of this stuff.  And they‘re trying to establish the standard now that if we report it, and the Islamic mob somewhere uses the report to incite a riot, then it‘s the media‘s fault.  So that‘s one thing they hope to create out of this.

OLBERMANN:  Are the official flagellations of “Newsweek” over, or are there more of those to come?

CRAWFORD:  I really get some sense, Keith, that the White House felt it was time to shut up about this story and maybe Scott McClellan, the press secretary, should never have spoken up about it to begin with.  This is one of those stories that was going the White House way without their help, and probably getting into it looked a bit overstated or overstepped their bounds.

And it also created the impression in the Arab world that the White House was pressuring the U.S. media to retract the story.  So I think the White House direct involvement in this story didn‘t help their cause at all.

OLBERMANN:  In all of this heat, did anybody notice that the other Gitmo abuse investigations in that “Newsweek” piece, leading a detainee around on a dog leash, a woman interrogator who flashes a detainee and then sits on his lap, that none of those were retracted, and the White House did not go—did not come apart at the seams for the mention of those things?

CRAWFORD:  And the White—and even on the issue of the flushing the toilet, the fact that that may have happened, they didn‘t—“Newsweek” really didn‘t retract that, even.  I mean, what they were retracting was saying that this upcoming report was going to include that allegation.  That‘s what they are saying was wrong.

And then all these other allegations, that‘s part of the problem why it was taken as real, this flushing the toilet, Koran down the toilet charge, because so many other things that we know did happen, were even photographed, were certainly in character with the kind of things some of those guards were doing.  And it did create an impression that this could have happened too.

OLBERMANN:  All right.  Screeching around the corner to the other political topic, and there‘s something breaking at Filibuster Gulch.  We were talking last night about the prospects of some of the rank-and file senators who might be approaching a compromise on the filibuster, even as their leaders, Mr. Frist and Mr. Reid, were staring daggers at each other.

But now Ken Strickland, the spokesman for Frist, has said that the nuclear option will be triggered next Tuesday, exact time to be announced.  I guess the rank and file didn‘t succeed in operating over the heads of their leaders.

CRAWFORD:  That‘s exactly what that tells us.  That‘s what we‘ve been waiting to hear final word on today.  Everything I heard on the Hill today indicated that compromise effort was falling apart.  And generally, if they don‘t get things like this put together by Thursday night, they don‘t at all, because most of the senators start leaving town tomorrow for the weekend.  So the critical mass is lost if you don‘t get it done by Thursday night.

OLBERMANN:  Many have to return to their home states, we‘re told by Mr. Strickland, for personal reasons tonight and tomorrow.  Talks will continue by phone through the weekend and reconvene on Monday.  Do those talks have a snowball‘s chance in hell?

CRAWFORD:  Doesn‘t seem like it, because the Republicans and Democrats who are trying to forge this compromise are pretty far apart on some key points.  And I think in the long run, though, the Democrats are beginning to feel that Frist may not get all the votes together.  So they‘re not as eager to seek a compromise, because the compromise they‘re talking about would it—the Democrats would accept some judges.

And I have a feeling that the nose-counting on the Republican side is not going as well, because a lot of Republican senators are senators first, Keith, and then Republicans.  And the time-honored tradition here of this filibuster is something that the Senate very jealously protects.  And I think that is overcoming some of the partisanship with a few senators.

OLBERMANN:  So there it is, though.  It‘s in the books.  Thus it could not possibly change, since it involves politicians.  The nuclear option will be invoked Tuesday.  Check your local time, your local newspapers for listings of the exact time.

Craig Crawford of “Congressional Quarterly” and MSNBC, and I‘m not selling the book again (INAUDIBLE).

CRAWFORD:  All right.  You‘ve done more than enough.  Thank you very much.

OLBERMANN:  All right, thanks, Craig.

CRAWFORD:  All right.

OLBERMANN:  Another element to the Koran story.  The first lady on her way to the Middle East tonight.  Can she help turn around the supposed damage to America‘s image?  We‘ll show you her interview airing in the Arab world tonight.

And if you‘ve been near a TV today, doubtless you have seen these amazing images tonight.  What you have not seen, that officer, in his own words, how he avoided his brush with death.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN:  We‘ve mentioned that no matter who—on whom you want to pin the damage, this country‘s government is in active damage control mode in the Muslim world.  Yesterday, it was White House press secretary Scott McClellan suggesting the editors of “Newsweek” appear on Arab TV networks to explain what happened to their Gitmo story.

But in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, tomorrow the damage control will be a little more hands-on, from a White House point of view.  The first lady, already appearing on Arab TV networks herself, and already having departed for a previously scheduled and fortuitously timed three-stop tour of the Middle East.  She‘ll to go Israel and Egypt, but will first go to Amman, Jordan.  Tomorrow she will attend the World Economic Forum there.

But as evidenced by this interview she‘s already done with Al Arabiya‘s senior correspondent, Nadia Bilbassey, if economics was a focus of the troop, it is—trip, rather—it is not any more.


NADIA BILBASSEY, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT, AL ARABIYA:  Do you see yourself as a messenger, trying to reinforce American values, build dialogue for civilizations, especially among the Muslim world, as you embark on this solo trip to the Middle East, considering the anti-American feelings in the region, with the latest incident of (INAUDIBLE) disintegration of the Koran in Guantanamo?

LAURA BUSH:  I do see myself as a messenger.  I have that opportunity because my husband is president.  I also think that I can speak on behalf of American women, when I talk to women in the Muslim world, to say that we‘re standing with them, and that we‘re so thrilled with the vote in the parliament in Kuwait, so that women there now will have the opportunity to vote.

I know that women everywhere, worldwide, mothers everywhere, want their children to be safe.  They want their children to grow up free from fear.  They want to have their children educated, and let their children be educated so that their children have opportunities.

BILBASSEY:  Public diplomacy is a focus for the president in this term.  And unfortunately, he doesn‘t have a positive rating in the Middle East.  Do you see yourself as somehow trying to soften the image, or putting the policies aside?

BUSH:  Well, I wouldn‘t say that.  I would say that I see that I see that I can be a messenger of what he really believes and what he thinks.

And I hope that as people around the world have looked at his State of the Union address, or his inaugural address, and heard his words, that they take those words for what he meant when he said them, that freedom is very, very important, and that the American people stand with people around the world as they build their countries and as they try to build in the institutions that guarantee freedom for men and women around the world.

So I hope people see that.  You know, I‘m very fortunate, because he is president, to have the opportunity to talk about issues that I think are so important.  And certainly, I think, human rights and human dignity is one of the most important things in our whole world, the respect for religion, respect for everyone‘s religion, respect for each other.

All of those are very important.

BILBASSEY:  Well, you‘re very close to the president, extremely close, very highly view publicly.  Do you, does he come to you and he asks you for advice?  Does he tells you, for example, when the (INAUDIBLE) thinks a good decision, what do you think?  Does he consult you on these matters?

BUSH:  Sure.  We talk about things.  He doesn‘t come ask me for a lot of advice, like I think most husbands and wives don‘t really lot of it—want a lot of advice from their husband or their wife.  But we talk about issues.  And, of course, I, you know, I‘ve watched him.  I‘ve been here in the most personal moments, when he‘s made decisions, and the consequences of those decisions are huge.  And I know how difficult that is.

But I also know, as he does, that it‘s his responsibility.  He‘s the president of the United States.  His responsibility is to the people of the United States of America, to make the decisions that are the best for the security and the safety of the people of the United States.

And that‘s his sworn duty as president of the United States.


OLBERMANN:  In her travels, will the first lady have the courage to tell the Middle East of the mating rituals of the American prairie chicken?  Probably not.  In fact, I‘m betting the subject will not come up, but it will here.

And from cluck, cluck, cluck to, What the --  The latest tour of the COUNTDOWN Hall of Fame, we‘ll show you.  What will it do?  That‘s what I meant, yes.


OLBERMANN:  We‘re back with the one segment tonight devoted to weird animal and nature news.  Tonight, a special report on the mildly interesting mating rituals of the Midwest American prairie chicken.

Let‘s play Oddball.

You thought I was kidding?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They dance, they fly up, they fight, they—it‘s just like watching a soap opera.  Every day is different.  But the actors are all the same.


OLBERMANN:  A soap opera starring chickens.  Yes, “The Young and the Boneless.”  Boneless chicken.

Not her.  She‘s Heidi Hughes of the Nebraska Bird Observatory, there with the binoculars.  She‘s built this very discreet lookout box to observe the chickens in action.  Note how it just blended into the landscape here.  The birds don‘t even know it is there.

What‘s the big box?  It‘s a good thing, though, because if those chickens ever catch a glimpse of her, well, have you ever seen chickens when they feel like their privacy has been violated?  She would be dead and devoured in under six minutes.

Tastes like chicken.

Elsewhere, animal lovers have captured this rare glimpse of Jasper the Bull Who Went to High School.  This captured on security video yesterday at Vero Beach High in Florida.  He was released into the school‘s second floor as part of a senior prank.  But Jasper had the last laugh.

Say hello to the new class president.

To Atlanta, where one woman is proving you can take on the power company.  I don‘t know who said you couldn‘t, but 65-year-old Bonnie Lehman (ph) is doing it.  She‘s tied herself to a black cherry tree in her front yard in order to keep Georgia Power from cutting it down.  She says it is the only tree that protects her home from out-of-control cars and stuff.  The power company, trying to improve the road, maybe helped with that whole out-of-control-car thing.

But Ms. Lehman says, You‘ll take this tree over my dead body.  And she successfully delayed the $2 million project.  We‘ll stay with this amazing story right through to its inevitable end, when Bonnie discovers herself and her tree replanted about 25 miles to the northwest atop Kennesaw Mountain, Georgia.

Also tonight, Larry King, hello.  You‘ll hear what he said at the

Jackson trial in Puppet Theater.  And the Donald‘s original “Apprentice,”

the plot where Meralago (ph) takes us on a private tour of his little shack

by the ocean.

Those stories ahead.

Now, though, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, Karl-Heinz Frommolt.  He‘s an animal sounds expert in Germany.  He thinks he‘s proved that part of Homer‘s epic “The Odyssey” is not a myth but rather the truth.  The part where the Siren women sing and nearly lure Odysseus‘s sailors to their death?  True, he says.  One island off Italy echoes voices up to 1,300 feet offshore—not women‘s voices, though, voices of the monk seal.  Obviously, Homer cleaned up that part of the story.  Seals, women.

Number two, Dmitry Zaitsev.  He is the emergency official in the town of Bolotnikovo in Russia, where they might have a problem because last night, their lake vanished, drained, as if somebody had pulled the plug in a bathtub.  One elderly resident is not buying natural explanations.  He says, Well, America has finally got to us.”

Yes, blame America first, you liberal!

And number one, breaking newsmakers news.  A full report on this tomorrow, but Vienna Beef and Alpha Baking have announced they have signed a peace treaty.  For years, Vienna has sold hot dogs in packages of 8, and Alpha has sold hot dog buns in packages 6 or 12, meaning two million hot dog buns a year go to waste.  Now their dogs and their buns will come in packages of 8, and only 8, each.

Mr. Frist, Mr. Reid, can we not all learn something from these hot dog people?


OLBERMANN:  Only at the Michael Jackson trial.  The word whacko finally comes up on the record, only it‘s not used to precede the other word, Jacko.  It‘s used by Larry King, who winds up not testifying, after all.  A look inside through the eyes of puppet theater in a moment.  First we remind that you it is your entertainment and tax dollars in action, day 549 of the Michael Jackson investigations.

Presiding judge Rodney Melville, hearing the talk show host legend‘s testimony, the jury was not present at the time, Mr. King called to impeach the testimony of the accuser‘s mother, saying he had been told by attorney Larry Feldman that she was, quote, “whacko, and did this for the money.”  Feldman was approached by the family in 2003.  He had previously represented Jackson‘s accuser in 1993 and testified earlier in this case for the prosecution.  Judge Melville ruling Larry King‘s testimony irrelevant.  The attorney, he said, never directly quoted the accuser‘s mother.

Though highlights have been quoted, the actual transcript of all that King told the court today has not been made public.  Until now.  The only people who can tell you exactly why Judge Melville ordered King not to testify would be the vast investigative team behind “Michael Jackson Puppet Theater.”


“LARRY KING”:  Judge, hello.  What‘s your question?

“JUDGE MELVILLE”:  Mr. King, tell me exactly what you could tell the jury about the defendant, Michael Jackson.

“KING”:  Michael Jackson?  A star among stars!  For my money, one of the world‘s great stamp collectors.  And he uses Garlique (ph), proven to reduce cholesterol levels by 25 points.  If you ask me, there‘s nothing better than breathing.  And as my friend Rudolph Giuliani puts it, can somebody please explain to me why there aren‘t more Steve and Edie movies?  Barry Bonds is great, but Bobby Darin was better.  There are 293 ways to make change for a dollar!

“MELVILLE”:  Thank you, Mr. King.

“KING”:  “The Da Vinci Code,” insider details doubling the interest in this humdinger of a thriller.  On “Larry King Weekend,” my special guest, Jesus!  Each of my five hearts is preserved in Welch‘s grape juice!  Woo-hoo-hoo~!  Houston! (INAUDIBLE)


OLBERMANN:  Kind of took over the show, didn‘t it, tonight.  But irrelevant?  Larry King is irrelevant?  I‘m afraid, Judge, if you‘re going to tell me that Larry King is irrelevant, I‘m going to have to ask you to step outside.

Ultimately, of course, the Jackson case pivots on a derivation of a centuries-old American cliche.  You know, Such-and-Such slept here, George Washington slept here, Abraham Lincoln slept here, Michael Jackson slept here.  We can‘t take you on a tour of Michael‘s favorite place to sleep, Neverland ranch, but we can get close, a rare insider‘s peek at Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump‘s little beach place in Florida that doesn‘t even have a full gross of rooms.

COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny is just back from her brief brush with the jet set and can actually say Michael Jackson slept there.  Good evening, Monica.

MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  That‘s right, Keith.  Good evening.  The name Mar-a-Lago means “from sea to lake,” and that‘s where you‘ll find it, sort of, between the Atlantic Ocean and the intercoastal waterway in southern Florida.  And even when Mr. Trump is not there, his employees never forget who‘s boss, even when outsiders do.


TONY SENECAL, PERSONAL BUTLER TO DONALD TRUMP:  In the year 2000, in “The Guinness Book of Records,” they listed Mr. Trump as having done the greatest financial turnaround in the century.  But the picture was of me.  Two million copies.  And now it‘s funny, you know, but I did sweat it for a long time.

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  Meet the original “Apprentice,” Tony Senecal, personal butler to Donald Trump for two decades at his 20-acre Florida getaway, a loyal employee who helps to run the 118-room winter home and who never forgets the big guy might be watching.

(on camera):  So you‘re the boss, Tony?

SENECAL:  Well, only when Mr. Trump is not here!


NOVOTNY (voice-over):  The estate‘s original owner, Marjorie Merriweather Post, heiress to the Post cereal fortune, built Mar-a-Lago in the 1920s.  Trump bought it in 1985.  Our tour starts...

SENECAL:  In the great room, the gold room.

NOVOTNY (on camera):  And this is literally the golden room, as well.

SENECAL:  Yes, it really is.  That ceiling is 23-karat gold leaf.  They actually used up all they could find in the United States, had to go to Europe to get enough to finish the job.

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  Today it‘s a private club.

SENECAL:  There are two pools here.  There‘s five red clay, beautiful tennis courts.  There‘s a spa.  So there‘s a lot to do, a lot to do.  And there‘s bridge.  Everyone plays bridge.

NOVOTNY:  Well, everyone here.  If you haven‘t already guessed, this club is for those older and richer than the rest of us.

SENECAL:  This is the library bar.

NOVOTNY (on camera):  Very niece.  Oh, that!

SENECAL:  You like that?

NOVOTNY:  There‘s a little bit of a George Hamilton look to that.

SENECAL:  Really?

NOVOTNY:  Very, very tan.

(voice-over):  From the prince of Palm Beach, it‘s on to...

SENECAL:  This is the Sleeping Beauty suite.

NOVOTNY:  Daddy‘s little girls stay here behind bars.

SENECAL:  Those were put up right after the Lindbergh kidnapping.

NOVOTNY:  Security is tight, and so is the furniture.

SENECAL:  It‘s the scale for a child.

NOVOTNY (on camera):  That‘s incredible.  And sadly, actually, you know, it fits me perfectly.


(voice-over):  Michael Jackson slept here, Joan Rivers here, the Donald and the wife somewhere over there.  They married here.

(on camera):  How long did this take to build?

SENECAL:  About 16 months—if it‘s finished now.


NOVOTNY:  How much did it cost?

SENECAL:  Thirty-five million dollars.

NOVOTNY:  And is this all real gold?

SENECAL:  Yes, $7 million worth, which is twice what Mrs. Post paid for the whole estate...

NOVOTNY:  Back in the 1920s.

SENECAL:  ... in 1928.


The club itself has room for about 50 more members.  So you, too, can join if you‘re willing to shell out $150,000 for an initiation fee, plus $9,000 in annual fees.  But keep in mind, that won‘t even get you a room.

SENECAL:  All you get is me smiling.


NOVOTNY (on camera):  And a greeting at the door.

SENECAL:  Right.

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  Clearly, this apprentice has learned a lot from the boss.


One more bit of Mar-a-Lago history.  When Marjorie Merriweather Post, the original owner, died in 1973, she left the estate to the government.  Her hope was that it would become a winter retreat for the presidents and a place for heads of state to meet.  Ultimately, of course, that did not happen.  The government returned it to the Post Foundation, and eventually, Donald Trump became the proud owner.

OLBERMANN:  Why isn‘t—Tony?  Is that his name?


OLBERMANN:  Why isn‘t he on TV all the time?


OLBERMANN:  He‘s great.

NOVOTNY:  He‘s great, isn‘t he?

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  Why isn‘t he on TV?

SENECAL:  He‘s...

OLBERMANN:  Also—no answer...

NOVOTNY:  He‘s not the boss.

OLBERMANN:  Oh, all right.  Nice hat in the graphic.

NOVOTNY:  Thanks.

OLBERMANN:  We like that.


OLBERMANN:  COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny on places to see if you happen to find yourself in Florida.

NOVOTNY:  There you go.

OLBERMANN:  Also tonight, he could be considering a little quality R&R time after this day on his job.  A survival story straight from the survivor‘s mouth, and he was one.  And we‘ll cut the ribbon on another wing of the COUNTDOWN Hall of Fame tonight.  It‘s the “Pantheon of Legends,” like sword salesman boy.  That‘s all ahead.

Now, though, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over):  Susan Hutchins (ph) was attacked by aggressive grackles.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I ran into the building, and they were still chasing me and swooping down at me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And Hutchins isn‘t alone.  Now Kim Shoemaker (ph) wears a hard hat just in case it happens again.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It hit my head, and it stung for a while.

JAY LENO, HOST, “TONIGHT” SHOW:  As you know, my dreams have to be taped for legal reasons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, that‘s right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The hymns are familiar.  It‘s a typical service, except for this.  Pro wrestling has taken over St. Philip‘s.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Let‘s get hip, you know?  Let‘s get cool.



OLBERMANN:  It was noted here other night that a lot of networks base the entirety of their news on things that could kill you—predators, politicians, whatever.  You know, networks like the 1984 channel, the one with Bill O‘Reilly.

Well, many newscasts are also secretly devoted to this topic heading:

really bad things that happened to somebody else and not you.  In our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, as part of our Hall of Fame week, we will be forthright and unblinking.  This next item would clearly fall into that category.  Except as our correspondent, Kevin Tibbles, reports, the hardest to believe part of the tale from just north of St. Paul, Minnesota, is that it had a happy that it had a happy ending.


KEVIN TIBBLES, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  You‘ve seen it on every freeway, a police officer, in this case a deputy from Ramsey (ph) County, Minnesota, assisting a motorist on the side of the road.  What happens next is terrifying.

DEPUTY GLEN POTHEN, HIT BY PICK-UP TRUCK:  I have no idea how I wasn‘t killed.

TIBBLES:  A pick-up skids out of control, slams into the car and then into 35-year-old deputy Glen Pothen.  Pothen, the father of 16-month-old twins, was on the side of the highway, along with a Minnesota state trooper, assisting a driver who‘d gone off the road.  The video of the crash was captured by the trooper‘s dashboard camera.

STATE TROOPER KELLY COLLINS, WITNESSED THE CRASH:  I honestly didn‘t think Glen was going to be alive.  And when I was looking for him and ran over the hill and he yelled, I‘m conscious and breathing, I went, Oh, my God!  Thank God!

TIBBLES:  Deputy Pothen was rushed to a nearby hospital, where miraculously, he was treated and later released.

POTHEN:  After watching that video and after yesterday, I definitely consider myself a very lucky person.

TIBBLES:  The driver of the pick-up, Va Vang, is relieved and apologetic.

VA VANG, PICK-UP DRIVER:  And I really worry about him.  So yes, I‘m very sorry about that.

TIBBLES:  Vang, too, was treated at the hospital for minor injuries.  He says he tried to change lanes when he came upon the scene, but instead skidded on wet pavement.  The law requires motorists to slow down when they see a cruiser with flashing light, something police wish more people would do.

POTHEN:  Basically, we wanted the video to get released to, hopefully, bring to attention that motorists need to slow down and move over if they can.

TIBBLES:  Fortunately, in this case, the deputy survived.

POTHEN:  I cannot believe that I am actually here.

TIBBLES:  Kevin Tibbles, NBC News, Chicago.


OLBERMANN:  Thus it is an especially odd segue tonight from stories like that to our round-up of entertainment and celebrity news, “Keeping Tabs.”  And appropriately, we begin with a weird confluence.  Mix one part Donald Rumsfeld with one part the running of the bull at Pamplona.  This is not just an excuse to run this video again, although we are just running this video again.

PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, objects to the annual bulls and drunks show and protests it its own running of the nudes in Spain, a race of naked and half-naked people who don‘t like the bull run.

So how does Rumsfeld fit into this?‘s Jeannette Walls says PETA has invited him to participate in the running of the nudes.  The inspiration for that?  PETA‘s president read that Rumsfeld once participated in the running of the bulls.  Walls quotes a Pentagon spokesman as saying only, “I am unaware if the secretary of defense has had the opportunity to read this correspondence, so I cannot comment on this.”

Or in Rumsfeld‘s own words, “There are known unknowns.  That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know.  But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don‘t know we don‘t know.”  While running naked.

Also tonight, we‘ll take a run at America‘s amusement parks.  The tallest, fastest roller-coaster is open.  What happens to the human face when you go from zero to 128 in three-and-a-half seconds?  Stand by.


OLBERMANN:  We‘re nearly to the end of COUNTDOWN‘s Hall of Fame week.  We have already shown you the wing of “Stupid Traditions,” the livestock and other animals exhibit, and of course, the giant glowing tableau of “Star Wars” geeks.

Still to come, the COUNTDOWN Hall of Fame‘s greatest story ever told, a report I have now been working on for 23 years and 22 days, which will finally be broadcast here tomorrow night.

And tonight, it‘s the Hall of Fame “Pantheon of Legends,” the individuals whose singularity of achievement or stupidity or obscenity has earned them newscast immortality.  Again, this is not just repackaged old COUNTDOWN clips.  Well, it‘s primarily repackaged old COUNTDOWN clips, but with just a dash of new.

Like today‘s videotape and the new hero who stars in it.  This is what he saw riding Kingda Ka, billed as the fastest roller-coaster on earth, zero to 128 in three-and-a-half seconds, high point, 456 feet off the ground.  Six Flags Great Adventure opened it to the media today, so we sent the nut you will see on the right, COUNTDOWN segment producer and newsletter editor Carey Fox.  Good-bye, Carey.


CAREY FOX, COUNTDOWN:  Oh, sign up for the COUNTDOWN newsletter!


OLBERMANN:  His last words before he lost his mind were, “Sign up for the COUNTDOWN newsletter.”  Now, that was an employee.

Since his election is assured, the question becomes, Will Carey Fox be the first active staffer to be inducted into the COUNTDOWN Hall of Fame?  Do the rules even permit that?  Should we just fire him and then elect him, just to play it safe?  These all questions that will yet be decided by the nominating board.  For now, the COUNTDOWN Hall of Fame “Pantheon of Legends” is pretty damn full already.



OLBERMANN (voice-over):  The Hall of Fame is a big imaginary building, but not so not big that we could afford to devote an entire wing to just dumb criminals and another one to only wacky stunt men and a third to only drunken idiots who got themselves stuck in a trash can.  There‘s just not enough room.  Especially since we had to enlarge the animal wing to accommodate the huge bouncing bear crowd.

So here in the Hall of Fame‘s great hall—yes, that‘s right, there‘s a hall inside the hall, bear with us here—each of these individuals whose bizarre actions have brought us joy, bewilderment or just great videotape over the years has his own little plaque.  It is here that the COUNTDOWN Hall of Fame honors the legends.

Who are these people?  Well, they‘re everyman and everywoman caught on tape in strange situations either of their own making or of someone else‘s.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What are you talking about?  You‘re crazy.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Did you just hit me?

OLBERMANN:  Perhaps they got drunk and did something stupid, or perhaps they didn‘t get drunk at all and still did something stupid.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There‘s a bubbling cauldron of hell, and I advise upon (ph) no human being on the face of the earth, you will die if you go over those falls.  I reached out and touched the face of God, and he smiled.  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Or they‘re just run-of-the-mill weirdoes and show-offs out for our attention.  We‘re not too proud to oblige if they make it strange enough.


OLBERMANN:  Some of the legends are dumb criminals, and some are really dumb criminals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And you readily admitted your involvement in the robbery and stated that you were forced into it to pay a drug debt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m a drug dealer, not a bank robber!  I‘m the one with the drugs.  He was the one that robbed (INAUDIBLE)  I‘m the mother-(DELETED) drug dealer!

OLBERMANN:  Some of them are television personalities, others are just personalities caught on television.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Get out of Taiwan!  Get out of Taiwan!

ELTON JOHN:  Yes, we‘d love to get out of Taiwan if it‘s full of people like you!  Pig!  Pig!  Rude, vile pig!

OLBERMANN:  And one is here because he solved the COUNTDOWN magic equation:  High pressure sales guy plus four-foot samurai sword, plus live TV equals...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The nice thing about these -- (INAUDIBLE) Ow!  Oh, that hurt!

OLBERMANN:  His partner entered the hall on the write-in ballot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We may need emergency surgery in the studio.

OLBERMANN:  Many of our legends are Guinness World Record holders, as well.  You wouldn‘t believe how easy it is to get into that book.  Mixed in are the true stuntmen and the daredevils, like the all-time great Felix Baumgartner (ph).  This guy goes out there and performs all manner of unsafe acts, literally risking death on a regular basis.  And for what?  So we can have 30 more seconds of really cool video.  Felix, we salute you.

And we salute you, Miss, Universe, the klutziest supermodel on earth. 

We salute every celebrity who ever had a glamor shot taken at 3:00 AM in

some Arizona drunk tank.  And we salute the true legends, those caught in

unbelievable but unfilmed situations, who later, for some reason, defying

belief, agreed to reenact the event for the cameras

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  There was only one I had that I could use, my tongue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And as odd as this looks, with her hands and legs tied, Benee Lance (ph) called her office, not police, for help.

OLBERMANN:  The Hall honors all of these wild stunts, feats of strength, strange people and even stranger things they do.  You may call them dopes, you may call them maniacs, you may call them miscreants, and you may even call them common criminals.  But here, here on this ground, we call them the legends.



OLBERMANN:  Again, tomorrow night, the last part of our week-long Hall of Fame tour, the greatest story ever told.  In a non-religious context, of course.

That‘s COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Write if you get work.  Good night, and good luck.


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