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'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for July 13

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guest: John Harwood, Anna Eshoo

ALISON STEWART, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

All dressed up, and nowhere to go.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  All I can say is, Shucks.


STEWART:  The astronauts take the camper back to Mission Control after a faulty fuel tank sensor grounds space shuttle “Discovery.”  Will the return to flight be as early as Saturday, or are we talking September?

The leak investigation.  More tough questions.


DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS:  So does the president think Karl Rove did something wrong, or doesn't he?


STEWART:  And more of this.


SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Now, again, we've been round and round on this for a couple of days now.


STEWART:  The highlights from the McClellan briefing, and the first Rove-related comments from President Bush.

Psst, careful, he's right behind you.

Home-grown terror.  The four London suicide bombers were all British citizens.  Why did they kill their own countrymen?  And how many other terrorists could be lying in wait?

And a bunch of robots playing soccer.

All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.

And good evening.  I'm Alison Stewart, in for Keith Olbermann.

It was more than two years in the making, with less than two hours to go.  It was a no-go.  All eyes were on the space shuttle “Discovery” today, and it looked like the skies were the biggest threat to liftoff, as a possible thunderstorm passed through Cape Canaveral, and the chances of favorable weather dropped to 40 percent.

But it was not the elements that thwarted NASA's return to flight.

Our number five story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, scrubbed.  A faulty fuel gauge sensor forced NASA to call off today's launch, the same kind of problem officials had back detected in April, and thought they'd fixed.

“Discovery”'s seven astronauts were boarding when today's launch was scrubbed, many of them already in place.  Now NASA officials have to assess the exact nature of the problem, and they face a host of other issues as well, including this.  If they do not launch by the end of this month, they will have to wait until September.

Of course, this would have been the first launch of a space shuttle since the “Columbia”'s catastrophic breakup on reentry almost two and a half years ago.  Now Saturday is the earliest the “Discovery” could launch, and that would be optimistic.

MSNBC's Chris Jansing is in Cape Canaveral and has been covering developments there all day long.  Good evening to you, Chris.

CHRIS JANSING, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening to you, Alison. 

Thanks very much.

Now, teams of experts right now, essentially troubleshooters, are working to diagnose the problem that grounded “Discovery” at what was really the last minute today.

It happened during a series of preflight tests.  Once that sensor failed, NASA officials said there simply was no doubt the launch would be canceled, because it's what they call very clear and unambiguous criteria.  There are four of these sensors.  All of them must work for the launch to go off, but today one failed.

Now, by late tonight, NASA officials expect to have a lot of crucial data back, and they're going to try to figure out what went wrong.  Just about exactly 12 hours from now, there's a (INAUDIBLE) meeting scheduled.  It is at 8:00 tomorrow morning.  It is going to be a technical meeting to go over all the data that's being collected tonight.  And then at noon, NASA management will meet and decide the next course of action.

Now, once the problem is diagnosed, the major question, of course, is whether “Discovery” can be fixed on the launch pad or whether they'll have to go back to the hanger.  A launch pad fix could mean a return to flight within the launch current window that goes until July 31, maybe, optimistically, as soon as Saturday.

But if the shuttle has to be moved, then that's a huge job.  And the space shuttle would probably be pushed to a September launch.

Now, when a similar problem was discovered during a fueling test in “Discovery” back in April, NASA did extensive troubleshooting.  They, in fact, said today that they changed every wire, they changed the tank, the connector, the black box.  And since then, the problem has been discussed.  In fact, it was discussed in management meetings in just the last week here at the Kennedy Space Center.

But obviously, NASA officials thought they had this problem solved, even though they never really figured out what was wrong.  In fact, the shuttle program deputy manager said today the failure was, and I'm quoting here, “an unexplained anomaly.”  But they thought they had it fixed.

Now, a lot of attention was paid today to the crew and also to those NASA managers, because they were all very disappointed.  But remember, 20,000 people at NASA have worked to get this shuttle flying again since the “Columbia” disaster back in February of 2003.  They all know the stake are very high, a lot of analysts saying that no less than the future of the space program is riding on a successful launch.

The destination for “Discovery,” of course, is the International Space Station, and finishing it is key to President Bush's proposal to put man on Mars.

Now, given all that, you can certainly understand the anxiety caused by this scrub.  Even though scrubs are not uncommon, remember, there 2.5 million space shuttle parts, and thousands of them are what is known as launch-critical.  But when they don't work, the launch is a no-go.  That's what happened today, and this is a huge disappointment.

So we really have to wait until tomorrow afternoon.  We will know a lot more after that noon managers' meeting, and they will come out and give us an update, Alison.

STEWART:  All right, Chris.  One question for you, if they can't launch by July 31, and we're all talking about September, why can't they launch in August?

JANSING:  Yes, these windows are interesting.  Couple of reasons for them.  I mean, the first, in terms of not launching in April, is the position of the space station.  Basically, that's it, because “Discovery” will indeed be docking there.  They're going to deliver some supplies.  That's a critical part of this mission.

But there also has to be a daylight liftoff now.  They want to photograph the spacecraft in its climb into orbit.

One of the real ironies today is that they had a 10-minute launch window, and the weather was so bad this morning, they had downgraded it, as you said, the chance of launch, to 40 percent.  Turned out to be absolutely gorgeous.  I happened to be sitting here at what would have been the time of launch, 3:51 p.m., with the former NASA administrator, some current and former astronauts, and they just all said, broke their heart to see it was a picture-perfect day for a launch, but it wasn't to be, Alison.

STEWART:  Murphy's law applies to NASA as well.  Chris Jansing, thanks a lot for joining us after a long, hard day at work.  We appreciate it.

For analysis of the problem, I'm joined now by James Oberg, who was a mission control operator at the Johnson Space Center for 22 years, and we are fortunate to have him as an NBC News space analyst.

Jim, good evening to you.


STEWART:  Can you give me your assessment of the problem?  You've heard everything that's happened today.  How big of a problem was it?  And was the scrub the right thing?

OBERG:  Oh, it was right to scrub.  In fact, what they're showing by this scrub, and by the repair work they did last night, when that window cover fell off, is that they're not letting anything slip through their fingers.  They have a very tight net for strange things, for checking things out, not for making convenient assumptions.

And that was the key problem earlier when “Columbia” was lost.  A lot of people in the NASA chain didn't check thoroughly and let some things slip through their fingers, and people died.

This time, they're very, very rigid about it.  They have checked things out.  They're going to make it work.  It will be fixed.  But it was in some ways heartening that they weren't anywhere tempted to let this slide.

STEWART:  Something that's interesting that you keep hearing, that this problem was on the radar since last April.  Why wouldn't it be able to be fixed between April and today?

OBERG:  That was a big concern.  That's a very good point, Alison.   That was a big concern that I had when I first heard it.  If it's the same problem as last April, then their fixes from last April were wrong.  They had diagnosed it wrong, and they had treated it wrong.

Turns out it looks like it's a different problem, it's a different kind of problem.  Last April it was an erratic, kind of staticky problem of one of the sensors.  This time, the sensor is just—looks like it's just jammed closed.

Now, in about a couple hours, we're going to have the tank fully drained, and then they're going to see if the sensor finally says dry, in other words, out of gas.  If it says that, that's good news, because the sensor is now working.

The more likely problem is going to be somewhere in the wiring between the sensor and the computer in the shuttle that reads that wire.  It goes to a number of interconnects, and there could be simply wiring problems that can be checked in the next 24 hours and fixed.

STEWART:  Let me take this a little bit bigger.  There've been several issues with the shuttle over the past 24 hours.  Now, is this something that's worrisome, or is this just routine, that these kind of things pop up?

OBERG:  It is routine, but we forgot about the routine.  The shuttle is, as I say, is a complex machine.  The NASA team does know how to fly it as safely as possible.  Sadly, they have forgotten from time to time, and we have seen the lamentable results.

But in this time, on this preparation, everyone is keyed up, everyone is energized, and to do it perfectly, or as perfectly as humanly possible.  And we've flown more than 100 times safely.  When we got careless, when they got careless, bad things happened.  When they're not careless, they catch these things and fix them.

STEWART:  So as you said, it is the silver lining.  James Oberg, former shuttle designer and mission control operator, and, of course, an analyst for NBC News, thanks so much for your help tonight.

OBERG:  Thanks, Alison.

STEWART:  Another level of terror to add to the London attacks.  The suicide bombers were homegrown, all Brits.  An unwelcome turn in the war on terror.

And today President Bush decided not to ignore a question about Karl Rove, but that doesn't mean the reporter really got an answer.

But journalist Matt Cooper did give answers to the grand jury.

You're watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

STEWART:  A mind-numbing fact, the terrorists responsible for killing at least 52 commuters in London were not foreign extremists.  They were British citizens.  They were suicide bombers, and they had no known involvement with extremism.  And there could be dozens more like them, just waiting to strike.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, homegrown evil.  All four of the bombers lived in the northern city of Leeds, about three hours north of London.  Police are now combing through their homes and neighborhood.

Now, yesterday, authorities found a bombmaking factory and arrested one of the bombers' relatives.  Today they are hunting for at least three other people, the mastermind behind the attack, the bomb maker, and a fifth man, seen with the four attackers on surveillance video just before the attacks.

Now, just hours ago, terrorism police raided a house in Buckinghamshire, 40 miles northwest of London, possibly looking for that mastermind.

All four suicide bombers are what police call clean skins, men with no criminal convictions and no terrorist history.  Their lives seemed so normal that even their own families seem to have no idea what they planned to do.

Even police initially thought 19-year-old Habib Hussein (ph), the final suicide bomber who blew himself up on the bus, was a victim of the attacks, after his frantic mom called to report him missing.

The Edgware Road bomber, 30-year-old Muhammad Sadiq Kahn (ph), was married, with an 8-month-old baby girl.  And 22-year-old Shihad Taiwir (ph), an avid cricketeer who studied sport science at university, blew himself up on the Circle Line train at Aldgate.

And the police tell NBC News the fourth suspect was Lindsey Jermaine, a Muslim of Jamaican descent, also from the Leeds area.  They have not yet recovered his body, which is likely still buried at the King's Cross bomb site, along with some of his victims.

The other three bombers were Muslim extremists whose families originally came from Pakistan.  Investigators believe at least two of them recently visited Pakistan, and potentially Afghanistan as well, before returning to Britain.

We are joined now by MSNBC terrorism expert Evan Coleman, who went looking for evidence of burgeoning British extremism three years ago on the streets of London.

Evan, really great to talk to you tonight.


STEWART:  The realization that these four men were British citizens at first seems really, really shocking, but is it really that rare?

COLEMAN:  Unfortunately, it's not really that big a surprise.  These individuals are part of a growing number of British nationals who are being recruited into terrorist movements, and particularly for suicide operations.

One of the individuals that I was able to interview in London was Abu Hamza al-Masri (ph), an English-speaking al Qaeda cleric who has recruited those who do not have a proficiency in Arabic language, particularly Britons such as Richard Reed, who tried blowing up his shoes on an American Airlines flight, and, of course, Zacarias Moussaoui, who was actually French, who ended up trying to become one of the 9/11 hijackers.

Now, what's most interesting about Abu Hamza is that he lectures in English.  He tells his followers what to do in English.  And while there numerous individuals in the United Kingdom that might fit the definition of clean skin, that doesn't mean that they don't listen to audio recordings of clerics like Abu Hamza al-Masri.

One of the suspects here we have is someone of Jamaican descent.  What's most interesting is, one of the fellows that I followed in London was actually a Jamaican Islamic cleric, someone who told his followers in English to go out and spread the blood of the disbelievers, to go and rob banks in order to do jihad by wealth.

Indeed, this ideology can be communicated just as easily in English as it can be in Arabic.

STEWART:  You've written about these encounters with these young extremists in London.  You did some real on-the-ground work.  And they're not really the disaffected folk that you think of who would gravitate towards some sort of religious movement, and many of them were quite young, according to your blog.  Can you describe where you found them, and what you observed about why they've chosen this path?

COLEMAN:  Yes, you know, many of them were actually college students, or were university students, or people that even were in medical school, young people with a future ahead of them.  And in some ways, it boggles the mind why they would choose this path.

But I think what's critical to this is to understand that within the Muslim community, there is a radical fringe movement, a movement that sees people like Osama bin laden and Mohammed Atta the same way that many Westerners view Bruce Springsteen or Johnny Depp, as heroes.  And the same way that American youths want to live up to the image of rock stars or actors, there are youths within this radical fringe movement that want to become the next Mohammed Atta, that want to become the next 9/11 hijackers, that see these people as heroes.

And they've been indoctrinated to think so.  I was at one seminar where they said Osama bin Laden was a hero, and that you should shed your blood and die for him, and you should kill women and children if that's what it takes.

And this was being taught to 15-year-olds, 15-year-old British nationals of South Asian descent, much like the fellows involved in this case.

STEWART:  And quickly, but we have just a few minutes left, in terms of these clean skins, you're talking about 15-year-olds, they obviously aren't in the system.  Is there any way to track these clean skins?

COLEMAN:  Well, one of the first measures that we have to take is to monitor the English-speaking clerics that are out there in the United Kingdom, the folks that are the recruiters for this.  Just because someone's never been abroad before, or just because someone has never openly declared their affiliation to al Qaeda, if they're regularly attending prayer seminars by radical clerics, that should be a warning sign.

What's more is that you have individuals here who have even gone to Pakistan to seek training.  (INAUDIBLE) here we have a mirror of may have what had happened in Lodi, California, recently.

And I think as long as Pakistan remains the headquarters for training for al Qaeda and other militant groups, we need to crack down more on this headquarters of terrorism.

STEWART:  And that will certainly be whole 'nother discussion for another day.  MSNBC terrorism analyst Evan Coleman, thanks so much.

COLEMAN:  Thank you.

STEWART:  The White House won't comment on Karl Rove during this whole Plame investigation.  Some Democrats say, Okey-dokey, just suspend his security clearance while the judge is figuring everything out.  We'll talk to one of those representatives.

But next, a face-off of a much different variety.  Today's Pamplona scorecard, and your world exclusive world-class coverage of the running of the bulls.


STEWART:  I'm Alison Stewart in the mission control seat while Keith Olbermann is on vacation.

And much like the real mission control, it's time now to scrap the COUNTDOWN, at least for the next four minutes, for a little something special.  OK, not special, just kind of stupid.

Let's play Oddball.

And we begin again in Espana, with a special Oddball coverage of day seven of the running of the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.  As always, all COUNTDOWNers root for the bulls here, since they are the stars of the show, yet they're not paid, and all die at the end of each day.

Unfortunately, the bulls don't know that part of the deal, so once again, they failed to take anybody down with them today, because apparently they thought they were just, you know, beating the rush for two-for-one night at Kakawona (ph).

There's not to say there weren't any fair share of tramplings, however.  A few human participants were sent to the hospitals with bumps and bruises.  But in the end, all the two-legged runners lived to see dinner, and all the four-legged runners are dinner.

In other sporting news, it's the racing of the grandpas of the Netherlands.  Nobody was gored in this race, (INAUDIBLE) helmet, as 13 drivers of a certain vintage, little buggies, burned up the track at speeds approaching 7 miles an hour.  Watch 'em go.  It was the first buggy race of its type in the Netherlands, part of an effort to promote greater mobility for the elderly.

It was successful event.  The organizers promised more action in the next race, faster buggies, bigger jumps, and an early-bird special.  She's happy about that.

Speaking of gory sports, the Japanese have found a way to make soccer even less interesting.  They make robots play it.  OK, those dogs are kind of cute.  Three hundred robot teams from more than 31 countries participated in the RoboCup Tournament in Osaka.  The organizers say their ultimate goal is to field a robot soccer team that can beat the World Cup champs by the year 2050.

OK, good luck with that.

Is the man known as Bush's Brain now simply Bush's bane?  The Karl Rove controversy, and the strategy within the Republican Party to just make it go away.

And ladies, picture this, Brad Pitt in a hospital gown.  That's what I'm talking about.

Those stories ahead.

But first, here are COUNTDOWN's top three newsmakers of this day.

Number three, Stephen Holloday of California, he's in jail, charged with robbing the same bank in Oakland four times in the last three months.  He was arrested this week after police say he attempted to rob the Summit Bank for a fifth time, but the tellers recognized him when he walked in.  Hey, it's that guy again.

Number two, armed bandits in Brazil who this week hijacked a postal truck on its way to Rio de Janeiro.  Inside, more than 400 silicone breast implants.  Officials are worried the implants could be sold on the black market, because July, they say, is boob-job busy season.

And apparently there's a really sweet hotel (INAUDIBLE) and antibiotic deals during the (INAUDIBLE) months.

And number one, the imaginary townsfolk of Wexford, Pennsylvania.  The town was recently named the number 28 on “Money” magazine's best places to live in the U.S., which would have been great if a town of Wexford, Pennsylvania, actually existed.  There is no town of Wexford, really, no residents, just a ZIP code postal designation Wexford.  But we hear it's a heck of a nice place.


STEWART:  So have you tried to make yourself feel better this week by telling yourself, Hey, at least I'm not Karl Rove?  It may be time to rethink that statement.  Even though the White House insider has been fingered as the big drip in the leak of a covert CIA operative's identity, things may be looking up for Mr. Rove.  His boss still loves him, the first lady does, too, and we have made him our third story on the COUNTDOWN.  You should all be so lucky.

Heck, even Matt Cooper was willing to go to jail for him.  The “Time” magazine reporter, released from the bonds of his “double super-secret” pinky pledge to Karl Rove, testified this morning before the grand jury investigating the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame.  Cooper is saving his best stuff for his article on the subject, but he was willing to say this much about his testimony.


MATTHEW COOPER, “TIME” MAGAZINE:  I testified openly and honestly.  I have no idea whether a crime was committed or not.  That's something the special counsel's going to have to determine.  What I do hope is that the special counsel can conclude his investigation as quickly as possible.  I think today, we should all remember, is Judith Miller's eighth day in jail.  And the sooner this grand jury recesses, the sooner she can get home.


STEWART:  Here is something else Matt Cooper did not tell you.  Karl Rove, Valerie Plame, and of course, her husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson all attend services at the same Washington, D.C., church.  Bet that makes for some mighty tense Sunday morning chit-chat.  The chit-chat also a little tense at today's White House cabinet meeting, President Bush refusing to comment on the political firestorm surrounding Rove, even though he was asked about him twice.  Maybe it's because Rove was sitting right behind him.


GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I have instructed every member of my staff to fully cooperate in this investigation.  I also will not prejudge the investigation based on media reports.  We're in the midst of an ongoing investigation, and I will be more than happy to comment further once the investigation is completed.

We're in the midst of an ongoing investigation.  And this is a serious investigation.  And it is very important for people not to prejudge the investigation based on media reports.  And again, I will be more than happy to comment on this matter once the investigation is complete.


STEWART:  Pretty much the same story in the White House briefing room, only there were way more than two questions.  If you've been playing along at home, you know that the answers to almost all of them were virtually identical, press secretary Scott McClellan not budging from the script.  But the entertainment value was in the asking.


QUESTION:  If he had wanted to express confidence in Karl Rove, he could have.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  He expressed it yesterday though me.

QUESTION:  But Scott, he defended Al Gonzales without even being asked.

MCCLELLAN:  I'll come to you in a second.  I'll come to you in a second.  Go ahead.

DAVID GREGORY, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, he defended Al Gonzales without ever being asked.


GREGORY:  It has nothing to do with the investigation.  Is it appropriate for a senior official to speak about a covert agent in any way, shape or form without first finding out whether that person is working (INAUDIBLE)

MCCLELLAN:  Well, first of all, you're wrong.  This is all relating to questions about an ongoing investigation, and I've been through this.

GREGORY:  If I wanted to ask you about the ongoing investigation, I would ask you about the statute, and I'm not doing that.

MCCLELLAN:  I think we've exhausted the discussion on this the last couple of days.

QUESTION:  We haven't even scratched the surface.

QUESTION:  I'm sorry, I wasn't here yesterday.  Could you refresh my memory?  Was there an ongoing...

MCCLELLAN:  The briefings are available on line.  Go ahead.

QUESTION:  ... investigation at the time that you answered previous questions on this issue?

MCCLELLAN:  Again, I responded to those questions the past couple of days.

QUESTION:  Let's talk about the Wilson family.  Someone in the executive branch let this family down in some kind of way, shape or form.  Is there any regret from the White House that this family was affected by the leak?

MCCLELLAN:  Yes.  It doesn't change what I just said.

QUESTION:  Who's the president watching the launch with?

MCCLELLAN:  We'll get you a photo release from that.  Thank you.

QUESTION:  Karl Rove?

QUESTION:  Karl Rove!


QUESTION:  Karl Rove!

QUESTION:  Is Karl going to be on the shuttle?



STEWART:  In fact, the only person who said much of anything about Karl Rove today was the first lady, and she was in Africa at the time.


LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY:  Karl Rove is a very good friend of mine.  I've known him for years.  And I'm not going to speculate on any other part of the case except to say that he's a good friend.


STEWART:  Laura Bush proving to be quite the trendsetter in her second term as first lady.  Many Republicans in Congress answering the call to join the Karl Rove defense team, not the official legal one.  We're talking about the one in the court of public opinion.  At a meeting behind closed doors on Capitol Hill today, the head of the Republican Party encouraged House Republicans to defend Rove because, quote, “Your good friend is being smeared.”  They've even released this memo of talking points to make sure all Republicans stay on message.

For more on the “save Rove” strategy, we are joined now by “Wall Street Journal” political editor John Harwood.  Hi, John.

JOHN HARWOOD, “WALL STREET JOURNAL”:  Hey, Alison.  How are you?

STEWART:  I'm doing well.  One Republican lawmaker went so far today as to call Rove a “whistleblower.”  So is that a fair description?  And why the term “whistleblower”?

HARWOOD:  First of all, Alison, let me just make one point about your intro.  I can promise you that being on your COUNTDOWN tonight is not what Karl Rove has in mind because the longer this story goes on, the worse it is for him.

On the whistleblower aspect, you know, one of the points they're trying to make is that this was not a deliberate hit on Joe Wilson.  This was not an attempt to smear him.  This was in back and forth with the reporter.  The reporter brought up the status of the Wilson op-ed, and they began talking about it, and this may have been mentioned in an off-handed way.  And there's—if you look at the memo from Matt Cooper to one of his bosses, you could see why they make that argument.

So—but it's not whistleblowing to bring out government wrongdoing, which is how we normally think of the term.  They're saying he was trying to prevent the wrong impression that the CIA director or the vice president authorized his trip.

STEWART:  Well, there's always the—obvious, the appearance of something.  There could be fact, but then there's the appearance of what it seems to be.  Is appearance enough to lose Karl Rove his job?

HARWOOD:  I don't think appearance is enough to cost the job of somebody like Karl Rove, who is so important and so close to this president.  But you know, Alison, it's not just appearance.  Look, we've had a two-year investigation that's cost millions of dollars.  We've got a reporter in jail.  You've got now the administration distracted by this.  The White House spokesman has been contradicted by what we've learned, from what he said two years ago.  The president isn't looking all that great in the fact that Scott McClellan said the president knows Karl Rove wasn't involved.

So there's some real stuff that's happened that is harmful to the White House, and that's why they want this story to go away, and that's why the Republican National Committee is trying to partisanize this thing, turn it into a food fight, the kind of thing that the American public will say, A pox on both their houses.

STEWART:  Well, that's sort of the interesting thing here.  Assuming there was no illegal activity, a hard thing for a lot of people to understand is, Did the White House mislead us in some way?  And why isn't someone being held responsible?  Is President Bush going to have to hold somebody responsible?

HARWOOD:  When we get a report from Patrick Fitzgerald—and he'll either to charge somebody with a crime, whether it be leaking the name of Valerie Plame, whether it's perjury, or he will explain what happened in this case and why he didn't bring charges.  That's when we're going to find out how embarrassing this story is for Karl Rove, how big his role in it is, as compared to other officials.  And that's when the president's going to have to make some judgments.

But it's pretty obvious that some things that the White House said a couple of years ago, when this first came out, were not so.  Karl Rove was involved.  Whether or not he was deliberately trying to leak the name of somebody he knew was classified or whether he was just engaging in a conversation and did it off-handedly, he was involved in the discussion of her employment.

STEWART:  John Harwood at “Wall Street Journal,” political editor. 

Always a pleasure to talk to you.  Thanks a bunch.

HARWOOD:  Have a great night.

STEWART:  The Democrats, of course, not feeling the Rove love.  House minority leader Nancy Pelosi is even alleging that the “save Karl” strategy amounts to obstruction of justice.  At the same time, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee are asking President Bush to yank Rove's security clearance until the special counsel's investigation is complete, their letter to the president reading, in part, “There is ample precedent for suspending the security clearances of people under suspicion of leaking classified information.  We urge you to suspend any and all of Mr. Rove's security clearances at least until the Fitzgerald investigation is complete.”

Congresswoman Anna Eshoo of California is one of the Democrats who signed that letter, and she joins us now from the Capitol.  Congresswoman, thanks for taking the time.


STEWART:  First of all, what will revoking Karl Rove's security clearance accomplish?

ESHOO:  Well, I think revoking the security clearance that he receives through the president is a very important step to take.  Why?  Because Karl Rove has acknowledged through his attorney that he leaked the information of the name of an undercover agent.  That in and of itself, as I said, is an acknowledgement through his attorney of doing something that is and can be very harm harmful to our country.  Why?  One of our top responsibilities, mine, as a member of the House Intelligence Committee, is to do everything that we can to protect those that are in real harm's way, those that serve us through the intelligence service.  In this case, one of the top people in the administration, the president's right-hand man, has acknowledged through his attorney that he's abused this privilege.

STEWART:  But we should also make it clear, though, that he didn't...

ESHOO:  That's why—that's why we are calling on the president to suspend—to suspend—his security clearance.  I think it's...

STEWART:  We should make it clear, though...

ESHOO:  ... an appropriate thing to do.

STEWART:  We should make it clear that Karl Rove did not actually leak her name.  It was Robert Novak who actually released Valerie Plame's name.

ESHOO:  Well, he's acknowledged through his attorney that an undercover agent in our—for our country was—name was released, so...

STEWART:  Well, if this investigation concludes that Mr. Rove did not break the law...

ESHOO:  Then the president can restore...

STEWART:  ... do you still think he should resign?

ESHOO:  Then the individual security clearance could be restored at that time.  But it is very clear—this is not speculation—that this was done.  It is an abuse of that clearance, and that's why we called for the security clearance to be suspended.

STEWART:  You know, many people are saying a lot of this is just partisan behavior and a chance to really stick it to Karl Rove, a man who helped elect President Bush.  Can you explain to people why this isn't a partisan issue?

ESHOO:  I think the American people have a very strong sense of those that serve them, to protect them, whether it's in wartime or in peacetime.  And amongst the most dangerous jobs that exist in our government are those that agree to take these positions in dangerous places around the world in undercover positions.  Once that cover is blown or exposed by anyone, they are, and many others can be, as well, in harm's way, as well as the information that can be—where the cover of the information is blown, as well.

So this is very serious business.  If anyone thinks that this is something that's partisan—now, there may be some people that use it for partisan advantage.  That's not what members of the Intelligence Committee did today.  That's not the spirit in which we sent the letter to the president.  This is amongst the most serious of issues.  Former President Bush said that anyone that blows the cover—and I'm paraphrasing—blows the cover of a human source, that they—that it is amongst the most insidious of acts of a traitor.

STEWART:  And the investigation will continue on.

ESHOO:  It must continue.

STEWART:  Congresswoman Anna Eshoo of California.  Thank you so much for spending some time with us this evening.

ESHOO:  Thank you.

STEWART:  Political intrigue in Washington not limited to Karl Rove.  Lots of drama over at the Supreme Court, where the president is already trying to pick someone to replace one Justice, when today we learned that Chief Justice William Rehnquist has been hospitalized with a fever.  There was already intense speculation that the Chief Justice would step down because of his battle with thyroid cancer, now this latest health setback, a Court official telling NBC News that Rehnquist was admitted for observation and tests.  His condition is not considered serious at this time.  Doctors say it would be a common precaution to hospitalize an 80-year-old cancer patient like Rehnquist who develops a fever.

A group that first tried to help people document their family history is now near Ground Zero in New York helping family members remember loved ones killed on September 11.  The story behind Story Corps.

And the bold exploration of space.  Sure, you may never be in orbit, but if it weren't for the space race, you'd be surprised how many of your favorite gadgets and gizmos you'd be without.

That's all ahead, but first, here are COUNTDOWN's top three sound bites of this day.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE) can't have a bull unless you got a matador.  So the matador (INAUDIBLE) ain't running.  Matador don't run.

JAY LENO, HOST, “TONIGHT” SHOW:  This is kind of frightening.  It was reported today that nearly 2 out of 10 men and 4 out of ever 10 women of recruiting age are too fat to be in the United States military.  In fact, the Army's new slogan, An army of one, the size of two (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The return to flight will not happen today. 

With me now, Jay Barbree.

JAY BARBREE, NBC NEWS:  This is an automatic scrub.  When we heard them talking about it, I said, Turn it up.  We listened.  We said, Let's go get on camera.  And when we said we're going to go get on camera, they said, Scrub.  We're scrubbed.  So we're running up here.  I am 512 (SIC) years old.  It's rough for me to run up these stairs!




STEWART:  The contrast is stark.  It's a living example of then and now.  One, the busy train station still called the World Trade Center PATH, sits next to the haunting hollow pit that is Ground Zero, a hub for more than 40,000 daily commuters, the other an unwitting makeshift memorial and a somber tourist destination.  In our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, with the permanent six-acre memorial opening at the earliest four years from now, one group fears singular stories and memories of the tragedy and its victims are being lost with the passage of time.

So as COUNTDOWN's Monica Novotny found out, they have carved out an unexpected space to preserve those memories smack in the middle of busy downtown New York City.

Hi, Monica.

MONICA NOVOTNY, COUNTDOWN:  Hi, Alison.  It is called Story Corps, a non-profit group recording the life stories of everyday Americans for what may be the largest oral history project of its kind.  And now they're focussing on the stories of September 11.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Does it give you any comfort in knowing that Tommy was with Ricky?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes.  Gives me comfort in knowing that he was with people he loved and who loved him, yes, that he wasn't alone.

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  Arlene (ph) and Noreen Sullivan are telling Tommy stories—Thomas Sullivan, son, brother, husband and father, a 38-year-old broker for the New York Stock Exchange who often attended breakfast meetings at the World Trade Center.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  They had their weekly meeting.  So if it was a Tuesday, they were there.

NOVOTNY:  Lost here on that Tuesday, September 11, remembered here today, Sullivan's mother and sister at Ground Zero in this soundproof booth, sharing their memories for Story Corps, a 2-year-old oral history project by and for Americans.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This is not about the buildings.  This is not about what happens down—and it's not about rebuilding.  This is about Tommy.

NOVOTNY:  We first told you about Story Corps in 2003, their booth at New York's Grand Central Station, their goal of recording and collecting 250 250,000 personal histories over the next 10 years.

DAVID ISAY, STORY CORPS CREATOR:  The stories of, you know, statesmen and politicians and everybody else, that's completely important.  But to really understand a society, you also have to know the history from the bottom up, what it's like for people living every day.

NOVOTNY:  Three thousand stories later, another booth now sits here at a train station next to Ground Zero, recording the stories of September 11 over the next several months from victims' family members, survivors and rescue workers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  My biggest fear was that 10 years from now, I'm going to forget these stories because as each day passes, it gets a little bit harder to remember things.

NOVOTNY (on camera):  Family members usually bring a loved or a friend to interview them for about 40 minutes.  At the end of the session, they get a CD recording of their stories, and if they wish, another copy goes to the Library of Congress, where it becomes an official part of American history.

What made you do it?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  For Tommy.  I did it for him because I want his story told.  It's wonderful because (INAUDIBLE) have always said (INAUDIBLE) Tom is not defined by his death, he's defined by the life he led.

NOVOTNY (voice-over):  For those forever linked to September 11, for whom forgetting is not an option, an opportunity to heal.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He would want to be remembered.  I would think so.


NOVOTNY:  The Story Corps archive will be housed at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress, available for the listening pleasure of future generations.  If you'd like to participate, there are two mobile Story Corps units currently touring the country.  And if you want more information on those, you can find it on our Web site.  That's

STEWART:  And Monica, you were sharing with me that there's a facilitator actually at these mobile booths.

NOVOTNY:  That's right.  You don't have to be intimidated.  The interview process can be tough, even if you are with a family member or a loved one, because these are tough stories to talk about.  So there's a facilitator there who will help you get through it.  You can talk.  They don't have to say anything.  But if you stumble onto kind of a point of silence, they'll jump in and maybe offer up a question to help ease the process a little bit.  They all said they learned a lot in the process.

STEWART:  I'm sure.  I'm sure families learned so much about each other, as well.

NOVOTNY:  Exactly.

STEWART:  Monica Novotny, thanks so much.  Appreciate it.

NOVOTNY:  Thanks, Alison.

STEWART:  Now a sharp turn to the news of far less substance, our  nightly round-up of celebrity and entertainment news,”Keeping Tabs.”  And we begin with a regular “Tabs” player, Mr. Brad Pitt.  He has been released from the hospital after being diagnosed with—get this—viral meningitis.  That's high on that U (ph) scale.  Earlier this week, Pitt checked himself into Cedars-Sinai complaining of flu-like symptoms.  His publicist calls it a, quote, “mild case” and says Pitt is now at home and doing well.  Pitt had recently returned from Ethiopia, where he accompanied his co-star and whatever else you want to call her, Angelina Jolie, to finalize her adoption of a baby girl.

And Willie Nelson censored, thanks to Wal-Mart.  The country star's latest album, “Countryman,” features a bunch of reggae tunes, so the album cover, you know, kind of makes sense.  Looks like a piece of rolling paper, complete with a prominent marijuana leaf.  But apparently, that's a little too suggestive for Wal-Mart, so this is what the album looks like on its shelves, a family-friendly palm tree in place of the marijuana.  The record company says it decided to change the cover specifically for Wal-Mart because of the store's strict packaging and lyric guidelines.

The benefits of space exploration.  Sure, you may never float weightless, but how about those awesome tennis shoes that make you feel weightless?  How space travel has changed your daily life.


STEWART:  The saying goes that “Necessity is the mother of invention,” but when the need is to blast into space, you've got yourself one big momma.  Number one story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, the brilliance of invention.  Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and the space shuttle, yes, there's all that, maybe the most spectacular inventions we've ever seen.  But look around you.  Chances are something within your reach, something you take for granted is a by-product of our nation's reach into the heavens.  It's a lineup of creations that would make George Jetson proud.

Our correspondent, Bob Faw, reports.


BOB FAW, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  NASA since its inception has blasted through $380 billion, but it's not all rocket science.  Since 1976, from space age technology, at least 1,300 products used almost every day, like CAT scans and MRIs to save lives, Doppler radar to warn of storms.  Thanks to the space program, NASCAR drivers have better insulation, our cars have global positioning systems, our homes flat-panel TVs, smoke detectors, even the little Dustbuster.  And innovation from space hasn't just pushed technology.

JAMES OBERG, NBC NEWS SPACE ANALYST:  It's pushed people's innovation, their imagination, their realization on Earth that things can be invented better for tomorrow than they were yesterday.

FAW:  No, NASA did not develop Tang, the astronauts' drink, nor the Velcro they use.  But from space age technology came a host of space age foods—ask any camper—as well as materials for scalp coolers worn by chemo patients, for bicycle helmets, for bouncier and sturdier running shoes, yes, even for sports bras.  Because of what NASA engineers learned, ski boots are warmer, golf balls have more dimples, are more symmetrical, meaning Tiger Woods can hit them farther, multiple applications down here from what's been learned up there.

BENJI NEUMANN, NASA:  People don't realize that NASA technology—while NASA is funded by taxpayers to do these great challenges, this technology is finding its way back into everyday life.

FAW:  All those billions, all those by-products.  Has it been worth it?  Just try getting by without them.  Bob Faw, NBC News, Washington.


STEWART:  And I'm a girl that loves my Dustbuster!

That's COUNTDOWN.  Tucker Carlson drops in next, so you can see what kind of situation his “SITUATION” is in.  I'm Alison Stewart, in for Keith Olbermann.  Thank so much for watching.



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