Guests: George Haddow, John Harwood, Mo Rocca, Kent Richland, G. Eric
Brunstad Jr., Anna Weinberg
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
It was the governor‘s fault. It was the mayor‘s fault. It was the Department of Homeland Security‘s fault. It was the military coordinator‘s fault. It was the media‘s fault. Former FEMA director Brown, with a compelling and convincing mea culpa about what went wrong during Hurricane Katrina.
The president goes back to see the aftereffects of Hurricane Rita. The first lady goes on a TV reality home remodeling show to make a publicity cameo. You know, like her husband did when he flew over New Orleans.
The woman who convinced the Atlanta courtroom shooter Brian Nichols to turn himself in. There was method to her madness. In fact, there was meth to her madness. She didn‘t just give him a copy of “The Purpose-Driven Life.”
And Ms. Smith goes to Washington. Anna Nicole‘s suit against the family of her dead octogenarian husband will be heard by the most exalted judges in the land. Brings a new meaning to that phrase, “A woman on the Supreme Court,” brings a debut episode of Anna Nicole Smith‘s Supreme Court Puppet Theater.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNA NICOLE SMITH: I want this (INAUDIBLE). Make me beautiful (INAUDIBLE).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
Good thing nobody is playing the blame game.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, while the president took another trip to Texas to inspect the damage from Hurricane Rita, back on the Hill, the still-on-the-payroll, shamed ex-director of FEMA answered the question, What can Brown do for you?
Well, he can try to shift responsibility to the mayor, the governor, the military coordinator, the hysteric media, basically everything except a wardrobe malfunction.
Highlights in a second.
First the president, back in the Gulf, his seventh trip to the region since Katrina, by air today, circling an offshore oil rig. Also taking a first-hand look at the Louisiana town of Cameron, population 1,900, some 80 percent of it obliterated by the weekend storm.
By land, appearing with the very same Louisiana governor who his former FEMA director was, nearly at the same time, denigrating on Capitol Hill. Perhaps it was hoped the governor would be too busy to notice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
MICHAEL BROWN, FORMER FEMA DIRECTOR: I very strongly, personally regret that I was unable to persuade Governor Blanco and Mayor Nagin to sit down, get over their differences, and work together.
My biggest mistake was not recognizing by Saturday that Louisiana was dysfunctional.
I was mad at the mayor. I was madder than a wet hen at the mayor at that time.
FEMA‘s press office became bombarded with requests to respond immediately to false statements about my resume and my background.
We had no one there, so we had no real-time information and intelligence about what was really going on in the Convention Center.
You had a hysteric media reporting rapes and murders and everything else, which I think even the reports today begin to say probably weren‘t true.
Those kinds of cuts, or resource realignments, I can‘t think of a nice way to say it, just cuts, they‘re leading to the kinds of problems that we‘re dealing with today.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think they would have been treated better from a financial point of view had you been independent, reporting directly to the president, as in the past, or as a part of DHS?
BROWN: Well, clearly, it would have been better if we had been independent. FEMA over the past several years has lost a lot of manpower. At one point during my tenure, because of assessments by the Department of Homeland Security, FEMA has lost—at one point, we were short 500 people. In an organization of about 2,500, you do the math. That‘s pretty significant.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
OLBERMANN: The buck stopping nowhere near Michael Brown today.
Besides the state and local governments of Louisiana, among the others in his crosshairs, the media, Homeland Security, and this late add, Congressman Christopher Shays of Connecticut.
As for the response, Governor Blanco of Louisiana, for one, saying, in effect, that Mr. Brown was lying under oath. “Such falsehoods and misleading statements,” she said, “made under oath before Congress, are shocking. It clearly demonstrates the appalling degree to which Mr. Brown is either out of touch with the truth or reality. Today‘s hearing only supports the need for a thorough, nonpartisan investigation of this event.”
For a reality check on who‘s to blame for the Katrina response, let‘s call in George Haddow, FEMA‘s deputy chief of staff during the Clinton administration.
Thank you again for your time tonight, sir.
GEORGE HADDOW, FORMER FEMA DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF: Good to see you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: We are all of the understanding that there is a huge pie chart to be made of all the blame that can be apportioned for the various disastrous responses to Hurricane Katrina. But realistically, with this almost month‘s worth of perspective, how big a slice of that pie do you think belongs to Mr. Brown himself?
HADDOW: Well, I think it‘s fair to lump Mr. Brown and the mayor and the governor together in that pie for about 30 percent of the blame. And I place 70 percent of the blame on the Bush administration and the policy decision made in 2001 to deconstruct FEMA‘s capabilities and subsequently deconstructing the entire emergency management and response system in this country.
OLBERMANN: Was that the hidden headline in all this, that even Mr. Brown, very, very carefully tiptoed around that statement, basically said what you just said, that he had been dismantled, his organization had been dismantled?
HADDOW: Oh, I think he didn‘t tiptoe around it. He stepped all over it. He basically said he didn‘t have the resources, he had lost manpower. He had lost the position and the clout that James Lee Witt had in the ‘90s as the director of FEMA. And I think that‘s a leading reason why other federal agencies, as part of the National Response Plan, didn‘t follow his direction and failed to deliver on the promises that he made to the mayor and to the governor.
OLBERMANN: Let me try to fact-check a couple of things Mr. Brown said amid all the shots that he took at others. He said there was not an effective evacuation plan for New Orleans, and that was, quoting him, “the tipping point” for all the other things that went wrong, that he had personally pushed the governor to order the evacuation. Is that true?
HADDOW: I think that it‘s a miracle that they evacuated as many people as they did, 80 or 90 percent of the residents of New Orleans were evacuated. There are always going to be three groups who are going to stay behind in a hurricane. There are going to be people like my mother, who didn‘t leave in Camille, did not leave in Betsy, did not leave in any hurricane ever. There are going to be people who didn‘t have a credit card or public transportation to get them out. And there are going to be the tourists who got trapped behind.
So saying they‘re the tipping point, that this is all their fault, is like blaming the French for building the city there in the first place.
OLBERMANN: This quote, “My biggest mistake,” as we just heard him say, “was not recognizing by Saturday that Louisiana was dysfunctional.” He‘s talking about the Saturday before Katrina struck. The implication in that was that on the Saturday before it struck, the head of FEMA was powerless in that situation. Is that a fair description of that job?
HADDOW: No, it‘s not fair at all. I think a fairer description of his job is that when he mission-assigned folks in the Department of Defense on Saturday and Sunday before Katrina made landfall to provide air and ground transportation, and then didn‘t follow up on those mission assignments to figure out if they were done, that was his responsibility, and that‘s where he shirked his responsibility. If he had been concentrating on delivering on the promises he was making, maybe he—this would have been a much more successful response.
OLBERMANN: Is there anything he could have said today that would have improved this situation?
HADDOW: He could have not blamed the media and kept you guys off his back.
OLBERMANN: George Haddow, former deputy chief of staff for FEMA in the Clinton administration, with the mot juste at the end there. Great thanks, sir.
HADDOW: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: And then there was the indicator of the seriousness of the White House‘s continuing effort to absolve itself. They brought in, in what would be called in baseball terms, the closer. The first lady went to Biloxi to hand out clothing to Katrina victims there as part of an episode of a television series, the ABC house remodeling reality show “Extreme Makeover,” which, in this case, any cynic might be able to call “extreme do-over.”
Laura Bush to join the taping of a special hurricane edition of the program as a convoy of trucks stocked with Sears products arrived in what producers described as an underserved shelter nearby Biloxi. It is not believed anybody will point out that for a month, the victims in that area have been complaining to Mrs. Bush‘s husband‘s government that they were underserved.
Nor is it being emphasized that ABC did not call the White House, tentatively asking if somebody would like to participate in the episode. In fact, the White House called ABC. Say, would you like the first lady to come on your program, Mr. TV Producer?
The episode of “Extreme Make-good—Extreme Makeover” will air in November.
And last but not least, turning the microscope on ourselves tonight, the media may not be to blame for the Katrina disaster response, but four weeks later, it is clear that some of us were often inaccurate, erring on the side of overstatement, just as the government was erring on the side of understatement.
New reports (INAUDIBLE) beginning to separate fact from fiction in the haze of those first disastrous days in the city of New Orleans. As an example, the conditions inside the Superdome and the Convention Center, unspeakably horrible, but some initial reports, none of them here, of as many as 200 dead bodies inside, thankfully proven wildly inaccurate. The real total, Convention Center four, Superdome six.
For more on the forces at work here politically, we‘re joined now by “The Wall Street Journal”‘s national political editor, John Harwood.
Good evening, John.
JOHN HARWOOD, NATIONAL POLITICAL EDITOR, “WALL STREET JOURNAL”: Hey, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Working backwards from the last point, was there, in Mr.
Brown‘s term today, an or a hysteric media?
HARWOOD: Well, I don‘t think hysteric is the word to use. Obviously, emotions were high among members of the media. They were seeing some plenty awful things. They also had communications difficulties, difficulty getting around, assessing the situation. And so I think it‘s not surprising that we learn in hindsight that some of the stories that were going around weren‘t able to be verified, and may not have been true.
An overheated environment, I would say, not hysterical.
OLBERMANN: The Michael Brown hearing today, this may be the dumbest question of all time. Did that go the way the administration wanted it to?
HARWOOD: You know, I don‘t know how the administration could have come out well in that hearing. Certainly Mike Brown has become the symbol for everything that they did wrong in responding to Hurricane Katrina. He was a very useful pinata for Republicans in the Congress, though, because they want to put some distance between themselves and the administration‘s response.
And so they beat him up for a few hours. A couple of Democrats defied the boycott that Nancy Pelosi had planned, and showed up, and they whacked him around too. You had to feel sorry for Mike Brown by the end of it, although, you know, that‘s hard for a lot of Americans to do.
But, you know, I don‘t think the (INAUDIBLE), the White House got anything out of this. Republicans got something out of it, though, by being able to show they were being tough.
OLBERMANN: Did it help, though? I mean, is there a way around the fact that it turned out that it was revealed to the surprise of many that he remained on the FEMA payroll, that that news came out yesterday, that, in essence, taxpayers paid for him to go up and do that on the Hill today?
HARWOOD: Oh, it‘s just one more embarrassment for the administration. They can‘t get away from this story, no matter how many times they go on reality TV shows, or the president goes down there. This—the fallout from this is going to be with them for a long time.
Mike Brown will be off the FEMA payroll in a matter of days. And that‘s none too soon for the White House.
OLBERMANN: Speaking of reality TV, this other premise here of Mrs. Bush appearing on “Extreme Makeover Home Edition,” the politically savvy are aware of it now. It‘s a story now, and we may or may not be approaching it cynically. But the show will not air until November. Was this a political miscalculation to (INAUDIBLE)? Could not we be seeing in November that this will be reopening old wounds? People go, Oh, that‘s right, that didn‘t go so well back in September.
HARWOOD: You know, I don‘t think the White House is thinking about too much in December right now. They‘re thinking about right at this moment, and what can they do to get out of the hole. And this is a story, Laura Bush‘s appearance on that show, is getting covered now, on this show and many other shows. And that publicity bang is something that they want to try to benefit from as soon as they can.
OLBERMANN: Is it the right move then, now? Is it the right move in the immediate week to come?
HARWOOD: Nothing can hurt in terms of showcasing Laura Bush. She‘s one of the most popular people in the United States. She‘s only an asset for this president. And so the more exposure she gets, the better.
OLBERMANN: John Harwood, the national political director of the “Wall Street Journal.” As always, sir, great thanks for your appreciate—for your insight, and have a good night.
HARWOOD: You, too, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Amazingly, that‘s not the wildest story to come out of Washington today. In the new year, Anna Nicole Smith will wind up at or inside the Supreme Court. Like a table down front, please.
And turns out there was more to the dramatic story of the Atlanta woman who talked an accused murderer in giving himself up. A lot more, like some crystal meth she shared with him.
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: This breaking news in to us tonight from Fort Hood in Texas. Five Army judges have sentenced the Army private Lynndie England to three years in prison. She, one of the most notorious figures at the center of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. She had been convicted on six counts for her role in the scandal yesterday. She could have faced as many as 10 years, as much as 10 years in prison.
The 22-year-old reservist from rural West Virginia has, in fact, been sentenced to three years.
The president billed it as one of the largest reconstruction efforts the world will have ever seen, replacing the estimated 200,000 homes destroyed by the hurricanes in Louisiana, and the 240,000 more devastated in Mississippi.
Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, one group looking to make a dent in that vast number, Habitat for Humanity. COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny is at the headquarters of their operation, Humanity Plaza in New York. Good evening, Monica.
MONICA NOVOTNY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Keith. Good evening.
That‘s right, they have transformed Rockefeller Plaza into Humanity Plaza. This has been done by the people at NBC and Habitat for Humanity and Warner Music (INAUDIBLE). Their goal is to build 100 homes at least for families who‘ve been displaced by Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, and they‘re doing it at this round-the-clock construction site.
Now, here‘s how it works. They‘ve got templates, like the one I‘m standing on, set up throughout the plaza. Volunteers come through and work in four-hour shifts to build the frames of these home, these 1,100-square-foot homes.
Now, once the frame is complete, they then take it down in large pieces, they mark it, and they put it into piles, where they‘ll be loaded onto flatbed trucks and then brought down to the Gulf Coast region.
Actually, I‘ll have Lyle swing around and show you the piles already. Those are future homes that you‘re seeing right there. They‘ll be loaded onto trucks, brought down to the Gulf Coast region, where volunteers are waiting to reassemble them down there and put them together, essentially like pieces of a puzzle.
Now, one more thing we want to tell you is that this is not a charity.
The people here who will move into these homes do have to work for them. In fact, they get a no-interest mortgage that‘ll pay off part of the cost of the home. And then the rest of the cost of the home, they pay off in sweat equity. They work it off in hours, either by helping to construct their own home or one of their neighbor‘s.
Finally, Keith, we saw so many pictures after Hurricane Katrina of those pets, those dogs sitting on roofs waiting. They are going to now get homes as well. Another group called Noah‘s Wish has built these homes, and they‘re going to ship them out on the same flatbeds down to the Gulf Coast region, so dogs will have new homes as well, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Too bad they could not also get them some levees packed up and shipped to the area. But let me ask you, you‘re right in the middle of midtown Manhattan, high visibility, tourist and traffic areas. Is the exposure paying off for Habitat for Humanity?
NOVOTNY: Oh, absolutely. I mean, they were no dummies when they set this up here. The foot traffic here, as you said, is so high. And they‘re getting not only tourists but also just New Yorkers who are coming out, they‘re seeing what‘s happening, if they haven‘t already seen it on television, and immediately they‘re opening up their wallets.
They said people are coming in and saying, Let me give you $100, $500. Apparently one woman came in earlier today and said, I want to buy a couple of these houses, and wrote a check for $100,000.
So it‘s working out really well for them, Keith.
OLBERMANN: COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny, joining us from Humanity Plaza in New York. Great thanks.
Also tonight, this is not for charity, this is for personal glory.
The world unites, thanks to a few bartenders who dream big.
And then later, a big nightmare. Was it “The Purpose-Driven Life,” or a little crystal meth which helped Ashley Smith survive her encounter with the Atlanta courthouse shooter?
Answers ahead, here on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: The news is not all fun and blame games today. We also have serious events to cover, such as Mexican Dodge Bowl, and the Drunken Olympics.
Let‘s play Oddball.
We begin in Queenstown, New Zealand, where the world‘s top bartenders have combined to—or gathered to combine everything that‘s dangerous about extreme sports with everything that is hilarious about the abuse of alcohol. It‘s the Extreme Cocktail World Cup. Forty-two bartenders from 10 countries competing in a variety of events such as mixing drinks while bungee jumping, mixing drinks while speedboating, mixing drinks while snow tubing. Don‘t try this at home, folks, these are special mixologists and boozers.
No surprise, the victorious team are the ones who manage to drink the most without self-inducing a coma or drunk-dialing all their old girlfriends, the Australians.
And San Miguel de Alliende (ph), where once again it is time for a cheap Mexican knockoff version of the running of the bulls in Pamplona. It‘s just like the thing in Spain, the bunch of bulls released into a crowd, they‘re taunted for a while, then herded into the bull ring and killed for the amusement of the spectators.
But apparently, the word is getting out in the bull community, if you find yourselves in this kind of situation, it is not going to end well for you, so take out as many of the drunken bipeds as possible.
These bulls had a field day. They gored 47 people. Way to go, bulls. See, in Mexico here, they seem to have left out the critical running element of the running of the bulls. And instead. they just let all the animals and idiots mill around together. Better for the bulls, worse for the dopes, great for Oddball.
Speaking of big things running around, Anna Nicole Smith before the United States Supreme Court. Before that, Anna Nicole Smith‘s Supreme Court Puppet Theater. And we‘ll talk to lawyers on both sides, too.
And God gets a little help from crystal meth. The woman who helped end the manhunt for the Atlanta courthouse shooter convinced him with more than just a copy of “The Purpose-Driven Life,” it proves.
Those stories ahead.
Now, though, here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, Mario Trio, who is the fish quarantine inspector at the Manila airport in the Philippines. He reached into the box marked “Ornamental Fish from Peru,” when one of the literally reached up and bit him. They were not ornamental fish from Peru, they were piranha. Sorry. Mr. Trio is OK. Love your network, by the way.
Number two, the businessmen behind International Enterprise Singapore, who say they have improved their government‘s relationship with the Chinese after having presented officials there with a special gift, 200 units of high-quality bull semen, American and Canadian bull semen, no less. And if that doesn‘t tell you everything you need to know about international politics, you just have not been paying attention.
And number one, your local car dealer. What might be the top selling point for any make, any model of new car, that new car smell. A new set of results from research in Japan suggesting tonight that the new car smell is hazardous to your health, causes headaches, sore throats, drowsiness, and the willingness to pay $23,000 for a car that‘s only going to last you two years.
OLBERMANN: Forty years ago, as Ronald Reagan was beginning his run for governor of California, some students of government were beginning to worry. Could politics and entertainment ultimately merge?
Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, let‘s see. Today, Laura Bush guest-stars on “Extreme Makeover.” Ben Affleck is being touted as a senatorial candidate from Virginia. If he won‘t do it, they may ask John Grisham. And, oh, by the way, Anna Nicole Smith will be going to the Supreme Court.
The apocalypse is here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNA NICOLE SMITH, ENTERTAINER: If I ever record an album, I want this guy to produce my make me beautiful duet, because he‘s freaking genius.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Thank you, Chief Justice Smith.
No, she‘s not the president‘s nominee to succeed Justice Sandra Day O‘Connor, although the three names thing would work nicely.
The high court today decided it would consider Ms. Smith‘s appeal of the various low court decisions that have kept her away from any of the $474 million she was once awarded from her late husband‘s estate by a bankruptcy court. You remember her late husband, the Texas oil tycoon J. Howard Marshall II, who married her in 1994.
Despite the age difference of 63 years, the couple enjoyed nearly 15 happy months of wedded bliss, before he died. But she was not in his will, and his son has spent a decade resisting her efforts to get any of what was his money. Shortly, we will bring you the debut edition of “Anna Nicole Smith Supreme Court Puppet Theater,” later, an assessment of the Smith case, the Affleck candidacy and Laura Bush on reality TV with the impeccable Mo Rocca.
But first, a more serious look at this, the two attorneys who learned today that their long-standing dispute will wind up before the Supreme Court, with or without Ms. Smith‘s presence.
I will speak first with her lawyer and then the lawyer for her stepson.
Kent Richland is the attorney representing Vickie Lynn Marshall, AKA Anna Nicole Smith.
Thank you for your time tonight, sir.
KENT RICHLAND, ATTORNEY FOR ANNA NICOLE SMITH: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: As Simply and briefly as possible, what‘s the broad outline of—of—of your client‘s case?
RICHLAND: Well, two federal courts independently determined that my client‘s stepson, Pierce Marshall, engaged in a massive fraud and essentially defrauded his father and her and destroyed a trust that his father wanted to be formed for his wife, so that she could be supported for the rest of her life.
The 9th Circuit reversed those two courts on technical grounds, jurisdiction. And we are—we have asked the Supreme Court to review that determination, that, in fact, the federal courts did have jurisdiction to hear the case.
OLBERMANN: As an attorney, not necessarily as Ms. Smith‘s attorney, but as an officer of the court,, are you surprised that this kind of case, not because of who she is, necessarily, but the nature of the case, are you surprised that it‘s winding up in the Supreme Court?
RICHLAND: Not surprised at all. It presents a very important issue of federal jurisdiction. This is the kind of issue that the court hears all the time. And, in fact, the last time the court issued an opinion on this was 60 years ago.
And, since that time, there‘s been a lot of confusion in the lower federal courts. That‘s one of the things that we indicated to the U.S. Supreme Court, and the U.S. Supreme Court apparently agreed that the issue had to be decided once again.
OLBERMANN: The $64 million question in this is, is Anna Nicole Smith going to wind up attending when the Supreme Court hears her case? Might she even just be on the outside on the courthouse steps?
RICHLAND: Well, I think she has a perfect right to be there. And I wouldn‘t be at all surprised if Ms. Smith goes to Washington.
I would hope that she would be there. I think she should hear how the justices consider her case. It is an important case, not just for her, but really for all citizens. And I think she‘s gratified. And I think we should all be gratified that someone who has led a very controversial life can nevertheless get a hearing in the United States Supreme Court, if there‘s a feeling that perhaps an injustice has been done.
OLBERMANN: Do you know yet when that hearing will take place, when you go to court?
RICHLAND: I—I was informed by the clerk of the court this morning that the argument will be in either January or February of next year.
OLBERMANN: Kent Richland, the attorney for Anna Nicole Smith, thanks very much for your time tonight, sir.
RICHLAND: Thank you very much, Keith.
On the opposite side of the issue, G. Eric Brunstad Jr. He is the attorney for E. Pierce Marshall, the son of Ms. Smith‘s late husband, J. Howard Marshall II. He‘s also a professor of law at Yale University, where the late Mr. Marshall was, in fact, once the assistant dean.
Mr. Brunstad, good evening to you.
G. ERIC BRUNSTAD JR., ATTORNEY FOR E. PIERCE MARSHALL: Good evening, Keith.
OLBERMANN: This seems pretty cut and dry. She wasn‘t in his will. And yet, now we‘re all the way up to the Supreme Court. Does it surprise you?
BRUNSTAD: I think most people did not expect the case—the court to take this case.
I think it‘s important to underscore here that, during his life, J. Howard gave her over $6 million worth of property and that she felt that she should have received more. She pursued her claim in the Texas probate court. And, after a five-and-a-half-month jury trial, the Texas court ruled that she was not entitled to anything.
Her claim was basically invalid. She didn‘t really have a claim at all, no merit whatsoever. She has tried to pursue essentially a second bite in the apple in the federal court. And the question is whether federal courts should hear what are essentially probate matters. This case is essentially a probate claim. And it—just like federal courts do not hear matters of divorce, do not hear matters of child custody and alimony, they don‘t hear probate matters.
And the idea that some injustice here has been committed is completely false. In fact, no injustice has been committed at all. The only injustice is that my client has had to endure this type of proceeding, not only in the federal—in the state probate court, but also in the federal court as well.
OLBERMANN: But, as Mr. Richland just suggested, the two judges on the federal level seemed to think that it was Howard Marshall‘s intention to take care of his wife via this trust fund. And there must have been enough merit to have gained the Supreme Court‘s attention. They didn‘t do this so they could get to meet her, do they?
BRUNSTAD: There‘s no merit to the contention whatsoever.
In fact, my count is that four judges have ruled against her, three judges on the court of appeals and, of course, the Texas probate judge, who is the only judge to have fully heard the entire case, a five-and-a-half-month jury trial. The two federal courts did not basically consider the facts of this case. And my client was not permitted essentially to pursue and present all of his case, as he was in the Texas probate court.
But the legal issue before the Supreme Court is not the merits, which we believe are—are completely lacking. The issue before the Supreme Court is whether or not federal courts should be involved with this at all. And the integrity of state probate court proceedings are really what is at stake here. We can‘t have a functioning probate system if federal courts can interfere.
And this case involved a clear case of federal courts interfering in the Texas probate proceedings by taking up a claim that belongs in the Texas probate court. So, not surprisingly, the court of appeals ruled, three judges ruled that the federal courts had no business even considering her claim. And the idea that my client perpetrated some sort of fraud is completely—is completely unsound, completely without merit and was rejected in the probate court after a jury trial.
OLBERMANN: Mr. Richland just said that—that people should be gratified that someone who had led a controversial life was entitled to such a hearing.
You have personally previously argued two cases before the Supreme Court. One would assume—a layman would assume that there‘s a mystique to that. This time, you‘re going to do it about the subject of Anna Nicole Smith. To use one of those famous terms of the legal profession, is the whole thing without precedent?
BRUNSTAD: Well, the Supreme Court is a special place.
You have nine justices, very intelligent people, who look very carefully at the legal arguments. I think that, in—in this—in this situation, they were interested in the concept of whether federal courts should interfere. And it‘s our expectation and our hope that they will conclude, as did the court of appeals, that federal courts really should not interfere in these kinds of things.
They certainly will give this case a—a thorough consideration, the legal arguments a thorough consideration, and we expect to prevail.
OLBERMANN: G. Eric Brunstad Jr., representing E. Piece Marshall—E. Pierce Marshall—excuse me—as the legal battle between his client and his client‘s late father‘s former wife, Anna Nicole Smith, heads to the Supreme Court.
Thank you, sir.
BRUNSTAD: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: If Mr. Brunstad‘s opposing counsel, Mr. Richland, is correct, we will see Anna Nicole Smith in or around the Supreme Court of the United States next January or February.
Here at COUNTDOWN, we will not wait until next January or February.
Thus, we will leap ahead in time to the fateful day.
Just one more note: The legal terminology in this, the premiere edition of Anna Nicole Smith Supreme Court Puppet Theater,” has been vetted by our NBC justice correspondent, Pete Williams.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We will hear argument now Number 041544, Vickie Lynn Marshall against E. Pierce Marshall.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the court, petitioners are before...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, hey. Can I have my tip for the lap dance now? This guy is—this guy is freaking genius. And, hey, you all are the Supremes?
OLBERMANN: Moving from sex to drugs, she survived being taken hostage by alleged courtroom killer Brian Nichols, supposedly by talking to him about God and faith. Oh, and she left something out that was mentioned today. She also gave him crystal meth.
And it seems appropriate enough that the star of “Armageddon” might hail the appending apocalypse, Ben Affleck reportedly under consideration for what?
That‘s next. This is COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: What saved Ashley Smith from the Atlanta courthouse shooter, a rush of compassion or a rush of crystal meth?
OLBERMANN: It was a feel-good ending to a horrifying situation. Ashley Smith, the Atlanta woman who, last March, talked a wanted killer who had just shot his way out of a courtroom into giving himself up, largely by reading him passages from the inspirational book “The Purpose-Filled Life.”
Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, well, it turns out today it was even more of a feel-good story than we knew. Ms. Smith did not just gave Brian Nichols words of wisdom. She also gave him some crystal meth she happened to have lying around her apartment.
The memoir of the seven-hour ordeal has just hit bookstores today. In it, Smith writes that Nichols asked her for marijuana, but, recovering from drug addiction herself, she offered him only what she had around the house, a small amount of crystal methamphetamine. She says she did not take the drug herself—quote—“I was not going to die tonight and stand before God having done a bunch of ice up my nose”—end quote.
She also writes that God has been known to choose people riddled with imperfections to do his work, like herself. She had left out some of these details from her original description of their conversation, which she gave soon after Nichols surrendered.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ASHLEY SMITH, FORMER HOSTAGE: After we began to talk and he said he
thought that I was an angel sent from God and that I was his sister and he
was my brother in Christ. He says, can I stay here for a few days? I just
I want to eat some real food and watch some TV and sleep and just do normal things that normal people do.
So, of course, I said, sure, you can stay here.
I didn‘t want—I wanted to gain his trust.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Joining me now, Anna Weinberg, business editor of “The Book Standard,” a trade publication about the book-publishing industry. She recently had interviewed Ashley Smith for her publication.
Ms. Weinberg, good evening. Thanks for your time.
ANNA WEINBERG, BUSINESS EDITOR, “THE BOOK STANDARD”: Hi. Thanks, Keith, for having me.
OLBERMANN: In all fairness, her book does describe her conversations with Nichols about her life and her faith.
But, at the time this thing happened, it was portrayed virtually as a
kind of a divine intervention, to say nothing of being something of a sales tool for that book. Did you get the impression that Ms. Smith realized just how much the revelation about the crystal meth might cast the whole thing in a different light?
WEINBERG: You know, I think what has been really important to her throughout this whole process is being incredibly honest and open about what happened.
And when we spoke, she struck me as a very genuine and honest person. And I think telling the truth has been a part of, like, getting right with God for her and helping people. And so, I think that she sees this as an opportunity to tell the whole truth and help other people who have her same problem. I don‘t think that she thinks that this is going to cause the kind of furor that it has already caused.
OLBERMANN: Did—what else did she tell you that you would think would be relevant about why she had the crystal meth in her home in the first place and her thought process at the time, and the idea that she wasn‘t going to use it with him when he suggested that? What else is relevant to this story from your interview with her?
WEINBERG: Well, when we spoke, we talked a bit about how—I mean, she was a recovering addict, and recovering in the sense that she was still using when she felt she needed it as a pick-me-up. So, she had it around the house just for that reason.
And, sorry—she had it around the house as a kind of pick-me-up for herself. And so, I think she wanted to make him feel as comfortable with her and close to her as possible. And, obviously, if an accused rapist and killer asks you for something in your house, then you‘re going to give them what they ask for.
OLBERMANN: To the—to the references that we heard so much about right afterwards about this book, “The Purpose-Driven Life...”
OLBERMANN: As it turns out, with that whole truth, as you described it there, how much or how little of the book did she actually wind up reading to him? And any—is there any cause and effect yet established as to why that got so many of the headlines immediately after this incident?
WEINBERG: Well, when we spoke, she said that—it was a book that had already sold like 3.7 million copies by the time she was reading it and by the time this story broke. So, it was a book that everybody knew and everyone was pretty familiar with.
And I think it was just an amazing way to tell the story. I mean, the idea that she could have kind of transformed this person‘s life just by reading him a small passage from the book was pretty compelling. So, I think that‘s why it got all the media attention. She says that that wasn‘t exactly what happened, obviously, in her book.
OLBERMANN: But it was just a small passage that she wound up reading to him?
WEINBERG: It was. It was the first paragraph in Chapter 32.
OLBERMANN: A little bit can go a long way.
WEINBERG: It can.
OLBERMANN: Anna Weinberg, who is the business editor of “The Book Standard,” who had recently interviewed Ashley Smith, great thanks for joining us tonight.
WEINBERG: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Thus an odd segue tonight into our regular roundup of the news and celebrity entertainment, “Keeping Tabs.”
And how does Senator Ben Affleck sound to you? No, that‘s not going to be his role in “Gigli 2.” It‘s how some Democratic leaders in Virginia are reportedly dreaming of casting Affleck. “The Washington Post” reporting he and his new wife, Jennifer Garner, are home shopping in the state. And, as soon as the politicos heard that, they thought of Affleck as a possible challenger next year to the Republican incumbent, George Allen.
An Affleck spokesperson says the actor has no interest, not now, but -
quote—“He would be a superb candidate for public office in the future.” In the interim, reports “The Post,” Virginia Dems have a second choice, author John Grisham.
What, you guys just going to dust Matt Damon?
And supplying more evidence for the argument that you should at least have to get a license before you have a kid, Donald Trump is going to be a father again, the business, TV and hair mogul completing his merger negotiations with the new Mrs., a spokeswoman confirming the third wife is due in the spring.
And there‘s nothing else I can say about this story that is either relevant or true.
This much is true, a first lady to a reality TV show, an actor to the Senate, maybe, a stripper to the Supreme Court. What‘s the fourth horseman of the Washington apocalypse? We will ask Mo Rocca.
But, first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s list of today‘s three nominees for the coveted title of worst person in world.
Nominated at the bronze level, Patriarch Alexei II, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, who has just this week elevated a Russian military hero from the era of Napoleon. Admiral Fiodor Ushakov has been named the church‘s patron saint of long distance Russian aircraft carrying nuclear weapons.
Then lobbeth thou thy holy hand grenade.
Also nominated, Alessandra Stanley, the notorious TV writer of “The New York Times.” Her paper finally gave up and published an editor‘s note about when she wrote FOX‘s Geraldo Rivera nudged an Air Force rescue worker out of the way so his camera crew could tape him as he helped lift an older woman in a wheelchair to safety. The paper admits, no nudge was visible on the broadcast.
But the winner, Geraldo Rivera, who has made an absolute asinine jackass out of himself over this for the last 22 days. As “The Times” noted, the editors understood the nudge comment as a figurative reference. Of course, there is the possibility Ms. Stanley was not writing the word nudge, but the similarly spelled Yiddish word noodge, a verb defined as to annoy persistently, pester, which, coincidentally, is also the dictionary definition you find when you look up Geraldo Rivera, today‘s worst person in the world.
OLBERMANN: It is not original to the magazine “Sports Illustrated,” but it helped popularize the phrase, this week‘s sign of the apocalypse.
As we suggested earlier, politically, you might want to get a numerologist or a satanist or just a publicity man to analyze the significance of this date, September 27, because there are at least three suggestions that the end of the world is nigh, Ben Affleck being touted as a potential Senate candidate from Virginia, Tippecanoe and “Gigli 2,” the first lady of the country doing a cameo in a special hurricane edition of “Extreme Makeover” taping today near Biloxi, Mississippi, and, of course, Anna Nicole Smith booked into the Supreme Court, in the lap of our justice system, so to speak, next January or for example, .
Here for the kind of perspective only he can provide is the commentator, presidential history expert and TV personality Mo Rocca.
Good evening, Mo.
MO ROCCA, TELEVISION PERSONALITY: Good evening, Keith.
Let me just say, if this is the apocalypse, then I want to be left behind, because it sounds amazing.
OLBERMANN: We will start with the biggest issue, Anna Nicole. We have had plenty of former strippers Washington, Fannie Fox, President James Buchanan. But is this case being heard by the Supreme Court, is this a precedent legally or historically?
ROCCA: Well, you know, as you point out, there have been strippers in Washington before.
And that‘s why it‘s all the more appalling that the Supreme Court‘s main chamber still doesn‘t have a pole.
ROCCA: This is yet another example of federal unpreparedness.
I think what we are going to find, unfortunately—and it may surprise many—is that the court may regret accepting this case. I mean, clearly, Anna Nicole is exploiting this court, just so that she can meet John Paul Stevens, who, at 85, is a young buck compared to the 89-year-old J. Howard Marshall.
ROCCA: And, you know, sorry, Anna, he‘s taken. He‘s married right now.
OLBERMANN: Yes. She had some hopes there of inheriting a spot on the Supreme Court, but I guess that‘s not going to be.
ROCCA: Well, as far as her inheriting a spot, that‘s a whole different issue.
My problem with a Justice Anna Nicole Smith is that she barely has enough energy at this point to sit up straight in a chair. I mean, the woman hasn‘t eating a carb in years. And what little energy she has, she uses to gnaw on that hoodia root.
ROCCA: And that‘s the only place she‘s been getting energy.
OLBERMANN: Speaking of energy, Laura Bush going to Mississippi today to shoot an episode of “Extreme Makeover.”
OLBERMANN: I‘m not that familiar with this program. How extreme do they mean? At the end of this, could she wind up a Democrat?
ROCCA: Well, look, she‘s not going on “The Swan.”
But, if she were going on “The Swan,” by the way, that might be a fast track to getting on “America‘s Next Top First Lady.” She could get on there.
ROCCA: Look, here is the thing. Laura Bush has never been questioned
for her sincerity. She‘s all about good works, good intentions. We have
heard her speak on and on about the importance of reading to your husband -
I mean, your children.
So, she‘s clearly a well-intentioned person. But what Laura is doing is escaping the misery of this administration through the unreality of reality TV. And who knows where this could lead? If her husband‘s approval ratings keep falling, she could find herself on “The Bachelorette,” I mean, looking for a new husband perhaps.
I see a whole wide world of possibility here. I like the idea of a “Surreal Life” with Laura Bush, Betty Ford, Lady Bird Johnson, and Rosalynn Carter, not Barbara Bush, because I see Barbara Bush doing a new version of “The Apprentice,” where her catchphrase might be, you‘re lucky to even be living, which is a little bit nicer than what she said to the evacuees.
ROCCA: We all remember when she said, let them eat beignets to the New Orleans evacuees. I think she said that.
Ben Affleck as—as a possible Senate candidate? Now, you can‘t have entertainers in politics, can you?
ROCCA: No, certainly not.
OLBERMANN: Other than Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ronald Reagan, Warren Beatty, George Murphy, Sonny Bono, Mary Carey, Jesse Ventura, P.T. Barnum, Jack Kemp, Fred Thompson, Kinky Friedman, Clint Eastwood, Gopher from “Love Boat” and Cooter from “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
ROCCA: Of course, by the way, the “Dukes of Hazzard” movie, anyone who saw that already knew that we were already living in end times.
ROCCA: You left out in that list, by the way, Richard Nixon, who met Pat Nixon at an audition for the Whittier Community Theatre‘s production of “The Dark Tower,” and Jerry Ford, who was a model who once posed on the cover of “Cosmopolitan,” and Abraham Lincoln, who was shot at a play.
I have no problem with it. It sounds interesting. I kind of like “Daredevil.” It‘s a guilty pleasure.
OLBERMANN: If he winds up running for president, though, does Damon run with him as the vice president? Is that a natural thing? Matt Damon has to be his V.P.?
ROCCA: Attorney general. Isn‘t it more of a Jack-and-Bobby Kennedy-type thing, I think? Maybe? Or not. I don‘t know. Or the Hutchinson brothers, they‘re still around, Asa and the other one.
OLBERMANN: And who is the other one?
ROCCA: Oh, I don‘t know. There‘s a brother in there. One is a senator and one was a DEA guy. I don‘t know. Something—Tim. Tim and Asa, they were the two brothers.
OLBERMANN: Tim—Tim—Tim and Asa.
ROCCA: You know, one thing about Anna Nicole Smith that should be pointed out.
ROCCA: I‘m in no way comparing her to the horror of Babylon in the Book of Revelations, which, by the way, is my favorite book.
ROCCA: I mean, Leviticus is a slog, all that dietary business.
But consider that there are seven men on the Supreme Court and the horror of Babylon rides a seven-headed beast.
ROCCA: So, I‘m just saying.
OLBERMANN: Well, there could be eight men on the Supreme Court. We will find out by the time she gets there.
OLBERMANN: Mo Rocca, TV personality, thanks, as always, for your insights.
ROCCA: Oh, my God. Ouch. Geraldo just punched me. Oh, and I have a charley horse now.
OLBERMANN: It‘s meant for me, too.
That‘s COUNTDOWN. I‘m Keith Olbermann. Keep your knees loose. Good night and good luck.
Our coverage continues on MSNBC now with “RITA COSBY LIVE & DIRECT.”
Good evening, Rita.
RITA COSBY, HOST, “RITA COSBY: LIVE & DIRECT”: Good evening. And thanks so much, Keith.
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