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'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Oct. 19

Read the transcript to the Wednesday show

Guest: Jim Vandehei, Paul Williams, Nathan Burton

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?
“I couldn‘t hear what you said.  I‘m old.”  The president‘s response when asked if the news report is true that he rebuked Karl Rove for Rove‘s role in the CIA leak two years ago.  That bombshell, and its implications.
The trial of Saddam Hussein.  He pleads innocent, denies the court has authority, and shoves some guards.  For that part, we‘ll have to resort to Saddam Puppet Theater.
The worst Atlantic hurricane on record, Wilma, category 5.  Visitors evacuated from the Florida keys.
Hoping to win that $340 million Powerball lottery?  Maybe you should hope you don‘t.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, I gave a lot of it away.  That‘s what my problem was.  Then I had to borrow to pay my taxes.
OLBERMANN:  And for his next illusion, David Copperfield will impregnate a woman on stage, only using magic.  Yes, big deal.  Did not Tom Cruise just do that?
All that and more, now on COUNTDOWN.
Good evening.
“The New York Daily News” is politically quirky—although it serves an audience slightly more liberal than conservative, certainly not pro-George Bush—that the context for its source-based reporting today that a, quote, “angry” President Bush rebuked chief political guru Karl Rove two years ago for his role in the Valerie Plame affair.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, the implications of that, and of a quote from an unnamed source that Mr. Bush made his displeasure known to Karl, he made his life miserable about this.
The implications would be easy to comprehend.  Mr. Rove would be involved.  Mr. Bush would have known Mr. Rove was involved.  When Mr.  Bush‘s spokesman said nobody at the White House was involved, somebody would have been lying.  And when Mr. Bush talked about what would happen if somebody on his staff was involved, he would have known damn well somebody was, and he wouldn‘t have said anything about it.
Neither the president nor spokesman Scott McClellan would comment on camera about the “Daily News” report today, the president telling reporters during a photo-op, “I didn‘t hear what you said.  I‘m getting old.”  In the off-camera briefing, the so-called gaggle, Mr. McClellan said, quote, “One, we‘re not commenting on an ongoing investigation.  And two, I would challenge the overall accuracy of that news account.”
Aha! said the reporters, that was a comment.  There, we run rings around you logically.  What aspects of the story‘s accuracy are you challenging?  McClellan replied, quoting again, “I read the story, and I didn‘t view it as an accurate story.”
The “Daily News” sources also said the president knows and appreciates that everything Rove did was for the president.  But quoting that source again, “Bush did not feel misled so much by Karl and others as believing that they handled it in a ham-handed and bush-league way.”
Meanwhile, “The New York Times” had its own sourced story about special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, quoting government officials who say he has told associates he has no plans to issue a final report about his investigation, leading to the logical conclusion that he‘s not issuing a report because he instead expects that grand jury to issue indictments.
Jim VandeHei, White House correspondent of “The Washington Post,” has been leading the advance of this story for weeks now, and he joins us.
Good evening, Jim.
OLBERMANN:  The “Daily News” report about Mr. Rove and Mr. Bush‘s supposed rebuke, it certainly is dramatic.  Sounds a little convenient, like finding the Holy Grail in your own basement.  What‘s your assessment of the story?
VANDEHEI:  If it‘s true, I certainly haven‘t been able to confirm it.  All the accounts that I‘ve heard from inside the White House and from folks involved in this investigation was that basically, Bush and Scott McClellan were misled a bit by Karl Rove early on, and was told that he didn‘t have any role at all in this investigation.  In fact, that‘s what Karl Rove had said publicly in July.
So if that account‘s true, I haven‘t been able to find anyone else in Washington who‘s heard that.
OLBERMANN:  Working backwards off Mr. McClellan‘s response at the gaggle today, even given his adamantine refusals to say anything about this story besides boilerplate, a subject I don‘t need to inform you on...
OLBERMANN:  ... did today‘s comment seem a little tepid?  Did it seem like he might have gotten a little stronger in his repudiation of such a story?
VANDEHEI:  Well, it was interesting, because it‘s true, he has refused to comment at all.  And on this story, he clearly did comment.  And I think they don‘t want the perception out there that the president actually knew that this was going on, and was angry with Karl Rove.  I think it‘s in their interests, especially if it‘s true, to be saying that the president didn‘t have any idea about this, and was misled by Karl Rove, because you obviously want to have that distance between what‘s happening and the president.
I mean, if that “New York Daily News” story is true, you know, that could be potentially troubling for the president, because it suggests that he was more involved and more aware than the White House has let on.  But, again, I haven‘t been able to find anyone who‘s said that‘s true.
OLBERMANN:  And let me ask one more question that pertains to the implications of a report that we don‘t have verified outside of what we read in the papers today.  Does it, if correct, tip over, generally speaking, a house of cards here?  I mean, could everybody from Mr.  McClellan and Mr. Rove to the president be inescapably described as having lied in some way during this?  Or even with this story, even with that idea that it could be true, is it still all more nuanced than that?
VANDEHEI:  Right, you know, sort of to paraphrase President Bush, I don‘t really deal in hypotheticals like that.  It‘s too tough to say.  I mean, there are a bunch of what-ifs and buts in this case.  I mean, what we have to deal with are the facts that we know and those fragmentary pieces of evidence that we‘ve been able to verify, and show that are proved.  This is a confusing enough case to not go down these roads that we don‘t even know are accurate.
OLBERMANN:  All right, well, the New York newsstands were full of reports today.  What else they might have been full of is another question altogether.  But “The Times” had Mr. Fitzgerald with no plans to issue a report, with a general consensus that nobody really presumes that a special prosecutor is going to issue a report...
OLBERMANN:  ... if there are indictments.  But without the report, there is a not-very-great logical leap to the idea that that‘s because there would be indictments coming.  Is that also too simplistic?
VANDEHEI:  Well, I don‘t want to sound like a media critic here today, but, yes, I mean, (INAUDIBLE), it‘s sort of the presumption is that we wouldn‘t see a report from the special prosecutor.  This isn‘t the—an independent counsel, like a lot of your viewers might be familiar with, where do you anticipate that you‘re going to see some kind of a public report.  If anything, we‘ve been working on the assumption that if he does file a report, it would go over to Justice, it would remain secret, and we would never see it.
So I don‘t know that you can look at those facts and read one way or the other, whether that means indictments are coming or not coming.
I can say there‘s been a lot of activity in this case the last couple of days.  It does suggest we‘re going to see something from Fitzgerald next week, and a lot of the lawyers involved in the case that think that it will involve at least one indictment, if not more.
OLBERMANN:  These days, Jim, we are all media critics.
Jim VandeHei, the White House correspondent of “The Washington Post,” an even busier time than usual to have that job, so thanks for some of your time tonight, sir.
VANDEHEI:  See you later, Keith.
OLBERMANN:  So the focus, certainly until indictments are handed up, if they are, or the grand jury closes up a week from Friday, is on this special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald.  When appointed, we got a snapshot of him, Brooklyn-born, coming to prominence in the Midwest, bipartisan, pit bull.  A fuller portrait would seem useful now.
And for that, here is our correspondent Jamie Gangel.
JAMIE GANGEL, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Most Americans would not recognize his name or face.  But 44-year-old Patrick Fitzgerald is often called America‘s toughest prosecutor.
PATRICK FITZGERALD, PROSECUTOR:  The citizens of this state deserve honest government.
GANGEL:  And his record speaks for itself.  High-profile cases include the blind Egyptian cleric, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, who plotted to blow up New York City landmarks, the men who bombed the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and Osama bin Laden.  Fitzgerald first started investigating him five years before 9/11.
FITZGERALD:  When we think about the nature of the threat posed by al Qaeda, we have to recognize that we‘re dealing with very intelligent people, very well trained, and very patient.
GANGEL:  Colleagues say Fitzgerald, now the U.S. attorney in Chicago, is brilliant, and simply outworks everyone else.
MARY JO WHITE, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  He‘s a standout, and then is incredibly dedicated to doing the right thing, and getting to the bottom of things.
DAVID KELLEY, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  He‘s what we call scary-smart.  I mean, he just really is able to see things that others do not.
GANGEL:  That work ethic started as a child.  Growing up in Brooklyn, the son of a doorman, Fitzgerald excelled in school, working his way through Amherst and Harvard Law.
TONY BOUZA, FITZGERALD‘S HARVARD CLASSMATE:  He was a lot brighter than almost everybody else.  But unlike a lot of other people, he didn‘t spend a lot of effort trying to show that he was brighter.
GANGEL:  It also became office lore that during his years as a New York prosecutor, Fitzgerald never cooked a meal.
KELLEY:  Coming over one day to find, stacked up on the stove, were several boxes, empty boxes of pizza, and suggesting to him it presented a hire—a fire hazard.  He reminded me that although he‘s lived there for, at that point, about 10 years, he never had the stove turned on.
GANGEL:  Single, straitlaced, with no listed political affiliation, friends compare him to a legendary lawman.
JAMES COMEY, DEPUTY U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I once told a Chicago newspaper that Pat Fitzgerald was Elliott Ness with a Harvard law degree and a sense of humor.
GANGEL:  Despite his stellar reputation, Fitzgerald has had some disappointments.  Recently, he had to drop most of the charges against the head of a Muslim charity accused of aiding al Qaeda.
But by all accounts, it has not slowed him down.  Fitzgerald has thoroughly investigated the Valerie Plame leak for almost two years, including interviewing the president and vice president.
KELLEY:  He‘s committed to doing what is right.  He‘s committed to get to the bottom of it, regardless of where the facts lead him.
GANGEL:  And his former boss says Fitzgerald will not shy away from taking on top White House officials.
WHITE:  Part of doing your job as a prosecutor is, not only do you offend people from time to time, a lot of people don‘t like you from time to time.  And if you‘re doing your job right, there are going to be a lot of people that don‘t like you.
OLBERMANN:  Jamie Gangel reporting.
Speaking of high-profile prosecutors and prosecutions, alert the Rangers.  Tom DeLay is a wanted man in the state of Texas.  The nation‘s best cottage industrialists no doubt printing up wanted posters-slash-T-shirts as we speak.  A Texas court issuing a warrant today for the arrest of the former majority leader, setting an initial bail at $10,000, the move being described as a routine first step before DeLay‘s first court appearance on conspiracy and money-laundering charges.
What will definitely not be routine is seeing one of the most powerful men in Washington reporting to the Fort Bend County, Texas, Jail, as ordered, for booking, where he will likely be fingerprinted and photographed, that spectacle something his lawyers had been hoping to avoid.
The COUNTDOWN spectacle watch also saving the date of November 7, the Harriet Miers Supreme Court confirmation hearings commencing the first full week of next month.  Before then, the nominee apparently has some ‘splaining to do, Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter calling the questionnaire she submitted yesterday insufficient, asking her for more information and clarification.  Senator Patrick Leahy, Specter‘s Democratic counterpart, a bit more blunt, saying that Miers‘ answers range from incomplete to insulting, but they‘re certainly inadequate.
Her reply to a question seeking her legal qualifications to serve on the court began with her story of the time she was called to a deathbed to make sure the dying man had a valid will.
Does Saddam Hussein have one?  His trial opens.  He scuffles with guards.  Legal arguments with the judges.  Can he get a fair trial?  And can we do a fair-to-middling reenactment in Saddam Hussein Puppet Theater?  You heard me right.
And a monster storm in the Caribbean.  Hurricane Wilma breaking all sorts of records in this already record-breaking weather season.  When and where will it hit the U.S.?
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN:  It was the British King Charles I who, in 1649, was tried before 68 actual judges on charges that he was a, quote, “tyrant, traitor, and murderer, and a public and implacable enemy to the Commonwealth of England.”  Charles not only would not recognize the legality of the court, he would not even take his hat off.
Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, for all that changes, some things do stay the same.  The trial of Saddam Hussein opened today in Baghdad.  He would not only not recognize the legality of the court, but he scuffled with the guards, and he wouldn‘t even wear a tie.  He also wrote crib notes in his left hand.  Stare daggers at them.
“Who are you?” he asked the judge and his associates.  “I want to know who you are.  And I do not respond to this so-called court, with all due respect,” he said.  “And I did not hire you,” he said.
Hussein pleaded innocent to crimes allegedly committed in the Shi‘ite town of Djuail (ph) in 1982, when, after residents there personally protested against him, he purportedly had the town essentially leveled.
The judge, conducting the hearing in what was the national command headquarters of the Ba‘ath Party, adjourned the trial until November 28.  A lot of the witnesses did not want to testify today.
When guards attempted to grab Hussein‘s arms to lead him out of the courtroom during a break, he angrily shook them off.  Yelling and shoving ensued for a minute, a minute when the court cameras were off.  More on that in a minute.
First, that big picture.
I‘m joined now by Paul Williams, international law professor at American University.
Professor Williams, thanks for your time tonight.
Sure, my pleasure.
OLBERMANN:  Sorry for the pun here, but let me play devil‘s advocate.  You helped draft the Iraqi constitution.  You helped form the war crimes tribunal relating to Yugoslavia at the World Court at the Hague.  Does Saddam Hussein, tyrant, despot, murderer though he is, without question, does he have a point about the authority of that court that is judging him?
WILLIAMS:  Well, it‘s actually very important to recognize, Keith, that this is, in fact, Iraqi justice for the Iraqis.  Those groups that are usually most disheartened by international tribunals, in Rwanda, Yugoslavia, are the victims themselves.  And I think what you‘re seeing is the Iraqi people, who are the victims, having their day in court, as well as Saddam having his day.
GANGEL:  But the—does the provenance of the legality of the change in governments in Iraq, again, not saying it shouldn‘t have happened, but the should-haves and the legalities are, as you well know, often inconsistent.  The U.S. premise of going in there is at least questioned now.  The new Iraqi government was at best co-birthed by Iraqis and Americans.  Would this process theoretically not have been more legitimate at the World Court, at the Hague, even subtracting from the equation the idea of Iraqis getting their day in court symbolically?
WILLIAMS:  Well, although the tribunal was created initially, or the statute was created by the Coalition Provisional Authority, something very important happened in August, and that is that the new parliament adopted a new statute and rules of procedure for the court.  And so, although it was initially put forward with the help of the Americans and the British, it is now essentially become an all-Iraqi tribunal.
There were crimes committed against the international community.  But the victims of the crimes are the Iraqis themselves.  And you have a long tradition of the rule of law in Iraq.  Two thousand seven hundred years ago, they created the Code of Hammurabi, the first written legal code.  The Iraqis are perfectly capable of giving Saddam a fair trial and his day in court.
OLBERMANN:  I guess, for a time today, for people who saw this, the question might have not been whether or not Saddam would get a fair trial, but if he would sort of eclipse this court process.  Did the first day, in your opinion, lend the trial that veneer of authenticity?  The judge was seeming to struggle to have to control Hussein.  There was a month‘s postponement because of fearful witnesses.  The defendant actually gets into this shoving match with the guards.  Is that the way this should start?
WILLIAMS:  Well, today actually was a very important day, in the sense of kicking this transformation ahead of Iraq from Saddam‘s totalitarian regime to a postconflict democratic Iraq.  This is a man who‘s killed, allegedly, over 300,000 people.  The last judge that crossed him, he essentially had taken out back and shot about 10 years ago.
You now have Saddam, although he‘s pushing and shoving with the judges, he did enter a plea at the end of the day.  And he was escorted out of the courtroom.  He has, in a sense, psychologically, I think, succumbed to the authority of this court.  And that‘s very important for the Iraqi people to see.
OLBERMANN:  And obviously, they did see it.  Is the symbolism of the process more important than the strict interpretation of international law here?
WILLIAMS:  Yes.  For the Iraqi people, the symbolism is very important.  But this is also a very risky adventure.  If Saddam is given a platform for six or nine months, to basically have his say at will in the court, he may, in fact, you know, be able to destabilize the democratic transformation.  And so it‘s going to be very important for the Iraqi court to, in a sense, exercise that psychological control over him, while, at the same time, giving him a fair trial.
OLBERMANN:  International law professor Paul Williams from American University in Washington.  Great thanks for your time, sir.
WILLIAMS:  Sure, I enjoyed it.
OLBERMANN:  Well, it‘s deadly serious stuff, but few even are those stories that don‘t contain at least a fleeting element of farce.  I mean, what did you think when you heard that Saddam Hussein had scuffled with guards in one of the few moments the camera was not trained on him?
We thought, Saddam Hussein Puppet Theater.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Get your hands off me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. Hussein, you are out of order.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You‘re out of order.  You are out of order.  The whole trial is out of order.  They‘re out of order.  And, and, and I want my sword back!  Give me back my sword!  I want my sword back!  My sword, my sword!
And Michael Jackson was framed!  Woo-hoo-hoo!
OLBERMANN:  Just when we think we‘ve out-stupided the real world, it pulls us back in.
Human wheelbarrow racing, Gracie?
And David Copperfield uses his magical powers to put a bun in an audience member‘s oven.  Is there a waiver on the back of the ticket for that?
COUNTDOWN continues, probably.
OLBERMANN:  We‘re back, and we pause our COUNTDOWN for the segment where puppets and mountain-biking presidents who say they‘re getting too old, so they can‘t hear questions, seem normal by contrast.
Let‘s play Oddball.
We begin in Charleston, South Carolina, where a mass gathering of college students participating in the kind of thing that makes Dr. James Dobson uncomfortable. human wheelbarrow racing.  Nearly 350 wheelbarrows, 172 pairs of humans, that is, showed up to take a run at the Guinness World Record for largest group of people doing this.
Each pair had to finish the 55-yard race to count for the record.  And at the end of the day, they all stuffed themselves into one phone booth and swallowed a goldfish just for good measure.
More good clean fun and fun in Chagrin Falls, Ohio.  I was wondering if I could pronounce Chagrin Falls, Ohio, and I mispronounced fun.  It‘s a tradition dating back 30 years, the Grove Hill Pumpkin Roll.  Hundreds of kids showing up with pumpkins, administration they don‘t roll them, they smash them, please, then slide down the hill in the icky, icky goo left behind.  Fun.  You sure this is how Billy Corgan (ph) got started?
Police were standing by to throw a beat down, as you saw, and anyone who got out of hand.  But it‘s a peaceful affair.  Nobody was injured.  The real fun began when they reopened the road to traffic.  We can only hope somebody videotaped that.
Finally, to Jefferson, Missouri, where you have to wonder if the guy in the lower-left of this hotel surveillance video lies awake thinking, Am I the worst person on earth, or what?  Yes, you are, my friend, yes, you are.  The man in the hat, lower left, walked into the Best Western late last night, reached over the counter, stole the little donation jar full of money for child victims of Hurricane Katrina.  The hotel says the jar had maybe a couple of hundred bucks in it.  He got away with it.  Cops are looking for him.  If you think you might know this man, you really need to find better friends.
Unfortunately, we may soon be making donations for victims of Hurricane Wilma, now the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the Atlantic.  We‘ll try to sort out the changing forecast.
And the biggest lottery jackpot ever.  Why striking it rich suddenly could actually ruin your life suddenly.  A look at the winningest losers ever.
Those stories ahead.
But first, now here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three newsmakers of this day.
Number three, the European Union.  It has a law, the Working at Heights Directive.  So when a light bulb went out 40 feet above the floor at St. Binet‘s (ph) Church in Suffolk, England, the rules said ladders were too risky.  Scaffolding had to be built, and a team of replacement experts hired.  Three days, four workers, and $2,300 later, here‘s your answer.  That‘s how many people it took to screw in a lightbulb.
Number two, Bob Schwartz of Santa Fe, New Mexico, crime adviser to Governor Bill Richardson.  He authored a new law that permits felony charges against owners of dogs who attack people.  Sunday night, Schwartz was attacked by a dog, owned by him.  Hospitalized with bites on both arms, he is OK.
And number one, warning, this is the end of the world.  Craig Everett and the Malik Wakji of Albuquerque.  The two 18-year-olds say they had no idea that the $20 lap dance they asked for at a strip club ended when the song ended.  They figured the dancers just stopped dancing when the dance song was over.  Uh-uh.  Forty songs later, they owed $2,500, only could pay a quarter of that.  They were arrested.  Prosecutors have dropped the charges.  Apparently lap dancers cannot legally enforce their bills.
You know, like doctors.
OLBERMANN:  It moved so quickly and so strong that in just hours it shattered decades of hurricane records, becoming the most intense storm in Atlantic history.  Our third story in the COUNTDOWM, Wilma, the last and most certainly not the least of the Atlantic hurricanes, at least of the ones from the preseason names list.  We are now out.  Going from a Category 2 storm to a huge Category 5 monster in just six hours, and currently, heading right for us. 
Wilma has weakened slightly since its overnight explosion, but not by much.  It is still, in the words of the weather service, a potentially catastrophic Category 5 hurricane.  And even though it is expected to shrink a bit in the Gulf, it is already enough of a threat to force the evacuation of visitors in the Florida Keys and could still be a Category 4 by the time it hits land.  And right now that looks like somewhere on the east coast of Florida.  Let‘s get the latest from NBC Weather Plus meteorologist Bill Karins. 
Bill, good evening. 
BILL KARINS, NBC WEATHER PLUS:  Good evening, Keith.  Way too many questions still left with this storm.  But let‘s get to what we do know.  This is a monster Category 5.  It has been a Category 5 since early this morning.  And the key to the whole forecast, believe it or not, is this storm which is sitting over the top of Kansas currently. 
This storm, if it is strong enough, could weaken.  The high-pressure system responsible for record highs over the Southeast the last couple of days, could allow the storm to turn further north and definitely head towards Florida.  If this storm does not weaken, this area of high pressure, this storm is going to sit where it is, possibly for three or four days.  This could be a long, drawn-out event. 
Let‘s get to the storm.  And you can see this black line indicates the path.  And look how squirrelly this thing has been.  Up and down.  And now for the last about 12 hours, pretty much in a northwest heading.  And it is not a good time to be anywhere in the Yucatan.  From Cancun to Cozumel, you could be dealing with a Category 4 or 5 storm as we go throughout the next couple of days. 
The latest in from the hurricane center, still at 160 miles per hour.  And that pressure still at an amazing 892.  Even now, although it has weakened slightly since earlier this morning, this still would be in the record books.  West-northwest at 7 is the general heading. 
And this is where it gets interesting.  We followed these computer models.  We‘re very still limited by all our technology.  And earlier today all of these computer models took this thing all the way up through the Yucatan, through the Gulf and there somewhere into South Florida.  We only have one computer model now that kind of does this loop-de-loop over the Yucatan and then back south of Cuba.  Three of the other big ones all take it up dangerously close to Cancun.  It looks like Cancun could get the worst of this storm.  And then it goes through South Florida. 
But now instead of Friday-Saturday, it looks more like a Sunday possibly into Monday time frame for South Florida.  Many more days to prepare, that‘s the good news, but waiting this thing out, you hear about that hurricane fatigue. 
Category 4 or 5 as we go throughout the next couple of days, all the way up right along the coastline here of the Yucatan.  We could see 15 to 25 inches of rain from Mexico all the way through central Cuba.  And with the high mountains there in Cuba, that could be very problematic. 
Now for the tricky part, if the storm gets picked up by that storm we talked about earlier, that‘s out in Kansas, this is the storm track.  It still could go as far north heading up to about Cedar Key, Florida, that‘s just north of Tampa, or anywhere from Tampa southwards all the way down to Key West.  There‘s a good reason why they call this the “cone of uncertainty” because this probably will be changing in the days to come. 
But right how that the hurricane center, this is their best guess scenario of what‘s going to happen.  Notice the numbers.  Category 3, as Keith mentioned, we expect a weakening trend.  Category 1 after it goes across the state of Florida.  So as of now, we‘re saying a 2 or a 3 at landfall in Florida and then weakening to a 1 and heading out in the open Atlantic.  And right now it should miss the Outer Banks and also should miss New England.  But that could change.  It could still be a close call for those areas. 
So once again, it is amazing.  We‘re counting on this storm here to actually be the moving thing for the storm.  So we‘ll continue to give you the latest here on Hurricane Wilma, a Category 5.  It should stay that way, Keith, for at least tonight. 
OLBERMANN:  And a State Department bill has just urged U.S. citizens to avoid travel to Cuba.  So Cuba is clearly on the hit list here.  NBC Weather Plus meteorologist Bill Karins, many thanks. 
The administration also urging other people in Wilma‘s possible path to take this storm seriously.  At the same time, defending its response to the last Category 4 hurricane to hit this country.  The secretary of homeland security publicly defending his role in the Katrina debacle on the Hill today.  Michael Chertoff saying, quote: “I‘m not a hurricane expert,” and by placing blame for federal failings on then-FEMA head Michael Brown. 
But as Lisa Myers reports exclusively tonight, Mr. Brown‘s e-mails during the crisis show there were failures at every level.  And they have pricked the conscience of a top FEMA aid who has broken ranks and testified to Senate investigators. 
LISA MYERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Wednesday, August 31st, much of New Orleans is underwater.  A FEMA official inside the Superdome sends an urgent Blackberry message to his boss, Director Michael Brown. 
Marty Bahamonde, said to be Brown‘s eyes and ears within the city, writes: “The situation is past critical.  Hotels are kicking people out.  Thousands gathering in the streets with no food or water.  Estimates are many will die within hours.” 
Bahamonde tells Senate investigators, he doesn‘t remember getting a response to that e-mail but later was forwarded this one.  Brown‘s press secretary Fredding (ph) about Brown‘s dining plans for that evening. “It‘s very important that time is allowed for Mr. Brown to eat dinner, she writes, given that Baton Rouge is back to normal, restaurants are getting busy.  He needs much more than 20 or 30 minutes.” 
SEN. SUSAN COLLINS ®, MAINE:  That is just appalling.  >>
MYERS:  Senator Susan Collins says Brown‘s inner circle seemingly failed to grasp the urgency of Bahamonde‘s warnings. 
COLLILNS:  There is this extraordinary disconnect between what he is reporting and the reaction back in Washington. 
MYERS:  Bahamonde expressed his frustration about the dinner e-mail writing: “Oh, my God!!!!!!!!  Just tell her that I just ate MRE and went to the bathroom in the hallway of the Superdome along with 30,000 other close friends, so I understand her concern about busy restaurants.” 
(on camera):  Bahamonde also says officials at all levels of government failed to act on his early warnings that this key 17th Street levee had failed.  He says local and FEMA officials had 16 hours to warn the public and no one sounded the alarm. 
JOHN COPENHAVER, FMR. FEMA REGIONAL DIRECTOR:  People should have been told that New Orleans was going to flood. 
MYERS (voice-over):  Today in Congress, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff disputed FEMA Director Brown‘s claim that state and local officials were to blame for the debacle. 
MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY:  I‘m not going to judge others.  I did not have a problem dealing with state and local officials. 
MYERS:  Today a homeland security spokesman did not dispute the e-mails, but says they don‘t present the whole picture of FEMA‘s efforts. 
Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington. 
OLBERMANN:  Meantime, visions of Powerball jackpots dancing through your head?  Those multimillion dollar dreams can quickly turn into nightmares.  You‘ll meet some of the losing winners in a moment. 
And more of Sizemore.  You may remember yesterday‘s pornographic DVD release, now comes a denial from Paris Hilton.  Oh boy.  Those stories ahead. 
But first here are COUNTDOWN‘s top three sound bites of this day. 
JAY LENO, HOST, “THE TONIGHT SHOW”:  In fact, it hailed today, on Hollywood Boulevard.  It hailed.  And of course, there was the panic.  You know, they thought it was raining crack!  Oh, my God! 
MIKE MATTHEWS, TURKEY CALL MAKER:  A really good place to make turkey calls. 
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  In here, Mike Matthews continues to try and master a foreign language. 
MATTHEWS:  The turkey has 21 vocalizations. 
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A kind of Morse code that he learned from the experts. 
MATTHEWS:  Listening to wild turkeys is something I‘ve been doing for years. 
BILL O‘REILLY, HOST, “THE O‘REILLY FACTOR”:  You ought to know this. 
The world could blow the hell up, he would be gigging.  Ah, this is a riot!  How many people are dead in Katrina?  How can we make fun of it?  Let‘s get Colbert in here, let‘s get the other guy, Lewis, in here, we‘ll make fun of the hurricane. 
You see, that‘s what you do.
JON STEWART, HOST, “THE DAILY SHOW”:  You know, I will say this.  We do add insult to injury. 
O‘REILLY:  You do. 
STEWART:  But, but.
O‘REILLY:  See, he‘s an honest man.  He‘s an honest man. 
STEWART:  But you add injury. 
OLBERMANN:  Your odds of winning a lottery like the $340 million Powerball are roughly equivalent to your odds of waking from a dream tonight having suddenly constructed a new unified theory of physics to which Stephen Hawking will come to your house and say, damn, why didn‘t I think of that? 
Nevertheless, in our number two story in the COUNTDOWN, there I was last night, putting in my $10 like everybody else, for the pool of 200 tickets from our office, purely on the theory that just in case I cannot afford to have my staff in the position of being able to buy and sell me.  But as COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny reports now, perhaps my real fear should be what happens to all of us if we win. 
Good evening, Monica. 
MONICA NOVOTNY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  That‘s right, Keith.  Good evening. 
By now, you have probably heard the story of Jack Whittaker (ph), the West Virginia contractor who won a $315 million jackpot on Christmas Day in 2002.  Now, less than three years later, his family is part of the long list of winners who have watched the dream of millions turn quickly into a nightmare. 
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The nation‘s largest Powerball winner, I‘m happy to present to you, from Putnam County, Mr. Andrew Jack Whittaker right here. 
NOVOTNY (voice-over):  When lady luck smiles, it feels like a miracle.  But for too many with the golden ticket, winning big is a blessing and then a curse. 
SUSAN BRADLEY, AUTHOR, “SUDDEN MONEY”:  There is a great American myth that money is good and more is better.  The truth is, is that a windfall, sudden money from any type of event, actually can cause as many problems as it can solve. 
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  People look at you and expect you to live out their fantasies.  And somehow, if you don‘t do it, they‘re disappointed in you. 
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I gave a lot of it away.  That‘s what my problem was.  Then I had to borrow to pay my taxes. 
NOVOTNY:  Financial planner Susan Bradley works with lottery winners. 
BRADLEY:  A big lottery win usually starts off with a lot of extreme behavior. 
NOVOTNY:  And often ends that way.  Since Jack Whittaker‘s $113 million payout in 2002, he has been charged with assault and drunken driving.  He lost his marriage, even his 17-year-old granddaughter Brandy, who disappeared last year, was later found dead. 
In 1998, Phyllis Klingbeel (ph) sued her own son Michael, claiming he failed to share the $2 million jackpot he won. 
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Her son called her and told her, mom, we won. 
NOVOTNY:  She eventually settled out of court for about 20 percent of the prize money.  Louis Snipes (ph) picked the winning numbers for his wife in 1988.  They won $31.5 million.  But she and her sisters wanted the payout. 
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m the one that won the lottery.  I‘m working with a scalding hot welder every day trying to get by.  I do not have $31 million.  That makes me feel terribly cheated. 
NOVOTNY:  After four years of litigation, the former family split the winnings and split for good.  Paul McNabb (ph), Maryland‘s first lottery millionaire, endured kidnap threats to his children, repeated break-ins, and ended up driving a cab in Las Vegas. 
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Viva Las Vegas, as Elvis would say.  Thar she blows, baby.
NOVOTNY:  And so if the winds of good fortune blow your way, experts say take some time to focus on the things money can‘t buy. 
BRADLEY:  What they should be thinking about is who are they now because of this?  What has changed in their lives and what kind of new decisions do they have to look at? 
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How do you think your life is going to change? 
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s not.  If I can help it, it‘s not going to change.  I‘m content with my life. 
NOVOTNY:  Since it started in 1992, the Powerball jackpot has been hit 173 time with 202 different winners and more than $6 billion in jackpot money paid out.  And the odds of winning tonight, 146 million to 1.  But we have 200 tickets. 
OLBERMANN:  And Charlie was happy when he won that chocolate factory, wasn‘t he? 
NOVOTNY:  He did have the golden ticket. 
OLBERMANN:  COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny, great thanks. 
NOVOTNY:  Thanks.
OLBERMANN:  Tom Sizemore never won the lottery nor an Academy Award, but he was in two movies nominated for them.  And his descent from that sort of success to porn DVDs of his own life provides a thoughtful segue into our nightly roundup of celebrity and entertainment news “Keeping Tabs.” 
To whatever depths he sunk he did not take Paris Hilton with him, so says she.  Yesterday we reported the release of a pornographic collection called “The Tom Sizemore Sex Scandal” in which he explains how he suffers from priapism, it‘s a disease that causes prolonged sexual arousal and forces the sufferer to be active for longer than average, and let himself be taped with various partners for 70 minutes and do an interview about it with the DVD producers and then claim Paris Hilton seduced him. 
That‘s some disease that priapism.  Today Hilton responded, Sizemore said she had lingered at his house after a party there, then walked over to him and explicitly suggested they sleep together.  He also said he found it abrupt when she just left in the morning. 
Yes, she should have made him breakfast or knitted him something.  Hilton‘s spokesman issued a statement on her behalf: “It‘s disappointing that Mr. Sizemore has to use my name to sell his DVDs.  He is not an acquaintance of mine, nor have I ever had intimate relations with him.” And she would remember.  Well, no, maybe not.  Righteous indignation from Paris Hilton.  What a world. 
Not outrage but outage from William Shatner.  His.  Back.  Hurts.  Bad enough to require a trip to a Manhattan Beach hospital.  The 74-year-old Shatner was overtaken by lower back pain during the shooting of his ABC series, “Boston Legal,” for which he won an Emmy last month.  After having been checked out, Shatner was pronounced fit and returned to the set.  And no, doctors did not say he had hurt his back by carrying around James Spader every week. 
And at the top of the COUNTDOWN, a magic trick of Biblical proportions.  Sure, he has made the Statue of Liberty disappear.  And now David Copperfield says he is going to get a woman pregnant without, you know, any of this Tom Sizemore stuff. 
That‘s ahead, but first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s list of today‘s three nominees for the coveted title of “Worst Person in the World.”  Bronze:
Jira Ware (ph), an Australian insurance broker, he was such an alcoholic that he had a deal with his own bosses that he just wouldn‘t come back from lunch on Fridays because he was too drunk.  He would make up the work on weekends.  They gave him time off to see a shrink every other week.  Nothing worked.  They let him go, so he sued them, claiming he had been discriminated against for having Attention Deficit Disorder.  An Aussie court has just awarded Mr. Ware $10,000. 
Also nominated, the Living Proof Christian Broadcasters.  Five years ago, the folks who run the FM radio station at Maynard High School in suburban Boston asked permission to increase the signal power from 10 watts to 250.  As soon as they did that, that made their frequency open to anybody who wanted to apply for it and who could convince the FCC they would better serve the public.  The FCC has revoked the school‘s license and given it to Living Proof Christian Broadcasters.  Christian obviously just a brand name there. 
But the winners, Sinclair Broadcast Group, the right-wing nuts—sorry, the TV station owners who last year had fired their own Washington news bureau chief, Jon Lieberman, because he objected to Sinclair‘s effort to dress up the Swiftboat ad guys‘ attacks on John Kerry as a news documentary.  Last May, Sinclair objected when Lieberman got a journalism award.  Now Sinclair has sued Lieberman, seeking $17,000 in damages for what he said last year, $17,000.  You know, boys, it is going to take you more than $17,000 to buy your souls back from the devil!  Sinclair Broadcast Group, today‘s “Worst Persons in the World”!  
OLBERMANN:  Finally, to the number one story in the COUNTDOWN tonight, and simply put, for his next trick, illusionist David Copperfield says he will impregnate a woman on stage using only magic.  Yes, yes, like I said before, big deal.  Didn‘t Tom Cruise just do that? 
“In my next show I‘m going to make a girl pregnant on stage,” Copperfield tells a German magazine. “Naturally, it will be without sex.” Copperfield is currently touring Germany, he said he would keep the rest of the act‘s details to himself. 
But last year he did the same Stunt in Detroit, telling a Michigan newspaper in advance, “don‘t worry, it‘s all tastefully done and we do a sonogram to prove she‘s pregnant.” As to the German version, nothing about child support, who the woman is, if he‘s going to claim this as an immaculate conception, and what he‘s going to do when the angry German or Austrian villagers come after him bearing flaming torches and pitchforks just like in that there movie. 
Let me call in Nathan Burton, not only one of the top magic draws in Las Vegas, but also himself a witness to one of Mr. Copperfield‘s previous immaculate conceptions. 
Thanks for your time tonight, sir. 
NATHAN BURTON, MAGICIAN:  How are you doing, Keith?
OLBERMANN:  Not bad, I want to know about this, though here.  We all don‘t want to spoil any surprise for anybody, but I don‘t feel like we‘re violating the secrets of Houdini here.  This is a publicity stunt.
BURTON:  We‘re not going to expose any magic here.  We‘re not exposing magic here, I‘ll tell you that right now. 
OLBERMANN:  What happens as this bizarre stunt unfolds? 
BURTON:  OK.  Before I get started, hey, I just want to tell you, Keith, I have a little prediction in this envelope, we‘re going to get to that later.  But Copperfield picks a lady from the audience, totally random choice, brings her up on stage.  And to kind of get her in the mood, he does a card trick.  Because, you know, what girls don‘t like card tricks?  Whatever. 
BURTON:  So, Keith, you‘re going to be my lady from the audience. 
OLBERMANN:  Oh great. 
BURTON:  I‘m going to kind of show you what happens.  So pretend like you‘re the lady going to get pregnant. 
BURTON:  So you have a totally free choice, are these all different, Keith?  Check them out.
OLBERMANN:  Yes, they do appear to be different. 
BURTON:  They‘re all different?
BURTON:  All right.  I‘m going to turn them around so you can see the backs.  You have a totally free choice.  Just tell me stop at any point. 
OLBERMANN:  All right.  Stop at any point, right there.  Yes, OK, that one. 
BURTON:  You want that one. 
OLBERMANN:  Yes, sure, why not?
BURTON:  All right.  I‘m going to bring it up real slow to the top, just like that, nothing funky.  You‘re easy, I like that, Keith.  Take a look at your card.  You got it? 
BURTON:  Now then a little Barry White muse play—Barry might—blah, I can‘t talk.  Barry White music, plays.  The girl—he produces some pickles for the girl, a little bit of ice cream, they hook up a sonogram to her stomach.  You actually see the baby on the projection screen in the sonogram.  And the little baby finds out the card and matches up.  It‘s a great trick.  If you‘re going to do magic, I want to practice that one, making a girl pregnant. 
OLBERMANN:  Wow.  So you‘ve seen this?  I mean, did you know the person who was—who this trick was played on? 
BURTON:  Actually, I went to the show.  My mother comes to town like three or four times a year.  I took her to David Copperfield‘s show, and then David picks my mother and takes her up on the stage, impregnates my mother and now I have a brother named D.C., David Copperfield. 
OLBERMANN:  So the end result of this, if I‘m following all this here, babies come from card tricks, is that it? 
BURTON:  You know what?  Us magicians, anything we can do to help hook up with girls.  But no—yes, basically there‘s a card trick and the baby helps with the prediction. 
OLBERMANN:  All right. 
BURTON:  You know, it‘s all about trying to find the new angle in magic.  You can‘t stay with the same old stuff. 
OLBERMANN:  But I was going to ask you that, as a prominent
professional in this field, is there a line of self-publicity—publicity
· now I can‘t say it—Barry White music—self-publicity that a magician should not cross?  I mean, when Copperfield says, you know, Hollywood special effects, modern technology, people expect more, I‘m forced to deliver more, is he just being realistic? 

BURTON:  I mean, we‘re competing against your news.  I was watching the news.  That‘s a lot to compete against.  You‘ve got movies, you‘ve got TV, I mean, you‘ve got some great stories tonight.  So let‘s see, a card trick or what you have on the news?  So we have really got to push the envelope. 
I mean, I work in Vegas every night and the trick I close my show with is called “The Microwave of Death.” And I have a giant-sized microwave oven on stage.  I jump inside of it, I have to escape within 10 seconds or else.  Well, you know, it counts down, sometimes I don‘t make it out in time and you know I push the envelope and I get a little burnt. 
OLBERMANN:  Yes, my COUNTDOWNs are exactly like that every night.  I never get out of the thing fast enough.  Last question, what was my card, if you picked it out there, do you know what it was? 
BURTON:  Well, like I said, I have a prediction here.  I‘m going to open it up.  It was before the show.  I‘m going to reach in here, nothing funny.  Let‘s see what do we have on here? 
OLBERMANN:  Did Keith pick the two of clubs?  That is—you are correct, sir.  Congratulations. 
BURTON:  Let‘s make babies, Keith. 
OLBERMANN:  I‘m used to having it happen the ordinary way, but thanks for the thought.  Magician Nathan Burton, great, thanks for your time tonight in straightening this up for us.  Thank you, sir.
BURTON:  All right.
OLBERMANN:  That‘s COUNTDOWN, I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Keep your knees (ph) loose, you‘d have to after that.  Good night and good luck.
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