updated 7/10/2007 11:19:15 AM ET 2007-07-10T15:19:15

Guests: David Boies, Elizabeth Holtzman, Amy Polumbo, Anthony Caruso

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  The calls to impeach President Bush and Vice President Cheney are heating up.  But is this a real issue?

Plus, Miss New Jersey is with us to discuss private photos of her that have been sent to pageant officials with the demand she relinquish her crown.  She‘ll be here in the studio in a moment.

But first tonight, two new polls suggest a large number of Americans now want to see the president and vice president face impeachment trials.  The numbers range from 39 percent to 45 percent for President Bush, and in the one poll that asked about Cheney, the American Research Group, 54 percent said they wanted to see the vice president answer articles of impeachment.

Then today, anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan issued an ultimatum to Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: Seek to impeach President Bush, or I‘ll run against you.  And you may remember that in April, presidential candidate and Ohio congressman Dennis Kucinich formally filed articles of impeachment against Vice President Cheney.  So is this for real?

In a minute, we‘ll debate.  But first my take.  There‘s a difference between disliking, even despising a president and one who deserves to be impeached.  Treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors—that‘s the stiff constitutional standard that must be overcome to impeach a president or vice president.  To make their case, impeachment supporters cite a whole host of issues, from lies to justify the war in Iraq to the secret warrantless wiretapping program to Guantanamo Bay and the treatment of detainees.  The basic argument, that the president has abused his power by lying to the public and authorizing illegal actions, quote, “high crimes.”

No question, this is an unpopular president.  I‘ve been critical of this administration on some of the issues cited above.  But that does not mean the proper remedy is impeachment.  Remember, this president was reelected in 2004 after it was clear there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and after Guantanamo Bay was up and running.  Impeachment is a draconian effort that erases the vote of the people, only warranted in the most blatant, rank, and I would say intentional cases of presidential malfeasance.  Impeachment should never mean we don‘t like the president or even this war or we‘re sorry we voted for him.

As the renowned law professor Charles Black wrote in his book on impeachment, quote, “Everyone must shrink from this most drastic of measures.  Presidential impeachment is an awful step.”

If impeachment proceedings were initiated now, it could be and would be remembered as a political stunt, thereby transforming the president and vice president into political victims.  Furthermore, it would lead the congressional seas to part on too many occasions, with too many presidents, for too political a goal.  Mind you, this same caution should have applied to President Clinton, as well.  They should use the political version of prosecutorial discretion and choose not to see articles of impeachment.  I don‘t think (INAUDIBLE)

Here now David Boies, who represented Al Gore before the Supreme Court.  He‘s also the author of “Courting Justice.”  Former congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman, who served on the Judiciary Committee during Watergate.  She‘s also the author of “Impeaching George W. Bush.”  And MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan, who served as Nixon‘s speechwriter and testified before the Senate Watergate committee in 1972.  Look at Pat as a young man there.  I love that shot!

(LAUGHTER)

ABRAMS:  All right.  Let me start with David Boies.  David, look, you know, you‘re a guy who‘s represented Democrats in the past.  You represented Al Gore.  Do you think it‘s time to impeach George Bush, as a legal and political matter?

DAVID BOIES, AUTHOR, “COURTING JUSTICE”:  Unfortunately, you stole my thunder.  I basically agree with what you said at the beginning of the broadcast.  This is a president and a vice president that I disagree with a great deal.  I voted against them.  I wish they hadn‘t been elected.  I think they‘ve made a lot of mistake.

But the Constitution sets up a standard of high crimes and misdemeanors for impeachment.  I think it is the wrong use of that power simply to try to replace a president.  We do not have recall for presidents.  The people of California recalled Governor Davis because they didn‘t like him, didn‘t want him to be governor anymore.  They have that power.  Congress doesn‘t have that power.

ABRAMS:  All right, so Liz Holtzman, where are you suggesting that this would occur—this would come from?

ELIZABETH HOLTZMAN, FORMER CONGRESSWOMAN:  I think that you‘re basically right, impeachment is a draconian measure, rarely to be used, and it‘s sad when it‘s to be used.  But it was put in the Constitution for a very specific purpose, and that is to protect the democracy of the country, to protect the Constitution from grave abuses of power that subvert the Constitution.

When you have the rule of law being threatened, being violated, as we have seen repeatedly by this administration, by this president, by this vice president, then what do you do to preserve the democracy?  And we saw that happen during the Watergate.  Ultimately, it was not the Congress that initiated the impeachment process, it was the American people who said, Enough is enough.

ABRAMS:  What‘s the crime?

HOLTZMAN:  And that‘s what‘s happening now.

ABRAMS:  What‘s the high crime?

HOLTZMAN:  You don‘t need a crime.  That‘s a real misconception.  High crime and misdemeanor—and we had to study this when I was on the Judiciary Committee during Watergate.  High crime and misdemeanor comes from ancient British practice and British lore and law.  And it really means a political, quote, unquote, “crime.”  Better yet, it‘s an abuse of power.

ABRAMS:  But doesn‘t that...

HOLTZMAN:  It‘s a grave and serious abuse of power.

ABRAMS:  But doesn‘t that open the door—let me throw this to Pat.  Pat, my concern is it opens the door, then—when that‘s the standard, when there‘s no sort of no firm, hard, true legal constitutional—it becomes a little mushier, then you‘re just opening it up to every time there‘s a president who the Congress doesn‘t like, we‘re going to see this happen.

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Sure.  Bush is at 26 percent.  Truman was at 23.  This would be a coup d‘etat if you impeach the president of the United States.  I was in Watergate.  I was in the Nixon White House.  And the independent counsel special prosecutor—there were all manner of crimes of perjury and obstruction of justice attendant to the break-in and the cover-up, and the president of the United States was implicated in these.  So you had offenses.  Even with Clinton, you had allegations of perjury and obstruction of justice, independent counsels, special prosecutors all over him.  You‘ve got nothing of that now.

Who are the collaborators of Bush if he‘s committed crimes?  They ought to be investigated and prosecuted.  Where‘s the special prosecutor?  It would be appalling!  It would be a political act.  The whole—I mean, the Congress voted—mistakenly voted for this war.  Hillary Clinton did.  Half the Democratic candidates did on the same evidence of the president had.

ABRAMS:  Let me ask you, David Boies, is there any difference in the evaluation when it comes to the vice president versus the president?

BOIES:  I‘ve totally lost sound.

ABRAMS:  Oh, David lost his—his sound for a second.

BOIES:  I don‘t know if anybody can hear me.

ABRAMS:  All right, we can, so we‘re going to cut off your mike.  So don‘t say anything else that we can hear and you can‘t hear us.  We apologize for that.

But Liz Holtzman, let me ask you, do you think that there is a different evaluation in terms of evaluating Vice President Cheney and the president?

HOLTZMAN:  Well, I think you want to use a very high standard.  I‘m not going to disagree with anybody that you need—this should be rarely used.  But I will say that when we talk about a grave abuse of power—when the House Judiciary Committee voted by the largest bipartisan majority to impeach Richard Nixon, the charges were not crimes, the charges were creating an enemies list and misusing the powers of the government, taxing powers of the government, to go after political enemies, illegal wiretaps.  These were not crimes at that point, but they were unconstitutional.  And so that‘s the kind of charge...

ABRAMS:  But that‘s for the courts to assess.

HOLTZMAN:  ... that we made.

ABRAMS:  I mean, isn‘t that something where the courts get to assess it, not...

HOLTZMAN:  Not really.

ABRAMS:  Really?

HOLTZMAN:  Congress assessed that.  That‘s what happened during Watergate.  I know we forget.  It was a long, long time ago.  But what happened was that—it‘s true, you had a special prosecutor there, but the House Judiciary Committee voted two articles of impeachment.

BUCHANAN:  Right.

HOLTZMAN:  One had to do with grave abuses of power, not crimes.

ABRAMS:  Let me ask...

BUCHANAN:  But you notice—you notice they did not impeach Richard

Nixon for the bombing of Cambodia, which I think would be a little more

serious than wiretapping Bill Safire and some other phones.  They didn‘t do

that because they realized that was in the president‘s authority.  And this

president—when it comes to this war, he launched it legally, with

Congress‘s support.  Abu Ghraib and all these things happened as a result -

I mean, and they have noted—as you said, Dan, the American people knew all this and reelected him and Cheney.

ABRAMS:  Let me ask David Boies a question.  David, any difference in the evaluation between Vice President Cheney and the president when it comes to this issue?

BOIES:  I think you could make a distinction.  I don‘t think there‘s a record for Vice President Cheney to be impeached, either.  I think the record maybe is still open on some issues.  But I think—I agree with Pat, there has to be...

BUCHANAN:  Right.

BOIES:  ... a very high standard.  I think we made a terrible mistake, as a country, in using the impeachment process essentially for political purposes in the Clinton administration.  We ought not to repeat that now.

HOLTZMAN:  But if...

(CROSSTALK)

BOIES:  ... we‘ve got the power.  Now the Democrats have control, and so now maybe it‘s playback time.

ABRAMS:  Let me play...

BOIES:  I think that‘s a mistake.

ABRAMS:  Let me play what John Conyers, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said on ABC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN CONYERS (D-MI), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  We‘re hoping that as the cries for the removal of both Cheney and Bush now reach 46 percent and 58 percent respectively for impeachment, that we could begin to become a little bit more cooperative, if not even amicable, in trying to get to the truth of these matters.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  So Pat, it sounds like John Conyers there isn‘t saying it from a legal, political perspective...

BUCHANAN:  Right.

ABRAMS:  ... in terms of impeachment, he‘s saying, Hey, this should give us some juice here so that you guys are going to listen to us.

BUCHANAN:  Exactly.  But look, let me tell you, worst mistake John Conyers and the Democrats could make, with Bush at 26, Cheney at 18...

BOIES:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  ... is go into an impeachment process, divide the country and the Congress in half, have people outraged and have the kind of fight the conservatives and Republicans would love and forfeit the Democrats‘ opportunity in 2008.

ABRAMS:  Yes, but—and Elizabeth Holtzman, what about that?  I mean, it does seem that...

HOLTZMAN:  He‘s wrong because if it‘s done the right way, Dan...

ABRAMS:  Yes?

HOLTZMAN:  If it‘s done the right way, it‘ll happen, as it did in Watergate, where the American people came together and were not divided by the impeachment process, where the country was proud of the Congress for reestablishing the rule of law.  When you have a president of the United States who put himself above the rule of law and says, I can violate the laws with impunity, whether it‘s the laws on wiretapping or the laws with regard to treatment of detainees, when you have a president of the United States who says, I can subvert the Constitution by lying to Congress to drive them into a war...

BUCHANAN:  What brought down...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Hang on a second, Pat.  I‘ll tell you...

BUCHANAN:  What brought down Nixon were the tapes!

ABRAMS:  I‘ll tell you what the American people would support more than that.  They‘d support just the Congress forcing a situation where the war in Iraq ends, where U.S. troops come back.  I mean, I think that that‘s the demand from the public, less than the demand for an impeachment trial of the president.

BUCHANAN:  All right, Dan...

HOLTZMAN:  Well, we don‘t know.

BUCHANAN:  Dan, do you think the Congress, the doesn‘t have the courage to stop funding the war, has the courage to impeach the president and vice president of United States?  Of course not.

ABRAMS:  What about that, David?

BOIES:  I don‘t think it‘s a question of having the courage to stop funding the war.  I think the problem of the funding of the war is the desire not to leave our troops any more unprepared than they already are.  I think the issue of impeachment is a different kind of issue.  I think that there is a tremendous groundswell, hoping that we can somehow get rid of this administration.

ABRAMS:  But see, David...

BOIES:  I think it‘s a mistake to use impeachment power for that purpose.

ABRAMS:  Well, that‘s right.  I think people are confusing the term impeachment with “I don‘t like this president.”

BOIES:  Right.

HOLTZMAN:  I don‘t think so.  I think the American people really understand when a president has overstepped the line and abuses power.  And I think that when the American people demand impeachment, Congress will respond.

BUCHANAN:  I think if it were the parliamentary system, I do believe the president and vice president would be gone, but it ain‘t.  This is a system—we got four-year terms for these folks, and in the absence of high crimes and misdemeanors—and no one has charged them with crimes—how in heaven‘s name could you impeach them?

HOLTZMAN:  Because you don‘t need a crime, Pat.  You don‘t need it.

BUCHANAN:  Well, what...

(LAUGHTER)

HOLTZMAN:  You don‘t need it under the Constitution...

BUCHANAN:  You got treason, bribery, high crimes and misdemeanors~!

HOLTZMAN:  That‘s right, but a high crime...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Elizabeth Holtzman can tell us what we impeach them for?

ABRAMS:  I‘m going to—I‘m going to...

HOLTZMAN:  Well, but I was on the House Judiciary Committee...

ABRAMS:  I‘m going to refer to the great David Boies to end this conversation.  David, do you need a high—do you need an actual criminal crime-crime?

BOIES:  I don‘t know whether you do or not under the Constitution, but

I know that you ought to have a crime.  You ought not to simply remove a

president for political purposes.  Whether or not you can technically do it

probably Congress has the power to do it.  That‘s not the issue.  The issue is whether you ought to exercise that power...

ABRAMS:  All right...

BOIES:  ... and I suggest that‘s not what the Framers had in mind.

ABRAMS:  Well, I‘ll tell you...

HOLTZMAN:  Well, that is what the Framers had in mind.

ABRAMS:  This—well, this—I‘ll tell you, this is the conversation I had in mind because it‘s exactly the sort of panel that I‘d want to talk to about this.  David Boies, Elizabeth Holtzman and Pat Buchanan, thanks a lot.

BUCHANAN:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Appreciate it.

HOLTZMAN:  Thank you.

BOIES:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Up next, a bizarre beauty pageant scandal, Miss New Jersey allegedly blackmailed over some private photos.  They say they aren‘t nude pictures, they don‘t show, say, underage drinking or anything illegal.  So why would the sender demand she relinquish her crown?  She join us live in the studio next.  Maybe she can help explain what this scandal is about.

Plus, new developments in the murders that are rocking professional wrestling.  Chris Benoit‘s doctor may now be linked to the death of another pro wrestler, “Johnny Grunge.”

And later: Katie Couric is one.  Clay Aiken isn‘t.  So who are today‘s winners and losers?  Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  They‘re calling it beauty queen blackmail.  Someone sent two anonymous packages containing private pictures of Miss New Jersey to the Miss New Jersey and Miss America organizations, along with a typewritten letter demanding that she give up her crown or the pictures will be made public.  The Miss New Jersey pageant says they‘re taking the situation very seriously, and now the New Jersey attorney general‘s office is even getting involved.

My take.  I don‘t know that I get this.  There are pictures out there that apparently aren‘t that racy, mailed by someone to the organizers, not to her, saying unless she loses her crown, the pictures will be made public.  And therefore what?  The organizations will be shamed?  I don‘t know if I get this.

But with me now to help me figure it out is Miss New Jersey, Amy Polumbo, and her attorney, Anthony Caruso.  Thanks to both of you for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.

ANTHONY CARUSO, MISS NEW JERSEY‘S ATTORNEY:  Glad to be here.

ABRAMS:  All right.  So Amy, explain this to me.  So someone is sending pictures not to you, right?

AMY POLUMBO, MISS NEW JERSEY:  Yes, not to me.

ABRAMS:  So they‘re sending it to the organization.

POLUMBO:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  And what—how can you describe what the pictures are?

POLUMBO:  They are normal college photographs meant to be shared between my friends and I throughout our four years of college and beyond.

ABRAMS:  And are they, you know, inebriated pictures?  Are they embarrassing—I mean, what is it about them that‘s...

POLUMBO:  In my opinion, I have done nothing wrong.  But like everyone‘s saying, what I think is OK, someone else may raise their eyebrows at it.  So we have to remember that.

ABRAMS:  But no nudity.

POLUMBO:  No nudity.

ABRAMS:  All right.  And nothing illegal?

POLUMBO:  No.

ABRAMS:  Distasteful?  I mean, is there something potentially racist or something else that someone might...

POLUMBO:  No, not at all racist.  My goodness, no.  Just what I said, you know, and everyone has a subject—it‘s a very subjective question, everyone has a different opinion.

ABRAMS:  So what is the concern, Anthony, I mean, about—about—you decided to—in conjunction with Amy, We got to go public with this.  Let‘s get ahead of the story, effectively.

CARUSO:  Exactly.

ABRAMS:  And the goal is to—to what?

CARUSO:  Well, basically, we felt the story would be leaked by improper means, so we took charge and we went forward just basically to announce that Amy would not be swayed by this blackmail threat and she would remain.

ABRAMS:  Why not release the pictures, then?

CARUSO:  Well, first of all, it‘s part of evidence.  I want to preserve the evidence.  I want the authorities to look at the pictures, and I...

ABRAMS:  But you can make copies.  I mean, you—you know, you (INAUDIBLE) plenty of copies.

CARUSO:  But what purpose would it serve at this point?

ABRAMS:  Well, the same purpose that you said that it served to get out ahead of the story, which is to say, Hey, look, someone out there—I mean, you know, you‘re telling us these are no big deal.  Someone out there is certainly making it seem like that they‘re a big deal here, and by coming out and talking about it this way, saying, Someone‘s trying to blackmail me, it sure sounds like there‘s something kind of bad there.

CARUSO:  There‘s a lot of...

POLUMBO:  Somebody‘s trying to take something away that I rightfully deserved.  And I‘m not just speaking on my behalf, I‘m speaking on the behalf of professional women everywhere.  It‘s not fair that someone would want to do this and take something away from someone that they worked very hard for.

ABRAMS:  Yes, and that‘s why—and this question I‘ll then direct to your lawyer, which is then why not—if that‘s the case—and look, Amy is trying to protect herself (INAUDIBLE) I didn‘t do anything wrong here.  Why not show the pictures and say, Hey, she didn‘t do anything wrong here? 

Look.

CARUSO:  I can understand you asking.  The first message, really, and the primary message is to let the world know that she‘s not going to be persuaded by a blackmailer.

ABRAMS:  Good for you.

CARUSO:  But keep in mind, now.  These pictures were meant to be private.  They could include parties that may not want to be disclosed.  And she‘s protecting...

ABRAMS:  (INAUDIBLE) we do it all the time.  We put little bubbles over their faces and...

POLUMBO:  Right, but...

CARUSO:  Well, you know what?  Honestly, if you do enough, you‘re not going to have a picture.

ABRAMS:  Yes.

CARUSO:  So it doesn‘t really make sense.  And I don‘t see any purpose, at this point.  I think, eventually, we‘ll have to show the public some of this.  But honestly, they‘re private pictures at this point.

ABRAMS:  Yes.

POLUMBO:  And also, I‘d like to add that I have willingly made myself part of the public eye, but my friends are included in these pictures, as well, and it‘s not fair to them to bring them into the situation and...

ABRAMS:  I heard one of the viewers on the “Today” show write in a question today, and it asked you about whether this could be a publicity stunt and whether this could be actually helping you.

POLUMBO:  Not at all.  I mean, we never realized that it was going to become this extravagant.  And like I said this morning, you know, I think it‘s really silly that we are a country at war and everyone just cares about this.  I think it‘s really disheartening, and I hope that it‘s resolved quickly so that I can return to being Miss New Jersey and the pageant is left alone and all these poor finalists—I feel really terrible for them, as well.

ABRAMS:  Do you know how these people got the pictures?  Based on the pictures you‘ve seen that they were sending, do you know how they got their hands on them?

POLUMBO:  Well, like we said, it was my private accountment (ph) for my circle of communication, so...

ABRAMS:  And so someone you knew?

POLUMBO:  But we don‘t know who it is because someone could have left their computer on...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

POLUMBO:  ... and had access to my account, so...

ABRAMS:  What do you make of this—some people saying it could have been one of the other contestants?

POLUMBO:  I really—like I said this morning, I find that really disheartening that people would think that we believe it‘s a one of the contestants because I had a very positive experience, and every girl that I competed with was lovely.

ABRAMS:  Because, you know, people think of the Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan...

POLUMBO:  Right.

ABRAMS:  ... story, where...

POLUMBO:  Well, I think that...

ABRAMS:  ... Tonya Harding hired someone to bash her knees and...

POLUMBO:  Right.  I think that we thrive on negative press.  I really do.  And I think it makes it an interesting story because of the stereotypes pageants have, but it‘s a wonderful—it was a wonderful experience, and I really hope that these finalists, you know, will be left alone because, you know, it‘s...

ABRAMS:  You don‘t buy it.  You don‘t—you don‘t think it—you don‘t think it was—you doubt it that it was one of them.

POLUMBO:  We don‘t know.  We have no idea.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Now, legally, what happens now?  Apparently, the authorities are telling us, on Thursday they‘re going to have some sort of announcement.  I don‘t know if it‘s going to be a resolution.

CARUSO:  The pageant officials are supposedly meeting on Thursday, and we‘ll have an answer by 3:00, 4:00 o‘clock.  I‘ve been in touch with them.  I‘m waiting to receive confirmation that we will be able to attend together to present our case.  But I am confident, as is Amy, that we‘re going to have their support.

ABRAMS:  Let me just—let me ask you to stand by just for one minute.  Let me take a quick break here.  Going to ask you to stick around for another couple minutes.  Just got two more minutes of questions.

And then coming up: Chris Benoit‘s doctor now being investigated in the death of another wrestler.  Was this guy one-stop-shopping for wrestler drugs?  We‘ll have the latest on that investigation.  Plus, why Nancy Benoit‘s obituary could provide new clues about what her family thinks.

But first: Even I‘m not immune from the perils of live TV.  The clip that landed me in tonight‘s “Beat the Press” is coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back with Miss New Jersey, Amy Polumbo, and her attorney, Anthony Caruso.  We‘re talking about this bizarre case where apparently someone has been trying to blackmail her, blackmail you, by sending photos that are private photos, as you describe them, to the organization, telling you you have to relinquish your crown.

That‘s the part about it that‘s really kind of odd, is it not ? I mean, sending them to you, right, or (INAUDIBLE), If you don‘t get out of this, you know, we‘re going to expose you.  But instead, they‘re sending them to the pageant and saying unless she loses—right?  I mean, I don‘t quite get it.

POLUMBO:  Neither do we.

CARUSO:  I guess they‘re looking to attack the sponsorship of the pageant and looking to have the pageant officials make determination without even including Amy, which hasn‘t been the case.  I do believe we‘re going to be—have the chance to speak with the pageant officials on Thursday.  And you know, the people—types of people that do this aren‘t exactly the smartest people in the world.

ABRAMS:  Now, look, you‘re an advocate for Internet safety.  That‘s been—that‘s been your big cause.  Is there anything in these photos that someone should say, Oh, this is...

POLUMBO:  Well...

ABRAMS:  ... this contradicts her position about Internet safety?

POLUMBO:  Well, you know, I‘ve learned an important lesson here, that nothing we post on the Internet is private, even though you have a private access site.  And you know, I‘m even looking to expand my platform even further, and I hope that I can be a lesson for people everywhere that, you know, nothing you do is private anymore.  And I believe in the six degrees of separation, and I think that even if—it‘s even more prominent now with the Internet.

ABRAMS:  Let me ask you—and this is sort of an odd way because I know you don‘t want to get into too many details about what‘s in the photos.  But your mother saw the photos, right?

POLUMBO:  Yes, she did.

ABRAMS:  Were you uncomfortable sitting with your mother, looking at these photos?

POLUMBO:  No, I was not.  I mean, like I said, I‘m a theater major, and she‘s seen me do more intimate things on stage than...

ABRAMS:  Fair enough.

POLUMBO:  Right.

ABRAMS:  Fair enough.

POLUMBO:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  Any Polumbo and Anthony Caruso...

POLUMBO:  Thank you very much.

ABRAMS:  ... thank you so much...

POLUMBO:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  ... for coming in.  Really, really appreciate it.  Nice to meet you both.

POLUMBO:  Thank you.

CARUSO:  Thank you very much.

ABRAMS:  Coming up: Chris Benoit‘s doctor says no to a plea deal, even as authorities look into whether he may be linked to the death of another pro wrestler.  That and an unusual new clue in the Benoits‘ marriage is coming up.

And later: A grim discovery today in the case of a missing Wisconsin student, Kelly Nolan.  Police now believe they have found her body.  We‘ll look at who may be responsible in the latest on that case, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Still ahead, does wrestler Chris Benoit‘s wife‘s obituary confirm one of the leading theories in the case?  But first, the latest headlines.

(NEWSBREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, police are now looking for a suspect in the apparent murder of a Wisconsin student, Kelly Nolan.  This after a body believed to be hers was found today, 10 miles from where she disappeared.  They have got some ideas.  We‘ll tell you about that story in a minute. 

But first, a bombshell tonight in the murder-suicide investigation involving former pro wrester Chris Benoit.  The Atlanta doctor who allegedly prescribed steroids to Benoit is now believed to be linked to the death of another pro wrestler.  Dr. Phil Astin was indicted last week on seven charges of over-prescribing certain drugs during a two-year period, not to Benoit.  Now investigators are looking into the death of wrestler Johnny Grunge, who was also one of Astin‘s patients. 

Also tonight, a possible clue into the relationship between Chris Benoit and his wife, Nancy.  An obituary written by Nancy‘s family asked for donations to be sent to the, quote, “Nancy and Daniel Benoit Foundation for Battered Women and Abused Children.”  We‘ve got a pair of former wrestlers here to talk about these latest development, but first let‘s go to NBC‘s Mike Boettcher, who‘s live in Atlanta tonight. 

Mike, what do we know about this second wrestler linked to Benoit‘s doctor? 

MIKE BOETTCHER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, you said he was Johnny Grunge.  That was his wrestling name.  His real name was Michael Durham.  And the signature move was the table bomb, where he‘d dive onto a table and then onto his opponent. 

Now, he died about a year and a half ago in February 2006.  And according to doctors‘ reports at the time, it was because of complications due to sleep apnea.  Now, investigators are reopening that case, because his doctor is the same doctor that Chris Benoit used.  And that is Dr. Phil Astin of Carrollton, Georgia.

Now, the two wrestlers, Benoit and Durham, lived very close to each other in Fayette County, and they both used the same doctor, which remarkably was only about—well, was 50 miles away, which is quite a drive going due west.  No quick way to go.  You have to go there for a specific reason. 

And in the wrestling community around the country, it was well-known that a lot of wrestlers knew Dr. Astin, and this is another wrestler, and the DEA is looking at this with local Fayette County sheriff‘s officers trying to figure out if at all any of the drugs that Astin prescribed somehow figured into the death of Michael Durham.

ABRAMS:  All right.  So, Mike, now that we know that Astin has been indicted with regard to two other people, not with regard to Benoit—we don‘t know, we don‘t think it‘s with regard to the Grunge case, but the investigation is continuing in that regard, right? 

BOETTCHER:  No, absolutely.  And those two figures have the initials M.J. and O.G.  There was talk that those two were wrestlers, but I have not been able to confirm it.  Their names were posted on a Web site and taken down very quickly.  But that part of the investigation is still going.  And, as well, the toxicology report, we‘re still waiting for that.  There is a chance it could come this week, but probably not this week, according to the district attorney, but he says still the slightest of chances—

Dan?

ABRAMS:  Mike Boettcher, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it. 

My take, here‘s part of the problem.  Wrestling is not a true sport where the best person necessarily wins.  This, in the words of Vince McMahon, a spectacle where the outcomes are predetermined.  Everyone involved will admit that at least to some degree wrestling is staged.  It doesn‘t mean it‘s not violent; it doesn‘t mean these aren‘t serious athletes who have to be in incredible shape.  But what it does mean is that the only way these wrestlers can really distinguish themselves is by being more entertaining, and bigger and stronger than the next guy, and they often have to take pills and injections that cause them to break down physically and mentally.

Sure, the WWE now has a testing program in place.  I‘m not just blaming them, although some would say they need better, more regulated testing.  In fact, I blame the doctors as much as anyone.

Let‘s get back to the news of the day and talk about all of this with two former wrestlers who knew Chris Benoit well, Marc Mero, who was known as Johnny B. Badd and the Wildman Marc Mero, and Superstar Billy Graham, he‘s author of the book “Tangled Ropes.”

Thanks to both of you for coming on, appreciate it.

All right, Billy, let me ask you, do you know this doctor, Phil Astin? 

BILLY GRAHAM, FORMER PRO WRESTLER:  Well, first of all, thank you very much, Dan, for having me on the show.  I appreciate it very much.  And I‘m also happy to be on with Marc Mero, a real very intelligent young man. 

ABRAMS:  We‘re glad to have you. 

GRAHAM:  Thank you.  I didn‘t know Dr. Astin, but I knew Dr. George Zahorian who did the exact same thing years ago by sending FedEx boxes of steroids across the country to wrestlers, including myself.  And I‘m sure that Johnny Grunge is not going to be the only name to surface as far as other wrestlers connected to Dr. Astin, believe me.  There will be more popping up.

ABRAMS:  Marc, what do you know about Johnny Grunge? 

MARC MERO, FORMER PRO WRESTLER:  Johnny Grunge, he was a really good guy.  He was half of the tag team with Flyboy Rocco Rock called Public Enemy.  And actually he‘s also known as number 17 on my list of 25 wrestlers that are dead.  And, unfortunately, Rocco Rock is number 15.

ABRAMS:  And when he died, did you suspect that this was something more than natural causes? 

MERO:  Oh, when I read it was sleep apnea and there were pill bottles found and so on, you know, you kind of know.  They also say when a wrestler dies under 40 from a heart attack, come on, enough‘s enough.  We‘ve got to start having this regulated.  Something has got to be done. 

You know, Vince McMahon is the most professional man in the professional wrestling industry, and he‘s got to step up to the plate and do something, because we‘re going to be eventually testifying on Capitol Hill.  And changes are going to made.  And if it‘s not done soon, how many more are going to end up on my list of 25?  Is it going to be 50?  Is it going to be 100?  Something‘s got to be done. 

GRAHAM:  Well, it‘s not going to be me, I‘ll tell you that.  And just let me go on record, Dan, if I may.  Listen to me real carefully, please.  Blaming Vince McMahon or the WWE for the massacre of the innocent, of these wonderful, beautiful lady, and the child, and himself, blaming him would be like blaming the San Francisco Giants baseball team for the actions of the current steroid user, Barry Bonds, if he went into a fit or a rage, went home, and exterminated his whole family. 

People are adults.  You can love Vince McMahon; you can hate Vince McMahon.  It doesn‘t matter.  You have got to take responsibility for your own actions.  So, therefore, you can‘t blame FOX if somebody has a problem with the FOX network in New York.  It‘s a hard business, believe me.  I‘m with Marc on this.

ABRAMS:  Let me ask Marc.  Marc, are you blaming the WWE?

MERO:  Well, it‘s not that I‘m blaming them, but they have the opportunity to make a change to save a lot of wrestlers‘ lives.  That‘s what I‘m really going after.  I would like to start having dialogue with Vince McMahon to make changes.  They‘re on the road too much.  There‘s no off-season.  You know, in professional wrestling, Wrestlemania, we have—it‘s like the Super Bowl.  And could you imagine, when the NFL has a Super Bowl, that the next night those guys are doing Monday Night Football, saying the seasons starts today?  That‘s professional wrestling.

GRAHAM:  But, Marc, let me jump in.  Marc, we can‘t compare pro wrestling with pro football.  Those people, professional football, the Super Bowl, they‘re violently hitting each other.  We are pantomiming, even though we take serious falls and get hurt.  But we are scripted matches. 

(CROSSTALK)

MERO:  Billy, you‘ve got an artificial hip.  Come on, brother.  I‘ve had eight surgeries.  I know how rough it is. 

GRAHAM:  Oh, believe me, Marc, it takes a toll.  And I agree with you, we need less days off.  And I agree with you that we need regulations.  But how can the DEA regulate a circus?  How they can regulate a Broadway play?  You see...

MERO:  Well, when Capitol Hill subpoenas Major League Baseball, they have congressional hearings.  That‘s what I believe is going to eventually happen with professional wrestling. 

ABRAMS:  But isn‘t it different, Marc, and related to the point I was making earlier, that, you know, because so much of it is scripted, it‘s not a true match, it‘s really more entertainment?

MERO:  Well, in baseball, these guys are just hitting some more homers.  We‘re dying.  My brothers and sisters in my sport are dying, and something needs to be done.  And I‘m just asking for some type of legislation or regulation that we can make changes.  I‘m not pointing my finger at anybody, but let‘s make changes.

GRAHAM:  Marc, they‘re making the choice to die.  Wrestlemania this year featured Shawn Michaels, the main event that probably drew $50 million into the WWE purse.  And Shawn Michaels was not on steroids; he was not on speed; he was not on anti-depressants; he was probably on pain pills, because all of us, including you, a severe amount of pain.  However, this was the man in the main event of Wrestlemania, the premiere spectacle of professional wrestling, who was not on steroids.  So, Marc, what I‘m saying, we need more Shawn Michaels. 

ABRAMS:  Let me ask you, Bill, real quick.  We haven‘t gotten a chance to talk to you about the Benoit case.  What do you make of it? 

GRAHAM:  Well, I‘d like to say, first of all, if you really want some insight to steroids and drugs of professional wrestling, you need to invite my wife, Valerie Graham, on, because she lived with me for 30 years of hell, and she would be a good one to come on your show and lay it out there from a lady‘s point of view. 

ABRAMS:  All right, we‘d be happy to have both of you back on the show. 

GRAHAM:  I‘d be glad to.  Chris Benoit was so depressed—and, by the way, a source of mine, who is a blood relative of the Phoenix Police Department, has found out that they found empty wine bottles and empty beer cans at the scene of the Benoit massacre. 

ABRAMS:  Right, yes, we know that. 

GRAHAM:  And so we‘ve got the clue, a lot of mental issues.  And I know my friend, Dean Malenko, said two weeks on “Raw” that, years ago, wrestling with Chris Benoit in Japan, they nicknamed him Houdini, because he would disappear during a conversation.  And so there‘s some mental issues going on here. 

And I agree with Marc.  There is a lot of rage.  But I see no more rage in professional wrestling or steroid use than I see in a Bobby Knight getting into the face of college basketball players or a Tommy LaSorda getting into the face of umpires or the Billy Martin, who weighed 175 pounds, and caused all kinds of rage all over the baseball diamond. 

ABRAMS:  Marc Mero and Superstar Billy Graham, we‘d love to have you both back on and, Billy, we‘d love to have you with your ex-wife, as well.  That would be good stuff.

GRAHAM:  Not my ex-wife, my current wife. 

ABRAMS:  Oh, sorry.  I thought you said your ex-wife.

GRAHAM:  You‘re in trouble, buddy. 

ABRAMS:  I‘m sorry.  You‘d be the one, I guess, to get in trouble.

GRAHAM:  Thirty years and current.

ABRAMS:  Billy, you told me that, man.  What happened? 

GRAHAM:  You‘re in trouble, buddy.

ABRAMS:  Billy, he may be an older guy, but he can certainly make mincemeat out of me.  All right, thanks a lot for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.

Police made a grisly discovery just outside Madison, Wisconsin, early this morning.  A body authorities say was obviously murdered, it was in a heavily wooded field about 10 miles away from where missing college student Kelly Nolan was last seen.  Just hours ago, a coroner broke the news. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN STANLEY, DANE COUNTY CORONER:  We have been able to make a determination from a preliminary investigation that the evidence indicates this is a female and that it is probably the missing person that we‘ve been looking for, Kelly Nolan. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  The missing persons case officially has been changed to a homicide.  Police are searching now for a suspect.  Jon Leiberman, “America‘s Most Wanted,” has the latest on the case for us. 

Jon, thanks for joining us.  All right, what do we know about the suspect?  And what do we know about how certain they are that this is Kelly? 

JON LEIBERMAN, CORRESPONDENT, “AMERICA‘S MOST WANTED”:  Well, they‘re pretty certain that it‘s Kelly, Dan.  And I‘ll tell you, in a split second, between good police work and the forensics that they have, they were able to track down this body that does appear to be Kelly‘s.  It‘s a female body.  It has been decomposed, from what we understand.  It‘s probably been out there for five or six days or so.  And there was severe trauma to the body, Dan, showing that this body was clearly a homicide victim. 

ABRAMS:  All right, what do we know about any possible suspects? 

LEIBERMAN:  Well, there are none at this point, unfortunately. 

There‘s a killer on the loose.  But the reason why cops are pretty sure they‘re going to track this person down is this person made a huge mistake, Dan.  They allowed the victim‘s cell phone to ping in this general area, and that‘s how police were able to focus in on this area and find the body.  Right now, investigators at this hour are combing through the crime scene, looking for forensics, getting DNA, getting fingerprints, and they‘re hoping that that leads them to their killer. 

ABRAMS:  All right, John Lieberman from “America‘s Most Wanted,” as always, thanks a lot.  There‘s the number, if anyone has got any information, 608-266-6014. 

Up next, because we‘re fair and balanced here, I get beat up in “Beat the Press.”  That‘s coming up next. 

And later, Clay Aiken hits some turbulence.  The former “Idol” got into a scuffle with a female airline passenger.  The FBI investigated.  The question:  Does that make him our big loser of the day?  We‘ll tell you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Time for tonight‘s “Beat the Press,” our daily look back at the absurd and sometimes amusing perils of live TV.  First up, FOX News crime analyst Rod Wheeler—good analyst—but during a discussion on the “O‘Reilly Factor” about lesbian street gangs, he had this fascinating tidbit to share.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROD WHEELER, FOX NEWS CRIME ANALYST:  They actually carry—some of these groups carry pink pistols.  They call themselves the pink pistol packin‘ group, and these are lesbians that actually carry pink pistols.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Whoa, lesbians with pink pistols!  That‘s good.  Not since the days of Pinky Tuscadero, the former girlfriend of the Fonz on “Happy Days,” have I heard of something so racy.  Unfortunately, it wasn‘t true.  Wheeler issued a correction, an apology admitting there‘s no known relationship between lesbian street gangs and the guns rights group The Pink Pistols, who, according to their Web site, are dedicated to the legal, safe and responsible use of firearms for self-defense of the sexual minority community.  Such a great story, though. 

Next up, over at Nancy Grace, substitute host Jane Velez-Mitchell covered a sad story of a 6-year-old girl getting stuck on a pool drain.  Horrible story.  It created a suction on her backside.  But apparently that wasn‘t enough detail for the show. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER:  The drain suction was so powerful, it literally caused an eight-inch tear in the little girl‘s rectum and pulled out much of her small intestine. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right, they talked about the fact that they felt horrible for the family and how hard this was to cover.  Well, the first thing that they could have done is spared some of the details of the 6-year-old‘s intestines.  I mean, look at these details.  Awful.  Let‘s just stop. 

Finally, some self-flagellation here.  On Thursday, I spoke to a 72-year-old former Marine who fought off a pickpocket half his age, a guy who tried to swipe $300 from him.  I don‘t know that I‘m a very good interviewer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Your form still looks really good on the punches.  Hey, Bill, are you there? 

BILL BARNES, BEAT UP PICKPOCKET:  Yes, I am. 

ABRAMS:  Hey, I was saying your form on the punches still looks great.  So, Bill, let me ask you, when this happened, was it just instinct that kicked in?

BARNES:  Yes, it was just instinct.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Apparently, a good interviewer asks questions which lead to answers instead of waiting for responses.  An apology to bill. 

Up next, Katie Couric out with her doubts about her new gig, Clay Aiken investigated by the FBI after a mid-air scuffle with a woman, and office workers in Pennsylvania out of work for the day as long as they don‘t work at slot parlors.  So just who is the day‘s big winner and loser?  Up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS (voice-over):  It‘s time for tonight‘s “Winners and Losers” for this ninth day of July 2007. 

Our first winner, Katie Couric, for coming clean, admitting in an interview that she would have thought twice about taking the evening news job if she‘d known what she knows now. 

KATIE COURIC, CBS “EVENING NEWS” HOST:  I‘m Katie Couric.  Thanks for watching.

ABRAMS:  Our first loser?  James Coldwell, who certainly should have thought twice about trying to rob a bank using twigs and branches duck taped to his body as some sort of makeshift disguise.  The police gave him credit, though, for going out on a limb. 

Loser, the 24,000 Pennsylvania employees who couldn‘t go to work today, a result of a budget impasse between the state‘s governor and legislature.  It halted non-essential services, from issuing driver‘s licenses and operating museums, to turning on the lights on the state capitol‘s dome. 

Winner, those essential services that remained open, like the state‘s slot parlors?  They won a temporary reprieve after they went to court to ensure the 24,000 other employees would have a comfortable locale to blow their previous week‘s earnings. 

Our big winner of the day, Boeing.  It‘s new light, fuel-efficient 787 Dreamliner plane, on back order already, as airlines battle to be the first to get it in the air. 

Our big loser of the day?  “American Idol” runner-up Clay Aiken, who air battle to new heights, reportedly getting in a scuffle with a female passenger after she complained of his foot on her arm rest.  Apparently he was the runner-up again. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Joining me now on the phone, former “American Idol” finalist Carmen Rasmusen.  She was on the same season as Clay Aiken.  She‘s calling us from “Idol” camp.  Her CD, “Nothing like the Summer,” hits stores on August the 14th

Thanks a lot for taking the time.  All right, so Clay Aiken apparently put his foot up on the woman in front of him, his seat.  Look, I hate that, when people take the seat in front of—like, if I‘m sitting in a seat and the person behind me starts leaning on it to get up and shaking it, and putting their foot up, you know, I‘d want to smack Clay Aiken, too. 

CARMEN RASMUSEN, FORMER “AMERICAN IDOL” CONTESTANT:  I know.  There‘s just not much room on an airplane, so I can see why Clay Aiken would want to stretch out.  Obviously, he‘s taking it a little far by encroaching on the woman‘s personal space, as if you have any space on an airplane as it is.  But I think probably what happened is he was stretching out, stretching his legs out, she saw the foot, asked him to move it.  Knowing Clay, he‘s super, super sarcastic, probably made a funny comment like, “Hey, I‘m Clay Aiken.  I can, you know, do whatever I want.”  As a joke, she probably took it seriously...

ABRAMS:  And she popped him. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Good, she popped him.  He says...

RASMUSEN:  And then I guess she gave him a light shove.

ABRAMS:  ... “I didn‘t realize I was causing the woman any distress until she woke me up with a quick hit to the chest.  I‘d like to thank everyone for their concern.  I‘m fine and have taken steps to prevent any foot wandering in the future.”  I‘m fine, as if people are—oh, is Clay OK?  The woman hit him on the plane.  And Clay is telling us that he‘s OK. 

RASMUSEN:  Yes, it‘s crazy.  It‘s crazy how big of a deal it is.  It was probably nothing, although I do agree that Clay probably should have gone to the back of the plane if he wanted to stretch out a little. 

ABRAMS:  All right, you ready for this part?  This is the most bizarre part of the story, all right?  The Associated Press—they never do this.  They never make mistakes like this.  They combined two stories by accident.  There‘s the bull run in Pamplona, you know, where everyone runs away from these bulls that are all goring them.

RASMUSEN:  Right.

ABRAMS:  And Clay Aiken allegedly in an airline spat, and the headline on A.P., for very briefly, said, “Clay Aiken Gored in Pamplona Bull Run.”

RASMUSEN:  Are you serious?

ABRAMS:  I am.  I am.  And apparently some people reported it.  Look, we report things when the A.P. says it.  But, you know, I mean, Clay didn‘t get—it‘s not true.  He‘s OK.  He‘s fine.  He‘s fine.  Remember, he‘s fine.

RASMUSEN:  Right, you can‘t always believe everything you read.  It just goes to show, sometimes things get mixed up.  So who knows?  Maybe it was bigger than we think or maybe it wasn‘t as big. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, yes, yes.  All right, I‘m getting the feeling Clay deserved to get popped, but I don‘t know.  I don‘t know what happened.  All right, Carmen, thanks a lot for coming on the program.  Appreciate it.

RASMUSEN:  Thanks a lot, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Remember, make sure to watch “Morning Joe” right here on MSNBC.  Tomorrow Joe will be joined by White House spokesperson Tony Snow, Mike Gravel, and CNBC‘s Erin Burnett.  That‘s all the time we have for tonight.  Up next, a new episode of “To Catch a Predator.”  Tonight, the hidden cameras head to the beach and so do suspected predators.  We‘ll show you. 

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2007 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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