updated 7/13/2007 11:17:14 AM ET 2007-07-13T15:17:14

Guests: Arianna Huffington, John Wells

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Tonight: President Bush defends the war in Iraq and discusses the progress against al Qaeda at a White House press conference, this only hours before we learned tonight that the highest-level government intelligence report declares al Qaeda better positioned to strike the West and that, according to the report, they‘re stepping up efforts to sneak terrorists into the country.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There is a perception in the coverage that—that al Qaeda may be as strong today as they were prior to September the 11th.  That‘s just simply not the case.  I think the report will say since 2001, not prior to September the 11th, 2001.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  My take.  What kind of legalistic distinction is that?  Al Qaeda is only as strong now as it was on September the 12th?  In the wake of this new, frightening intelligence report, the administration needs to stop trying so hard to make one point, that the war and their anti-terror policies have worked.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Secondly, that because of the actions we‘ve taken, al Qaeda is weaker today than they would have been.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Really?  Than why is the president also speaking at such great length about the threat of al Qaeda in Iraq, a terror group that now exists only because of the war?  And why does this new government intelligence report indicate that al Qaeda‘s threat to this country is increasing and that they now have, quote, “acquired most of the capabilities” needed to strike us?

Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff is playing the same semantic game, telling us of a “gut feeling” he has about an attack this summer, and then the next day echoing the same two talking points as the president: one, that he doesn‘t believe we are quite at the same threat level as during the summer of 2001, an effort to bolster talking point two, how much we‘ve, quote, “accomplished” in dismantling their activities.

Look, I‘m confident progress has been made.  Really bad guys have been captured or killed.  I supported much of the Patriot Act.  But of course, that‘s not the question.  The question is, in its totality, have this administration‘s actions, the wars and their aftermath, the anti-terror activities at home and abroad, made us safer?  Have they done it right?

Like Chertoff and the president, I believe we are in grave danger, that al Qaeda is a serious threat, that another terror attack may be coming soon.  But I‘ve heard nothing today to convince me that this administration‘s policies on the whole have sufficiently reduced that threat.

Here now with me, Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffingtonpost, MSNBC analyst Pat Buchanan, and on the phone, MSNBC terror analyst Evan Kohlmann.  Thanks to all of you.  Appreciate it.

All right, Pat, in the wake of this new report that we‘re learning about tonight, can you really say that this administration has done this right, that their policies on the whole have made us safer?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Certainly, their policies have made us safer, I think, Dan, in this sense.  We haven‘t had a single terrorist attack on American soil in almost six years.  None of us expected that success.  Our security guys, FBI guys and the president should get credit for doing that.  Secondly, our guys over there, the special forces and others, in Afghanistan have taken down parts of al Qaeda.  They‘ve killed its leaders.  They‘ve captured any number of them.  That has been a tremendous success in the war on terror.  They drove bin Laden out of Afghanistan.

Now, the un-success is there‘s no doubt that the invasion of Iraq has, overall, as Rumsfeld warned, created more terrorists than we have killed, and it continues to do so.  So it‘s a mixed bag.  But listen, if anyone told me six years ago that we would not be hit again by al Qaeda in the United States in a major attack, I would have said you‘re smoking something.

ABRAMS:  Well, you know, Evan Kohlmann, I think that I would agree with that statement, except I haven‘t seen anything to indicate that any credit is due on that.  I mean, evidence that—based on the administration policies?

EVAN KOHLMANN, MSNBC TERROR ANALYST:  Yes.  I think—I think you‘re exactly right.  I think we have to be very, very careful about patting anyone on the back because of the fact that al Qaeda has not struck the United States since 9/11.  As far as we know, it could just as well be because al Qaeda is waiting and biding its time and waiting for the right opportunity to strike, where they can cause chaos on a scale that is grander than 9/11.

I think if you look at the history of the Bush administration, there‘s no doubt there have been some success, but there have been some incredible mistakes.  Iraq has been mentioned already, but we haven‘t talked at all yet about Pakistan.  What about Pakistan?  This is a country that‘s supposed to be a United States ally, and yet it‘s the center of the war on terrorism right now.  The biggest problem with al Qaeda is not in Afghanistan, it‘s in Pakistan.  I mean, it‘s really incredible.

And the other thing is that if you look at the Iraq, where do you think all the suicide bombers in Iraq are coming from?  A lot of these guys are not even Iraqis.  Where are they from?  They‘re from Saudi Arabia.  They‘re from the U.S.‘s supposedly closest ally in the Middle East.

ABRAMS:  Arianna, let me get back to the politicizing of this, though.  It does seem that this is an administration—and now Chertoff is joining in on this—sort of obsessed with saying, We are better off than we were before 2001, yes, we‘ve accomplished all these things, but hey, we think that there‘s really something that‘s going to happen, or something really may happen really soon.  It‘s sort of a tough line for them to walk.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM:  Yes, because, of course, they want to keep the fear mongering going, whether it‘s Chertoff‘s guy that‘s telling them that or whether it‘s the fact there is going to be major be discussion, debates, votes on Iraq, so they want the fear mongering to be particularly intense.

The bottom line is that in the press conference today, the president said categorically that if we leave Iraq, it‘s going to become a safe harbor, he said, for al Qaeda.  At the same time, we had the National Intelligence Estimate leaked that said that the safe harbor for al Qaeda is now in Pakistan.

This is the most significant news that has come out of the last 48 hours.  And it‘s significant because it shows that the real battle for the war on terror needs to be fought in Pakistan and in Afghanistan, which is falling apart, and not in Iraq.  And that is really critically important for lawmakers to be aware of as they are casting their votes as to when the troop withdrawal should begin.

ABRAMS:  Pat, what of that?

BUCHANAN:  Well, I—look, the decision to go into Iraq was a terrible mistake, in my judgment.  Some of us argued that you would have jihadis coming all the way from Morocco and Malaysia into Iraq if you did that.  That decision has been taken.  They are right, there is a safe haven now in Pakistan because Musharraf cut a deal and made those areas basically neutral territory, a haven for them.

Look, every American would like to see us take those terrorists out of them, but somebody tell me how to do that.  With air strikes?  With an American invasion of Pakistan?  OK, we can demand Musharraf do it.  If he doesn‘t do it, what are we going to do, dump him over?

Look, this is a hellish problem and it‘s an all American problem...

HUFFINGTON:  Pat—Pat...

BUCHANAN:  But hold it.  One more point.  A hundred thousand Americans have been murdered since 9/11, not one of them because of an Islamic terrorist attack. Now, if they had been attacked, we‘d all be blaming the president.  Give him some credit that none has occurred.

HUFFINGTON:  Pat, you know, you say, What else can we do?  There is a lot we can do by moving forces into Afghanistan because Afghanistan is Pakistan‘s neighbor, and having (INAUDIBLE) Afghanistan that is actually having the war there go well, as opposed to going as badly as it‘s going now, would make a big difference.

BUCHANAN:  I...

HUFFINGTON:  The bottom line is that there is nothing that we are doing in Iraq that is making this country safer, period (INAUDIBLE) And for the president—now, let me just finish.  It‘s very significant for the president to come and tell the American people today that of the 18 benchmarks that had been set in May, 8 are going well...

ABRAMS:  Right.  I want to—I want to stay focused, though.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Hang on, hang on, hang on!  I want to stay focused on this issue of what the president has been saying about al Qaeda...

BUCHANAN:  Right.

ABRAMS:  ... and the news that‘s coming out tonight about this National Intelligence Estimate.  Here‘s the way the president responded to a question about Chertoff referring to his gut and having a gut sense that something might happen this summer.  It also seems like the president is kind of almost mocking it.  Here‘s what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  My gut tells me that, which my head tells me, as well, is that when we find a credible threat, I‘ll share it with people to make sure that we protect the homeland.  My head also tells me that al Qaeda is a serious threat to our homeland.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  You know, what kind of—what kind of a statement is that, Pat?  I mean...

BUCHANAN:  Well...

ABRAMS:  I mean, it‘s—al Qaeda‘s a threat to our homeland.  We keep hearing that again and again.  We know.  Everyone agrees that al Qaeda is a threat to our homeland.  What kind of answer is that?

BUCHANAN:  Well, I didn‘t think it was a particularly effective answer.  It‘s sort of a shot at Chertoff.  But let me say this.  Look, you know, let‘s—let‘s come down to earth.  We are universally hated throughout the Arab and Islamic world.  One of the reasons is Iraq.  One of the reasons is our position on Israel.  One of the reasons is our massive presence there.  And they are boiling with hatred, and out of this, jihadis and terrorists are coming, and al Qaeda can recruit out of them.  And we‘re going to go through this for a long time, I think even if we change our policy now.  Nobody can make us absolutely secure in this country, and we ought not to demand things that nobody...

ABRAMS:  No, but...

BUCHANAN:  ... no politician...

ABRAMS:  But we‘re not...

BUCHANAN:  ... can deliver.

ABRAMS:  Pat, we‘re not demanding pure security.  What we‘re demanding is intellectual honesty.  I mean, that‘s the problem here, Pat, is that...

HUFFINGTON:  And also—and also, we are demanding steps that would make us more secure.  That is also the issue.  And Pat, you were sounding incredibly fatalistic.  I mean, after all, American foreign policy needs to be based on the best interests of America.  And there is nothing in the best interests...

BUCHANAN:  Well, look...

HUFFINGTON:  ... of America by us continuing to be in Iraq, when in fact...

BUCHANAN:  Well, let me tell you...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  I happen to agree with you.  The only reason I think we may have to stay in Iraq is if we turn around and come out now, al Qaeda will have won, and they will move to Jordan and Saudi Arabia.  The recruits will be enormous because they will have defeated the superpower.  They will be victorious.

HUFFINGTON:  Oh, come on, Pat!

ABRAMS:  I‘m coming—let me come back again to this gut feeling of Michael Chertoff.  Here—I want to compare.  This is what Chertoff said to the Chicago board of a newspaper there, “Chicago Tribune” board.  And we compare it to what he then says the next day on ABC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY:  All these things give me a kind of a gut feeling that we are in a period of—not (INAUDIBLE) have a specific threat, you know, that‘s—that I have in mind right now, but that we are entering a period of increased vulnerability.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Are we facing the same level of threat we faced in the summer of 2001?

CHERTOFF:  I wouldn‘t put it at that level—again, this is my own opinion—because I do think we‘ve accomplished an awful lot in dismantling their activities overseas and in building our own defenses.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right, Evan Kohlmann, look, you‘re our terrorism expert.  Based on what you know—it‘s so hard to make these comparisons.  Al Qaeda‘s so different now than it was back then.  But how do you analyze this comparison to where we are?

KOHLMANN:  It‘s apples and oranges.  Our enemy has become much more dangerous, and it‘s become dangerous in a thousand different ways.  You know, we‘ve killed a number of al Qaeda leaders, but it has done nothing to stop the organization, which has evolved into something that is very difficult to stop because it‘s no longer just a hierarchical organization, it is populist organization.  It is an ideology.  And we see people like the groups over in the U.K. that tried carrying out these attacks two weeks ago, who don‘t have any necessary connections to any terrorist organizations but are inspired by the message, are inspired by the goals, are inspired by Osama bin Laden...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

KOHLMANN:  ... and can do just as much damage...

BUCHANAN:  All right...

KOHLMANN:  ... on their own as al Qaeda...

BUCHANAN:  But it is intellectually...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  It is intellectually dishonest, I believe, to say we are not better prepared today for a terrorist attack than we were on September 10.

ABRAMS:  Yes, but that‘s not the question.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Wait, wait, wait!  But that‘s not the question!

BUCHANAN:  ... and we are better prepared, and we‘re...

ABRAMS:  Pat, that‘s not the question!

BUCHANAN:  Well, that was the point being made.

ABRAMS:  Well, I‘ll tell you what the—the question is the broader question of are we safer?  You can tell us we‘re better prepared, but if we have more people...

BUCHANAN:  Of course.

ABRAMS:  ... who are coming to attack us, that doesn‘t mean a whole lot.

BUCHANAN:  Well, how in the—how in the devil, Dan, can we guarantee that people aren‘t going to be...

HUFFINGTON:  But Pat...

BUCHANAN:  ... recruited to...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  It‘s not about guaranteeing!

(CROSSTALK)

KOHLMANN:  ... crusade.

HUFFINGTON:  Pat, nobody talks about...

KOHLMANN:  Don‘t call this war a crusade!  If you call this war a crusade...

HUFFINGTON:  Nobody talks about guarantees.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Arianna...

HUFFINGTON:  Nobody talks about guarantees, Pat.  The question is, you acknowledge in a sense that there are many more people, many more terrorists...

ABRAMS:  Got to wrap it up.

HUFFINGTON:  ... around the world who want us...

ABRAMS:  I...

HUFFINGTON:  ... who want to...

ABRAMS:  I got to wrap it up.

HUFFINGTON:  ... hurt America.

ABRAMS:  I‘ll I‘m asking for is some intellectual honesty here. 

Tell us the real deal.  Don‘t just try and pat yourself on the back. 

That‘s what I‘m asking for.

Arianna Huffington, Pat Buchanan, Evan Kohlmann, good stuff. 

Thanks a lot.

Coming up: The brother of the so-called “pizza bomber” joins us next.  John Wells says his brother didn‘t know the people who strapped a bomb around his neck and says the feds are framing his brother for his own murder.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN WELLS, BROTHER OF “PIZZA BOMBER”:  He did not know any of these people.  That‘s why they had to lure him to the—to the tower to clamp the bomb on him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Plus, new developments in the search for missing mom Lisa Stebic.  Today the police say her estranged husband, Craig, is a person of interest in the case.  But why only now, more than two months after she disappeared?

And later: A number of former wrestlers have spoken out on this program about the WWE and steroid use after the Chris Benoit murder-suicide.  Now they‘re being attacked for those comments.  We‘ll lay out the attacks and let them respond.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

911 OPERATOR:  911.  What‘s your emergency?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, I‘m calling about that bank robbery at PNC Bank Summit Town Plaza.

911 OPERATOR:  Yes?  What happened?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The guy just walked out with I don‘t know how much cash in the bag.  He had a bomb or something wrapped around his neck.

911 OPERATOR:  You saw him with the bomb or whatever it was?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, he‘s got it strapped around his neck.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Moments later, the bomb exploded.  The pizza delivery man in that video, Brian Wells, was dead.  Yesterday, nearly four years after the bomb went off, federal prosecutors charged someone in the case.  They say that Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong wanted to pay for a hit on her own father, so she conspired with a friend and Wells to rob the bank.

The key question tonight, was Brian Wells a willing participant or a victim?  Prosecutors say he wasn‘t so innocent.  His brother doesn‘t buy it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN WELLS, BROTHER OF “PIZZA BOMBER”:  Nineteen hours after the bomb had gone off, the federal authorities chopped his head off to get that collar off.  Brian did not put that collar on himself.  I‘m sorry!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  My take.  I feel sorry for Brian Wells‘s family.  The feds have provided almost no information except to say that their now dead brother, who pleaded for his life before he was blown up, was in on the robbery and that he may have wanted to back out before a bomb was strapped to his body.

Brian Wells‘s brother, John Wells, joins us now.  John, thanks for coming on the program.  We appreciate it.  All right, how do you—how are you so confident—why are you so confident that your brother had absolutely nothing to do with the robbery itself?  Put aside the actual putting of the bomb on his neck.

WELLS:  Because I know who my brother was.  Not only did I grow up with him, I lived with him for several years as roommates in our adulthood, and I knew he was not interested in bank robbery.  He was no interested in being around any criminals.

ABRAMS:  But don‘t you think that the...

WELLS:  This is not the type of things he would like to do.

ABRAMS:  Don‘t you think that the feds must have something to indicate that he knew these people in the past and wasn‘t just delivering pizzas?

WELLS:  They have absolutely nothing to suggest he knows any of these people.  If they had that evidence, they would show you that evidence.  I would ask—as I asked them at the press conference, show us that evidence.  There is no evidence.

ABRAMS:  Here‘s what the—here‘s what the...

WELLS:  There will never be any evidence.

ABRAMS:  Here‘s what the U.S. attorney, Mary Beth Buchanan, said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARY BETH BUCHANAN, U.S. ATTORNEY:  We can‘t talk about why he became involved.  We can‘t comment on what his motive may have been.  We know from the information that we have collected that he was involved in the planning stages, but we have reason to believe that, certainly, at the point when this bomb was strapped to his neck, that he—that he had expressed a strong desire to terminate.  However, for whatever reason, unfortunately, he did go forward and commit the bank robbery.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  They‘re so specific, John.  I mean, they‘re basically saying that he was involved in the planning.  He probably want to back out at that point.  They didn‘t let him.  No chance in your mind that he might have even been involved at the beginning?

WELLS:  There‘s no chance at all.  My brother was not in involved in the planning, and he was not involved in the bank robbery.  Once that bomb was locked to his neck, What was he supposed to do?  I would like the federal authorities to tell us what they expected him to do once that bomb was locked to his neck.  Was he just supposed to stand there and wait for it to go off?

ABRAMS:  Let me ask you this...

WELLS:  What‘s his—what is their protocol?  If he had gone into the police station and police officers had been blown up, they would have called him a terrorist perpetrating a terrorist act.  He did everything he could to save his life.  The note said he had to go in the bank and come out of the bank with money, or he and other people would be murdered.  He was trying to save his life and the lives of other people who may have been murdered had he not gone in that bank.

ABRAMS:  John, let me ask you this.  An attorney—you know this.  An attorney for a prostitute who says she knew your brother says your brother regularly paid her to have sex with her at one of the co-conspirators‘ homes, which could link him in a way to one of the co-conspirators.  You know anything about that?

WELLS:  I say as far as that‘s concerned, I think she might be confusing my brother with one of her actual married clients because my brother was single, living alone, and he would not go to somebody else‘s house to have sex with a prostitute or any other woman he wanted to have sex with.

ABRAMS:  I mean, is there any concern—I mean, as you know, in a lot of these cases, we hear people say there‘s no way this person could have done it.  They‘re not that type of person, et cetera.  And then sometimes—I‘m not saying in this case, but in some of those cases, people turn out to be something that they didn‘t seem to be.  You‘re saying not possible.

WELLS:  That—that is not a possibility at all in this case.  My brother was not involved in any way, shape or form in this.  (INAUDIBLE) horrific murder...

ABRAMS:  Yes.,

WELLS:  ... of my brother.

ABRAMS:  Let me ask—John, are you at all...

WELLS:  He was not involved at all, and there is no evidence, just like there was no evidence in the Duke lacrosse case.

ABRAMS:  Are you at all concerned that by speaking out so

vehemently against the authorities that you may actually help to defend

in the lawyers‘ defense of the people who were responsible for killing your brother?

WELLS:  I‘m not going to sacrifice my brother‘s good name to try to make it easier for the defense to do their job.  Follow the facts of the case.  Don‘t make up a case that you want to prosecute, follow the facts.

ABRAMS:  John Wells, as I...

WELLS:  Trying to have—somebody—an unindicted co-conspirator, a person who was involved in my brother‘s murder, trying to use him to implicate my brother is not a way to get a true murder conviction on these people.

ABRAMS:  John, I said this at the outset.  I‘ll say it again.  I think you‘re owed more of an explanation.  I think you‘re owed the opportunity to see any evidence they would have against your brother because he has died, because, in fact, they‘re saying that at the very least, he backed out.  I think that they owe that to you, and I hope that they do provide you with anything that they claim to have.  John Wells, thanks very much for coming on the program.

WELLS:  Thanks for having me on, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Coming up: Today police say an Illinois mom missing since April was the victim of foul play.  Her husband is finally called a person of interest in the case.  Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It‘s time for tonight‘s “Beat the Press,” our daily look back at the absurd and sometimes amusing perils of live TV.

First up: Larry King talking to Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe.  And one question from an e-mailer led Larry to use a term I did not want to hear from him and seemed to get the boy wizard a little flustered.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KING, “LARRY KING LIVE”:  “Do you have a girlfriend,” she asks, “because you are freakin‘ sexy.”

DANIEL RADCLIFFE, “HARRY POTTER”:  Well, thank you, Courtney (ph). 

That‘s very complimentary indeed.  I don‘t, actually, at the moment, no. 

But yes, you know, I have, obviously, in the past had girlfriends.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Obviously.  Of course.  I mean, no one‘s saying anything else.  Come on!  I love hearing Larry say “freakin‘ sexy.”  Yes, baby.

Next up: The photos are out of Miss New Jersey.  “The New York Daily News” seemed to have a scoop.  There was one problem, which she explained to NBC‘s Matt Lauer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMY POLUMBO, MISS NEW JERSEY:  I‘m not in any three of them.

MATT LAUER, “TODAY”:  So the people—the young lady they have circled in those photos is not you?

POLUMBO:  No.

LAUER:  Do you know that person?

POLUMBO:  (INAUDIBLE) Yes, I do.  They‘re actually—a lot of my best friends are in these photos, but I was in Disney performing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Oops.

Finally: Tucker Carlson with an explosive debate last night over Republican senator David Vitter‘s name turning up on the D.C. madam‘s client list.  Now, I‘ve seen people get upset  and angry, but listening to Tucker‘s guest rant and rave, you would think Tucker stole his wife, his job and his dignity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “TUCKER”:  Mr. Rectenwald, please calm down...

MICHAEL RECTENWALD, CITIZENS FOR LEGITIMATE GOVERNMENT:  You used the word...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  Calm down.

RECTENWALD:   You are despicable, the way you‘re attacking me!

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  ... just take a deep breath and answer...

RECTENWALD:  ... Republican...

CARLSON:  Can you answer...

RECTENWALD:  ... unapologetic Republican...

CARLSON:  OK.

RECTENWALD:  ... Republican partisan, OK?  We know that!

(CROSSTALK)

RECTENWALD:   I‘ve been watching you for years!

CARLSON:  Can I just—and apparently not agreeing.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  Can I just ask you one last question?

RECTENWALD:  ... your little bow tie!  You are nothing!

CARLSON:  OK.  Mr. Rectenwald...

RECTENWALD:  What?  You worked for “The National Review”!

ABRAMS:  Thank you for joining us today.

RECTENWALD:  Their whole career was based on that!

CARLSON:  I appreciate it.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  You worked for “The National Review”!

CARLSON:  I never worked for “The National Review.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Way to stay cool in there, Tucker.

Still ahead: Police are finally calling Lisa Stebic‘s estranged husband a person of interest in her disappearance.  What took so long, and why today?

And later, the real pictures of Miss New Jersey that have caused the scandal.  Boy, those pageant officials take themselves so seriously!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, it‘s the ultimate smackdown.  Current WWE stars slamming former wrestlers who‘ve spoken out after the Chris Benoit murder-suicide, including some of the guests we‘ve had on our show, Marc Mero, Johnny B. Badd and the Lethal Weapon, Steve Blackman, go toe-to-toe with the critics, coming up.

But first, police today finally named a person of interest in the disappearance of Illinois mother Lisa Stebic, her husband, Craig.  Lisa hasn‘t been seen in two months.  Her cell phone and purse may have been with her when she went missing.  Police finally seem to be making some progress today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD BENNETT, POLICE CHIEF:  Detectives are now focusing on the scenario that she most likely is a victim of foul play.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Stebic and her husband were reportedly going through a nasty divorce.  Craig Stebic says he had nothing to do with his wife‘s disappearance.

My take:  Craig Stebic has clearly been considered a person of interest for a long time.  So why today did they finally name him?  It seems he‘s given them plenty of reasons to question, even said that police were treating him as a suspect.

So here‘s what we know.  Police say he‘s refused to participate in searches now.  He‘s refused two requests to interview the children.  He‘s hampered the investigation.  And while Stebic was initially cooperative, they say he‘s declined further interviews.  Lisa‘s blood allegedly found in his truck.  He was the last person to see her, says their children, were out buying candy at the time of her disappearance.  They weren‘t at the home, either.

Police searched the home and vehicles.  The couple was going through a divorce.  He‘s accused of being unnecessarily relentless, cruel, inconsiderate, domineering and “verbally abusive,” quote, unquote, in their divorce case.  And on the day of the disappearance, Lisa mailed her lawyer a petition seeking to evict him from the home.  So why only now?

Joining me now is Michelle Sigona from “America‘s Most Wanted,” Susan Filan, MSNBC senior legal analyst, and David Schwartz, a criminal defense attorney.

Thanks to all of you.  Appreciate it.  Michelle, why now?  Why today?

MICHELLE SIGONA, “AMERICA‘S MOST WANTED” CORRESPONDENT:  You know, Dan, I think this is just a very long investigation that has finally led them to this point.  Investigators have had enough of not being able to have access to the children.  The state‘s attorney has contacted Craig Stebic‘s lawyer within the last week and a half, requesting another interview with the children.  He has against set them back.  They‘ve obtained a couple of search warrants, have gone through the house.  They still have two of Craig Stebic‘s family vehicles right now in their possession.  And I think it‘s just, they‘ve taken their time, they‘ve got a lot of information, and they finally have been able to move forward to at least call him a person of interest.

ABRAMS:  David, if you‘re the lawyer for Stebic, do you say to them, “Don‘t let the police interview your kids”?

DAVID SCHWARTZ, DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  Well, if you‘re the lawyer for Stebic, you‘re going to do everything that‘s in his best interest at this point.  And you‘re going to try to tell him to stay silent and...

ABRAMS:  What about the kids?

SCHWARTZ:  Well, you know, it‘s on a case-by-case basis.

ABRAMS:  But what about in this case?

SCHWARTZ:  Obviously, in this particular case, you know, there was no love lost between him and his wife.  You know, the police could go on and do their investigation and they could go through the court process to try to interview those children at some point.

ABRAMS:  Susan, even David Schwartz seems unwilling to defend what this defense attorney is doing by not letting them question the kids.

SUSAN FILAN, FORMER CONNECTICUT PROSECUTOR:  Exactly.  And it‘s just completely and totally bogus.  I mean, if you are, in fact, a grieving spouse who‘s got a wife who‘s disappeared and you won‘t even let your children cooperate with law enforcement, I think it speaks volumes.  I think it certainly heightens the suspicion against him, and I think that the police are right to finally come out and say what we‘ve known all along:  He is a person of interest.  He is the main suspect.

ABRAMS:  Here‘s what Stebic‘s attorney said today:  “Police wouldn‘t have been doing their jobs if he wasn‘t a person of interest.  I believe it‘s just another pressure that they‘re putting on Craig.”  Kind of a weird thing to say, “They wouldn‘t be doing their jobs if he wasn‘t a person of interest.”

FILAN:  Well, I know what they‘re trying to say.  They‘re trying to say, obviously, you have to rule him in or rule him out, blah, blah, blah, that‘s the natural place to start.  But, look, they are trying to put pressure on him.  Here‘s somebody who knows allegedly what happened and refuses to cooperate and won‘t let his own children find the mom.  I mean, it just doesn‘t make any sense.

And, remember, Dan, that motion that he filed right after she disappeared to get sole custody of the kids, to make it look like he really thought she disappeared, in case she came back or had run away, he didn‘t want her to get access to the kids?  I mean, this is all going to be great circumstantial evidence when and if he‘s arrested in the case and it goes to trial.

SCHWARTZ:  It‘s not great circumstantial evidence.  I mean, Susan, Susan, first of all, he‘s not a grieving husband, OK?  He‘s not a grieving husband.  They were going through—I don‘t know why you keep saying a grieving husband.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Hang on.  Hang on.

SCHWARTZ:  ... nasty divorce.  It‘s not great circumstantial evidence.

ABRAMS:  Let‘s assume he‘s innocent, right?  You know, well, that‘s just one way to get rid of her, right?  David, is that what you‘re suggesting, that somehow there‘s a relief on his part, he‘s thinking, “Well, I couldn‘t get rid of her, but, hey, she disappeared now.  All‘s good.”

SCHWARTZ:  No, I‘m just disagreeing with Susan that he‘s not a grieving husband.  It‘s not unnatural that he wouldn‘t start...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Hang on.  Here‘s a piece of sound from Craig Stebic talking about—you say he‘s not a grieving husband.  Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRAIG STEBIC, HUSBAND OF MISSING WOMAN:  The kids say that she goes during the week, she goes and works out, but, you know, she leaves at 6:00.  Some nights, she comes home 8:00, 9:00, 10:00, 11:00, 12:00, weekends not until sun up, 3:00, 4:00 in the morning.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  And there‘s another piece of sound.  Let me play number four here if we‘ve got that one.  This is him talking about her as a mom, Lisa Stebic as a mother.  He sort of talks about how she‘s a good mother and et cetera.  I mean, he‘s definitely giving off the impression that he thinks that she‘s a good mother.  Here‘s what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEBIC:  She‘s a good mom.  She‘s always there for her kids.  She‘d do anything for them.  I can‘t imagine her just disappearing on her kids like that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  And, Michelle, what was the circumstances surrounding him giving that interview?

SIGONA:  That particular interview, I‘m not too sure.  But let me tell you a little bit about what was going on in the household at the time, Dan.  At that particular moment, Lisa and Craig, they were not on speaking terms.  They had not been on speaking terms since January.  Maybe they said two sentences to one another, according to family members, who I spoke to.  

Also, an eviction notice was actually filed from Lisa‘s attorney the day that she went missing.  It was mailed.  You have to think about those kinds of things.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  And so, David, it‘s not really smart of him, is it, to be out there talking about what a great mom she was and this and that?

SCHWARTZ:  I mean, I don‘t see a problem with—if he‘s saying that she‘s a great mom, you know, I don‘t see that being such a problem.  But you know what?  He should just stay quiet from the very beginning.  And you know what?  If his perception is that the police are harassing him, they‘re harassing his family, they‘re trying to put pressure, you know, it‘s going to be a natural reaction to not speak to the police if he feels that he‘s being abused by the system.

ABRAMS:  It reminds me, you know, of the advice that someone should have given to this man.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT PETERSON, CONVICTED MURDERER:  I want her back home.  You know, she knows how much she‘s loved, how much she‘s missed.  And be strong, and tell her we‘re working to get you home.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I‘m not saying.  I‘m not saying.  I‘m just saying that, you know...

FILAN:  Good point.

ABRAMS:  ... that the relationship wasn‘t what he is—you know, he‘s sort of claiming in his public interview that, you know, she was a good mom, this and that, and Michelle is making it pretty clear to us that the relationship was not so good.

We‘ll stay on this one.  Michelle Sigona, Susan Filan, David Schwartz, thanks a lot.  If you‘ve got any information about Lisa Stebic, call the Plainfield Police Department, 815-267-7217.

Coming up, former wrestlers who have spoken out against the WWE now find themselves under attack from fans, even other wrestlers.  They respond to the attacks.

Plus...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The directors are in unanimous agreement...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  The earth-shattering announcement.  Does Miss New Jersey get to keep her crown?  Oh, please!  We‘ll show you the supposedly scandalous pictures.  I think you‘ll agree these officials are making way too big a deal about this and taking themselves way too seriously.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  The murder-suicide involving former star wrestler Chris Benoit sparked a firestorm within the wrestling industry, apparently turning current and former wrestlers against each other.  We‘ve had several former wrestlers on this program over the past few weeks, each giving their own opinion on what may have caused Benoit to snap and to tell us about the state of wrestling today.

Steroid use they‘ve talked about, as well, and regulation have been common themes, but now some of them are under attack from current wrestlers.  Current WWE star Greg “Sugar” Shane Helms writes on his Web site, quote, “Blaming or criticizing pro wrestling is just an easy way to try and explain a very complicated tragedy.  Failed former stars—and I use that term loosely—like Marc Mero are only making things worse by trying to cash in and turn a tragedy into a last few minutes of fame on TV.  That is just pathetic.”

Here now to answer the critics, former star wrestler—star—

Marc Mero, also known as Johnny B. Badd and Wildman Marc Mero.  Joining us on the phone is former wrestler Steve Blackman, known as the Lethal Weapon.

All right, Marc, a lot of these guys are going after you.  What‘s your response?

MARC MERO, FORMER PRO WRESTLER:  Well, first of all, thank you for having me on your show.  And I‘ve got to say that what Sugar Helms said, you know, it‘s going to come from people that, number one, don‘t really know me or know what‘s behind why I want to do what I‘m doing.  And I have a lot of reasons for doing what I‘m doing, and one of them is 104 reasons, two murdered people, and many kids that I talk to all the time.  That‘s why I‘m doing what I‘m doing.  The target audience of the WWE is kids. 

ABRAMS:  Ken Kennedy, Mr. Kennedy, says, “Please God, I‘m just begging for someone who‘s actually wrestled in a WWE ring in the past decade to come forward on one of these shows and tell the world what‘s really going on.  For these goods like Marc Mero to repeatedly act as experts and wrestler advocates on the current situation is like having a frustrated ex-jock who rode the pine bench throughout his high school sports career give advice to Brett Favre on how to improve his game.”

MERO:  I find that very ironic from a man that‘s only been in the business for two years.  I was a three-time—the writers felt I was good enough to be a three-time world television champion.  Vince McMahon thought I was good enough to be the intercontinental champion.  So I find that very, you know, unusual that he would say that.

But, you know, realistically, what is somebody in the WWE really

going to say?  Are they going to say anything negative about the company

that‘s paying their bills right now?  Could you imagine going into the

locker room if you said anything negative about the current state of

professional wrestling?  And, you know, when he says that I haven‘t been

I retired from the WWE, I left the WWE in 1999 with three years left on my contract.  I walked away from wrestling.

And, you know, when you think that—he said that they have no idea what‘s going on now, well, apparently the same thing‘s going on.  We‘re recently seeing in the Atlanta paper a tribute or accuse Ray Mysterio also being linked to this doctor.  Drugs are still prevalent.  Obviously, what happened to Chris Benoit, a double-murder suicide.

And I got a quote from Chris I want to read, and it says—this is from the WWE published book.  “I really don‘t think anyone outside the business can grasp just how demanding it is physically what we do to ourselves on a nightly basis, and we have no off-season to recover.”

ABRAMS:  Steve Blackman, do you agree with the critics who are seeming like they‘re going after Marc Mero in particular?

STEVE BLACKMAN, FORMER PROFESSIONAL WRESTLER:  Well, how are you doing, Dan?

ABRAMS:  Good.

BLACKMAN:  Hey, well, first of all, some of the wrestlers in there, they‘re taking exception because Marc and I don‘t know the majority of them.  It‘s a lot of new crew, so they don‘t want to be stereotyped from the time that we were in there, because you have to admit, Marc, I mean, we‘re not familiar with the drug taking in there like when we were in there ourselves to witness is.

MERO:  It‘s still happening.

BLACKMAN:  So a lot of these guys don‘t want to be thrown in that category.

MERO:  But let me ask you a question, Steve.  Could you imagine speaking out?  Let‘s say we were still in the WWE.  Could you imagine speaking out against the company that we work for?  What would the locker room be like?

BLACKMAN:  Well, I mean, no matter what business you‘re in, you don‘t want to speak out against your company.  So I mean, I can‘t disagree with that.  I mean, no one wants to speak out against them.  But I‘m just saying, we‘re talking about this drug issue, you can‘t stereotype a lot of new guys, because we‘re not familiar with them.

ABRAMS:  I should say this.  Look, we keep calling the WWE to put on current wrestlers.  They‘re not giving us anybody.  So, again, we invite the WWE to invite some of these current wrestlers or allow some of these current wrestlers to come on our program.

One more, from Ken Kennedy, Mr. Kennedy.  “It‘s ridiculous, insane and it really makes me sick that these so-called reporters call upon these silly bastards who are bitter and frustrated that their careers have ended to represent the WWE, which, of course, makes us all look like a bunch of babbling idiots who are addicted to steroids, drugs, alcohol, et cetera.”

Marc?

MERO:  Well, first of all, there are so many good people in the industry.  I‘m not stereotyping all wrestlers, but obviously there is still a problem with professional wrestling.  Something needs to be done about it.  I would really like to have dialogue with Vince McMahon on one of these shows.  And I see other shows that have these wrestlers on, and, of course, they all have another agenda because they‘re still either working for the company, going to work for the company, or their son is going to work for the company.

ABRAMS:  All right, well, look, I don‘t any of the current wrestlers are being permitted to get out there on the TV programs.  Again, we invite Mr. McMahon to come on the program.  He had his lawyer come on.  We spoke with him.  But if any of the current wrestlers want to come on and take on Marc Mero, you know, in an unscripted fight, we welcome it.

MERO:  But it‘s not about trying to take on someone.

ABRAMS:  I know.  I know.  I‘ve got to wrap it up.

MERO:  I‘m an advocate for change.

ABRAMS:  I get it.  I know.  I‘ve got to wrap it up, though, Marc.

Marc, thanks a lot, as always, for coming back on the program. 

Steve Blackman, we appreciate it.

Up next, Queen Elizabeth takes on the BBC, Prince Charles reaches out to the troops, and a beauty queen fights to keep her title.  Who will be crowned today‘s big winner of the day?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS (voice-over):  Time for tonight‘s “Winners and Losers” for this 12th day of July 2007.

Our first loser?  Britain‘s BBC, which aired video of the queen storming out after being asked to remove her crown during a photo shoot.  The problem?  The incident didn‘t actually happen.  They edited video together out of context.

Our first winner?  Prince Charles, no editing required for this photo at an awards ceremony yesterday.  Oh, behave!

Our second winner?  NBC‘s “Singing Bee,” the new karaoke show, where they play the song and the contestants name the words.  Tuesday‘s night premiere hit a high note, more than 13 million viewers, making it the top-rated summer debut.

Our second loser?  North Korea.  Dictator Kim Jong Il and his communist cronies have closed all of the country‘s karaoke bars, an effort to clamp down on, quote, “foreign influences.”

But our big winner of the day?  Miss New Jersey.  Pageant officials announced today that she can keep her crown. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... continue her reign as Miss New Jersey...

(APPLAUSE)

ABRAMS:  And continue to represent the Garden State, this after she released to the public photos of her partying with friends that someone sent in with a demand that she relinquish her crown.

The big loser of the day?  The pageant officials who actually took this seriously and waited well over a week before finally coming to the grand conclusion that these harmless photos of her will not disqualify her.  Please.  Her pageant bikini photos are racier.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  So why did the pageant officials take this matter so seriously?  Shouldn‘t they have just tossed the pictures and moved on after realizing how tame they were?

Joining me now is Ashlan Gorse, editor-at-large for “Life and Style” magazine, who‘s also a former beauty pageant contestant.  And joining us is pageant coach Justin Rudd.

All right, so, Ashlan, why do you think they took it so seriously?

ASHLAN GORSE, “LIFE AND STYLE WEEKLY”:  Because these pageants, especially the Miss America, you know, they have this idea these girls are perfect, they‘re beautiful, they‘re smart, they have talent, they want to do good.  And they just don‘t realize that now it‘s so easy to find these girls doing things that maybe aren‘t so ladylike on the Internet.  Just because back in the day you couldn‘t have pictures like this that would surface unless it was really a big deal, and these pictures that were so tame, it really was a shame that they took it so seriously.  They‘re very old-fashioned.  That‘s all I can say.

ABRAMS:  Justin, do you disagree with that?

JUSTIN RUDD, PAGEANT COACH:   You know, this is a scholarship organization, and we do look for women out there who are going to be role models.  And I think it‘s important that those officials did they diligence and that they researched and they looked at those photographs and they waited until they came out.  And I like what they did.

ABRAMS:  Here‘s what Lou Barthold said.  He‘s the co-executive director of the organization in New Jersey.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LOU BARTHOLD, MISS NJ EDUCATION FOUNDATION:  We will be talking to her successor when she is crowned or to the young ladies who are competing in locals, caution them, point them toward what has happened to Amy, and say, you know, if you have anything out there that may be construed as distasteful or immoral, you‘d better correct it before you get into the public‘s limelight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Ooh, better correct it!  What does that mean, Ashlan, “better correct it”?  Meaning you‘d better pull those nudie shots off the Internet?

GORSE:  Yes, that means take your MySpace page down, first of all, and it also means go through all of your friends and make sure any of your ex-boyfriends don‘t have any pictures of you possibly in a bikini or doing anything bad.  Look, you know, when you‘re in these local pageants, you have to sign a morality contract.  I even had to do that, saying that I hadn‘t done anything in the past or will do anything in the future that could tarnish the crown.

ABRAMS:  So you lied.

GORSE:  Oh, of course.  I‘m an angel, Dan.  Come on.  You know that.

ABRAMS:  Right.

GORSE:  The thing is, is that—it‘s sentenced so lose, then they kind of get on you whatever they want.  So if they think that you‘re doing something that isn‘t right, then they can get you for it.

ABRAMS:  Justin, wouldn‘t you agree, after seeing the pictures, were you not surprised that they weren‘t worse?

RUDD:  I was surprised.  I thought they were going to be naked photographs, and they were not.  You know, I would disagree though: 

Don‘t take your MySpace pages down.  You wouldn‘t want to take down photographs that might, you know, bring—that you might not like on there that other people might not like, but I think oftentimes MySpace or Facebook, these women all have platform issues that they‘re really concerned about, and they‘re trying to make a difference during their reign.  And it‘s just a local pageant, that the other lady was talking about.  This is a national pageant.  This woman could possibly be representing the United States.  It‘s a big deal.

GORSE:  So therefore take all your pictures down.

ABRAMS:  I mean, I feel bad for Amy.  She was on the show on Monday, and she was nervous.  And her she is on the “Today” show this morning before the pictures were released.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AMY POLUMBO, MISS NEW JERSEY:  This one‘s very embarrassing.  This is Halloween long before I ever even imagined I would be a pageant contestant.  And it was—my friend was joking around, telling me that I am flat-chested, and I decided to be a goofball...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Justin, this is just dumb.  I mean, really, isn‘t it?

RUDD:  Some people think it‘s dumb.  I do not.  I know how hard these women work and prepare for years and years for scholarship opportunities here in this organization.  And I appreciate all of the work that they‘re doing.

ABRAMS:  Well, hey, do the work.  I‘m not saying don‘t do the work.  I‘m saying don‘t make a mountain out of a molehill out of these dumb, little pictures.  Anyway, all right, I appreciate it.  Justin Rudd, Ashlan Gorse, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it.

GORSE:  Thanks, Dan.

ABRAMS:  That‘s all the time we have for tonight.  Up next, “Anatomy of a Murder.”  An amazing story of a man who spent more than 20 years trying to clear his name after a sadistic murder in South Carolina.  Thanks for watching.

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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