updated 8/20/2007 11:15:30 AM ET 2007-08-20T15:15:30

Guests Davitt McAteer, Ken Walsh, A.B. Stoddard, David Schertler

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Is it Mother Nature or Murray Energy?  A seismic event, they call it, kills three rescue workers in that Utah mine.  The six miners trapped 12 days ago are still stuck and more controversy now surrounds the entire tragedy.  Hello everybody, I‘m David Shuster in for Tucker Carlson.

This afternoon, rescue crews kept drilling another hole that could eventually provide information about the miners who were trapped 1,500 feet below ground nearly two weeks ago.  But nobody is actually going into the mine following last night‘s collapse.  Three rescue workers were killed, at least six others were injured.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD STICKLER, MSHA:  We have suspended indefinitely the underground portion of this rescue effort. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Tonight, the latest on the Utah mine collapse plus the growing controversy over the man you just heard, Richard Stickler, the head of the federal government‘s Mine Safety and Health Administration.  Before that job, he was a coal mining industry insider with a questionable safety record.  And his nomination was opposed by enough Democrats and Republicans that President Bush had to use a recess appointment.

Also, tonight, 2008 campaign politics.  It‘s been a rough day for John Edwards following revelations about a hedge fund he invested in.  Corporate greed is not the phrase Edwards wants to be associated with.  Barack Obama continues his campaign theme of change with an unusual approach, at least for a candidate at the Iowa State Fair.

And newly released documents are raising more questions about Alberto Gonzales and his approach at a Washington hospital.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I thought I just witnessed an effort to take advantage of a very sick man. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  But we begin tonight with the latest on the mine disaster in Utah.  It has been a rough day for a lot of families in the mining town of Huntington. 

Joining us live with the latest is NBC News correspondent George Lewis.  And George, have the rescue operations now been completely suspended?  And what‘s the point of digging that fourth hole if they can‘t even actually get people into the mine?

GEORGE LEWIS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well David, what‘s going on now that the efforts to tunnel in from the mine entrance has been put on hold indefinitely.  The only slim ray of hope for finding anyone alive is the fourth hole they‘re now boring from the top of the mine, 1,500 feet down and they‘re going to lower another camera and another microphone and look for signs of life.  They have found no signs of life so far.  If by some miracle, they do find signs of life tomorrow, then they would drill a fifth man-sized hole from the top and try to lower a special capsule into that hole to drag the miners out.  But mining experts are telling me that‘s a very slim chance at best.

SHUSTER:  And George, any more information about what they think actually caused this seismic event, however they want to describe it last night, that caused the three rescue workers to be killed?

LEWIS:  Well, the University of Utah seismological center says it was a mine collapse, that it was due to mining activity and not some act of nature, like an earthquake.  That a collapse has a particular signature on seismographs and that‘s what they saw.  So they attribute last night‘s collapse to mining activity, what mining experts call a bump. 

SHUSTER:  And George, we know that Mr. Murray who has been at these news conferences for several days was not there.  He had one of his deputies talking to the press.  What was the explanation for that?

LEWIS:  Well, the deputy sort of explained that Murray had been at the mine all night with the rescuers and he was too tired to meet the press.  We questioned him about that repeatedly.  We didn‘t get a further explanation.  Obviously Mr. Murray has been very visible in front of the cameras at the very beginning of this, but we haven‘t seen him for about 24 hours now.

SHUSTER:  OK, NBC News correspondent George Lewis reporting tonight from Utah.  George, thank you very much.

The official in charge of mine safety for the Bush administration is Richard Stickler.  He has a questionable safety record as a mining executive.  He was named to his current position by a presidential recess appointment because even top Republicans didn‘t want him in the post.  And last year after a dozen miners died in the Sago disaster, Stickler declined to endorse proposed new safety rules. 

Joining us to talk about Mr. Stickler and the Utah mining disaster is Davitt McAteer.  He is the former head of the Mine Safety Health Administration.  He oversaw mine safety during the Clinton administration.  Mr. McAteer, what do you know about Mr. Richard Stickler and do you believe this is a case in fact of the chicken guarding the hen house?

DAVITT MCATEER, FORMER HEAD OF MSHA:  Well, I think Mr. Stickler is a mining engineer and a person with a mining background that has worked in the industry.  I don‘t think that it‘s a question of his commitment to mine safety.  I think that‘s a solid commitment.  I think the issue is whether he has the background and the ability to do this, and I believe that he does.  I think he has shown in this effort and in the efforts of Sago internal review that he wants to bring about improved mine safety.

SHUSTER:  But if he did, then how come he didn‘t endorse those new proposed safety rules after the Sago mine disaster?

MCATEER:  Well that‘s a question that you‘d have to ask Mr. Stickler.  I don‘t know why he didn‘t, because we proposed very strong rules and very solid rules and that‘s one that I think you need to place to him.

SHUSTER:  Mr. McAteer, do you believe that over the last seven years that mine safety has improved, or has it gotten worse?

MCATEER:  Unfortunately, I think the last several years, we have seen a decline in mine safety and I believe that it‘s in part due to the fact that we have emphasized a compliance assistance rather than enforcement.  Enforcement is a philosophy that we had and a philosophy that has been in place since 2000 with compliance assistance.  And I don‘t think in an industry where we have such difficult conditions, you can rely solely on compliance assistance.  I think you need to do enforcement and I think that‘s one of the problems we have now.

SHUSTER:  And has that been a fundamental difference between the way you handled things with the Clinton administration as far as safety and the way the Bush administration is handling it?

MCATEER:  The Bush administration, when they came in, made a very strong point to say they were going to shift from enforce to compliance assistance and that sends a signal to the industry as well as to the inspectors to suggest that we want to go - we want to do compliance assistance. 

The problem is, it‘s much like the state police saying to you, we‘re not going to do enforcement.  Well, some of us would tend to speed our cars up.  You have to use enforcement as well as compliance assistance, is my view.

SHUSTER:  Mr. McAteer, we heard at the news conference today, several references to the events of last night where three people were tragically killed and it was described as a seismic event, as if it was a separate sort of event from Mother Nature.  But as George Lewis was just reporting, this was an event that was caused by mining activities, correct?  That‘s what they mean when there was a bump in the mountain?

MCATEER:  Well, a seismic event is only an event that‘s registered on a seismograph.  What really it is saying here is that you can have a mine accident, as was you have here, and that mine accident would register on the seismograph.  You can have an earthquake that would also register on the seismograph.  But as you said, this event was an event that had the footprint of a mine explosion or a mine collapse.

SHUSTER:  So in other words, isn‘t it misleading then when you hear somebody like Mr. Murray and other people with Murray Energy, or even the safety director out there say this was a bump, this was a seismic event, as if the mining activity itself had nothing do with it?

MCATEER:  It‘s incorrect to suggest that the mining activity had nothing to do with it.  We‘ve had, and this mine is not unique to this, we‘ve had a number of times when we‘ve had mining activity-related events, collapses or explosions like these rock bursts and that has registered on the seismograph.  It‘s technically a seismic event but in point of fact it‘s driven by the mining operation.

SHUSTER:  OK, Davitt McAteer, who‘s the former head of the Mine Safety Health Administration, thanks for joining us, we appreciate it.

MCATEER:  You‘re welcome.

SHUSTER:  Just ahead, campaign politics.  John Edwards is in damage control mode following revelations about a hedge fund he made millions with.  And later, President Bush is either the most optimistic man in America or is just not seeing what everyone else is.  We will run through what‘s bothering most Americans as the president happily clears brush on his Texas ranch.  You‘re watching MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  No 2008 presidential candidate has spent more time along the Katrina raved Gulf Coast than Democrat John Edwards.  Following the horrific hurricane two years ago, Edwards led thousands of volunteers in clean-up efforts and rebuilding programs and he spoke out about the nation‘s poverty.  Over the last two years, however, Edwards also made money by helping to manage a hedge fund and today, the “Wall Street Journal” reported on its front page that Fortress Investments has been involved in foreclosures against at least 34 New Orleans homeowners ravaged by Katrina.  That could be a problem for a candidate who has criticized foreclosures while on his national poverty tour.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Those children we just passed back there are going to be kicked out of their homes, all because these predators have come into this neighborhood and taken advantage of them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Today, John Edwards announced he was pulling his money out of Fortress. 

Joining us to talk about the troubles on the stump are associate editor of “The Hill,” A.B. Stoddard and chief White House correspondent for “U.S. News & World Report,” Ken Walsh.

A.B., how big a problem is this Edwards story for him?

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL:  I think the fact that he went to work at Fortress at all has been a problem for him ever since it was discovered.  He said he went there primarily to learn.  I don‘t think it helped his credentials as a leader in poverty policy. 

I think this revelation might juts be some bad luck on his part.  I think we‘re going to take him on his word that he honestly did not know.  You could make the argument that it was up to him to be legitimate and to know, but I think that when you get a $400 hair cut and you fly the guy in to cut your hair, you know you‘re not paying a barber rate.  When you go to work for a hedge fund and you try to run a policy institute that you might not mix when you charge $50,000 for a speech at a state university, it stinks.  But this I think is actually just - it‘s probably a bad rap.

SHUSTER:  And Ken, isn‘t there a responsibility, especially a presidential candidate should know where his investments are going and what is being done with the money?

KEN WALSH, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT: 

I think that‘s part of it, and I think that as we were just discussing, this is subtext developing here with Edwards.  The haircut, the house, how expensive his house his and comparing that to his talk  about helping the poor and the downtrodden and so on.  So I think in this case, I agree that it‘s not devastating to him as long as he gets rid of these investments, as he said he‘s doing.  But there‘s a subtext developing with Edwards that‘s very troubling, I think to a lot of people.  It speaks to the idea of hypocrisy and contradiction.  And I think a few more of these and I think he has real trouble being credible on some of these issues.

SHUSTER:  He was quoted in the “Wall Street Journal” saying that essentially he didn‘t know and today however, he said on camera that he was divesting his money from Fortress.  In fact, let‘s watch this tape and see how he did.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EDWARDS:  I have my family‘s money in a fund that does that, and I am going to try to do everything I can to help these people. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Off the top, he said “I will not have his family‘s money in a fund that does that.”  And in the “Wall Street Journal,” he said that he would use his own personal money to help people who were having to deal with foreclosures.  Is that enough?  Is that the end?

WALSH:  Yes, I think as A.B. said, I‘ll give him the benefit of the doubt, take it face value, he didn‘t know about this particular case, even though we all I think agree he probably should have, in this huge, visible issue he‘s raised about poverty.  But I think he‘s in the right direction.  He‘s moving quickly to put it behind him and so - this one I think is not devastating.  A couple more like this is a real problem.

SHUSTER:  On the Republican side, the big troubles today were for Rudy Giuliani.  There was a story in the “New York Times” which follows up on Giuliani saying a week ago that he was exposed to exactly the same things at Ground Zero as the 9/11 rescue workers.  The “New York Times‘ looks at documents and found that Rudy had spent maybe 29 hours total, which is about as much time as the rescue workers spent in the first two or three days.  Big story for Rudy Giuliani, big problem?

SOTDDARD:  I think this is a huge problem for him.  Self aggrandizement is a time-honored tradition in politics, but when you start having your words pitted against those of sick firefighters, you‘re in serious trouble.  This is just too much, too many occasions where he said it in a boasting way.  He said, “Oh, I think I lived there.  It sure felt like it.  I spent as much time, if not more.”  And that just - he can be tough, but if it looks like he‘s a phony and it looks like he‘s not compassionate, it‘s going to be a real problem for him.  He has to remain likable no matter what and these firefighters in New York, they protest him wherever he goes in that city today.  It doesn‘t add up well for him.

WALSH:  Yes, I think the other point is that you hear a lot of Republicans who are sympathetic to Giuliani say, we don‘t worry about the firefighters.  It‘s a union.  Unions don‘t like us, they don‘t like Republican candidates.  Well that‘s not the point.  I think that‘s the problem they have if they dismiss this as just another union opposing Rudy Giuliani.  These are people who are very sympathetic.  A lot of them are heroes and the problem with a presidential candidate comparing himself to a real hero, a physical hero who‘s done things and risked life and limb, I think is not only unbecoming, it‘s just pretty stupid. 

SHUSTER:  Well, what‘s also so strange is that Rudy Giuliani is doing well because of a certain authenticity that people feel towards him as a result of memories of how he reacted after 9/11.  And each time he makes these statements, which are clearly sort of bizarre and maybe unbecoming as you say, I think it really knocks into what is supposed to be his strength.  But in any case, just ahead, we will of course be talking about more presidential campaign politics and up next, the White House.  More Americans than ever gloomier about the war, the economy, the direction of our nation, so why is President Bush smiling?

Fred Thompson is certainly smiling, but that‘s because he‘s not officially a candidate, so he‘s not being attacked.  But he is courting voters in Iowa.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  Bridges in disrepair, collapsing coal mines, high gas prices, a scary economy, an awful war, politicians in Washington with no credibility and to top it all off, Russian bombers will now be flying closer to the United States as Vladimir Putin edges towards a joint defense agreement with China.

None of this however seems to bother President Bush.  He is happy, upbeat and doesn‘t seem to have a care in the world.  In fact, one could easily conclude that Mr. Bush is either the most optimistic president we‘ve ever had, or one of the most delusional. 

Back with us are associate editor of “The Hill,” A.B. Stoddard and chief White House correspondent of “U.S News & World Report,” Ken Walsh.

Ken, what is it?  What is going on with this president?  Why is he so happy?

WALSH:  Well, I think framing it in that way, sort of optimistic or delusional is exactly the way a lot of people look at it.  Ever since Ronald Reagan, it‘s been thought that Americans want their presidents to have sunny optimism, to always see the glass half full rather than half empty.

I think President Bush is taking it to the point now where I think people - as you said, there‘s so many problems going on, the wonder is not only that he can keep this serenity, but whether he‘s really keeping in touch with the events around him. 

Now his people say and very consistently he understands what is going on, but he can‘t allow it to get him down.  And that‘s part of his style of leadership.  He has to convey this sense of confidence and self assurance that things are going to get better.  But I think the problem is now that he‘s being sort of tuned out and people see this as part of him being isolated.

SHUSTER:  I want to play a piece of the video tape from the president‘s recent news conference where he is asked about Alberto Gonzales and the allegations on the Hill that Alberto Gonzales perjured himself.  We‘ll be talking about that a little bit later.  But watch this piece of tape.  I want to get your reaction to this.  Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Implicit in your question is that Al Gonzales did something wrong.  I haven‘t seen Congress say he has done anything wrong.  There‘s no proof of wrong.  Why would I hold somebody accountable who has done nothing wrong?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  I haven‘t say Congress say he has done anything wrong? I mean, you can argue if you‘re the president, oh, I don‘t believe he‘s done anything wrong, just by what they say.  But for the president to say I haven‘t seen Congress say he‘s done nothing wrong.  I mean, is he in the same town we are?

STODDARD:  No.  I think he just doesn‘t really care anymore about—when it comes to Iraq or something of real importance, he is going to be serious, but he‘s also going to be optimistic and a little disconnected from public opinion.

When it comes to Alberto Gonzales, his friend, who he decided he is never going to kick out of this government and Alberto Gonzales is never going to leave, and he sees this as sort of a Senator Leahy/Senator Schumer fundraising poster child issue, I think he has disdain for what‘s going on in Congress, in terms of investigations that involve Alberto Gonzales and his credibility.  And I just don‘t think he cares - I don‘t think he cares about how the Republicans are going to have to take questions about this in the presidential trail.  I really think on this issue, he has shut the door. 

SHUSTER:  But Ken, having a sunny disposition is one thing, but seeming so out of touch with reality, even about what‘s going on on Capitol Hill, that just seems like it hurt his credibility over and over.

WALSH:  Yes, well even people who have been around Washington for a long time and want him to succeed, advisors to former Republican presidents, advisers to his father are somewhat concerned about this sort of thing.

And the other factor that even if there‘s nothing that has been proven that Alberto Gonzales did that Congress has presented to the president—there is a matter of effectiveness.  There‘s a matter of whether the Justice Department can function properly.

SHUSTER:  And it‘s also a matter of effectiveness with issues like the war.  I mean you can argue as the president does, where you‘d keep troops there.  But there also has to be a certain dose of reality if you‘re going to be able to sell that to the American people for another six months, right?

STODDARD:  He had an immensely successful first term and even after 9/11.  He passed the tax cut, he was onto great things with great momentum.  You looked at what happened after he was re-elected. 

The death of Social Security reform, Harriet Miers being torpedoed by the conservatives, Dubai Ports World, Cheney shooting Harry Whittington in the face, Claude Allen stealing radios from Target.  Obviously those look like the salad days compared to now but the guy has not gotten a good two months in since he was re-elected.

He really hasn‘t and I think he leads with this combination, as we‘ve been talking about of I need to project optimism and also a disconnect.  He really believes what he‘s doing and he has somewhat of a disdain for public opinion.  He wants to keep on soldiering on.

WALSH:  And to those of us who talk to the White House folks all the time, they always come back to this Harry Truman parallel.  Harry Truman‘s polls were as down as far as President Bush‘s and yet he‘s considered an iconic president now.  President Bush has this in his mind.  Forty years from now, he thinks he‘ll look good too.

SHUSTER:  But I think the issue is right now, not what‘s going to be happening 40 years from now.  But in any case, just ahead, since it is Fun Friday here at TUCKER, we will have some unusual video from the  Iowa State Fair.  The Obama campaign feasts on corn dogs, bumper cars and visits with a baby pig.

And later, newly released documents raise even more questions about Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and his efforts to steamroll John Ashcroft.  You‘re watching MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE OBAMA, BARACK OBAMA‘S WIFE:  I am tired of living in a country where every decision that we‘ve made over the last 10 years wasn‘t for something, but it was because people told us we had to fear something. 

We had to fear people who looked different from us, fear people who believed in things that were different from us.  Fear of one another right here in our own backyards.  I am so tired of fear, and I don‘t want my girls to live in a country, in a world based on fear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  That was Michelle Obama yesterday in Iowa.  She and her husband Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama have been barn-storming the state promoting the campaign theme of change. 

And change was certainly in the air when the Obamas visited the state fair yesterday.  There were no soap boxes, no speeches, no highly choreographed political events.  Instead, it was a day of playing bumper cars with the kids. 

Here‘s the cutest video from the event.  Those are the Obama kids petting an awfully adorable baby pig.  But this was something of an awkward moment for their dead.  The Democratic senator from Illinois, you see the next planned stop for the Obama family was the pork station for a feast of barbecued pig.  Ah, yes, the circle of life, even in the world of a presidential campaign.

Back here in the studio, we‘re joined by associate editor of “The Hill” A.B. Stoddard and chief White House correspondent for “U.S. News & World Report,” Ken Walsh.

And Ken, that barbecue looked pretty good, didn‘t it?

WALSH:  Absolutely.  In past incarnations, I have covered state fairs out west and so on.  They are fun.  I think you have to be careful about doing - indulging too much in this sort of thing.  I think it used to be the rule that it‘s only at state fairs where these candidate would let their guard down enough to be shown eating on camera.  And now they all do it, but they sometimes get into trouble for it when they don‘t know how to eat the food right.  Like Jerry Ford had a famous case where he was eating Mexican food and was eating like the husks of corn.  There‘s always that danger, but I think so far they‘re doing pretty well with it.

SHUSTER:  A.B., some of the reporters that were in Iowa yesterday caught the Obamas having a little sort of family tiff over whether their kids could have a certain kind of caramel apple before they ate the corn dog and dad said yes, mom said no, they have to eat their dinner first.  I mean it must help the candidates when they have these sort of more authentic moments, as opposed to the speeches all the time.

STODDARD:  I think so.  The Obama family makes for such a pretty picture and they have a compelling story.  I think that mixing in the crowd and being on vacation in New Hampshire, even though it seems scripted and milling in the state fair in Iowa really helps them.  And this is a moment for them where he‘s decided he has to cut loose and kind of break away. 

And he is getting more aggressive and he‘s trying to loosen up.  He after his 2004 speech was disappointing people when he would see them and be less inspiring than their memory of that speech.  But he was doing it purposely because was trying to become a serious candidate.

And now it‘s late enough in the game where he sees that he has to close this cap with Mrs. Clinton.  And he really has to be more available, show himself more and be more out there in the stump speeches and I think it‘s high time he did it.

SHUSTER:  It does seem like we‘re starting to see a blueprint for how the Obama campaign is going to campaign this fall and that is this idea of change, that Hillary Clinton, the special interest with the Clintons, that‘s part of the same old Washington crowd.  And that if you really want to break away from that, you have to go to somebody like Barack Obama.  But Ken, will it work?

WALSH:  Well, that‘s the big question.  On the other side, there‘s the question of does he have enough experience?  He is sure footed enough?  And he‘s had some problems in that department. 

And I happened to be out in Chicago a week ago doing some reporting on Barack Obama as a community organizer, which is a fascinating story.  When you see that world he came from, where down sort of in the absolute grass roots, talking to people, learning skills of negotiation and really change from the very basic level, you can see where he is coming from here.

And I think it‘s very genuine with him.  But whether he can show that he‘s seasoned enough to make all of this happen, this change happen in Washington, that‘s the second step that he hasn‘t gotten too yet.

SHUSTER:  On the other candidates on the Republican side, of course Barack Obama being a Democrat.  But on the Republican side, there‘s still a lot of anticipation about Fred Thompson getting in the race.  He‘s in Iowa today.  He went to the state fair.  I‘m not sure that Fred Thompson was there petting the pigs or riding the bumper cars.  But in any case, has he sort of lost his window of opportunity?  I mean it seems like the energy is moving away from him.  Am I wrong?

WALSH:  Well, I think it‘s getting close to that, but I think as particularly on the level of fund raising—if he gets into this race at the beginning of September as we‘re all expecting him to do, he doesn‘t have that much time to raise the money and to get the funds needed for all these high-profile television ads that he‘s going to need.

But at the same time, the Republicans are still looking for some kind of another figure out there.  But I think he‘s getting close to the point where he‘s got to get into this and as a number of Republicans are saying, he‘s got to show why he - what he wants to do as president and why he is different than the others, and that‘s a big obstacle that he hasn‘t addressed yet.

SHUSTER:  And A.B., one of the themes with Fred Thompson is that he does have some of the same baggage, and that is possibly a flip-flopper on some of the issues.  I mean, there have been documents about his lobbying work on behalf of abortion rights and also pro-life organizations.  Does any of that matter?

STODDARD:  I think there is a window here for him because of McCain‘s disappearance and Rudy Giuliani‘s new recent troubles.  He needs to come into the ring swinging and he needs to be strong on immigration, which he is, strong on national security and he needs to be solid on the life issue.

I don‘t see him as a flip flopper on life.  I see him as if you are pro-choice, you could see why he wanted this to be left up to the states and he lobbied.  You can see him as a lobbyist because he lobbied for a pro-choice group.  If you‘re pro-life, you could see his perfect Senate voting record on the life issue.

I think that he needs to come in and be the anecdote to Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney with their flip flops and come in strong and if he doesn‘t really build some momentum right away and really take them on, even some of his supporters are worried about why he‘s waited and what that represents.  So he really needs to come in swinging.

SHUSTER:  And ironically, it has fed this stereotype, fair or not, of Fred Thompson as somebody who is lazy, who doesn‘t like to work very hard.  And the idea that well, he would just take the summer off and sort of test the waters, it just seems to feed that perception.

STODDARD:  It does and it also feeds this perception that maybe you‘re not ready with your white papers, with your foreign policy bonafides, with the speeches you‘re going to make on Iran.  All of the things he‘s going to have to face when he comes under the spotlight.

There‘s a lot to prepare for.  There‘s a lot for his wife to prepare for.  It‘s going to be a huge spotlight, because as I said, McCain‘s receded, Giuliani has sort of been around now.  All the attention will be on him and he has a shorter window to prove himself.

WALSH:  And we don‘t know.  That‘s another thing you hear all the time.  You don‘t how he‘ll react when he‘s in the arena, when he‘s under this tremendous pressure, when everything he says and does is scrutinized. 

There were some people who reacted actually favorably to this interview he gave to David Broder in his column yesterday where he talked about big ideas, exactly what A.B. is saying, get us there and take risks, address the  big issues.  That‘s what a lot of people are waiting for.  We‘ll see if he delivers it.

SHUSTER:  One of the issuing that is dogging Rudy Giuliani‘s campaign involves his family and that is there has been an estranged relationship with his kids.  His daughter according to Salon the other week had been an Obama supporter, at least on her Web site.

Rudy Giuliani was asked last night by - in New Hampshire, I believe, by a voter who said why should Rudy Giuliani expect loyalty from voters when his children are not backing him.  And Giuliani responded saying, “I love my family.  There are complexities in every family in America.  Leave my family alone, just like I‘ll leave your family alone.”

STODDARD:  I think he could have come up with a better line, could have worked out in advance, anticipated a question and come up with a better line like family is a private matter or whatever.

I think that again, it comes back to likeability.  No one expects your family to be perfect when you run for president or you‘re a politician.  Rudy Giuliani needs to finesse this a little more gently.  And he needs to remain likable.  It is a very important fact in being chosen as a candidate.  You have - the people who support you have to think, you know, give the guy a break.  Maybe his son‘s a creep.  You don‘t want him thinking, well his family doesn‘t even like him.

SHUSTER:  Well and they say Ken that sometimes your best character witness or witnesses may be your children.  And in this case, if people are looking to his children and there‘s some question, I mean that hurts Giuliani‘s image of somebody who yes, he was great on 9/11 and he‘s sort of an interesting guy.  He delivers passionate, great speeches but the people who know him best have an issue with him.  That‘s going to raise a lot of red flags.

WALSH:  Well, I think there‘s two points.  One is if you can contrast him to the Mitt Romney situation, where his family is absolutely devoted to him and all of his sons are out there campaigning for him constantly, it‘s just a fabulous picture he has to convey there.

But we remember that Ronald Reagan had some problems in his family too.  He had his daughter and his son Ron were isolated from him for a long time and he handled that I think rather well.  I mean, there was a certain poignancy to it.  But he didn‘t get to the point of almost having too much edge about it, and I think that‘s the problem Giuliani has.  I think there‘s a natural sympathy among Americans to people who have family problems, but I think he‘s being a little too overbearing about it.

SHUSTER:  Well to be fair, we‘ve spoken with Ron Reagan before, and he rejects that there‘s a comparison between his family and his dad and Rudy Giuliani and his kids. 

But in any case, the point being, a lot of families have problems and maybe some people will identify with somebody who does have problems with their kids.  But I still wonder if people want somebody in the White House who has that kind of estranged relationship with his kids, who is on his third wife, whose second wife found out about the divorce from reporters?

WALSH:  It‘s a very messy situation on one level after another.

STODDARD:  It‘s a liability and that‘s why - because he knew it would be a liability.  You wonder why he was not better prepared to come up with a good line like he did to avert the abortion problems that he had.  He came up with a strict constructionist thing which Mitt Romney now stole from him.  But you had to be prepared to ask the public to respect your privacy and explain that there are complexities.  But not be so gruff, not be rough.

SHUSTER:  And maybe it does underscore that the country right now is willing to put aside family relationships because of the great fears after 9/11 and the fears of another attack. 

But in any case, A.B. Stoddard with “The Hill,” Ken Walsh, White House correspondent for “U.S. News & World Report.”  Thank you very much for coming in, we appreciate it.

How sick is too sick to visit the attorney general in his hospital room?  It turns out John Ashcroft was just not sick enough for some in the White House.  We‘ll get more from a former federal prosecutor ahead.

And later, taking extreme sports to the extreme.  When sun and sand get boring, how about catching a wave in the Great White North?  Willie Geist leads the way.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  There are new questions tonight about the judgment of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.  Congress just released notes from FBI Director Robert Mueller about a late-night hospital visit that Gonzales made to the hospital bedside of then Attorney General John Ashcroft.  Gonzales testified that Ashcroft was lucid when Gonzales tried to get Ashcroft to reauthorize the terror surveillance program.  But Mueller visited Ashcroft just moments later that night and Mueller‘s notes indicate that Ashcroft was feeble, barely articulate and clearly stressed.  Mueller‘s notes also indicate the dispute between the White House and Justice Department was over a single program.  Gonzales testified last month the dispute was over  activities—plural.

Joining us now with his insight is former federal prosecutor David Schertler.  And David, what do you make of this whole episode?

DAVID SCHERTLER, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  Well, it‘s another blow to the credibility of Alberto Gonzales and obviously one of a series.  And I think what‘s critical about this is Director Mueller comes into this with a tremendous management of credibility.  He has a tremendous amount of credibility among lawmakers.  I think he has a tremendous amount of credibility with the president.  Before this, it was almost viewed as a maybe he said, he said between Attorney General Gonzales and Jim Comey.  Now with Director Mueller stepping in, I think it‘s clear that whatever Attorney General Gonzales said about this meeting, if not false, was incorrect.

SHUSTER:  And it‘s now not juts the notes of course.  There was some testimony from Mueller that hinted that in fact it was a dispute about the terrorist surveillance program, not other activities as Gonzales said.

But given that Muller does have clearly the respect of President Bush and clearly now on at least two occasions has essentially sold out Gonzales or at least provided damaging information about him to the press and to Congress, how do you have an administration where you have an FBI director and a Justice Department head who are at odds with each other?

SCHERTLER:  It‘s difficult.  I know Director Mueller has a lot of respect within the Department of Justice, as well as in the FBI. I think honestly Alberto Gonzales has lost that respect.  I think the Department of Justice is ineffective with him as the attorney general.  I‘m not sure whether that‘s going to change though.

SHUSTER:  There are a number of controversies over the attorney general.  In this particular one was where he had said that there was no major dispute over the terror surveillance program and then this episode as used as this was clearly a dispute if you‘re visiting some guy‘s hospital bed right after he‘s had surgery.  There‘s also a dispute over his testimony over the firing of U.S. attorneys.  At first he said he had never seen any documents or attended any meetings.  That was contradicted.  It feels like it just goes on and on.

SCHERTLER:  It does.  And that‘s why I began by saying this is another in a series of blows to his credibility and I think that with the lack of credibility, he loses any kind of influence he would have on the Hill.  I think he loses influence with the line of prosecutors within the Department of Justice.  They can‘t really look up to him as a role model.

SHUSTER:  Now a couple of Democrats have asked for the appointment of a special council to investigate Gonzales for charges of perjury.  That‘s up to the White House to decide whether or not that will happen and clearly that‘s not going to happen.

But there‘s also been this move in Congress to essentially find the Bush administration in some sort of contempt for how they‘ve reacted for requests for documents.  Take us through that process.  Suppose congress were the White House or the White House chief of staff or Karl Rove in contempt on the firing of U.S. attorneys for not providing testimony.  It then goes to the U.S. attorney of D.C. to decide, right?

SCHERTLER:  Yes and the U.S. attorney of D.C., Jeff Taylor, a very fine U.S. attorney works for Alberto Gonzales and there seems to be an inherent conflict, and this has been pointed out, with somebody who is a subordinate to Alberto Gonzales trying to hold him in contempt or trying to hold the administration in contempt for not providing these documents that have been subpoenaed. 

SHUSTER:  So there‘s really nothing that Congress can do at this point, other than release some of these documents in dribs and drabs and try to draw some media attention?  There really nowhere for them to go, right?

SCHERTLER:  That‘s correct.  They seem powerless and I think what we found in these subpoena battles where the administration invokes privilege, those battles can go on for months and months.  And as we know, there‘s a limited duration to this administration.

SHUSTER:  What does all of this do sort of the line prosecutors? 

You‘re a former federal prosecutor, you worked on the line on these cases.  What does it do to all of these U.S. attorneys and line prosecutors to have an attorney general who is having such credibility problems?

SCHERTLER:  Well, I think there are two things you have to point out.  I think a lot of the line prosecutors and even the U.S. attorneys, they have seen attorney generals come and they‘ve seen them go. 

They continue day in and day out to do the work that they are at tasked to do and they do a good job at it.  But at the same time, you do look to the leader, you do look to the attorney general as the moral leader of the department.  And I don‘t think that—and I think many line prosecutors are disillusioned by the leadership at this point.

SHUSTER:  I think even a lot of Republicans on Capitol Hill are disillusioned with the Justice Department to sort of have this sort of problem at the top.

In any case, David Schertler, former federal prosecutor, thanks for coming in.  We appreciate it.

SCHERTLER:  David, my pleasure.

SHUSTER:  It has been a bad week for bandits.  This guy was laughed out of a liquor store after he tried to rob the place wearing a duct tape disguise.  Willie Geist laments the decline of the American thief when we come back.  You‘re watching MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  And now for the segment you have all been waiting for - and the man who will never be held in contempt, Willie, Jimi Hendrix Geist.  Late night last night, Willie?

WILLIE GEIST, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  It was a late night.  I was on assignment, David.  I was at the Air Guitar National Championships here in New York City.  Air guitar, everybody has done it, but you haven‘t done it like this.  We are going to do a report on “COUNTDOWN” tonight and I‘m not just saying this for self promotion, you don‘t want to miss it.  These guys are completely insane, so I would tune in to see that. 

SHUSTER:  We will be watching.

GEIST:  Speaking of insane people, David, you may have heard about these South Carolina prison inmates who are suing NFL star Michael Vick for $63 billion because, I want to make sure I get this straight, he says his Vick‘s stole his dogs, sold them on eBay to raise cash to buy missiles from Iran.  Yes, Michael Vick accused of having secret links to Tehran.

Well, now the guy is going after another sports icon, Barry Bonds.  Get this one - the same is suing Bonds and baseball commissioner Bud Selig because he says Selig has been secretly providing Bonds with steroids to encourage home runs and to boost TV ratings.  The complaint seeks quote, $42 millions in Swiss Francs.

That sounds like a lot.  The man is also suing Hank Aaron‘s bat, which he says Bonds has been using to hide his steroids.  There‘s  a chance this guy may be unstable.  He also said Bonds used Hank Aaron‘s bat to crack the Liberty Bell.  We really ought to look into that one, and he says Bonds bench-pressed him against his will.  So what say you, Mr. Bonds, to these charges?  We‘ll be looking for answers.

SHUSTRE:  I think he‘s been - and on that first idea of arms to Iran - wasn‘t that Iran Contra?

GEIST:  Vick was right in the middle of those hearings.  This guy has also sued in the past Tony Danza and the Ming dynasty.  So he‘s great, let‘s keep this guy in business.

Well if you thought that guy was crazy, check out these maniacs.  They‘re surfing glaciers.  Yes, they are surfing these things as they break off and fall into the sea.  That causes monster waves.  You can see it here, they get towed in.  The guys traveled from Hawaii to in south-central Alaska where they wait in the icy water for a glacier to begin to crumble.

When the ice starts to fall, the surfers start paddling.  The waves reach 25 feet high and roll for about 300 yards.  Yes David, just one more benefit of global warming.  Look at that.  Wow.  That is actually insane.

SHUSTER:  I think that is something that MSNBC producer Steven Samaniego (ph) would actually try.

GEIST:  He would jump right on those waves.  There is a fine line between extreme sports and complete insanity.  I think those guys might have crossed it. 

Everyone knows, David, that dogs and werewolves can hear the sounds that the rest of us cannot, but did you know that teenagers also have weird supersonic hearing?  A Canadian company has manufactured an anti-teen noise machine called the mosquito.  This is not a joke.  It puts out a sound that is apparently unbearable for people between the ages of 13 to 25, but to no one else.  It is being used at least one school where kids were hanging out and drinking. 

Now, I do not want to pile on the Canadians like some people do, but sometimes they work.  There is another way - instead of going through the RMD and developing a machine, you could just yell at the kids and they‘ll go away.  So I don‘t know if we needed the whole tool to make that happen. 

SHUSTER:  That is the problems with our neighbors to the north—they are way too polite.

GEIST:  Yes, I know.  I‘m kind of against the anti-teen machine.

Well before we turn the page on this week and head off into the weekend, I want to pay tribute one more time to a pair of the biggest idiots we‘ve seen in a long time.  First, the duct tape bandit.  He gained international fame this week by attempting to hold up a liquor store in Ashland, Kentucky, with duct tape wrapped around his head.  The store‘s clerk and manager didn‘t give him any money at all.  They were too busy laughing in his duct taped face.

And then the mop head bandit.  He popped up at a gas station outside Fort Myers, Florida.  The guy threw a mop on his head and ran into the store demanding cash from the register.  It was not so much the laughter this time as it was complete confusion that caused the clerk to hesitate and thwarted the robbery.  Yes David, this is the state of robbery in America—where have you gone, Bonnie and Clyde? I will they say these guys are idiots, but they are keeping me in business, so the more they do it, boy, I will take it.

SHUSTER:  Willie, one of the most memorable stories I ever covered was back in Little Rock where a guy went into a Radio Shack to rob it.  He knocked himself out because he had a bag over his head.  He came back, he had eyeholes, but they caught him because he was wearing his mall security badge.

GEIST:  With the name plate and everything?  I don‘t get the duct tape.  Go, there is a reason people use ski masks.  It‘s effective, it‘s menacing.  Stay with the ski mask.

SHUSTER:  Willie, you are the best.  We will all be watching “COUNTDOWN” to see your air guitar championships.

GEIST:  All right don‘t miss it, David.

SHUSTER:  If you did win, don‘t talk to us again.  For more on Willie Geist, check out ZeitGest video blog at ZeitGeist.MSNBC.com.  That does it for us.  “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews starts right now.

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

END   

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