updated 9/25/2007 11:55:20 AM ET 2007-09-25T15:55:20

Guests: Richard Wolffe, Marsha Blackburn

DAVID SHUSTER, GUEST HOST:  Free speech wins at Columbia University.  But the speech itself by Iran‘s president proves frustrating to many Americans listening.

Hello, everybody, I‘m David Shuster in for Tucker Carlson. 

It was quite a spectacle on the Upper West Side in Manhattan today on the campus of Columbia University. Thousands of demonstrators greeted the arrival of Iranian President Ahmadinejad. Security kept the Iranian president away from the protests, but the Iranian president could not get away from tough question posed by student and faculty.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. President, you exhibit all of the signs of a petty and cruel dictator. You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated. Why you have chosen to make the people of your country vulnerable to the effects of international economic sanctions and threaten to engulf the world in nuclear annihilation?

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

SHUSTER:  In a moment, we will have two reports on Ahmadinejad‘s visit to Columbia.

Plus, 2008 campaign politics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Please send my best to the president.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: (LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

SHUSTER:  Hillary Clinton laughs in the face of FOX News. Even President Bush now believes she will be the Democratic presidential nominee.

On the Republican side, Mitt Romney goes on the attack against his own party.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

MITT ROMNEY ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  If we‘re going to change Washington, the Republicans have to put our own house in order. We can‘t be like Democrats, a party of big spending. We can‘t pretend our borders are secure from illegal immigration. We can‘t have ethical standards that are a punch line for Jay Leno.

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

SHUSTER:   Romney‘s intriguing strategy and roundup of the 2008 campaign.  We will talk about it all with our panel. 

Also, tonight, a special Shuster edition of “Hypocrisy Watch”.  Republicans keep talking about that Petraeus ad, but they have not said a peep about a similar statement made by Rush Limbaugh. Get out the lighter fluid because we have a grilling for you later in the hour.

But we begin with the controversial visit to Columbia University by Iranian President Ahmadinejad. NBC‘s Michelle Franzen has the story from New York.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 

MICHELLE FRANZEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice over):  A controversial setting for a controversial world leader. Iran‘s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was confronted by Columbia University faculty and students on Iran‘s connection to state-sponsored terrorism, his country‘s nuclear program, and his stated belief the Holocaust is a myth.

LEE BOLLINGER, PRESIDENT, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY:  You are either brazenly productive or astonishing uneducated.

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, PRESIDENT OF IRAN (through translator):  I think the text read by the due gentleman here, more than addressing me, it was an insult to information and the knowledge of the audience here.

FRANZEN:  During the question and answer session, Ahmadinejad denied supporting terrorism.

AHMADINEJAD (through translator):  We are a cultured nation. We don‘t need to resort to terrorism.

FRANZEN:  Outside Columbia, hundreds lined the streets to protest a leader who calls for the destruction of Israel and is accused of human rights violation in his country.

ESTHER LIPSHITZ, PROTESTOR:  An outrage that a man like him is given the honor of speaking at a place like Columbia.

FRANZEN:  Ahmadinejad‘s appearance at Columbia is a side stop on his visit to speak at the United Nations General Assembly. Ahmadinejad will try to convince the international world, including the U.S., that his nuclear program is to create energy and not to create nuclear weapons.

Ahmadinejad also wanted to visit ground zero, a request flatly denied by the New York police department due to security and safety issues.

AHMADINEJAD (through translator):  Somebody told me this is an insult.

I said what are you saying? This is my way of showing my respect.

FRANZEN:  But many opposed to his visit question his motives and words. Michelle Franzen, NBC News, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE) 

SHUSTER:   NBC News Correspondent Ron Allen has also been covering the events all day long today. And Ron joins us now with the latest from the Upper West Side, Morning Heights neighborhood.

Ron, I know there were a lot of concerns about security and how things would go today. First of all, how did things go?

RON ALLEN, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Peacefully. There were no security issues. The crowds were—some people saying in the thousands, I thought maybe the hundreds, but I did not perhaps see the whole thing. But it was very orderly. The president of Iran came into a side street, went into a backdoor. The demonstrators never even saw him. There were no confrontations. The New York police do not play. They take care of things like this very well.

SHUSTER:   Ron, what was the reaction for people on the streets to some of the statements Ahmadinejad made. Including he said something how he studies the physics more than we studied the Holocaust, suggesting there are still some unanswered questions about the Holocaust. He said there are no gays or homosexuals in Iran. He really would not answer questions about whether he intends to try and seek the destruction of Israel. How did that go over on the street?

ALLEN:  Well, it went over in the auditorium, I think is perhaps the better question.  The people actually heard what he said back and forth.  There were a lot of demonstrators on the streets whose views were etched in stone before they even came here. And they left feeling the same way.  I think people who listening to him, there were a group of people that were hard line in their beliefs, and they didn‘t budge at all.

Many of them, I have to say, quite honestly, I believe were Jewish-Americans, who are perhaps his vocal and strongest critics. There are also people in the middle, perhaps, who heard some things and said to them, well, maybe I need to think about this. I was actually struck that some of them were international students who came here and some who even thought he shouldn‘t have been given the invitation, but once they heard what he had to say, they were open minded and sort of mulling this.

On the Holocaust, he did say that in fact—he did admit that there was a Holocaust. He said it needed to be studied more differently or more thoroughly, I should say. He did say the thing about homosexuals, which, of course, was the big laugh line of the day.

In terms of the destruction of Israel, his answer was, well, what about 60 years of Palestinian persecution, as he probably put it. I‘m not sure he used the word persecution, but that‘s certainly what he was talking about. There were a lot of emotional things back and forth, but if you really listened to what he had to say, as some people did, there was some substance there as well. I‘m not saying this is somebody who we need to put on a pedestal, but the whole point of him being here was for there to be a dialogue for questions and answers. And I think that what was accomplished, at least for the people who listened and took part and walked way with something here, besides what they came with, all the anger and emotion and the—and all of that—David.

SHUSTER:   Ron, was that opening statement by Lee Bollinger, the president of the University of Columbia, a lengthy statement that seemed to sort of attacked Ahmadinejad before he even had a chance to speak. Based on your conversations there with people on the streets on the Upper West Side, how much of the anger today has been focused still at Columbia University versus just protesting the very fact that Ahmadinejad said these things and made these comments?

ALLEN:  Well, on the Bollinger point, I think that‘s gone a lot of ways. Some people said he was really rude and out of order to harangue him in the way he did. If you listen to what he say, I mean it was really, I was listening to it, I couldn‘t see it. But I thought, my God, this is very unusual at best. And some people applauded for doing that. But there was a bit of well, maybe, it wasn‘t the appropriate way to deal with this matter.

I think that—you know, there was a wide range of opinion about this whole event. There was a lot to parse over. I don‘t think there were people who were, you know, there were strong opinions on both sides, but it was a very interesting, riveting thing if you really paid attention to it.

SHUSTER:   It was riveting indeed. And Ron, thanks as always for reporting there for us tonight.  We appreciate it.  NBC‘s Ron Allen, reporting from Upper West Side of Manhattan.

Coming up—are we playing into the Iranian president‘s hands by being so angry with him?  Who is the winner here?

Also, why are some Republican lawmakers so afraid of the press.  Coleman, Cornyn, Sununu, and all the rest play hide and seek if they can‘t answer our questions, what are they doing in Washington in the first place?  You‘re watching MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

AHMADINEJAD (through translator):  In Iran, we don‘t have homosexuals like in your country.

(LAUGHTER)

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): We don‘t have that in our country.

(LAUGHTER, JEERS)

AHMADINEJAD (through translator):  In Iran, we do not have this phenomenon. I don‘t know who told you that we have it.

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

SHUSTER:   That, of course, was the president of the Iran speaking today in New York at Columbia University. Joining us to talk about the PR show, which I think Ahmadinejad may now be losing, is “Newsweek” Senior White House Correspondent Richard Wolffe and MSNBC political analyst and contributing editor at “The Congressional Quarterly” Craig Crawford.

Richard, I watched this whole thing and thought that Ahmadinejad came across as completely divorced from reality. In my mind, that helps the White House if they can say look at this crazy man who is in charge of this country that wants nuclear weapons.

RICHARD WOLFFE, SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK”:  I think it helps everyone who opposes the crazy stuff he talks about. I think a different view though.  I actually think he‘s pretty skillful at PR. He showed it when those British sailors were captured. I think he showed it again with this whole fake spat about where he could travel, what he could say.

I don‘t think Lee Bollinger did himself any favors by giving that little speech beforehand. It made him look rude and inhospitable.  But generally the more you hear of this man, the better it is to understand just how insane some of his ideas are. 

Now, the question is, does demonizing him help? Do we need to do anything more to show him to be unreasonable than what he says?  I don‘t think so. I don‘t think you need to make out that he‘s evil somehow, but he is fundamentally irrational.

SHUSTER:   Craig, I was struck by a piece in “The New York Times” today. The newspaper had a great analysis saying that when Ahmadinejad comes over and says these sort of bizarre things and we react, that that help Ahmadinejad at home? That his standing at home is sort of in rough shape. If that‘s the case, what are we doing paying so much attention to this guy in the first place, as far as all the protests and being angry that he wants to go to ground zero?

CRAIG CRAWFORD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think it makes him look important that the Americans pay so much attention to him and talk about him among his own people. At the same time, I think you guys are right, as far as domestically, Bush probably gained a bit here just by having people see front and center what a nut case this guy is. And why he‘s so threatening to us.

I think deeper analysis would show he‘s not really in charge of Iran as much as the ayatollahs are, and that is something worth exploring, is whether he‘s really even in charge of that country completely. But he is the face. And the trouble is—and you say demonize, when we start demonizing a particular person, it sort of prevents more comprehensive analysis of what‘s really going on in the country, the Western influences and moderate elements of the country. I would like to see a broader look among the American public in Iran than just at this guy.

SHUSTER:   There‘s so much talk in Washington right now about military plans and whether the Israelis would strike first at potential nuclear sites, where the United States would strike first, or try to provoke Iran to somehow have a reaction against Israel. Israel, of course, is the key player in all of this. And today Ahmadinejad was asked point blank, is it your intent to try to destroy the state of Israel? He gave this sort of meandering answer, and then he was asked again. Let‘s watch this and I will get your reaction to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you, or your government, seek the destruction of Israel as the state as a Jewish state, and I think you can answer that question with a single word, either yes or no.

AHMADINEJAD (through translator): You ask the question and you want the answer the way you want to hear it.

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

SHUSTER:   The fact of the matter is, Craig, he never did provide an answer to that. That‘s got to be unsettling to anyone who looks at the American alliance between Israel and the United States and worries about this clown.

CRAWFORD:  And it was interesting to me, I don‘t know if moderated is

the right word for what he did, but he seemed to step back a bit from some

of the more productive things he said in the past, particularly about the -

denying the existence of the Holocaust. He sort of fuzzed all of that up.

He did not give clear answers because he clearly did not want to go back to those statements that he made, as directly, as he said it before. He almost seemed to be trying moderate himself on those issues.

SHUSTER:   Richard, what about this, again, this invitation that he issued to President Bush, come to the U.N. and let‘s have a debate, man-to-man, over the critical international issues in our time?  He did this last year and it got a lot of press. This time around, is it being seen as this is just a PR stunt?  Or are there people who are taking Ahmadinejad seriously?

WOLFFE:  Well, there is a loud debate within foreign policy circles about what kind of engagement there should be with Iran, and whether a more in depth, higher-level negotiation with Iran would be helpful. Given where this administration has taken U.S./Iranian relationships, that‘s a very relevant debate.

Whether you do that that president to president is open to question.  Obviously, the Democratic candidates have been discussing that. But engagement with a country like Iran has got to be helpful, whether it‘s in terms of winning the debate in the public arena, or more broadly, with the kind of Iranian population we‘re seeing.  Iran is a highly entrepreneurial, trading country with a strong pro-American feeling. It is obviously a crucial player and it has elements, strong elements, of democracy.

It is not as Lee Bollinger said, a dictatorship. It‘s not also free as we would understand it. But that‘s a country that can be worked with in just the same way we work with China, which is also far from a free country.

CRAWFOD:  And that is where this also played into Bush‘s hands, it would reduced the pressure for him to engage with this guy once people see what he‘s like. How do you engage with something like this? I can see the White House taking full advantage of that. What do you mean we should engage with these people? You see what he‘s like.

SHUSTER:   Speaking of engagement, one of the things at front and center at Columbia University, you heard the statement from the Lee Bollinger, the president, at the top of the show.  He said, also in his statement, Ahmadinejad should invite faculty and students to come to Iran and speak freely to the universities of our choice. At the end Ahmadinejad said OK. 

CRAWFORD:  Yeah, right.

SHUSTER:   So what do you do if you‘re the president of Columbia University right now with all of the grief you have already taken, you know take up the offer and say, OK, we‘re coming to Iran?

WOLFEE:  I think the academic exchange are actually incredibly helpful here. But look what happened Haleh Esfandiari who was a Woodrow Wilson scholar, who was locked up over there? They Iranians have approached these academic exchanges as being some sort of counter-revolutionary or new revolutionary measure by the CIA and the United States. You‘d have to approach this very carefully. But in general those academic exchanges are incredibly helpful.

SHUSTER:   If I‘m Lee Bollinger, I would say you know what, let‘s find a technicality or some reason not to go to Iran. Because I think he‘s got himself in enough trouble already. But in any case—

Coming up, Richard and Craig are staying with us.  Yet another Republican says Hillary Clinton will win the Democratic nomination for the presidency. This time it‘s President Bush. But he also says she won‘t be moving back to the White House. Are the Republicans right, or just wishful thinking?

Plus, Rudy Giuliani became known as America‘s mayor after 9/11 because of his strong leadership. Now some family members of 9/11 victims say he doesn‘t deserve that title or deserve to become president of the United States. You‘re watching MSNBC, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

SHUSTER:   When asked recently to describe an intimate, nonpolitical trait of his wife, former President Bill Clinton said she has the world‘s best laugh. At least one cable news audience got two complete earfuls of it. Appearing on “FOX News Sunday” with one-time Bill Clinton adversary Chris Wallace, Mrs. Clinton has some big yucks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  Senator, talk about conservative hit jobs, Right wing conspiracies, why do you and the president have such a hyper partisan view of politics?

(LAUGHTER) 

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Oh, Chris if you had walked even a day in our shoes over the last 15 years, I‘m sure you would understand.

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

SHUSTER:   With an enormous lead in the national polls and Rudy Giuliani already attacking her record, Mrs. Clinton today learned President Bush, in a new biography, believes the junior senator from New York will be the Democratic nominee. Does the GOP believe they will have to beat Hillary to win the White House? And are they privately happy about it?

Here what their analysis are, “Newsweek” Senior White House Correspondent Richard Wolffe and MSNBC political analyst and contributor editor of “The Congressional Quarterly,” Craig Crawford.

Craig, how did Hillary do, on these five Sunday shows yesterday?  I mean, aside from the laugh with Chris Wallace, and she did face some tough questions, there. How did she do overall?

CRAWFORD:  The laugh was great. She had to be thinking, FOX of all people is calling me partisan? That doesn‘t seem to be the meaning of the laugh. Going on all of these shows, she was very careful not to make news, which I think one reason—all they wanted out of this was the news to be that she did the shows, and that she is in command of Washington.

They are on an invincibility campaign, it has really stepped up a notch or two with the release of her health care plan. I wonder if it‘s early for that. Because once, you know, an inevitable nominee gets established in people‘s minds this early, then there‘s time to knock that person down.

SHUSTER:   Richard, it really what‘s striking, I mean, she didn‘t make really any news except by the fact that she went on, and she got off the programs without any sort of scratches, it seemed.

WOLFFE:  Which is a huge achievement.  I mean, the fact that she‘s so poised, supremely effective in this format, is a great thing for her. On the other hand, there is material in those shows for 30-second attack ads, especially on the war in Iraq. Because if you listen carefully to what she says, she actually makes it very clear she wants troops to stay there, in significant numbers. Stephanopoulos tried to push her on this.

But she said on one hand, I want troops out. Well, so does George Bush. And she also says troops have to stay there because of Iran. They have to stay there because of humanitarian reasons; they have to stay there because of Al Qaeda in Iraq. You put those two things together, and actually they don‘t really match up any more than the president‘s statements about pulling the troops match up. Now, there may be differences in troop levels, but we don‘t know what they are.

So, given where Democrats are, I think there is actually material for her opponents to mine—if they want to do so. At the moment, they are not taking that fight to her.

CRAWFORD:  To go to that point, one of the things she said with Tim Russert on “Meet the Press” that I thought was a nuanced change in her campaign stump speech line, if the president doesn‘t end the war, I will.  She said if the president does not extricate us from this civil war, I will. That is a bit more narrow than, I will get us out—she‘s always implied, I think, that we should get all of the troops out. But as Richard points out, she‘s never, actually technically said that, in fact she‘s been the most forthright of anyone, I thought, at why she thinks the troops have to stay there. And she gave the answer to “The New York Times” because of the oil fields.

SHUSTER:   We mentioned on (UNINTELLIGIBLE) show, that President Bush does think she will be the Democratic nominee. There are a couple schools of thought now in Washington. One is that President Bush wants her to be the nominee, so in case she wins on that very point you mentioned, maybe the president believes of all of the Democratic candidates, Hillary would be the one to perhaps at least leave maybe 100,000 troops in Iraq and sort of continue his legacy for a while longer.

The other school of thought is, well, yes, maybe they want her to be the nominee but they believe she would be the easiest Democrat to beat.  Richard, handle both of those.

WOLFFE:  Well, now that it‘s public, I guess I can talk about this.  But I‘ve heard the president say the same things.  I have to say that when he‘s said that, it seems pretty genuine to me.  I know there is a debate in the Democratic circles about whether this is a giant head fake. It doesn‘t feel like it. It doesn‘t sound like it. People are testing Republican candidates against whether they can beat Hillary Clinton or not. Not that she‘s easy to beat. But that‘s the bar they have to be set at. And I think they recognize that she is extremely formidable.

CRAWFORD:  I think that‘s true. You talk to these—the Republicans who talk that way, I‘m convinced, as you say, they really do think she‘s going to be the nominee. They are not playing games. And they are just preparing for it.

I think another thing to remember is Republicans are obsessed with the Clintons because they are afraid of the Clintons. The Clintons are the only Democrats who whipped the Republicans for the White House in the last 30 years, and the only ones to win two successive full terms since Franklin Roosevelt. That is high on their minds.

SHUSTER:   And we all remember what Rick Lazio and his campaign was saying in New York back in 2000. A lot of the same things the Republicans are saying now about Hillary Clinton.  How they can‘t wait to have this race against her. Rick Lazio was saying the same thing and Rick Lazio got whipped in New York State.

But in any case, Craig and Richard are staying with us.

And coming up, President Bush continues to press for support over the war in Iraq but one group is seemingly missing from the mix. Republican senators, where are they? What‘s keeping them from speaking up to the media?

Whilst Mitt Romney ruffles GOP feathers with his latest ad campaign.  He says Republicans are acting like Democrats. Is he right? You‘re watching MSNBC, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

(MARKET REPORT)

SHUSTER:  If you have been watching cable news programs lately, you may have noticed the disappearance of a certain breed of guest, specifically Republican senators up for re-election.  It‘s not that we have not tried to find them.  In fact, we know who they are.  They have names like Coleman and Sununu.  But interview invitations that we provide almost daily to these senators are now routinely turned down. 

The answer appears to be Iraq.  These lawmakers have voted to keep the war going.  but when it comes to explaining their votes on programs like this one, well, forget about it. 

Back with their insight are “Newsweek‘s” senior White House correspondent Richard Wolffe and MSNBC political analyst and contributing editor at the “Congressional Quarterly,” Craig Crawford.  Craig, smart idea, as much as we hate it—smart idea for these Republicans who vote to keep the war going not to come on national media programs? 

CRAWFORD:  Any incumbents in trouble for re-election, either party, tend to get scripted by consultants and to stick to those scripts means not to go on shows where people like David Shuster will ask tough questions that they don‘t expect and get off their message. 

SHUSTER:  Just wait until our next segment.  In any case, Richard, is think a vulnerability though for senators like Coleman and Sununu and the rest who are up for re-election, who have taken these votes—and they have come out with public statements and press releases.  But when it comes down to brass tactics, they have voted to keep the war going indefinitely.  

WOLFFE:  There is a real danger.  They don‘t know how the war is going to play out over the next several months.  That‘s why most of the votes are already blocking votes.  They are stopping the Democrats from moving forward, so they can appear loyal without being too loyal when it comes to the war.  You know, it‘s become a lot easier, the calculation for these Republicans, where there are majority Republicans in the states, because Republican opinion has shifted back towards the president over the course of the year. 

But if there are a lot of independent voters, as John Sununu will find, then you‘re in some trouble. 

SHUSTER:  The president was asked in his news conference the other day whether or not he was an asset or a liability.  He said I‘m an asset.  Do Republicans really believe that? 

WOLFFE:  I‘m not sure the president does either.  He may want to be an asset.  But, no, he‘s under no illusion that—he is not going to be the most popular man.  And he wasn‘t the most popular man on the campaign trail in 2006.  They want his money.  They just don‘t want him to be campaigning with them and the new governor of Florida actually did that.  He stood him up at one of the last campaign stops in 2006. 

CRAWFORD:  You know, Donald Trump, who actually wants a Republican to win the White House, said today that President Bush should go into hiding for the election, that that‘s the only way—Donald trump said—that the Republicans can win the White House. 

SHUSTER:  One of the ways that Republican Mitt Romney is now trying to campaign is he‘s essentially challenging Republicans, essentially taking some issue with them being like Democrats.  I want to run this latest ad from Mitt Romney and get your reaction.  So here it is. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  If we‘re going to change Washington, Republicans have to put our own house in order.  We can‘t be like Democrats, a party of big spending.  We can‘t pretend our borders are secure from illegal immigration.  We can‘t have ethical standards that are a punch line for Jay Leno. 

When Republicans act like Democrats, America loses.  It‘s time for Republicans to start acting like Republicans.  It‘s time for a change, and change begins with us.  I‘m Mitt Romney, and I approve this message. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Craig, I actually thought that was a pretty good ad.  It‘s not just criticism of Republicans.  It‘s also criticism of the Democrats, so Romney can get away with it. 

CRAWFORD:  First of all, I like candidate-to-camera ads.  I like to see them on camera giving their own message, instead of voice-overs and actors and all that other stuff.  so I give him credit for that.  But he has tapped into a deep well in Republican thought among grassroots voters that the party in Washington has gotten away from the basic fiscal discipline that they look for.  He‘s tapping into something.  Those are pretty much applause lines from his stump speech that work on the road and they will probably work in this ad. 

SHUSTER:  Richard, I‘m always struck whenever we go on the road about how angry conservatives really are not just about immigration but about the wasteful spending from these guys, the idea that government entitlements, bureaucratic programs have just exploded under a largely Republican Congress until a year ago. 

WOLFFE:  Right, absolutely, and the ethical stuff too.  You do find a lot of distaste and disillusion among the Republican base.  He said that he approved that message.  So did every focus group in the country.  Change is one of those words that pops out of every survey.  You know, you can see why he did it.  Trumpets were too loud for me, though. 

SHUSTER:  One of the other things, strategy wise, which has been so fascinating is a lot of Republicans are not sure how this all is going to play out.  It looks like the Romney campaign has had this strategy that they are not going to poor everything they have into Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, get the early victories, convinced that if they get the early victories, the momentum will carry us through Super Tuesday.  Even though they have raised more money than any other Republican, they are going to spend it at the beginning.  Is that wise? 

CRAWFORD:  That‘s the Edwards theory on the Democratic side.  I think

it is going to be a complicated scenario for them because of these national

it‘s almost a national primary on February 5th; 22 states or so all over the country coming so fast.  If the front runners don‘t stumble, if it‘s kind of a mix—even if the front runners don‘t win in Iowa or New Hampshire, if they are close, I think that these big states all over the country are still going to reflect the national polls, with Hillary Clinton and Giuliani ahead, or whoever is ahead by then? 

I think that‘s a complicated strategy.  On the Republican side, Florida on January 29th, the Republicans are campaigning in Florida.  The Democrats are not.  And that will be a big prize. 

SHUSTER:  Richard, one of the Republican front runners, of course, nationally is Rudy Giuliani, who Craig just mentioned.  Just today there was another event where he had some 9/11 parents, families of victims who were out there criticizing Rudy Giuliani, saying that the nation has it wrong as far as the image of Rudy Giuliani on 9/11, that he made all sorts of mistakes, both before the attacks and afterwards.  Are any of these types of attacks really sticking though? 

WOLFFE:  Not right now.  But they have the potential to stick later.  Remember the whole Swift Boat episode, and they liken themselves to that, really kicked in after John Kerry won the nomination.  I think the hardest thing for Rudy Giuliani right now is that he is perceived as the front runner in national polls.  But in the state-by-state, those early races, his numbers are pretty weak. 

It‘s the difference between expectations and where the first votes are at that can be really damaging to a front runner, at least a perceived front runner. 

CRAWFORD:  The flip side of the early big states on February 5th is if a front the runner does stumble in one of the early states, it leaves them very little time to recover.  So I know that‘s one theory out there that this—this new system—this is—we have to remember, the old wars—this is not being fought like the old wars, with the collection of all of these states February 5th.  It is going to be fascinating to see how that plays out.  I think as we move into future elections, we are going to go to regional primaries, if not a national primary.  And this probably will be seen as the first year we tested that. 

SHUSTER:  The passions in this election seems so striking and so remarkable.  I think they are evidenced lately by what happened at Colorado State University.  We started the show by talking about freedom of speech and Columbia University having this invitation to President Ahmadinejad.  At Colorado State University, the local student newspaper decided to go ahead and have an editorial; and the editorial said, taser this, F expletive, rhymes with duck, Bush. 

Now, I think we have heard some of the advertisers have decided to pull some of their ads for the “Collegian” opinion newspaper there, and that‘s the opinion section, of course.  What do you make of this? 

WOLFFE:  I love free speech.  I actually think Taser This is a great headline.  They didn‘t need to have the second half of it.  Look, it was grossly overreaction from the police and a terrible event.  Student newspapers, college newspapers are there to get attention.  They did a great job. 

CRAWFORD:  You may see this in the blogs, too.  I think both sides really undercut their own arguments when they engage in this sort of ad hominem things and insulting and cursing.  What does that add?  Unfortunately, I think the big boys and girls here in Washington, the way they argue and bicker back and forth and call each other names, really invites this sort of thing around the country.  I think it‘s sick. 

WOLFFE:  I blame the parents. 

CRAWFORD:  Blame the parents in Washington.  And I think it has poisoned our national—our public dialogue in so many ways and is not surprising to see some university kids doing this. 

SHUSTER:  The issue that I have—I think it‘s great.  I think they should say whatever they want in their editorials.  Like wise, if they feel that passionately about it, if college students are that passionate about it, what sort of demonstrations and protests are they having at a place like Colorado State University?  If all they are doing is a bunch of kids working in the newspaper coming up with—let‘s come up with some funny things we can put in the editorial, and they are not out there carrying signs, for or against President Bush, regardless of what their politics are, that to me is a hollowness in college students, which I think is very different with this war than, of course, we saw with Vietnam. 

WOLFFE:  Yes, big difference.  The passions are clearly there.  But blogging, writing college paper headlines, is not the same as the street protests.  You‘re absolutely right. 

SHUSTER:  Richard Wolffe, I love it when you agree with me.  Senior correspondent, White House correspondent for “Newsweek,” and Craig Crawford, always a pleasure, MSNBC --  

CRAWFORD:  Power hour.  Hour of power.

SHUSTER:  We appreciate it.  Coming up, Republicans blast MoveOn.org for their ad attacking the top U.S. general in Iraq.  But where is the outrage over conservative radio show host comments about a Republican senator?  Are Republicans playing a risky game of political hypocrisy? 

And four just doesn‘t seem to be enough for Hollywood‘s favorite globe trotting couple.  MSNBC‘s senior Brangelina analyst Bill Wolff reveals new developments in Brad and Angie‘s ever expanding multicultural brood. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  The Republican outcry is beginning to die down over that MoveOn ad, the one running in the “New York Times” that posed the question -- General Petraeus or General Betray Us?  But there‘s a bigger question left unanswered, a question of hypocrisy when it comes to political attack.  Where was the outrage when Rush Limbaugh said this about Republican Senator Chuck Hagel over one of the senator‘s stances on Iraq?  Limbaugh said, “by the way, we had a caller call, couldn‘t stay on the air, got a new name for Senator Hagel of Nebraska.  We got General Petraeus and Senator Betray-Us, new name for Senator Hagel.” 

Here to discuss all this is Marsha Blackburn, a Republican Congresswoman from Tennessee.  Congresswoman, thanks for coming in. 

REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN ®, TENNESSEE:  Good to be with you. 

SHUSTER:  Do you want to take this opportunity to condemn what Rush Limbaugh said about Chuck Hagel?   

BLACKBURN:  What I want to do is talk about the “New York Times.” 

Probably, Rush Limbaugh could have gotten by without saying that. 

SHUSTER:  Could of gotten by?  It was wrong, wasn‘t it?

BLACKBURN:  He was referencing what a caller said. 

SHUSTER:  But it was wrong for a caller or for Rush Limbaugh to call Chuck Hagel Senator Betray Us, right? 

BLACKBURN:  But Rush Limbaugh did not go in and buy an ad and place it with the “New York Times” and get a special, preferred rate—

SHUSTER:  So there‘s a difference between buying an ad in the “New York Times” and Rush Limbaugh hearing something that he likes to hear from one of his viewers and repeating it on the air.  What‘s the distinction? 

BLACKBURN:  Rush Limbaugh should not have done that.  But Rush Limbaugh did not go out and buy an ad and circumvent the “New York Times.”  It takes two weeks for them to tell the truth on this and we find out that they did get a favored rate. 

SHUSTER:  They didn‘t know they got a favored rate.  As soon as they found out they got a favored rate, they wrote a check. 

BLACKBURN:  I don‘t believe that.  I think they did—

SHUSTER:  I understand that this is an issue that—You‘re very concerned, of course, about the MoveOn ad, is that right? 

BLACKBURN:  Everybody is concerned about the MoveOn ad.  Everybody is concerned about what seems to be the violation of the public trust by the “New York Times.”  Look, we all know that their circulation is down, that their stock is down, that they—I think it was last year fired 500 people.  Everyone is aware of that.  My goodness, to find out now that they are fire selling their ad space. 

SHUSTER:  Congressman, let‘s talk about the public trust.  You represent, of course, a district in western Tennessee.  What was the name of the last soldier from your district who was killed in Iraq? 

BLACKBURN:  The name of the last soldier killed in Iraq, from my district, I do not know. 

SHUSTER:  His name was Jeremy Bohannan (ph).  He was killed August 9, 2007.  How come you did not know that the name? 

BLACKBURN:  I do not know why I did not know the name.  We made contact with the families in our district.  When you have a major military post, you are very sensitive to this and sensitive to working with those families, and that is something that my staff and I do daily.  Our district director is a gentleman who has served in the U.S. Army and currently serves in the National Guard.  And we do everything that we possibly can do to assist those families.  We are very appreciative of the sacrifice. 

SHUSTER:  But you were not appreciative enough to know the name of this young man.  He was 18 years old and killed.  Yet you can say chapter and verse about what‘s going on with the “New York Times” and MoveOn.org. 

BLACKBURN:  You‘re exactly right.  I can say chapter and verse what was going on with MoveOn.org. 

SHUSTER:  Don‘t you understand the problems that a lot of people would have, that you‘re so focused on an ad.  When was the last time a “New York Times” ad ever killed somebody?  Yet here we have a war that took the life of an 18-year-old kid, Jeremy Bohannan, from your district and you didn‘t know his name? 

BLACKBURN:  Well—and—we work very closely, as I said, with those families.  We work very closely with every one of our military members.  We work closely with Ft. Campbell, because most of Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, actually sits in Montgomery County, Tennessee.  And that is a priority with us, how we work with them, how we reach out to those families, how we stay in touch with those that are being deployed, working with the leadership teams, making certain the community is involved with helping to care for those families. 

SHUSTER:  I know General Petraeus—

BLACKBURN:  And our National Guard families as they are deployed, staying in close touch with those—some of those that have not only from our district, but from Tennessee. 

SHUSTER:  I know that after General Petraeus testified, you said that there has been an opportunity created for progress at the local level, local political progress.  Have you been to Iraq recently? 

BLACKBURN:  I have been—not been to Iraq in the past 12 months.  My last trip into Iraq—

SHUSTER:  Just based on General Petraeus, that is how you can say that there was political progress being made in Iraq? 

BLACKBURN:  No, I stay in touch with those that are deployed.  As a matter of fact, I e-mailed last night with a constituent of mine who is a chaplain in Iraq.  And we have been working, getting some supplies, some items -- 

SHUSTER:  What contact has the chaplain had with local Iraqi political leaders? 

BLACKBURN:  He is in touch with them on a regular basis.  I e-mail with soldiers, different soldiers from my district who are deployed.  I e-mail with their families and stay in close touch with them.  I go and visit with their families and hear from them first hand what is going on.  This is not just a once in a while, you go to Afghanistan or you go to Iraq or every once in a while you go to a military post to visit.  What you do is stay in touch with them on a constant on-going basis. 

SHUSTER:  I agree, Congresswoman, do you stay in touch with these military families.  But I again, I still think it‘s a little surprising that you did not know the name of the last soldier killed in Iraq, who is only 18 years old, and yet you know so much about the MoveOn.org ad and the tactics you don‘t like.  But in any case, Congresswoman Blackburn, we appreciate you coming in today, Congresswoman from western Tennessee. 

Oops, she just keeps doing it again and again and again.  Britney Spears‘ former bodyguard speaks out, giving us all the dirt on her alleged drug use and nudity and her not so stellar parenting skills.  Stick around for the details. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  And now the segment you have all been waiting for, Bill Wolff joins us.  Bill, before we get to the Britney stuff, you‘re a top executive here at MSNBC, my favorite.  So, I am wondering, do you mind handling the phone calls we are going to get from Congresswoman Blackburn‘s office tonight? 

BILL WOLFF, MSNBC EXECUTIVE:  I‘m staying right here in the booth.  There‘s no phone, Dave.  But I will refer to my Gettysburg Address.  I‘m afraid I can‘t help you.  But that was one fiery confrontation, Dave, which I enjoyed.  And well, you served the cause of calling out hypocrisy, at least in the eyes of some.  I‘m a neutral observer. 

Dave, let‘s get to the Britney Spears stuff.  The odds of the former pop star ensnaring future long-term commitments from a man such as you have been dwindling for some time.  And her hopes of convincing any would be Mr.  Right of her virtues took a severe hit this morning on NBC‘s “The Today Show,” when her former bodyguard, Mr. Tony Baretto removed any remaining mystery about the former Mrs. Federline. 

Now according to his TV testimony, Britney does a bunch of drugs, walks around naked in front of the hired help, can‘t deal with it when her two sons cry and is generally a certifiable, 100 percent post modern American celebrity mess.  Mr. Baretto, accompanied by normally camera shy lawyer Gloria Allred, says he came forward with his observations for the good of the two Spears/Federline off spring. 

Now, last month, David, I reported to you in this space that Britney still makes 750,000 dollars per month.  And I opined that she might therefore have some allure.  It appears I was wrong.  There are easier ways to get rich, David, like robbing Ft. Knox with a spork. 

SHUSTER:  I think the guy that we heard screaming with joy this morning during that interview was K-Fed, wherever he was. 

WOLFF:  I have been a fan of Britney and a defender, but it‘s getting awfully, awfully hard to defend the one-time apple of my celebrity eye.  Anyway, at the other end of the celebrity mom spectrum, there is the (INAUDIBLE) Angelina Jolie.  Miss Jolie, who has a small flock of children adopted from various developing nations, is reportedly pursuing the adoption of another baby, this one from Burma. 

A person described as a Brangelina insider told the “Daily Mail” that Miss Jolie and her significant other and Missouri native Brad Pitt may want another daughter to go with their four incumbent children.  The Jolie/Pitts are clearly well meaning, loving celebrity parents and the children of the Earth‘s poorest regions are obviously in acute need of care.  On the other hand, it might also be pointed out, so do the children of America‘s developing parents. 

SHUSTER:  That was a great article in the “Washington Post” about Brad Pitt being in Washington at the “Washington Post.”  No reporting on where Angelina Jolie was, which I think just goes to show what pencil-neck geeks they have over at the Post. 

WOLFF:  Don‘t say that about the Post.  We‘ve been mean enough today, David.  Dave, there‘s an alarming trend at America‘s theme parks and  sports venues.  It continued this Sunday in Kansas City.  I‘m talking vigilante mascots.  Some of the people in this video are security guards.  The person in the costume is the Kansas City Chiefs mascot.  The guy getting tackled is a fan, presumably liquored up and on the playing field, where he‘s not supposed to be. 

The Chief‘s mascot looks awfully proud of himself for its bravery and toughness.  It might be pointed out that it was, at best, the third carbon based life form on the pile and that it dresses up in a big, fluffy costume for 50 bucks every Sunday.  Not to judge, but there are certain professions in which gloating is not an option, David. 

How tough are you?  you‘re in a costume, like Chuck-E-Cheese. 

Finally, David, we are overly familiar with the NFL‘s crackdown on spying after the league punished the New England Patriots for peeping at the New York Jets‘ secret signals.  But worry not, sport fans, the league has reportedly also taken steps to prevent another kind of industrial sabotage.  According to insider Charlie Casserly of CBS Sports, the league sent a letter to all 32 teams to prevent their cheerleading squads from warming up or stretching in front of the visiting team‘ locker rooms at NFL stadiums.  The reported reason for the restrictions, players complained about being distracted, David. 

SHUSTER:  Bill, I know some MSNBC talent who are right now changing their tickets away from the visitor locker room at Redskins stadium. 

WOLFF:  I have no official comment. 

SHUSTER:  Bill, you‘re the best.  That does it for us.  Thank you for watching.  Tucker will be back tomorrow.  Up next, “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews.

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

END   

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