updated 1/17/2008 11:06:04 AM ET 2008-01-17T16:06:04

Guests: Stephanie Miller, Lawrence O‘Donnell, Tina Dirmann, Julia Allison

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Tonight: Has the administration‘s fear mongering worked so well, that now some Democrats won‘t talk about the threat of terrorism on the campaign trail?  And as Republican Mike Huckabee strong offensive worked so well, at the inside DC media overlooked what a radical he really is.  A new tape emerges where he talks about amending the Constitution so it‘s in, quote, “God‘s standards.”

And: Will Tom Cruise‘s charm offensive stop working as well?  Now, that a tape has leaked out of him at a church of Scientology awards ceremony.

But first: At last night‘s debate—did Barack Obama fall into a Right wing trap?  A trap that would force Democrats to choose between two polar extremes when it comes to discussing the threat of terrorism on the campaign trail?  On one end of this false choice is fear mongering as a political campaign sort.  This administration as some other Republicans like Rudy Giuliani have utilized it as much as possible.  On the other extreme is the overreaction that you can‘t even talk about the threat of terror on the trail for fear of being accused of parading this administration.  It sure sounded like Barack Obama was doing that last night in response to Clinton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, DEBATE MODERATOR:  On the eve of the New Hampshire primary, you said this, I don‘t think it was by accident that al Qaeda decided to test the new prime minister, Gordon Brown immediately.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  What I said is what you quoted.  And I‘m not going to characterize it but it is the fact.  You know, the fact is that we face a very dangerous adversary and to forget that or to brush it aside I think is a mistake.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  But I have to say that when Senator Clinton uses the specter of a terrorist attack with a new prime minister, during a campaign, I think that is part and parcel with what we‘ve seen of the use of the fear of terrorism in scoring political points.  And I think that‘s a mistake.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I don‘t know who would handle a terrorist attack better or more decisively between them and I really don‘t mean to beat up on Obama here, because it‘s a view shared by many.  What I do know is that the possibility of terrorism in this country is one of the most important issues any president must consider.  For Democrats to discourage other Democrats of even discussing and debating the threat of terror as an issue is to fall right into the Republicans rhetorical lair.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  The Democrats are ignoring terrorism.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Make no mistake about it.  This is what a lot of Democrats and those who support them think.  They think the war on terror is some kind of a political scam in which the administration which is using to trying to undermine civil liberties and expand the power of executive branch of the government.  They do not treat it particularly seriously.

PRES. GEORGE BUSH, UNITED STATES:  Five years after 9/11, worst attack on American history, the Democrats offer nothing but criticism and obstruction and endless second guessing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  They want to be the party of national security.  But why can‘t Democrats have the confidence to discuss and debate who would better respond to the threat?  A recent ABC News/Washington Post poll show that more Americans trust Democrats than Republicans in the quote, “U.S.  campaign against terror.”  This administration‘s exaggerations and false links have scarred the country.  But if the result of that wound is a Democrat‘s twitch, when the subject of terrorism is raised or debated, then I believe Republicans have the right where they want them.  Joining us now, the journalist who knows the Clintons better than just about anyone else out, “Time” columnist, Joe Klein.  Republican strategist, Kate Obenshain and Roy Sekoff, founding editor of the “Huffington Post.”  All right.  Roy, let me start with you.  I mean, look, let‘s not single out Obama here.  That‘s not my point.  But last night, he was doing what I think many on the Left are doing anytime Hillary or any other Democrat mentions the possibility of terrorism, they say, you‘re doing what the administration does, don‘t do that.  Don‘t do that.

ROY SEKOFF, HUFFINGTON POST:  Well, you know, let‘s say this first of

all, that she was doing exactly what the administration does.  She was

taking the play book right out of the Rove, on Cheney -

ABRAMS:  Where was the false links and exaggerations?  She didn‘t do that.

SEKOFF:  As you remember, right before the 2004 campaign, Cheney said,

hey, if you don‘t pick the right person they could hit us and they could

his with disastrous results.  And that‘s the same thing she said.  She

said, if you don‘t pick the right person, al Qaeda which watches the

election more than the voters -

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  That‘s not what she said.  I‘ll play it.  Here‘s Tim Russert following up on the question.  Hang on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM RUSSERT, DEBATE MODERATOR:  Senator Clinton, I just want to make sure.  You‘re not suggesting that al Qaeda would test a President Obama before they test a President Clinton?

CLINTON:  No, of course not, Tim.  But it is a fact that immediately upon taking office, the new prime minister in Great Britain, Gordon Brown confronted thankfully, two failed attacks by al Qaeda.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Joe Klein, it seems to me a legitimate issue, not just a legitimate issue, a necessary issue for the Democrats to discuss and debate.

JOE KLEIN, TIME MAGAZINE:  Right.  Well, I think Obama made a mistake there.  And it‘s kind of ironic because of the Democratic candidates, he‘s been the one who‘s been most aggressive about taking it to al Qaeda in Pakistan.  He‘s talked about going across the borders using bombing and covert action to take out the al Qaeda terrorist camps in Pakistan which is going to be next what should be one of the big issues of the fall campaign.

ABRAMS:  Look, Katie, it seems to me that should be the response then.  I mean, Joe, I think we should just rewrote what should be the Obama play book which is to say, go back at them, say, look, you‘re not going to hijack the issue, I‘m the one who‘s been talking about going in to Pakistan.  I‘m the one who‘s been talking tough on this issue.  But that‘s not what he did.

KATE OBENSHAIN, CLARE BOOTHE LUCY POLICY INSTITUTE:  You know, I can‘t

believe I‘m defending Hillary Clinton.  But I will.  She said exactly the

right thing.  And exactly what the American people are going to want to

hear that the person who they‘re going to elect, she wants them to elect

her as president and they want to know that she acknowledges that terrorism

is a realistic threat.  If she chooses the attack that Obama is taking and

Edwards for that matter and saying, we‘re not going to even talk about

this, that‘s fine for securing the nomination.  But they‘re going to have a

tough time just like Karl Rove said today at the Republican national

committee meeting, they‘re going, they‘re making serious miscalculation

when it comes -

ABRAMS:  Hang on.  Go ahead Joe.

OBENSHAIN:  I is a real threat.  There‘s nothing about what President

Bush said in that clip.  That wasn‘t fear mongering -

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  The president has again and again vastly exaggerated successes on the war on terror, dangers in the war on terror, false links from the guard of the war on terror again and again.  So, to me that‘s where the difference is to Hillary.

OBENSHAIN:  And the Democrats won‘t even talk about the success of the surge.  That‘s an exaggeration on their part.

KLEIN:  I think watching this campaign, and I‘ve been out there a lot, the Democrats are talking an awful lot about terrorism, about the realistic threat of terrorism and how lousy the Bush administration has been when it comes to the real al Qaeda in Pakistan.  What they haven‘t been doing is supporting the war on Iraq.  They don‘t think that‘s realistic.

ABRAMS:  But I think that they need to treat it as two separate issues.

KLEIN:  Republicans keep on linking them, Dan.  That‘s the problem.  John McCain was just out with yesterday says that the war on Iraq is a war on al Qaeda.  But those of us who have studied the war in Iraq know that‘s one small aspect of a very complicated situation, that‘s the form of demagogy.

ABRAMS:  Let me play another piece of sound.  This is Hillary Clinton, I think, making a fair distinction and Roy, I‘m going to throw this one to you, between what President Bush has done with regard to what I would call fear mongering and what Hillary Clinton did last night which is I would argue is just putting up a legitimate issue for debate.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  I think that there‘s a difference between what President Bush has done which has frankly used fear as a political weapon and a recognition in a very calm and deliberative way that yes, we have real enemies and we better be prepared and we better be ready to meet them on day one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Roy, but according to you, there is no distinction, right?

SEKOFF:  No, what I‘m saying is Hillary made a very smart choice.  They do need to talk about national security.  They can‘t make the same mistake they made in 2004 and cede to the Republican.  But the question is, how do they do that?  And I don‘t think you really being fair to Obama.  You didn‘t play the second half of what he said.  And what he did say was that we have to take the right approach and right approach is not to talk about the fear and paint these pictures of the mushroom clouds and the disasters coming which you have to point is the connection.

ABRAMS:  Let me be very clear Roy -

SEKOFF:  The very real connection between Iraq which has made us less

safer -

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Here‘s the question that was asked.  OK, let‘s be clear about what was asked last night.  Hillary Clinton had been quoted as talking about what happened in England, OK?  And of what happened to the prime minister there soon after he took office and how he was immediately faced with the issue of dealing with a terror attack.  Is that not a fair point to discuss and debate amongst the Democrats?

SEKOFF:  Of course it is.  But the point is, your own network, MSNBC, here we are, they did an exit poll in New Hampshire and 73 percent of the people said they were worried about a major terrorist attack.  And you know the Clinton campaign which is the most poll and focus test group knew that.  And of course, that‘s what she was trying to do.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Kate, I think she was trying to make it an issue in the campaign, but my question is, what‘s wrong with that?

OBENSHAIN:  I‘m with you Dan.  There‘s nothing wrong.  They are making a serious miscalculation if they don‘t talk about it.  But the problem is whenever the Democrats or frankly, Republicans, but will talk about Democrats right now, whenever they even talk reasonably about the threat of terrorism, when they mention it, a real events that occurred, Democrats pile on and say, oh, gosh, they‘re fear mongering.  That‘s exactly what Barack did.

ABRAMS:  I think you‘re right.  Let me get Joe Klein the final thought on this, yes.

KLEIN:  Well, I think that what she was doing an important thing, but she was doing it too coyly.  I‘ve been waiting for Hillary Clinton to make the argument, look, I spent the last five years on the Armed Services Committee.  I have studied the military, I have studied intelligence, I am better prepared to deal with the terrorist attack than Barack Obama is.  But she didn‘t do it upfront like that, she kind of did it sneakily.  And that‘s one of the things that people don‘t like about Hillary Clinton that she doesn‘t face these things front up.  She has a strong case to make for herself as the national security expert, she hasn‘t been making it.

ABRAMS:  I‘ve got to wrap it up.  Joe Klein, good to have you.

OBENSHAIN:  The base doesn‘t want to hear that.

ABRAMS:  Well, she knows that but she won‘t be saying it.

SEKOFF:  Seventy-three percent, of course they -

OBENSHAIN:  That‘s why she‘s coy and careful.

ABRAMS:  Kate and Roy thanks a lot.  I feel great to have you in the house.

Coming up: Republican candidate, Mike Huckabee now saying we need to amend the Constitution so it‘s, quote, “In God‘s standards.”  This guy is supposed to be the so-called liberal Republican in the race.  Is he getting a free pass from some of the inside DC media because well, he‘s a nice guy?

And: As foreigners bail out, many of America‘s struggling banks, why was Hillary Clinton saying last night that we need to know more about how this is happening when she could trying asking one of her top staffer who‘s helping to make it happen?  We‘re On Their Trail, the candidates‘ latest misstatement, blunders, and cheap shots.  Coming up.

We‘ll read your emails.  Send them to Abrams@msnbc.com.” Tell us what we‘re doing right and wrong.  Be sure to include your name and where you‘re writing from.  Back in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Did you know Mike Huckabee said in the recent interview with “CQ” magazine, quote, “There‘s never been a civilization that‘s rewritten what marriage and family means and survived.  Coming up now: The doomsday candidate wants to amend the Constitution so, it‘s quote, “In God‘s standards.”  And he‘s viewed at the liberal Republican?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  While Mike Huckabee finished third in last night‘s primary in Michigan, he still has his Iowa win and a decent showing in Michigan, a state most thought he didn‘t have a chance to win.  But what‘s remarkable about Huckabee is that he‘s viewed by many in the Republican Party as too liberal.  He also seems to get a free pass from some of the inside DC media.  This is a guy who does not believe in evolution and now we learn, he wants to turn the Constitution into a religious document?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE HUCKABEE, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I have opponents in this race who do not want to change the Constitution.  But I believe it‘s a lot easier to change the Constitution than it would be to change the word of the Living God and that‘s what we need to do is to amend the Constitution so, it‘s God‘s standards rather than try to change God‘s standards so it lines with some contemporary view of how we treat each other and how we treat our family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  It seems that many in the DC media are willing to overlook his radical views because well, I think it‘s because he‘s a nice guy.  And to the Republican Party, he maybe too liberal?  Here now is Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and MSNBC political analyst, Lawrence O‘Donnell.  All right.  Lawrence, let me ask you first the media side of this.  I mean, does the media do you think give him a free pass?  What we just heard is radical, radical stuff.

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, it‘s radical phrasing for a political concept.  But it‘s around in the Republican Party for awhile.  It‘s just not normally talked about that way.  Most Republican candidates are in favor of a Constitutional amendment to ban abortion.  I mean, they at least have look sort of this over the years. They know that it is a futile effort and it would never happen.  And so, also, with the defensive marriage.

ABRAMS:  They actually pretty divided, Lawrence (INAUDIBLE).  They are divided on the Constitutional amendment aspect to it.  But again, the question here that what Huckabee just said, isn‘t saying you know, as you know, he‘s not saying, look, I think abortion should be outlawed, I don‘t think we should allow same sex marriage, he‘s saying that we ought to amend the Constitution you know, in God‘s word.

LAWRENCE:  Which raises the question of how many amendments does he need?  I mean, is there going to be one about adultery, I mean, where does this end once you start with the (inaudible) that he‘s mentioning right there?

ABRAMS:  All right.  Tony, I‘m going to ask you for political analysis here.  I mean, don‘t you think that whether you agree with him or not, this is pretty radical stuff.

TONY PERKINS, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL:  No, I think the way it‘s been

interpreted is radical.  But what he simply is that a position that our

nation has held throughout most of its history that life is to be respected

and marriage is between a man and woman happens to be, it does happen to be

God‘s standard which is a Judeo-Christian nation that was founded basically

on those principles, it‘s a no-brainer.  I mean, he‘s not saying -

ABRAMS:  Wait a minute.  You just said though, is it‘s a no-brainer that we ought to apply, we ought to make the Constitution a religious document.

PERKINS:  No, what you‘re reading into it is he‘s somehow trying to say he‘s trying to create a theocracy.  That is absolutely not the case, not what he wants, not what Christians want, it‘s not what the founders wanted.  What is happening is that he‘s simply responding to an effort that‘s been underway for nearly 50 years to remove God and the people who acknowledge him from the public square.

ABRAMS: Public Square is different than in amending to the Constitution, to make it inline with God‘s standards.  In my view, as a lawyer, that‘s dangerous language that he is applying.

PERKINS:  Well, I mean, what‘s more troubling, you know, Huckabee saying we should reflect in our Constitution biblical standards of life and marriage which by the way our nation is held throughout most of its history or a candidate who subscribes to Darwin‘s theory of evolution and survive the fittest proposing the healthcare program?  That‘s a lot more troubling to me.

ABRAMS:  Come on.  I mean, Tony, even you know, if you disagree with it, how radical what you said is.  I mean, the notion that you‘re going to compare evolution.  I love the way those who don‘t want to teach it refer to it as a theory, just like relativity.  It‘s just a theory out there.  Someone just throw it up and they said, you know, let‘s just teach it with the rest of the stuff.  I mean, this crazy talk, Tony.

PERKINS:  Look, what Huckabee is responding to - and by the way, I‘m not supporting, I don‘t have a candidate in this race.  I don‘t agree with him on everything.  But he has a right to state where his views come from.  He has the right to state that his view of life, his view of marriage is based in a biblical view of life which about 80 percent of Americans identifies themselves as Christians.

ABRAMS:  But Lawrence, again, to me the issue isn‘t whether he‘s a devout Christian, isn‘t whether people want a Christian candidate, the question is whether Huckabee politically, and let me ask you political question here Lawrence, does he gain or suffer from this when he‘s talking about amending the Constitution under God‘s standards?

O‘DONNELL:  Well, it sounds a little—there‘s a quack quality to it.  And really, if he had said it the way Republicans have said it in the past, we wouldn‘t be talking about it tonight or just be a standard issue comment by him.  But he‘s sounding little quaky in the way his said it this time.  And it does raise the question and I wonder what Tony thinks of this is—should all 10 commandments be written into the Constitution?  Are those the next 10 amendments that the Constitution needs?  Why not?  I don‘t get it.  If Huckabee is saying, he wants his religion encoded in the Constitution, why would he stop at these two things.

PERKINS:  Lawrence, you know what he‘s doing, he‘s talking about

preserving a standard that has been the standard in this nation.  On

marriage, it continues to be the standard, courts are trying to redefine

it.  Life until 1973 and the court imposed abortion on the nation.  He‘s

not trying to create some standard that hasn‘t been there, he simply trying

to preserve what some have been working for 50 years -

ABRAMS:  I got to wrap it up.  Tony gets the final word on that. 

Thanks a lot, Tony Perkins for coming on the program.  Appreciate it. 

Lawrence O‘Donnell is going to stick around for a later segment.

Coming up: Our new segment - On Their Trail, the candidates‘ most recent misstatements, blunders and cheap shots is coming up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER:  Who‘s the only Democrat who beats all Republicans in the recent CNN poll?  John Edwards is the only one.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Not so fast, Mr. Edwards.  Did you read the most recent CNN poll?

And: View co-host, Sherri Shepherd is at it again.  First, she didn‘t know that the world was round, now, she‘s confused about the color of legend, Patti LaBelle‘s skin.  Coming up in Beat the Press.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It‘s time for tonight‘s Beat the Press.

First up: Our continuing effort to save Courtney Friel, the new FOX News anchor reporter who quickly seems to have developed a lot of enemies over there.  Why?  Just because - well, she‘s really attractive.  Here now, another episode of our continuing chronicle of trials and tribulations of Courtney Friel.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COURTNEY FRIEL, FOX ANCHOR:  Police are questions a person of interest in the case of a missing 24-year-old hiker in Georgia.  Gary Michael Hilton was the last person seen talking to Meredith Emerson.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  They‘re got here in the teleprompter, now they go for the lights.  Stay strong, Courtney, don‘t let the haters over there bring you down.

Next up: Over on CNN, a senior member of the best political team on television seem to have a little trouble last night with the name of presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KING (voice over):  Don‘t let me interrupt you.  Mike Hucklebee‘s speaking.  Here‘s we continue watching the rest of Mr.  Hucklebee‘s speech.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Hucklebee.  Maybe, Larry was confusing Governor Huckabee with the old cartoon character, huckleberry hound.

Finally: The View co-host, Sherri Shepherd never ceases to amaze, offering up another did she really say that moment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERRI SHEPHERD, CO-HOST:  It was so great.  It was like, you know, I had like there‘s a picture of me with Shirley Caesar who‘s like, like the black Patti LaBelle.  This was so crazy.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Patti LaBelle is black.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Coming from the woman who thought the world was flat.

Up next: We‘re On Their Trail.  Exposing the candidates latest misstatements, blunders and cheap shots on the road to the White House.  In just a past few days, some more doozies.  We‘ll show you the latest top five.

Plus: A controversial video that‘s been leaked of Tom Cruise at a Scientology ceremony.  We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

ABRAMS:  We are back now, with our new segment, “On Their Trail.”  We keep a close eye on the candidates running for presidency.  Any misstatements, blunders and cheap shots with help from sources including “The Washington Post” fact checker and factcheck.org.

Joining us the host of “The Stephanie Miller Show,” Stephanie Miller and MSNBC political analyst Lawrence O‘Donnell.

Coming in at number five, Democratic hopeful John Edwards, still in the race and still trying to argue that he‘s the most electable Democrat in a new ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER:  Who‘s the only Democrat who beats all Republicans in the recent CNN poll?  John Edwards is the only one.

JOHN EDWARDS, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m John Edwards and I approve this message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  That depends what you call the most recent CNN poll.  The numbers Edwards ad cites from December when Edwards was the only Democrat to beat all the leading Republicans, at the time.  Obama and Clinton defeated all of them except for McCain.

But a more recent poll shows both Obama and Clinton beating all the Republicans including McCain in head-to-head match ups.

Stephanie Miller, new ad, seemed to be a little misleading at the least.

STEPHANIE MILLER, “STEPHANIE MILLER SHOW”:  Well, Dan, it depends on what the meaning of was is.  He was the only one in December.  Now, he‘s not.  There‘s a lot of fighting among us on the left about electability.  Some people say Hillary is not electable, some say Barack is not electable.  Some say John Edwards is the most electable.  All I know, John, is there‘s going to be great make up sex on the Democratic side when we have a candidate, that‘s all I can tell you.

ABRAMS:  Lawrence, big deal on this one?

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Look, it‘s exactly what you would expect.  The issue is the only one he can cling to at this point.  He is pretty much out of the race so he has to reach way back to find a poll like that.

ABRAMS:  He could have said a recent CNN poll instead of the recent CNN poll.

O‘DONNELL:  It‘s pathetic.

ABRAMS:  Coming in at number four.  Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney finally got a victor last night in Michigan over John McCain.  He was either so excited or so vindictive that he refused to even give McCain a few minutes to let him concede defeat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well my friends.  Thank you all, thank you all, my friends.  For a minute in New Hampshire I thought this campaign was getting easier.

Today, the people of Michigan have spoken, I respect their decision.

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS HOST:  Well, Mitt Romney has decided not to wait for John McCain to finish.  He‘s the winner so we feel obligated to go to him.  Mitt Romney.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Lawrence, that‘s a cheap shot, isn‘t it?  Aren‘t you supposed to allow the losing opponent to say uncle?

O‘DONNELL:  Yeah, really classy guy.  He is - all the Republican candidates, they all say they like each other.  The one candidate they don‘t like is Romney.  Every one of them dislikes Romney, and you can see why.

ABRAMS:  Why are you laughing, Stephanie?

MILLER:  Because this is like a really catty man pageant, Dan.  And they hate Mitt Romney.  Because they have a best hair and they just hate him.  Even a pageant girl knows that you don‘t do that.  You give the loser a couple seconds before you go on stage.

ABRAMS:  At number three Senator Barack Obama displaying his anti-lobbyist bona fides at last night‘s debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I alone of the candidates here have actually taken away the power of lobbyists.  Part of the reason you know who‘s bundling money for various candidates is because of a law I passed this year.  Which says, lobbyists, if you are taking money and putting it together and giving it to whomever in Congress, that has to be disclosed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  It sounds good.  The problem, the public actually cannot keep track of lobbyists that way.  And Obama is partly to blame.  “Congressional Quarterly” reporting, quote, “The Senate standoff over nominations to the Federal Election Commission has left the agency unable to implement, much less enforce, the bundling provision in the new lobbying law.”

Obama and a few others have opposed one of President Bush‘s appointments to the commission.  So while Obama is right, his law is on the books, it‘s not really true we know who is bundling the money thanks to partisan politics.

All right, so that one is a little bit convoluted, Lawrence, but it‘s an issue.  Is it fair, then, for Obama to be saying the public can see it and know it and understand it as a result of him?

O‘DONNELL:  You can go to the Web sites to check who is giving it.  But what you‘re absolutely right about it.  FEC enforcement is the weakest enforcement in the federal government.  There‘s nothing weaker than that.  Even when they‘re at full strength, they usually bring a case, if ever, about a year or two after the campaign.

ABRAMS:  At number two, with the South Carolina primary approaching, Senator John McCain is trying to hit Mitt Romney with abortion.  A mailer McCain is sending says “Romney provided taxpayer abortions.”

The problem, McCain isn‘t telling the whole story here.  Romney never pushed for state funded abortions.  He signed a law bringing health care to low income residents of Massachusetts.  But the decision of what would be covered and what would be not was left up to an independent entity.  They decided abortions would be covered, not Romney.

Stephanie, this one is a significant issue.

MILLER:  Well, you have got to give McCain a break.  What day is it depending on what Mitt Romney thinks.

But I do have in front of me, a Planned Parenthood questionnaire that Mitt Romney filled out when he was running for governor.  Do you support state funding services of abortions through Medicaid for low income women?  Yes.  And then he also wrote, “In the governor‘s race, neither party would deny a woman abortion rights.  So let‘s end an argument that doesn‘t exist and stop these cynical and divisive attacks that are made only for political gain.”

That would be bad, wouldn‘t it, if somebody did something just for political gain?

ABRAMS:  This one—The bottom line, it‘s a great point to make among the Republicans to say you supported state funded abortions, you pushed for it, etc, but again, this is where the misleading stuff, and it‘s not just McCain, it‘s not just on this issue, but this is the stuff that needs to be called out.  Because it does mislead the public as to what the person really felt at the time and how they‘re going to vote now.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, yeah.  Except, with Romney, Stephanie is right about this.  It‘s really hard to know what he ever felt at any given time.  On abortion in particular, he‘s just been so inconsistent over the years.

ABRAMS:  At number one, tonight, weighing in, on the recent news that Citigroup and Merrill Lynch have tapped foreign interests in Asia and the Middle East for billions of dollars to stay afloat, here‘s how Hillary Clinton responded to Brian William‘s at last night‘s Democratic debate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Brian, I‘m very concerned about this.  These funds are controlled often by governmental entities or individuals who are closely connected to the governments of these countries.  I think we have to know more about them.  They have to be more transparent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Well, if she wants answers she should ask one of her chief strategists and pollsters, Mark Penn.  He‘d know.  Penn is the CEO of a big P.R. firm that represents the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority.  A group that purchased a nearly five percent stake in Citigroup this past fall.  Lawrence, what do you make of that?

O‘DONNELL:  Well, it‘s easy to condemn these kinds of operations, when you‘re the New York senator, these are her constituents she‘s talking about, the people who make these kinds of deals.  These are her contributors.  And it turns out Mark Penn is as deeply involved in these kinds of operations as Citibank is.

ABRAMS:  So Stephanie, she needs to go down the hole to get some answers, right?

MILLER:  I was gonna say, Dan.  I like Hillary, but it reminds me a little of President Bush with Karl Rove standing right behind him saying we have to get to the bottom of the Scooter Libby thing.  He‘s right behind you, ask him.  He‘s sitting right there.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Stephanie Miller and Lawrence O‘Donnell.  Thank you very much.  Remember, this is a regular segment.

MILLER:  Thanks, Dan.

ABRAMS:  We‘re going to keep doing this one.  We‘re staying on their trail.  You are going to see it as much as we possibly can come up with it.  As long as we keep doing them, we‘re going to do it.

Up next, after some couch jumping and anti-women rants, Tom Cruise‘s reputation needed some rehab.  Just as he was slowly working back a new tape is leaked from a Scientology ceremony that could make his comeback “Mission Impossible.”

And speaking of couches, it seems like last night, most of America was sitting on one.  Was it enough to make this show a winner of loser tonight?

But first, a new segment called “Reality Bites.”  A sometimes painful dose of reality caught on tape.  Tonight, an Indiana convenience store robber caught on tape demanding cash and cigarettes from a store clerk.  As the clerk turned around to get the pack of smokes, she heard a gunshot go off.  It was the robber while placing the gun in the waistband of his pants.  He accidentally shot himself in his left testicle and left leg.  The crook was wheeled off the hospital and charged with armed robbery.

We‘re back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Just as Tom Cruise may have thought he was winning back his fans, a four year old video of the star talking about Scientology hits the Web.  The video comes on the heels of the unauthorized biography by Andrew Morton.  Story now from NBC‘s Kerry Sanders.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM CRUISE, ACTOR:  Being a Scientologist, people are turning to you.

KERRY SANDERS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Some Web sites are calling this the video Scientologists don‘t want you to see.  But the Church of Scientology says it‘s a pirated 2004 video anyone could see at anytime, in full at any of their churches.

CRUISE:  And to you, Mr. L. Ron Hubbard, I take this as a half ack.

SANDERS:  It‘s a private Scientology award ceremony.

CRUISE:  (Inaudible)

SANDERS:  The Hollywood actor Tom Cruise is a member of the church.  A sometimes secretive religion that followers say is often misunderstood.  Journalist Mark Ebner (ph) claims he joined Scientology and has written extensively about the church.  The video, he says, came from a disgruntled church member.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The tapes getting out clearly was an inside job. 

Clearly someone knows how foolish it would seem to the general public.

SANDERS:  Much of what Tom Cruise says is hard to follow unless you understand Scientology teachings.

CRUISE:  For me it really is KSW.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s short for “keep Scientology working.”

CRUISE:  . and an SP.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He talks about SPs, “suppressive people,” like anyone who dares criticize the cult.

CRUISE:  . PTS, SP, how to shatter depression.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  PTS, those are “potential trouble sources.”

SANDERS:  The church denies it‘s a cult and calls Ebner a fraud, saying he was never even a member.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  That was NBC‘s Kerry Sanders.  Joining me now, Julia Allison, editor at large for “Star” magazine and Tina Dirmann from E! online.  Thanks for both of you for coming on.  Appreciate it.  Julia, how big of a deal is this for Tom Cruise?

JULIA ALLISON, “STAR” MAGAZINE:  It‘s fairly big.  Because he started out in 2005, he made over $600 million doing “War of the Worlds.”  It looked like from that video like he still thought he was filming that film.  And now, he just had a terrible year box office wise.  He doesn‘t have a lot going on now.  Because a lot of people dislike him, distrust him, they think he is a little bit crazy.  It would be easier for people to get over a DUI or say picking up a prostitute like Hugh Grant did, than this.

ABRAMS:  That‘s weird, Tina.  Why does it seem that people hold this in particular so much against Tom Cruise.  He‘s been a Scientologist for a long time and he has still managed to have an extremely successful career.

TINA DIRMANN, E! ONLINE:  Well, he has, but not as open as he has been as open as he‘s been recently in the past couple years, say.  Before that, we knew he was a Scientologist but he was pretty much in the closet about it, if you will.  It‘s only been recently that he‘s so vocal.

Let me say something else, as much as we are fascinated by him and we poke fun at him, and it is true, he didn‘t have a great box office last year, the year before, when all of this really came out, when a lot of this started to break, “Mission Impossible” was a box office success for him.  So I don‘t know that all this is going to mean he‘s box office repellent at this point.  I think he‘s a little Teflon in Hollywood at the end of the day.

ABRAMS:  The Church of Scientology says the video is part of a three hour event.  Nine minutes were leaked and posted on the Internet.  In one really, pretty startling part, Cruise says that Scientologists can help in situations where others cannot, such as when driving past the scene of an accident.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRUISE:  Being a Scientology, when you drive past an accident, it‘s not like anyone else.  As you drive past, you know you have to do something about it.  Because you know you‘re the only one that can really help.  That‘s what drives me, is that I know we have an opportunity and to really help.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Is part of the issue, Julia, that you look at this tape and he‘s so passionate about this.  And it reminds you so much of him in various movies.  You almost get reality and actordom confused.

ALLISON:  Absolutely.  This looks like a trailer for a movie.  He‘s sincere, he‘s earnest, he‘s passionate.  He‘s good looking.  But we don‘t want our actors to be anything but empty vessels on to which we can project whatever fantasy we want.

ABRAMS:  What do you mean?

ALLISON:  OK, in order to be an actor, you have to be able to go into lots of different roles.  If he‘s a Scientologist and he believes in these things in real life, it‘s hard to watch him in a film.  Because we think we know him.  No.

ABRAMS:  Again, but why this?  Again, Tina, why is this worse?  And Julia brought the example, you have all these people in Hollywood who are getting arrested for all sorts of horrible things.  You have Robert Downey Jr. spending years - years?  Years I think behind bars and he‘s coming back.  He‘s celebrated everywhere he goes.

DIRMANN:  But I‘ve got to tell you.  I really kind of disagree with that.  I don‘t think it‘s worse than a DUI.  Let‘s be honest, let‘s look at the book that came out about him.

ABRAMS:  I‘m not saying it‘s worse.  It seems it‘s much more talked about than is Robert Downey.  Every time he‘s in a movie, you don‘t have discussions on the Web and publicly .

ALLISON:  It‘s worse for his reputation.

ABRAMS:  Good, Tina.

DIRMANN:  The difference here is that drug use, I‘m sorry to say it‘s sort of pass’ in Hollywood time and again.  To be a Scientologist, to be a star of his caliber and be associated with something that carries this odd reputation, cult like reputation, that‘s the tabloid draw, if you will.  We‘re all fascinated with it.  It‘s like watching a car wreck.  You can‘t pull away from it.  And it‘s new and it‘s different.  It‘s not like oh he got busted for abusing cocaine.  This is so bizarre that we‘re  riveted by the story line.

ABRAMS:  We‘ve gotten to a good point.  It‘s not like he just got busted.  Come on.  You know.

ALLISON:  He‘s not hurting anyone but Katie Holmes.

ABRAMS:  I‘ve got to read the statement.  “While the video can be seen in any Church of Scientology, what appears on the Internet is a pirated and edited version of a three hour even that further included speeches by several church officials.”

Thank you, Julia Allison and Tina Dirmann, appreciate it.

Up next, in “Winners and Losers.”  “Today” show anchor Hoda Kotb is serenaded by a singer, ouch.  “American Idol” blows the competition away.  And a Las Vegas district judge gives O.J. Simpson the business.

A TV host who was hit on.  That darn “Idol” show is still a hit and that darn fallen idol finally getting hit.  Which will be tonight‘s big winner or loser?  Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It‘s time for tonight‘s “Winners and Losers” for this 16th day of January, 2008.

Our bronze winner, “Today Show” anchor Hoda Kotb serenaded this morning by singer John Legend.  He coaxed her onstage during his performance, then put the moves on.

Not bad.  Still, not quite as good as my friend David Gregory who got down to Mary J. Blige on the show last month.

Our silver winner, “American Idol,” the TV titan returned to the air waves last night and picked up where it left off, trouncing the competition.

Despite post its lowest season premier ratings in four years, “Idol” still managed to pull in 33 million viewers toppling all its competition combined.

But the big winner of the day—Las Vegas district court judge Jackie Glass.  The no nonsense jurist presided over O.J. Simpson‘s court hearing today and took full advantage of the opportunity to verbally spank the Juice.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JACKIE GLASS, LAS VEGAS DISTRICT COURT JUDGE:  I don‘t know, Mr.  Simpson, what the heck you were thinking or maybe that‘s the problem.  You weren‘t.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  On the losers front, our bronze loser, Mike Huckabees‘s new senior campaign supervisor James Pinkerton presumably brought in in part to help with what Huckabee should or shouldn‘t say when dealing with the media.  It turns out Huck‘s new guru may not be the best source of advice.  Here‘s what he said on camera about how to deal with American Muslims who might plot a terrorist attack.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES PINKERTON, HUCKABEE ADVISOR:  I‘d put a cop in front of every mosque until I was completely satisfied nothing was going on.

DAVID CORN, “THE NATION”:  You‘d put a cop in front of every mosque?

PINKERTON:  That‘s what I said.  Put one in there just for safekeeping all the way around.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Our silver loser, disgraced and disbarred Duke prosecutor Mike Nifong who put a bookend on his meteoric fall from grace today by filing for bankruptcy.  The finally remorseful former D.A. who has already spent a day behind bars and now claims he is in the hole for $180 million.  A slight problem when your total assets are less than $244,000.

But the big loser of the day, the Michigan Republican Party.  It seems the folks over there may have been watching “American Idol” last night or maybe the MSNBC Democratic debate instead of paying attention to the primary results.  After the race was already declared for Mitt Romney the party sent out a press release congratulating John McCain.  The glowing statement praised McCain for succeeding in a close-fought victory.  A red faced party spokesman saying they prepared two press releases because the race was so close, and quote, “simply pushed the wrong button.”

It‘s time for our new e-mail segment.  Your chance to tell me what you love or hate about the show.  We‘ll have a new name for it soon.

First up, Robert Erk in Copperopolis, California writes about our campaign coverage and my comments that the media quested Bill Clinton‘s worlds to play into a false story about race.  “So grateful, Dan, for your comments on the media‘s misrepresentation of the facts.  Good to know there are still a few honest journalists.”

But Leon Hilly in Detroit, Michigan, not quite as appreciative, “Your approach to doing the show is simply bush league.  Why do you invite people on and lambaste them if they happen to offer an opinion that is the opposite of your opinion?”

Leon, it‘s obvious, it‘s because they are getting it wrong.  OK.  On Monday, we mocked Mitt Romney for claiming that the world will see more change in the next 10 years than its seen in the past 1,000 years.

Nan Reeds in Jameson, Pennsylvania took issue.  “I question your poking fun at his statement about change over the next 10 years.  I think most futurists would agree with this statement if by change one means the proliferation of knowledge.  For example, a few years ago, I read that medical knowledge is doubling every eight years and by 2010 it was predicted to double every two years.”

OK, even Nan.  Even if it doubles, triples, quadruples every day, you are going to tell me that would mean more change than in the past 1,000 years?

And one-time Natalee Holloway murder suspect Joran Van der Sloot was our big loser of the day on Monday for tossing a glass of wine in a reporter‘s face during a Dutch late night talk show.  I questioned why they were drinking wine during a TV interview.  Ellen in San Francisco is from Europe, “I cannot believe that you‘re so supposed that we drink wine during an evening show.  These kinds of statements are why people in other countries laugh at this country.  It is so uneducated and it has the idea that yet again you look down on social behavior that‘s not normal in other countries.”

Yeah, Ellen, I guess it makes us uneducated that we don‘t want to get wasted during interviews.  I promise, I would not have this show for long if I was drinking before or during the show.

And finally, there‘s this from Michael Collins in Kentucky.  “Recently MSN reported that people in Texas were seeing lights in the sky and claiming that they were alien visitations.  My question is this.  If you consider that UFOs are visitors from deep space, then why would a craft that can travel through deep space need lights?”

Hmm.  That‘s a good question.  We want your ideas for what our new e-mail segment should be called.  We‘ve gotten some great ideas so far.  Keep them coming.  Abrams@msnbc.com.  If we pick your idea you get MSNBC swag and my appreciation.  See you tomorrow.

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

END   

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