updated 1/23/2008 4:26:18 PM ET 2008-01-23T21:26:18

Guests: Rachel Maddow, Jonathan Dienst, Dave Carter, Shawn Robinson, Larry Kobilinisky, Ron Holladay, Pam Bondi

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Tonight: Clinton and Obama trade big punches and serious charges.  We‘re On Their Tail: Separating the truth from the fiction.  We‘re going to tell you who is playing it straight between them.  And usually, straight than Mitt Romney gets fooled in the believing Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger but on it was actually just a spliced together tapes of Arnold.

Plus: Late today: the star of “Brokeback Mountain” found dead in a New York City apartment.  We‘ll have a live report on the latest on the death of Heath Ledger.

But first: It is on.  What was a relatively civil campaign with neither Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton wanted to be seen as the aggressor has now become a battle between seasoned lawyers firing off objections and accusations.  Before we assess who is misstating the facts.  The accusations from last night‘s debate continued on the campaign trail today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Senator Obama is very frustrated.  The events of the last 10 or so days, particularly the outcomes in New Hampshire and Nevada have apparently convinced him to adopt a different strategy.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We can‘t afford a president whose positions change with the politics of the moment.  We need a president who knows that being ready on day one means getting it right from day one.  And South Carolina, if you give me the chance, that‘s the kind of president I intend to be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  And with the South Carolina primary just four days away, today, South Carolina‘s biggest newspaper, “The State” endorsed Obama concluding—the restoration of the Clintons to the White House would trigger a new wave of all out political warfare.  Well, it sure seems no trigger is necessary, the warfare‘s began and we are On Their Trail:

Separating political facts from fiction.  We‘re going to dissect five issues.  I‘ll tell you who‘s right.  I‘m joined by MSNBC political analyst, Lawrence O‘Donnell; Rachel Maddow, also a host on Air America Radio; and Pat Buchanan.  All right.

Round one: Again and again, we hear Bill and Hillary Clinton claiming that Obama has effectively celebrating Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

H. CLINTON:  The facts are that he has said in the last week that he really liked the ideas of the Republicans over the last 10-15 years.  And we can give you the exact quote.

OBAMA:  What you just repeated here today is -

CLINTON:  Barack -

OBAMA:  Wait. No. Hillary, you just spoke -

CLINTON:  I did not say anything about Ronald Reagan.

OBAMA:  You just spoke for two minutes.

CLINTON:  You said two things.

OBAMA:  You just...

CLINTON:  You talked about admiring Ronald Reagan and you talked about the ideas...

OBAMA:  Hillary, I‘m sorry. You just...

WOLF BLITZER, DEBATE MODERATOR:  Senator...

CLINTON:  I didn‘t talk about Reagan.

OBAMA:  Hillary, we just had the tape. You just said that I complimented the Republican ideas. That is not true.

What I said—and I will provide you with a quote—what I said was is that Ronald Reagan was a transformative political figure because he was able to get Democrats to vote against their economic interests to form a majority to push through their agenda, an agenda that I objected to.

CLINTON:  But you also talked about the Republicans having ideas over the last 10 to 15 years.

OBAMA:  I didn‘t say they were good ones.

CLINTON:  Well, you can read the context of it.

OBAMA:  Well, I didn‘t say they were good ones.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  The arguments have been heard.  I give this one, absolutely 100 percent to Obama.  I think the Clintons are distorting what he said.  He never, ever said, he really liked the idea of the Republicans.  Rachel Maddow, do you agree with me?

RACHEL MADDOW, AIR AMERICA RADIO:  No.

ABRAMS:  Tell me why.

MADDOW:  I give this to Clinton actually.  I think she was inelegant and imprecise in the attack.  But if you look up what Obama said, he described the Republican Party as the party of ideas challenging conventional wisdom.

ABRAMS:  He never said he liked the ideas.  He never said it.

MADDOW:  Well, he didn‘t.  But describing them as the party of ideas, it was in an approving way and I think the context is right even though her attack was inaccurate.

ABRAMS:  Inaccurate.  But her attack in my view Lawrence was simply inaccurate.  For her to say that Obama said, he really liked the idea of Republicans, every time he did it, he would talked about the Republicans and say that it‘s a shame that we haven‘t been able to do x.  I‘m going to play the sound byte in a minute.  But what do you think Lawrence?

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Dan, you‘re 100 percent right.  The first person I heard talked this way in the Democratic is Barney Frank back in the ‘80s, talking about how effective Reagan was which is what Obama was talking about, creating the Reagan Democrat.  Obama would love to create Obama Republicans.  Rachel, I don‘t know where you get the idea that Hillary Clinton is in any way right about this.  She‘s pretending that Obama said something he didn‘t and then, she pretends to not understand what he said.   She‘s much smarter than that.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Wait.  I have to play the sound.  I know this sound byte that did Rachel‘s talking about this is probably the most controversial part of what Barack Obama said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  It‘s fair to say the Republicans were the party of ideas for a pretty long chunk of time there over the last 10 to 15 years.  In the sense they were challenging conventional wisdom.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  In the sense that they were challenging conventional wisdom.

MADDOW:  They were the party of ideas.

ABRAMS:  In the sense that they were careless -

MADDOW:  They were the party of ideas- saying that my party, the Democratic Party was not the party of ideas.  Listen, I‘m not happy that he said these things.  I‘m not be lethal about it she‘s attacking him for it rightfully.  I was mad when I heard him say that.

ABRAMS:  Pat, is Barack Obama celebrating your former party?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  No, he‘s not.  He did say, Reagan was a transformational figure, which he was.  He did say, the Republicans in the last 10 or 15 years which take us back to the inauguration of Bill Clinton where the party of ideas appeared to be the party of ideas.  He did not say he agreed with them.  Pat Moynihan once said, the Lawrence‘s old boss, the Republican Party of a sudden became the party of ideas.  Those statements were true.  And they then distort it and they have hammered Barack Obama, (INAUDIBLE) have hurt him.

ABRAMS:  And here‘s what Obama made another point about this talking about what Bill and Hillary Clinton said about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  The irony of this is that you provided much more fulsome praise of Ronald Reagan in a book by Tom Brokaw that‘s being published right now, as did—as did Bill Clinton in the past. So these are the kinds of political games that we are accustomed to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Before I get to round two, I‘m going to give Rachel, one more chance to take it back, Rachel?  Come on.

MADDOW:  I do not take it back.  He phrased Reagan, now, he didn‘t say love Reagan‘s policy, he said he was transformative in that brief political stint.

ABRAMS:  This one goes to Obama.  This is a cheap shot by the Clintons and they know it.  Next up: Round two.  Clintons have been slamming Obama for voting present rather than yes or no over a hundred times and bills that came up in the Illinois State Senate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  You never take responsibility for any vote and that has been a pattern.  You in the Illinois - now, wait a minute.  In the Illinois state legislature, just a minute.  In the Illinois State Senate, Senator Obama voted 130 times present.  That‘s not yes, that‘s not no.  That‘s maybe.  On issue after issue that really were hard to explain or understand it‘s just very difficult to get a straight answer.

OBAMA:  In Illinois, oftentimes you vote present in order to indicate that you have problems with a bill that otherwise you might be willing to vote for.  And oftentimes you have a strategy that would help move the thing forward.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  They are both technically right here.  But it works (ph) Obama‘s I believe to suggest he was unwilling to take a stand on these issues rather than at times deciding what will be more strategic not to vote on a bill that he had concerns about.  Lawrence O‘Donnell, again, I‘m going to give this one to Obama.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, I think the truth of it is with Obama.  Listen, I‘m a creature of the Senate, I worked in the United States Senate for seven years.  So, I understand all the parliamentary niceties of what Obama‘s talking about.  I do think however, Edwards double-teaming Obama on this one with Hillary was probably something that probably played to Hillary‘s benefit in that exchange.  Obama could say and he didn‘t and maybe doesn‘t realize it that Hillary Clinton as a United States senator has missed more votes in the Senate than Obama voted present on.  All the senators missed voter, they cast thousands of votes and missed hundreds of them.

ABRAMS:  Put aside missing votes, Pat.  I mean, you have senators who vote against bill that they fundamentally agree with because there‘s an amendment slip in the last minute and they say, you know what, you‘re going to put in that amendment, I‘m not going to vote for that bill and then, lo and behold, they get accused, oh, no, you didn‘t support x, y and z.

BUCHANAN:  You saw (ph) you‘re depending voting against that bill before I voted for.  (INAUDIBLE) Hillary won this battle because she stated the facts accurately and the facts raised questions in people‘s minds which you cannot answer in 20 seconds.

ABRAMS:  But is it a fair question, Pat?.

BUCHANAN:  It‘s a fair question.  Look, it raises a question in my mind.  I want it explained and you can‘t explain it in 15 seconds.

ABRAMS:  Yes, but that‘s the point of this program.  In this program, we‘re trying to spend more than 15 second and actually get into whether it‘s fair.

BUCHANAN:  I scored that and it‘s easily Hillary.  It‘s a good shot.

MADDOW:  I think this one definitely goes to Obama because when

Hillary said, it‘s not a yes or a no, is voting present is a maybe?  It‘s

not actually true.  This is a cheap shot because -

ABRAMS:  There were times, (INAUDIBLE) in the voting booth (ph) said, please vote present.  So he vote present.

MADDOW:  This is cheap shot.  It looks damning to say you voted

present but  the longer than 15-second explanation that takes to explain

the parliamentary procedure -

ABRAMS:  Right.  It‘s a great political move.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDOW:  You don‘t have the chance to do that.

ABRAMS:  Yes, it‘s a great political move, Pat.  I‘m talking about who

get political points here, I‘m talking whether it‘s fair -

BUCHANAN:  So, how do you know his present votes were votes of nearly thoughtfulness and it weren‘t ducking the issue.  That‘s a suspicion raised, now (INAUDIBLE) raised.  Point to Hillary.

ABRAMS:  Now, I still give this one to Obama although I think they‘re both factually, technically correct.

Round three: With Congress and the White House talking about pumping billions of dollars in the economy hoping to stave off recession.  Obama and Clinton had it out over past Senate bills dealing with bankruptcy.  First up: The 2001 bill that made it harder for Americans to declare bankruptcy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  In the last debate, Senator Clinton said she voted for it, but hoped that it wouldn‘t pass.  I don‘t understand that approach to legislation.

CLINTON:  I said very clearly, I regretted voting for it.  And I was happy that it didn‘t get into law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Now, look, Obama‘s been attacking her all day about her unwillingness to just vote no against this.  But this is the same sort of cheap shot she‘s labeling (ph) Obama, over her present votes.  At least she‘s being straight about it.  She changed her mind.  She‘s saying, you know what, here‘s what I did, I‘m sorry I did it.  And Lawrence, I want to encourage people to be straight.  I respect the fact she‘s coming forward and she‘s saying, you know what, here‘s how I voted, it‘s just kind of a lame answer to say, oh, I was glad it didn‘t pass.  That you just say, here‘s how I voted and you know what, I made a mistake.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, I agree.  And I don‘t know a senator who doesn‘t regret a vote that he or she has cast at some point.  The trouble with this one is, this was a prominent vote.  It was lobbied heavily by Wall Street which Hillary represents and everybody knew well ahead of time, that this was in Democratic Party term, an anti-consumer vote.  Certainly, in the populous terms of this presidential campaign, it was a very anti-consumer vote.  So, it‘s—I understand Hillary regretting it.  She‘s good to be honest that way.  You know, Obama scored points of being on what the Democrats now think of as a right side of that bill.  So, this one plays like a tie for me.

ABRAMS:  That‘s right and that‘s why on this one, I was going to give a divided ruling in the end because on Hillary supposed flip-flopping, I give it to Hillary but she‘s allowed to change her mind, and then, later changed her vote, but she questioned whether Obama was unwilling to take on the credit card companies.  He can also accurately say, he didn‘t feel the bill get enough.  Go ahead, Pat.

BUCHANAN:  It was too muddled to be a point for other side but Hillary gets points for her assertiveness at the end.  The way she answered and in other words, I give this, then I made a mistake.  OK.  I mean that comes off, to me, very well.  And the whole thing frankly, is very tough to follow.

ABRAMS:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  Lawrence is much in the details of it.  And when you look at it that way, I would give it to Obama.  But I don‘t think the audience on television has that much detail.

ABRAMS:  Yes, I agree.

MADDOW:  I think this is why we don‘t end up with senators becoming president very often.  Because you try to come up with big moral, good guy, bad guy fight about this specific vote and it‘s hard enough to do it on individual bills, let alone the bills plus the amendments.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Right now, as we go into break here, we got in my score card, Hillary, sorry, Obama scored two, there‘s one split, I slightly siding towards Hillary on that one.  But coming up: I‘ve got a big one for Hillary coming up.

And: We get to what may have been the biggest cheap shots in the debate last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  When I was working on those streets watching the folks see their jobs shift overseas.  You were a corporate lawyer sitting on the board of Wal-Mart.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Hillary got a shot on that one too.  We‘ll continue our tally of fact versus fiction.

And: “Brokeback Mountain” star, Heath Ledger found dead in his New York City apartment late today.  Police say, his housekeeper found him naked with sleeping pills nearby.  But tonight, had just said, there is no sign of suicide.  We‘ve got late breaking details.  We read emails: abrams@msnbc.com. Tell us what we doing right and wrong.  Be sure to include your name and where you‘re writing from.  I‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Did you know according to a recent study, people who lie move their arms, hands and fingers less and don‘t blink as much as people telling the truth.  Liars also tend to become more tense or high pitch.  Coming up, we continue our On Their Trail segment: Fact checking: Clinton versus Obama as they sling the mud.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We are back, weighing, evaluating the battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama over the facts.  We‘re doing the fact check here telling you who we think was right and wrong in the mud slinging.  So far, I‘ve given two to Obama, one a I give a split decision with the slight edge towards Hillary.

Next up: Round four.  This is a big one.  Barack Obama taking issues with both Hillary and Bill Clinton for challenging his stance and voting record on the Iraq war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  When President Clinton says I wasn‘t opposed to the war from the start or says it wasn‘t a fairy tale, that I opposed the war, that is simply not true.

CLINTON:  And I want to be just very explicit about this.  We are not, neither my campaign nor anyone associated with it, are any way saying you did not oppose the war on Iraq.  You did.  You gave a great speech in 2002 opposing the war in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Hillary Clinton wins this one.  It is completely fair for Clinton to ask about Obama‘s voting record and for Bill and Hillary to be frustrated that there‘s a sense that Obama voted against funding the war.  He did not.  Rachel?

MADDOW:  Yes, it is right that they are going after him for that.  But there‘s a place where Clinton goes off the rails which is why I give to Obama.  Clinton says, by the next year, you were in the Senate.  You are voting to fund the war.  Time and again, time and again.  What is Hillary Clinton thinking indicting another candidate for funding the war?  Pot meet kettle, kettle meet pot.  That‘s not an issue she ought to be raising.

ABRAMS:  But what she‘s saying to me, Lawrence, is don‘t celebrate.  Let me actually bring in Pat.  Pat, what she‘s saying to me is don‘t celebrate Obama that much.  She‘s saying look, I give you credit for your 2002 vote speech, but when it came to the actual voting, you didn‘t vote differently than George Bush.  And you know what?  I‘m not saying that Ted Kennedy did either, but it‘s a fair point for her to bring up.

BUCHANAN:  It‘s perfectly fair and it‘s perfectly accurate.  And apparently, he did pulled down from his Web site the 2002 speech.  They are perfectly justified, Bill Clinton was perfectly justified in laying it out chapter and verse and he called it a fairy tale.  But what killed Obama‘s folks was they thought Clinton was calling his whole campaign a fairy tale.  They reacted.

ABRAMS:  Lawrence, I don‘t even believe they thought that.  I think that they tried to use it as a tool then they got ridiculous allegations that somehow, he was saying, oh, it‘s a fairy tale that an African-American candidate—that was total nonsense.  But even the idea that Bill Clinton can say it‘s a fairy tale that Barack Obama has been able to continue this campaign without being question about his Iraq voting record.  It‘s totally legitimate.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, but that isn‘t what Bill Clinton said.  He suggested that Obama‘s entire position on the war over time is a fairy tale and the real problem for the Clinton campaign is the insertion of Bill Clinton.  And when you put Bill Clinton in the credibility contest, the odds are, he‘s not going to win.  I mean, remember what Bob Kerry said about Bill Clinton, Bob Kerry, who has endorsed Hillary Clinton, this is a friend of the Clinton‘s.  He said, Bill Clinton is an unusually good liar.

BUCHANAN:  Here‘s where Lawrence is wrong.  Bill Clinton has engaged the opposition candidate.  He is a surrogate.  He‘s gotten dragged in into this fight.  He‘s beat him up.  Obama is fighting back now.  He is frustrated.  He‘s lost everything he had coming out of Iowa which was himself, a transformative candidate.  They have just about sunk Obama doing this stuff.  It‘s been effective whether you like it or not.

MADDOW:  Let me make a point here.  That is the average Democratic

leading voter and the average independent voter who might vote for a

Democrat, here‘s a heck of a lot more about the war than is it Bill or

Hillary who said this and which vote, was it on the Web site.  The big

picture here that people are getting is Obama was right when Clinton was

wrong about the war.  And they both -

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  The big picture is Obama is losing.  He‘s losing for heaven‘s sakes.

ABRAMS:  But the point is—the point is, in my view, is that Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton‘s comments are being distorted and misstated on this one, I absolutely give it to the Hillary round.

Next up: In the final round of our five-round battle.  The insults fired off last night, Obama got it started; Clinton was armed and ready to respond.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  While I was working on those streets watching those folks see their jobs shift overseas, you were a corporate lawyer sitting on the board at Wal-Mart.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  I was fighting these fights. I was fighting these fights. So -

but I want to be clear.    So I want to be clear.

CLINTON:  I was fighting against those ideas when you were practicing law and representing your contributor, Resco, in his slum landlord business in inner city Chicago.

(APPLAUSE)

OBAMA:  No, no, no.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  The big winner on this Rachel, is John Edwards at the Republican Party.

MADDOW:  That‘s exactly what I was going to say.  Edwards spent the

last four years walking picket lines siding with people who cast

(INAUDIBLE) -

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Lawrence, did either of them gain anything from that?

BUCHANAN:  Come on.  Listen, Obama slapped her in the face after the bell had been sounded and she turned and kicked him in the groin.  She won that one.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Come on.

O‘DONNELL:  Dan, I have to defer to my mother on this one.  She is the most ardent Hillary supporter I know in the country and she hated this exchange.  She said maybe Hillary came out on top, but I really don‘t like the way she did it.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  It was a loss for both of them.  All right.  And so on today‘s (INAUDIBLE), just based on what happened in one day, I put down two firmly in the Obama camp, one firmly in the Clinton camp, one kind of a split with a lean towards Clinton.  So, in this battle, Obama wins.  Last night, when I did it, Bill Clinton beat Obama.  We are going to continue to stay On Their Trail.  Making sure that they stay accurate on the facts.  Lawrence O‘Donnell, Rachel Maddow and Pat Buchanan, thanks a lot.

Coming up: “Brokeback Mountain” star, Heath Ledger found dead in his New York City apartment.  His housekeeper found the 28-year-old actor naked with a bottle of sleeping pills nearby.  But police saying late tonight, there is no sign of suicide.  We‘ll have a live report.

And: A home shopping anchor loses it on camera.

Who could knew that selling fake jewelry could do that to you?  Beat the Press is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up: Poor Wolf Blitzer, you have to love him.  But the CNN anchor had a rough time last night moderating the Democratic debate as the candidates stepped all over him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  These are the kinds of political games we are accustomed to.

BLITZER:  Let‘s wrap it up, then we‘ll come to you.

CLINTON:  I want to clarify the record.  Wait a minute.

BLITZER:  Senator Edwards, hang on.

There‘s been a specific charge leveled against Hillary Clinton, so she can respond.

CLINTON:  I just want to be sure.

BLITZER:  We have a long time to go.

CLINTON:  We‘re just getting warmed up.

OBAMA:  And that‘s what I‘ve done.

BLITZER:  I‘m going to go to Suzanne.  She has a question -

CLINTON:  Let me just get in here.

JOHN EDWARDS:  It requires—both of them talked.  You have to let me say a word.

BLITZER:  Thirty seconds, please.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  It was clear who was in control, but it was a good debate.

Next up: To the Home Shopping Network where anchor, Colleen Lopez lost control talking to a viewer on the phone.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WOMAN CALLER:  Say hi to Abby for me.  She‘s sitting here.

COLLEEN LOPEZ, ANCHOR:  Hi, Abby.

WOMAN CALLER:  She‘s by baby dog.

LOPEZ:  - you might have just done it.

You might have pushed me off the edge.

WOMAN CALLER:  She loves you.  She watches you all the time.

LOPEZ:  It‘s wonderful.  Diane, thank you so much.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Looks like the pressure of selling imitation jewelry has done her in.  We need your help Beating the Press.  If you see anything right or wrong, amusing or absurd, go to our Web site: Abrams.msnbc.com and leave us a tip in the box.

Up next: Breaking tonight: “Brokeback Mountain” actor Heath Ledger, found dead in a New York City apartment building.  He was naked and police say, sleeping pills were on a night table nearby.  But just a few moments ago, they have said, there was no sign of suicide.  We‘ve got the late details.

Plus: A 19-year-old college student missing after a night out on the town.  She was last seen sleeping on a friend‘s couch on an off-campus home.  Now, it‘s a suspected kidnapping.  There are breaking details in that story as well.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, a 19-year-old college student home on winter break may have been kidnapped after a night of partying with friends. 

Plus, Drew Peterson, still a suspect in his wife‘s disappearance isn‘t looking for - but apparently he‘s hanging out in bars where he claims the ladies are all over him.  The Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney gets prank called by his own son pretending to be Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Those stories are coming up in tonight‘s “Winners and Losers.”

But first, we‘ve got breaking news tonight.  Actor Heath Ledger found dead late this afternoon in a downtown Manhattan apartment.  His death already causing shock waves from New York to Hollywood, to Australia, where he was born.  Initial reports suggested his death may have been suicide.  But just minutes ago, police came out and said they are waiting for results of the autopsy that will be performed tomorrow. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE POLICE OFFICER:  What I want to stress is the police department has made no determination as to the cause of death.  We‘re awaiting the medical examiners report on that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Ledger‘s body was found when his housekeeper led his masseuse to the fourth floor Soho apartment.  They found the 28-year-old actor naked and unconscious on the bed with sleeping pills, both prescription and nonprescription, on a night stand nearby, according to police.  Celebrity news Web site, TMZ, is reporting he had pneumonia when he died. 

Ledger has received much praise and an Oscar nomination for his role in “Brokeback Mountain.”  Other roles include the suicidal son of Billy Bob Thornton in “Monster‘s Ball” and starring roles in “Knight‘s Tale” and “The Patriot.”  Ledger was scheduled to appear as The Joker in the “Dark Knight,” a sequel to 2005 “Batman Begins.”  Ledger separated from fiancee, actress Michelle Williams last year.  They had a daughter together, two-year-old Matilda. 

Here now is WNBC investigative reporter, Jonathan Dienst.  All right.  Jonathan, so what do we know about the investigation? 

JONATHAN DIENST, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST, WNBC:  Well, right now at this hour, police at the fifth precinct are still speaking with the maid and the masseuse who found the body.  Police, since this broke this afternoon, have been stressing that there is no known cause of death, that they need to wait for the medical examiner. 

There were those prescription medications found on a night stand; more found in a medicine cabinet inside the bathroom there.  They say the apartment was very neat.  Nothing unusual or troubling, no suicide note, for example.  So they are waiting for the medical examiner to determine the cause of death. 

The 911 call came in around 3:30 this afternoon.  We believe that was made by the maid, because he had set up an appointment for this massage therapist to come and give him a massage around 3:30.  They knocked on the bedroom door.  When they opened it, he was found face down, naked, next to his bed.  And they ran over to him.  They said he did not appear to be breathing.  One fire department source telling us that the 911 call said they felt him that he was cold.  And they called 911.  They arrived and they did not find any sign of life.  And EMS officials pronounced him dead at the scene.

ABRAMS:  So, Jonathan, let‘s be clear because I want to go to Larry Kobilinsky about some of the information you‘re giving us.  The body was cold, they say, when they got there? 

DIENST:  That‘s the information on the 911 call, as to - you know.  That‘s what, - You know, if you look at the 911 printout as was read to us, “Man not breathing.  The body is called.  Please hurry.” 

ABRAMS: Got it.

DIENST:  And they got there.  And our understanding is when they did arrive that he was not breathing and that he was pronounced dead a short time later by the Emergency Medical Service technicians who arrived. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Jonathan Dienst, thank you very much.  Appreciate it.  Let‘s bring in Dave Carter, senior writer for “Entertainment Weekly;” Shawn Robinson, the weekend anchor and correspondent with “Access Hollywood;” and DNA and forensics expert Larry Kobilinsky.  Thanks to all of you.  I appreciate it. 

All right.  Larry, let me just start with some of the facts of what we know here, all right?  He had a 3:30 p.m. massage scheduled.  Now, again, when you hear about sleeping pills around the body, people automatically think maybe it was suicide.  But a bit little unusual to have a massage scheduled when you‘re going to kill yourself. 

LARRY KOBILINSKY, DNA AND FORENSICS EXPERT:  You‘re asking the right question because what we need to do is try to get into the mind of this person and to try to figure out was he depressed?  Did he have a reason to commit suicide?  I mean if he was getting a massage, it just doesn‘t fit if he was going to commit suicide. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Dave, I‘m going to read you a couple of quotes from him from November 4, 2007 from “The New York Times.”  I know you interviewed Heath Ledger, so I want to ask you if it‘s consistent with what you know. 

He said, “‘Last week, I probably slept an average of two hours a night.  I couldn‘t stop thinking.  My body was exhausted and my mind was still going.‘  One night, he took an Ambien, which failed to work.  He took a second one and fell into a stupor, only to wake up an hour later, his mind still racing.”  That‘s from “The New York Times,” and he went on to say, playing The Joker in this Batman remake, “psychopathic, mass-murdering, schizophrenic clown with zero empathy.”  That‘s actually according - That was Heath Ledger‘s quote.  Was he depressed? 

DAVE CARTER, SENIOR WRITER, “ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY”:  Well, I spent a considerable amount of time with him years ago for a feature I did.  We spent hours together.  In the entire time that we were talking - we were in a bar and there were crayons and paper napkins around.  He was just very, very fidgety.  The entire time that we did it, he was saying things like, “I have ADD.  I self-diagnosed myself.  I get bored very easily.” 

And the entire time we spoke, he was doodling on these paper napkins with such force that the napkins were ripping apart as he was doing it. 

And that‘s one thing - I even went back and looked at my notes earlier today after I had heard that he had passed.  And in my notes I had written down that he reminded me of Mel Gibson on a talk show couch, but even amped up a couple of notches.  He definitely had a lot of nervous energy.  And the times I interacted with him, he always never really seemed comfortable in his own skin.  He wasn‘t comfortable with the attention.  You know, he was offered the job to play Spiderman in the Spiderman films, but he turned it down.  I think it made him uncomfortable the idea of having that much attention placed on him.

ABRAMS:  You know, Shawn, he also was recently separated from his fiancee and they have a child together.  Any indication that that may have had an impact here?  Or I wanted to - (UNINTELLIGIBLE) How did that impact him? 

SHAWN ROBINSON, WEEKEND ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT, “ENTERTAINMENT

WEEKLY”:  Well, Dan, we understand that Heath was very upset about the break up.  You know, he and Michelle Williams - they had a relationship.  They had a beautiful, beautiful daughter.  That relationship ended not long ago, and there are reports that he was very, very upset about the breakup of that relationship.  And who knows, whether he was hoping for or looking forward to a reconciliation. 

The news was just so shocking today.  I was actually on my way back home to Los Angeles.  And I got the message on my Blackberry.  So I actually went down to the scene to meet the “Access Hollywood” producer and our camera crew.  And as Dave was saying, Heath really shied away from the media.  He didn‘t like all this attention.  And so it was just so ironic all these people were outside of his apartment. 

ABRAMS:  Dave, what was his relationship with his daughter?  I mean, very important part of his life.

CARTER:  The fact heath and Michelle Williams split up was a huge surprise last fall because they seemed like such a solid family unit.  They had moved to Brooklyn to be away from everything and they seemed like everybody was getting along great.  So their split was a huge surprise as well. 

ABRAMS:  Larry, they say the autopsy begins.  How long will that take? 

How long will it take to get some medical answers? 

KOBILINSKY:  Well, the autopsy probably will take a couple hours.  But I think the key here is the toxicology report.  That may very well take a week, perhaps a little more.  There may be drugs already in his system that have nothing to do with the prescription drugs. 

ABRAMS:  And how do you determine accidental versus intentional? 

KOBILINSKY:  Well, that‘s very hard.  That‘s going to be a very tough decision that the medical examiner has to make for manner of death - suicide, accident.  I don‘t know the answer to that.  I think they‘re going to have to size up, do the psychological autopsy, add it to the information.  Who gave him the prescription?  What was the prescription?  Was there a synergistic effect between the prescription medication and maybe something else in his system?  All of this has to be cleared up.  Probably, we‘ll know the answer within a week or a little bit more. 

ABRAMS:  You know, Shawn, finally, we‘re getting a lot of statements now from various people in Hollywood, from Mel Gibson, from his managers, agents.  I mean, this is a guy who was generally very well liked. 

ROBINSON:  Yes, absolutely.  And once again, as we say, he really kind of shied away from all of the media attention.  But accolades all around Hollywood are coming in.  We have comments from Mel Gibson, from Nicole Kidman and a number of other people who worked with him.  And you know, all of them, basically, Dan, say the same thing, that he was just very much a professional on the set.  And also they talked about how his star was rising and that there were so many good things ahead for him in his future.  And they just consider this a devastating loss, an actor cut short in his prime.  Only 28 years old. 

ABRAMS:  Let me make a point and that is we‘ve been talking about what the police have said.  And I think that they have been very smart to say that they don‘t know if this was suicide at this point.  There was no suicide note.  All they know is that there were pills there.  But again, as Larry Kobilinsky points out, unclear, impossible to know at this point whether it was some sort of accident.  Again, TMZ reporting that he had pneumonia.  So there‘s a lot of information that still needs to be gathered here before we draw any conclusions about this.  We‘re going to stay on it.  If we get any new information in the next 18 minutes, we‘re going to bring it to you live right here on the program.  We‘re staying on top of the story because it‘s constantly breaking.  Dave Carter, Shawn Robinson, Larry Kobilinsky, thanks a lot.  I appreciate it.

Up next, a 19-year-old college student on winter break missing after a night of partying, last seen asleep on a friend‘s couch.  The FBI on the case.  She‘s now believed to have been kidnapped, but in the last hour, the person of interest in the case walked into the police department to answer questions.  We‘ll get the late breaking update from the police. 

And later, Dr. Phil just can‘t seem to say he‘s sorry for inserting himself into the Britney Spears mess.  He is one of tonight‘s big winners or losers.  Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Did you know, according to the FBI, there are currently 50,930 active missing adult cases in the United States?  Coming up, a 19-year-old college student after a night of partying with friends, now believed to have been kidnapped.  There is a late breaking detail in this story, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  There are breaking developments tonight in the case of a 19-year-old college student believed to have been kidnapped from an off-campus home in Reno, Nevada early Sunday morning.  Moments ago, a key person of interest, man driving a truck in this surveillance photo, showed up at the police station to voluntarily answer questions. 

He dropped off the missing student‘s friend hours before the student disappeared.  So again, he knew where the home was, et cetera.  Brianna Denison was on winter break from her college in Santa Barbara, California.  She had been partying with some friends in her hometown of Reno when she disappeared. 

She was last seen sleeping on her friend‘s couch at 4:00 a.m.  Authorities now say they found drops of blood on a pillow she used.  Her purse, cellphone, and two pairs of shoes were left at the home undisturbed.  The teddy bear her friend gave her also missing.  Commander Ron Holladay from the Reno Police Department joins us on the phone.  Commander, thanks a lot for taking the time.  I appreciate it.  All right.  So you‘ve been looking for this man, this 45-year-old who had apparently been driving the truck and he just arrived at the police station? 

COMMANDER RON HOLLADAY, RENO POLICE DEPARTMENT (on the phone):  He did, yes.

ABRAMS:  And what did - he just walked in and said, “I understand you want to talk to me?” 

HOLLADAY:  Yes, that‘s the information we‘re getting.  He heard through the media releases and came in and talked to us. 

ABRAMS: Does he remain a person of interest? 

HOLLADAY:  He does not.  We‘ve eliminated him as a suspect and we have no further need to speak with him or seek another vehicle that might be similar in nature. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Because that‘s a major development.  Up to this point, there‘s been a lot of talk about him because he dropped off a friend of hers at the home.  And now you‘re saying, you talked to him, know where he was and not a person of interest. 

HOLLADAY:  Yes.  We have accounted for whereabouts and determined that he has not been involved in the case other than to drop off a friend earlier that morning. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  As you know, one family member had been speculating about someone close to her being a possible suspect.  Can you talk about that? 

HOLLADAY:  If you‘re referring to the boyfriend of the missing person, that is correct.  However, he is not a suspect and we have eliminated as a suspect as well.  So to call him a suspect would be entirely incorrect.

ABRAMS:  Right, because an aunt had said, “Oh, you know, the boyfriend is a suspect.”  I think it‘s very important to say he is not. 

HOLLADAY:  Yes.  That causes him no end of grief as you might imagine.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  So what do we know?  So now we‘ve ruled out two people, so far, that we‘ve been talking about here.  Forget about the boyfriend because he was never a person of interest, never a suspect.  But the man with the car now ruled out as well.  Do you have anyone else that you‘re looking for? 

HOLLADAY:  We don‘t have anything that will lead us to a particular suspect at this time.

ABRAMS:  Commander, stand by.  Let me bring in Prosecutor Bondi.  Pam, big development here because this is the man that they have been talking about for a long time. 

PAM BONDI, PROSECUTOR:  Yes, Dan, it is.  And I‘ll tell you what, he did a great service to law enforcement by coming in.  By coming in, now, they can focus on the right path instead of looking for that car and searching for him.  And I think it‘s great they‘ve come out and eliminated him as a suspect.  So he really helped in this investigation.

ABRAMS:  Commander, are you convinced this was a kidnapping? 

HOLLADAY:  Everything that we have, all the evidence indicates that there has, in fact, been an abduction.  There‘s too many circumstances.  Her were clothes are there, her personal belongings, the drop of what appears to be blood on the pillow - things like that, the open doors in the residence all lead us to believe that it has been abduction.  It‘s my sincere hope that it is not an abduction and she‘s off with friends and she‘s going to come walking in the door in any minute.  But the longer we go past the time of occurrence, the lower that chance is. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, Pam, it sounds there‘s a lot of indications here that this was foul play. 

BONDI:  It does.  And Dan, she is only 98 pounds and five feet tall.  So she‘s so tiny and she would be so easy to overpower.  And of course, the blood is what concerns me the most. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Commander, thanks very much for taking the time. 

And thank you for this late breaking update.  We appreciate it.

HOLLADAY:  You‘re very welcome. 

ABRAMS:  Pam Bondi, as always, thank you. 

BONDI:  Thanks, Dan.

ABRAMS:  If you got any information that could be helpful to the case, please contact the Reno, Nevada Police Department at (775) 745-3521. 

Up next, will tonight‘s big winner or loser be Drew Peterson, still a suspect in his wife‘s disappearance?  He says he‘s getting hit on by loads of women in bars.  Is he giving them an Oscar winning performance? 

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney prank called by his own son pretending to be Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has never won an Oscar.  Or actress Cate Blanchett, nominated this morning for two Oscars, real ones.  If she wins, she‘ll make history.  “Winners and Losers” is coming up.

(MUSIC)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It‘s time for tonight‘s “Winners and Losers” on this 22nd day of January, 2008.  Our bronze loser, suspect Drew Peterson, still not out searching for his missing wife, Stacy.  But now claiming that since his infamy, he‘s become even more of a ladies man.  He visited a local bar over the weekend and said he received a lot female attention.  Some even driving by his house, dropping off love letters.  A woman who falls for Peterson could be his perfect match - an attention-seeking wacko. 

Our silver loser, Mitt Romney who had some awkward moments on the campaign trail as of late. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FMR. GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  who let the dogs out?  Who, who.  And even some bling bling here, too.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Ugh.  Uncomfortable.  And then there was Romney‘s son, Matt, setting up dad, tricking him into thinking Arnold Schwarzenegger was on the phone.  It was actually just sliced-together tape of Arnold. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY‘S SON, PRETENDING TO BE GOV. ARNOLD

SCHWARZENEGGER:  Governor of California. 

MITT ROMNEY:  Governor, I‘m Mitt Romney, how are you? 

MATT ROMNEY:  Hi, how are you? 

MITT ROMNEY:  I‘m just fine, Governor.  How are you doing today. 

MATT ROMNEY:  Good.  Good. 

MITT ROMNEY:  What can I do for you? 

MATT ROMNEY:  First, I would like to just get to know you. 

MITT ROMNEY:  Well, we‘ve had the chance -

MATT ROMNEY:  I want to ask you a bunch of questions and I want to have them answered immediately. 

MITT ROMNEY:  Go right ahead and shoot. 

MATT ROMNEY:  Bipartisanship, always.  My principles of leadership, progress over politics. 

MITT ROMNEY:  Well, I don‘t think anyone can disagree with that. 

MATT ROMNEY:  Who is your daddy and what does he do? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Oh.  The big loser of the day - Dr. Phil, who just can‘t seem to say he‘s sorry to Britney Spears or her family.  He admitted yesterday on his talk show that he didn‘t help matters when he visited Britney in the hospital earlier this month. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. PHIL MCGRAW, TV PSYCHOLOGIST:  I don‘t think I helped the situation so far.  And that pains me greatly, because my intention has been to be a good friend and supporter to this family. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  But apologize to the family.  He‘s our big loser.

Our big winner of the day?  Actress Cate Blanchett, nominated for the best actress and best supporting actress Oscars for her roles as Queen Elizabeth and Bob Dylan.  Yes, that‘s here her, playing the legendary rock star in the film “I‘m Not There.”  If she wins both, she‘ll make history as the actress to ever score a double in one night. 

Time for our new E-mail segment, your chance to tell me what you love or hate about the show.  First up, last night, we assessed who was right and wrong in the recent battles between Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

Mike Rouse from Bentonville, Arkansas, “I appreciate your attempt tonight at fact checking the Clinton/Obama face off.  It‘s really rare to find a journalist, commentator, or TV personality that even tries to get the facts right of to focus on what‘s really going on in this election.” 

Thanks, Mike.  But some of you are convinced I‘m playing favorites.  Mickey in Palm Desert, California, “Sorry Dan, but for a guy who says he has no dog in this fight, I‘m following you around with a pooper scooper tonight.  Clearly, you are leaning toward the Clinton camp.”

Omar, in Edison, New Jersey, “It‘s obvious your comments and positions favor Senator Clinton.”  But Nancy in Denver writes, “Are you becoming biased towards Obama?  If you‘re going to take sides and support this man, get a talk show like Oprah.”

Marty Erwin in Las Vegas, “When did you become an employee or volunteer for Obama‘s campaign?”  I mean come on, people.  Give me a break.

Finally, Pete from Laredo, Texas, writes about our “Beat The Press” segment, where we called out Fox for encouraging female anchors to wear short skirts and low blouses.  “I‘ve been telling people here in Laredo about “Fox and Friends” and other shows that show off women‘s legs to a great extent.  I‘m proud that you finally saw it and said something about it, for the sake of the children.”

Thanks, Pete.  Got to go.  See you tomorrow.  

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

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