updated 2/8/2008 12:16:10 PM ET 2008-02-08T17:16:10

Guests:  Adam Smith, Peter Beinart, Jonathan Turley, Rachel Maddow, Peter Beinart, Lars Larson, Dr. Julie Holland, Susan Filan

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  As Clinton and Obama appear to be heading toward convention chaos, our campaign continues to get rid of the Democratic VIPs known as superdelegates who will almost certainly decide the outcome rather than voters.

And: The far right has its own VIPs.  Radio hosts who‘d seemed to have lost their mojo.  From Rush Limbaugh to Laura Ingraham, to Michael Savage have long been calling for someone other than McCain.  Well, it looks like they lost the battle.  Doesn‘t this mean their reign of influence is over?

And: Our series Bush League Justice is back.  President Bush is trying to leave his conservative stump on the legal system long after he leaves office.  He‘s now trying to strong arm Congress into securing permanent jobs and judgeships for some of the most conservative lawyers in America.  We‘re on his trail.

But first: As Republicans try to get their house in order tonight, the Democrats may be heading toward chaos.  But there are potential solutions.  Mitt Romney bowed out of the race this afternoon, leaving a clear path for John McCain to become the nominee.  The Arizona senator also trying to make nice today at the Conservative Political Action Conference, a vocal wing of the party that hasn‘t always seen eye to eye with McCain.  But as Republicans make amends, Democrats appeared headed for mayhem. 

We continue our campaign tonight to try to make sure the Democratic voters, not party insiders known as superdelegates ultimately make the decision between Obama and Clinton.  Tonight: the delegate count is still being sorted out, Obama now leads with 861 pledged actual delegates, Hillary Clinton with 855.  And in close third, the 796 superdelegates, yes, the superdelegates, the Democrats in Congress, the governors, the members of the Democratic National Committee, the VIPs who hold nearly 40 percent of the necessary votes needed to win the nomination. 

So far, nearly 18.5 million people who voted in the Democratic primaries and caucuses.  More than 1, 800 delegates have been awarded, that means a delegate is worth approximately 10,000 votes.  And then there are the 1.5 million voters from Florida who don‘t count because party officials decided Florida shouldn‘t count.  And now, the same power brokers decide whether it‘s Obama or Clinton. 

I‘ll say it again, scrap the superdelegates.  If the superdelegates have to vote, and let them reflect the voters of their state or district.  Here with us, Congressman Adam Smith, a Democrat from Washington and a superdelegate who is supporting Obama; Rachel Maddow, MSNBC political analyst and Air America radio host; and Peter Beinart from the Council on Foreign Relations and author of the book, “The Good Fight”.  All right.  Adam, can you possibly justify your vote being worth 10,000 of the voters‘ votes?

REP. ADAM SMITH, (D) WASHINGTON:  Absolutely not.  I don‘t think we should have superdelegates.  It was something that was put in back in 1982.  It was a sort of a reaction as I understand to the Jimmy Carter-Ted Kennedy battle that had happened in 1980 election.

ABRAMS:  Would you call to get rid of them?

SMITH:  Absolutely.

ABRAMS:  You‘d be happy to get rid of them.  And then, I‘m going to ask you the follow up question: If you can‘t get rid of them - in your state of Washington hasn‘t occurred yet.  You‘ve been working for Barack Obama, if your state or district goes for Hillary Clinton, will you then vote for Hillary Clinton?

SMITH:  Not unilaterally no.  I mean I would support a solution that basically tells the superdelegates, look, we‘re going to have a certain number of pledged delegates from all this is over.  Whichever candidate has the most pledged delegates is the candidate who should be supporter, that‘s the choice of the people and I will say this, as a superdelegate, if Hillary Clinton has more pledged delegates, then I would be one of those people saying, superdelegates should support her as I would hope Senator Clinton supporters would do the same for Barack Obama.

ABRAMS:  So, let‘s be clear.  You‘re saying that if among the non-superdelegates, meaning among the voters‘ delegates, if more of them, going into the convention have supported Hillary Clinton than Barack Obama, you are going to say support Hillary Clinton.

SMITH:  I think that‘s the right thing to do.

ABRAMS:  I think it‘s the right thing to do too.  And I‘m happy to hear you say it.

All right.  So, Peter Beinart, look, we have a respected superdelegate on the program who won‘t even defend superdelegates.

SMITH:  I didn‘t create them. I‘m just one of them.

ABRAMS:  I understand that.  Can somebody here explain to me?  Go ahead, Peter, 40 percent - I mean, they can - go ahead.

PETER BEINART, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS:  Here‘s the reason the superdelegates are useful.  You need 50 percent to win.  It‘s not a plurality, most elections in America, you only need a plurality but to win the nomination, you need a majority.  Let‘s say there are three or four candidates and the leading one gets 35 percent of the votes, that means that nobody‘s going to get 50 percent.  One of the reasons for superdelegates would they would go with the winner to put you over 50 percent.  There are better ways of doing that but it‘s worth noting that if you have proportional representation and you demand a majority, you‘re headed for trouble down the road.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  You‘re not headed for trouble though, you‘re just headed for a second vote.  I mean, there‘s all sort of parliamentary ways -

(CROSSTALK)

BEINART:  Let‘s be clear, that‘s a broker convention, let‘s be clear about that.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Look, if there‘s a tie, Rachel, I‘m happy for some group of party elders or VIPs and the Adam Smiths will get together and they will say, you know what, we‘ve got to make a decision here because there‘s a tie.  I‘m fine with that.  But absent a tie, it seems to me that you‘ve got an insane system in place where they have so much power, there are so many of them, I think a lot of people didn‘t know this going into the process.

MADDOW:  I‘m not happy with the idea of the council of elders taking over in the case of a tie.  I mean, elections are sometimes about things being very close and you let the voters decide.  I mean, in this case, you let the voters‘ delegates to decide.  I don‘t think there needs to be a star chamber or some group of wise men to put the brakes on what the voters are going to decide.  It could get messy; it could be a process that takes a long time.  That‘s OK.

ABRAMS:  Here‘s why is going to be messy because people, honest brokers, like Adam Smith are still unwilling to say that he will vote for whichever candidate wins in his state or district.  I mean, Adam, that‘s the problem, is not?  It‘s been you‘re not willing to go forward and take a stand and say, I‘m going to set the stage here and say—the way Barbara Boxer has for example.

SMITH:  Well, again, let me say that as I said, I‘m willing to support whoever the pledged delegates select nationwide.  The problem with what you described is that it takes on a certain unilateral aspect to it.

ABRAMS:  Adam, you won‘t be first.  Here‘s Senator Boxer on HARDBALL answering this very question.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARBARA BOXER, (D) CALIFORNIA:  I decided that the people of my state are going to lead me.  And whoever they choose, I will cast my superdelegate vote in that way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  So, why don‘t you just follow her lead, Adam?

SMITH:  Well, I haven‘t officially decided whether I‘m going to do that.  I thought I was making the magnanimous yesterday to say whoever is ahead of the pledged delegates -

ABRAMS:  I know.  But that‘s not enough.

SMITH:  I haven‘t taken it down that next further road and said what happens if my state goes this way or goes that.  What if my state goes one way but my Congressional district goes the other way.  And the other aspect of this, there are some superdelegates who don‘t actually have a constituency, you mentioned, it was mentioned earlier that Tom Foley is a superdelegate, he doesn‘t have district, who should he follow?

ABRAMS:  Let me tell you about the absurdity of this, alright?  You got a teamsters member as superdelegates, you got the president of United Federation of Teachers, you got an attorney who represents the Washington State Democratic Party, you got an Oregon political activist and blogger, I mean, you know, this is nuts.  These people have the equivalent of 10,000 votes each.

MADDOW:  And that tells you, this is designed to be a council of elders that‘s designed to make things better when the voters don‘t do the right thing.

(CROSSTALK)

BEINART:  It‘s worth here noting that the vast majority of these superdelegates are elected.  In fact, most of them are elected by a much broader cross-section of the population than a small group of activist who tend to turn to out -

ABRAMS:  But they weren‘t elected.  They weren‘t elected to vote on the presidential candidate.

BEINART:  I agree.  But, it‘s still worth noting by their very lively -

ABRAMS:  But a lot of them aren‘t elected, I mean, you‘ve got Democratic Party members.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  But here‘s the problem, Peter.  There‘s going to be a crisis of confidence, OK?  If people don‘t talk about this, we‘re going to have another Bush V. Gore coming out of the convention.  People are going to claim, it was unfair, they‘re going to say that the people weren‘t represented.  And I feel like, you know, I‘m the sole voice out there saying, look, let‘s come to a solution now, today, before it gets too close.

(CROSSTALK)

BEINART:  I agree, the solution has to be more than scrapping the superdelegates because scrapping them leaves other problems.

ABRAMS:  What are the problems?

BEINART:  The problems are, if you change it to needing a plurality, then you solve the problems, if you need a majority, you‘re headed for trouble down the road.

ABRAMS:  Wait, how about if you say, whoever has more delegates, wins.

BEINART:  Yes, of plurality, that‘s what I said.

ABRAMS:  Yes, then, we‘re OK.  Look, I‘m no great political insider, but that seems like a good solution to me.

BEINART:  I agree.

ABRAMS:  Go ahead, Representative Smith.

SMITH:  Yes, that‘s what I said.  Basically, whoever has a plurality, it would be a majority in this case of the pledged delegates when we‘re done with the process, at that point, I think that that person should win.  And I also want to say, this is something the Democratic Party should resolve sooner rather than later.  We don‘t want to go to the convention at the end of August and still be fighting about this.  I would support of what have been said that we need to get a solution.

ABRAMS:  And Representative Smith, I‘m going to give you credit right now because I‘m hoping that what you just said is going to lead a movement, it‘s going to lead a movement of the superdelegates saying, we can‘t matter that much.  We have to just support whoever wins among the delegates at large.  I hope that today is the beginning of the movement and you have begun to lead that movement because this is too important.  It‘s going to being a total mess for the Democratic Party otherwise.  All right.

SMITH:  Absolutely.

ABRAMS:  Thank you very much, Representative Smith, appreciate it.

Coming up: Rush Limbaugh and his buddies have been trying their best to get rid of McCain for months but the Republican voters didn‘t listen.  Mitt  Romney‘s out.  Is far right wing talk radios influence finally over?

And with just 11 months left, President Bush is now trying to leave his conservative stamp on the legal system for years to come, even holding up the scores of nomination in an effort to get one ultraconservative nomination through.  Our series Bush League Justice is back.

And we read your e-mails: Abrams@msnbc.com.  Tell us what we‘re doing right and wrong.  Be sure to include your name, where you‘re writing.  I‘ll be back in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Did you know that President Bush has appointed more than 30 percent of the federal judiciary now.  Coming up, our Bush League Justice series continues.  Now, the president is locked in a battle with the Senate over the acting chief of a big department in the Department of Justice.  This is an enormous fight, it‘s an important fight and it‘s over the guy who wrote the two secret memos authorizing torture.  It‘s coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Our series Bush League Justice is back - an investigation of the how the Bush administration has politicized the Justice Department and often overstepped his constitutional boundaries.  Tonight: With just 11 months left in office, the Bush administration is trying to leave its conservative stamp on the legal system.  The president now is using 84 of his own nominees, including judges as pawns in order to get one ultraconservative lawyer confirm today a high level Department of Justice job. 

Steven Bradbury, the author of the secret memos that authorized torturing detainees, the man who decried that Harriet Miers did not have to testify about the fired U.S. attorneys scandal has been nominated to be assistant attorney general, in particular, a job that‘ is supposed to provide a political guidance on the legality of presidential actions.  According to Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, Congress refusal to confirm him, has lead the president to pull 84 of his nominees for positions in the executive, judicial branches including judges, an order that came from the President‘s Chief of Staff.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID, (D) SENATE MINORITY LEADER:  He said, Bradbury or nobody.  I said, you mean you‘re willing to not allow 84 of your people not get approved because of this guy?  He said yes, that‘s what the president wants.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  What‘s particularly offensive is the presidents in these disingenuous comments today where he‘s blaming the Congress for stalling on his nominees.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES:  It‘s not right to treat these good folks this way.  These nominees deserve an up or down vote.  Many of them have had their careers on hold.  They got spouses who‘s lives are stuck in limbo.  They have children waiting to find out where they‘re going to go to school.  These are real folks making real sacrifices.  They should not be treated like political pawns.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  This is so disingenuous.  I mean, we are not going to let this stay under the radar.  Here now, Jonathan, professor of Constitutional law at George Washington University law school.  All right.  Jonathan Turley, thanks for joining us.  We appreciate it.

JONATHAN TURLEY, CONSTITUTIONAL LAW PROFESSOR:  My pleasure.

ABRAMS:  The president seems to be effectively shutting down areas of government in an effort to get one ultraconservative lawyer into a Department of Justice post.

TURLEY:  That‘s why Washington was built on a swamp.  This is the type of thing that goes on in the beltway and there‘s a reason for it.  You know, I don‘t think he particularly cares about the post.  He could be acting in that post.  The president is trying to create a legacy and he‘s been very successful in getting Democrats to help him with that legacy.  Democrats have been working really block meaningful investigation of torture, electronic surveillance, that‘s unlawful, but selecting someone like Bradbury is worth it to the president.  Because he‘s trying a legacy that any problems that he may have done, any crimes he may have committed, the Senate itself was a participant to it.

ABRAMS:  And also, let‘s talk about it.  I mean, this seems to be, whether you believe it‘s actually over Steven Bradbury or not, that‘s one of the big issues here.  This is the guy who authored two secret memos authorizing the CIA to use torture techniques, he advocated revoking habeas corpus for terrorism detainees, he authored the opinion immunizing Harriet Miers from testifying in the U.S. attorneys investigation, I mean, this is a guy whether he may be a very bright guy, but he‘s an ultra, ultraconservative guy who‘s now being appointed to a position that is supposed to give nonpolitical advice to the president over what‘s legal and not legal for the president to do.

TURLEY:  Right and I wrote a column a while back talking about the made man of the Bush administration.  The way to get ahead in the Bush administration is to do some guy.  In this case, doing the Constitution, that is if you do something really outrageous, like endorsing torture and approving unlawful surveillance, you‘re a made guy.  And they stick by you.  I mean, I‘m here to speak at the ABE (ph) convention and one of the things we‘ve been talking about in the whole are these sort of fallen angels, these lawyers like Bradbury, like Beaden (ph), like John Yu (ph), like all of these people who abandon their training as a lawyers and really sold out.  Now, some of these people believe it, some of them are simply extremist.  But those are the people that Bush brought around him in this very small inner circle.

ABRAMS:  Let me play a little bit of sound, here‘s Bradbury, the guy we‘re talking about being questioned by Senator Leahy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, (D) VERMONT:  And he was saying this is going to tell me to keep Guantanamo open or not after he said he could.  Was the president right or was he wrong?

STEVEN BRADBURY, DOJ LEGAL COUNSEL CHIEF:  It‘s under the law of war -

LEAHY:  Was the president right or wrong?

BRADBURY:  The president is always right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Well, I don‘t know if he was kidding there, but that does seem to be the problem with appointing this guy to this position.  Jonathan, real quickly though, what I don‘t want to be overlooked is the fact that this president now has appointed 30 percent of the judiciary, that‘s his real stamp.  And you hear John McCain saying, he wants more Aledos and Roberts, this means that if you elect John McCain, you‘re going to get more of the same, whether you like it or not when it comes to judges.

TURLEY:  Well, I think that‘s very true.  And that comes at a significant cost.  Someone like Sam Aledo is blindly pro-government.  The only time he ever vote against the government was going to be when they missed with religion or some very conservative cause and that present a real danger for the Constitution, because that is the final cord.  That‘s why we call it supreme.  And this president has a legacy there.  It‘s a troubling one.  But Bradbury is symptomatic of the lawyers that are being crafted to take these positions and people should understand, it has a direct impact on your lives and it has an impact on the future of this country.

ABRAMS:  We are going to stay on this Bush League Justice as an ongoing series we are going to do on this program.  We are not going to let it this go unnoticed.  Jonathan Turley, thanks very much for coming on.  Appreciate it.

TURLEY:  Thanks, Dan.  Good to see you.

ABRAMS:  Coming up: Right wing talkers like Rush Limbaugh lose their campaign to make Mitt Romney or anyone but McCain president.  Now, Romney has pulled out.  And the man they don‘t like so much, John McCain is pretty much in.  Doesn‘t this show that right wing radios control of the Republican agenda is over?

And: Of course many of the folks over at FOX News don‘t think McCain is a conservative, either, so much so that in truly FOX fashion, yes, look at the bottom of the screen.  They‘re now calling him a Democrat.  Beat the Press is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up: At CNN, my friend, Anderson Cooper like to portray himself as above the fray, too serious to cover the so called tabloid stories and he tried to continue that myth last night with Larry King.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KING, TV HOST:  Do you think the Spears story is ever going away, Anderson?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT:  You know, we haven‘t followed it much.

KING:  Why does she continue to be a story Anderson?

COOPER:  Honestly, I don‘t know, and it‘s the first time we‘ve been covering it for a long time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Really?  I guess that defends on your definition of a long time, like if you means since Friday?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER:  Would you imagine that it deals with something outlandish that she did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  He‘s talking a lot about Britney Spears.  You got to love hypocrisy.

Next up: At least on FOX, they don‘t try to fake it.  They don‘t even pretend they be evenhanded if you tow their Republican Party, then you must be a Democrat.  Or at least, that‘s how they will label.  Here‘s Republican senator and Republican presidential candidate, John McCain this afternoon with a big “D” for Democrat next to his name.  I know he‘s been criticized but some on the right for not being conservative enough.  He is a Republican.  FOX told the Web site, TV news room as an example of gross incompetence.  We say, it‘s part for course; we‘ve caught them doing this before.

Finally:  Bill O‘Reilly spent a lot of time criticizing NBC News and our network‘s patriotism.  So, we thought maybe a head to head comparison is needed.  Bill O‘Reilly versus NBC Nightly News, the same night on the topic of patriots.  Here is who O‘Reilly declared the patriot of the day, last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O‘REILLY, TV HOST:  For being patriot, I, your humble correspondent and the patriot tonight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  O‘Reilly names himself the patriot for predicting the Super Bowl winner.  Now, compare that to the patriot, our network highlighted last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NIGHTLY NEWS HOST:  At Camp Pendleton today, a ceremony to honor a fallen U.S. marine.  Corporal Sean Stokes was posthumously awarded the Silver Star, accepted by his dad for his heroism during the battle in Fallujah back in ‘40 when he was a private.  Stokes is just the third private to receive the Silver Star in the past 40 years of U.S. military history.  The first since the Vietnam War.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Now, of course, we could use this to question his definition of a patriot.  We‘re better than that.  I just thought it was a nice comparison.

We need your help Beating the Press.  If you see anything right or wrong go to our Web site: Abrams.com and leave us a tip in the box.

Up next: Rush Limbo, Michael Savage, right wing radio talkers probably thought they‘d be able to convince Republican voters not to vote for John McCain.  But after Mitt Romney dropped out of the race today, it sure looks like right wing radio‘s influence even over the Republican Party is done.

And later: Obama girl loses her creed.  The model, steamy online odes to Barack Obama a 20 million hits did not vote on Tuesday.  That‘s right.  But we voted for her tonight, to be a loser in our Winners and Losers segment, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up, Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney drops out of the race.  Could this be the first time that the giants of right-wing talk radio are losing influence with the voters?

Britney Spears goes from a psychiatric ward to a courtroom as her parents step in to try to take charge of her life and money. 

Plus, there‘s now photographic proof of the tasteless, quote, “lapse of judgment,” a Department of Homeland Security official showed when she posed with a fellow employee with a black face and a prison outfit at an office Halloween party.  Bet you can get it.  Guess if she‘s a winner or loser tonight. 

But first, Mitt Romney got out of the race today despite enormous support from the yackers on the far right for nearly 20 years.  Conservative talk radio has led the Republican Party‘s charge on hot button issues from immigration to abortion to taxes.  So does Romney‘s failure show that right-wing radio has finally lost its mojo?  Well, today, talk show host, Laura Ingraham introduced Romney at the conservative PAC convention. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAURA INGRAHAM, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Of all the people introducing the three remaining candidates for president, I get to introduce the conservative.  Mitt Romney is the conservative‘s conservative. 

FMR GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R-MA), FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Thanks to her and all the talk radio for what they do to keep the conservative movement strong and alive and vibrant. 

ABRAMS:  But they could not do enough to keep his candidacy alive.  The big right-wing talkers all hated John McCain.  Many were overtly supporting Romney, too. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE RADIO HOST:  McCain or Huckabee, if they get the nomination, this party, as we know it, is finished. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE RADIO HOST:  John McCain is a serial poker in the eye of conservatives, Tucker, if you know.  It‘s not like it‘s a two or three instance.  It‘s a half dozen. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE TV HOST:  There is a lot of angst around John McCain by some talk radio people.  Number one, are you one of those people?  And number two, how do you see the big picture? 

INGRAHAM:  Guilty as charged.  I‘m one of those people. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  And she‘s not alone.  I mean it seems after so many years of forcing their own politicians to march to their beat, talk radio hosts have lost their muscle.  And finally, the public is saying no. 

Joining me now, conservative talk radio host and anti-McCain man, Lars Larson.  Back with us is Rachel Maddow and Peter Beinart.

Lars, you guys just don‘t have juice anymore, do you?

LARS LARSON, CONSERVATIVE TALK RADIO HOST:  No, that‘s not true.  The fact is, we don‘t have muscle because muscle people around.  We tell people information.  We give them our own point of view.  You know, all the years I was a reporter, people begged.  They said, “We wish that people would run for office and we decide based on the issues.”  Well, on the issues, John McCain is not a conservative and Mitt Romney is.  We told people that.

ABRAMS:  All right.  That‘s fine.  But, they‘re not listening to you, Lars.  I mean that may be true -

LARSON:  Oh, they are listening. 

ABRAMS:  Then why is your man Mitt bowing out today? 

LARSON:  Well, see, you think that they‘re listening and that they need to be persuaded.  My listeners make up their own minds.  Now, I give them some information and that helps because they have busy lives.  But, heck, they already have the information.  The fact is that the mainstream media, “The New York Times,” the major cable outlets, and the major television networks have a drum beat that said John McCain was the guy. 

ABRAMS:  “The New York Times,” yes, because all the Republicans listen to “The New York Times.”

LARSON:  No.

ABRAMS:  So they all open “The New York Times” that morning and they said, “I see McCain has been supported, so I must go for John McCain.” 

LARSON:  The moderates and the liberals do. 

RACHEL MADDOW, “AIR AMERICA” HOST:  Lars - I have to say, Lars, I can‘t really let you get away with this.  You‘re a smart guy.  But the question Dan asked was doesn‘t the fact that the two guys left standing are Huckabee and McCain and those are the two least favorite candidates of right-wing talk radio.  Doesn‘t that imply that you, guys, aren‘t driving the Republican voters?

LARSON:  No.  But I‘m not trying to drive the votes.  The fact is most of them already knew who they were going to vote for.  We supply them with information.  The idea that somehow they are all Republican robots who listen to Rush or Sean or me and then just march out and do what we tell them to do is something you‘ve invented. 

MADDOW:  I‘m not inventing that, Lars.  I‘m just saying that what you, guys, want to happen isn‘t happening.  That makes you seem that you‘re not very powerful in the Republican Party anymore.  And that makes it seem like the question about whether or not that you have any juice anymore is being answered.  It‘s not to be mean, it‘s just the evidence at hand here. 

PETER BEINART, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, “THE NEW REPUBLIC”:  The problem is that Lars and those guys, you had a bad horse you jumped on.  Mitt Romney didn‘t have any juice with conservative voters, amongst Evangelical Christians who were the base of the Republican Party.  He wasn‘t the second most popular candidate.  He was third.  Evangelical Christians preferred John McCain if you look closely at the data to Mitt Romney. 

ABRAMS:  Let me let Lars respond.  Go ahead.

LARSON:  Dan, let me tell you something about Evangelical voters.  I respect Christians.  I am a Christian.  The fact is that Mitt Romney also suffered because let‘s say it plainly.  The rest of you guys will complain about intolerance and bigotry all day long. 

But when a man suffers because of bigotry against his religion, all of a sudden you‘re dead silent about it. 

(CROSSTALK)

One of the bigger reasons I think that Gov. Romney did not get the juice was that he was discriminated against because of his religion. 

BEINART:  I agree. 

MADDOW:  And that‘s bad.

BEINART:  It was a disgrace.  And it was you guys doing it.  It was your voters. 

LARSON:  That wasn‘t my voters.

MADDOW:  The idea that we‘re suddenly encouraging the entire Mormon bias is kind of - it‘s a little weird, Lars.  I feel like -

ABRAMS:  Hang on, let me -

LARSON:  Are you denying it exists?

MADDOW:  No, I‘m not denying it exists.  It‘s an awful thing.

ABRAMS:  They‘re blaming your piece.  They‘re blaming your piece, Lars.

(CROSS TALK)

BEINART:  In the Republican Party and the Democratic Party.  That‘s what you have to deal with. 

LARSON:  All right.  I don‘t consider bigots my people.  There are people who are bigots, but they‘re not my people. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  You get the final word on that one.  Here‘s the next big disingenuous thing that‘s now the craze in right-wing radio.  It‘s to suggest that Republicans aren‘t going to vote for John McCain because he‘s so awful.  If they have to choose between -

LARSON:  A lot of them are.

ABRAMS:  Here‘s Anne Coulter claiming this, and then I‘ll ask you about it, Lars. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNE COULTER, CONSERVATIVE COLUMNIST:  If he‘s our candidate, then Hillary is going to be our girl, Sean, because she‘s more conservative than he is.  I think she would be stronger on the war on terrorism. 

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST, “HANNITY AND COLMES”:  You‘re going to vote for Hillary over -

COULTER:  Yes.  I will campaign for her instead of McCain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Lars, this is sort of the rhetoric that‘s now going on among the far right.  It‘s the idea that you, guys, will vote for either Hillary or Obama over John McCain.  That‘s pure rhetoric and total nonsense. 

LARSON:  I consider Anne a friend and Anne is over the top sometimes.  God bless her, I love her for that.  I‘m not going to campaign for Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.  But an awful lot of conservatives cannot swallow the idea of voting for a guy who voted against tax cuts, who wants Guantanamo closed down -

ABRAMS:  So they won‘t vote.

LARSON:  Well, they may not vote.  They may vote constitution party, or they won‘t vote at all.  They won‘t vote for John McCain. 

MADDOW:  My question is why - if conservatives are ready to support Mitt Romney - he was my governor and I know how he campaigned in Massachusetts and he was no conservative vessel there.  Why won‘t conservatives jump on the bandwagon for Mike Huckabee? 

LARSON:  I think because they look at Mike Huckabee on some (UNINTELLIGIBLE) issues like the growth of government, increase in taxes and illegal aliens especially and say Huckabee is not a conservative on those issues. 

MADDOW:  The difference between Huckabee and Romney -

(CROSS TALK)

BEINART:  The irony is you that you guys wouldn‘t support Ronald Reagan.  Ronald Reagan violated all of your orthodoxies on immigration, on taxes, on abortion, on everything you care about most.  You have become so pure that you‘re basically giving the Democrats the White House. 

LARSON:  Not at all.  Ronald Reagan was -

BEINART:  He was to the left of John McCain.

ABRAMS:  Hang on.  Let Lars finish. 

LARSON:  Ronald Reagan was pushed by a congress to sign an amnesty deal.  And he said, “I‘ll agree to a million amnesties if you‘ll agree to enforce the border.”  He held up his end of the deal.  The congress and future governments -

(CROSSTALK)  

ABRAMS:  Here‘s John McCain today.  Again, I think that there was a memo sent out.  And you guys got to cheer for John McCain at this conservative PAC group.  But then -

LARSON:  He got booed. 

ABRAMS:  I know.  Here it is.  Here it is.  Let‘s listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  On the issue of illegal immigration, a position which -

CROWD:  Boo.  Boo. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Peter, don‘t you agree with me that this is just rhetoric on the part of the far right suggesting they are not going to vote because John McCain is so horrible.  The idea of John McCain is so horrible to the far right that they‘re not going to vote even if he‘s up against Barack Obama. 

BEINART:  I don‘t think it is rhetoric.  I think the Republicans are not going to get the big base turnout that they got in 2004 for George W. Bush.  Democrats are and that‘s why McCain will lose. 

MADDOW:  We‘re already seeing that right now.  On Super Tuesday, just in the 19 states where both Democrats and Republicans were voting, Democratic turnout was 73 percent higher than Republican turnout. 

LARSON:  Dr. Maddow is right.

MADDOW:  I mean Republicans may very well sit on their hands and not turn out and that would be a huge Democratic advantage.  Then you guys can tear each other to bits.  That would be fun to watch. 

ABRAMS:  I think now the point is tell John McCain that he‘d better pick a super-conservative vice presidential candidate.  But we‘re not going to support him, and I think it‘s pure rhetoric coming from - Leading the charge is the far right talk radio programs, Lars. 

LARSON:  The fact is that they can‘t get super-conservative people do it either.  Frankly, this is a guy who says he‘ll fight the war on terror, but he‘s against torturing terrorists.  I would have tortured a terrorist to get information to save private stokes that you mentioned a moment ago.  Heck, I‘d even torture terrorists to save Dr. Maddow‘s life.  I think this is the wrong guy for a whole bunch of reasons.  And you‘re going to hear about it more on talk radio.

ABRAMS:  But think the good new is that you don‘t have the influence that you once had.  So whether you say it or not - and I hear you, Lars.  You point is a good one, which is your viewers aren‘t robots.  Your listeners aren‘t robots.  But I‘ve got to tell you, I think there was a lot more influence in previous elections from right-wing radio.  I think you guys have lost your mojo, Lars. 

MADDOW:  OK.  If right-wing talk radio were as influential as they used to be, we‘d be looking at Thompson-Tancredo ticket.

ABRAMS:  Final word, Lars.  I‘ve got to warp it up.

LARSON:  Rumors of our demise are greatly exaggerated by people of television.

ABRAMS:  Lars Larson, always a great sport.  Thank you for coming on the program.  I appreciate it.  And Rachel and Peter, as always, thank you.

Up next, Britney Spears out of the mental hospital but back in court.  Her parents now battling to take control of her life and her millions. 

And later, Angelina Jolie made a surprise visit to Iraq.  That makes her one of tonight‘s winners in “Winners and Losers.”  Coming up.

First, our new segment, reality bites, the sometimes painful dose of reality caught on tape.  Tonight, a public defender in Kentucky became a punching bag for a disgruntled client after a judge refused to grant the man accused of robbery his request for a new attorney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DOUG CRICKMER, ATTORNEY WHO WAS PUNCHED:  I think Mr. Hafer was just frustrated.  Like I said, he‘d been in jail for some time.  He‘s got some issues and like he said, I think he just snapped.  I certainly don‘t think it was premeditated in any way.  I think he just got frustrated, fed up and he just snapped and I was the nearest target. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  What a forgiving man.  The defendant now getting what he wanted, a new lawyer.  Unbelievable.  Be right back.

ABRAMS:  One day after Britney Spears was released from a psychiatric hospital, attorneys for her and her pants were in court today, fighting for control of her life and her $40-million fortune.  This was a scene hours after Britney was discharged from the hospital yesterday.  She was mobbed by the paparazzi as she drove her black Mercedes to the Beverly Hills Hotel.  Her parents Jamie and Lynne Spears released this statement: 

“As parents of an adult child in the throes of a mental health crisis, we were extremely disappointed to learn over the recommendation of her treating psychiatrist, our daughter Britney was released from the hospital that could best care for her and keep her safe.  We are deeply concerned about our daughter‘s safety and vulnerability and believe her life is presently at risk.  We ask only that the court‘s order be enforced so that a tragedy may be averted.” 

Look, remember, she can‘t even visit her kids at this point because of her mental state.  So it‘s not ridiculous that her parents have control over other aspects of her life as well.  Here to discuss the latest, a psychiatrist and NYU professor, Dr. Julie Holland.  And MSNBC legal analyst and former prosecutor Susan Filan.  First, Dr. Holland, are you surprised that she‘s been released?

DR. JULIE HOLLAND, PSYCHIATRIST:  Not necessarily.  I mean if she‘s not acutely suicidal or homicidal or psychotic, then she‘s free to leave against medical advice. 

ABRAMS:  And what about the standard - let me ask you, Susan - the legal standard required for Britney to be so disabled that she can‘t even make basic decisions about her money and her future and her life such that her parents get to do that?

SUSAN FILAN, MSNBC LEGAL ANALYST:  Well, at that level, Dan, she‘d have to be found incompetent.  She hasn‘t been found incompetent.  She‘s been conserved.  There‘s been a conservatorship granted over the estate and the person, meaning that the parents have an oversight over her affairs. 

But they can‘t force her to contractually do something.  They can‘t force her to take medicine.  They can‘t force her to stay in the hospital unless she‘s a danger to herself and others, and that‘s what didn‘t happen today.  They said, “You‘re not dangerous.  You should stay.  You need help, but you‘re not dangerous.” 

ABRAMS:  A conservatorship - the definition, “A conservator is the person who‘s responsible for making the decisions about personal matters for the conservatee, including decisions about medical care, food, clothing and residence.  Under a probate conservatorship, the conservator may not place the person into a locked mental institution against his or her will.  With that in mind, would you be worried about Britney Spears absent her parents having this sort of conservatorship?

HOLLAND:  I‘ve been worried about Britney Spears for a long time.  She seems like she‘s totally out of control and she‘s erratic. 

ABRAMS:  What is the standard for getting released from a mental - from a hospital like this?  What are the doctor‘s doing and saying to each other to make that decision?

HOLLAND:  Well, it really comes down to whether there‘s an imminent a danger, whether she‘s imminently suicidal, dangerous to herself, or homicidal, dangerous to others.  And you know, she‘s sort of chronically dangerous, but not acutely, imminently.

ABRAMS:  Explain to us the difference.  You mean meaning she‘s generally a problem to herself, but there‘s no imminent danger that she‘s going to hurt herself. 

HOLLAND:  Not that I‘m aware of.  I mean I don‘t think she‘s made any recent suicidal threats.  But you know, she did have an overdose recently. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

HOLLAND:  It seems that you can hang your head on that.  If she did try to kill herself then she is a risk to herself.  But if she says, you know, “I was suicidal then but I‘m not now,” then they‘ll say she‘s not a risk to herself now. 

ABRAMS:  And Susan, part of the argument that the family has been making is with regard to this manager who they say has been drugging Britney literally.  This is from the court documents that - “Sam told Jackie and me that he grinds up Britney‘s pills, which were on the counter and included Risperdal and Seroquel.  He told us that he puts them in her food and that was the reason she had been quiet for the last three days (she had been sleeping).  He told us that the doctor who is treating now is trying to get her into a sleep-induced coma so that they could then give her drugs to heal her brain.”  This is the continuing effort by the family to keep this guy away from Britney. 

FILAN:  Sounds like he needs to be in a locked down facility, Dan.  But what they got was a restraining order.  The court did enter an order keeping him away from both Britney‘s person and her affairs.  So if Britney said to Sam, “You can use my credit card,” and dad has conservatorship over the estate, he can say, “No, Sam, you can‘t use her credit card,” and cut that off. 

It‘s difficult to actually enforce that when you‘ve got somebody like Britney who seems to have access to ways to get in the Four Seasons and spend and do what she likes.  But the bottom line is the court has intervened and it said, “Lutfi, no contact with Spears.”  And the dad is supposed to be able to manage and control that. 

ABRAMS:  Susan, by releasing her at this point, could the hospital end up getting sued if something happened to her?

FILAN:  Yes, I mean that‘s the difficulty in this job.  If do it - if you call it really as you see it, yes, you can go.  And then she does something to herself or to someone else. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

FILAN:  Yes, you could likely be on the hook.

ABRAMS:  Dr. Holland‘s nodding because this has got to be an issue they are thinking about. 

HOLLAND:  Right.  I mean the hospital really will be liable if something happens and they released her.

ABRAMS:  Really?

HOLLAND:  Yes.  The family can absolutely go after the hospital.  I mean I‘m involved in a forensic case right now where that‘s happened, where a patient was released -  

FILAN:  But on the other hand, you don‘t keep people just because you‘re afraid of getting sued. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  No.  No.  I hear it. 

HOLLAND:  Right.

ABRAMS:  This is - the Britney meltdown continues.  All right.  Thanks a lot.  Appreciate it. 

HOLLAND:  You‘re very welcome.

FILAN:  You bet. 

ABRAMS:  Up next, we‘ll have more details on breaking news we told you about earlier.  There‘s been a shooting tonight in a suburb of St. Louis at a city council meeting.  Two police, now confirmed dead.  We‘ve got a live report from the scene, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We have got some breaking news to report on a story we mentioned to you earlier.  A man has walked into a city council meeting tonight in a suburb of St. Louis and shot the mayor and several council members.  The 7:00 p.m. Central Time meeting had just started when the man rushed into the room reportedly yelling, quote, “Shoot the mayor,” and opened fire with at least one weapon.  Council members tried to fend the shooter off by throwing chairs before police arrived and shot the attacker. 

The conditions of the victims not known at this time.  About 30 people were in the room at the time of the incident.  Although is now confirmed two police officers, at least, have been killed.  Reporter Kay Quinn from NBC affiliate KSDK joins us now from the scene.  Kay, thanks for joining us.  What do you know?

KAY QUINN, REPORTER, KSDK:  Dan, very little official information from police.  They have yet to have a news conference.  But as you said, two Kirkwood police officers were shot and killed tonight.  At least five other people were also shot.  Their conditions, at this point, unknown.  We hear that two of those people may have been Kirkwood residents just attending the 7:00 meeting. 

Now Kirkwood road behind me just re-opened.  But at least a six or eight-block area had been closed for two hours here tonight as police with guns, rifles - an incredible police presence took over the heart of this Kirkwood community that‘s known as an upscale, thriving little town, about a 10-minute drive from downtown St. Louis.  This is a busy area, a very desirable place to live. 

And apparently, among the dead tonight, Charles “Cookie” Thornton who was a man who had a past dispute with the City of Kirkwood, apparently had litigation with the City here.  And we are told walked into the room and said, “We want justice.”  Also yelling other things and opened fire in this meeting. 

Now, the meeting was a planning and zoning meeting to re-zone an area of Kirkwood that‘s a busy mix of both residential and businesses.  And apparently, this has been a long-standing plan to rezone this area whether this Cookie Thornton had some kind of official business in regards to this meeting is not known yet.  But it was a heavily attended meeting.  Flyers have been put up throughout the community to talk about the long-standing plan. 

ABRAMS:  Kay, I mean it sounds like a -

QUINN:  Again seven people -

ABRAMS:  Kay, I mean it sounds like kind of an unbelievable scene inside that room where we‘re getting reports of people literally throwing chairs at the shooter in an effort to stop him.  It sounds like they were ultimately able to shoot the suspect in this case.  But do we know - and I have no idea whether this should be the case.  Would they have, in this kind of meeting, any uniformed guard, any security, any sergeant of arms who would be in the vicinity? 

QUINN:  That I am not sure of, Dan, at this point.  I‘m not really familiar with this meeting.  It was, like I said, well known it was going to happen tonight.  We have been not given information on whether there was a police presence there because they were worried about something going on.  That has not been given to us.  But as I said, fliers had gone up and people knew this was coming.  I spoke with a couple that was going the meeting.  They were on their way to it when they ran into this incredible sea of police officers that arrived on the scene.  

ABRAMS:  And one of the things that we‘re just getting in again is that the mayor, Mike Swoboda that - among those hit in addition to the police officers were Mayor Mike Swoboda, council members and they named him the public works director.  This is according to a police officer, a police spokesperson.  So the mayor has been shot in this meeting, this according to the “St. Louis Post Dispatch.”  As you pointed out earlier, the suspect was yelling, “Shoot the mayor,” and apparently, this person did succeed in shooting the mayor.  

QUINN:  Well, you know, here‘s the interesting thing, Dan, is that it‘s been two hours now.  Keep in mind two police officers have been killed, but we have yet to hear official word any police officer on the scene or at the command post which is about three blocks from here.  They‘ve been telling us since about 7:15 tonight, that they‘re going to hold a news conference.  That has yet to happen.  So we have not had any official word on who the remaining people were that were shot.  We haven‘t been able to confirm if the mayor is one of those shot.  We‘re waiting for this information.

ABRAMS:  Let me turn - let me give a little about the “St. Louis Post Dispatch” is reporting.  That he fired at the city attorney who fended the attacker off by throwing chairs.  The shooter went behind a curved desk where the council sits, fired more shots at members of the council.  The police arrived and shot the attacker.  We‘re going to continue to follow this story on MSNBC throughout the night.  Kay Quinn, thank you very much and to KSDK for your hard work on this story.  We appreciate it.  That does it for us tonight.  See you later. 

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

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2007 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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