updated 3/11/2008 12:00:44 PM ET 2008-03-11T16:00:44

Guests: Jonathan Dienst, Catherine Crier, Pam Bondi, Heidi Fleiss, Mary Ann Akers, Peter Beinart

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Tonight: New York governor and crime fighter, Eliot Spitzer linked to an alleged prostitution ring.  He apologized for what he described as a private matter.  But it won‘t be private if criminal charges are filed against him next.

The details: Specific and seedy, from how much he paid to what she thought of the encounter.  How would a famous governor actually continue a relationship with a prostitution service?  Do you only pay in cash?

And Obama v. Clinton: Her offer to make him the V.P., her threat to go after delegates already pledged to Obama, and her supporter Geraldine Ferraro essentially saying, Obama is lucky to be the black candidate.

We‘re On Their Trail: Assessing the latest misstatements, cheap shots and blunders.

But first: Who would have thought that New York Governor Eliot Spitzer hailed as a crusader for tackling white collar criminals, busting organized crime, now allegedly caught on federal wiretap arranging to meet a high priced prostitute the night before Valentine‘s Day.

Late this afternoon, with his wife, the mother of his three children, standing at his side, he all but admitted it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. ELIOT SPITZER, (D) NEW YORK:  I want to briefly address a private matter.  I have acted in a way that violates my obligations to my family and violates my or any sense of right and wrong.  I apologize first and most importantly, to my family.  I apologize to the public whom I promised better.

I do not believe that politics in the long run is about individuals.  It is about ideas, the public good, and doing what is best for the state of New York.  But I have disappointed and failed to live up to the standard I expected of myself.

I must now dedicate some time to regain the trust of my family.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Well, according to the affidavit filed in federal court and NBC sources, “Time” magazine‘s “2002 Crusader of the Year” became known as client nine and paid a prostitute $4,300 after two hours of services rendered.  Now, he had onion going tab.  The prostitute known as Kristen was advised, client nine might want to do, quote, “things that, like, you might not think were safe.”

The agency, the Emperors Club, used a rating system of diamonds for each prostitute.  A “three-diamond” woman: $1,000 an hour, $10,000 a day.  And those were the cheap ones.  A “seven-diamond” lady costs $3,000 an hour, with their special club hourly fees starting at $5,500 an hour.

Right now, Spitzer might be negotiating with prosecutors to avoid being indicted.  The very same sort of negotiation he used to wield like a club against financial titans because if he just gets indicted I think he‘s done.

Here now: Political analyst Lawrence O‘Donnell; former Judge Catherine Crier; and WNBC‘s investigative reporter Jonathan Dienst who‘s all over this story.

Lawrence, are you surprised he hasn‘t resigned already?

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, POLITICAL ANALYST:  I thought he was going to resign today but it seems like he‘s probably in negotiation with prosecutors.  And, Dan, that piece of videotape with his wife standing beside him, is one of the saddest things I have seen a long time.  I don‘t want to discuss this anymore without saying, how sorry I feel for the Spitzer family, for those three teenage daughters he has.  I hope that family can come together after this.

ABRAMS:  It‘s a fair point.  I know Eliot Spitzer.  I like Eliot Spitzer as a person.  But, Catherine Crier, I know, I mean, Lawrence was talking about negotiating, what negotiating power does he have at this point?

CATHERINE CRIER, FORMER JUDGE:  Well, that‘s a good question.  We‘re talking about a misdemeanor offense if they only look at the prostitution charge.  If they go to the Mann act, there are things that could get him in a lot more trouble.  But that would be extraordinarily rare to push them on a john in a prostitution case.

ABRAMS:  But in high-profile cases, Catherine, don‘t they do this,

which is they say: You know what, ordinarily “X” might not happen but

because this is a high-profile case and the world is watching and the law

says, she came from New York, the prostitute allegedly gone to Washington,

crossing interstate lines -

CRIER:  He paid the train fare.

ABRAMS:  Exactly.  Inducing, transporting, et cetera, he could be charged with a serious felony.

CRIER:  And who set the mark for that?  Eliot Spitzer when he talked his moralizing and sometimes some would say, grandstanding going after big names, he certainly set the bar pretty high and now, he‘s facing it.

ABRAMS:  The law says: “Persuades, induces, entices or coerces any individual to travel in interstate to engage in prostitution with a penalty up to 20 years imprisonment.”

All right.  Jonathan, I want to ask you about the details and they get kind of, you know, specific.  This is the prostitute.  This is according to the indictment related to the prostitution ring.  Again, not Eliot Spitzer.  He has not been charged yet.

Kristen stated, she thought it went very well.  Kristen stated, “I don‘t think he‘s difficult.  I mean, it‘s just kind of like whatever.  I‘m here for a purpose.  I know what my purpose is.  I‘m not a moron, you know what I mean.  So maybe that‘s why girls maybe think they‘re difficult.”

To continue: “Let‘s not get it twisted, I know what I do, you know.”

I mean, these details, Jonathan, came up in the indictment to prove that this agency was engaged in prostitution, right?

JONATHAN DIENST, WNBC INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER:  That‘s right.  And you speak with federal law enforcement officials, you speak with the defense attorneys now involved on this case, and you read over these documents, and it‘s clear, there is a mountain of wiretaps and recordings of these text messages that outline the alleged conversations that took place between the governor and members of this alleged ring.  And they are in graphic detail about train tickets, about cash payments.

ABRAMS:  Let‘s continue, I‘m going to read some more.  “Lewis, the booker, continued that from what she has been told ‘he‘, believed to be referenced to Spitzer, would ask you to do things like that, like you might not think were safe, you know, I mean that very basic things.”  Kristin responded, “I have a way of dealing with that.  I‘d be like, listen dude, you really want the sex?  You know what I mean.”

I mean, Catherine, the problem is, in some of these cases, it‘s vague.  It‘s, you know (ph), prostitution, it‘s sort of you never know the specifics.  But getting into these details of what the prostitute is saying, I think that‘s what makes it so difficult for Spitzer.

CRIER:  And remember, too, how prosecutors will put things in the indictment, they know the media is going to get their hands on and publicize.  This is a public record.

They didn‘t have to put that kind of detail in here, so there was a reason.  And if that reason partially is pressure to ultimate see this man negotiate a resignation, that‘s kind of an interesting question.

ABRAMS:  Jonathan, did they know when this indictment came, because this indictment came out a while ago.  Do you think they knew that the press or that people were eventually going to put together client nine and Eliot Spitzer?

DIENST:  What we knew that this indictment was coming and when it did come on Thursday, we knew that there was this high-priced prostitution ring and the allegation, and we knew that there was a client list and it was a very difficult thing to try to crack into who was on this list.

And you have remember, the New York Press Corps was bit distracted by the Times Square bombing that was going on at the same time.  But there was a lot of rumbling out there among those and officials familiar with this case that there was a big name there.  And that name surfaced today.

ABRAMS:  This is the hotel room that we‘re showing right now.  This is where it allegedly happened.

Lawrence O‘Donnell, again, this is the problem for Spitzer, politically, isn‘t not?  It‘s the details.  It‘s the fact that we got all these allegations and specific descriptions from this prostitute.  We got pictures of the hotel room, et cetera.

O‘DONNELL:  Yes, exactly.  It‘s the wiretap evidence.  And it is Spitzer‘s previous posture.  I mean, when it‘s a prosecutor who‘s involved as Spitzer used to be, the level of hypocrisy could not be sharper.  And so, that kind of thing that just cuts the legs off any attempt by Spitzer to hang in there and stay in office.

ABRAMS:  But it‘s not just the prosecutor, Catherine.  This is a guy, you know, when you talk about prostitution rings, generally, they‘re discovered in the context of broader investigations, organized crime?

CRIER:  This is a catch.  People have to understand that of all people

Eliot Spitzer knows that there sort of other criminal enterprises that

usually surround a prostitution ring.  We know that money laundering is

part of the charges, often times, organized crime is -

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  The very things he‘s based his entire career on.

CRIER:  He knows that the corruption level surrounding an enterprise like this is tremendous.  And he will be held to a higher standard because of it.

ABRAMS:  And everyone I talked to tonight who knows about this case and know Spitzer said, how could he be so stupid?

CRIER:  I mean, stupid, arrogant, self-destructive, self-sabotage going on here.  And we see this repeatedly in the political arena.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Jonathan, I want to ask you a question, this is again of some of the specifics that we know from the indictment.  “Lewis, this is the booker asked when Kristen, the prostitute, went to pick up the key she would have to give a name or would she able to say that she was one of client nine‘s guests.”

This is number five on our sheet: Client nine said, he was trying to think this through.  Client nine told Lewis to tell Kristen to go to the hotel, go to room 871.  Client nine told Lewis that the door would be open and there would be a key in the room.”

And so the question then, is Jonathan, I mean, he has security, does he not, with him 24/7?  Can he just leave a door open as the New York governor and say, hey, you know what, just come on in?

DIENST:  Well, it‘s one of the questions that certainly is out there.  Where was the security?  Did they know this was going on?  And if so, did they know these were prostitutes showing up at the room?

One other point, that this is not just a one time indiscretion apparently if you read through the court documents.  This has been going on according to the court documents for months, for weeks.  That there was a balance left, still about $500 in his account based on the transcripts here.

And then, he apparently was paying, can I give some more cash, according to the court transcripts, so that the next time, I don‘t have to go with, sending in payments, that I‘ll give extra money this time around for the next time.

ABRAMS:  I‘m going to ask our graphics team to put up “George Fox,” that was the name that he was supposedly using and all the information that we know about what supposedly this “George Fox” was saying.

But, Catherine, it seems to me, that‘s one of the crucial elements here, is that it wasn‘t just a single incident.  It seems, a lot of the time, again, these people get up there and say, one time indiscretion I talked to my family about.  Here, he almost can‘t say that.

CRIER:  No.  He can‘t say that and that‘s why we saw the press conference that we did.  He said, I‘ll get back to you later.  I‘m going to my family.

He didn‘t deny anything.  He had an open account.  He was filling that account with the prostitute when she left him.  So, he certainly can‘t deny it.

ABRAMS:  Allegedly, he used the service before.  He thought the choice of his prostitute Kristen was, quote, “great and wonderful.”  The tryst took place in 871, willing to pay extra for better services.

I mean, this is, I mean, Lawrence, no matter how we talk about this case I don‘t see how he gets out of the fact that he was a repeat customer with all of these details: She was a pretty brunette.  You have the details for any indictment: 5‘5”, 105 pounds, et cetera.  I just don‘t see how he gets around this.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, that is what I think the negotiation is about right now, is getting him as a witness in this case to flush out all of this for a jury if necessary in the prosecution off the four people who have been indicted.

I have to say, it‘s a little embarrassing I think to watch our FBI dollars at work.  This is the very same FBI that let those al Qaeda members get on those planes on 9/11 and this is the best they can come up with since then?  This is what they‘re spending their day on?  I mean, I don‘t mean that in many ways as an offense.

ABRAMS:  But again, Lawrence, here‘s the thing.  You don‘t know what the broader investigation was.  I don‘t either.  I mean, maybe Jonathan does, but as Catherine pointed out before, most of the time, these busts come in the connection with a broader investigation.

DIENST:  That‘s right, Dan, if I can jump in there?

ABRAMS:  Yes.

DIENST:  This was apparently, it all started with an IRS investigation into allegations of money laundering by this alleged prostitution ring which is a serious offense.  And there was millions of dollars allegedly being funneled through bank accounts.  And so, it started with an IRS investigation.

They went to the U.S. Attorneys Office.  They went to the FBI.  They joined cooperation and then, amid these ongoing wiretaps on this unrelated investigation, lo and behold, the governor of the state of New York allegedly winds up on these wiretaps and then, you have to bring in the public corruption to see what‘s going on here.  And that this has been going on for several months, we understand.

ABRAMS:  And Lawrence, look, I mean, I get that you want to say, you know what, you feel sorry for him and I think, it‘s a fair response.

The problem is, that again, you know, this is a controversial figure who‘s been on the other side of this so many times, where people have said, you know what, he abused his power.  You know what, we never should have been charged.  You know what, he‘s overstepping, et cetera.

And then, his defense to be, well, you know what, they‘re overstepping, they overcharged. I‘d say, it gets kind of tricky.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, I‘m not offering that as a defense.  I‘m just saying that I wish I was on this show talking about some other successful FBI investigation rather than just this kind of thing.

ABRAMS:  OK.  Jonathan Dienst, thank you very much.  I appreciate all your good work.  Catherine and Lawrence are going to stay with us.

Coming up: How would a famous governor have an account and actually pay for a prostitute?  How does it work in this ring where men paid as much $50,000 for a weekend?

Plus: How did other politicians like Louisiana‘s Republican Senator David Vitter survive a prostitution scandal?  Is this any worse?

And once again: We‘re On Their Trail.  Tonight: Another round of Clinton v. Obama.  Clinton talks up Obama as her V.P.  How does she figure that works considering he is ahead right now in pledged delegates, the popular vote and total states won?

We‘re tracking the latest misstatements, cheap shots and blunders On Their Trail.

Coming up later.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  New York Governor Eliot Spitzer now a.k.a. client number nine or “George Fox” to the prostitute who worked at Emperors Club VIP prostitution ring.  We look inside the seedy world of super-expensive prostitution, the one Spitzer allegedly utilized, charged anywhere from $1,000 an hour to $31,000 per day for their women.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Back now to the breaking news of New York Governor Eliot Spitzer‘s alleged link to a prostitution service.  The law and order governor allegedly caught on a federal wiretap arranging to meet a call girl named Kristen through the Emperors Club VIP escort service.

The Feds busted the Emperors Club this past Thursday but it didn‘t become a really big story until today, when reports surfaced that Governor Spitzer was involved.  The Emperors Club is a New York-based escort service that provided, quote, “refined and successful international clients, risk free dating without long-term commitment intricacies with exclusive, beautiful, educated companions of fine family and career backgrounds.”

The online prostitution site took in more $1 million in profits over four years by employing 50 prostitutes who service clients allegedly in cities like New York, Washington and Paris.

So, how would a guy like Governor Spitzer actually do it?  Does he pay in cash?  Does his real name appear somewhere?

Prosecutor Pam Bondi is with us; and former Judge Catherine Crier is back with us.  All right, Pam, look, you prosecuted a lot of these cases.  How does it work?

PAM BONDI, PROSECUTOR:  Well, Dan, first of all, this is a big business.  So, these people probably do take credit cards.  Most high-end prostitution rings, believe it or not take credit cards.

I think the governor was hopefully smart enough to pay cash.  We know he‘s very wealthy, so, he would have access to $4,300 cash.  And that would be hard for federal authorities to trace.

So, first of all: He paid cash.  He went under an assumed name, who happened to be a friend of his and campaign contributor‘s name which doesn‘t help.  But what happened, of course, the prostitute recognized him as the governor, which is going to be very difficult when your face is plastered all over the state of New York to cover that up.

But, I think and I think that‘s probably why he went to D.C. and had her leave state—cross state lines in order to commit the act.

ABRAMS:  Hold on for a moment, joining us on the phone right now, former Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss joins us now, thanks very much for taking the time.

We‘ve been talking about how these high-end escort services work and you ran a high-end escort service, how do you deal with someone like the governor of New York who‘s had his face on the cover of “Time” magazine as an ongoing client with a tab?

HEIDI FLEISS, FMR. HOLLYWOOD MADAM (on the phone):  Oh, I dealt with much more famous people than that.  He is small time for me.  The problem here is he is such a zealot and a hypocrite.

ABRAMS:  But let me ask you, talk to me about the details.  You were saying you dealt with higher profile than that.  How did you deal with them?  Do they pay cash?

FLEISS:  Of course.  Cash is no record.  The only person I had a problem with was Charlie Sheen.

ABRAMS:  So, do you then know, but you as the person running the escort service know this is a high-profile person?

FLEISS:  Sure, of course.  But, look, I sunk my own ship.  I didn‘t take anyone down with me.

ABRAMS:  And part of the reason was, because what, you had an accounting system that didn‘t have a lot of their names down?

FLEISS:  Well, you know what, look, if you want to keep those kind of records, you are asking for problems (INAUDIBLE).  If a dress has semen on it, you wash it.  You don‘t keep those records.  You don‘t write certain things down.  They pay cash for a reason.  So there is no record of it.

Look, my job wasn‘t to keep tabs on who was doing who and who was doing what.  I was trying to make a living.

ABRAMS:  And here it seems that the bust was made based on wiretaps.  And they tried, it seems in these conversations, to avoid talking about who they were talking about, but it seems the Feds were able to figure it out pretty quickly.

FLEISS:  Sure.  Look, they can all use assumed names.  And I have instances where one people call and use other people‘s famous names.  You know, people can use any name they want.

You know, but it is what it is.  The problem is that guy should need to get out of office.  I mean, it‘s great he‘s getting -who wants a governor who doesn‘t have sex?  That would be horrible.  But it‘s the way he‘s doing it is wrong.

ABRAMS:  And finally, I just wanted to ask you one more question about

the logistics of it.  I think that a lot of people don‘t quite understand,

including me, it wouldn‘t be great if Heidi said, you know, Dan, stop

faking it.  But no, including me about exactly how it works.  I mean, so

the person calls up, how many -

FLEISS:  Dan, she didn‘t arrive on time last night?  She didn‘t get there?  OK.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  How many people would know the name of someone like this at the service?  I mean, I got to believe that the prostitutes also figure it out.

FLEISS:  (INAUDIBLE).  They don‘t care.  They are there doing a job.  Who cares how famous they are.  They just want to make their money and get called back again.

It‘s a business.  They are not there to be like, ooh, I was with this one or that one.  Because someone is famous or recognizable that doesn‘t mean you make more money.  They‘re just there to do a job.

ABRAMS:  Pam Bondi, I think that‘s why it‘s so important to have that wiretap.

BONDI:  Absolutely, Dan, they got his voice on tape.

ABRAMS:  Heidi, hang on one second.  Let me bring in Pam Bondi.  Go ahead, Pam.

BONDI:  Yes, Dan, exactly.  They got his voice on tape making the arrangements.  And what‘s going to get him in federal court is what Catherine mentioned earlier, the Mann Act.

He talked about transporting the prostitute over state lines from New York to Washington.  And that‘s what they have on tape and that‘s what‘s really going to hurt him with federal charges.  We feel he‘s probably going to have some state charges for just the simple prostitution charge because the state and federal authorities have concurrent jurisdiction, meaning they can both prosecute.

FLEISS:  I went through the same thing, State and federal and the Mann Act and the whole thing.

ABRAMS:  Heidi, did you have to avoid having your women cross state lines?

FLEISS:  No.  I didn‘t try to avoid it all.  (INAUDIBLE).  They are adults doing adult activities.  And you know what, who are not going to stop it?  It is the sex business.  You can regulate it and then, it would be better because then the women wouldn‘t suffer.  It just could run better.

ABRAMS:  Heidi Fleiss, thanks very much for coming on.  Pam Bondi, appreciate it.  Catherine Crier is going to stay with us.

Coming up: It sure doesn‘t look like Spitzer is going to survive this scandal politically, even if he‘s not indicted.  But many other politicians like Louisiana GOP Senator David Vitter who‘s identified as a client of so-called the D.C. madam‘s escort service last year had managed to salvage their political careers.  Is this different?

Plus: The best political team on television over at CNN seems to have the worst team in math in television.  That‘s up next on tonight‘s Beat the Press.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up: After a report of people fainting at campaign rallies, CNN‘s Jessica Yellin try to explain how and why it could happen.  We‘re keeping them honest.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN REPORTER:  What you don‘t realize is, many of these people have been waiting in line for four hours to get in and then, they wait two hours.  So, they have invested eight hours by the time the candidate gets there.

(END VIDOE CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Four plus two equals eight?

Next up: It seems CNN needs a chief mathematician to supervise all of their coverage.  Here‘s Tom Foreman yesterday looking at a poll comparing the Democratic candidates‘ electability versus john McCain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN REPORTER:  If you look at this, Clinton against McCain, 50 percent to 44 percent, Obama against McCain 52 percent to 40 percent, it‘s almost even.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Almost even?  So, the six-point spread between Clinton and McCain is the same between the 12 points between Obama and McCain almost even?  As in twice as much?

Finally: Bill O‘Reilly was talking about right wing radio influence on last week‘s Democratic primary elections and insisted he didn‘t want to focus his show on Rush Limbaugh.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O‘REILLY, TV HOST:  And I don‘t want to make this show about

Limbaugh, because, you know, look -

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  OK, except when listen to O‘Reilly throughout that show, it sounded like he wanted to do just that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O‘REILLY:  Should radio commentators like Rush Limbaugh do political dirty work?  And spoke with Rush Limbaugh, should radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh, you do it, I do it, Limbaugh does it.  Now, Limbaugh and I don‘t want to make this show about Limbaugh.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Not about Limbaugh.

Up next: Governor Eliot Spitzer isn‘t the only politician who‘s been linked to a prostitution ring.  Remember Louisiana‘s David Vitter, he‘s still serving in the Senate after his number allegedly showed up on an escort service‘s phone records. 

And later: We‘re On Their Trail.  Tonight, Geraldine Ferraro, former Democratic vice president nominee, member of Hillary Clinton‘s finance committee telling a newspaper, Obama has only been this successful because he‘s black.  Can you say blunder?

Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, we are on their trail again tonight.  In an interview, Hillary Clinton raised the possibility of poaching the Obama‘s pledged delegates, the delegates nominated by the voters after saying a few weeks ago that she wouldn‘t. 

But first, tonight at this hour, all eyes on New York Governor Eliot Spitzer.  The question, will he resign after a federal wiretap linked him to a prostitution ring?  Spitzer allegedly set up a meeting with a high-end and high-priced prostitute at Washington Hotel.  Spitzer, the one-time New York State attorney general, his political star rose after he cracked down on Wall Street and organized crime.  Tonight Spitzer, fighting for his political life.  Today, he apologized. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELIOT SPITZER, GOVERNOR OF NEW YORK:  I apologize, first and most importantly, to my family.  I apologize to the public whom I promised better.  I have disappointed and failed to live up to the standard I expected of myself. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Before we talk about why Spitzer could have a much harder time surviving this scandal than others who have been snared in similar sex scandals like Louisiana Republican Senator David Vitter.  Here now with the latest, WNBC‘s Jonathan Dienst.  All right.  Jonathan, what do you know?

JONATHAN DIENST, WNBC, CORRESPONDENT:  Well, the very latest is that we are hearing that the governor appears to have taken a two track, one with prosecutors.  He is trying to see if he goes, will he not be charged.  And that is why he has now hired an attorney apparently with Paul Weiss, the major firm here in New York. 

The other thing we are hearing is that this afternoon, from our political unit, Melissa Russo telling us that he was making calls to various key Democrats across the state to see if he could survive this. 

Some aides were talking about possibly conducting some polls.  Too soon to know if he plans to stick this out given the graphic detail that is in the federal papers that were filed in court here late last week, detailing very detailed conversations and interactions with an alleged prostitute at the Mayflower Hotel inside room 871. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Jonathan Dienst, as always, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it.  There are some Democrats in New York who are actually already calling on Spitzer to quit.  But the bigger question, how have others - and there are top Republicans as well, often family values Republicans - caught in recent sex scandals, and how did they survive?

Republican Senator David Vitter‘s name turned up in the phone records of the D.C. Madam.  He had a big press conference, his wife by his side.  He apologized.  He is still in Capitol Hill. 

And of course, there‘s Sen. Larry Craig.  He pled guilty to disorderly conduct after getting busted in that airport bathroom sex sting.  Craig is still representing the people of Idaho. 

So what is it that allows them to avoid the firing line?  Joining me now, Mary Ann Akers, a political reporter for the “WashingtonPost.com” and former judge Catherine Crier.  All right.  Mary Ann, any explanation - I mean is there going to be a different standard for Eliot Spitzer than for Vitter or Craig?

MARY ANN AKERS, POLITICAL REPORTER, THE “WASHINGTONPOST.COM”:  Well, yes.  I mean, first of all, it says, federal case.  There is a federal investigation going on here.  And they have him cold with the wiretap.  They have him on tape talking about wiring money, money being a key part of this.  Money for sex and also apparently paying for the transportation of this prostitute across state lines. 

Transporting someone across state lines for the purposes of paid sex, for prostitution is a key thing here.  So, Larry Craig, that was a misdemeanor.  This could be a felony offense.  Again, he has not been charged.  But a federal investigation, wiretapping - they‘ve got him cold. 

ABRAMS:  Is that the difference, Catherine?  I mean, to you?

CATHERINE CRIER, FORMER JUDGE:  Not politically.  Politically, the

Republican Governors‘ Association supported Vitter and yet (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

has already called for the resignation of Eliot Spitzer.  When Vitter

returned to congress, his -

(CROSS TALK)

ABRAMS:  But as a lawyer and as a former judge, does it mean anything

though, that the legal issues are different?  Meaning -

CRIER:  That‘s what they will use.  That‘s what they will use as a headline saying this could be a felony.  The man acted, sounds very ominous.  But the acts are the same here and it is political hypocrisy.  It‘s not at all that I am standing on the side of Eliot Spitzer in this, but he is going to get, I would assume, a bit different treatment. 

ABRAMS:  But in high-profile cases, everything gets technical. 

CRIER:  Of course it does. 

ABRAMS:  In the sense that they were technical before. 

CRIER:  What isn‘t?  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

ABRAMS:  Martha Stewart is a good example, too. 

CRIER:  Absolutely.

ABRAMS:  I mean in a sense that cases that might not have been prosecuted otherwise because the world is watching, they are forced to prosecute each and every crime.  And maybe in these other cases, in the Larry Craig case for example, they prosecuted him at the maximum. In the Vitter case, they didn‘t have evidence to prosecute him.  And maybe that‘s the difference. 

CRIER:  Well, in the Vitter case, we had testimony from the alleged prostitute that all of these took place. 

ABRAMS:  He denied it with that prostitute. 

CRIER:  It‘s some kind of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) stuff that was supposed to be going on.

ABRAMS:  Here is Vitter.  I want to compare because we just heard from Eliot Spitzer, a very similar kind of apology from Vitter.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

SEN. DAVID VITTER(R-LA), INVOLVED IN A PROSTITUTION SCANDAL:  I want to, again, offer my deep sincere apologies to all those I have let down and disappointed with these actions from my past.  I am completely responsible.  Wendy and I dealt with this personally several years ago.  I confronted it in confession and marriage counseling.  I believe I received forgiveness from God.  I know I did from Wendy. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Mary Ann, it sounds like if you just listen to both apologies that they are kind of apologizing for the same thing, and that is they got caught going to a prostitute. 

AKERS:  Right.  Yes, and that is the one key element, the one theme throughout all of this.  Because back to what Catherine said it‘s the hypocrisy, the hypocrisy threshold.  They all come out with their wives by their sides, make the apology.  But what‘s different in this case in terms of hypocrisy, the threshold goes a little further.  It is not just the family values conservative who has, you know, been caught with a prostitute.  It‘s a prosecutor who has prosecuted prostitution cases.  So that hypocrisy threshold, we have upped the ante a bit. 

ABRAMS:  Catherine?

CRIER:  Well, he also set himself up as this great corruption crusader.  We know he‘s busted prostitution rings before.  So he‘s raised the bar himself.  And it‘s going to be pretty difficult, I think, for the public and others to lower it for him. 

ABRAMS:  Because the Republicans stood by Vitter.  They abandoned

Craig and Craig still stuck with it.  And, you know, he is sitting there in

oblivion.  But -

CRIER:  He won‘t leave. 

ABRAMS:  He‘s not leaving.  But the Republicans stuck by Vitter.  I‘m not so certain the Democrats will stand by Spitzer. 

CRIER:  But his ratings are low.  He has made ...

ABRAMS:  Spitzer is a much more controversial figure.

CRIER:  He has angered all of Wall Street.  A lot of the big backers who would normally support a governor like this are not there beside him.  And I think those, you know, political chickens will come home to roost. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  We are going to stay on this story and follow it.  A lot of news breaking tonight on this and this is going to be the program to follow it.  Mary Ann Akers, Catherine Crier, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it. 

Up next, we‘re on their trail.  Tonight, another round of Obama versus Clinton, the Clinton camp saying they‘d like to consider Obama as Hillary‘s vice president.  How do you figure that works when Obama is still the frontrunner?  

And later, speaking of vanity, Donald Trump‘s daughter reportedly sends her assistant to regularly touch up the nail polish on the wax statue of her likeness at Madam Tussaud‘s.  She‘s coming up in tonight‘s “Winners and Losers.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, we‘re on their trail.  Tonight, another round of Obama versus Clinton.  We assess the latest misstatement, cheap shots and blunders on the road to the White House.  Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  Clinton and Obama continue to slug it out on the campaign trail, trading negative and nasty attacks over the weekend which they continued out on the stump today.  As always, we‘re on their trail, assessing the biggest misstatements, cheap shots and blunders.

Here to help us separate fact from fiction, cheap shot from fair game, Peter Beinart, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.  And back with us Lawrence O‘Donnell. 

All right, first up.  Team Clinton debuting a new theme out on the campaign trail as they start to push the idea of a dream ticket.  Both Hillary and Bill now floating the idea of a vice president Obama. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  You‘ve got to make a choice.  A lot of people wish they didn‘t have to.  I‘ve had people say, “I wish I could vote for both of you.”  Well that might be possible someday.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  If you put those two things together, it would have an almost unstoppable force. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  But they are talking about Hillary on top.  I‘m calling this a Clinton cheap shot.  Last time I checked, Obama is ahead in pledged delegates, ahead in the popular vote and ahead in the total states won.  The Clintons are effectively trying to rewrite history here, cast Hillary as the frontrunner, graciously willing to put Obama on the ticket. 

Not since the British offered to welcome the soon-to-be victorious American columnist back to England has so disingenuous an offer been proposed.  This one goes against Hillary and Obama gets credit for his response today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  They have been spending the last two, three weeks - you remember the advertisement with the phone call, getting all the generals to say, well, we‘re not sure he‘s ready.  But I don‘t understand, if I‘m not ready, how is it you think I should be such a great vice president?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I mean Peter, this is such a bad issue for Hillary Clinton. 

PETER BEINART, SENIOR FELLOW, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS:  Well, I agree it is disingenuous, but I don‘t believe it is a bad issue.  I think this is actually really, really shrewd.  Because she‘s right; there are a lot of people who want to vote for both of them.  They know that there‘s not going to be an Obama-Hillary ticket but could be a Hillary-Obama ticket.  And I think this is a way for people who really, really like Barack Obama for Hillary Clinton to say, “You can vote for me without voting against him.”

ABRAMS:  But Lawrence, disingenuous, but shrewd.  I mean accept the fact that the inside political people say, oh you know, she‘s - but it‘s just disingenuous, isn‘t it?

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I guess I‘m going to have to agree with both of you.  Yes, Dan, disingenuous and shrewd.  And as long as Barack Obama‘s talking about the vice presidency, that‘s not good for his campaign, although his response was brilliant.  Here is the Clinton campaign saying he is not ready to be president.  He is not ready to take the 3:00 a.m. phone call.  And then, this weekend, they suddenly say he is. 

ABRAMS:  Let me read you to Howard Wolfson‘s statement, “We do not believe that Sen. Obama has passed the commander-in-chief test but there is a long way between now and Denver.”  Because, you know what?  You can learn a lot about being commander-in-chief on the campaign trail. 

O‘DONNELL:  That was the stupidest thing by anyone in the campaign said so far this year.

ABRAMS:  I mean, Peter, you don‘t disagree with that, do you?  No, but you know, I think, again, I think Hillary Clinton is tapping into something which is out there.  There are a lot of people who think Barack Obama is an amazing political talent.  But they know that he is young.  They know this is Hillary Clinton‘s last chance. 

ABRAMS:  They are still voting for him. 

BEINART:  They are.  But some of them are now voting for Hillary Clinton.  If Hillary Clinton can make people feel like you can vote for her and get Barack Obama, too, then she can win some more votes. 

ABRAMS:  I am the last person to count Hillary Clinton out.  I‘ve been the sole voice, night after night, saying that the media has been doing Hillary Clinton a disservice.  But I‘m going to call her out every time she is disingenuous, she makes a misstatement, a flip-flop.  The same way I‘m going to do on Obama.  This goes against Clinton, giving her our first strike of the night. 

Next up, Clinton raising the possibility of poaching Obama‘s pledged delegates.  Those are the delegates nominated by the voters to primaries and caucuses.  Clinton telling “Newsweek” magazine, quote, “There are elected delegates, caucus delegates and superdelegates, all for different reason, and they are all equal in their ability to cast their vote for whomever they choose.  Even elected and caucus delegates are not required to stay with whomever they are pledged to.”

I‘m calling this one a Clinton blunder.  She appears to be suggesting these pledged delegates are up for grabs.  The problem?  Last month, her campaign forcefully rejected the idea of going after them, saying, quote, “We have not or will not pursue the pledged delegates of Barack Obama.”  I mean, Lawrence, how do you flip on that one so quickly?

O‘DONNELL:  That is a big mistake.  Now, they never should have said the thing they said a couple of months ago, because it is within the rules to go after any of these delegates.  But to now be in contradiction with herself on this is a terrible position to be in. 

ABRAMS:  It just seems desperate, Peter. 

BEINART:  Yes.  I don‘t think this is good thing for them to talk about at all.  It kind of continues the idea that basically they are willing to break the rules, willing to do anything to win.  I think she should have really left this topic alone. 

ABRAMS:  Ruling this one against Clinton, giving us two strikes for Clinton, none for Obama.  Going into round three.  One-time vice presidential candidate, Geraldine Ferraro making some highly controversial comments about Barack Obama. 

Ferraro, a big Clinton supporter and fundraiser telling California newspaper, quote, “If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position.  And if he was a woman or of any color, he would not be in this position.  He happens to be very lucky to be who he is and the country is caught up in the concept.”

This one a major blunder for the Clinton camp.  Ferraro also serves as a member of Clinton‘s finance committee.  Obama was forced to part ways with an advisor last week who called Clinton a monster.  I think Hillary may have to take a firm stand against Ferraro‘s comments.  Peter, do you think she has to distance herself from Ferraro now?

BEINART:  Again, morally, I think this is totally unacceptable.  It doesn‘t make any sense to start thinking about what would be happening if Barack Obama were a woman.  He is not a woman.  You can‘t disentangle who he is from his ethnicity. 

But I think, politically, I‘m not sure this hurts Hillary Clinton.  I mean, if you look at it in the most cold-hearted way, she has already lost the African-American vote.  She is not going to get it back.  Ferraro‘s comments are not going to hurt her with white voters. 

ABRAMS:  I disagree, Lawrence.  I think that there are a lot - that there are going to be a lot of white voters out there.  And look, you guys know better than me on this stuff.  But it would seem to me that a lot people are going to say, “That is kind of offensive.”  I mean, whether you agree with it or not as a political matter, it‘s just kind of offensive.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, it is an offensive concept to half of the Democratic Party that has already voted for Barack Obama.  It‘s a very unwise thing to say.  For Geri Ferraro who spent a lifetime trying to say she was not just a token on the ticket of the Democratic Party, to play tokenism on Barack Obama. 

It may be true that Barack Obama being the only black United States senator helped earn him a place at the Democratic convention in 2004, you know, giving that speech.  However, Barack Obama has run the best presidential campaign any of us have ever seen.  He has come from nowhere to be this competitive and to be technically in the lead.  He has earned the position he is in today. 

ABRAMS:  Look, there is no way to assess what the color of his skin has done to his campaign or not done.  It just seems to me it‘s a bad idea to start guessing about what it might have done or might not have done.  Peter, final quick word.

BEINART:  Well, that‘s absolutely true.  There may be some people out there who are voting for Barack Obama because he is African-American.  There are certainly people who are voting against him because he is an African-American.  As long as he‘s saying - absolutely, the fundamental reality is that this guy is an incredible political talent. 

ABRAMS:  Real quick, Lawrence.  Does Ferraro have to get out of the Clinton camp now?  Yes or no?

O‘DONNELL:  I don‘t think she will be forced out but better not say something like this again. 

ABRAMS:  No?  What about Peter?  Peter?

BEINART:  I don‘t think she‘ll be giving as many interviews. 

ABRAMS:  This goes against Clinton as well, giving us a rare “On Their Trail” shutout.  Three strikes against Clinton.  Nothing against Obama. 

Peter Beinart and Lawrence O‘Donnell, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it.

Up next, will tonight‘s big winner or loser be Ivanka Trump who apparently is so vain she keeps her wax figure at Madame Tussaud‘s updated with new nail polish; a baby who would probably this song is called, “You‘re So Vain” at just 17 months because she can read; or the get-tough-on-crime New York governor so vain he allegedly thought he could procure prostitutes would getting caught.  Tonight‘s “Winners and Losers,” coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It‘s time for tonight‘s “Winners and Losers” for this 10th day of March, 2008.  Our bronze loser - Ivanka Trump.  The 26-year-old mogul-in-training reportedly sends her assistant to touch up the nail polish of the wax statue of her likeness at Madame Tussaud‘s here in New York City.  We thought The Donald was vain. 

Our silver loser, Congressman Steve King, the Iowa Republican, standing by his comments over the weekend that if Barack Obama is elected, Al-Qaeda and other radical extremists will be dancing in the streets in greater numbers than they did on September 11. 

But our big loser of the day, Eliot Spitzer, the New York governor, who is possibly eyeing a run with the White House one day, could be finished in politics after being linked to a prostitution ring as we‘ve been talking about for most of the hour. 

Our big winner of the day?  Seventeen-month-old Elizabeth Barrett who can read.  Yes, read, as she demonstrated on the “Today” show this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Elizabeth, can you read this word to me.  What does that say?

ELIZABETH BARRETT, 17-MONTH-OLD BABY WHO CAN READ:  Happy. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And what about this word, Elizabeth?

BARRETT:  Zipper. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And what about this word, Elizabeth?

BARRETT:  Kangaroo. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And this word, Elizabeth? 

BARRETT:  Flower. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Here is another word.  What about that one? 

BARRETT:  Baby. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You read cursive, “baby.”  She can read cursive. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Time for the P.O.‘ed box, your chance to tell me what you love or hate about the show.  In Thursday night‘s “On Their Trail” segment, I ruled it a blunder when Barack Obama‘s foreign policy advisor remarked that neither Clinton or Obama are ready to take that 3:00 a.m. phone call.

Frank Allen from Orlando Florida, says, “I disagree with your assessment that Obama‘s advisor made a blunder when she stated Obama was not “ready” for the call at 3:00 in the morning.  She specifically stated, neither Clinton nor McCain are ready either.” 

How does that change anything, Frank?  A campaign advisor admitting that her candidate is not prepared to lead?  This is politics.  Clearly a blunder. 

Last week, I took on Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, one of the Ohio superdelegates who basically vowed to withhold their endorsement until their specific local concerns are addressed by the candidate. 

Shawn Mercer-Dixon, from Chicago, “I want to commend you on making us aware that Ohio superdelegates are attempting a coup on behalf of their state to determine who will receive the Democratic nomination.” 

But Ralph Martinez from San Antonio, “What‘s wrong with wanting more answers to questions she thinks are important and then casting her vote accordingly?  Geez, and you‘re a lawyer?”

Because Ralph, that‘s not what superdelegates are supposed to do.  They‘re supposed to be finding the candidate best for the party, not best for their parochial interests. 

Remember to send your E-mails at Abrams@MSNBC.com.  Please include your name and where you‘re writing from.  Big announcement today, next Monday, a big new show called “Verdict.”  You‘re going to love the way the show looks.  That‘s all the time we have for tonight.  Up next, stay tuned for “LOCKUP EXTENDED STAY.”  See you tomorrow.

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

END   

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