updated 3/18/2008 12:14:28 PM ET 2008-03-18T16:14:28

Guests: Rachel Maddow, Michelle Bernard, Emily Smith, Raoul Felder, Paul Dosty, Candace DeLong

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Tonight: The firestorm continues over Barack Obama‘s relationship with his controversial former pastor as the Clinton and Obama campaigns blast each other over Iraq, tax returns, and shady supporters.

We‘re On Their Trail assessing of who‘s guilty of more misstatements, cheap shots and blunders.

And breaking tonight: More chaos in Florida as Democrats there reject a new vote.  This as Clinton claims winning Florida and other big states are the key to winning the general election.  But does her argument really make sense?

Plus: Today, Heather Mills wins nearly $50 million in her divorce settlement from Paul McCartney, a big bucks but she is still the big loser here in every way.

I‘m on her trail tonight with her misstatements, cheap shots and blunders.

VERDICT starts now.

Welcome to our new show VERDICT.  Thanks for joining us.

Tonight: As the Florida Democratic Party decides not to have a new vote in Florida, Obama and Clinton continue to fire shots back and forth on a range of issues from secrecy to Iraq war votes on this prior program we are On Their Trail: Assessing who‘s offering up more misstatements, cheap shots and blunders.

Here to help separate fact from fiction, cheap shot from fair game: Air America radio host and MSNBC political analyst, Rachel Maddow; MSNBC political analyst, Pat Buchanan; and Michelle Bernard, president of the Independent Women‘s Forum.

Thanks to all of you for coming.  Appreciate it.

First up: We‘re learning that Senator Obama will deliver a major speech tomorrow on race, religion and his now controversial former pastor, Jeremiah Wright.  Wright is continuing to create big problems for the Obama campaign.

Last week, videos surfaced of Reverend Wright urging his parishioners to sing “God damn America” rather than “God bless America,” and implying that America deserved 9/11.

Well, Obama‘s now distanced himself from Wright.  Just yesterday, we learned the controversial pastor was originally slated to speak at Obama‘s event to announce his candidacy last year but the campaign removed him from the roster partly because they knew back then, he might be a problem.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA CAMPAIGN ADVISER:  There was no doubt that there was controversy surrounding him.  And we didn‘t want to expose him, make him the target and a distraction on a day when Senator Obama was going to announce his candidacy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I‘m ruling this is a new Obama blunder.  They knew he was a potential problem more than a year ago and yet, they kept him on a religious committee until now?

And now Obama has to deal with this new pastor at a church coming out to defend Wright in a sermon last night, railing against, quote, “external forces that want to box us in and vilify us.  It‘s an indictment on Dr. Wright‘s ministerial legacy to present his global ministry within a 15-or 30-second sound bite.”

Maybe so but when the sound bytes are that inflammatory, and the reverend has got to keep his distance from politicians.  Rachel Maddow, you disagree with me?

RACHEL MADDOW, AIR AMERICA RADIO:  I do think that this is an Obama blunder.  I mean that you think you want your campaign to be the first campaign or the first organization to buy Wright‘s speeches which were for sale.  You don‘t want ABC News beating you to them.  If you knew that he was going an issue -

ABRAMS:  Over a year ago.

MADDOW:  Yes, you ought to have a response ready to go.  You ought to have a pre-battle ready to go.  You ought to be the ones to put it out there.  You ought not to be caught flat-footed on something as serious as this.

ABRAMS:  Yes, Pat, I mean, it seems to me, if they knew this long ago, that they wanted to keep him out of this announcement, boy, to just keep him on this official religious committee, you can call it honorary or whatever you want, but he‘s still on an Obama committee.

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  This is more than a blunder.  This gentleman is an America-hating-Afro-racist to me.  He implies or says, the United States invented AIDS to kill black people.  He says that America, the things he said are disgusting and intolerable.

And for 20 years, this man has been the adviser, the mentor, the spiritual father, who baptized Barack Obama, who married Barack Obama, who baptized his children.  And I think the idea that Obama did not know he was dealing with this kind of character is non-credible.

Frankly, he would be so obtuse if he didn‘t recognize that he shouldn‘t be a security guard at Wal-mart.  I don‘t know he divorces himself from this man and his message as he was part of it basically, part of this man‘s life for 20 years.

ABRAMS:  Well, Michelle, look, I mean, I don‘t think it‘s fair to suggest that somehow Obama was endorsing some of the worst of this guy‘s comments, but with that said, from a political standpoint, they knew he was a political liability a long time ago and they kept him on the committee.

MICHELLE BERNARD, INDEPENDENT WOMEN‘S FORUM:  Yes, you know, I think that this undoubtedly goes into the category of political blunder on the part of his campaign staff.  It‘s got to be very difficult for him, for Senator Obama, for his campaign people to figure out how to, you know, now use the terms that have become invoked (ph), repudiate him and renounce the man who has had so much to do with his upbringing.

It has happened at a time when most of the country is really unfamiliar with the origins of the black church and how the black church works.  I can tell you that most of the people that sit in those pews every Sunday at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, don‘t necessarily, you know, believe and advocate everything that Reverend Wright has said.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  But again, look, I don‘t want to sort of paint these broad brushes where everyone gets associated with this guy.  The bottom line, politically, it‘s what we‘re talking about here.  Politically, this goes against Obama.  He gets our first strike of the night.

MADDOW:  He did denounce and reject and categorically deny and I mean, Obama has done everything he can possibly do to distance himself.

ABRAMS:  All right.  I got to move on.

Next up: The mud-flying today on Iraq war votes.  Clinton attacking Obama at a major policy speech today, calling his 2002 speech against the war: Words not action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Senator Obama holds up his original opposition to the war on the campaign trail.  But he didn‘t start working aggressively to end the war until he started running for president.  So when he had a chance to act on his speech, he chose silence instead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I‘m ruling this a Clinton cheap shot.  First of all, Obama wasn‘t even in the Senate when he gave his 2002 speech.  So, he couldn‘t have voted against it.  And while it‘s true that since he‘s been in the Senate, he has voted to fund the war as she‘s pointed out many times, their votes are identical.

He gets some credit because in his first Senate floor speech devoted to Iraq and almost no one talks about this, he said, quote, “A precipitous withdrawal of our troops driven by Congressional edict rather than realities on the ground. will not undo the mistakes made by this administration.  It could compound them.”

He even called it a mistake then.  Both Clinton and Obama are talking about ending the war now if they campaign, but the notion, Pat, that she‘s accusing him of not doing enough to stop it, while he wasn‘t even in the Senate at the time of the votes is a total cheap shot.

BUCHANAN:  No.  No.  Look, he did speak out against the war but when he got in the United States Senate around 2005, January, his voting record is very, very similar if not identical to Hillary Clinton‘s.  When Bill Clinton said, the idea of his consistent anti-war stance is a fairy tale, I think, Bill Clinton was correct.

ABRAMS:  Look, I think, Bill Clinton may have been correct in saying that the sort of idea that he voted anti-war all the time is a fairy tale.  But the notion that Clinton is going after Obama on this, Rachel, to me, is a total—you‘ve to attack with clean hands.

MADDOW:  Yes, in terms of what they have done in the Senate to end the Iraq war, neither of them has done very much in the Senate to end the Iraq war.  He happens to have said at that time that she was voting for it that he was against it.  What that means is that he‘s got one leg to stand on.  She‘s got no legs to stand on.

This is where they ought to be hitting McCain and not each other.

ABRAMS:  Yes, Clinton gets the strike on this one.  I‘m giving this, one strike for Clinton, one for Obama.

Next up: The fight over secrecy.  Both sides are suggesting the other have something to hide on two issues: Tax returns and pet projects.

First: The Clinton campaign has been under steady attack for failing to release her tax returns.  It‘s an issue I hit Clinton on it in the past.  Her campaign has been stonewalling this. They remain a little vague about exactly when they will release them.

Now, it seems they have a new line of attack, change the subject.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD WOLFSON, CLINTON COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR:  I would ask the Obama campaign, are you prepared to release your earmark requests in the state senate?  So far, the answer to that is no.  Perhaps because he doesn‘t want people to see what it was that he was requesting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  A Clinton cheap shot.  Obama‘s already released all of his earmark requests from his past three years in the U.S. Senate.  Now, rather than addressing the issue, Team Clinton is suggesting what we really need to investigate are Obama‘s pet projects while in the state Senate, Michelle?

BERNARD:  Yes, I think, this really goes into the category of cheap shot.  It‘s pretty silly.  To tell you the truth, Senator Clinton, number one, has not released any of her earmarks.  She hasn‘t released her tax returns.

And it really leaves voters to wonder what she is hiding from the American public and why she‘s saying she will not release her tax returns until she‘s the Democratic nominee.

ABRAMS:  Pat, this is the classic political move: Accuse your opponent of your failings.

BUCHANAN:  Well, it changed the subject, too.  I mean, look, you have a very serious problem with Hillary Clinton‘s tax returns obviously, and Bill Clinton, where he got $1 billion or $500,000 for that library.  This is big stuff.

And this petty little thing about the Illinois legislature, these guys are trying to change the subject.  Hillary is on a sticky wicket on this one.  And her guys are trying to help her out and they‘re not succeeding.

ABRAMS:  Real quick, Rachel, you disagree with it?  Really?

MADDOW:  I wish there was a demerit option.  I‘ll give them both demerits for making this the ground on which they‘re fighting.  John McCain is in Baghdad.

These two look like they are in a sand box flinging something at each other.  This is not the sound on which they want to be fighting.  Neither them is going to win on this.  It‘s a stupid thing for them to be campaigning about.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  But look, the bottom line is there‘s no question in my mind that on this particular one, Clinton is guiltier.  And what we‘ve just talked (ph) tonight, Clinton is getting a strike on this one.  It gives two strikes against Clinton, one for Obama.

The Obama camp though, isn‘t quite off the hook on the issue of tax returns.  They sent out surrogate Bill Bradley yesterday to attack Clinton on the issue and he told Tim Russert this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FMR. SEN. BILL BRADLEY, (D) NEW JERSEY:  This is a matter of full disclosure.  I don‘t see any reason why there shouldn‘t be full disclosure.  Barack Obama has revealed his income tax returns for the last eight years.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Not exactly.  I‘m calling this at least, misleading.  In his haste to attack Clinton, Bradley fudged the facts a little according to “Chicago Sun Times.”  Obama has released his tax returns for the last year and, quote, “has shown some returns for some prior years to news outlets.  An Obama spokesman said they will soon disclose Obama‘s returns for several years before 2006.”

But he hasn‘t released all of them publicly, at least not for the eight years.  So, Obama gets a strike for that.  Pat, you disagree?

BUCHANAN:  Well, I think, Bill Bradley is an honorable guy.  He just was not well informed.  He wouldn‘t get up there and deliberately tell a lie about that.

But I think, I mean, that‘s correct.  I mean, you don‘t go out and say something, we‘d released them for the last eight years when he hasn‘t done it.  So, it‘s a minor bearing minor problem.

ABRAMS:  Michelle, even if these are minor issues, which they are.  This last issue is a total minor issue about this tax return business.  But the facts matter.  And the problem is a lot of the time, I think, in these campaigns, when you see people just throw things out there and not expecting to be called on it and the facts have to matter.

BERNARD:  Well, the facts absolutely do matter.  And what we have seen throughout this campaign is that Senator Obama is, you know, running a campaign as an agent of change.  And although this is a very, very minor matter, he doesn‘t want to have to see this happen repeatedly because it starts putting him in the camp where he doesn‘t necessarily look like the agent of change but looks like a politician like Senator Clinton herself.

ABRAMS:  Everybody is so afraid of with these tax returns.  I mean -

MADDOW:  What are they both hoping to gain with these tax returns?  I mean, what‘s the best case in a hurry out here?  John McCain has “airbus” lobbyists running his campaign.

You want to talk about financial disclosure?  There‘s some big stuff out there.  You know what?  This is not it, there‘s no upside here.  There‘s no downside here.  This goes nowhere.  All it takes it goes (ph) to the possibility that one of them tells a lie and they get caught on it.

ABRAMS:  Real quick, Pat.

BUCHANAN:  If you find out where Bill got all the money for that he library you got a very interesting story and a real problem, I think, for both them.

MADDOW:  Oh, gosh.  It‘s just not true.  There‘s nothing here.

ABRAMS:  Clinton is saying, at tax time, someone of them saying April 15th.

MADDOW:  Kill me now.

ABRAMS:  You know, the question is going to be, does it come before Pennsylvania or not.  Obama gets the strike here, leaving us tied at two strikes each heading into the break.

Everyone is going to stay with us.

Coming up, Obama explains his friendship with an indicted developer despite new contradictions in his story.  We are On Their Trail.

And we‘re on Heather Mills‘ trail tonight.  She gets more than $48 million in her divorce from Paul McCartney.  But it is just a fraction of what she was after.  Now, she‘s spinning like crazy, saying this is all about charity, her daughter, human rights.

I‘m not letting her get away with it.

Plus: A Republican senator using his office to try to embarrass Barack Obama.  It is a waste of the Senate‘s time.  It is the latest reason Why America Hates Washington.  Our new segment is coming next in just 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Our new segment: Why America Hates Washington.  When the U.S. Senate dealing with the new budget, a plundering economy and a seemingly endless war.  Republican Colorado Senator Wayne Allard has decided for the Senate vote to mock fellow senator, Barack Obama.

Allard proposed a budget that supposedly funded all of Obama‘s campaign promises, more than $1 trillion.  The Senate rejected his gag, 97-0.  Even Allard voted against it.  America Hates Washington because Senator Allard wastes precious time with political stunts.

We‘re back On Their Trail in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We are back On Their Trail: Obama v. Clinton, assessing the latest misstatements, cheap shots and blunders.

Right now, we are all tied up on our scorecard.  Obama and Clinton both have two strikes tonight.

Next up: Hillary Clinton is trying to convince voters she‘s more electable than Obama in the fall.  Touting her big state wins and claiming they proved she‘s a more viable general election candidate than he is.

Now, a reporter asked Clinton this weekend, why Obama losing a state like Ohio in the primary would mean he‘d lose it to McCain in the general election.  Clinton‘s response: not particularly persuasive.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  There‘s a generally accepted position that Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida are the critical swing states for Democrats, and that you have to try to win at least two out of three.  I would like to win three out of three.

And I think it is significant that I have won Ohio and I won Florida and I also think it‘s significant because those states represent a much broader cross section of the voters that we‘re going to need to win in the fall.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right, a Clinton cheap shot.  They may be swing states but she‘s not answering the question.  The question: By winning, let‘s say, by a narrow margin in a large state, that doesn‘t mean she‘d necessarily do better in the general election and certainly, doesn‘t mean that if Obama were the candidate, that the Democrats would lose the state.

And that seems to me, Rachel to be the clear implication here, that since “I won Ohio if I‘m not the candidate in the general election we‘re going to lose Ohio”?

MADDOW:  Yes, it‘s just historically not true.  I mean, this is not only a cheap shot.  It‘s a dumb shot.  Remember we talked about the Clinton campaign having said that nobody have won the presidency without winning the Ohio primary.  I like, neat (ph) argument unless you have Google and you can know that it‘s not true.

I mean, Mike Dukakis won Ohio, California, Pennsylvania, Florida and New Jersey, win all those primaries and didn‘t win any of those in the general.  It just doesn‘t historical bear out.

ABRAMS:  Yes, and the point, Michelle, also is the idea that, again, suddenly people are going to shift to McCain in Ohio because Obama is the candidate instead of her.  I don‘t know where she‘s getting that from.

BERNARD:  Well, talk about the biggest fairy tale anyone‘s ever heard.  What about the rest of the country?  I think people in Iowa, New Hampshire, Wyoming and a lot of the other quote-unquote “smaller states” across the country are hoping that whomever the Democratic nominee is going to feel like their vote is important.

And I got to tell you, Republicans are chomping up at the bit if Hillary Clinton‘s, you know, forecast and analysis proves to be correct, there is no one who can reunite the Republican Party better than Hillary Clinton.

ABRAMS:  Pat, go ahead.

BUCHANAN:  I think the Catholic and ethnic votes in Ohio and Pennsylvania especially aren‘t going to go for Barack Obama.  And I think, Hillary has got a very powerful argument that is resonating with the superdelegates and serious Democrats which is that Barack‘s votes are mainly confined to those groups Republicans never win, whereas Hillary is getting the Reagan Democrats who do tend to shift back and forth.  So, I think her argument is very powerful and compelling to the Democrat heavyweights.

ABRAMS:  Really?

MADDOW:  Won‘t those voters just as likely vote for McCain if given the chance between Clinton and McCain?

ABRAMS:  Let me let Pat respond.  Go ahead, Pat.

BUCHANAN:  Well, I think Hillary can win some of them because McCain‘s got real problems on, you know, NAFTA and things, like NAFTA is a killer for him in Ohio and Michigan.

ABRAMS:  Look, the bottom line is there‘s just no evidence that by winning by a small margin, even by a somewhat significant margin that somehow that means that that gives the Democrats a much better shot in the general election in my view.  I just haven‘t seen any evidence of it.

I‘m giving Clinton on this one.  That gives us three strikes against Clinton and two for Obama going into the final round.

Yesterday, Obama tried to calm the storm of questions swirling around his relationship with indicted Illinois businessman and fundraiser Tony Rezko.  “Chicago Tribune” sat down with Obama for 90 minutes and published new revelations about the relationship and what appeared to be some new inconsistencies in Obama‘s story.

First: Back in January, Obama told ABC, he had no idea Rezko was in legal hot water during their early dealings.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  The facts are this.  This is somebody who was active in politics in Illinois who I knew.  Nobody had indications that he was engaging in wrongdoing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  This appears to be an Obama misstatement.  Obama seems to be changing his story.  This weekend the “Chicago Tribune” reported, quote, “After news reports of Rezko‘s questionable political dealings first emerged in 2005, Obama said he asked his friend about him.  Rezko assured him there was nothing wrong.  My instinct was to believe him.”

So he knew.  And back in April of last year, Obama downplayed this relationship with Rezko and NBC‘s Brian Williams asked Obama about his ties to Rezko.  Obama said, quote, “We have thousands of donors.  This donor engaged in some unethical behavior and I‘ve denounced it.”

This also appears to be a misstatement of sort.  Yesterday, the “Tribune” reported, quote, “Obama said he and Rezko used to meet for breakfast, for lunch, or a few times a year but they might talk daily when Rezko is helping raise money for Obama‘s campaigns.”

He talked to him every day?  That‘s not just one of thousands?  Pat, these seem to be significant inconsistencies.

BUCHANAN:  Obama has developed terrible credibility problems over the Rezko thing most recently and over the Wright thing, I didn‘t know, about to (ph) hear his views after I‘m been, basically his best friend for 20 years.  I think he‘s had very grave credibility problems.

ABRAMS:  Rachel?

MADDOW:  I think that Barack Obama knew at the very start of this campaign what his weaknesses were going to be, the things they are going to hit him on.  They were going to question who he was.  They were going to say he was a Muslim.

The way you come after that is you go after people for being bigoted in saying that.  They‘re going to question him on Rezko, you leave no doubt as to what the nature was of your relationship with Rezko, and they‘re going to question him on his pastor.

And you‘ve got to have a response to that, too.  And one of the responses on that ought to be the double standard for religious extremism among Republicans and Democrats.

ABRAMS:  Wait.  Again, the point on Rezko is there are inconsistencies, I mean, significant inconsistencies.

MADDOW:  Yes, exactly.  I‘m saying that he has failed on all three of these things.  And none of these things should have been surprise—his campaign should have known all of these were coming.  It is a political lack of facility that is surprising given how well the organized the campaign has been.

ABRAMS:  But you know, look, you can say that Rezko may not be the most important issue in the world, but when you got two candidates whose positions aren‘t that far part, credibility becomes crucial.

MADDOW:  Obama‘s only got really three issues that they knew they were going to be strikes against him.  They are not surprises.  He ought to hit them out of the park.

ABRAMS:  We just named two misstatements.  I‘m giving Obama two strikes on this one.  There was actually another one that we decided not to bring up.  It‘s giving us a final score tonight of four strikes against Obama, three against Clinton, Obama loses tonight.

Rachel Maddow, Pat Buchanan, Michelle Bernard, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it.

MADDOW:  Thanks, Dan.

BUCHANAN:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Coming up: Heather Mills whining that $48 million is not enough for her divorce from Paul McCartney.  The court weighed in today but Mills is now saying she wants to appeal on the basis of human rights.

I‘m on her trail, exposing her misstatements, cheap shots and blunders.

And: A FOX News correspondent compares Barack Obama‘s former pastor to Hitler.  Beat the Press is next.

And I‘m guessing, some of you don‘t agree with me about some of the stuff I‘ve said.  We call it the P.O.‘d (ph) box.  Agree or disagree, send your e-mails to our new address at Verdict@msnbc.com.  Be sure to include your name and where you‘re writing from.

Be back in a minute.

(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: After a guest on FOX News suggested Barack Obama‘s former pastor has done many things for city of Chicago.  FOX‘s Ainsley Earhardt used an analogy to make her point and one that I‘m sure she regrets.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AINSLEY EARHARDT, TV HOST:  I mean Hitler did great things.  Many Germans followed Hitler because they thought he did great things.  Maybe I am—am I taking this out of context?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  The comparison to Hitler?  Well, probably.  You can rightly claim the pastor‘s words matter.  But I‘m thinking there are better ways to make your point.

Next up: ABC News unveiled video clips of Obama‘s pastor on Thursday morning and FOX‘s Bill O‘Reilly and his cuddle (ph) Bernie Goldberg made these ridiculous predictions that night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O‘REILLY, TV HOST:  Now, the left wing media is going to try to bury it but it ain‘t going away.

BERNARD GOLDBERG, CORRESPONDENT:  This will not be as big a story as the Ferraro story was.  And I think, it‘s one more example of how corrupt the media had been.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Try to bury the story, dominating cable news that night and on every network and the next night.  And this is from the network‘s evening news broadcast.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE ANCHOR:  Barack Obama in a written statement condemned racially charged remarks made by his pastor the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE ANCHOR:  Barack Obama is condemning inflammatory remarks that his long-time pastor made about Hillary Clinton and the nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Good call, guys.  No one is going to cover it.  They won‘t touch it.

Finally: CNN‘s Tom Foreman is pretty creative.  He took the words suburban and Republican as well as suburban and Democrat.  He put them together to come up with two new words and then, he repeated them over and over again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT:  And the suburblican was born. 

To make the suburblicans his own.

Keeping the suburblicans corralled.

Be in play with the suburblicans.

Suburblicans can easily become subublicrats.

The suburblican and suburblicrat votes.

The suburblicans and suburblicrats. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  The best political game on television.

Up next, new evidence that could suggest serial killer Charles Manson killed many more than originally thought.  Forensic scientists have been on the scene examining what may be clandestine gravesites.  We‘ll examine Manson‘s own statements for clues. 

And judge rules Heather Mills will get almost $50 million in her divorce settlement with Paul McCartney.  We are on her trail tonight.  She had a press conference filled with misstatements, cheap shots and blunders.  The ruling makes her very rich.  It was still a major legal loss for her.  Coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

ABRAMS:  Welcome back to the first edition of our new show, VERDICT.  Thanks for joining us.

Heather Mills, we are on your trail.  Today, a London court awarded Mills nearly $50 million in a divorce settlement with Paul McCartney.  On the surface, it is a big payout - a huge payout.  But it is actually a huge loss for Mills.  She was asking for $250 million and if she agreed to a settlement she almost certainly would have gotten more than she did today without having to go to court.  Regardless, outside the court, Mills tried to spin the disappointing results. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HEATHER MILLS, PAUL MCCARTNEY‘S EX-WIFE:  It was an incredible result in the end to secure mine and my daughter‘s future and that of all the charities that I obviously plan on helping and making a difference with because you know it‘s been my life for 20 years. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  Total nonsense.  It‘s incredible only in how stupid she was, representing herself in court, firing her lawyers, reportedly turning down a settlement of at least $50 million.  As for her plan to donate the money she‘d said she would donate 80 percent to charity.  But in this interview from November, she wouldn‘t even commit to that. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MILL:  Well, they will.  I can‘t officially say that because I won‘t get it.  The judge will say, “If you‘re going to do that with it, you can‘t have it.”  So I can‘t say that. 

ABRAMS:  Of course not. 

Here to talk about that and a few other bones I have to pick with Heather Mills, famed divorce lawyer Raoul Felder and U.S. editor for “The Sun,” Emily Smith. 

All right.  First of all, do you agree with me this is a loss for Heather Mills? 

RAOUL FELDER, DIVORCE LAWYER:  Well, it‘s a loss, but she asked for it her.  She fired her lawyer and a lawyer has a fool for a client.  There were subtleties that could have been developed with a lawyer.  There were things that could have been appraised and put in a spinning job. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  But she is spinning this. 

FELDER:  Yes. 

ABRAMS:  First of all, she is spinning this as a win.  It‘s not a win. 

FELDER:  Right.  Not a win.

ABRAMS:  It‘s a loss. 

FELDER:  Yes.  When you get less than you could have gotten without all these aggravation, it‘s a loss. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  And what about this charity business.  I mean she‘s saying she‘s going to donate and she wouldn‘t commit to giving 80 percent early on.  You know, I would think if they had worked out some sort of arrangement, they could have probably worked out to give the entirety of the settlement to charity. 

EMILY SMITH, U.S. EDITOR FOR “THE SUN”:  Of course. 

ABRAMS:  Well, let me ask you that one, Raoul, because it‘s a legal matter. 

FELDER:  Well, yes, but she has a bigger problem.  What if his lawyers go back to court and say, “Wait a minute, judge.  You structured a settlement and you were very careful with each element of the settlement was going to be.  If she is going to give it to charity, let‘s go back to court.”  Her function is not to donate Paul‘s money to charity. 

ABRAMS:  But again, what irritates me about this, Emily - she keeps talking, “Oh, it‘s for my daughter.  I want to give it all for charity.”  And she talks about human rights, et cetera.  I mean the bottom line is she didn‘t want to settle because she wanted more than $50 million. 

SMITH:  Of course.  And she didn‘t want to settle and she laid out her expenses, and these included a personal trainer, hair and makeup, around-the-clock security.  It‘s not all going to charity.  The problem is that she changes her story all the time.  And in the courts, the money that she wanted is the money that she believed she needed to live. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  That‘s like Raoul‘s life, with the personal trainer and the hair and makeup. 

FELDER:  I still want to argue that.

ABRAMS:  Mills has obviously got slammed by the court, so she then turned her wrath on the court. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MILLS:  The courts do not what a litigant in person to do well.  It‘s against everything that they ever wish.  So when they write the judgment up, they are not going to try and make it look in my favor. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Translation: the judge is issuing an opinion which is very critical of Heather Mills. 

FELDER:  By the way, what she‘s saying is exactly wrong.  When you don‘t have a lawyer, the actually judge bends over, as you know - bends over backwards to try to help you.  So they don‘t hurt you; they try to help you. 

ABRAMS:  Emily, she has been fighting tooth and nail to keep now - to keep the details out of the public, right? 

SMITH:  Yes, because it hasn‘t gone her way.  What she‘s telling she‘s represented herself in court.  She‘s not done it the best way she can.  You could see the way that she flies off the handle.  And now, she doesn‘t want the judge to publish the order, the results, because it is critical of her. 

ABRAMS:  Right.  And what kind of things is the judge going to say? 

FELDER:  No, judge -

ABRAMS:  She is a gold digger?  

FELDER:  No, no, no.  But I think the judge was very careful.  You know, part of that opinion was that all his private stuff is going to remain private.  And I don‘t think he‘s going to put any part into it.  That is why I think this stuff is semi-coherent that she‘s talking about now. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Finally - this is the part that really gets me.  Finally, Mills says she‘s appealing today‘s ruling to protect her daughter‘s privacy. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MILLS:  So it‘s gone against everything to do with human rights, the section six.  It‘s gone against everything to do with the confidentiality papers.  It‘s gone against everything to do with the private family matters. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Human rights.  Mills went to a court to get a bigger payout from extremely rich former Beatle Paul McCartney.  She lost.  It is really that simple.  Now she is worried about human rights, Emily? 

SMITH:  Well, she‘s been told there is a gagging clause.  She is not allowed to sell her secrets on the marriage.  She thinks it is against her human rights because there may be a book deal, there may be a TV show that she could do. 

(CROSSTALK)

FELDER:  The judge was going to do this? 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  She only wants to be able - she wants certain things to be kept private, and she wants other things to be made public.  You know, she -

FELDER:  She wants a TV show. 

ABRAMS:  Well, she was on a TV show.  She was on “Dancing With the Stars.”

FELDER:  I mean a talk show. 

ABRAMS:  I mean, you know - but this is crazy.  I mean like - let me play a piece of sound.  This is her on October 31st, 2007.  It does make me question her sanity.  I‘m going to ask you about this, Emily. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MILLS:  They‘ve called me a whore, a gold digger, a fantasist, a liar, the most unbelievably hurtful things and I stayed quiet for my daughter.  We‘ve had death threats. 

I have been close to suicide.  So upset about this.  I have had worse press than a pedophile and a murderer.  And I‘ve done nothing but charity for 20 years. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  She could have settled the case a long time ago.  Right, Emily?  She could have made this go away for $50 million. 

SMITH:  If she wants to go quietly, yes.  But she didn‘t. 

ABRAMS:  Why? 

SMITH:  Well, because she felt that she was the wrong woman.  She felt she was being wronged against the McCartney machine.  I mean, the thing is, he is an extremely popular man -

ABRAMS:  Yes.

SMITH:  And she is always going to look like the bad person.  And she has had some bad press.

ABRAMS:  Of course -

SMITH:  But Heather wanted to make her point.

ABRAMS:  It is not even like I love - I mean, I don‘t know Paul McCartney.  I‘m not even like a huge Beatles fan.  I just think that this is ridiculous - these claims she‘s making. 

FELDER:  You know, she had some devastating tapes, as Emily knows, and the judge said it is irrelevant.  He didn‘t consider that.  That may be a legitimate appeal issue. 

ABRAMS:  Look, I don‘t know.  She gets my blood boiling.  Raoul Felder, Emily Smith, thanks very much.  Appreciate it.

FELDER:  Thank you, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Up next, police and forensic investigators may have found more victims of the notorious Manson family cult, undiscovered buried bodies at Manson‘s ranch.  Now, a debate raging over whether to start digging.  We look back at his own words for clues. 

And reality bites.  Tracy Morgan‘s hilarious slam of Hillary Clinton on “Saturday Night Live” is up in 60 seconds. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:   First up, “Reality Bites,” a dose of reality caught on tape.  Remember Tina Fey‘s impassioned endorsement of Hillary Clinton last month “Saturday Night Live?” 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TINA FEY, COMEDIENNE:  It‘s not too late, Texas and Ohio.  Get on board.  (EXPLETIVE DELETED) is the new black.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  This weekend, Tracy Morgan dished it back throwing his support behind Barack Obama. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRACY MORGAN, COMEDIAN: You know, I love you, Tina.  You know you‘re my girl.  But I have something to say.  (EXPLETIVE DELETED) may be the new black, but black is the new president, (EXPLETIVE DELETED). 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It is hard to believe, but tonight, there is new evidence which could suggest Charles Manson and his followers killed others and buried their bodies on his ranch. 

In 1969, Manson‘s followers stabbed seven to death in the Los Angeles suburb, one was director Roman Polanski‘s wife, actress Sharon Tate, who was 8 ½ months pregnant. 

In 1971 Manson and four others were found guilty of the murders.  All are serving life sentences.  A jailhouse informant had said Manson once told him he killed 35 people and now there could be evidence to back that up.  Before we talk to the cop leading the search, NBC‘s George Lewis has the story. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE LEWIS, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  The Manson mystery - could the leader of a murderous cult -

CHARLES MANSON, LEADER OF THE MANSON FAMILY CULT:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

LEWIS:  Now serving life, have masterminded other murders?  And if there were other victims, could they be buried at the ranch in California‘s Death Valley where Manson and his followers were arrested 39 years ago? 

PAUL DOSTY(ph), POLICE SERGEANT, MAMMOTH LAKES, CALIFORNIA:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  You are.

LEWIS:  Police Sergeant Paul Dosty from Mammoth Lakes, California, has come here repeatedly on his own -

DOSTY:  Go find!

LEWIS:  With a cadaver dog named Buster, and claims to have found evidence of humans buried here. 

DOSTY:  There is human remain scent without a doubt. 

LEWIS:  Last month, scientists from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory joined Dosty using equipment to search for odors emitted by decomposing bodies.  Sergeant Dosty says the findings, just analyzed, showed possible decomposition of human remains and the need for further testing and possible digging.  George Lewis, NBC News, Los Angeles. 

(END VIDEOTAPE) 

ABRAMS:  Two questions here.  Will the team‘s findings lead to digging?  And we‘re going to look at actually Manson‘s own statements to figure out are there any clues you can read from what Manson said in the past? 

Here now, Sergeant Paul Dosty from Mammoth Lakes, California Police Department who we just saw and has headed the investigation.  And former FBI profiler, Candice DeLong.  All right.  It looks like Sergeant may be having a little problem here.  Let me play a piece of sound from Charles Manson, Candice, and I want you to tell me whether maybe we can read anything into this.  Here‘s Manson.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MANSON:  Maybe I haven‘t done enough.  I might be ashamed of that, for not doing enough.  Maybe I should have killed 400 or 500 people then I would have felt better.  Then I would have felt like I really offered society something. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Now, Candace, look.  I know you studied Manson and he‘s made statements like that in the past.  Anything that he has said in the past give us clues that maybe there are others out there? 

CANDACE DELONG, FORMER FBI PROFILER:  It‘s not so much what he says because he throws words around; they don‘t necessarily mean anything.  And he likes to scare people, so saying, “Maybe I should have killed 400 or 500, that doesn‘t surprise me. 

What, I think, deserves greater attention isn‘t what he says but what he has done in the past.  Look, we know he‘s responsible for the indirect involvement of the murder of a number of people and he was present when the La Bianca‘s were murdered. 

So it certainly should not be a surprise to anyone that he may be involved or his followers involved in the murders of other people especially out in that remote desert ranch where they all lived. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  And our lower third should have a question mark there.  We don‘t know that human remains were found there.  The question, of course, is, have they been found?  Could they be found?  Sergeant, why are you convinced that it‘s worth digging? 

DOSTY:  The bottom line is I trust my dog.  I have worked with him a lot.  I worked him over animal remains.  He doesn‘t alert on animal remains, several types of - And I think our lab‘s work, Dr. Basset‘s Oak Ridge National Laboratory really backs that up with the research he‘s been doing.

ABRAMS:  Let me read, this is from the testimony of Manson during the trial, Candace.  All right.  He says, “There was a gun that laid around the ranch.  It belonged to everybody.  Anybody could have picked that gun up and done anything they wanted to do with it.  I don‘t deny having that gun.  That gun has been in my possession many times.” 

Again, the allegation in the trials were not that Manson killed people at his ranch, were they? 

DELONG:  No.  I don‘t know if there was one of his followers, a guy named Shorty Shea, who was - his body was found I think sometime afterwards at the ranch.  But in terms of the statement about the gun - no, he was on trial for the Manson and La Bianca murders.  But Shorty Shea was killed at the ranch, so it certainly isn‘t unreasonable to think others may have been to.

ABRAMS:  We are looking at your dog, Sergeant, at the scene.  What is it that your dog responded to?  I mean what happened that led you to say, “Whoa, I really believe that there is something down there?”

DOSTY:  Well, he‘s trained to communicate with me with a trained indication, which is a down.  So when he locates human remains - that‘s the only thing he is trained on - he goes down and points his nose at the source of that scent. 

ABRAMS:  This is Debra (ph) Tate, Sharon Tate‘s sister, talking about the fact that she believes that they should begin digging in that area. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEBRA TATE, SHARON TATE‘S SISTER:  There‘s one hell that‘s greater than the one my family has fought and that is to have a child disappear and never know how or when or where their demise took place. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Sergeant, it does sound like, thought, that a lot of people are reluctant here to do any digging. 

DOSTY:  Well, it‘s a great expense for a very small county.  I can tell you we‘ve got the right man for the job to make this decision, the sheriff, Bill Lutz - I know him well.  He‘s a strategic thinker and he‘ll take everything into account.  And I have great confidence in him. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Well, we shall see, Sergeant.  Thanks a lot for coming on.  Candace DeLong, we appreciate it. 

You can see MSNBC‘s “MIND OF MANSON” Wednesday night at 1:00 a.m. Eastern - 10:00 p.m. Pacific.

Up next, will tonight‘s bigger or loser be Mariah Carey, whose song “Touch My Body” posed to make music history, tying the Beatles; former governor Jim McGreevey, his wife Dina, amid allegations she was more than touched by her former chauffeur and her husband, together; or financial experts out of touch when they assured investors that firm Bear Stearns was in good shape?  Who will be the winner or loser?  Plus, we‘ll read your E-mails in the P.O.‘d box, your chance to tell me how I blew it.  Coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It‘s time for tonight‘s “Winners and Losers” for the 17th day of March, 2008.  Our first loser, sore loser, John Faso, beaten by Eliot Spitzer in the 2006 New York governor‘s race. 

Today, in “The New York Post,” Faso whined that he had warned that Spitzer, quote, “wasn‘t what he appeared to be.”  Oh, so you knew he was paying for prostitutes?  I would have thought that would have made a nice negative campaign ad, huh?  Why didn‘t you bring it up, then? 

Loser - Dina Matos McGreevey, soon to be ex-wife of quote, “gay American,” New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey, plastered on all of the New York tabloids today.  She is denying accusations from a former chauffeur who claims Dina knew all along that her husband was gay because they were all involved in a sexual relationship together.  He said they even had a pet name for their weekly three-way sessions - the Friday Night Special. 

But our big loser of the day is actually breaking news.  We are just getting this in.  The new governor of New York State, according to the “Daily News,” has confirmed that he maintained a relationship for two or three years with a woman other than my wife, beginning in 1999. 

The guy was sworn in a few hours ago.  And now the lead of the “Daily News” is not, “I‘m the new governor.”  It‘s, “I had an affair.” 

Our big winner of the day, former train wreck Mariah Carey on the verge of tying the Beatles - yes, the Beatles for the most number one singles of all time.  Mariah never did get much respect after the movie “glitter” or when she showed up on MTV, let‘s just say, out of it.  But sales are sales. 

Time for the P.O.‘d box, your chance to tell me what you like or hate about the show or me.  Many of you wrote in about last night‘s “On Their Trail” segment when I ruled against the Clinton camp for their handling of Geraldine Ferraro‘s controversial comments, then similarly scored it against Obama for failing to immediately disassociate his campaign from Rev. Jeremiah Wright. 

Paul Simdars writes, “The Ferraro statement, while on Hillary‘s campaign and the pastor‘s comments before he was on Barack‘s campaign are completely different things.”

Paul, the question is, how did each campaign deal with the remarks of unpaid advisers?  She in the finance committee; he in a religious one.  In both cases, they should have immediately and unequivocally, distanced themselves from the comments.  Neither did it quickly enough, that‘s the relevant question. 

Cheryl says, “How in the world can Dan Abrams even closely equate Geraldine Ferraro‘s opinion with Jeremiah Wright‘s racist horrible comments?” 

Again, Cheryl, the comments themselves aren‘t the real point here.  The important issue is how did the candidate deal with these remarks.  That tells us something about how they might govern. 

All right.  Thursday night, I defended “Saturday Night Live” against accusations of a pro-Hillary agenda.  Jim Lindeman from Houston Texas writes, “The skits are not the issue.  The issue is the fact that producers allowed Sen. Clinton to make a cameo appearance on the show just two days before the vote in Texas and Ohio.”

Jim, it‘s not like they barred Obama from appearing on some effort to rig the race.  In fact, according to “SNL,” they asked him to appear the same night and he declined.  Some of you are convinced I‘m playing favorites. 

Here is a sample of the kind of E-mails we get everyday.  Ian Lee, “I couldn‘t help to be a little bit annoyed with how you were defending Hillary.”

And we have one on the other side which we just cut out, which is someone was someone accusing me of the same thing on the other side.  As always we appreciate your feedback, your E-Mails - Abrams@MSNBC.com.  Please include your name and where you‘re writing from.  See you tomorrow.

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

END   

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