updated 3/19/2008 11:26:06 AM ET 2008-03-19T15:26:06

Guests: Nancy Giles, Laura Schwartz, Peter Beinart, Tony Blankley, Emily Smith, Jennifer Brant

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Tonight: Barack Obama distances himself from the controversial comments about his former pastor in what may become the most important speech of his campaign.

Our VERDICT on how it went.

And: Bill Clinton says, there was a, quote, “mugging in South Carolina and he was the victim.”

We‘re On Their Trail with the campaigns‘ biggest misstatements, cheap shots and blunders.

Plus: Our new segment, Why America Hates Washington.  The push by a group of congressmen to ensure they keep getting free beer.  Seriously, they want it on the House.

VERDICT starts now.

Welcome to VERDICT.

Today: Barack Obama took on the brewing controversy over the incendiary comments from his pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, seen on tapes suggesting that the U.S. deserved 9/11 and repeatedly attacking whites.

New polls show Obama needed to do something.  More than 50 percent of voters have heard about the reverend‘s comments and of those, 30 percent, one in three, say it has given them a less favorable view of Obama.

Obama stepped behind the podium at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia and tried to turn the controversy into a larger, inspirational speech about race and the need for unity.  The Harvard-educated lawyer delivered what in a courtroom would have been a great closing argument.

But any good lawyer knows, a closing argument only gets you so far.

So, tonight: We examine the case that Obama made.

I‘m joined by social commentator, Nancy Giles; chief campaign correspondent for MSNBC, Tucker Carlson; Democratic strategist, Laura Schwartz; and MSNBC political analyst Joe Watkins who is also an ordained minister.

All right.  Now on speech.

First up: The admission.  Obama is trying to end questions about his relationship with Reverend Wright.  He distanced himself from the pastor‘s heated rhetoric but admitted he could only go so far.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I have already condemned in unequivocal terms the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy and in some cases, pain.

For some, nagging questions remain.  Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy?  Of course.  Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in the church?  Yes.

Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views?  Absolutely, just I‘m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests or rabbis with which you strongly disagree.

As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me.  I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  OK.  So, while he distanced himself from the comments themselves, he did not run away from them.  Now, so, the question then is, of course, you know, was it enough, Nancy?

NANCY GILES, SOCIAL COMMENTATOR:  Well, I think it was.  I think that he was true to himself.  And he established that he had this long standing relationship with Reverend Wright but that, like a family member, you may not always agree with everything that a person says but you don‘t necessarily throw them under the bus.  I think any less .

ABRAMS:  He‘s a politician, he‘s not a family.  We‘re not talking about family here we‘re talking about politics.

GILES:  I know.  You know what?  He‘s a different kind of politician.  I think he took this chance and really expanded what was just a really bad incident into a very honest and necessary conversation that we need to have in this country about race.

I mean, there you are, you‘re a white man, I‘m a black woman.  We‘re sitting here, we‘re talking, everything is cool but ...

ABRAMS:  But we can talk and be cool and not have, you know, not have to be about race, too.

GILES:  Absolutely, I mean, I like acknowledging the fact that we have a lot in common even though we‘re different and I think that‘s what Barack Obama in the larger scope is trying to do.  Don‘t you think?

ABRAMS:  I think the problem with that, Joe, is that‘s the campaign‘s hope is that this will now be perceived as only a positive for Barack Obama.  But there‘s still the problem out there of Reverend Wright.

JOE WATKINS, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Absolutely.  You‘ve got to look at it as to who was the speech for.  I mean, if you want to talk about and what Nancy thinks it was a great speech.  I heard this speech and I was asked to comment a lot of us in MSNBC and I thought it was delivered incredibly well.  It was typical of Barack Obama.  He‘s a great speech maker.  And he spoke well, and it was thoughtful and articulate and everything else.

But the reality is: Who was this speech for?  The speech was really for those 56 percent of white voters who are less inclined to vote for Barack Obama because of what Jeremiah Wright said.  As for the 92 percent of Americans who have an unfavorable view of Jeremiah Wright.

No, we didn‘t throw Jeremiah Wright into the bus but guess what?  He did not do enough to distance himself.

You know, I‘m a pastor of a church, Dan.  And as a pastor of a church, maybe there have been some things that I‘ve said that people don‘t agree with.  But guess what?  If one member of my church is running for the presidency of the United States I doubt if that I‘ve been making incendiary comments about United States and about September 11, that that person would put me on the advisory committee for their campaign.

ABRAMS:  Laura, enough of an admission?

LAURA SCHWARTZ, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  I do.  I think that he‘s really tried to put it to rest.  I mean, how much more can he distance himself?

Let‘s remember, Barack Obama did not make these horrible remarks.  His pastor made them.  He has distanced himself.  He took him off the committee.

He spent three hours on television last Friday.  I think what we saw on television was honest.  And you know what?  Joe said, he was speaking to the white voters and yes, he was.  But he was also speaking to the black voters, the Asian voters.

(CROSSTALK)

WATKINS:  He has 90 percent of the African-American votes.

ABRAMS:  Hang on, one at a time.

SCHWARTZ:  It was an amazing speech in a great context.  And I think it‘s great.  For once, a politician can speak to the whole American community and coming from the position that he is, I thought was really a strong speech.

ABRAMS:  Tucker, what do you make?

TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC CHIEF CAMPAIGN CORRESPONDENT:  I mean, look, it was a smart speech, it was interesting speech.

But here‘s the bottom line: For years we know that Jeremiah Wright has been speaking to people who respect him and who were influenced by his opinions.  And he‘s been telling them, white people hate you, the U.S.  government is poisoning you with drugs and with AIDS, which it created, the United States is deserving of 9/11.

I mean, this is such an almost unbelievable abuse of power of Reverend Wright to do this, to sow hatred, to make people fear their government, to hate other people based on their skin color.  And here‘s Barack Obama defending him.

Look, I‘m not saying Barack Obama is a bad person, I‘m not saying this is a bad speech but .

ABRAMS:  Tucker, does he get no credit for sort of going after Wright? 

I mean, is that sort of, are you saying that sort of expected?

CARLSON:  No, he didn‘t know but he didn‘t go after Wright.  He said, look, you know, I disagree with his comments, they‘re unacceptable.  The comments?  It‘s not that he made a couple of, quote, “controversial comments,” it‘s the sowing of race hatred in his church over a period of years.  And moreover, he‘s lying.

ABRAMS:  Who‘s lying?

CARLSON:  The U.S. government—Reverent Wright.

ABRAMS:  Yes.

CARLSON:  The U.S. government created AIDS?  Think about what that does to people who fear that .

ABRAMS:  Let‘s talk politically, Nancy.  And the point is that he knew, over a year ago, the Reverend Wright was going to be a problem.  Meaning, he had said I don‘t want him at the announcement, where Obama is going to announce his president what because he‘s a potential problem.  And then, he puts him on this religious committee.  I mean, is it fair to say, we‘ve question Barack Obama‘s judgment because nothing was done about this until now?

GILES:  I don‘t think it‘s fair to say that.  Because I just don‘t think it‘s fair to say that.  I think that he came very, very clean, very quickly when he realized his error.  And I don‘t think he ever made an attempt to hide the kind of sermons that Jeremiah Wright did.  The guy is selling them.  A lot of his sermons get sold.

But you know what?  I want to go back to something Tucker said.

ABRAMS:  Real quick.

GILES:  Because so many other religious leaders in this country had said incredible incendiary things.

ABRAMS:  But when you put them on your political committee.  You got to live—it‘s the same thing with Geraldine Ferraro, when she‘s on the finance committee, Hillary Clinton lives or dies by the people who are on her committee.  The same thing for Barack Obama .

GILES:  He‘s off the committee and he disavowed him 10 times harder .

CARLSON:  Wait a second.  Hold on.  Let me clarify one thing.  Look, I‘m not a Barack Obama hater but name one other religious, quote, “religious leader” who has accused white people of creating AIDS to kill black people.  That‘s more than saying I disagree with Mormonism, right?  Or homosexuality, I mean, that‘s a pretty crazy thing to say.

GILES:  Gerry Falwell accusing gays and lesbians for hurricane Katrina and for 9/11.

CARLSON:  It‘s repulsive, and I can‘t imagine .

(CROSSTALK)

WATKINS:  Gerry Falwell was passed on this life to the next life, so he‘s not really an issue right now in this campaign.

The point is, Nancy, is that for Barack Obama, the challenge is not to convince you or to convince African-American voters who support him overwhelmingly that he‘s right or that‘s he‘s good, or that his messages uplifting and inspiring.  The challenge for him is to reach out to those white voters who are right now are deserting him.

ABRAMS:  Joe, hang on one second.  Our second part of Obama making his case was the context he offered to Wright‘s remarks, explaining why Wright said what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  A lack of economic opportunities among black men.  And the shame and frustration that came from not being able to provide for ones family, contributed to the erosion of black families, the problem that welfare policies, for many years, may have worsened.

This is the reality in which Reverend Wright and other African-Americans of his generation grew up.  But the anger is real.  It is powerful.  And to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  See, Laura Schwartz, this was my big problem with the speech was that it felt at times like he was explaining away the comments.  He came out, he was very firm, denounced the comment, said I don‘t support them.

But here, he seems to be offering context and explanation of Reverend Wright and it seems to me that that‘s kind of a risk.

SCHWARTZ:  Well, you‘re right.  There‘s this a fine line between explaining and allowing, you know, defending, exactly, or explaining and excusing.  But I think by him talking in this part, your context part of it is really smart because it gives history to it.

And he talks about how instead of tearing down as we move along, how we can build up as we move along.  And really, I mean, understanding at something, sometimes, you see politicians so narrow in their focus.  Things like Iraq happened is I think showing this sort of broad understanding of racism issue and so as the leadership that he can give to other issue.

ABRAMS:  But no, but, Nancy, the problem is on Iraq, for example, the Democrats are saying, it‘s simple, we need to get out.  And Republicans are saying, wait, we need to look at the big picture here about what‘s going on.  I mean, this is politics .

GILES:  So, both sides are making any .

ABRAMS:  But this is politics.  I mean, when Barack Obama had someone like Reverend Wright who is such a political liability, why does he get up there in this speech and explain why Wright?  Why not save it for another day?

GILES:  Well, because the time is now, because it‘s on the table now.  And the best thing, I really respect the fact that he took this risk and see it as beyond just being political.  Now is the time to really try to put it .

(CROSSTALK)

GILES:  Joe, I‘m still talking.

ABRAMS:  Wait.  Quick, yes.

GILES:  I was jus going to say, race and matters like these are part of the campaign.  They‘re part of the world we live in and they really have to be discussed not just parts for sound bytes.

ABRAMS:  Joe, you know, let‘s not lose focus.  This is still a campaign speech.  Barack Obama is dealing with a campaign liability here.

WATKINS:  That‘s exactly—well, Dan, I agree with you 100 percent here.  The point is that if Barack Obama wanted to give a civil rights speech, this is a home run of a civil rights speech.  It was a tremendous civil rights speech.

But, he‘s running for the presidency of the United States and he‘s stressing the past, certainly, in winning Iowa and other states where there are not large black populations has been the fact that he has transcended race.  He‘s been a candidate for the presidency who happens to be black.  And for him to get mired in the conversation about race, that‘s become the focal point of his campaign is negative for him.

ABRAMS:  I‘ve got to finish up here.  Obama made sure to understand how white working class voters might respond telling them he hears their concerns about race as well.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  A similar anger exists within segments of the white community.  Most working and middle class white Americans don‘t feel that they have been particularly privileged by their race.

So, when they are told to bust their children to a school across town, when they hear an African-American is getting an advantage and landing a good job or spot in a good college because of injustice that they themselves never committed when they‘re told that their fears about crime in urban neighborhoods are somehow prejudice, resentment builds over time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Tucker, I thought this is a really clever and smart and effective way for Obama to say I‘m not just talking about anger in the black community.

CARLSON:  And he‘s telling the truth, he‘s telling the truth there and he told the truth in a number of other parts of his speech, where he gets phony and I think the speech falls down is when he uses the crimes that were committed against black people in this country as a way of excusing Jeremiah Wright‘s behavior.  Jeremiah Wright by Obama‘s own description is the product of all kinds of elite schools, the best education, theological education we have to offer.

And he‘s still telling people that the U.S. government is bringing in drugs to kill them?  I mean, there‘s no excuse for that, there‘s no excusing it.  So, for him to say, really, you know, white people have been mean to black people, which is true, and that‘s why Jeremiah Wright is saying—I mean, you know, it doesn‘t make sense.

ABRAMS:  Fifteen seconds, Nancy, and I got to take a break.

GILES:  You know what, Tucker.  And it‘s just so much more than white people being mean to black people.  There‘s something that really need to be understood and it‘s not an excuse.  We are the only members of the United States who are brought here in chains and were treated as less than human beings.  It doesn‘t explain away anything but it does put things in context.

ABRAMS:  It‘s hard answer to make you go in 15 seconds, I‘m sorry.

GILES:  I know, I know.

ABRAMS:  All right.  The panel is going to stick around.

Coming up next: Obama also accused the media of fanning the flames on this story.  Is this really the time for him to go after the media?

And: Bill Clinton always going after the media.

As always, we‘re On Their Trail assessing the campaigns‘ biggest misstatements, blunders and cheap shots.

Plus: A group of congressmen go on the hunt for some free brew-skis.  Yes, it‘s the latest reason Why America Hates Washington.  Our new segment is coming up next.

VERDICT is back in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Tonight‘s edition of Why America Hates Washington:

Congressmen fighting for their right to party.  Congressmen from the small brewer‘s caucus want to have an open door event on Capitol Hill featuring samples of free beer from breweries across the country.

The problem?  New ethics rules forbid Congress from receiving gifts and that includes brew-skis on the House.  Now, they‘re trying to find a loophole so that they can get loopy for free.  Another reason Why America Hates Washington.

We‘re back with more on Obama‘s big speech in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Welcome back to VERDICT.

In Senator Obama‘s major speech on race today, he made his case in part by pointing the finger at the media, complaining about how the press has covered the story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  If all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television sets.  It turn, the United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators or a spotter for then nightly news, we can play Reverend Wright‘s sermons on every channel every day and talk about them from now until the election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  You know, Tucker, attacking the media is generally an effective strategy for politicians.  But I don‘t know, it seems to me, in this particular case, when he‘s saddles with Reverend Wright, that “the blame the media” strategy, I don‘t think is going to be as effective as other “blame this media” strategies had been.

CARLSON:  Well, it‘s pretty amusing, if you think about it.  I mean, the implication is somehow these sermons were taken out of context.  What‘s the context for claiming the government created AIDS?  I mean, you know what I mean, like, you know, how could you construct that in a way that‘s not deranged?  You can‘t.

And especially coming from the candidate who‘s gotten, you know, longest, gentlest ride from the press in American history.  It‘s a bit much to turn around and claim that someone at MSNBC gave you sermon.

ABRAMS:  And, Laura, the problem is he‘s saying what you need to know the entirety of the context of what he said.  I mean, again, this is politics.  This is what happens in politics.

You live and die by your own words and by the words of the people who are on your committees and who support you and who live with you, et cetera.  And that‘s the problem he has here.

And I think that to point the finger at the media, to blame, I don‘t know, it doesn‘t seem to be that effective.

SCHWARTZ:  Well, he‘s definitely learned that lesson, so has Hillary in this campaign cycle.  But I think it‘s important.  I don‘t think he meant so much as the context of these horrible remarks of Pastor Wright, but the context of his entire pastoring.

You know, today, after he said that, I had never read the “Audacity of Hope.”  So, I went online and I got the transcript of that sermon that he gave.  That was inspiration for us, about the title, it was amazing.

I mean, the sermon was incredible.  I spoke to some friends of mine and some people I know here in Chicago that attends that church.  And I asked them, is this a regular happening every Sunday before he retired?  You know, they like, no, it was a rarity, but yes, he did it and we all sort of looked at each other like, do we got up and leave or do what?

So, I think, you got to give this man the context like Obama talked about today.  Don‘t excuse what he said in those but look at his life story.

ABRAMS:  Joe, you‘re an ordained minister.

WATKINS:  And a preacher and a pastor, a pastor of a church.  Maybe you‘ll come on Sunday, Dan.

ABRAMS:  All right.  You know, I‘d love to hear you.  But go ahead. 

What do you make of that though?

WATKINS:  Well, you know, I think that most people who support a candidate don‘t want to see their candidate attacked under any circumstances.  They like for their candidate to get kind of a pass and not be treated unfairly by the media.

I know, I‘ve worked for candidates before, I worked for a U.S.  senator, I worked for a U.S. president of the White House.  I know exactly how this goes.

And people are quick to blame the media, but at the end of the day, you know, this is the part of the vetting process.  Americans want to know.  The media does its job when it tells Americans who the people are that would be our president.

ABRAMS:  Nancy, if you were advising Obama before the speech, would you have said, yes, attack the media?

GILES:  Well, I don‘t think he attack the media, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Come on.

GILES:  I mean, you know, you cut the things together.

ABRAMS:  Yes, we did.

(CROSSTALK)

GILES:  In a larger context of what he said.  (INAUDIBLE)  I think it‘s a fair thing he said.  Because again, and I‘m not excusing any of the remarks Reverend Wright made.  I disagree with them.  But in the wholeness of the guy‘s career, we‘re seeing snippets and the same horrible horrifying snippets, repeated over and over again, paints a certain picture.  I think it‘s not fair.

CARLSON:  All right.  Well, then, let‘s release all the sermons.  I mean, that‘s really the answer.

GILES:  I think you can buy them.

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  (INAUDIBLE) that are illegal in some states.  We have been so gentle to him.

GILES:  I disagree with that.

(CROSSTALK)

SCHWARTZ:  The sermons are released.  But the media chooses not to play them because, come on.  It doesn‘t get the viewers .

ABRAMS:  Nancy, just yes, I want to give you the final word.  Yes?

GILES:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Nancy gets the final word.  Thanks to my pals. 

Appreciate it.  Good stuff.

WATKINS:  Thanks, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Coming up: A war brewing between FOX‘s Bill O‘Reilly and Sean Hannity over who can falsely claim credit for breaking the story about Reverend Wright.  Neither of them did.  But both are pointing fingers, it sure sounds like at each other.

And: The Clinton campaign‘s taking on Obama again for his role as chairman of a Senate subcommittee, now basically saying that he needs to meet with every European leader.

As always we‘re On Their Trail, assessing the misstatements, cheap shots and blunders.

Back in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up: ABC News first uncovered the video clips of Obama‘s pastor on Thursday morning.  But that doesn‘t stop the folks over at FOX News from stepping all over each other to inaccurately take credit for the recent uproar.

Here‘s Bill O‘Reilly on Friday and again last night, boasting about his role.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL O‘REILLY, TV HOST:  Now, after the fact that showed clips of Jeremiah Wright‘s sermons last night, all heck broke loose in the media.  I run it on the Factor last night, broke it wide.  Hear me.  If we didn‘t break the story wide last Thursday night, it would have likely died.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Thank goodness for Bill O‘Reilly.  But seems when it comes to falsely claiming credit for the controversy, there‘s an internal war afoot at FOX because Sean Hannity says he, not O‘Reilly is responsible.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEHAN HANNITY, TV HOST:  So, I got this story started of March of last year and I‘ve been all over this with specials on Hannity‘s, America and we‘ve been way ahead of it.  I know others are taking credit but they needed do it, we did it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  You mean others like Bill O‘Reilly are taking credit?  It sounds like you got a war brewing over at FOX.

Next up: On CNN last night, they dedicated an hour to an issue of cheating and getting caught.  One segment felt like it was sponsored by a ridiculous product.  Watch when they show it as if it‘s on the “Home Shopping Network” and it‘s not the sort of thing you just keep lying around the house.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  In a new market that has come out, it‘s called the semen spy.  It‘s actually and infidelity test kit and the kit is actually used to determine whether or not there‘s signs of semen stains, let‘s say, in either person‘s underwear or undergarment.  There should not be reason for, let‘s say, a woman to have semen stains in her underwear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  By now, you get the second box absolutely free.  So, you can catch your next spouse cheating.  The best political team on television promoting semen‘s spy.

Finally: To one of my favorite anchors on this network, Contessa Brewer, she often gives us a good laugh.  And this afternoon, she did it again.

CONTESSA BREWER, TV ANCHOR:  Senator Obama addressed comments made by his former pastor, comments some said were anti-white and anti-inflammatory.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Anti-inflammatory, you mean, like anvil or relieve?  We love

Contessa.  We love her.  We love her.  Hope she‘s not mad

Up next: As always we‘re On Their Trail, assessing the biggest misstatements, blunders and cheap shots of the presidential campaign.

Bill Clinton under fire today for, let‘s just say poor choice of words while responding to accusations of playing the race card.

And later: The judges ruling in the Mills-McCartney divorce case just released today.  Now we know why she wanted to keep that ruling secret.

Coming up later.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back with as the attacks and cheap shots continue to fly on the campaign trail as Obama and Clinton trade barbs over everything from Iraq to Florida and Michigan.  As always, we‘re on their trail assessing who‘s guilty of more misstatements, cheap shots and blunders. 

Here to separate fact from fiction, cheap shot from fair game, Peter Beinart, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.  And syndicated columnist and former Reagan speechwriter, Tony Blankley. 

All right, first up.  As Hillary Clinton plans to go to Detroit tomorrow to push for another vote there.  The Clinton camp on the attack against Obama today, saying he‘s effectively preventing a re-vote from going forward in Michigan. 

Clinton campaign advisor, Harold Ickes fired off a statement saying, quote, “If Barack Obama‘s campaign stands in the way a new vote, he will be putting his own political interests ahead of the people of Michigan.  If the Obama campaign thwarts a fair election process for the people of Michigan, it will jeopardize the Democratic nominee‘s ability to carry the state in the general election.” 

Clinton cheap shot.  That same Harold Ickes was instrumental in stripping Michigan of its delegates in the first place.  Before he joined the Clinton campaign, he voted against Florida and Michigan as a member of the DNC saying, quote, “With respect to the stripping, I voted as a member of the Democratic National Committee.  Those were our rules and I felt I had an obligation to enforce them.”

In the blame game, Ickes is probably more responsible than Obama for disenfranchising the Michigan voters.  Peter Beinart, fair to call out hypocrisy on this?  

PETER BEINART, SENIOR FELLOW, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS:  Sure.  You know, this debate about Michigan and Florida is the least principle debate I could possibly think of.  There is actually - you can‘t find a single shred of principle.  It is entirely about what is going to benefit the Clinton campaign and what is going to benefit the Obama campaign, and you‘re seeing that with Harold Ickes‘ comments.

ABRAMS:  I mean is there anyway to just - I mean, Tony, I guess the response is he‘s not running for president. 

TONY BLANKLEY, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST:  Well, look.  Yes, obviously, Ickes is being hypocritical.  On the other hand, he‘s also being accurate regarding Obama.  Obama is trying to have it both ways.  He doesn‘t want to come out against Democracy, with a capital “D.”  On the other hand, he doesn‘t really want to have a re-vote.  So Obama is sort of not agreeing to anything in particular, but opposing in general.  And so while Ickes is hypocritical, Obama is also playing a clever game. 

ABRAMS:  And I‘ve said in this program a number of times that I think there should have been re-votes.  They could have done them in Michigan and Florida.  But the bottom line is he‘s the wrong guy for the Clinton campaign to have out there talking about it.  So Hillary Clinton gets the first strike of the night for this. 

Next up, the Clinton campaign caught in what appears to be a flip-flop over her Iraq war strategy.  They have on hammering Obama after a former advisor said Obama would make his decision to withdraw troops based on the realities on the ground, not solely based on the plans he‘s devised during the campaign. 

Here‘s what Clinton campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson said yesterday when presented with a similar hypothetical.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER:  To be very clear about this, she is going to stick to this plan that she‘s devised, of bringing one to two bring brigades out a month, whatever the realities on the ground.  Is that correct?

HOWARD WOLFSON, CLINTON CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN:  You‘re asking a question, I‘m giving you a one-word answer so we can be clear about it.  The answer is yes. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I‘m going to call this one a Clinton blunder.  Wolfson‘s firm answer contradicts what Sen. Clinton has been saying on the campaign trail.  Yesterday, the same day, Wolfson made this comment, here‘s what Clinton said. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Bringing lasting stability to region will take a president with the strength and determination, the knowledge and confidence to bring our troops home.  If you give me the chance, I will be that president.  I will start by facing the conditions on the ground in Iraq as they are, not as we hope or wish them to be. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I mean, Tony Blankley, this is consistent with the theme that the Clinton campaign had been pursuing which is to say, “Look, it depends on what‘s happening.  Yes, we want to start withdrawing troops.”  But the realities on the ground matter and it sounded like Wolfson was saying, “Look, we‘re going to start this brigade removal and it‘s not to start it - continue it, one a month, no matter what the realities are on the ground.”

BLANKLEY:  Yes.  Well, Hillary has been saying from the beginning that she was not going to just precipitously pull out troops.  That seems to be her consistent position and I commend her for it.  As a former press secretary to Newt Gingrich, I can‘t imagine publicly disagreeing with my boss in the same news cycle.  I‘m not sure what he had in mind, but obviously, I guess, in the phrase, he misspoke. 

ABRAMS:  Peter?

BEINART:  Well, I think they were trying to contrast with Obama and trying to get to the less on Obama on the war.  It‘s interesting they do seem to have gotten the endorsement of Jack Murtha who‘s a very prominent antiwar figure in the Democratic Party. 

But I just don‘t believe Howard Wolfson.  I mean, I think if Hillary Clinton does become president, she may well withdraw quickly, but it will have a lot to do with what‘s going on on the ground at that time. 

ABRAMS:  Clinton gets a strike for this one, putting her behind.  Again, you don‘t want strikes in this game - two to zero. 

ABRAMS:  Next up, the Clinton campaign continuing to hammer Obama over his role as chairman of a senate foreign relations subcommittee.  Up until now, they have been attacking him for not holding oversight hearings on NATO‘s role in Afghanistan. 

Now, they‘re upping the ante, quote, “We were disappointed to learn that Sen. Obama declined to meet with Shaun Woodward, the British secretary of state for Northern Ireland, while he was in Washington, D.C.”  Well, somebody‘s laughing.  “Especially since Sen. Obama is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on European Affairs.” 

Cheap shot.  We‘re supposed to believe Obama is derelict in his duty for not holding hearings on Afghanistan.  It turns out his subcommittee doesn‘t typically hold those hearings.  Now, we‘re told he should be meeting with every high ranking official of every European country under his committee‘s jurisdiction.  Since when did he become secretary of state, Peter? 

BEINART:  Yes, look.  Everybody - news flash, senators who run for president don‘t spend a lot of time in the senate.  That‘s true for John McCain who is in Iraq.  It‘s true for Hillary Clinton who is mostly in Pennsylvania.  And it‘s true Barack Obama.  This is not news to anybody. 

ABRAMS:  So, Tony, do they drop - should they just drop this business?  I think the Clinton campaign has got to stop hitting on this subcommittee thing. 

BLANKLEY:  Look, it is political malpractice for any elected politician not

to meet with every Irish-related politicians that comes to town.  There are

38 million Irish American voters which is why -

(CROSS TALK)

ABRAMS:  And it was on St. Patrick‘s Day when they did it.

BLANKLEY:  They always meet with them whether they need to or not.  And so there are more Irish-Americans than are Afghani-Americans, so this is a more telling hit on Obama from the Hillary camp.

ABRAMS:  I‘m giving this one a strike against Clinton again, making our score tonight three strikes for Clinton.  So far, Obama has got a shutout going into the final round. 

ABRAMS:  Bill Clinton under fire today for just, let‘s say, a poor choice of words.  The former president was responding to criticism from South Carolina where he compared Obama‘s win to Jesse Jackson.  Some perceived that is Clinton playing the race card.  Clinton responded.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  First of all, what happened there is a total myth and a mugging.  And I think it‘s been pretty well established. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  I‘m going to give Clinton a slight blunder on this

one.  Look, I have agreed with Bill Clinton in the past on this.  I think

some of the attacks that have been made against him for the comments he

made in South Carolina have been unfair, but this is politics.  And when

you‘re trying to defend yourself on this issue and you use the word

“mugging,” Tony, I mean again -

BLANKLEY:  Look - I mean I disagree with you.  Back in South Carolina, Clinton was talking about Jesse Jackson gratuitously.  Of all the candidates who have ever run for president, he mentions Jesse Jackson.  Obviously he was playing the race card.  And now Bill Clinton is betting on the short attention span theater to deny what the whole nation was discussing only six weeks ago.

ABRAMS:  The nation was discussing it, Peter.  Look, my opinion was that that was an unfair attack on Clinton at that time.  Look, some people disagree with me.  I thought it was an unfair attack because he was trying to make the point, I believe, that South Carolina isn‘t the make or break state. 

Now, when you say Jesse Jackson and you talk about South Carolina, look, there are possible repercussions.  What about this mugging?  What do you make of it?

BEINART:  I‘m inclined - it‘s not the best choice of words but I‘m inclined to believe that he didn‘t do that purposely. 

ABRAMS:  I don‘t believe he did it purposely.  Let me be clear.  I do not believe he did it purposely.  I also don‘t believe that he made the Jesse Jackson comment purposely, but again this is politics.  When, you know, you are part of the campaign, each and every word you use has to be chosen carefully. 

BEINART:  Yes, that‘s true.  I don‘t this is going to be a big political issue.  Look, the race for the African-American vote in the Democratic primary is over.  Barack Obama has won; he‘s winning 90 percent of it, and nothing is going to change that at this point.  So in a way, the political ramifications of all this, I think, are actually quite minor. 

ABRAMS:  Well, but remember Bill Clinton‘s own legacy.  You know, the latest NBC News poll shows that Bill Clinton‘s own legacy has been tarnished, that he‘s suffering in polls.  Tony, final quick word.  

BLANKLEY:  Well, look, I don‘t think Clinton ever says anything inadvertently and I think you‘re correct.  I think he‘s looking forward either to his own legacy or to Hillary should she get the nomination, reconciling with the black Democratic Party vote. 

ABRAMS:  All right. 

BLANKLEY:  So I think that‘s part of that strategy. 

ABRAMS:  This gives us one more strike for Hillary Clinton, giving us the greatest rout in the history of “On Their Trail,” a score of four strikes for Clinton.  And tonight, none for Obama.  Obama lost last night, remember that. 

Peter Beinart, Tony Blankley, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it. 

ABRAMS:  Up next, Heather Mills said she didn‘t want the judge‘s ruling from her divorce case to be released.  She said it was to protect her daughter.  Today, it‘s out.  It‘s clear she was trying to protect herself.  The judge went after her, including accusing her of indulging in make believe. 

And the new governor of New York sworn in on the heels of the Eliot Spitzer scandal.  He admitted he had an affair only hours after he was sworn in yesterday.  Today, he admitted well, it was more than one affair. 

Plus, reality bites for this cop, hit by his own motorcycle while he was issuing a traffic ticket.  He is OK.  That‘s coming up in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Time for “Reality Bites” the sometimes painful dose of reality caught on tape.  Tonight, a just-released dash camera video shows a driver hitting police officer Clint, shreds his police motorcycle in Oregon.  Then the motorcycle hit him.  He suffered serious injuries, but he is all right, and the driver is now being prosecuted. 

When we come back, the ugly details of the divorce ruling that Heather Mills did not want us to see.  And when you hear what the judge said about her, you‘ll understand why.  It‘s coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  The ruling came out today in the McCartney-Mills divorce debacle.  And now we know why Heather Mills is trying so hard to keep the ruling secret. 

The judge said, quote, “The wife for her part must have felt rather swept off her feet by a man as famous as the husband.  I think this may well have warped her perception, leading her to indulge in make-believe.  The objective facts simply do not support her case.”

Yesterday, that same London court awarded Mills nearly $50 million.  And outside the court, she offered some remarks that I think were less than candid.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HEATHER MILLS, PAUL MCCARTNEY‘S EX-WIFE:  I‘m not appealing against the judgment.  No, not at all, because it‘s not worth it.  I‘m appealing against the publication of it because it has so many details of me and my daughter. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Right, it‘s all to protect her daughter.  I think she‘s probably a lot more concerned of protecting herself.  In the 58-page report, the judge continuously bashed Mills, writing, quote, “The wife, as the husband said, enjoys being the center of attention.  In the light of the husband‘s generosity towards her, as I have set out, I find the wife‘s behavior distinctly distasteful.”

As I said last night, yes, she got $50 million, an enormous amount of money.  But this was a big legal loss for her.  And she is, according to this judge, just as bad as many of us had thought. 

Here now, once again, U.S. editor for “The Sun,” Emily Smith, and on the phone, Family Law Attorney Jennifer Brant.  All right.  Emily, part of the problem here was some of the claims that she was making, some of the stuff she wanted, right? 

EMILY SMITH, U.S. EDITOR, “THE SUN”:  Astonishing.  Her reasonable living expenses, she said, were $6.25 million a year.  And that included $80,000 a year for wine which - well, she doesn‘t drink; $60,000 a year for horse riding when she doesn‘t ride anymore.  Over $1 million dollars for holidays a year.  $1 million dollars for her own security  which is more than Sir Paul‘s.  Plus, $250,000 for clothes.  I mean her list went on and on and on. 

ABRAMS:  We just got this ruling today.  Again, we should say this that this has just come out today and it really looks awful, Jennifer, for Heather Mills. 

Let me read you a little bit more.  This is from the judge‘s ruling, “I wholly reject her account that she rekindled the husband‘s professional flame and gave him back his confidence.”  I mean she was claiming that she was responsible for bringing back Paul McCartney‘s professional flame.

JENNIFER BRANT, FAMILY LAW ATTORNEY (on the phone):  Well, I think if you read between the lines, Dan, she was claiming that she supported him like any wife supports their husband.  And I think what the focus is here - the focus here has been only on Heather. 

But I think we need to turn the microscope back to Paul.  I mean, after all, he‘s an icon.  He‘s revered by millions.  And she might be despicable.  She might be delusional.  But she‘s still his wife. 

He made a reasoned choice to marry her, and it was a four year marriage.  He went against the wishes of his adult children.  He married her.  He had a child.  And she should have her legal rights supported.  I mean she is the wife. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  She‘s got - wait.  Wait, Jennifer.  Jennifer.  She lost -

BRANT:  You, Dan, more than anybody else, should understand that. 

ABRAMS:  Jennifer, she lost, and she‘s getting $50 million.  So I don‘t think we need to pity her, right? 

BRANT:  No, Dan.  She lost because she made the critical error of not having a lawyer.  And you know what?  She‘s not the only one.  Many people who go through divorce think, “Hey, I can represent myself.  I know how to take care of myself.”  They find that that‘s not the best attitude. 

ABRAMS:  Look, there‘s no question she made a mistake. 

BRANT:  So if she had a lawyer, she probably would have done better.

ABRAMS:  She made a mistake by doing that, all right?  There‘s not question she made a mistake by representing herself.  But, again, Emily, I‘m going to read you more. 

“I‘m driven to the conclusion that much of her evidence, both written and oral, was not just inconsistent and inaccurate, but also less than candid.  Overall, she was a less than impressive witness.”

I mean look, I don‘t know judges in England all that well, but I have almost never seen a judge‘s ruling that is this personal against one of the litigants. 

SMITH:  Exactly, the wording is astonishing because the judge has gone to great lengths to talk about her behavior in the court when he said that she was a volatile character.  Well, he did give her credit for putting her own argument again.  He said that in the document, he said that she lost because she over-egged the pudding.  She tried to argue for more than she was entitled to. 

ABRAMS:  I love that over-egged the pudding. 

SMITH:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  I love that.  Such a great British term.  Good to see you.  Thanks very much.  I appreciate it.

SMITH:  Thanks very much.

ABRAMS:  Jennifer, sorry about the technical problems.  Thank you for coming on.  I appreciate it.

BRANT:  Thank you, Dan. 

ABRAMS:  Up next, will tonight‘s big winner or loser be rapper DMX, not showing a lot of love for Barack Obama.  Actually, he didn‘t even seem to know who Obama was.  Paul McCartney, whose love and marriage cost him $50 million, but he was vindicated by the judge in his divorce.  Or New York Governor David Paterson who admitted today that his marriage included cheating on his wife several times.

Plus, I‘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 this 18th day of March, 2008. 

Our first loser, rapper DMX who‘s apparently been living in a cage.  In a recent interview, the sixth biggest selling rapper of all time said he had no clue who Barack Obama was or that he was running for president. 

DMX even went as far as to make fun of Obama‘s name saying, quote, “What the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) is a Barack.  Barack Obama, where is he from, Africa?  Obama doesn‘t have much to worry about.  The rapper says he can‘t vote anyway because he‘s a convicted felon. 

Loser, Massachusetts Speaker of the House Sal DiMasi for making this inappropriate joke about his young female aide. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JACK HART(D), MASSACHUSETTS SENATOR:  Who is this?  Vanna White over here? 

SAL DIMASI (D-MA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  Wouldn‘t you like to know? 

CROWD:  Oh. 

DIMASI:  I got her from Spitzer‘s office.  Sorry. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Nice.  Stay classy, Sal. 

But our big loser of the day for the second day in a row, brand new New York Governor, David Paterson.  Last night, we learned Paterson who is succeeding Eliot Spitzer admitted to having an affair after rumors swirled that he‘s been unfaithful. 

But this morning that number had grown slightly.  He had a press conference today.  The governor with his wife by his side admitted it was, quote, “several affairs.”  He claims she cheated too. 

Our big winner of the day, Paul McCartney.  Yes, I know.  He‘s out $50 million.  He‘s got hundreds of millions more and is finally rid of Heather Mills, who the judge trashed in his judgment released today, while vindicating the former Beatle, calling him consistent, accurate and honest. 

It‘s time for the “P.O.‘d Box,” your chance to tell me what you love or hate about the show. 

First up, Tom Stanley from Sedona, Arizona, “I was hoping your new show would premiere with adding McCain to your misstatements, blunders and cheap shots.  Come on, Dan, have a little courage.”

Don‘t worry, Tom, we have been and will be on his trail as the general election heats up. 

Patrick Murphy, who apparently missed last night‘s “On Their Trail” of Obama versus Clinton, “Clinton never wins on your show, even though a smart person would make sure that that would happen occasionally.”

Patrick, I may not be smart, but I am pretty sure it did happen.  Last night, Obama got four strikes, Clinton got three.  Sometimes, just being dumb doesn‘t completely disable me. 

Morty Farquar from New York doesn‘t see how I could call yesterday‘s divorce payout a loss for Heather Mills, “Mills just got about $50 million for what was reported as four years of marriage, not including child support.  I think that‘s $34,000 a night.  How much more do you think she should get?”

Hey, Morty, none.  I‘m not saying this wasn‘t a huge settlement.  It was, but from a legal standpoint, she lost big.  She was asking for $250 million.  If she had agreed to settlement, she probably would have gotten closer to it than she did.  And today, the judge basically called her a liar.  She‘s total loser in my book.

A number of you wrote in about the new look of VERDICT which we unveiled last night.  Brent Vermilyea from Flagstaff, “I love your graphics, your kinetic energy and your energy.  It‘s like watching an ‘80s aerobics video.  I‘m kidding.”  Kinetic energy? 

Curtis Hawkins asks, “What‘s with the silly graphics?  Are you going for the junior high crowd?”  Curtis, a little creatively and it‘s junior high? 

And Robert from Washington, “Dan, love the new format.  I like the bright colors.  It looks so comic book-like, younger and viewer-friendly.”

Thanks for your feedback.  Remember to send your E-mail to us at

Verdict@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   

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

transcript

Watch Verdict with Dan Abrams each weeknight at 9 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,