updated 3/25/2008 11:31:13 AM ET 2008-03-25T15:31:13

Guests: Jeralyn Merritt, Rick Hasen, Brad Blakeman, Peter Beinart, Rachel Maddow, A.B. Stoddard

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Tonight: Clinton v. Obama becomes, quote, “gutter politics.”  Each campaign is now accusing the other of treachery.

We‘re On Their Trail: Assessing who‘s responsible for bringing it down to this level?

And: All the while John McCain flies above the media radar.  Well, not here.

In today‘s Teflon John segment, a controversial televangelist says McCain, quote, “sought out his endorsement.”

And: Rush Limbaugh is still encouraging Republicans to cross over and vote as Democrats to corrupt the process.  Well, now, 16,000 of them in Ohio are being investigated for possible voter‘s fraud.

Will Rush bail them out?

VERDICT starts now.

Hi, everyone.  Instead of hearing about health care, Iraq, and the economy, we‘re now hearing about blue dress, Judas and Joe McCarthy.

On the Democratic campaign trail, it is as ugly as it has ever been.  Team Clinton accused of playing, quote, “gutter politics.”  The Clinton camp lashing out against Obama for what they say is, quote, “the most personal attack yet.”

And it‘s not just personal attacks.  Both sides are fudging facts on real issues like foreign policy and legislative experience.

As always we‘re On Their Trail, assessing the day‘s 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; Peter Beinart, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations; and “Time” magazine columnist, A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of “The Hill.”

Thanks to all of you for coming on.  Appreciate it.

The nasty attacks are flying from both sides today.  Much of it is stemming from this comment made by Bill Clinton on Friday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FMR. UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  I think it would be a great thing if you had an election where you had two people who loved this country and were devoted to the interest of the country.  And people could actually ask themselves who‘s right on these issues instead all of this other stuff that always seems to intrude itself on our politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  A clear Clinton cheap shot, I think, in my first call tonight.  Whether he meant it or not, it‘s felt like a veiled swipe at Obama‘s patriotism and that was Friday.  The Obama camp certainly took it that way and it‘s what ignited of what is now become an all-out war.

Today, the Clinton camp is lashing out against Obama‘s Iowa co-chair Gordon Fischer who wrote on a blog, quote, “Bill Clinton cannot possibly seriously believe Obama is not a patriot.  And cannot possibly be said to be helping—instead he is hurting his own party.

Clinton should never be forgiven.  Period.  This is a stain on his legacy, much worse, much deeper than the one on Monica‘s blue dress.”

That is an Obama‘s cheap shot.  The Clinton camp is calling this the most personal attack yet.  Fischer apologized and took down the post.

Comes on the hills of Obama, military adviser Tony McPeak is comparing Bill Clinton to Joe McCarthy for the patriotism comment.  I‘m going to give team Obama another cheap shot for that one.  If the Obama camp wants to ride the high horse here and claim its campaign is moving beyond the politics of the past, then, they‘ve to rein in their dirt spewing surrogates, Rachel?

RACHEL MADDOW, AIR AMERICA:  I think you are right.  The blue dress comment was:

A.            It was disgusting.

B.            It was a gratuitous cheap shot.  And,

C.            It was completely politically stupid.

Because, Hillary Clinton last week, got dragged through the mud by the press with the muggings (ph) through her schedules, figuring out where she was when her husband was stooping Monica Lewinsky.  And women, I think, were disgusted by that.  It‘s another possibility for women voters to rally to defend Hillary Clinton from an unfair press.

And the Obama surrogate bringing this up like this, does all this work in terms of that issue that the Clinton campaign now doesn‘t have to do.

ABRAMS:  You know, A.B., do you think that this is a strategy on the part of the Obama camp to say, you know what, we are simply not going to let this stuff go and we‘re going to ratchet it up a level?

A.B. STODDARD, THE HILL:  No.  I think actually, Gordon Fischer‘s comments were really off the reservation.  I think they were tacky.  I agree with Rachel there, they are gratuitously rude.

And the Obama camp actually knows that they don‘t use words like Ken Starr and Monica because they know it‘s some code for people to get out of bed in the middle of the night and go to the Internet and give money to Hillary Clinton and for her people.  So, they actually keep away from this.  Gordon Fischer‘s made a huge error on behalf of the Obama campaign.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Now, Peter, let me ask you about this.  James Carville is taking enormous amount of heat for his comment about Bill Richardson‘s endorsement of Obama.  He said, “Mr. Richardson‘s endorsement came right around the anniversary of the day when Judas sold out for 30 pieces of silver.  So, I think the timing is appropriate if not ironic.”

I mean, does anyone really care?  I mean, Carville is a great strategist but he‘s not part of the Clinton campaign.  Is this a media created issue with Carville?

PETER BEINART, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS:  It may be a media created issue but it was also a pretty tactless and, I think, an ugly comment.  And to go back to the original comment, the Bill Clinton comment, I think that was also pretty remarkably awful comment to kind of imply that Barack Obama is less patriotic.

What‘s particularly problematic of it is it buys into this idea that somehow to express anger at things that America has done wrong in the past makes you unpatriotic.  And that is really sinister.

ABRAMS:  And I love the Clinton‘s camp‘s response, clarifying Bill Clinton‘s comments.  “President Clinton was talking about the need to talk about issues, rather than falsely questioning any candidate‘s patriotism.”

I mean, you know, this just, I should have probably given them another one for this, but this is also dishonest.  I mean, this response from the Clinton camp that everyone is just faking it.

MADDOW:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  I mean, it‘s maddening to some degree.

MADDOW:  I don‘t know the larger context of this.  I don‘t know whether Bill Clinton really intended to imply that Barack Obama doesn‘t love his country.  If he implied that, if that was deliberate, if that was on purpose, if they‘re willing to do defend that, especially if he‘s willing to do it again, he deserves the McCarthy label and anything you can throw at him.

I do think there‘s a question as to whether or not he really meant it.  But they better come up with some excuse better than that clarification.

ABRAMS:  Peter, it seems, it‘s hard, I think, to justify a mistake on the part of Bill Clinton.

BEINART:  Well, particularly when you look at the second half of the sentence which is basically, you know, if you don‘t want this other stuff to be involved, i.e., you know, race, then, just have the two white guys running.  I mean, you know, we cannot have to deal with all these unfortunate racial issues if we never nominate nonwhite people.  And I think that was—at least that‘s what I heard when I listened to the statement.  I think it was very unfortunate.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Look, the Clinton camp is getting a strike here for Bill Clinton‘s original comment/their response.  Again, we gave Clinton already strikes, yes, last week on this one.  Then, Obama gets two strikes for the blue dress and the “Joe McCarthy” comments.

Next up: The Clinton camp once again moving the goal post.  Instead of basing this on who has more pledged delegates, or who‘s got more of the popular vote, or who‘s won more states, the Clinton camp has come up with a new measure to try to sway superdelegates.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. EVAN BAYH, (D) CLINTON SUPPORTER:  We do elect presidents based upon the Electoral College.  So, who carried the states with the most Electoral College votes is an important factor to consider because ultimately that‘s how we choose the president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Total Clinton cheap shot for so many reasons.  First, the Electoral College votes aren‘t counted in primaries.  This Electoral College theory presumes that in the general election, Obama can‘t win the states that Clinton carried, sometimes narrowly, in the primary.

Clinton also has a hypocrisy problem.  Back in 2000, she said about the Electoral College, quote, “We are a very different country than we were the 00 years ago.  It‘s time to do away with the Electoral College and move to the popular election of our president.”

I think, A.B., she gets stung on this one.

STODDARD:  It‘s really weak.  But you know, I‘d always found math so inflexible as well.  Those numbers are really tough.

She‘s trying to find a number where she‘s ahead.  You know, she wants to be 219 to 202.  The states that she‘s won that has those Electoral College votes that you mentioned, because he is ahead almost two to one in states won, ahead in popular vote by 700,000, ahead in pledged delegates by 167.  She needs a good number, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Yes, but, Rachel, I mean, as a rational person, this theory of the Electoral College doesn‘t make any sense in the context of this primary.

MADDOW:  No.  And politically, it‘s pathetic.  I mean, this is like arguing that, you know, states that have the letter “R” in them are inherently less valuable than states that don‘t have the letter “R” in them.

I mean, it‘s obvious why they‘re spinning.  They‘re trying to come up desperately, trying to come up with some way to make it look like Obama isn‘t ahead.  But honestly, this is a close race but Obama is ahead and (INAUDIBLE).

ABRAMS:  But the fact that we have that quote from Hillary Clinton back in 2000 talking about the need to get rid of the Electoral College.  Now, she‘s putting it in a place where it doesn‘t even exist—in the primaries.

MADDOW:  Even just on its face saying, you know, we decide presidential elections by the Electoral College.  Yes.  That‘s later though.  That‘s a different part.  There is (ph) usually a Republican then.

ABRAMS:  Go ahead, Peter.

BEINART:  There‘s only really one thing: their chances of winning the nomination, Hillary Clinton camp, are really remote.  And the only thing that could win it for them would there be such a massive Obama meltdown that people felt he was going to lead the party to disaster in the fall.

That‘s why superdelegates were created, to prevent George McGovern who led the party to electoral disaster.  It‘s very hard to imagine that people are going to see Barack Obama that way.  But that‘s the only chance the Clintons have.

ABRAMS:  Yes, I mean, and now, look, this is what they‘re saying, they‘re saying, if the electoral votes counted based on the states that each of them have won, it would be 219 to 202.  Again -

MADDOW:  W should do states that don‘t have “R” in them.

ABRAMS:  Yes, I‘m giving Clinton a strike on this one.  It gives us two strikes against Clinton and two against Obama.

Up next: To debate or not to debate?  That‘s the question for Hillary Clinton.  The Obama camp has already accepted an invitation to debate Clinton next month in North Carolina on CBS.  But the Clinton camp is not committing to take part.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PHIL SINGER, CLINTON SPOKESMAN:  We are going through a number of scheduling issues over the next several weeks, and I don‘t mean to, you know, kick the can down the road, but let‘s touch base in a little bit once we have a better sense of what our next few weeks will look like.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I‘m going to rule this a Clinton blunder.  What sort of scheduling issues could they have that would be more important than a debate that could be her only hope?  This ambiguity is coming from the same team that put out this ad against Obama in Wisconsin.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER:  Democratic candidates were invited to a televised debate here in Wisconsin.  Hillary Clinton has said yes.  Barack Obama hasn‘t.  Maybe he‘d prefer to give speeches than have to answer questions.  Wisconsin deserves to hear both candidates debate the issues that matter.  And that‘s—not debatable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I mean, A.B., how does she get away with this?  I mean, this is purely ridiculous, the notion that he‘s now accepted the debate, she‘s saying, I don‘t want to kick the can down the road too much but we will, and they put out ads in Wisconsin which said that he‘s scared to debate her.

STODDARD:  For 20 debates and nothing and no one could get in between Hillary Clinton and a debate, OK?  Not even, I don‘t know, Dick Cheney or some powerful force of nature.  The thinking goes when you are a frontrunner you try to dodge debates, but when you‘re coming from behind, you are desperate for debates.

Maybe, after Ohio and Texas, and poised to win Pennsylvania, she‘s deciding there‘s a question she might not want to answer because it could throw her up for stride (ph).  But this is not a scheduling matter.  That is not—they are not telling the truth.

ABRAMS:  Rachel, what‘s the strategy behind it?  I mean, is it that she‘s now viewing herself as the frontrunner again because she won Ohio?

MADDOW:  Well, I think that right now, their strategy is to try to keep as many balls in the air at any time.  They‘re trying to make lots of ambiguity, come up with lots of different arguments, keep things very fuzzy, so people don‘t conclude that Barack Obama is ahead.

I‘m just remembering sitting in this seat, talking with you right around the time of the Wisconsin primary about how this race hadn‘t gotten so dirty.  Maybe he‘d rather give speeches.  I remember mocking them that this election is not tough.  The campaign has gone so far and gone so low since then.

ABRAMS:  All right.  I‘m giving a Clinton strike on this one, giving us three strikes for Clinton and two for Obama, heading into the break.

All right.  Rachel Maddow, I know you got to go, thank you very much for joining us.  A.B. and Peter are going to stick around.

Coming up: Both campaigns are making dubious factual claims—factual ones about themselves or the other and the Clinton campaign is now changing its story about just how terrifying Clinton‘s trip was to Bosnia.

And: Thousands of Republicans who switched parties when they went to the polls to corrupt the Democratic primaries could now be facing felony charges for voter fraud in Ohio.

So, is Rush Limbaugh going to bail them out after encouraging them to do it?

Plus: How does the Alaska senator now being investigated for personal kickbacks still managed to squeeze so much money for pet projects in that remote state?

Nothing against Alaska but it is in tonight‘s edition of Why America Hates Washington, back in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Time for tonight‘s edition of Why America Hates Washington.

Alaska Senator Ted Stevens is under criminal investigation for personal kickbacks.  The man of who proposed spending $223 million taxpayer dollars on a bridge linking a small Alaskan town to a tiny island with a population of 50, has managed to squeezed nearly $0.5 billion in 2008 for his sparsely populated state.  Compare that Arizona, let say, a state with 10 times the population requested only 1/5 as much money.  Taxpayers for common sense point out that Alaska windfall includes $1 million to remove dead trees in anchorage.

Another reason Why America Hates Washington.

We‘re back for more with On Their Trail in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back On Their Trail: Assessing today‘s misstatements, cheap shots and blunders.  Clinton v. Obama, it‘s been a day filled with them but there were a number of factual errors coming from the campaigns as well.

Right now, Clinton is behind at our nightly scorecard.  She‘s got three strikes.  Obama has two.

We call it a misstatement last week.  Today, Hillary Clinton, herself, admits that she misspoke when she talked of a frightening trip to Bosnia as first lady.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I remember landing under sniper fire.  There was supposed to be some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport.  But instead, we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  As we pointed out Friday, the video does not support her account.  She isn‘t running with her head down to dodge sniper fire, but to greet an 8-year-old girl.

Tonight, Hillary Clinton acknowledged to the “Philadelphia Daily News” quote, “What I was told was that we had to land a certain way and move quickly because of the threat of sniper fire.  So, I misspoke.  You know, I say a lot of things, millions of words a day.  So, if I misspoke, that was just a misstatement.”

We‘re calling this a blunder from the Clinton campaign, A.B.?

STODDARD:  In fact, at a speech she gave on St. Patrick‘s Day just last week, asked about this and she said that—she talks about how C-17s are partially armored and she forced to the cockpit and there was sniper fire while they were landing and if they got there, and yes, there is no greeting ceremony and she was told to run to the car.

So, she‘s actually told this story the wrong way several times.  And it is really unfortunate because, they‘re trying to pile up all these examples of how she‘s more electable because she‘s more prepared to be commander in chief.  She‘s been more exposed to the problems of the world, met with these leaders, understands the problems in all of these different countries.

And when she gets caught on something like this, it‘s a real problem for her and her campaign to woo these superdelegates.  They‘re the people who are listening.  They are not the stupid voters.  They are the superdelegates and they know when you‘re lying and they know when you‘re not.

ABRAMS:  Well, Sinbad who was on the same trip said, “I think, the only red phone moment was do we eat here or at the next place?”

I mean, Peter, this seems to have been an avoidable mistake.

BEINART:  Yes.  I think it was.  And I think, Hillary Clinton is doing the wrong thing here.  It seems to me where she has a case is she could argue that she was around during Bosnia which was a really important moment for Clinton foreign policy, where, I think, they really got something right.

And this something they could see (ph) and really proud of that.  She should talk about that.  What she learned about watching up close the decision for America to intervene in a genocidal civil war, not getting caught up in this question about whether they took fire, whether she was courageous under fire or not.

ABRAMS:  Clinton gets a strike on this one, giving us four strikes against Clinton and two against Obama.

Senator Obama is out with a new ad highlighting his accomplishments in Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER:  He took on the special interests and won; passing the toughest ethics law yet; banning gifts, meals and trips from Washington lobbyists.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  But according to the “Washington Post” at least one of his accomplishments not mentioned on that ad was padded.

On Monday, Senator Obama released this statement on the economy, quote, “We should pass the legislation I put forward with my colleague Chris Dodd to create meaningful incentives for lenders to buy or refinance existing mortgages.”

That is misleading.  The bill‘s authors were Senator Dodd, along with Congressman Barney Frank.  Both Clinton and Obama are supporters of the bill.  I don‘t believe he can say he put it forward, Peter.

BEINART:  Yes, you know, this seems to me really par for the course.  I mean, we all know that when people start running for president, they don‘t do a lot of work in their day job in Congress.  It‘s not a revelation.  It is true for Hillary Clinton, it‘s true for John McCain, it‘s true for Barack Obama.

So, of course, he‘s not been proposing a lot of legislation.  He‘s barely been in Congress during the last year.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right, Obama is getting the strike here.  That gives us four strikes against Clinton and three against Obama, going into the final round.

On the similar note, former President Bill Clinton gave North Carolina veterans a new reason albeit incorrect to vote for Hillary talking about all the generals who come out to endorse her.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

B. CLINTON:  You might wonder why that‘s so.  Why did they endorse the girl for president?  All these generals, these people have endorsed her because she‘s the only member of the Armed Services Committee running.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  A Clinton misstatement.  Senator John McCain is also a ranking member on the Armed Services Committee and served on it in every year when Bill Clinton was president.  A.B, I mean, does this happen all the time?  That there are misstatements like this and we‘re just checking them too closely?

STODDARD:  I don‘t think that Bill Clinton gaffes.  So, I think that he was actually just leaving John McCain out.  He knows John McCain has served on Armed Services and if the Republicans were still in charge of the Senate, he would be the chairman of that committee.

And he‘s just conveniently leaving him out because he‘s trying to draw, obviously, a contrast between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.  But he knows when to compliment John McCain and link John McCain with Hillary Clinton.  He does it often and he knows when to leave him out.  I think it‘s purposeful.

ABRAMS:  Clinton gets a strike on this one, giving us a final score tonight, of five strikes against Clinton and three against Obama.

A.B. Stoddard, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it.  Peter will be back with us.

And if you think I have gotten it wrong, e-mail us: Verdict@msnbc.com.  Tell me what you think, be sure to include your name, where you‘re writing from.  We read your e-mails at the end of the show in the P.O. box.

Coming up: We are one of the few who are still on John McCain‘s trail as well—our new segment: Teflon John.

Tonight: With so much outrage about what Obama‘s former pastor had to say, where‘s the outrage over the offensive comments from two pastors who endorsed McCain?  One who now says McCain sought out his endorsement.

And: A FOX News anchor compared Obama‘s former pastor to Hitler, now a member of “The View” compares him to a cannibal.  Beat the Press is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up: We all know that sometimes cable news host can be hypocrites.  Other times, it‘s closer to down right dishonest.  Here‘s CNN‘s Lou Dobbs of the media‘s coverage of Senators Obama, Clinton and McCain‘s passport records being breached by individuals at the State Department.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LOU DOBBS, TV HOST:  I mean, all the cable news networks, I mean, talk about a packed mentality, rolling out on this.  You know what?  I‘ve got to be honest with you, as I listen to all of this silliness, you know, sweep across cable news land, I‘m thinking, who cares?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  You‘re going to be honest.  Who cares? Well it seems like Lou Dobbs did less than 15 minutes before that program started.  Dobbs offered up a preview of his show.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DOBBS:  Coming up at 7:00 Eastern here on CNN, much more on the furor with those passport files being breached.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  If Lou Dobbs show was a product, he might be sued for consumer fraud.

Next up: In the “we‘ll watch so you don‘t have to” category, this isn‘t the kind of informative banter you can expect from the folks over at the FOX Business Network on their morning show.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We know you like lucky charms.  You like lucky charms?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I loved lucky charms growing up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What was your favorite?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Probably Captain Crunch.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I liked Count Chocula.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, I forgot about Count Chocula.  Wasn‘t there like Frankenstein monster, too?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I forgot all about the Count Chocula.  (INAUDIBLE).

Finally: The controversy over Reverend Jeremiah Wright‘s comments just did not seem to die in the media.  First it was FOX‘s Ainsley Earhardt comparing him to Hitler, now “The View‘s” Elisabeth Hasselbeck provides us with another appetizing analogy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELISABETH HASSELBECK, TV HOST:  I‘m sure at some point, Jeffrey Dalmer ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  Does it make the fact that he then eat people less wrong?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Dalmer and then, Hitler.

We need your help Beating the Press.  If you see anything right, wrong, amusing or absurd, go to our Web site: Verdict.msnbc.com.  Leave us a tip in the box.  Please include the show and the time you saw the item.

Coming up next: I called it un-American when Rush Limbaugh suggested Republicans cross over and vote Democratic just to disrupt the race.  But now, it could be criminal.

A county in Ohio is now investigating 16,000 Republican voters who switched parties for March 4th primary.

And later: Our new segment—Teflon John.  With all the talk of controversial pastors, what about John McCain allegedly seeking the endorsement of a televangelist who called the Catholic Church a false cult and blamed hurricane Katrina on homosexuals in New Orleans?

Much of the media may not care.  We do.  Our segment Teflon John is coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up, John McCain‘s free pass continues, but not here.  We investigate McCain‘s ties to two controversial religious leaders, one who called the Catholic Church the great whore.  And our new segment, “Teflon John” is coming up. 

And “Reality Bites” for anyone who has to clean up this mess after world pillow fight day.  I must have missed out on the memo. 

Plus, New York‘s Governor David Paterson, who‘s already to several extramarital affairs; tonight, he is admitting to using cocaine, yet qualifying him for a place among our “Winners and Losers” tonight.  That‘s coming up. 

But first, he‘s at it again - Rush Limbaugh trying to subvert Democracy and inject dirty tricks into the Democratic nomination process, encouraging Republicans to vote in Democratic primaries.  He did it in Ohio and Texas, and now, he has his eye on Pennsylvania. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Don‘t forget Pennsylvania.  You left it out there.  We have operatives who are registering Democrats up until March 25th to vote for Hillary in Pennsylvania.  It is happening there, too.  Operation Chaos, rush the vote exceeding all objectives. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I said it before - I think it is un-American to encourage people to vote for a candidate they don‘t want to win in order to corrupt the process. 

But in Ohio, it may now also be illegal.  Election officials are considering pursuing criminal charges against some of the 16,000 Republican voters who crossed over in Ohio‘s largest county. 

The question - did they lie when they signed affidavits, pledging allegiance to their new party? Some didn‘t even try to conceal their intentions. 

One voter bragged about crossing over on the message board saying, quote, “They had me sign the affirmation about switching parties and supporting the principles of the Democrat Party.  I said that would be easy because they don‘t have any.  Everybody got a good chuckle because there isn‘t a Democrat within five miles any direction from where I vote.”

The problem?   Lying on that affidavit could be election fraud, a felony which could carry up to six months jail time and a $2,500 fine.  Now, some of Limbaugh‘s minions getting a little nervous. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE CALLER]:  The Cuyahoga County Board of Election actually - I‘m a little nervous - might be prosecuting voters. 

LIMBAUGH:  It‘s an empty threat.  They have to prove - they have to prove people lied.  Look, this is just a bunch of Democrats reacting to tricks played on them like they play on everybody.  Listen, they are just lashing out with threats.  I wouldn‘t worry about it. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ABRAMS:   Not until they call Rush, asking him to bail them out.  Joining me now, editor of the blog, “Talk Left,” Jeralyn Merritt (UNINTELLIGIBLE) attorney.   And Loyola Law professor and election law expert, Rick Hasen.  Thanks very much to both of you for coming on.  I appreciate it.

All right, do you think they should prosecute?

JERALYN MERRITT, EDITOR, “TALK LEFT” BLOG:  I think in some cases they could if they could prove the intent of the voter.  For example, if the voter went online and bragged about what they did and they were able to identify who that person was.  I think that they would then have a case against that person.  And I think they should bring it, because, you know, I think they need to do this as deterrence.  This is a despicable practice. 

ABRAMS:  And let me play a little bit more from Rush Limbaugh before I go to you, Professor.  He is bragging about this practice.  Here is Limbaugh again talking about it today. 

LIMBAUGH:  We‘re just making trouble here, folks.  This is part of Operation Chaos.  If they indict me, there‘s no chance.  First of all, this is freedom of speech.  Second of all, you can vote for anybody, any time for whatever reason you want.  It‘s private. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Professor, that‘s true.  But you also can‘t lie on a voting form, can you? 

RICK HASEN, ELECTION LAW EXPERT:  I think that‘s right, but I think Ohio may be the only state.  I haven‘t been able to find another one where they do make you sign this affidavit.  It appears that most - or many of those 16,000 voters in the Cleveland area and other voters in Ohio weren‘t even asked to sign the affidavit. 

So we‘re talking a lot of voters who went through - did this process and didn‘t sign the affidavit.  So they aren‘t in trouble.  The one‘s who signed it - unless they went and bragged about it on their blog - it would be very hard for a prosecutor to actually prove that someone said they had allegiance to the Democratic Party, but didn‘t in fact have allegiance at the time they cast their vote. 

ABRAMS:  Jeralyn, how could they prove it?   I mean, you know, let‘s assume they didn‘t write it some blog, bragging about it, laughing about it.  How could they prove it? 

MERRITT:  Well, I don‘t know that they could prove it if they didn‘t have, as you said, someone bragging about it.  But I think, you know, there‘s an awful lot of people who are upset about this.  And if they see someone online bragging about it, since there is apparently going to be an investigation by the Board of Election, they ought to forward - you know, forward the posting that was online to the Board.  And let them check it out and see if they can identify that voter. 

ABRAMS:  Jeralyn, you had said that there might be an aiding and abetting charge against Rush Limbaugh? 

MERRITT:  I did write that.  I was kind of being a little funny about it.  But, you know, the more I think about it, you know, if he is inducing someone to vote fraudulently with the intent to affect the outcome of the election.  And then actually find a person who says, “Yes, I did that and I voted for Hillary because Rush Limbaugh told me to.  And I didn‘t really want her to win.  And I don‘t really believe in the principles of the Democratic Party,” then they might have a case Rush for aiding and abetting.

ABRAMS:  What do you make of that, Professor? 

HASEN:  Well, you know, I think, going after Rush Limbaugh is going to run smack into the first amendment.  And you know, these kinds of arguments are made all the time, that people should vote strategically.  And in fact, I think we saw a number of Democrats crossing over in the gubernatorial race voting for Ken Blackwell to try and influence the Republican side.

ABRAMS:  But two wrongs don‘t make a right here.  I mean the bottom line is what makes Ohio unique is the fact that you are required, in most cases, to sign an affidavit saying that you are effectively pledging allegiance to a particular party. 

And what Rush Limbaugh is doing here is - he is, look, I‘m not saying people should necessarily be prosecuted and serve any time, but Rush Limbaugh is encouraging people to commit a crime, is he not? 

HASEN:  Well, I think the question is whether he knew at the time he was saying it that it would be a crime.  And also -

ABRAMS:  But now he knows it. 

HASEN:  This is law that‘s rarely enforced. 

ABRAMS:  But professor, now he knows it. 

HASEN:  Yes, but it‘s not a crime in most other states.  In fact, I couldn‘t find another state in my initial look that has a law like this.  You know, in most places, if they want Democrats only to vote in their primary, make them sign up in advance, you know, so you can‘t change it on election day.  So Ohio has an easy solution to prevent this problem from going forward in the future. 

ABRAMS:  Look, the system is broke, Jeralyn.  There‘s no question about it.  But, you know, again, a lot of these people who are very law and order folks, saying, “Oh, you know, little crimes got to get prosecuted.  Anyone who violates the letter of the law ought to be serving time.”  And then you have some of these same people who are literally signing an affidavit where they are lying at the behest at times of Rush Limbaugh. 

MERRITT:  I agree with you, and I think, as I said, that for the purpose of deterrence and to stop people from doing it in the future, if they can identify a person, they ought to prosecute the person because this is wrong. 

For people to - for example, the person that wrote for one day only on the affidavit form.  And, you know, that affidavit form, I have a copy of it - it states right on the face of it that it‘s a felony to lie on that form.  So for somebody to sign their name and say, “Dem for one day only,” when the penalty is right staring them in the face, that person should be prosecuted. 

ABRAMS:  Well, we shall see.  I just think it would be amusing if they go after Rush for encouraging these people to commit these crimes.  But, look, this is serious business.  I do think it is totally - whether it is illegal or not, it is totally un-American on either side to encourage people to go vote for a candidate you want to lose in the election.  Jeralyn Merritt and Professor Rick Hasen, thanks a lot.

Do you think Ohio voters who switch parties should be prosecuted?  E-mail us at verdict@msnbc.com.

Up next, John McCain has been linked to two controversial religious leaders, yet the media pretty much left him alone while Obama‘s been hammered for his ex-pastor‘s comments.  Our new segment, “Teflon John,” nothing seems to stick, is coming up. 

And later, what really happens at world pillow fight day?  Reality bites is back in 60 seconds.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Tonight‘s “Reality Bites,” our nightly dose of reality caught on tape.  The pillows swinging and the feathers flying during what apparently was World Pillow Fight Day this weekend.  The slumber party favorite breaking out on the streets of New York, London and here in Chicago.  What a mess.  Who knew? 

When we come back, “Teflon John,” why aren‘t the feathers flying about what two pastors who endorsed John McCain had to say?  Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back with tonight‘s edition of “Teflon John,” where we end Sen. John McCain‘s media-free ride.  The media has hammered Barack Obama for the comments made by his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, some of it rightly so. 

But why has the media virtually ignored Teflon John McCain‘s association with two controversial religious leaders.  McCain recently received and accepted the endorsements of Texas pastor, John Hagee and Ohio pastor Rod Parsley. 

Yesterday, the “New York Times” magazine published an interview with Rev. Hagee where he said, quote, “It‘s true that McCain‘s campaign sought my endorsement.”  Now, Hagee blamed Hurricane Katrina on homosexuals in New Orleans.  He called the Roman Catholic Church the great whore and there was this -

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) 

PASTOR JOHN HAGEE, MCCAIN ENDORSER:  God says, “The day is going to come when I‘m going to cause this beast to devour this apostate system.  So you can say very clearly that while the church is in heaven, this false religious system is going to be totally devoured by the antichrist. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Hagee seems to have a problem with the Catholic religion.  And Pastor Rod Parsley, who is also endorsing McCain, wrote this in his book, “Silent No More” about Islam, “Allah was a demon spirit.  America was founded in part with the intention of seeing this false religion destroyed.”

Now, John McCain openly accepted these endorsements.  Yet, why so little media coverage of it? 

Here now, Republican strategist Brad Blakeman and back with us Peter Beinart. 

All right.  Brad, so why so little coverage of him.  And we have been focusing a lot on Jeremiah Wright.  Yes, he was Obama‘s actual pastor.  But if it‘s true that McCain sought out Hagee‘s endorsement, why is no one saying, “Wait a second, is the guy you really want to be associated with?”

BRAD BLAKEMAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Dan, I think they did.  At the time of the endorsement, they were controversial.  The press covered it.  But it pales in comparison to Obama‘s pastor. 

McCain doesn‘t have a relationship with these two other pastors.  They merely endorsed him.  Obama has a relationship.  As a matter of fact, using Obama‘s words, he‘s a member of his family, somebody who damned America, somebody who said aids was caused by the American government and stated in effect we deserved 9/11.  This is a pastor of Obama as opposed to an endorser of McCain.

ABRAMS:  But in both cases, you have to make a fundamental decision.  Is this someone you want to be associated with?  Do you agree with things that they have said?  Obama made it very clear he does not agree with the comments - many of the comments that Rev. Wright made.  Now, that may not -

(CROSS TALK)

That absolve him.  But the bottom line is McCain has come out with weaker words against Hagee and Parsley and seems to be free as a bird. 

BLAKEMAN:  Well, we shouldn‘t be seeking out the endorsements of these controversial pastors.  I agree with that.  The conservatives are not without our wing nuts too.  And I don‘t think we should pander to them.  And I think it‘s wrong to do it.

ABRAMS:  But no one‘s talking about it.  I mean Rev. Wright was a story - Obama‘s association with Rev. Wright was a story for a week.  And you have to look -

BLAKEMAN:  And deserved to be such. 

ABRAMS:  You have to look hard to find stories about McCain and Hagee.  I think you have to -

BLAKEMAN:  Well, because again, the relationship is the reason why you have the extensive coverage.  This is Obama‘s pastor as opposed to endorsers for McCain who have no relationship. 

ABRAMS:  It seems to me it‘s almost more important, Peter Beinart - I‘m going to play another sound bite from Hagee in a minute - who you - I mean let‘s even assume that Obama says, “You know, this guy was part of my life but I disassociate myself from the comments that he made.”  I think it‘s almost more important to say these are comments I don‘t agree with which Obama has done and McCain has been kind of reluctant to do. 

PETER BEINART, SENIOR FELLOW, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS:  Well, I think it‘s partly John McCain is not getting a lot of coverage, period.  I mean he also I think got a pretty easy pass on his remarkable confusing of Sunni and Shiia. 

But I think also to some degree, we‘ve all become so used, frankly to kind of right-wing pastors, ministers basically saying hateful things that it almost doesn‘t even raise an eyebrow anymore.  There has been so much of that.  I don‘t think that‘s good, but I think that is the reality. 

ABRAMS:  Like this?  Here is more of Hagee.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HAGEE:  When Adolf Hitler came to power he said, “I‘m not going to do anything in my lifetime that hasn‘t been done by the Roman church for the past 800 years.  I‘m only going to do it on a greater scale and more efficiently.”  And he certainly has done exactly that. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Doesn‘t John McCain have to run a way from this guy, not just sort of distance himself, Brad? 

BLAKEMAN:  Hagee is a loon.  I‘ll give you that.  Absolutely, John McCain is better than sharing a podium and endorsement with this type of people.  Absolutely.  We have no place for that in our society - pastors who have a rather large following and you make a deal with the devil in order to get those votes.  I think it is wrong. 

ABRAMS:  And here is Parsley talking about Planned Parenthood. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PASTOR ROD PARSLEY, MCCAIN ENDORSER:  Our own government is allowing organizations like Planned Parenthood to legally take the innocent lives precious baby girls and baby boys.  You know who their biggest fans must be?  That must be the Ku Klux Klan, because the woman who founded this organization detested black people. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Again, Peter, look, Brad‘s right, look, you detest it.  You can say, you know, Brad is making a point that you‘ve got to distance yourself from it.  But from a media coverage perspective, Peter, why is it that the coverage of this has been so rare, so tepid? 

BEINART:  I think first of all, it is worth noting the person who founded Planned Parenthood was, in fact, very much a racist, even though, of course, Planned Parenthood is not a racist organization today. 

I think - look, I think a lot of the reason that the Wright story got so much attention was the fact that it was really the only thing you could see on Fox News for 24 hours a day for a long time.  It was a lot like what the swift boat attack on John Kerry.  One network above all else decided they would basically become the Jeremiah Wright network.  And I think that‘s a big part of the reason the story didn‘t go away.

ABRAMS:  Brad?

BLAKEMAN:  One of the reasons why the story didn‘t go away is Obama had to go kicking and screaming to even distance himself at all from somebody he considers a member of the family.  And quite frankly he lied about it too which didn‘t help.  At first, he said he wasn‘t present for outrageous statements, and says as well, “You know, maybe I was.”  But he never admitted when he was present and what those statements were. 

ABRAMS:  I don‘t know if there‘s any - Peter, do you recall any discrepancy about what Obama said about where he was?  I don‘t recall that. 

BEINART:  Well, I think he may have said he wasn‘t there for one or two specific statements.  But then he made a pretty broad in the speech.  But I think Obama was pretty aggressive in saying he condemned this stuff outright.  I don‘t see how you can see a lot of equivocation there. 

ABRAMS:  The bottom line is that I think on the whole McCain has gotten a pass on this.  And I think, you know, Brad said it well, that he‘s got to distance himself from these guys.  And I think he‘s got to do it more.  And the media‘s got to be fair in its coverage. 

Brad Blakeman and Peter Beinart, thanks a lot.

Up next, will tonight‘s big winner or loser be Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick who might end up in the big house after being charged for lying about racy text messages; ugly men who apparently make better husbands and are more likely to stay in the house than their better-looking counterparts; or New York governor David Paterson who‘s only been in the statehouse for a week, and we know he had several affairs, now comes word he used cocaine, too? 

Plus your E-mails in the PO‘d box, your chance to tell me how I blew it.  That‘s coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It is time for tonight‘s “Winners and Losers” for this 24th day of March, 2008.  Our first loser, New York‘s new governor, David Paterson, whose first days in office have been marked by how many skeletons are in his closet.  Paterson replaced Eliot Spitzer after the luv gov was caught allegedly spending thousands of dollars on prostitutes. 

But in the days since he became governor, Paterson has admitted to several affairs.  And today he opened the closet door a bit more, admitting he used cocaine, quote, “a couple of times,” along with marijuana.  Paterson says he hasn‘t used illegal drugs since in his 20s.  But it still makes you wonder whether he could be the force behind the new drinking game called “admission.” 

Our second loser, Vice President Dick Cheney who said this after the number reached 4,000 U.S. troops dead in Iraq. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, UNITED STATES VICE PRESIDENT:  The president carries the biggest burden obviously.  He‘s the one who has to make the decision to commit young Americans.  But we are fortunate to have a group of men and women, all volunteer force who voluntarily put on the uniform and go in harm‘s way for the rest of us. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Unbelievable. 

Our big loser, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick charged today with perjury and obstruction of justice after prosecutors say he lied about a sexual relationship with a top aide in a 2007 trial.  

The mayor‘s explicit text messages to the aide, which were leaked to the press, contradicted the mayor.  (UNINTELLIGIBLE), quote, “I‘ve been dreaming all day about having you to myself for three days, relaxing, talking, sleeping and making love.”  The mayor rejected calls to resign and declared his innocence.

Our big winner over the day - ugly men.  Our new study finds, you don‘t have to be Brad Pitt or George Clooney to be a good husband.  The study shows ugly guys apparently make better husbands as they‘re less likely to cheat and more likely to offer support to their wives. 

Time for the “PO‘d Box,” your chance to tell me what you hate or love about the show.  First up, some missed my point Friday, when I argued that Gov. Bill Richardson‘s endorsement of Obama could mark the beginning of the end for Clinton. 

Deborah from Orlando writes, “I disagree with your assessment of the Richardson endorsement.  I think it was hypocritical of Obama to seek it and accept it, since New Mexico has already voted.  Clinton won the state and Sen. Obama has said superdelegates should go the way of the voters.”

And John Kostelnik from Lancaster, California, “You‘ve railed for weeks about how wrong it would be for superdelegates to vote against popular votes, except, I guess, when a superdelegate governor votes against the popular vote of his state.”

ABRAMS:  Look, John, I said it over and over, the Democratic Party should scrap this superdelegate system and allow the voters to decide this election.  They didn‘t. 

So now I guess some Clinton supporters want the Obama camp to just give it up on the superdelegates as a matter of principle.  This is why we needed the system to be scrapped months ago.  But it‘s here so it‘s legitimate for both candidates to pursue them.

Megan McLemore from Ithaca, New York, “I agree with you that McCain is getting a free ride” - this is on our “Teflon John” segment - but I think it‘s temporary.”

Megan, he won‘t be getting a free ride on our show, even temporarily. 

And Kathy Blake from Springfield, Pennsylvania thinks we were too hard on McCain, “As far as his faux pas this past week, have never made a mistake when you were speaking?”

Of course, Kathy, but this is more than just one mistake.  Many in one week.  But most the media scrutinize Clinton and Obama‘s every word.  They just don‘t - they just let it go when it comes to McCain.  I‘m not running for president either. 

As always, thanks for your feedback.  Be sure to send your E-mails at verdict@msnbc.com.  Please include your name and where you‘re writing from.  That‘s all the time we have for today.  We will see you tomorrow.  Also, leave a tip on our “Beat the Press” box.  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

,