updated 4/2/2008 11:00:31 AM ET 2008-04-02T15:00:31

Guests: Joan Walsh, Wesley Clark, Tony Blankley, Armstrong Williams, Peter Beinart, Tony Tanner, Myra Thrift, Clint Van Zandt

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Tonight: Hillary Clinton compares herself to Rocky, thinks she‘s going to distance as the Democratic Party continues its call to end the fight early.  And as they keep fighting, a senior adviser to Clinton admits he‘s warning superdelegates about the Reverend Wright effect.

And: Attorney General Mukasey suggests 9/11 could have been prevented if our wiretap laws had been different.  Another edition of our segment:

Why America Hates Washington.

VERDICT starts now.

Hi, everyone.  Welcome to the show.

Democratic Party leaders looking to avoid a prolong fight, continue to use coded terms like avoiding a blood bath, timetables, and the will of the people to subtly nudge Hillary Clinton from the race.

Despite that push, Clinton today brought up a legendary boxer as she vowed to fight on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Could you imagine if Rocky Balboa had gotten halfway up those art museum stairs and said, well, I guess, that‘s about far enough.  That‘s not the way it works.  Let me tell you something, when it comes to finishing the fight, Rocky and I have a lot in common.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Never mind that Rocky lost in that movie to his opponent Apollo Creed.  It sure feels like the ref, Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean, wants to call the fight early, asking the undecided superdelegates to make a decision well before the late August convention.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD DEAN, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CMTE. CHAIRMAN:  We also have these unpledged delegates that have been part of the rules for 25 years.  There‘s about 800 of them.  About 470 of them have voted, I‘d like the other 330 to say who they‘re for between now and the 1st of July.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Chairman Dean may believe he‘s doing what‘s best for the party, but they created these rules and this schedule by expediting the race, he‘s also basically ensuring that Hillary Clinton will have no chance.

She will almost certainly be down in both popular vote and delegates at the end of the primaries.  She will have to hope to make a momentum argument to the superdelegates and hope for an Obama slip up.  Time is her greatest ally and it sure seems like the leaders in the party don‘t want to give that to her.

Joining me now: Hillary Clinton supporter: General Wesley Clark; editor-in-chief of Salon.com: Joan Walsh; and, syndicated columnist and former Reagan speechwriter: Tony Blankley.

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

All right.  Joan, does it not seem to you that the leading Democrats are all using coded—it‘s going to be OK, it‘s going to work itself out, which basically means Obama‘s going to win and we‘ll be able to get rid of Hillary Clinton?

JOAN WALSH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, SALON.COM:  I think that‘s a lot of it, but, look, I don‘t really have a problem with what Dean is trying to do.  I think it‘s really problematic when people even like Pat Leahy suggests she‘s got to get out now before all the votes have been cast and counted.

When people start like Dean, or Harry Reid, or Nancy Pelosi start to suggest, well, maybe July 1st is a deadline, you know, they can say whatever they want.  It‘s interesting.  We‘d like to know.  It gives us all of us, we have a deadline, we can report on it.

But the fact is it‘s not binding.  The superdelegates can come out, they might say what they wanted to, they might not.  Dean can‘t force them.  And if they say they support Obama, Dean can‘t force them to stick with it when they get to Denver in August.

ABRAMS:  But they can‘t force them, Wes, but they can have an impact on the superdelegates.  Meaning, this is all a fight for the superdelegates.  And if you got the party leaders, even Harry Reid and I describe this as coded language.

He says, “This will be over long before the convention.  Does it mean June 5th or two weeks from now?  I don‘t know, but this will all be just fine.”

I mean, can you interpret that as anything other than it will be fine, Obama will be our candidate and this will be over?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK, (RET.) 2004 DEM. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: 

Absolutely.  That‘s not what he‘s saying.  I think Harry Reid and Nancy both say let the process plays itself out.  But they have a leadership responsibility to the party faithful and that is to reassure that it‘s going to be OK.

A lot of Democrats are nervous.  I started getting calls right after - during the South Carolina, right after New Hampshire from people in New York saying, oh, this is so terrible, they‘re fighting with each other, oh, we got—I said, look, are you Democrat?  They said, well, certainly.  I said, do you believe in elections?  They said, of course.

Well, then, you don‘t to turn off an election.  Let the people have a voice.  What a wonderful thing this is for people on North Carolina and Indiana and states that traditionally don‘t have a voice.  Let it go.

ABRAMS:  And, Tony, no one has taking the position officially that Hillary Clinton should get out now.  You got Pat Leahy saying it but you got no sort of so-called objective observers out there.  You don‘t have Barack Obama saying it, you don‘t have his campaign officially saying it.

But come on, am I wrong in saying that there‘s a wink and a nod here when Harry Reid and Howard Dean and these other people are saying, you know, we‘ll be able to fix this pretty soon, don‘t worry?

TONY BLANKLEY, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST:  Yes, I mean, it‘s more than a wink and a nod.  You have Obama people like Leahy who are trying to drive her out and unofficial people who are suffering from Clinton exhaustion who I think are doing that, but she has every right to stay in the race until the opponent has the majority of the delegates, and Obama is not going to have the majority of the delegates.  He‘s going to have to need superdelegates to win.

And now, I don‘t blame the Obama people for trying to suppress to vote.  If they can succeed and have her losing votes, then, they win.

ABRAMS:  Look, but see, my problem, is not, Joan, with the intellectually honest ones like Pat Leahy who‘s saying for example, you know what, get out.  OK, fine.  That‘s Pat Leahy‘s opinion, people can judge him.

My problem is with the Democrat Party establishment.  I mean, here‘s Nancy Pelosi, she‘s backed off a previous comment she made which certainly sounded anti-Clinton and here‘s what she‘s saying today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) HOUSE SPEAKER:  I believe that the elections must run their course, that the people‘s voices must be heard and that the superdelegates voting their conscious, but paying attention to the will of the people. We‘ll come to resolution long before July.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Joan, am I being too much of a lawyer when I look at the will of the people, but paying attention to the will of the people, when you know that Hillary Clinton has almost no chance to come away with a popular vote victory, it‘s possible, super long shot, but almost no chance and that her only real hope is with the superdelegates.

Isn‘t this effectively Pelosi, and I add her now to the group that I talked about before with the wink and a nod, saying Clinton is done?

WALSH:  But actually, as you noted, Dan, this is a significant backing off from earlier statements where she didn‘t even nod to their conscious.  She just said, they should follow the will of the people and she‘s getting pushed back and, you know, hammered by some Clinton donors and supporters who said that‘s not right and that‘s not fair.

So, she‘s backing away from that.  They do have a problem.  I do think

that if there‘s a perception that the superdelegates overturn a decisive

popular lead, the decisive pledged delegated lead, it‘s a blood bath.  On

the other hand, they‘re within 1 percent of each other at this point in the

popular vote.  I mean, that‘s -

ABRAMS:  You, guys, need time.  I mean, Joan, let‘s just assume this, you know, when this ends in early June, Hillary Clinton‘s best hope is to say, you know what, we‘ve got momentum, and it‘s going to take some time to convince people.  And if everyone is saying let‘s cut it off June 15th or July 1st or whatever the date is, sometime before the convention, that‘s bad news for Hillary Clinton.

CLARK:  It depends.  I mean, a lot of it depends on what happens in Pennsylvania and the other states.  It depends on how the candidates‘ respective strengths are displayed.  And, you know, this is about keeping the party together as we go through to the process.

We‘re in uncharted waters.  This hasn‘t happened to the Democratic Party before.  Lots of people are nervous.  They‘re concern.  There‘s several captains with their hands on the wheel trying to steer it, but also trying to let the people‘s will be heard.

So, I think, if we‘re going to keep this together, I think we‘re going to emerge a strong party from it and I think we‘re going to have a great candidate to challenge John McCain.

ABRAMS:  Tony, just real quick, bottom line is, there‘s no way that time is anything but an ally to Hillary Clinton, right?

BLANKLEY:  Of course.  Right now, she doesn‘t have a majority.  She‘s going to hang on long enough and hope that Obama melts in some way.  And if he does, then she‘s there to pick the pieces.  If he doesn‘t, then, he‘s going to get the nomination.

But we‘ve had this before, in ‘80, the Democrats, Ted Kennedy took it to the convention.  In ‘76, Reagan took it to the convention against the incumbent Ford.  So, we haven‘t seen this in the last 25 years, but in my memory at least, we‘ve seen it a couple of times.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Let me move on.

Time now for Teflon John: While most of the media focus on Clinton and Obama and continue to give John McCain pretty much a free ride, we‘re keeping an eye on McCain.

Tonight: A new controversy surrounding this comment from McCain in January.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  President Bush has talked about our staying in Iraq for 50 years.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Maybe 100.  We‘ve been in South Korea, we‘ve been in Japan for 60 years.  We‘ve been in South Korea for 50 years or so.  That would be fine with me as long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Since then, Obama and Clinton have blasted McCain.  Suddenly, McCain is switching to offense saying, this signals that Obama doesn‘t understand foreign policy.  It‘s true McCain never said this would be a 100-year war.

But he‘s still talking about keeping troops in Iraq for 100 years and he‘s been flipping and flopping on whether it‘s a fair comparison to South Korea.  Again, if it had been Obama or Clinton, the media would have been all over them.  You agree with, Wes?

CLARK:  I agree that—look, this shows John McCain doesn‘t understand the region.  This region is allergic to the presence of foreign troops especially troops from western countries.  So, the idea of staying 100 years, even if there‘s no fighting, it‘s going to destabilize our relationships in the region.  It shows John McCain doesn‘t have the expertise to have.

ABRAMS:  Go ahead, Tony.

BLANKLEY:  Look, General McPeak who is Obama‘s senior military adviser himself, a few years ago said, he hopes we‘re there for 100 years, it will mean we‘re successful.  So, you know, I don‘t know whether General Clark disagrees with General McPeak.  Apparently, he does and maybe two retired generals can disagree.

CLARK:  I do.

ABRAMS:  Yes, but what about the media coverage, Tony?

BLANKLEY:  But to suggest that Senator McCain is off base when Obama‘s

own senior military adviser said the statement three to four years ago, I

think it‘s a little -

ABRAMS:  Here‘s my point, Tony.  My point is about the way that the media covers this.  The bottom line is: if we had seen something like this from Obama or Clinton, talking about 100 years, again, whether you agree with it or you don‘t agree with it.

BLANKLEY:  Look, if I were a Democrat I would repeat that message a zillion times because it‘s a slogan, it‘s not fair.  But it‘s a good cheap shot.  You know, it‘s like Al Gore on the Internet.

(CROSSTALK)

WALSH:  It‘s much more fair.

CLARK:  When John McCain clarified and said, well, I don‘t mean a war, I just mean to have troops there.  He‘s showing he doesn‘t understand the region.

Look, in South Korea, there really is a threat.  There is a million troops north of the border.  They could come down and we need a deterrent.  There is no threat of invasion of Iraq.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  But also, but, Tony, how do you deal -

BLANKLEY:  General, we‘d had troops in Kuwait for what, 16 years -

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Hang a second.  I want to play this piece of sound.  This is from McCain on “Charlie Rose,” remember, in that sound byte we‘d just heard, he said that it‘s comparable to South Korea in terms of the way that the troops are there.  Here he is on the “Charlie Rose” show.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHARLIE ROSE, HOST:  Do you think that this South Korea is an analogy of where Iraq might be, not in terms of the economic success but in terms of the American presence over the next say, 20 to 25 years that we will have a significant amount of troops there?

MCCAIN:  I don‘t think so.

ROSE:  Even if there are no casualties?

MCCAIN:  No.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I mean, Joan, I mean, the flipping and flopping on this is just, you know, it seems that‘s constant and the media just doesn‘t pick up on it.

WALSH:  It is constant and he gets a lot of credibility for his war hero status, but he is not being grilled on what he really thinks is going to happen long run and I think it‘s going to damage him in the long run.  I think, you know, he brought it up in such a glib way, 50 years, 100 years, whatever.

And Wes is right.  It really represents a lack of understanding of what a provocation those troops are in the region.

ABRAMS:  Tony, the final 15 seconds.

BLANKLEY:  Yes, I mean, I would ask General Clark, what about the troops we have in Kuwait for 15 years and Bosnia for—since 1997 or whatever it is.  We keep troops all over the world.

CLARK:  We‘re right there because there was a threat in Iraq and we pulled our troops out of Saudi Arabia.  We need to come out of this region.

ABRAMS:  The bottom line though is that when it comes to how this story is covered, whether you agree or you disagree, the bottom line is that McCain tends to get a free pass and this is why we call the segment, Teflon John.

General Clark and Tony Blankley, thank you very much.  Good to see you again.

CLARK:  Thank you, Dan.

BLANKLEY:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  So, what‘s your VERDICT?

E-mail us: Verdict@msnbc.com  Tell us what you think.  Be sure to include your name, where you‘re writing from.  Email us at the end of the night.

Coming up: The far right is filing on Obama‘s support for teaching contraception, when he said about his daughters, quote, “I don‘t want to punish them with a baby.”  As expected, his words are already being twisted.

And: We‘re On Their Trail: assessing the blunders, misstatements and cheap shots.  A top Clinton aide now admits he‘s been pedaling the Reverend Wright issue to superdelegates.

Plus: Attorney General Mukasey is suggesting the 9/11 could have been prevented if the government had only been able to eavesdrop on international phone calls.  What about the fact that they obviously had no idea which calls to focus?

It‘s today‘s edition of Why America Hates Washington.

It‘s back in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Tonight‘s edition of Why America Hates Washington: Attorney General Michael Mukasey is suggesting the September 11th attacks could have been prevented if the government had been allowed to eavesdrop on overseas phone calls to the U.S.

Last week, Mukasey said, before 9/11 the government was not allowed to listen to a phone call from Afghanistan to the U.S. and, quote, “You‘ve got 3,000 people who went to work that day and didn‘t come home to show for that.”  What about the missed signs right here at home?

Please, you can even support the law and find that comment offensive.

The attorney general grossly exaggerating the case for wiretaps is another reason Why America Hates Washington.

We‘re back with Obama‘s controversial comments about babies that maybe galvanizing the right, up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Welcome back.  As we predicted, the right wing media hammering Obama for a comment he made in Pennsylvania over the weekend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Look, I‘ve got two daughters, nine years old and six years old.  I‘m going to teach them first of all about values and morals, but if they make a mistake, I don‘t want them punished with a baby.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  As I said last night, poor choice of words on Obama‘s part.  I said it‘s the kind of thing that would wind up in attack ads this fall if Obama‘s the nominee.  Well, the right wing media is already trying to misuse the statement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  I maintained to you that when he goes off the prompter, that this is exactly, this is the way he looks at it, punished with a baby and he‘s no different than half the other liberals out there.  I mean, all during the abortion debate, a pregnancy was a disease, it was a sickness, it was an unviable tissue mass, it was male oppression, whatever - it was all these horrible rotten things.  It certainly wasn‘t about the glory of life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Oh, come on.  I said it was a poor choice of words.  Limbaugh is making a ridiculously literal interpretation.  He‘s running with it.  I think it‘s completely unfair.

Joining me now: Syndicated columnist and radio talk show host:

Armstrong Williams; and again, Joan Walsh joins us.

All right.  Armstrong, look, you‘re known as a conservative commentator, do you think it‘s fair to take the words of Obama and say, oh, what he‘s really saying is it‘s punishment to have a baby, et cetera?

ARMSTRONG WILLIAMS, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST:  You know, Dan, I should think that Senator Barack Obama had a true moment of truth.

I mean, people always think when somebody has a baby, that‘s a blessing, but I mean, when you realize what some of these babies become, what happens to the mother‘s life when they are not prepared for childhood and the baby ends up paying the price of what happens when the social worker when they come to these homes, I think it can be a punishment.

And I think, the other point that he made that he will teach morals and values to his children, but he has also taking the consideration that not every parent can teach those morals and values.

ABRAMS:  So, let me just understand, so I understand.  You‘re saying not only do you think that it‘s unfair to attack him, you actually agree with everything including the wording of how he said it.

WILLIAMS:  Oh, yes.  I do think it‘s a punishment.  I mean, look, I‘m not one that advocate contraceptives and condoms, but I do think that people have to make those choices for their children.  There are a lot of parents that teach their children the right way.  But many parents, many households today don‘t have a father in the household and sometimes parents have to do what they think is necessary to prevent their children from getting in those kind of circumstances.

ABRAMS:  Joan, there‘s no question that this is going to be used and misused against Obama.  We‘re already seeing on the part of the ring right wing media.  Not Armstrong, it sounds like Armstrong actually agrees with everything that Obama said and understands his point, et cetera.

But is this—how dangerous is this for Obama, this particular comment?

WALSH:  I personally don‘t think it‘s very dangerous at all.  And you know, piece of evidence is the fact that Armstrong seems to agree with me.  That you know, it‘s rare that we agree.

But I think this is a stupid controversy and it just shows how far the right wing has to go to throw awful things to bash Obama about.  I think he‘s speaking as a parent.  Maybe punish wasn‘t the best choice of words, but I‘ve got a teenage daughter and I didn‘t flinch at all.  I think what he said is what most Americans parents feel, teach love and teach morals, and then, give them protection.

ABRAMS:  Here‘s some more of what the far right media is saying and here‘s Bill O‘Reilly.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

BILL O‘REILLY, TV HOST:  When you are callous on your description of any infant, you‘re going to get flack and you‘re going to get heat and the doubters will say, well what does he really feel about abortion?  Is he for any kind of abortion because again Barack Obama has not been quizzed on this.

We don‘t know what he feels about partial birth.  We don‘t know what he feels about late term.  We don‘t what restrictions, if any he would put on abortion.  We don‘t know anything about it.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Armstrong, he‘s not even talking about abortion though.  I mean, that‘s not what Obama was talking about.

WILLIAMS:  Listen, not only is he not talking about abortion.  Listen, we‘re in a crisis in this country.  He also made a comment about STD right in the nation‘s capital where I live.

You have kids between the ages of 16 and 22 years old, 16 percent of them are affected with HIV.  I mean, obviously, these kids don‘t understand the consequences of sex, of getting pregnant and it can‘t be a punishment.  That may be tough language, it maybe tough love, but it‘s just the absolute truth.

And it doesn‘t mean that Senator Barack Obama is advocating abortion.  What he‘s saying he‘s speaking like a father who has love and compassion, and understands what parents maybe and we need to do something and sometimes this tough language is necessary.  As I said in the beginning, having a baby is not always a blessing.  It depends on your circumstances.

ABRAMS:  Joan, they‘re twisting this though to make this about abortion.  I mean, they‘re using this language where Obama is talking about exactly what Armstrong is saying and they‘re twisting it to make it about abortion.

WALSH:  But you know, it‘s not going to work, Dan.  Obama is a proud father of beautiful daughters, he loves those daughters, he loves those babies, he‘s not anti-baby.  He‘s pro-choice, not pro-abortion.

I just think that it‘s a measure of how desperate somebody like Bill O‘Reilly is as FOX loses its audience as the country turns away from right wing extremism that they‘re trying to do this.  And Armstrong is right, he did finished the quote by talking about sexually transmitted diseases, which are definitely a punishment.  So, they totally truncated it and distorted it and I don‘t think it‘s going to work.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Armstrong, interesting stuff, thank you for coming on the program.  We appreciate it.  Joan is going to stay on with us.

Coming up: We‘re On Their Trail: assessing the candidates‘ misstatements, blunders and cheap shots.  Obama may hope his problems with Reverend Wright are behind him, but a top Hillary Clinton aide admits he‘s been talking about it with superdelegates.

And: What maybe the cheesiest morning show in TV news, yucking (ph) it up over April Fools‘ Day.

Beat the Press is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up: CNN‘s Anderson Cooper is trying to show that his show is not like the other guys.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, TV HOST:  Well, talking to the best political potatoes on television - no screaming surrogates, just smart observers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  No screaming surrogates.  You mean like these guys from the previous hour on CNN?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And trying to move that goal post once again.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I let you finish.  Let me finish.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  All right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Be careful when you start dishing your own, Anderson.

Next up: For all of you who spent many of night (ph) wondering as have I, who is Sean Hannity‘s inspiration in journalism?  On Friday shall we learned, it is one of the hosts of “The View.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEAN HANNITY, TV HOST:  I think the best question of the day came from Elisabeth Hasselbeck.  And Elisabeth Hasselbeck did a terrific interview on “The View.”  Elisabeth Hasselbeck grills the Illinois senator.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Her great questions and tough grilling of Obama or maybe just

maybe her status as the sole conservative on that show.

Finally: The FOX business morning show rapidly taking the crown for regularly offering up the cheesiest banter on television.  Remember, this is supposed to be a business network.  Here is wacky morning man Peter Barnes on this April Fools‘ Day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PETER BARNES, CO-HOST:  I‘ve got—are you still there, Jenna (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I am.  Hello.

BARNES:  I‘ve got that $500 I owe you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Why?

BARNES:  April Fool‘s.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I get it.  He didn‘t really owe it to, I mean, just April Fools.  And it was so rip roaring funny that they reminisced about it later in the show.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARNES:  I got you though, didn‘t I?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Pretty bad.

BARNES:  And I said, Oh, Jenna (ph), I have that 500 bucks I owe you and she goes, huh.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes.  Which $500?

BARNES:  April Fool‘s.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  You are such a nut ball, you just too much.

Up next: As always, we‘re On Their Trail, assessing the biggest misstatements, cheap shots and blunders of the campaign.  Tonight: Clinton hammers Obama saying he wants to shut down the race.  Is that really what he‘s saying?

And later: A group of 8-year-olds and 9-year-olds bring a broken steak knife, handcuffs and electrical tape to a school in an alleged plot to attack their 3rd grade teacher.  They even allegedly assign tasks like covering the windows and cleaning up afterwards.  We‘ve got late breaking details coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Welcome back.  Barack Obama now accused of wanting to prevent voters from casting their ballots in North Carolina.  And the Clinton camp, now actively recruiting superdelegates by floating Obama‘s Rev. Wright problems. 

As always, we‘re on their trail, assessing who‘s guilty the day‘s biggest misstatements, cheap shots and blunders.  Tonight, a mix of some serious and some light items in honor of April Fools‘ Day.  Here to help separate fact from fiction, cheap shot from fair game, Peter Beinart, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.  And still with us is Joan Walsh.

All right.  We‘re starting off with a couple of serious issues from the campaign trail today.  First up, Clinton accusing Obama of wanting to shut down the race now. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I think it‘s important that North Carolina has a chance to make sure your voices are heard and your votes are counted.  I didn‘t understand why Sen. Obama and some of his supporters wanted to prevent you and other states from actually being able to vote. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I‘m going to call it a Clinton cheap shot.  It‘s not what Obama said.  Sure, some of his supporters have said she should get out, but Obama himself has consistently said Clinton should stay in as long as she wants to.  And to say that he wants to prevent people from voting, Peter, I think, is a cheap shot. 

PETER BEINART, SENIOR FELLOW, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS:  Yes, I agree with that.  There‘s no question that the Obama campaign isn‘t playing a double game here where his surrogates tried to say that she should drop out, and he himself doesn‘t say it. 

But even if she does drop out, people can still go and vote.  If not at this, their votes won‘t be counted.  I mean, it‘s very common in presidential primaries for certain states to come up after basically all the candidates have dropped out.  That‘s been what‘s happening in the Republican primary.  The votes aren‘t being suppressed. 

ABRAMS:  I mean, Joan - so if she wants to make an argument about Florida and Michigan, that‘s one thing.  But what is the support for the notion that somehow Obama doesn‘t want the people of North Carolina to vote?

JOAN WALSH, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, “SALON.COM”:  Zero.  He said she should stay in the race.  He did call it the Bataan Death March.  But he‘s been very clear and very fair about her right to be in the race, so the three of us agree.  I think it was a cheap shot. 

ABRAMS:  So Clinton gets a strike on this one, giving us our first strike of the night.  Next up, an old Illinois questionnaire now coming back to haunt Obama; at issue, a pretty basic question.  Did he or didn‘t he fill out the survey?  Obama was asked his views on issues like gun control and abortion when he was running for state senate in 1996. 

Last year, when the Obama campaign was asked about his answers, they said, quote, “Barack didn‘t see that document before it was submitted, and some of his answers unintentionally mischaracterize his position.”

Problem?  “Politico.com” obtained an amended version of that same questionnaire which includes Obama‘s own handwriting. 

I‘m calling this an Obama blunder.  Look, the Obama camp still claims the answers given don‘t reflect his current views on some of the issues.  For example, his evolving view on whether a minor should be required to get parental consent before getting an abortion.  But Joan, it seems to me this was an avoidable blunder on the part of the Obama campaign?

WALSH:  Oh, absolutely.  It‘s quite a blunder.  It‘s one thing his positions have evolved.  All of us change our minds.  But to say he never saw it when his handwriting was on it.  And also, there are people who, you know, from the organization, IVI, IPO, who say, you know, he was interviewed.  He clearly held those views back then.  I don‘t understand why they did this. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Peter, is there a danger that this is going to be used to sort of create a narrative about Obama changing his views?

BEINART:  Well, it‘s worth noting that Republicans have made this argument about every Democratic presidential candidate for a long time now.  But they‘re flip-flopping.  They said it about John Kerry.  They said it about Al Gore.  They said it about Bill Clinton. 

So I think they will try.  But, you know, Obama has not changed his mind on a really big issue, like the war in Iraq.  So given that, and he hasn‘t been around in politics that much to have a lot of time to change his views.  So I don‘t think it‘s going to catch on that one.

ABRAMS:  And we should point out, as we said earlier in the program, we‘ve been calling out John McCain on his numerous flip-flops as well.  So we are being equal opportunity assaulters here.  We‘re giving Obama a strike here, giving us one strike for Obama and one for Clinton. 

Next up, the Clinton camp now actively using the controversy surrounding Obama‘s pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright to woo superdelegates. 

Today, Sen. Clinton‘s senior advisor, Harold Ickes telling the Web site,

“Talking Points Memo,” quote, “Nobody thinks that Barack Obama harbors

those thoughts.  But that‘s not the issue.  The issue is what Republicans

will do with them.  Asked whether he was specifically bringing up Wright to

superdelegates, Ickes said, quote, ‘I‘ve said what I‘ve said.  I‘ll tell

people that they need to look at what they think Republicans may use

against him.  Wright comes up in the conversations.‘”

ABRAMS:  Look, I know this is going to be a controversial ruling, but I‘m going to rule this one fair game.  Look, it‘s underhanded.  It‘s sneaky.  It‘s cynical politics, but it also seems to me that it‘s true and that this is the way the game is played.  Peter?

BEINART:  Sure.  The Clinton people have to argue that Obama is electable in the general election.  I don‘t happen to think that‘s a very strong argument.  But if you‘re going to try to make the argument, you have to bring up Jeremiah Wright because that‘s the single biggest piece of evidence that Obama might be a weaker general election candidate. 

ABRAMS:  So Joan, fair game?

WALSH:  Fair game, absolutely.  He‘s not whispering lies, rumors, innuendoes.  This is in the public record.  Obama was a member of the church for - he was his pastor for 20 years.  You know, I think it‘s fair game if they‘re making the electability argument.  It‘s going to come back in November for sure. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  So I‘m not going to give either of them a strike on this.  We stay tied at one strike each. 

Next up, Clinton may be feeling a little betrayed tonight - this is sort of unbelievable - by one of her supporters, superdelegate and Missouri congressman Emanuel Cleaver.  He gave an interview to a Canadian radio station over the weekend.  Let‘s just say he didn‘t exactly do a bang-up job supporting Sen. Clinton. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

REP. EMANUAEL CLEAVER (D-MO), CLINTON SUPPORTER:  If I had to make a prediction right now, I‘d say Barack Obama is going to be the next president.  I will be stunned if he‘s not the next president of the United States.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  I mean how do you rule that anything but a blunder for team Clinton?  How does she convince fellow superdelegates to join her side, Joan, when she‘s got a supposed supporter of her own out there saying, “She doesn‘t have a shot”?

WALSH:  Oh, can I give him credit for honesty?  I don‘t know.  You know what?  I feel sorry for him.  That‘s the way he sees it coming.  He goes on to say, well, you know, “I root for the underdog.”  As somebody who roots for the underdog in sports a lot, I sympathize with him.  I see where he‘s coming from.

ABRAMS:  I mean, Peter, look.  Honestly, you‘ve got to - I mean, this is serious stuff.  If he is going to support Hillary Clinton, look - I don‘t know.  I mean, maybe he should just say, “Look, I don‘t think Hillary Clinton‘s got a chance.  Therefore, I want to switch and support Barack Obama.” 

BEINART:  Well, you can support someone who you don‘t think is going to win.  I mean he seems to like underdogs.  He not only basically said Hillary Clinton doesn‘t (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  He said his hometown Kansas City Chiefs have no chance of beating the Indianapolis Colts.  So he seems in general to be a guy who‘s pretty pessimistic about the chances of the people he likes. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  This strike goes to Clinton, giving us two strikes against Clinton and one against Obama, going into the final round.  In honor of April Fool‘s, Clinton today making a tongue-in-cheek pitch to Obama, presenting her idea to settle the nomination once and for all.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  Today, I am challenging Sen. Obama to a bowl-off, a bowling night right here in Pennsylvania - winner take all.  I‘ll even spot him two frames.  It‘s time for his campaign to get out of the gutter and allow all of the pins to be counted. 

When this game is over, the American people will know when that phone rings at 3:00 a.m., they‘ll have a president who‘s ready to bowl on day one.  So let‘s strike a deal and go bowling for delegates.  We don‘t have a moment to spare. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  This is after Obama bowled a 37 - all those gutter balls. 

I‘m tempted to give Clinton a strike on this because of delivery.  Could

use some work.  I mean I guess it was supposed to be dead -

WALSH:  Oh.

ABRAMS:  It was supposed to be deadpan, I know.  But, Joan, don‘t worry.  I‘m going to give her credit for attempting some humor in what has been a nasty campaign.  I‘m giving Clinton a spare.  I‘m taking away half of the strike I gave her on the last one, because it doesn‘t affect the outcome tonight.  But she‘s still got one-and-a-half strike. 

I mean, the problem here, on a more serious note, Peter, is that even when Hillary Clinton is trying to make a joke - Yes, I understand she‘s trying to do it dead pan, et cetera.  But she‘s still not coming across as almost personable.  There‘s no smile on her face.  You know, maybe it‘s the problem I have when I‘m doing this show sometimes. 

BEINART:  Well, I don‘t think we need to go there.  But I do think - I actually think that the deadpan thing kind of works, precisely because it‘s Hillary Clinton.  She can‘t really be that funny.  She‘s not really that good at it.  So it‘s better, I think, not to try and to do this deadpan thing.  I thought there was something kind of almost - kind of da-da about the whole thing.  So I actually kind of liked it. 

ABRAMS: Yes.  All right.  Go ahead real quick, Joan. 

WALSH:  Dan, you are too hard on yourself and you‘re too hard on Sen.

Clinton.  I thought it was - I actually thought it was really funny. 

ABRAMS:  She got a spare.  She got back half a thing.  She gets a little credit.  She still loses the night.  Our final score 1 ½ strikes for Clinton and one strike for Obama. 

Thanks, Peter Beinart and Joan Walsh.  I appreciate as always. 

WALSH:  Thanks, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Up next, a really frightening story.  Police discover a plot by eight and nine-year-olds who allegedly planned to assault their teacher using a broken steak knife, handcuffs, duct tape, and a crystal paper weight after she apparently scolded one of them for standing on a chair. 

And later, “Reality Bites” for David Letterman surprised by John McCain while telling jokes about John McCain.  We‘re back in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Now, to “Reality Bites,” a dose of reality caught on tape.  David Letterman was telling John McCain jokes on his show tonight, when surprise - sort of - the senator showed up to tell some jokes of his own. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, “LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”:  He looks like a guy who points out the spots they missed at the carwash.  “You missed it right over there.”  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

(APPLAUSE)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Hey, Letterman.

LETTERMAN:  Hi, how are you doing?

MCCAIN:  You think that stuff is pretty funny, don‘t you?  You look like the guy who the neighbors later say, “He mostly kept to himself.”  And you look like the guy who enjoys getting into a hot tub and watching his swim trunks inflate. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  A group of third graders at an elementary school who allegedly tried to hurt and possibly kill their teacher.  We already got breaking news tonight on this story.  It‘s tonight‘s crime scene.  It is out at Waycross, Georgia. 

Police say nine students in the class of 12 were involved and that the plan was to harm the teacher on Friday morning.  Police confiscated a broken steak knife, handcuffs, a roll of duct tape, handcuffs, ribbon and a crystal paper weight. 

The plot was allegedly hatched by one of the third graders after being disciplined by her teacher for standing on a chair.  Each child involved apparently had a role.  One was to cover the windows so no one could see inside.  Another was supposed to clean up after the attack. 

How could a group of third graders organize something like this?  And now, we‘re learning that they are actually going to be charged in this case. 

Joining us on the phone is Waycross, Georgia Police Tony Tanner, and Myra Thrift, city editor for “The Waycross Journal Herald.”  Joining me here is MSNBC analyst, former FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt. 

All right.  Chief Tanner, first of all, thank you very much for coming on the program.  I appreciate it.  What are some of these third graders going to be charged with?

TONY TANNER, WAYCROSS, GEORGIA POLICE CHIEF (on the phone):  I can actually give the correct charges for all of them.  There will be a female, aged 9, charged with aggravated assault, possession of weapons on school grounds or school safety zone, and conspiracy to commit the crime of aggravated assault. 

The 8-year-old male will be charged with conspiracy to commit the crime of aggravated assault, and a 10-year-old female will also be charged with conspiracy to commit the crime of aggravated assault and possession of weapons on school grounds or school safety zone. 

ABRAMS:  Chief, how did you find out about the plot?

TANNER:  We were notified after one of our detectives got wind of something going on at school.  And then we were contacted by the superintendent.  We responded out there and that‘s where we learned of the plot. 

ABRAMS:  Clint, have you ever heard of kids this young, I mean getting

eight years old, nine years old, and they may have wanted to actually kill their teacher?

CLINT VAN ZANDT, FORMER FBI PROFILER:  Yes.  The killing is an interesting thing.  I have seen kids this young, Dan, commit bank robberies.  And, as you know, within the last couple days a child brought a gun to school.  That‘s not too unusual.  But what is unusual is this conspiracy, this - ABRAMS:  Plot.

VAN ZANDT:  Group-type of plot between children.  You know, in our role, I see these are challenged children.  They‘ve got ADD issues and things like this.  But these children were able to come together to formulate this plot and then put together the implements of it and get ready to carry it out. 

ABRAMS:  And, Myra, do we know anything more about these kids - I mean how many of them were kids who were in special ed, et cetera?

MYRA THRIFT, CITY EDITOR, “THE WAYCROSS JOURNAL HERALD”:  All of them were in special ed program.  They had ADD and behavioral issues. 

ABRAMS:  All right, but ADD and behavioral issues, Chief Tanner, is one thing.  But then you‘ve got the follow-up question which is how did they all come together to plot this without any parents finding out?  Chief, do you have any sense of that?

TANNER:  No, apparently there was some tutoring going on after school and it was discussed during that time period as well as some other time during the actual day of class. 

ABRAMS:  And Myra, they were doing it, in theory, for revenge, is that right?

THRIFT:  Yes, that‘s what I understand.  The teacher had disciplined one of the students for standing on a chair and that was what ignited the entire thing. 

ABRAMS:  I mean, Clint, but as we look at these pictures of the items that were recovered, that‘s the part that really just amazes me.  We are talking about handcuffs and they were going to use a crystal paper weight and duct tape.  I mean they had it all planned out as to how they were going to deal with it afterwards. 

VAN ZANDT:  Where do they get these ideas, Dan?  You know, is this from, you know, parents letting them watch television?

ABRAMS:  Where did they get the handcuffs?  Where did they get the items?

VAN ZANDT:  You know, everything must have come from the house.  I mean at nine years, are they out going, you know, on the internet buying handcuffs?  Now, the broken steak knife - that came from somebody‘s house.  But somebody - multiple children had to get together and say, let‘s bring this, this, this and this.  Then they had to assign roles. 

You know what, Dan?  Anyone who attempts to say, “I know why these kids did this,” there is no one reason to explain behavior like this, with the exception that, you know, children - they join a group and they stick to the morals of the group.  Remember the old movie, “Lord of the Flies.”

ABRAMS:  Yes.

VAN ZANDT:  That same type of mentality where there may be one alpha male or female who might have been the leader, but everybody else joined in. 

ABRAMS:  Well, Chief Tanner, I know that you‘re going to keep on this case.  And let us know if turns out that any of the parents knew.  I mean that‘s the part that really - the notion that maybe some parent - although chief, you told us so far there is no evidence that any parent knew.  Right, Chief?

TANNER:  That‘s correct.  There‘s no evidence whatsoever. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Chief Tanner, Myra Thrift, Clint Van Zandt, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it.

VAN ZANDT:  Thanks, Dan.

Up next, will tonight‘s big winner or loser of the day be John Edwards, who can‘t seem to sell magazines; an Ohio man who ensured no one would be able to use his picnic table ever - it‘s gross; a British idol who‘s got a house from Simon Cowell; or Rush Limbaugh who‘s advice may have backfired?  Plus your E-mails in the “P.O.‘d Box,” verdict@msnbc.com.  Tell us what we are doing right or wrong.  And be sure to include your name and where you‘re writing from.  Will be back in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It‘s time for tonight‘s “Winners and Losers” for this first day of April, 2008.  Our first loser, John Edwards.  His cover in “Esquire” magazine while he was still a candidate, officially the worst selling issue of the year.  So who did those male reader really want to see?  You don‘t have executive to have predicted Angelina Jolie, a month earlier, was the best-seller. 

Loser, Art Price(ph), Jr. who had a little too much fun with his outdoor picnic table.  40-year-old Bellevue, Ohio videotaped by a neighbor on four separate occasions having his way with the picnic table after removing the umbrella in the center, if you know what I mean. 

After initially being charged with four felony counts of a public indecency, prosecutors decided the table violation did not reach the level of a felony, so Price could get out of this with nothing more than some painful splinters. 

But our big loser of the day - Rush Limbaugh, now being blamed by some Republican officials in Mississippi for ruining a congressional run-off.  Remember when he called for his listeners to switch parties and vote for Hillary Clinton in Mississippi‘s Republican primary in order to quote, “cause chaos?”

Well, now those Republican voters can‘t switch back and participate in its special GOP primary runoff.  The contest so close that the voters who switched and can‘t participate may have been the deciding factors. 

Our big winner of the day - U.K. singing sensation Leona Lewis, a 22-year-old former waitress and winner of the British version of “American Idol” appeared on Oprah two weeks ago.  Now she‘s got the number one song in the country.  Her reward for topping the charts?  Her mentor, Simon Cowell, bought her a $5 million house in Beverly Hills.  It‘s good to be Leona.  

Time for the “P.O.‘d Box,” your chance to tell me what you hate or love about the show.  Some of this might point last night when I gave Obama a blunder for saying he wouldn‘t want one of his young daughters to be, quote, “punished with a baby” while explaining his position on sex education yesterday.

Mike Milligan writes, “You took the whole statement out of context.  He was talking about a girl no older than 17 having a baby, not because she to, but because she made a bad decision.  So yes, the baby is a punishment.”

Wendy Simpson says, “We all know what Obama means that as a parent, would not want his daughter to suffer an unwanted pregnancy.” 

But to both you, as I said last night, I don‘t have a problem with the substance of what Obama said.  It was a bad choice of words.  It‘s already serving for fodder for right wing attacks, that‘s why I gave it a blunder.

And while most of the media only scrutinize Clinton and Obama, we keep tabs on John McCain in our segment “Teflon John.”  

John Thompson writes, “Barack Obama is ‘Obama,‘ Hillary Clinton is ‘Hillary,” but John McCain is ‘Teflon John.‘  Why do you saddle the only remaining Republican nominee with a rude and discourteous nickname and not the two Democrats?”

John, the title of our segment isn‘t as much of an attack on McCain as it is the media for blindly buying into the Straight Talk Express rhetoric.  We go after Clinton and Obama night after night.  Hence, the light name for the segment “Teflon John.”  We still refer to him as McCain. 

And the last but not least, in E-mail from Bamm Bamm from Seattle, Washington takes issue with the segment, “Why America Hates Washington,” “You must change the name of this segment immediately, please, simply because America doesn‘t hate Washington.  America hates Washington, D.C.”  I like you, even if you are a lawyer.  However, this misuse of our state‘s name must end.”

OK, Bamm Bamm, let me be clear.  We are talking about why America hates Washington, D.C., not Washington State.  I‘m on the record now, all right?

That‘s all the time we have for tonight.  A big day tomorrow on MSNBC.  Joe Scarborough‘s interviewing Mitt Romney tomorrow.  Thanks for watching.  See you tomorrow.

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

END   

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