updated 4/10/2008 10:15:15 AM ET 2008-04-10T14:15:15

Guests: Jonathan Alter, Dee Dee Myers, Kevin Madden, Margaret Cook

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Tonight: General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker conclude their testimony on Capitol Hill.  It seems to prove President Bush did not tell the country the real story about Iraq.

Hillary Clinton says she‘s the only candidate who will get the troops out of Iraq.  Really?  Not Obama?

And now it‘s Bill versus Hillary.  As the differences between the couple come front and center in the campaign.

Jonathan Alter, Dee Dee Myers and Kevin Madden are with us.

VERDICT starts now.

Hi everyone.  Welcome to the show.

Back on Capitol Hill today, General Petraeus, the top commander in Iraq and Ambassador Crocker cautiously described progress in the war.  But what seems to have been lost during the verbal tap dance in front of Congress is the admission from both men that things were going horribly in 2006.  That Iraq was on the verge of collapse and yet that is not what we were told at the time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER OF THE MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE - IRAQ: 

Yet no sectarian violence that engulfed the country in 2006 and created that situation of near civil war, if not actual civil war.

RYAN CROCKER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ:  As Iraq emerges from the

shattering violence of 2006 -

PRES. GEORGE W. BUSH, UNITED STATES:  Absolutely, we‘re winning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Progress does continue to be made in Iraq.

BUSH:  It‘s only a small number of Iraqis are engaged in sectarian violence.

GEN. GEORGE CASEY, U.S. COMMANDER IN IRAQ:  I do not believe, one, that we are in a civil war right now.

BUSH:  We‘ve got a lot of good things going for us in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  President Bush is going to give a major speech on Iraq tomorrow, but looking at his 2006 comments, how can he any credibility?  Maybe I‘m thinking too much like a lawyer, but when the key administration witnesses come forward and tell us how dire things were, just a year and a half ago, and the president was telling us just the opposite at the same time, how can he be trusted now?

Here now: Jonathan Altar, NBC News analyst and “Newsweek” columnist; former Clinton White House press secretary and author of “Why Women Should Rule the World,” Dee Dee Myers; and, Kevin Madden, former press secretary to Mitt Romney.

All right.  Jonathan, I mean, isn‘t this a big problem for President Bush when it comes to credibility tomorrow?

JONATHAN ALTER, NEWSWEEK:  Dan, you‘re such a babe in the woods.  Are you telling me that at this point, you still .

ABRAMS:  But this is new stuff.

ALTER:  . believe that he has any credibility?

ABRAMS:  But, Jonathan, this is new stuff.  This is 2006 stuff.  He can claim early on in the well, everyone thought this or this or that.  Fine.

We‘re talking about what we were told about the war in 2006.  And now we have two witnesses, administration witnesses, coming forward and completely belying what was said by President Bush.

ALTER:  Well, it just shows that, you know, during the 2006 midterm elections, in order to try to maintain Republican control of the Congress in the upcoming elections, he went out and he didn‘t square with the American people.

I have to say, it‘s a little bit like, you know, the movie “Casablanca,” you know, I‘m shocked, shocked, that there‘s gambling in this casino.  I‘m shocked, shocked that President Bush didn‘t tell us the truth in 2006 but you‘re right that we are—your courtroom analysis is dead on.  We are now nailing it, because there are still people out there—tell me, you know, really where exactly President Bush did not tell us the truth.

And earlier in the war and before the war, it was more hyping, cherry-picking evidence, exaggerating, we weren‘t quite getting into the “L” word, the lying.  Now, I think we‘re getting more and more evidence of where he just said that black was white and white was black.

ABRAMS:  And Dee Dee and Kevin, I want you to listen to this, because this was not the only issue where he was, quote, “nailed.”  We just played the sound bytes of Bush in 2006, saying everything was going pretty well and then you have Petraeus and Crocker today and yesterday saying you know what, it was awful in 2006.  They‘ve also changed what the goal is in Iraq.

Listen to what—listen to what Petraeus said today and then compare that to what President Bush said in 2006.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ROBERT WEXLER, (D) FLORIDA:  Please tell us, general, what is winning?

PETRAEUS:  In terms of what it is that we are trying to achieve, I think simply, it is a country that is at peace with itself and its neighbors.  It is a country that can defend itself, that has a government that is reasonably representative.  We‘re not after the Holy Grail in Iraq.  We‘re not after Jeffersonian democracy.

BUSH:  Iraqi democracy will succeed.  The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  That second comment obviously was from 2003, but Dee Dee, it does seem like people are just sort of throwing up their hands and saying, oh, yes, of course, you know, of course, the goalposts have changed, of course, the president wasn‘t really telling us the truth.  I mean, that to me doesn‘t seem to be an acceptable response.

DEE MYERS, FMR. CLINTON WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Well, you know, I think what people are saying is that they no longer have confidence in President Bush.  If you look at his approval ratings and polls, they‘re not down below 30 for no reason.  He‘s earned those terrible numbers.  You know, most Americans, 80 percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track, and that they think that the situation in Iraq has contributed to the weak economy.

I mean, they see this as all part of a whole and they see President Bush sort of at the middle of the collapse and so, I don‘t think he‘s getting away with it.  I think you‘re right, you‘re pointing out things that just make you kind of wants to slap your head and say, you know, why isn‘t there more outrage about it?  But the truth is, people have made their judgments about the president and they‘re not good.

ABRAMS:  But, Kevin, it seems to me that it matters when you have the administration‘s two key people on Iraq, you‘ve got General Petraeus and you‘ve got Ambassador Crocker, coming to Congress and effectively saying what we—what you were hearing in 2006 isn‘t true.

KEVIN MADDEN, FMR. ROMNEY CAMPAIGN PRESS SECRETARY:  Well, you know, I think you used the term before you were talking about a court of law and it‘s very different from a court of law.  This is a court of public opinion and what the president‘s role in the court of public opinion in 2006 was to be a fierce advocate for his policy.

ABRAMS:  Wait, and so that can include lying?

MADDEN:  I believe that he was making a case for his broader vision

and for—and for what he hopes is to -

ABRAMS:  That‘s not what he said though, Kevin.  That‘s not what he said.

MADDEN:  But look, I think we‘re looking at a collision of the public roles.  I think what you‘re seeing now with Petraeus and Crocker is they‘re up there offering stark analysis.  One stark analysis being that of a soldier and a person who is assessing the boots on the ground, the military situation on the ground, and an ambassador who was essentially offering an analysis of the diplomatic situation on the ground.

ABRAMS:  But they‘re using 2006 to make a point and that is that there‘s progress.  And my point is, if you want to use 2006 to say we‘ve made progress, then you have to concede, that in 2006, Iraq was a mess.

MADDEN:  I will concede this, Dan, that the administration will continue to come under assault for what is being judged as too rosy of an assessment in 2006.  But I don‘t think that you can say that the president should be offering a bleak assessment of what he hoped, when in effect, his job was to achieve success there.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Fine.  If he used the word hope, I‘d be with you.  That wasn‘t the word I heard, that wasn‘t the word we just played.  But, let me move on because I want to move on to the war on the campaign trail, all right?  A little bit lighter.  Not that much.

Hillary Clinton today had tough words from Pennsylvania apparently when it comes to getting out of Iraq.  Clinton says she‘s the only one who can get the job done.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  That‘s the choice.  One candidate will continue the war and keeping troops in Iraq indefinitely.  One candidate only says he‘ll end the war.  And one candidate is ready, willing, and able to end the war and to rebuild our military while honoring our soldiers and our veterans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Dee Dee, come on.  Come on.

MYERS:  I think it may be evidence that this campaign has gone on a

very long time.  You know, the only argument that has seemed to work in any

way against Senator Obama so far has been this idea that maybe he doesn‘t

have much experience, that he talks good as he might say, but where is the

where is the evidence that he can actually accomplish what he set out.

So, Hillary Clinton is, you know, she‘s sort of deep in her own territory, and she‘s throwing the long bomb, and this is it.

ABRAMS:  Yes, but she set herself up here, Jonathan.  I mean, here‘s what Obama‘s response was.  “We‘re happy to have a debate with Hillary Clinton over the American people trust to end this war.  Since Barack Obama is the only candidate who had the judgment to oppose the war from the very beginning, not just from the very beginning of a campaign for president.”

Look, you know, whether that‘s a fair shot or not, Hillary Clinton saying that she‘s the only one who can get us out of Iraq, seems to me it‘s dangerous territory for her.

ALTER:  Yes, I agree.  I mean, look, she is, as Dee Dee says, she‘s desperate and also she‘s really frustrated, because I think that she‘s smart enough to know that whether it was Mark Penn‘s advice or somebody else‘s, she made a terrible mistake just not going the John Edwards‘ route back in early 2007 or 2006, and saying, look, I made a mistake, we all do this sometimes, many, many people, including me, I was for the war in 2002, and then moving on from there.

Instead, for months and months, she wouldn‘t admit to any kind of error in the runup to the war.  And I think that really hurt her credibility on this issue.  Then when her husband, around the time of the New Hampshire primary started saying that Obama, being out front on the war, was a, quote, “fairy tale,” you know, which it wasn‘t, he was ahead on that particular issue, that just worsened the situation for them, hurt their credibility even more.

MYERS:  Well, you know, in fairness to Hillary Clinton though, that statement is based on something that one of Obama‘s senior advisors said, which was that depending on circumstances on the ground, this could all change.  And I think that that is sort of the basis of some of her attacks along this line.  It‘s not just something that she‘s making up.

ALTER:  But, Dee Dee, that‘s just basic prudence, and Hillary Clinton,

you know -

MYERS:  Well, maybe but this is a political campaign, Jon.  I mean, come on.

ALTER:  But Dee Dee, the reason that it‘s not really a fair shot is that if Hillary Clinton has her policy hat on instead of her political hat on, and is asked, hey, if the situation on the ground changes dramatically, if there‘s genocide, would you reassess your withdrawal?  She would say, yes.  And she‘ll be right to say that.

ABRAMS:  Kevin, this was based on a comment from an Obama adviser that the Clinton camp is now sort of blowing up and they‘re saying look, you have this advisor who is saying, we may be there longer than the Obama camp is claiming publicly.  OK.  She can make that point, but then to draw the conclusion from that, that that means that Hillary is the only one who‘s going to be able to get us out of Iraq to me seems to be a long shot.

MADDEN:  Yes.  I mean, look, a long shot, and Dee Dee used the word Hail Mary, it‘s like a Hail Mary and the fomboroski (ph) all at once in trying to hang as a foundation for an argument against Barack Obama on war on that one comment, you know, it‘s quite a stretch.

And look, you know, I think that it‘s a puzzling move for Hillary Clinton to do this, given the fact that Barack Obama has tried to make this a contest of who‘s more anti-war in this race and he‘s had the moral authority because he was against it from the very beginning and Hillary Clinton has a big problem in the fact that she voted to authorize that.

Any sort of argument on this issue allows the Barack Obama campaign to hang that vote around her every single day.

ABRAMS:  Dee Dee, final 10 seconds and I got to wrap.

MYERS:  Well, I think Senator Obama is right, he did vote against the war, but he has to be careful, because the general election, should he be the nominee, is not going to be about that vote, it‘s going to be about the future and what do we do going forward and I think he needs to sharpen his language on that.

ALTER:  Good point.

ABRAMS:  Here‘s the good news.  The good news is Dee Dee, Kevin, and Jonathan are all staying with us, because we‘ve got so much more good stuff and it‘s a great panel.

Your VERDICT, what is it?  What do you make of what I‘d just said of the Petraeus stuff?

We‘re reading your emails every night in the P.O.‘ed box.  Send them in to: Verdict@msnbc.com.  Please include your name and where you‘re writing from.

Coming up: Forget Clinton versus Obama for a minute, Hillary has got new competition from her own husband.  Clinton is disagreeing with Clinton on key campaign issues and now she‘s got a comment on it.

And: We‘re On Their Trail.  John McCain joins as well as the ad war heats up between all three candidates.

Plus America‘s top immigration official may have tried to get rid of

pictures of her with an employee in black face so she could get confirmed

by the Senate.

Why America Hates Washington is keeping in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Tonight‘s edition of Why America Hates Washington.  America‘s top immigration official may have managed a cover up just long enough to herself a big job.  According to a new congressional report, before the Senate confirmed Julie Myers, she‘s head of Immigration and Custom Enforcement, she gave this guy a white lawyer dressed as a detainee in black face, the award for the most original costume in an office Halloween party.

She then tried to have the photos deleted from the camera and shipped the employee off to a field office.  All these the report says, quote, “may have been carried out to preclude or delay the public release of photographs that could have adversely impacted her confirmation hearings.”

You think?  Julie Myers allegedly covering her tracks to get the big Washington job is another reason Why America Hates Washington.

Coming up next: It‘s now Hillary versus Bill Clinton on the campaign trail in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Forget two Clintons for the price of one.  Lately, it‘s been looking for like one-on-one: Hillary versus Bill on the issues.  Disagreements coming to the surface on issues ranging from international trade to whether to boycott the summer games in the Olympics.  Today, Clinton repeated her opposition to a Colombia free trade deal even though her husband was paid $800,000 for speeches by an organization pushing for that pact.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  I have a long record of being on a different attitude toward trade than my husband does.  You know, I don‘t think any married couple I know agrees on everything.  And we disagree on this.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  Have you discussed this with your husband, it‘s something y‘all talked about?

CLINTON:  Oh, we talk about everything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  But they‘re not just any married couple.

Dee Dee Myers, Kevin Madden and Jonathan Alter are back with us.

Dee Dee, is this an issue on the campaign: Bill versus Hillary?

MYERS:  Well, I mean, here we are talking about it, Dan.  So, I guess that answers your question.  At least it‘s an issue this minute.  Look, I think, you know, it is a bit of a problem for Hillary for two reasons.  One, Bill Clinton was the former president of the United States.  He‘s got well established positions on a lot issues, some of which Hillary disagrees with him.

And the other reason is because she‘s the girl and he‘s the boy.  So everyone assumes that—not everyone, people overly, I think, assume that she might capitulate.  But doesn‘t it prove the point that he took the $800,000 and she didn‘t change her position?

ABRAMS:  I got to tell you, I don‘t think there‘s a perception out there, Jonathan, that Hillary Clinton is a capitulator.  All right.  I don‘t think of all the issues that she has to worry about, I don‘t think capitulation is one.

ALTER:  No.  The problem here is looking forward to what a Clinton

presidency would be like, if you had these divisions on issues between

them, word would leak out and it would be a big distraction from getting on

with the business of governing, because a lot of voters would

understandably say, well, maybe Bill is right on this or that issue.  He

does have more experience.  He was there for eight years.  Are we sure the

president is really right on this issue -

ABRAMS:  But he‘s going to have to shut up and stay in the kitchen.

ALTER:  He‘s not going to.  That‘s not in his nature.

MYERS:  Well, it‘s not in his nature but I think—I do think that he will, you know, should she become president, I just think he will keep some of his opinions to himself more than he does now.

MADDEN:  Never.  Never.

MYERS:  And—no, he will.  He won‘t be out there.  He‘ll have to curve (ph) -- she‘ll have to clip his wings if a lot of ways, but I just think that - and people will know, she‘s the decision-maker, she‘s the commander-in-chief and she‘s the one calling the shots.

ABRAMS:  Kevin, I want you to listen to this, all right?  Colombia is

not the only issue the Clintons disagree on.  There‘s the summer Olympic

Games.  Then, you can make an argument here, Hillary Clinton wants

President Bush to boycott the opening ceremony while Bill reportedly told

filmmaker Steven Spielberg not to boycott but that he was wavering about

being an adviser

Kazakhstan, Hillary and the State Department were against the country taking an increased role in Europe‘s largest security administration.  Bill spoke out for that move.  There‘s the Dubai port deal.  Hillary was against it, Bill reportedly advised officials in Dubai about how to deal with the stalemate.  And then finally, remember the debate on MSNBC, Hillary broke from Bill‘s comments of possible exception to use torture in a national security emergency.

So look, these are not—these are not the issues that are going to drive voters, but there is a significant list that we‘ve just compiled, and Hillary is not president yet.

MADDEN:  Well, look.  I mean, this happened—this is all the genesis of 1992, where the Clintons went out and said, you know, you get two for the price of one.  And I would have to disagree with Dee Dee.  I think that by design and by desire, Bill Clinton enjoys being a larger than life person out there on the campaign trail and on the political spectrum, even with he‘s not on the campaign trail.

So, I think that the problem with him is going out and re-litigating both his legacy and always feeling the need to play a role in either talking about the issues of the day, that is going to continue to be the distraction in this campaign and it could continue to be a distraction were she ever to get to the White House.

MYERS:  You know, Kevin is right about the possibility that she—they might have to re-litigate parts of Bill Clinton‘s legacy, but how many times has he taken a position that differs from her in the context of this campaign that is a new position?  It‘s just not happening a lot.

ABRAMS:  Well, what is happening is like what happened for example when Tim Russert was questioning Hillary during one of the debates.  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM RUSSERT, DEBATE MODERATOR:  Senator Clinton, this is the number three man in al Qaeda, we know there‘s a bomb about to go off, and we have three days and we know this guy knows where it is.  Should there be a presidential exception to allow torture in that kind of situation?

CLINTON:  You know, Tim, I agree with what Joe and Barack have said. 

As a matter of policy, it cannot be American policy, period.

RUSSERT:  The guest who laid out this scenario for me with that proposed solution was William Jefferson Clinton last year.  So, he disagreed with you.

CLINTON:  Well, he‘s not standing here right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Jonathan, that was a great moment and a great question by Tim.  And you know, look, it reflects the difficulty, does it not, in having some positions which don‘t necessarily match?

ALTER:  Look, I think she gave a terrific answer there.  She seems strong.  She went right back at Tim in a way that was effective for her in that particular debate.

The problem is whether we want to get hung up on this kind of issue.  It relates to all the other issues that would be precedent shattering should she be elected, to have a first spouse who‘s a man for the first time but is also a former president, to have the whole Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton business.  All of those things, which are getting some discussion, not as much frankly as I expected in this campaign, but all of them are distractions from the business of governing.  The problems are bad enough as they are, without having to worry about all the rest of this nonsense.

ABRAMS:  Dee Dee, final word.

MYERS:  I agree with Jon, that the distractions become distracting, but you know, President Bush agrees—disagrees with his father on a number of very important issues and yes, there‘s been coverage of it, and yes we talked about it but it hasn‘t distracted, it hasn‘t kept him from making his own decisions and, you know, driving his hone train over the cliff.

ALTER:  But it‘s actually been hugely harmful, Dee Dee.  I mean, if

you analyze the runup to the war where -

MYERS:  I think, both they disagree.

ALTER:  The bizarreness of the father-son relationship, the president wouldn‘t even see Brent Scowcroft, his father‘s best friend.  All that had to do with the runup to the war.

MYERS:  That was a side story and had very little to do with the actual outcome of events.

(CROSSTALK)

MADDEN:  You know, what‘s interesting about this, Dan -

ABRAMS:  But it‘s an interesting side story anyway.  Dee Dee Myers, it‘s great to have you back on the program.  Thank you.

MYERS:  Thanks for having me.

ABRAMS:  Kevin and Jonathan will stay with us.

You want to know more about the show, go to our Web site:

Verdict.msnbc.com.

Coming up: On Their Trail: Win, Lose or Draw.  Clinton and Obama taking their ad war beyond Pennsylvania.  Obama is now putting his mother in to his ad.

And we‘re on John McCain‘s trail now.  Senator McCain is saying he will woo the African-American vote, but apparently he was looking in the wrong place.

Plus: A man cutting the lawn in a skirt with no underwear.  Where can you see that?  “FOX & Friends,” of course.

Beat the Press is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It‘s time for tonight‘s Beat the Press: Our daily look back at media hypocrisy, agendas, and the amusing perils of live TV.

First up, you are missing quality television if you don‘t wake up to “FOX & Friends.”  Here‘s co-host Brian Kilmeade explaining the problem of a man who mows his lawn wearing a skirt without underwear.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You don‘t like it, don‘t look.

BRIAN KILMEADE, FOX HOST:  The problem is, you can see his weed whacker, and that‘s the problem and that‘s what people find indecent.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  His what?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  His what?

KILMEADE:  I‘m just keeping with the lawn theme.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Next up, if you watched the TODAY SHOW, you may have seen a doctor explaining the health risks of plastic bottles.  Matt Lauer—now we knew he was a doctor, because he was wearing a stethoscope throughout the interview.  I‘m not sure how that stethoscope was related to plastic bottles, but I guess it‘s always better safe than sorry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Doctor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Doctor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Doctor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Doctor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Doctor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Doctor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Doctor.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Doctor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Doctor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Doctor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Doctor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And doctor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Finally: Who knew—sorry, you know who Howard Stern is, right?  Well, he gave an exclusive interview to FOX‘s Greta van Susteren last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX HOST:  I‘m sure you get mixed up with Howard Stern all the time.

HOWARD STERN, GUEST:  Not anymore.

VAN SUSTEREN:  Not anymore.  All right.  Now, he gets mixed up with you.

STERN:  Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Oh, that‘s not Howard Stern you were thinking about?  That was Howard K. Stern, one of the guys who fought over Anna Nicole Smith‘s baby and he seems to actually believe that he is now better known than the shock jock.

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 time you saw the item.

Up next: A Win, Lose, or Draw edition of On Their Trail.  Tonight: New campaign ads from Hillary, Obama, and McCain.  The Obama camp releases a new, very personal ad about his mother.

And later: Authorities in Texas have just finished their raid on that polygamist retreat.  They‘ve taken legal custody of over four hundred children who they suspect may be victims of sexual abuse.  We‘re getting inside look and talk to a woman who escaped that life.

Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, new details tonight in the Texas polygamist case.  Hundreds of girls taken out.  Authorities have just completed their search of the compound.  We‘ll talk to a woman who escaped and find out what it‘s truly like inside that world. 

Plus, the Olympic torch rerouted on its trip through San Francisco because of the protesters.  It‘s coming up in “Reality Bites.” 

But first, we are on their trail as Clinton, Obama and McCain battle it out on the airwaves, each out with new TV ads tonight in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Indiana.  We played some of them last night and tonight we‘ve got some more new ones.  So we evaluate, win, lose or draw on the TV ads. 

Still with us, Jonathan Alter of “Newsweek” and former Mitt Romney campaign press secretary, Kevin Madden. 

We begin by welcoming presumptive Republican nominee John McCain to our “On Their Trail” segment.  Today, in Connecticut, he announced if elected, he‘ll hold a press conference every two weeks to have a conversation with the American people.  We applaud that, and that‘s apparently what he‘s trying to do with the new Web ad.  But watch the end of the ad closely. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VOICE OVER:  Let us exercise our responsibilities as free people.  But let us remember, we are not enemies.  We are compatriots defending ourselves from the real enemy.  We have nothing to fear from each other. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  Did you catch the end there?  They spelled McCain‘s name wrong.  J-O-H-M.  Johm.  Kevin, is someone inside the campaign getting chewed out over that. 

KEVIN MADDEN, FORMER MITT ROMNEY CAMPAIGN PRESS SECRETARY:  You TV hosts, with your copy editors and your fancy spell check, you know you think you‘re so much better than us campaign hacks.  Well, you know, I can tell you exactly where it went wrong here.  You‘re talking about a bunch of people sitting on a campaign.  They‘re on coffee.  They‘re on 18 hours of work with no sleep and everybody is thinking that the next guy is going to watch for the spell check. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  We will excuse that one, but Jonathan, I want you to talk about this.  McCain may be able to blame his staff for that gaffe. 

JONATHAN ALTER, “NEWSWEEK”:  Right.

ABRAMS:  But he‘s only got himself to blame for this next one.  During a radio interview with Tavis Smiley, he shared his plan to attract African-American voters in the general election, saying, quote, “I know that I‘m not going to get a majority of the African-American vote.  But I‘m going to campaign all over this country.  I‘m going to go to south Philadelphia; I‘m going to go to the black belt in Alabama.  I‘m going to go all over America.” 

The problem?  As the “Philadelphia Daily News” aptly points out, quote, “If McCain wants to win over black voters, first he‘d better know where to find them.”  African-Americans are less than a third of the population in south Philly.  I mean, Jonathan, he‘s got everywhere in the country to choose from, and he chooses south Philly. 

ALTER:  Yes.  He meant north Philly, but you know, I mean, this - I don‘t actually think that this is all that much worse than him, you know, pulling a Dan Quayle or his staff spelling Dan Quayle kind of thing.  You know, these campaigns are so grueling.  They‘re so brutal.  You‘re going to make these kinds of slipups from time to time. 

McCain‘s problem though is that the press focuses on what, you know, I call pattern coverage.  If things fit a pattern and he messed up, the difference between Shiites and Sunnis a few weeks ago in Jordan and then again yesterday in the hearings, he had a little trouble on the Shiite-Sunni thing. 

There is something - every time one of these things happens, he gets closer and closer to making his age an issue.  I‘m not sure that it should be, because he‘s a really vigorous 71, but he‘s if danger of it feeding into that. 

MADDEN:  Yes. 

ABRAMS:  Kevin Madden, with the Romney camp, have made this kind of mistakes? 

MADDEN:  Of course not, that‘s why we lost.  No, but look, it‘s not as if he went to Philadelphia and put Swiss cheese on, you know, his Philly cheese steak.  That would have been a major, major gaffe and it probably would have been reported for weeks upon end.  But look, this is one of those cases where Jonathan is right.  You have to avoid the narrative that these little tiny mistakes are going to add up to one big, big issue about possibly his age. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  We‘re calling this a lose for McCain - you know, gaffes.  And I‘m tempted to give Obama and Clinton a win on that, but I don‘t think it‘s significant. 

Next up, Obama courting the female vote in Pennsylvania.  Here‘s one of his new ads filled with images of him with some important women.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  My mother died of cancer at 53.  In those last painful months, she was more worried about paying her medical bills than getting well.  I hear stories like hers every day.  For 20 years, Washington‘s talked about healthcare reform and reformed nothing. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Kevin, this is an ad that they had in Iowa, which they‘ve repurposed now.  Good ad, though, don‘t you think? 

MADDEN:  Politically, this is a great ad.  There‘s a couple of things it does right.  First of all, it hits an issue that‘s really important to Hillary Clinton, which is healthcare.  It also tries to go into those demographics that have, you know, been very strong for Hillary Clinton - Women voters and rural Democrats.  I think - one thing I did note about this ad was that Barack Obama seems to be identifying with rural white voters, because his mother was white. 

ABRAMS:  Jonathan, real quick. 

ALTER:  Yes.  I mean I think that one of the things that‘s interesting about this is that for a long time, Obama didn‘t want to talk about his mother‘s death from cancer.  And then over time, he got more comfortable with it.  He realized he had to humanize himself a little bit and, you know, come down from mount Olympus and relate to people with a story about how, in her dying days, his mother had to worry about insurance.  That‘s really a shame in this country.  There‘s something deeply wrong with it, and I think it will be very high on his agenda if he‘s elected president to change it. 

MADDEN:  And healthcare is a huge issue in Pennsylvania, especially with Democrat voters. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  So we‘re ruling this one - everyone agrees that we‘re ruling this one a win for Obama. 

MADDEN:  All the way.

ABRAMS:  Next up, the Clinton camp on the attack against Obama over this new TV ad he has up in Pennsylvania. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA:  I‘m Barack Obama.  I don‘t take money from oil companies or Washington lobbyists and I won‘t let them block change anymore. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Team Clinton now blasting that claim from Obama as misleading in this new radio ad out today. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

VOICE OVER:  In his TV ads, Barack Obama sounds like he‘ll take on the oil companies. 

OBAMA:  I don‘t take money from oil companies. 

VOICE OVER:  What he doesn‘t tell you is that no candidate does.  They can‘t.  According to Annenberg Center‘s FactCheck.org, it‘s been against the law for companies to donate to candidates for 100 years. 

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  She‘s right to call Obama for the misleading ad, but then she misleads herself later in the ad, trying to tie Obama to Dick Cheney by mischaracterizing a 2005 energy bill. 

I mean, look, the problem with these fact check things, Jonathan, is we sit here every night and we fact check the candidates, and we use FactCheck.org as well as a number of other Web sites, as well as our own research to figure out who is telling the truth.  They only pick and choose when they like the answer. 

ALTER:  Of course.  You know, she‘s throwing a lot of things against the wall to see what sticks.  Maybe this will.  Maybe this will help her tar Barack Obama, and you know, so I - she‘s got to try what she can at this point.  All is fair in politics, basically. 

ABRAMS:  Kevin, good strategy to try and portray Obama as dishonest? 

MADDEN:  No.  I think it‘s a puzzling strategy, because the one thing that Hillary Clinton has come under assault in this campaign is for not being trustworthy.  And it now seems to be that the Clinton campaign wants to fight fire with fire by trying to label Barack Obama with a similar tag.  But I do believe that this is a case where you‘re fighting in an area where it‘s not really to her benefit.  And I just don‘t see it as a good move for Hillary Clinton. 

ABRAMS:  All right.

ALTER:  Yes.  You know, I think you‘re actually right.  I‘m going to amend myself.  I think you‘re right because when you toss mud, you always bring yourself down. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  I‘m calling this one a draw, all right?  And no one is going to be that upset about that one. 

Next up, the Clinton camp now with ads in Pennsylvania and Indiana painting her as strong and reliable. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ED RENDELL (D), GOVERNOR OF PENNSYLVANIA:  It‘s going to take a fighter to get us out of the mess this country is in.  And that‘s what Hillary Clinton has always been - a fighter. 

MICHAEL NUTTER (D), MAYOR OF PHILADELPHIA:  She gets it, and she gets the job done. 

SEN. EVAN BAYH (D-IN):  I‘ve known Hillary for 20 years.  She‘s got a spine of steel. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Spine of steel.  Pretty different image of Clinton than the North Carolina voters are getting in this ad. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Hi.  If you‘re looking for a typical political commercial, switch the channel.  This is an atypical election and these are not typical times.  I want to hear from you, because this election isn‘t about me.  It is about you.  So let‘s have a conversation.  Just go to NCAskMe.com and then I‘ll be getting back to you here on TV to answer your questions, and offer some solutions.  Thanks.  It‘s nice talking with you. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  I already mocked this add for its ridiculous sort of stifled, weird one, nice talking to you on TV.  I mean, you know, I‘ve - but I‘ve already gone after her on that, all right?  So I don‘t want to beat her up again.  But Kevin, she‘s a fighter, and then she‘s a lover.  I don‘t think that‘s a problem for her to sort of go for both ends of the spectrum. 

MADDEN:  Well, look, I think the North Carolina ad is emblematic of what she did right in New York State.  She went around this listening tour with a lot of voters that didn‘t really know her and a lot of voters that had these negative preconceived notions about who she was, and it worked. 

It was a great way to go out there and meet a lot of voters that were skeptical.  I think with Pennsylvania, the key word in that ad was experience.  It was strength.  When you hear Evan Bayh say he‘s known Hillary for so long, it goes right at the heart of the criticism of Barack Obama, which is that he doesn‘t have experience.

ABRAMS:  Got to wrap it up.  This one goes to ...

ALTER:  But it‘s more than that.

ABRAMS:  Well, I‘ve got ... Sorry, Jonathan - 10 seconds, Jonathan. 

I‘ve got to go.

ALTER:  Well, I‘m just saying Rendell is hugely popular in Pennsylvania.  Bayh is hugely popular in Indiana.  They might pull her over the finish line and these are strong wins for Hillary (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

ABRAMS:  This one goes for Clinton.  She‘s playing to two different constituencies.  I give her a win on that.  I hated that other ad though, but I‘m still giving her a win. 

So thank you, Jonathan Alter and Kevin Madden for talking to us on TV and people want to talk.

Coming up, investigators, who just finished raiding the polygamist compound in Texas, say girls were groomed from birth to wed at puberty, then required to produce children with those much older men.  We‘re going to talk to someone who escaped that life. 

And the Olympic torch under attack in San Francisco.  It‘s coming up in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Now to a dose of reality caught on tape.  Tonight, a chaotic scene in San Francisco as the Olympic torch arrived amid protest.  Organizers attempted to prevent repeat of the demonstration to follow the flame along its journey to Beijing.  Thousands gathered along the relay route, only to be disappointed when city officials changed route several times to avoid pro-Tibetan protests.  That included moving a final ceremony to an undisclosed location. 

We‘ll be right back as we get the latest on that huge alleged polygamy cult.  The raid has just ended.  We are also going to go inside that secret world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Breaking tonight, authorities have just finished searching that polygamist compound in southwest Texas.  They initially went with child welfare workers to investigate possible child abuse, but also executed warrants looking for evidence that underage girls were married and forced to have sex with older men. 

We‘ve also been learning new details about the treatment of teenage girls inside that compound.  Here‘s what we know.  The raid, a result of a cell phone call to a local violence shelter by a 16-year-old girl who said she was forced to have sex and was beaten regularly by her husband at the Yearning for Zion ranch, built by now jailed sect leader, Warren Jeffs. 

The 16-year-old girl still missing.  The Child Protective Services officials took legal custody of all 416 children living on the ranch, many who were allegedly forced to marry and have sex with their arranged husbands and have babies as soon as they reached puberty. 

Joining me now is Margaret Cook, a former member of the FLDS sect, the largest known polygamist sect, who escaped.  Thank you very much for taking the time.  We appreciate it. 

Does all of this sound familiar?  I mean, I think to those of us on the outside, this is almost impossible to believe that as soon as these girls reach puberty, they‘re talking about marrying them and having them have children. 

MARGARET COOK, FORMER MEMBER, FLDS SECT:  Well, when they‘re young, they‘re groomed from the time they‘re born, and it‘s the only world that they know.  So to even fathom anything else, they have to really extend themselves.  I know that we‘re all taught that, you know, that‘s our lot in life to grow up and be mothers.  And I think that they have no exposure to the outside world, so you can‘t really expect them to do anything but what they know. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

COOK:  And I think that it‘s something that should be looked into, if there‘s real child abuse.  But I think that, you know, a religion that teaches that ...

ABRAMS:  Well ...

COOK:  ... will have a problem.  Now, when I was young ...

ABRAMS:  It shows a lot of ...

COOK:  It was taught as a religious principle. 

ABRAMS:  It shows a lot of bravery on the part of the 16-year-old, also, who made the phone call. 

COOK:  It does.

ABRAMS:  Yes.

COOK:  It does, because, you know, I was 35 and I didn‘t dare tell anybody how I felt.  And it took me letting it come out and being kicked out before I was able to face what I really thought.  I believe that those kids are being trained that way, and just it‘s intensified over the years.  You know, it started letting girls choose to be married young.  Now it‘s being forced, you know.  So I think ...

ABRAMS:  Margaret, stand by.  I want to play a portion of a documentary that provides a look inside a polygamist compound.  Award winning film by Mike Watkiss called “Colorado City and the Underground Railroad.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My daughter was being raped and held by a 39-year-old man. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  My dad sexually molested all of us girls. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I just want to cry.  I‘m afraid to even make

more friends, because I felt so bad.  I feel sorry for what the women go

through

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  They‘re slaves.  They‘re slaves for the men. 

This is abuse and it‘s a horrible way to live and to grow up. 

VOICE OVER:  It‘s a story about young girls. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I don‘t think it should be.  I‘m so young. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I didn‘t want to get married, I was only 15, and I don‘t like - I don‘t think I want to be married.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I wish I wouldn‘t have got married when I was 16, because I‘m too young to have three kids. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  These kids are being abused.  And authorities refuse to help them. 

VOICE OVER:  It‘s the story of the secretive religious sect that some have called America‘s Taliban. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE POLICE OFFICE:  We believe in plural marriage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE REPORTER:  Are you a polygamist? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m not going to answer that.  It‘s none of your business. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You‘re a sworn law officer.  You‘re accountable to somebody.  You‘ve got a complaint in this town. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But we‘re not accountable to you.  Now, get that straight. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  They want to control every aspect of a person‘s life. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, with the young girls, they‘re like a trophy.  And then once a man gets them, and takes what he wants, then they‘re shoved under the rug.  And the man is looking for another trophy and another trophy. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  So they get locked in to these polygamist marriages young, really young.  And by the time they‘re wise enough, old enough to make this decision that they don‘t want to be here, they‘ve got three or four kids.  And in order for them to leave, they‘ve got to run with children.  Or leave their children there.  Unprotected. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I know these kids.  I know all these kids that are getting married.  I was their teacher.  They don‘t need to go through this. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  We have our “Breaking Tonight” banner up because the raids have just been concluded at that polygamist cult.  Margaret Cook, what would you say to these young girls who have just been taken out of there?  What advice would you give them? 

COOK:  I would say to them to just try to imagine the possibility that there is another world out there, that is as good or better than what you‘ve been raised in.  Because I mean, they‘re thought to believe that it‘s not, and there is, and just to consider the possibility and give it a chance. 

ABRAMS:  Margaret Cook, thanks very much, we appreciate it.  Coming up next, our “Winners and Losers” of the night and the “P.O.‘d  Box,” your chance to tell me what you like or hate about the show.  Coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Time for “Winners and Losers.”  Our first loser - former Poison lead singer, Brett Michaels, now accused with others of deliberately trashing the $9 million home where the rocker filmed his reality show “Rock of Love.”

According to “E! Online,” a lawsuit says Michael and a scantily clad women vying for his affection get $380,000 worth of damage. 

Loser, former army staff sergeant David Bellavia who said this while introducing John McCain earlier this week at a campaign event. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID BELLAVIA, FORMER ARMY STAFF SERGEANT:  Rest assured that men like Senator McCain will be the goal and the men that my two young boys will emulate and admire.  You can have your Tiger Woods, we‘ve got Senator McCain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Ouch.  But our big loser of the day, American Airlines.  The airline canceled nearly half its flights today, spent a second day inspecting the wiring on jets.  This after the FAA had found American had not fixed the  problem the first time when the same planes were grounded two weeks ago. 

Our big winner of the day - Red Sox great Bill Buckner.  The all-star first baseman who will unfortunately best be known for his error in the 1986 World Series when a ground ball went through his legs and probably cost the Red Sox the series. 

Yesterday, all was forgiven.  He threw out the ceremonial first pitch at Fenway and received a five-minute standing ovation. 

Time for the “P.O.‘d Box.”  Last night, we evaluated Clinton and Obama‘s new Pennsylvania  ads.  I said it seems strange that Obama would feature his grandmother in a campaign spot, since he‘s spoken so publicly about her racial insensitivity. 

Mary Keir from Somers, New York writes, “The whole point Obama was making was that he, like most of us, have even heard people we dearly love make statements or resentments or racial/ethnic stereotypes.” 

Is Dan suggesting that Barack shouldn‘t still love his grandmother?  No, Mary.  I‘m just questioning whether it‘s the best idea to use her in an ad after citing her as an example of the problem of racial stereotypes. 

And the panel and I agreed Hillary‘s ad about her childhood summers in Pennsylvania humanized her, and therefore a win. 

But Steve Gilly makes a good point.  “All of you missed the boat.  The instant she says, ‘Every summer we went up to our summer cottage.‘  Summer cottage?  I‘m about to lose my house to taxes I can‘t pay and she‘s talking about summer cottages?  And the poor baby, it didn‘t have heat.  It was summer!  The she instant she says ‘summer cottage,‘ $109 million flashes through my head.”

Steve, I think you‘re right.  That could actually be a problem in that ad.  Some very well may see it that way. 

That‘s all the time we have for tonight.  E-mail us, verdict@msnbc.com.  Include your name, where you‘re writing from.  I‘ll 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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