updated 5/30/2008 12:37:27 PM ET 2008-05-30T16:37:27

Guests: Brad Blakeman, Jonathan Alter, Craig Crawford, Kevin Madden, Roy Sekoff, April Ryan

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Tonight: How did Scott McClellan do in his first public appearance on NBC and then MSNBC tonight about his new book on the White House and the rush to war?

“Newsweek‘s” Jonathan Alter; former press secretary, Kevin Madden; and, White House correspondent, April Ryan—are among our guests.

And the smear machine against McClellan continued today with many on the far right now suggesting that he didn‘t even write much of the book.

And speaking of the far right smear, a new effort is under way tonight to attack Barack Obama with video of a new pastor at his church.

VERDICT starts now.

Hi, everyone.

President Bush‘s former press secretary is not backing down tonight from his scathing criticism of his former colleagues.  Scott McClellan‘s spoke to MSNBC‘s Keith Olbermann tonight about his time in the White House before and after the Iraq war began.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “COUNTDOWN”)

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, FORMER BUSH PRESS SECRETARY:  I wasn‘t certain about the rush to war, that it was the right thing to do.  From a moral standpoint, I believe we should not be going to war unless it is absolutely necessary and we know that it was not absolutely necessary with regards to Iraq.  It was not the grave and gathering danger that we portrayed it as.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  As McClellan takes his story to the airwaves, the White House

and some on the right striking back, questioning everything from the timing

of his account to his motive for writing the book.  McClellan‘s response -

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “COUNTDOWN”)

MCCLELLAN:  Some of the people that are making those comments are almost trying to judge the content of the book, judge me, and my motivations for writing the book and they haven‘t even read the book.  I haven‘t seen people refuting specific parts within the book.  Dan Bartlett, earlier today, when we were doing - he was doing an interview right after me, or in between segments with me, said, “Well, we need to set the leak episode to the side.”  And the other day, he said, “Well, I‘m not going to talk about the Katrina part because that‘s internal deliberations.”

So, I did find that very interesting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  So, how did he do?

Joining me now: “Newsweek‘s” Jonathan Alter; White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, April Ryan; and, Brad Blakeman, former deputy assistant to President Bush.

All right.  Jonathan, let‘s start with you.  We‘re going to play some more sound in a moment from Keith‘s interview.  But how did he do today?

JONATHAN ALTER, NEWSWEEK:  Yes, I think he did very, very well.  This guy is a truth-teller.  He might not have been telling the truth from the podium in the press room all of the time but what he said rang true with a lot of the other accounts we have of what‘s gone on inside the Bush administration.

You know, the test here on whether he should have done this or not—go back to the Clinton administration when George Stephanopoulos wrote that book.  If you weren‘t against Stephanopoulos telling the truth from his perspective about the Clinton administration, you can‘t be against this.  You can‘t have it both ways.

So, anybody who wants to come on this show or any other show and trash Scott McClellan, I hope that 10 years ago they were trashing George Stephanopoulos.  I doubt they were but they were excited.

ABRAMS:  Brad, what do you make of the interview today?

BRAD BLAKEMAN, FMR. DEPUTY ASST. TO PRESIDENT BUSH:  I thought Scott‘s performance, quite frankly, was weak.  I thought he was very timid.  I think the criticism is starting too weigh on him based on the breadth and scope of the people who are coming out who served with Scott, and quite frankly, he‘s saying that they‘re absolutely discouraged by the words he said, both factually, the content, and demeanor of his words.

ABRAMS:  But when you say demeanor of his words, I mean, you know, when the biggest criticism of him is the demeanor of his words, then he‘s in pretty good shape, right?

BLAKEMAN:  No, I also mentioned the factual content.  I know for

certain. -

ABRAMS:  But what‘s wrong?  Tell me what factually is wrong.

BLAKEMAN:  Scott is trying to connect the dots except that the dots don‘t go in a straight line, there‘s a gap between them.  Scott was not in meetings at the time that he‘s questioning the president‘s motives because Scott was the deputy press secretary at the time for domestic policy.  He wasn‘t in on the strategic meetings nor was Ari Fleischer for that matter.

ABRAMS:  Wait, but I don‘t - I don‘t think that addresses - and April, you were there, you‘ve covered the White House for a long time.  I don‘t think that addresses the question of what that in his book, or in his statements tonight, are factually inaccurate.

Go ahead, April.

APRIL RYAN, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS:  As I said before, you know, as we said last night, these are the facts and truth as he sees it.  But you know, Scott today, in all of the interviews, he was very strong, he was very sure of himself—again, the facts and truth as he sees it.  But one thing I can say for sure, is that Scott McClellan did indeed today let it be known that—“I was a player.  I was in the meetings.”

And Dan Bartlett today, earlier this morning, also showed that Scott was a player.  He said, “Yes, you know, he was involved.”  Scott was involved in the morning meetings at the White House with the president. 

Scott was, as he said, he was in the lead-up to the war, helping to sell

the marketing of the war to the American public when Ari Fleischer was off

for his wedding and honeymoon.  So, he -

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  But Brad, you give him no credit, right - for the criticism that he leveled on himself, right?

BLAKEMAN:  The account that you‘d just heard is absolutely outrageous.  You weren‘t in the White House at the time.  I was.  I know what the players did, I know what the president did, and I knew who were in the meetings.

(CROSSTALK)

RYAN:  Did he say I wasn‘t in the White House?  OK.

BLAKEMAN:  No, you weren‘t in the staff meeting as I recall, were you?

RYAN:  No, I‘m not in the staff meeting, but let me say this.  I‘ve been there for 11 years.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Brad, hang on one second.  April, let me through (ph).  Go ahead.  April, go ahead.

RYAN:  OK.  I hear what you have to say.  But I‘ve been there for 11 years and I know the players and talked to them.  I know the players who are the actual top leaders, top echelon of the White House.  So, I beg to differ for what you have to say.  And thank you so much for your kind words.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Wait.  Jonathan, hang on one second.

ALTER:  (INAUDIBLE) with you Brad, you in a million years were not as close to George W. Bush as Scott McClellan.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  April, you‘re misunderstanding.  He‘s talking to Brad.

ALTER:  I‘m talking to Brad.

RYAN:  OK.  I‘m sorry.

ALTER:  You cannot try to say that Scott McClellan did not know what was going on in the White House.  Maybe he wasn‘t at certain National Security Council briefings and meetings, but he was very, very close to the president of the United States.

BLAKEMAN:  Personally, yes.

ALTER:  This is not written by an outsider who wasn‘t in the loop.  He was there with him starting in 1999 for everything practically.

BLAKEMAN:  Jonathan, there‘s two parts of service -

ALTER:  So, this is just ridiculous spin.

BLAKEMAN:  No, there‘s two parts of the service, Jonathan.  There‘s a personal relationship with the president and a professional relationship.  Personally, they were very close.  Professionally, Scott as the press secretary was not in on the decision-making process.

ABRAMS:  What is it, Brad - hang on a sec, Jonathan.  What is it, Brad, that he said, that you‘re saying, he could not have known—meaning, what are you saying he witnessed and that he mentions in the book, that you‘re saying he could not have possibly witnessed?  What is it?

BLAKEMAN:  Well, the conclusions that he reaches that this was an

unnecessary war -

ABRAMS:  Wait, that‘s not what I asked you.  I asked you factually.  You made a statement that he couldn‘t have been in certain meetings.  I‘m asking you to tell us what‘s in his book - on COUNTDOWN a minute ago, that he could not have possibly know.

BLAKEMAN:  Dan, when he recounts the lead-up to the war, he was not in on the meetings he alleges that certain things took place with Condi Rice, with Steve Hadley, with others, he wasn‘t there.

ABRAMS:  How do you know?

BLAKEMAN:  Because I know the meetings that went on.  I know who is present at these meetings.

ALTER:  A lot of the meetings didn‘t even take place.  That‘s what we

found out about this war is that they went to war without having full -

BLAKEMAN:  Come on, Jonathan.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Here‘s McClellan‘s explaining today just moments ago why it took him a little time to be able to feel the way that he does now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “COUNTDOWN”)

MCCLELLAN:  And I think you need some time to kind of step back from being in that bubble to really be able to reflect on events and try to understand and make sense of them.  Because when I went to work for the president, I had all of this great hope like a lot of people that I was going to come to Washington and change Washington as he had governed in Texas, as a bipartisan governor with 70 percent approval.  It didn‘t happen.

And I wanted to go back and look, why didn‘t it happen?  Why did things go so terribly off course from what he promised?  He assured people he was going to be a bipartisan leader, person of honor and integrity, restore honor and integrity to the White House, and where did things go wrong?

And that‘s really the overall narrative in the book.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  So, Brad, is it possible in your mind that he actually feels that way?

BLAKEMAN:  Yes, in his own strange way, he probably does feel that way and I say it‘s misplaced.  I also think that when you serve at the highest levels and enjoy the president‘s trust, that he deserves that trust while he‘s serving.  I think it‘s quite unfair to write a book while this man is still serving and still making history.

Scott says he‘s writing this from historical point of view when we‘re living in the present and history is still being made.

ABRAMS:  So, Brad, so, you‘re going to tell me that if this had been written in 2009, that Brad Blakeman would not be out criticizing the book, right?  You‘re going to say, hey, fair game.

BLAKEMAN:  Yes, I would criticize the book on those things that deserve criticism, but I would have less criticism for Scott doing it at the time when the president has finished his service than while he is serving.

ABRAMS:  Jonathan, is there something though, I mean, people love to make this argument that - oh, we should wait because we should let history, et cetera.  But the bottom line is—what‘s happening in the Iraq war now, right?  It‘s important to know now, exactly what was happening, even if it wasn‘t in the lead-up, even if it was in the year after, or the two years after the war, I would think that‘s important in developing policy for tomorrow?

ALTER:  Sure, you have a higher interest in the truth and the real question about McClellan isn‘t why he didn‘t wait longer, it‘s why he waited so long.  He should have done this years ago, and I think he can be faulted for that, although it‘s very, very rare to resign in protest and write a book right away.  I mean, William Jennings Bryan, you know (INAUDIBLE), that‘s about it.

RYAN:  But one thing we can say -

ABRAMS:  I‘m going to let April.  Go ahead, April—yes.

RYAN:  One thing we can say, good, bad or indifferent, this book does take the veil of secrecy off of this White House.  This White House has talked about transparency but at the same time, they‘ve talked about—you know, we have to keep some information within the walls and within a certain group because of national security issues.  But this—he gives voice to what many people have been saying in the country.

ABRAMS:  And here‘s one of those points.  I want to just play that in follow-up on your thought there.  But let‘s listen.  Here‘s McClellan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “COUNTDOWN” EXCLUSIVE)

MCCLELLAN:  What happened was that the intelligence was packaged together in a way to make it sound more ominous and more grave and more urgent than it really was.  I don‘t think that this was some deliberate conscious effort to go and mislead the American people but it was part of this permanent campaign mentality that exists in Washington too often today.

And it was taken from other policies and brought into the issue of war and peace, where it becomes especially problematic and especially troubling.  And that‘s why, I think, what I get to in this book is so important for people to understand so that we can learn from this and not make this kind of mistakes again where we are rushing into a war that is now very clearly one that was unnecessary.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  So, Brad, your position is he can‘t have an opinion on that, right?

BLAKEMAN:  Sure, he can have an opinion on it.  It‘s a free country.  The timing and motive and opportunity is important here.  The publisher didn‘t hold a gun to Scott‘s head and said—Scott, write this book.  He held a checkbook.  And if Scott had written this book a year from now, it would not be worthy of being read and worthy of getting the hype.

ABRAMS:  Jonathan, what are you saying in this?

ALTER:  Brad, let me ask you a question.  It‘s a rhetorical one.  How much money do you guess that Scott McClellan was paid to write the book?

BLAKEMAN:  Well, if it‘s even one dollar it‘s too much for selling out

-

ALTER:  Well, the answer is less than $100,000.

BLAKEMAN:  You know that for sure, Jonathan?

ALTER:  That publishing house, Public Affairs, does give advances in excess of $100,000.

BLAKEMAN:  Do you know the deal Scott got—yes or no?

ALTER:  They don‘t give -

BLAKEMAN:  Do you know the deal Scott got—yes or no?

ALTER:  Hey, they do not give such advances.  They never happened.

BLAKEMAN:  I‘m asking you, Jonathan, do you know the deal Scott got?

ALTER:  Have I seen the contract—no.  But Brad, this publishing

house -

BLAKEMAN:  Have you talked to Scott about it?

RYAN:  Oh, my goodness.

ALTER:  I have talked to agents who are familiar with this.  This publishing house doesn‘t give big deals.

BLAKEMAN:  You don‘t know that as a fact.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Everybody is staying with us.

Coming up—hang on, everyone because here, this is an important issue.  Some in the White House and on the right trying to blame the publisher now for what‘s in the book, saying, his editor must have done the writing.

We‘ll talk about that and we‘ve got more of MSNBC‘s interview with him that Olbermann did just a moment ago.

And some of those same folks trying to create a new pastor problem for Barack Obama tonight—FOX News and others playing and replaying video of another pastor linked to Obama who talks about white people and entitlement and he mocks Hillary Clinton.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FATHER MICHAEL PFLEGER, PASTOR:  This is mine.

(APPLAUSE AND CHEERS)

PFLEGER:  I‘m Bill‘s wife.  I‘m white.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Will this guy remain a fringe right talking point?

Plus: Millions of Americans may not have health insurance but hundreds of thousands of federal employees have two insurance plans, costing taxpayers millions.  Another reason Why America Hates Washington coming up in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Tonight‘s edition of Why America Hates Washington: Taxpayers shelling out 140 million for unnecessary health plans while 47 million Americans have no health insurance at all.  More than 200,000 federal retirees were covered twice for a government sponsored prescription drug plan they accidentally received duplicate coverage because Medicare failed to coordinate benefits for this federal employees‘ health benefits program.  In total, the mistake meant 200 million in the pockets of insurance companies.

The government buying unnecessary health insurance while many have none at all: Another reason Why America Hates Washington.

We‘re back with the right wing media suggesting that Scott McClellan‘s new book was actually sensationalized by his publisher and more of his interview from COUNTDOWN moments ago.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “TODAY”/NBC)

MCCLELLAN:  I believe it‘s important to look back and reflect on my experience and talk to people about what I learned.  I have a higher loyalty than my loyalty necessarily to my past work.  That‘s the loyalty to the truth, and it‘s a loyalty to the values I was raised on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Scott McClellan on why he decided to write his controversial book.  But some in the White House and on the far right have a new talking point.  Beyond just that McClellan is disgruntled and that they‘re, quote, “puzzled” about this, quote, “sad situation.”  And now, some are blaming not McClellan but his publisher.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE O‘REILLY FACTOR”/FOX NEWS)

BILL O‘REILLY, FOX HOST:  Mr. McClellan is in it for the bucks.  Keeping in mind, his publisher also distributes books by George Soros and other far left people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “FOX & FRIENDS”/FOX NEWS)

ARI FLEISCHER, FMR. PRESS SECRETARY TO PRES. BUSH:  When I talked to Scott two days ago about the book, he told me he has either had tweaked a lot of it, tweaked portions of it as it not ready for publication this spring.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “HANNITY & COLMES”/FOX NEWS)

NEWT GINGRICH, FMR. SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  Here‘s this guy who wants to sell books and he‘s cut his ties to the administration, and his publisher says, now (ph) look, you can spice it up a little bit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “HAPPENING NOW”/FOX NEWS)

TRENT DUFFY, FMR. WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY:  It‘s like he just turned over the pen to a publisher and signed his name at the bottom and got a big fat book contract.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Where do they get this stuff from?  I mean, McClellan hasn‘t given any indication the words in his book aren‘t his words, in fact, just the opposite.  Does anyone really believe this nonsense?

Joining us now is former press secretary for the Mitt Romney campaign, Kevin Madden; and once again, April Ryan and Jonathan Alter.

All right.  Kevin, I mean, I know that this is like the new right wing talking point.  Look, you‘re a straight shooter—do you buy this nonsense that - oh, it wasn‘t actually McClellan who said this stuff but the publisher made this stuff up?

KEVIN MADDEN, FMR. ROMNEY CAMP. PRESS SECRETARY:  Dan, are you trying to get me in trouble with my right wing friends again?

ABRAMS:  Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDEN:  Look, I don‘t buy this.  I think that this is a very natural, very human tendency by a lot of folks that are close to Scott who are trying to really grasp for an alternative explanation for why Scott may have done this.  Because, you know, anybody who worked in Bush world, you know, knew that Scott was defined by his loyalty to the president and to the administration.

So, it may be, you know, them searching for an alternative explanation.  But look, the name on that book is not Scott McClellan and publishers.  It is Scott McClellan.  He is a big boy, these are his words and it‘s his name on the book.

ABRAMS:  Jonathan, you know, as an author, how this stuff works?  I mean, look, yes, people want - I mean, look—yes, sure.  A publisher wants interesting things, but the notion that somehow the publisher forced him into saying things he didn‘t believe?

ALTER:  Yes.  Well, first of all, this is just so ridiculous.  I mean, everybody who‘s had a book published knows that the complaints now are that editors don‘t do enough and they‘re not set up, especially at Public Affairs, that particular very small book publisher, they‘re not set up to ghostwrite somebody‘s book.  He had to write this book.

Now, did they make editing changes or suggestions—of course.  But he‘s responsible for it.  He‘s taken responsibility for it and I need to say again, you know, just to reiterate the point I was making to Brad.  This is a very small publishing house.  In the entire history of this publishing house, they have never given an advance of more than $100,000.  So, maybe Scott‘s was the first one, but if so—it was only a little more than 100,000.

ABRAMS:  But I love the fact that Bill O‘Reilly started talking about

oh, they publish George Soros‘ book.  We took a look at who O‘Reilly‘s publisher also publishes.  They also, HarperCollins: Michael Moore, Alan Colmes, Robert F. Kennedy, Madeleine Albright.  I mean, these are people who are published by O‘Reilly‘s publisher.

Does that (ph) -- oh, my goodness, that must mean that they are horrid and awful and some, you know, far fringed publishing house—of course not.  This is nonsense.

I mean, April, you tell me.  Look, you know the way this stuff works when it comes to talking points, all right?

RYAN:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  I mean, we knew the talking points initially yesterday, were how sad and puzzling it was.

RYAN:  And this is not the same Scott we knew.

ABRAMS:  Right.  So, what do you make of this new talking point about the publisher basically being to blame here and not poor old Scott who got snookered?

RYAN:  Well, Dan, I‘ve got my book right here with me.  I‘ve been reading this book all day pretty much.  And it sounds like someone who‘s giving an account of what he knew.  And Scott, from what I know, he did take notes while he was in the White House.

But at the same time, I understand what the Republicans are saying, you know, they were upset with Scott.  They felt that, you know, any time a president loses his poll ratings or he‘s very low in poll ratings, they say, OK, the communication, the message is not coming out properly right instead of saying necessarily the policy.

So, they are saying Scott didn‘t effectively communicate the message, so how could he communicate in this book?  So, that‘s basically what they are trying to say.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Let me do this.  Here‘s McClellan, again, on MSNBC with Keith Olbermann, only minutes ago, talking about how surprised he was that Vice President Cheney insisted on picking FOX News and only FOX News to talk about his hunting accident.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “COUNTDOWN” EXCLUSIVE)

MCCLELLAN:  We were standing outside the oval getting ready to go in for a meeting, and you know, he looked at me and he said, “Do you know why I picked FOX News to do this because I want everybody else to have to cite FOX News when they do their reports.”  It‘s just kind of the attitude of the vice resident about things.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Kevin, doesn‘t that - does that trouble you as a straight-shooting Republican?

MADDEN:  No, not really.  I mean, look, it‘s Dick Cheney likes FOX

News.  He decides to go on FOX News.  I mean, very often times -

ABRAMS:  Because he wants them to be cited?  He‘s the vice president of the United States and he‘s picking a news network because he wants them to be cited?

MADDEN:  Well, you know, it is somewhat odd that they are looking at that sort of mechanic.

ABRAMS:  After shooting someone in the face.

MADDEN:  Right.  I do think—look, there is no doubt that that whole incident was botched from the beginning.  I mean, the very fact that it was leaked to a very small and local newspaper instead of everybody in the White House Press Corps being briefed on such an important accident that was relevant information for the White House Press Corps.

ABRAMS:  I don‘t want to debate -

(CROSSTALK)

ALTER:  But they‘re just upset because Scott McClellan, very close to the president, was sitting there quietly and they think—oh, with well, he must have been duped, he didn‘t say anything in meetings.  But it‘s often the quiet guy there who‘s actually storing it all up and you have to worry about the truth.

ABRAMS:  Thanks to everyone on the panel.  Appreciate it.  It was a fascinating interview tonight on MSNBC.

Coming up: It‘s not just McClellan the far right is after tonight. 

No, they‘re now trying to create a new pastor problem for Barack Obama.  FOX News has been repeatedly playing video today and tonight, of a priest closed to Obama who mocked Hillary Clinton in Obama‘s church this weekend.  They are comparing it to Reverend Wright.

And: We may have learned something about CNN‘s laid-back anchor, Wolf Blitzer this afternoon that may surprise you.  That‘s next in tonight‘s Beat the Press.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up: In CNN “Shot of the Day,” Anderson Cooper highlighted video of a family escaping a wildfire burning near their home.  But after promoting it during their show and playing it, Cooper and Erika Hill decided to question the poor folks who took the video.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “ANDERSON COOPER 360”/CNN/WEDNESDAY)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST:  I don‘t know if I‘d turn on a camera in a moment like that.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, I have to say, I‘m still happy that this people are OK but I had the same thought—like don‘t worry about the camera, just get yourselves out, especially since you have a kid with you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  So, they used the great video then lectured the folks that provided them with the material about why they shouldn‘t have taken it?

Next up: You‘ve heard the talking points among supporters of the White House on Scott McClellan and his new book—puzzled, sad.  It t seems that CNN must have issued a memo with its own talking point.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  “What Happened” is a scathing account.

COOPER:  His new scathing book.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Scott McClellan‘s scathing new book.

LOU DOBBS, CNN HOST:  McClellan‘s scathing criticism.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST:  Scathing new tell-all book.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That scathing new tell-all book.

BLITZER:  The scathing new tell-all book.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  We get it.  We get it.

Finally: When you mix loose cannon, Jack Cafferty, with the more laid-back Wolf Blitzer, it can make for some interesting changes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE SITUATION ROOM”/CNN)

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN COMMENTATOR:  Did you ever smoke, Wolf?

BLITZER:  No, not really.  I tried it in high school.  I didn‘t like it.

CAFFERTY:  How about marijuana and stuff?

BLITZER:  No.  Well, you know you‘re getting into the sensitive area.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  We can just picture it Wolf, Wolf Blitzer outside of work enjoying some free time.  But no, we are big Wolf Blitzer fans over here.

Up next: The far right trying to create a new pastor problem for Barack Obama.  Tonight, FOX News and others are playing video of another pastor at Obama‘s church, talking about white people and entitlement as he mocks Hillary Clinton.

And later: A surprising new poll shows Obama may have a better shot of beating McCain if Hillary is his V.P. pick.  Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  It seems the right wing media found a new opportunity to take shots at Barack Obama tonight.  All afternoon and evening, Fox News has been playing and replaying new video of a priest who used to be part of a group called Catholics for Obama.  He was appearing as a guest speaker at Obama‘s Chicago-based church last weekend.  Fr. Michael Pfleger was mocking Hillary Clinton. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FR. MICHAEL PFLEGER, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST:  When Hillary was crying, and people said that was put on, I really don‘t believe it was put on.  I really believe that she just always thought, “This is mine.  I‘m Bill‘s wife.  I‘m white and this is mine.  I‘ve just got to get up and step into the plate.”  And then out of nowhere came, “Hey, I‘m Barack Obama.”  And she said, “Oh, damn!  Where did you come from?  I‘m white!  I‘m entitled!  There‘s a black man stealing my show!”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Obviously, this is idiotic.  But Obama denounced the pastor saying, quote, “As I have traveled this country, I‘ve been impressed not by what divides us, but by all that unites us.  That is why I am deeply disappointed in Fr. Pfleger‘s divisive, backward-looking rhetoric, which doesn‘t reflect the country I see or the desire of people across America to come together in common cause.” 

The Fr. Pfleger came out and apologized, too, saying, “I regret the words I chose on Sunday.  These words are inconsistent with Sen.  Obama‘s life and message, and I am deeply sorry if they offended Sen.

Clinton or anyone else who saw them.”

But for Fox News, come on.  This is red meat, tonight, doing their best to make this as big as possible. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MEGYN KELLY, CO-ANCHOR, “AMERICA‘S ELECTION HEADQUARTERS”:  There is breaking news coming across the wires right now on yet another potential pastor problem for Barack Obama.  Ranting and raving, perhaps not the best spokesman for any cause, Democratic or Republican.  But again, this is a guy with - who has been an ardent supporter of Rev. Wright and this can‘t help Barack Obama to have him back in the news.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  So is this just a right-wing effort to create an issue or could this actually stick? 

Joining me now, “The Huffington Post‘s” Roy Sekoff and April Ryan, Washington bureau chief for Urban Radio Networks and Republican strategist Brad Blakeman.

All right, look.  Roy, you would agree that this was an idiotic comment, right? 

ROY SEKOFF, FOUNDING EDITOR, “HUFFINGTON POST”:  Oh, Dan, let‘s agree from the beginning that this entire campaign has been the worst recruiting ad for purported men of God since Jim Jones started passing out the Kool-Aid.  I mean it‘s -you know, we‘ve got Hagee and then we‘ve got Wright.  It‘s absolutely - of course it‘s a ridiculous thing that he said.  That‘s the last thing Obama wanted him to be saying.  But he‘s, you know - he‘s not even talking about Hillary anymore.  

ABRAMS:  But here‘s my problem with it.  And Brad, I want you to listen to this.  Here‘s Brit Hume talking about this tonight.  He led this show with it, then he did it again later in his show on Fox News.  Here‘s what he said.  

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIT HUME, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  The minister Michael Pfleger, a long-time Catholic priest and community activist in Chicago, member until just a few weeks ago of a group called Catholics for Obama, an advisory board of the Obama campaign and a man identified in a “Chicago Sun Times” report four years ago as one of Barack Obama‘s spiritual counselors.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  A man identified in the “Chicago Times” report four years ago

I mean, Brad, isn‘t this a concerted effort by the far right to create another pastor problem for Obama? 

BRAD BLAKEMAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  No, it isn‘t. 

ABRAMS:  Really?

BLAKEMAN:  He has a direct relationship to Obama.  Maybe the devil made him do it.  Why does a Catholic priest act in this manner?  As a matter of fact, this isn‘t the first time he did it.  About a month ago or two months ago, he shared the stage with Rev. Wright while he was going through the controversy and not only stuck up for him but stuck up for Louis Farrakhan at the time he was serving on that Catholic league for Obama. 

ABRAMS:  Let‘s just say - I had never heard of this guy before tonight, before we heard about this today and tonight.  Let‘s assume that he says bad things and he‘s not a guy that anyone should support, OK?  Barack Obama has now come out and said, basically, “I don‘t know why this guy said it.  It doesn‘t represent what I think about it.”

Do you think that this should be a political issue that sticks, Brad? 

BLAKEMAN:  Well, look, we can‘t pretend because it is what it is.  This guy has a long history that Barack Obama should have known going back at least - I‘ll give him the benefit of the doubt - two months ago when he shared a stage with Rev. Wright when Rev. Wright was going through the controversy.

ABRAMS:  So what should he have done?  What should he have done?

BLAKEMAN:  He should have denounced him then.  He should have kicked

him off his committee then, and not let him resign.  At that point, he

should have stood up and said, “I got another problem with another pastor

who I have to - “

ABRAMS:  Brad, you‘re a political guy, right?

SEKOFF:  Dan, this is not comparable.  This is obviously an attempt - it‘s like high stakes poker.  I‘ll see your Rev. Wright and raise you two of a kind Hagee and Parsley - no, wait a minute, I‘ve got a white guy saying something about whitey.  I trumped you.  It‘s crazy.

APRIL RYAN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, URBAN RADIO NETWORKS:  But you guys ...

ABRAMS:  April, go ahead.  I want to hear you.  Yes.

RYAN:  You guys are missing the whole point.  One, you know, any time that you go into this church, Trinity, people are going to be looking at this church with a microscope.  And this man to go into that church to say that - it begs the question what was the real motive, OK? 

And number two he was saying this to evoke emotion, and you know, with friends like this, Barack Obama doesn‘t need enemies.  They already said Rev. Wright was basically a one-man wrecking crew and depending upon the relationship with this new pastor, you know, we‘ll see what happens.  But you have to wonder what was really the motive of this pastor for saying that.

SEKOFF:  He was trying to get laughs, apparently.  

ABRAMS:  But look, this pastor -no one that I think is going to come

on this program is going to defend the guy for these stupid comments.  The

question is and this is a Fox News front page on the Web from a couple of

hours ago, all right?  Let‘s put it up.  Have we got - Oh, it‘s still up

there now.  There it is -  “Problem Preacher” from Fox News, leading their

Web site with a big picture.  I mean, this is what they want, Brad.  Isn‘t

this - I mean this is -

BLAKEMAN:  Come on.  Hey, Dan, if you didn‘t have this video, the video speaks for itself.  The guy is a nut.  And Barack Obama should have known he had past behavior that was less than normal.  

ABRAMS:  All right.  I‘m going to ask you directly, do you think, Brad, that this is a real legitimate - you‘re running Fox News now, all right?  This is the front page of your Web site.  Let‘s assume you‘re actually fair and balanced for a moment, all right? 

BLAKEMAN:  Hey, Dan.

ABRAMS:  And that you‘re not just a right wing hack machine.  Let‘s assume for a moment that‘s what you are.  You put this on front page with a big picture and the headline, “Pastor Problem”? 

BLAKEMAN:  Dan, it beats an L.A. car chase.

ABRAMS:  It what?

BLAKEMAN:  It beats an L.A. car chase.  This is really good stuff.  I mean, come on.

SEKOFF:  Good stuff?  This is so lame.  I mean when VH1 does the 100 Lamest Stories of the campaign, this is in the top 10. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right.  Let me play another piece of sound.  This is again from Fox News, what I view - and look, Brit Hume is a serious guy, well-respected guy on Fox News.  But here he is, in my view, hyping this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HUME:  Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is distancing himself tonight from another Chicago minister over a sermon that was preached at Obama‘s Trinity United Church this past weekend.  So, we appear to have a new reverend controversy swirling around the Obama campaign.  

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  “So, we appear to have a new - “ I mean, it‘s all so - I don‘t know.  I mean, look, we all hype things to some degree but this just seems to me like classic right-wing propaganda.  April, give me the objective assessment.  

RYAN:  Objective, yes.  What is happening, and as you know, the effort is now to knock out Barack Obama.  He is, for all intents and purposes, probably the Democratic nominee and we‘ll find that out a little later in a couple of days or so.  But nonetheless, you know, they are trying to knock him out now.  And anything that they can use, the Republicans will use, and that‘s the obvious case.  That‘s the objective case.  I mean it‘s plain and simple.  

ABRAMS:  Here‘s going to be the test, all right?  Here‘s the test.  Fox News, when it came to Rev. Wright, did breaking news every night on his travel schedule - Rev. Wright‘s travel schedule, all right?  Let‘s see how much they do on - you know, “Breaking news tonight, the Rev. Pfleger has decided to move one of his appearances from a convention center to a - “ you know, that‘s what I think we‘re going to see here.  We shall see.

RYAN:  But Dan, depending upon the relationship, what we find out more about the relationship, it really doesn‘t have legs unless there is a very, very close relationship.  With, you know - with Rev. Wright, it was very close.  

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right.  Roy, April and Brad, thanks a lot. 

Appreciate it. 

Up next, the surprising new poll in the state Michigan says Obama has a better chance of beating McCain if Hillary is his running mate.  And Mariah Carey throwing out the first pitch, sort of - high heels, shorts, small baseball jacket.  That‘s in “Reality Bites,” coming up in 60 seconds. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Now to “Reality Bites,” a dose of reality caught on tape.  Tonight, superstar Mariah Carey, throughout the ceremonial first pitch at a baseball game in Japan where she wore what any pitcher would wear on the mound - high heels, short shorts and extra small baseball jacket.  But hey, she looked great because her pitching certainly could use some work.  Mariah - we‘ll be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re just getting in breaking news from the “New York Times”

about the 2008 race and what the top Democratic leaders in congress are now

saying about the timing of when this race will end.  This according to the

“New York Times” that the two top Democrats in congress are saying that

they are pressing superdelegates who have yet to declare a preference in

the race to make their choice public by the middle of next week, quote,

“This is what Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi were talking about.  Harry Reid

said on Thursday, ‘By this time next week, it will be all over, give or

take a day.‘” 

Jonathan Alter is as is Craig Crawford and Roy Sekoff.  Jonathan, this is breaking in the sense that they are being far more definitive in this statement than we‘ve seen at any time previously.  

JONATHAN ALTER, NBC NEWS ANALYST:  I think that‘s right.  They have been saying privately they wanted this over by June.  Then Nancy Pelosi yesterday told a San Francisco newspaper, the end of June.  This moves it up.  They don‘t want this to linger.  They‘re getting signs that there‘s some people in the Clinton camp who want to use procedural delays to keep things going to the Credentials Committee, maybe even all the way to the convention.  They want this thing shut down next week. 

And the reason that they need to put some pressure on is that after Saturday‘s meeting, the magic number to nominate is going to go from 2,025 up by about 100 delegates, instead of needing ten delegates, 10 more supers to close the deal, Obama‘s going to need about 90.  

ABRAMS:  Craig, this seems to me this is a clear statement from the top two Democrats saying, we don‘t want this Rules Committee thing, this nonsense in their view, it sounds like, about whether they can seat half of the delegates in Michigan or Florida or all of delegates after this new ruling from lawyers in the DNC.  It sounds like what they are saying is, “Don‘t go there.  We don‘t want to hear about extended appeals.  We want this over, which would mean it‘s Barack Obama.”

CRAIG CRAWFORD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I guess the question is how would they enforce their opinion, saying it might not be enough.  I mean after all, Reid and Pelosi took their jobs saying they would end the war in Iraq and they couldn‘t do that.  So maybe they figured they can end this one.  It might be easier.

ABRAMS:  But how could they?  I mean I guess that‘s the question. 

ALTER:  Here‘s the thing you have to understand and Rahm Emanuel feels the same way.  They have a lot of authority over superdelegates, because a lot of them are members of congress who have their own pieces of legislation they want to get through or aspiring members of congress.  And many of them - superdelegates literally owe their seats to Rahm Emanuel, so his opinion with them and that of Pelosi and Reid are very relevant. 

SEKOFF:  I think, Dan -

CRAIG:  If they‘re going to start twisting arms like that to get

votes, then I think it could backlash.  I mean -

SEKOFF:  Dan, what they are saying -

ABRAMS:  Hang on one second.  

CRAWFORD:  I don‘t see the Clintons backing down because of this.  If anything, they are going to get their back up.  I mean it seems to me they ought to stay out until the voting is done and see what‘s Hillary Clinton‘s going to do.  

SEKOFF:  Craig, that‘s why they are doing it.  They‘re doing it because don‘t think the Clintons are going to get out. 

CRAWFORD:  Yes.

SEKOFF:  So the only way to do is to get the superdelegates to come down off the fence and that will end it because it‘s not going to happen because of the Clintons.  That‘s for sure.  

ABRAMS:  Craig, I‘m surprised that Reid is coming out this strongly

tonight and say -

CRAWFORD:  Yes, he was a supporter of Clinton.  

ABRAMS:  Sorry? 

CRAWFORD:  I mean he was a supporter of Clinton in the caucus.  Yes, absolutely. 

               

ABRAMS:  He‘s been careful not to take a firm position, but by this time

next week -  

CRAWFORD:  His son ran her campaign in Nevada, so that was pretty clear sign.  

ABRAMS:  But then, Craig, I guess your point is it makes it even more

significant -

CRAWFORD:  Sure.

ABRAMS:  That Reid is saying -

CRAWFORD:  Oh, I think so.  I mean absolutely.  This drum beat to get her out is certainly exaggerated with this announcement.  I just wonder if it‘s going to rally more of Clinton supporters.  Every time she gets pushed in this way, it seems to galvanize her and her supporters.  

ALTER:  Yes, I think that‘s right, Craig.  But you have to remember that Nancy Pelosi getting involved in this puts a little bit of a different spin on it because it makes it harder to say that sexists have driven Hillary Clinton out of the race when you have the first woman speaker of the house who wants this to get wrapped up.  

SEKOFF:  And Jonathan, they aren‘t saying that - come out and say Barack Obama.  They are just saying, come out and get off the fence, right? 

So -

(CROSS TALK)   

ABRAMS:  Come on.  Let‘s be honest.  

SEKOFF:  Hillary has been making the case for weeks.  If she hasn‘t made the case, she hasn‘t made the case.  It‘s not going to be any different, July 1st or July 15th.  

ABRAMS:  All right.  Craig, let me ask you this.  Let‘s assume for a moment that some in the Clinton camp had been preparing to appeal and go all the way to the convention, right?  Let‘s say that they were not ready to accept the Rules Committee‘s ruling or even the DNC lawyers‘ ruling on that issue and they were saying we want all of the Michigan and Florida delegates seated before we get out of this.  Let‘s assume that was their plan.  And now, this other plan is coming forward from Reid and Pelosi.  What does the Clinton camp do? 

CRAWFORD:  Well, I don‘t even think we have to make too much of an assumption here.  They‘ve been pretty clear or at least coy about looking forward to that appeals process going to the Credentials Committee if the Rules Committee doesn‘t do what they like.  Here‘s the problem I see for Hillary Clinton though.  She has several times gone on the record saying she‘ll do whatever the Florida and Michigan Democrats want.  If the Florida and Michigan Democrats agree to this emerging proposal for having half of the delegations from those states going to the convention, then I think that puts her in a bit of a contradiction if she didn‘t go forward and say, “No, I‘m going to challenge it.”  I don‘t see how she challenges it all the way to the convention if those states don‘t even want to challenge it. 

ALTER:  I‘m not sure that that‘s going to happen, Dan, because the

states, particularly in Michigan, you have Carl Levin who wants them all

seated.  So there is still some sentiment on the part of these states to

fight on.  Remember - 

(CROSS TALK)

ALTER:  Absolutely.  That‘s the key.  I mean if those states - I mean that‘s the thing.  That would - and then she‘s got cover if the Florida and Michigan state Democratic leaders and people like Bill Nelson, a senator from Florida, are saying, “No.  We want to go on the credentials.  We want all of our delegations seated.  She‘s got coverage.  

(CROSS TALK) 

ABRAMS:  All right, Jonathan, final thoughts on this.

ALTER:  Harold Ickes - when Ted Kennedy had been crushed by Jimmy Carter behind by 700 delegates in 1980, Ickes kept it going all the way to the convention.  Jessie Jackson had been crushed by Michael Dukakis in 1988, Harold Ickes kept it going for week after week on procedural issues.  So he is capable of doing this if they decided they want to prolong this.  

ABRAMS:  Bottom line is - hang on one second.  Bottom line, Jonathan is, does this mean this is over?  I mean does this announcement from Reid and Pelosi mean that Hillary Clinton is going to have nowhere to go? 

ALTER:  Her options have been dwindling every day, so yes. 

ABRAMS:  Craig, does this mean that this thing is over now? 

CRAWFORD:  A lot of superdelegates can still change their minds.  It‘s the anything-can-happen scenario.  That‘s all that she‘s got left.  If Florida and Michigan are seated in any way - any number of delegates, she‘ll have the argument that she won the overall popular vote to superdelegates.  

ABRAMS:  Roy, does tonight‘s news, do you think, change things? 

SEKOFF:  No.  Hillary, it‘s going to be over by next week and Hillary will just be there in the wings, kind of like a Miss America runner-up waiting for the nude pictures to come out, you know.  

ALTER:  Which happens.

(CROSS TALK)

HAMMER:  Roy is going to be a poster -

SEKOFF:  Don‘t forget RFK was assassinated in June but Vanessa Williams‘ pictures didn‘t come out until July.

ABRAMS:  Roy just guaranteed himself a picture on the sexism Web sites with that comparison.  Welcome, Roy.  

SEKOFF:  It‘s a metaphor, Dan.

ALTER:  Come in.  The water‘s warm.

ABRAMS:  Craig Crawford, Roy Sekoff, Jonathan Alter, thanks a lot. 

Appreciate it. 

Up next, tonight‘s “Winners and Losers” and your E-mails in the “P.O.‘d Box.”  We‘ll be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Time for tonight‘s “Winners and Losers” for this 29th day of May, 2008.  Loser, John Travolta dragged into the Drew Peterson‘s saga.  Peterson‘s lawyer said he wants Travolta to be a star witness in the ex-cop‘s weapons case.  Peterson was arrested earlier this month for possessing a weapon that is allegedly illegally short.  They say this photo from 2000 proves Peterson was authorized to carry the weapon when he was working on Travolta‘s security detail for a movie shot in Peterson‘s Illinois town.  I bet they are spending more time finding Travolta than on Peterson‘s missing wife.  

Loser, actress Sharon Stone.  She‘s already apologized for insinuating the Chinese earthquake which killed over 60,000 was bad karma for China‘s treatment of Tibet.  But that apology not good enough for Christian Dior, who pulled all ads across China featuring Sharon Store.  

Our big loser, ESPN Radio talk show host Mark Madden, fired for making this comment last week on his radio show, quote, “I‘m very disappointed to hear that Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts is near death because of a brain tumor.  I always hoped Sen. Kennedy would live long enough to be assassinated.”  Shocker that he got fired.  

Our big winner of the day, the leaning tower of Pisa.  Engineers now confirm it will be safe for another 300 years.  The bell tower started to lean shortly after it was finished in 1370 due to unstable ground.  It was closed in 1990 to do repair work to prevent the tower from falling.  It was reopened in 2001.  Seems many more generations will be able to enjoy it now.  

That‘s all the time we have.  Sorry, 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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