updated 6/25/2008 10:53:43 AM ET 2008-06-25T14:53:43

Guests: Michael Okwu, Jonathan Alter, Michelle Bernard, Brad Blakeman, Maria Cardona, Jim

Popkin, Monica Lindstrom; Vikki Ziegler

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Tonight: A new Justice Department investigation proves that Bush League Justice is real.  Administration officials broke laws.  Has the administration politicized and polluted the Justice Department?

And: As Obama gets attacked by a major evangelical leader, why is the only Muslim member of Congress, a Democrat, blasting him, too?

And: Bill Clinton finally endorses Obama, sort of.

Jonathan Alter, Michelle Bernard, Brad Blakeman, Maria Cardona, are with us.

VERDICT starts now.

Hi, everyone.  Welcome to the show.

Barack Obama is under attack from the far right, again, as one of the country‘s leading evangelical goes after him on abortion and the Bible.

And Bill Clinton is back finally, but tepidly announcing that he‘s on board for Obama.  Is that still a win for Obama?

As always, we‘re On Their Trail: Obama v. McCain, assessing who won and who lost today.

First up, Obama suddenly embroiled in a holy war tonight with evangelical leader James Dobson.  Today, on his radio show, Dobson jumped all over Obama for a speech Obama gave two years ago, when he explained why he favors abortion rights.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JUNE 28, 2006)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D-IL) PRESUMPTIVE PRES. NOMINEE:  I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, to take one example, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I can‘t simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God‘s will.  I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths including those with no faith at all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  During that speech, Obama went on to explain that we don‘t follow all of the Bible‘s edicts such as stoning our children if they stray from faith or keeping slaves.  That led Dobson to let loose on Obama today, accusing him of distorting the words of the Bible.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

JAMES DOBSON, EVANGELICAL LEADER:  I think he‘s deliberately distorting the traditional understanding of the Bible to fit his own world view, his own confused theology.  This is why we have elections, to support what we believe to be wise and moral.  We don‘t have to go to the lowest common denominator of morality, which is what he is suggesting.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Here now: MSNBC political analyst, Michelle Bernard;

“Newsweek” columnist and NBC News analyst, Jonathan Alter; Democratic strategist and a Clinton senior advisor, Maria Cardona; and, Republican strategist, Brad Blakeman.

All right.  Michelle, let me start with you.  Dobson‘s pulling out a two-year-old speech from Obama to attack him.  Is the far right worried that Obama‘s making inroads with evangelicals?

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think that‘s absolutely what we‘re seeing tonight.  I mean, to go back this far in time to look for a speech that you disagree with, and also quite frankly, to use the analysis that James Dobson has used, really doesn‘t pass the sniff test.  I mean, most people who read the Bible or read anything for that matter, tend to apply their own, you know, their own—see things through their own lens.

And so, I think this is a definite lose for Dobson on this issue.  We know from everything that we‘ve seen over the last week that Senator Obama is aggressively going after the evangelical vote.

ABRAMS:  Jonathan, is this a win for Obama?

JONATHAN ALTER, NEWSWEEK:  No, I actually think it‘s a mild loss for Obama because Obama has a real shot at getting a certain percentage of these evangelical voters.  Because he is a person of faith, as they say, and there‘s not really a lot of evidence that John McCain is.  I mean, it‘s really not clear what role religion place in John McCain‘s life.

So, Obama has a chance with these voters.  And when Dobson, even if he does so in a very unchristian way, comes out and starts playing politics—that sends a signal to some of those voters to maybe stay away from Obama.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Jonathan is calling it a lose.  Brad, win or lose?

BRAD BLAKEMAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  I think it‘s a mild lose.  I agree with Jonathan.  I think that Dobson‘s attacking of Obama also appeals to our base, at rallying our base.  Even though Dobson himself does not support McCain, this helps McCain in this instance.  And I see it as a mild loss for Obama.

ABRAMS:  Maria?

MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  I actually think, right now, it‘s sort of irrelevant for Obama, because the people who look at James Dobson for any sort of guidance are not the people who are going to be voting for Obama anyway.  So, I think, frankly, it‘s either irrelevant or a draw for Obama.  And actually, I think, it‘s sort of a win for Dobson only in that we are here on national television using air time that he hasn‘t paid for to talk about him.

ABRAMS:  Yes, fair enough.  But, look, Dobson is a big deal.  I‘m going to call this a win for Obama, though.  I think Dobson attacking him can only help him with moderates, particularly when you‘re talking about abortion, which is an issue I think Obama wants to discuss versus McCain.

Next up, Bill Clinton is back.  The former president released a one-sentence statement today through his spokesman which said, quote, “President Clinton is obviously committed to doing whatever he can and is asked to do to ensure Senator Obama is the next president of the United States.”

The question tonight, with Bill Clinton‘s plummeting approval ratings, the recent history of attacks on Obama, and the fact that it feels like this is being dragged out of him, is this really a win for Obama, Jonathan?

ALTER:  No, you know, Obama‘s left-handed, Clinton‘s left-handed and this was a left-handed compliment.  It really just didn‘t get it done.  You do sort of wonder, you know, what the point of it was.  If he wasn‘t going to go in front of the cameras himself, why deal with it?

ABRAMS:  Maria, look, you know the Clintons well.  Bill Clinton releasing a statement through his spokesperson without just coming out and saying, “Look, we‘re for Obama”?

CARDONA:  Look, I mean, no matter how it was done, he says and he is on record saying whether through his spokesman or not that he is now committed to support Obama.

ABRAMS:  That doesn‘t matter?  This is politics.

(CROSSTALK)

CARDONA:  It‘s a win for Obama.  Look, Bill Clinton is till a huge rockstar among the Democratic base.  So, if he‘s out there, talking about how he supports Obama, it‘s going to be a win for Obama.

ABRAMS:  Brad?

BLAKEMAN:  If he helps Obama as much as he helped his wife, good luck to him.  This is a lose for Obama.

ABRAMS:  Michelle?

BERNARD:  Bill Clinton barely stuck his toe in the pool with this endorsement of Senator Obama today.  I think it is a lose for Obama.  And quite frankly, I have to agree with what was just said a moment ago.  If Bill Clinton does for Obama what he did for his wife, particularly in South Carolina, Obama doesn‘t want his endorsement, especially when it‘s this tepid.  It‘s not even lukewarm.

ABRAMS:  Look, I think he definitely wants the endorsement.  But I think that this is a draw because he is making it so lukewarm.  I mean, through his spokesperson, he says he‘s going to do whatever it takes.  Just say, “Hey, this guy, you know, ought to be president.  He‘s great.”  You know, whatever you need to say.  It‘s politics.  You don‘t have to mean it.  You don‘t have to feel it all time.

ALTER:  Yes, I thought it was really peculiar.  And I do agree with you that he could be a real help to Obama particularly in a state like Florida.  You know, they don‘t have to send him to states where he‘s not popular, but where he is and they need to get some older voters out, Bill Clinton can still be a big asset.  And he helped his wife in a lot of ways.  It was a wash.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  I mean, look, and there‘s a difference - and there‘s a difference, is there not, Brad, between campaigning for Barack Obama and campaigning for your wife?

I mean, if Bill Clinton is out there and he decides I‘m really going to go for it, are you actually saying to me, Brad, that you think it hurts Barack Obama if Bill Clinton sincerely, legitimately, aggressively goes out and campaigns for Obama that it hurts him?

BLAKEMAN:  He won‘t.  This guy doesn‘t like Barack Obama.  If anything, it‘s a marriage of convenience when he can get his $22 million back.  That‘s what he‘s interested in.

ABRAMS:  Maria, really, you know the Clintons.  Maria worked with the Clintons.

CARDONA:  Absolutely, he will go out there and he will do what is asked of him.  And he will go to the states like Florida wherever he is needed and he will make the strong case and he will be very effective.

ABRAMS:  I‘d just love the fact that Maria is using the exact same terms to Bill Clinton, “He will do what is asked of him and he will accomplish those goals.”

(LAUGHTER)

ABRAMS:  All right.

Next up: Team Obama blasting the McCain camp again today over the controversial comments made by senior McCain strategist, Charlie Black in an interview of “Fortune” magazine, quote, “Black concedes with startling candor after we raise the issue of another terrorist attack on U.S. soil, ‘Certainly, it would be a big advantage to him,‘” meaning McCain.

McCain immediately distanced himself from comments.  That didn‘t stop Team Obama from going on the attack yesterday and again today.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, 9/11 COMMISSION MEMBER:  Charlie Black‘s statement that a new terrorist attack on United States soil would be a big advantage to John McCain‘s campaign provides a candid, and very disappointing glimpse into the thinking of one of Senator McCain‘s closest advisers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Michelle, on day two of this, does this remain a lose for the McCain camp?

BERNARD:  It remains a lose for the McCain camp at least for today, that we probably won‘t be discussing this much longer.  You know, it‘s not going to have a very long lifespan.  But it‘s definitely a lose not just because what was said, but also, it is now deflected attentions, the attention of the McCain camp with putting on Barack Obama‘s decision to, you know, not go with public financing of this general election cycle.

ABRAMS:  Go ahead.

ALTER:  You know, I just think this is so silly.  Sure, it‘s a small loss for McCain.  But, you know, the great columnist, Michael Kinsley famously wrote that a gaffe is when you say something that‘s true but inconvenient.  I mean, they‘re saying exactly the same thing inside Obama headquarters.  They know that a terrorist attack would be helpful politically to McCain.

So, Charlie Black just said what everybody else was thinking.  It was politically dumb for him to do so.  Yes, but it doesn‘t reflect on his character.  It‘s not disappointing; it‘s just a stupid campaign incident.

ABRAMS:  Brad?

BLAKEMAN:  Yes.  I mean, this is a non-issue.  It‘s a draw at best.  And look, this is over and done with.  If they want to beat a dead horse, let them do it.

ABRAMS:  Who didn‘t I get to—Maria?

CARDONA:  Thank you.  I think it‘s a lose for the McCain campaign only because it crystallized what the Republican tactics have been so far.  He has embraced Bush.  He‘s going to continue to use the same policies.  They worked for Bush in 2002 and 2004.  They did not work in 2006, and they‘re not going to work in 2008.  The American people -

BLAKEMAN:  Wait a second.

(CROSSTALK)

BLAKEMAN:  When Hillary Clinton says exactly the same thing, it‘s OK?  Hillary Clinton said exactly the same thing Charlie Black said.  And I‘m not condoning what Charlie Black is saying -

CARDONA:  What did she say?

BLAKEMAN:  But Hillary said it.

CARDONA:  What did she say?

BLAKEMAN:  Hillary says an attack on America, the Republicans will benefit.  That‘s what Hillary Clinton said.

CARDONA:  I don‘t think that‘s what she said.

(CROSSTALK)

CARDONA:  And frankly, you know, but the fact of the matter is that Americans feel less safe -

ABRAMS:  Yes, she did.

CARDONA:  And this is frankly a debate that Obama is eager to have and I think he can win it.

BLAKEMAN:  Will you denounce Hillary Clinton for what she said?  Is that wrong?

CARDONA:  I don‘t know that she said that.

ABRAMS:  She did.  Yes, she did.

BERNARD:  It was reported in the “Washington Post.”

BLAKEMAN:  Come on.

ABRAMS:  She said it.  But look, I agree with Jonathan.  I‘m going to call it a draw.  I called it a lose for McCain yesterday when it happened, I think the Obama camp needs to be careful about dragging this issue out because what Charlie Black said is true.

And as a result, I think they have to be careful about continuing to discuss this.  And when I say it‘s true, I mean, politically, it‘s true.

Everyone‘s staying with us.

Coming up: Some American Muslims have said that Obama won‘t meet with them or go to their mosques.  The only Muslim in Congress, a Democrat, is now going after Obama, too.  Can‘t they understand why he has to keep some distance?

And: Who won the day, Obama or McCain, when we come back.

Also, a new Justice Department report out today confirms that Bush League Justice is real.  They have politicized the department and rejected job applicants just because they might be Democrats.  In the process, they broke the law.

Plus: White House aides fire a State Department official because a corrupt lobbyist didn‘t like him.  Another reason Why America Hates Washington is coming up in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Tonight‘s edition of Why America Hates Washington: E-mail evidence showing that a corrupt lobbyist had a hand in personnel matters in the Bush administration.  Disgraced and convicted former lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, apparently didn‘t like a State Department official‘s position on certain issues.  So, according to newly released e-mails published by the “Washington Post,” lobbying some favors with his pals at the White House and got the guy fired.

The administration doing the bidding of a corrupt lobbyist: Another reason Why America Hates Washington.

We continue in a moment with more win or lose.  In particular, a statement by a Muslim leader in Congress, a Democrat complaining about the fact that Obama hasn‘t been doing with him.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back On Their Trail, assessing who won and lost the day out on the campaign trail—Obama or McCain?

Right now, on my scorecard, I have one win for Obama and two draws.

Panel is still with us.

Next up: The “New York Times” reporting today that Muslim Americans feel snubbed by Senator Obama.  Representative Keith Ellison, the first and only Muslim congressman, tells “The Times” that aides to Barack Obama asked him not to speak on behalf of the senator at an Iowa mosque because it might stir up controversy.

Others Muslim organizations are claiming they‘ve tried to arrange meetings with Obama but say their invitations have been ignored.  Last week, Obama had to apologize to two Muslim women after campaign volunteers asked them not to appear on the background at Obama rally.

But Jonathan, aren‘t the folks who went public here, complaining about Obama, putting Obama in an impossible position?  This is one of the issues that could really sink him based on innuendo and pictures.  Does public pandering have to take precedence over winning?

ALTER:  Well, you know, you‘ve got to remember, first, a couple things.  Keith Ellison is the member of Congress who was sworn in on a Koran.  And a lot of people think that‘s Barack Obama to this day.

ABRAMS:  Right.

ALTER:  A lot of them think that Obama was the one who was sworn -

ABRAMS:  Right.  So, why would Ellison be going forward and making an issue on the front page of the “New York Times”?  He‘s got to know that this is a potential issue falsely for Obama but that he‘s got to be careful about it?

ALTER:  He does.  But all he‘s doing is acting like a member of any other Democratic Party constituency group.  These guys always mouth of.  Look what will happen if, say, Sam Nunn is the vice presidential candidate, the gay and lesbian lobby will be up in arms.  You know, so, this is what happens in politics, particularly on the Democratic side.

ABRAMS:  But, see, Maria, isn‘t that the problem?  Isn‘t that when we talk about winning and losing, I mean, isn‘t that the reason this is such a big potential loss for Obama because Democrats can‘t help themselves sometimes?

CARDONA:  No, I think the only way that it will be a huge potential loss for Obama is if he continues to be seen as keeping the Muslim community at arm‘s length.

ABRAMS:  What should he do?

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Should he go to mosques so that Brad Blakeman and his people can then put up these pictures of Obama at a mosque and say, “Is this what you want in your next president?”  I mean, what- I mean, I joke about Brad doing it.  But there will be - there‘s no question that it will be sent out all over the Internet with pictures of Obama -

CARDONA:  I think that‘s going to happen anyway.  I think that‘s absolutely going to happen anyway.  I think what Obama needs to do is to try to have a frank and honest debate about this.  And to his credit, he apologized to the Muslim women.  It was not something that, you know, his campaign was directed to do.

ABRAMS:  Right.  The Muslim women was a -

CARDONA:  So, but you‘re right, it is very difficult issue.

BERNARD:  Dan, can I?

ABRAMS:  Yes, go ahead, Michelle.

BERNARD:  Dan, what I was going to say is, here again, this is a very slippery slope.  Here is the problem that Obama is faced with.  We have people on the far right and others who have unjustly portrayed him as a Muslim.  But the double side of the story is, what is wrong with being a Muslim?  Being a Muslim does not mean that you are jihadist or you are, you know, going to fly an airplane into buildings all over the country?

And if I could just finish quickly, we have to be very—he‘s got to address the issue because not only—we‘ve seen racial profiling of African-Americans in the past.  We‘re now seeing it with Muslims.  And there‘s a significant Muslim population in Virginia, in Ohio, in Minnesota, in Florida.  He‘s got to be very cognizant of that voting bloc because they deservedly do not want to be racial profiled against as well.

ABRAMS:  But see, but again, when we talk about what‘s deserved and not deserved, I don‘t disagree with anything you said, Michelle, but what our society should be.  This is politics.  And the problem is, that Democrats will tell—will sometimes say, “This is what we ought to be as a society.”  And then you‘ll have people like Brad who will say, “Hey, that‘s great.  I‘m going to now use that as a political sword against Obama.”  And this is an area -

BLAKEMAN:  Dan -

ABRAMS:  Go ahead, Brad.

BLAKEMAN:  Dan, we‘re not going to use that as a political sword against Obama, only if he says stupid things.

What he did here was stupid.  For a guy who is so politically adept, he‘s tone deaf to the fact that he on his own, should have apologized to these two Muslim women who were denied a place on the stage.  Instead, he had a congressman plead with them.

ABRAMS:  You want him to make a bigger deal.

BLAKEMAN:  Remember, (INAUDIBLE) but plead with him to do the right thing.

ALTER:  I think, actually, Brad is worried about this because it undermines Obama‘s message when he acts political, OK, because he‘s trying to create a new politics.  If McCain were smart, he would now go to a mosque and show the way President Bush did right after 9/11 and show that (INAUDIBLE).

ABRAMS:  The same way I talked about the possible need for Obama to put Hillary on the ticket because it‘s about winning.  And it‘s got to be for Obama about winning.  I‘m not saying he should snub Muslims.  He‘s got to be very, very careful.

As, I think, Michelle pointed out, 86 percent of Virginia‘s Muslim voters turned out in the 2000 Senate election.  That‘s a big number.  I mean, strictly as a political matter, that‘s important.  But with that said, Obama also has to be careful.  No?

ALTER:  Of course, he has to be careful.  But the idea of leading your whole life worried about photo ops that the other, you know, the other team might put up, if you do that, you‘re on the defensive all the time.  You can‘t run a campaign that way.

ABRAMS:  Well, look, here‘s the reason I‘m calling this a lose for Obama.  It‘s because Obama didn‘t play defensive here.  This is, I think, this is aggressive by Ellison going public to the “New York Times,” talking about it to the “New York Times.”

I think that‘s why it‘s a lose for Obama is because a fellow Democrat in Congress was willing to embarrass Obama like this publicly on the front page.  All right.

BLAKEMAN:  But it was Obama‘s own doing because if he would have apologized, it would have been over.

ABRAMS:  Well, again, you‘re talking about the two women in the

background.  I‘m not talking -

ALTER:  He did apologize.

ABRAMS:  Right.  Yes, on that one, there was an apology.

All right.  I want to go around the horn and ask who won the day. 

Jonathan, let me start with you.  Who won the day, Obama or McCain?

ALTER:  I think McCain won the day.

ABRAMS:  Why?

ALTER:  Because this story on the Muslims was very embarrassing to Obama.

ABRAMS:  Brad, who won the day?

BLAKEMAN:  I think McCain for exactly what Jonathan said.  It‘s not about Charlie Black, it‘s about Obama‘s missteps in the Muslim community and disenfranchising a voting bloc that he needs.

ALTER:  Maria?

CARDONA:  I think it was a draw because that was a misstep on behalf of the Obama campaign, but I think the Charlie Black comments also have been very destructive to McCain.

ALTER:  Michelle?

BERNARD:  I‘m with Maria today.  Chicks rule.  I think it‘s a draw tonight between McCain and Obama.

(LAUGHTER)

ABRAMS:  Yes.  You know, look, I think it‘s a draw to a possible lose for Obama.  I think that this front page article in the “New York Times” is a real potential problem for Obama.  But, I would expect that, I actually expect what most of the people on this panel are saying is going to happen which is they‘re going to try to deal with it head on now, and try to avoid the innuendo out there.  We shall see.

Michelle, Jonathan, Maria, and Brand, thanks a lot.

ALTER:  Thanks, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, a new Justice Department internal investigation proves the Bush administration has been packing the Justice Department with Republicans and refusing to hire or give awards to Democrats.  It‘s against the law.  So what happens now?

And: FOX‘s Greta van Susteren learned last night, when you invite Motley Crue on your program, you‘re bound to get asked some very embarrassing questions.  That‘s next in Beat the Press.

What‘s your VERDICT?  Email us at verdict@msnbc.com.  Your emails are in the P.O.‘ed box at the end of the show.  Please include your name, where you‘re writing.

We‘re coming right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up: We call out phony exclusives in this segment.  But this may be the grand dame of them all.  FOX News contributor, Dick Morris, who appears on FOX almost every night, was interviewed exclusively by FOX News.

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

SEAN HANNITY, FOX HOST:  We start tonight with a “Hannity & Colmes” exclusive.  Joining us now with the very first look at his brand new book is our own Dick Morris.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Wow.  Great get, getting your own contributor to do an exclusive.

Next up: Sometimes if it‘s not intentional, we newscasters slip on politicians‘ job titles.  Here is CNN‘s Wolf Blitzer talking about sexism, Nancy Pelosi and being a secretary.

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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST:  And Nancy Pelosi says Hillary Clinton isn‘t the only powerful woman who has been subject to sexism.  We‘ll hear from the secretary—excuse me from the speaker of the House.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Secretary and sexism.  I once called her majority leader when talking to her daughter.  It happens to all of us.

Finally: If you invite Motley Crue and Tommy Lee on your program, you are creating a peril of live TV, as FOX‘s Greta van Susteren learned last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “ON THE RECORD”/FOX NEWS/MONDAY)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Greta -

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX HOST:  Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What color panties are you wearing?

(LAUGHTER)

VAN SUSTEREN:  Moving right along, gentlemen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  We need your help Beating the Press.  If you see anything right, wrong, amusing or absurd—go to our Web site: Verdict.msnbc.com.  Please leave us a tip in the box.

Up next: Bush League Justice.  A new Justice Department report out today reveals just how the Bush administration has politicized hiring in the Justice Department and they broke the law.

And later: A judge rules that supermodel Christie Brinkley and her husband will battle over their divorce in public, as she wanted.  She has every right to be furious, but is it bad for her kids to play it out in public?  Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, supermodel Christie Brinkley‘s messy divorce set to hit the courts next month in a very public way.  She succeeded in getting her husband‘s dirty laundry aired publicly.  The question is, is that bad for their kids?

Plus, the utility pole got in the way of a drunk driver in “Reality Bites.”

And it looks like Anne Hathaway dumped her shady boyfriend just in time.  The Feds arrested him, today.  She‘s a winner, tonight. 

But, first tonight, a new internal Justice Department report confirms what we have been surmising for months on this program, that the Bush administration has politicized the Justice Department.  But this report goes further—it found they broke the law.  Job applicants rejected because they allegedly had Democratic or Liberal affiliations or had even worked for a Democratic member of Congress. 

The blistering report, a resulted of a lengthy internal investigation but the office of the Inspector General and the office of Professional Responsibility.  The report found, “The screening committees in 2002 and 2006 improperly deselected candidates for interviews based on political and ideological affiliations.”

Investigators interviewed over 70 people involved in hiring, scoured thousand of e-mails, applications, and documents and concluded the apolitical Justice Department had been thoroughly politicized.  Under Bush appointees, John Ashcroft and Roberto Gonzales. 

The report singled two former Justice Department officials:  Michael Elston and Esther Slater McDonald saying their conduct “violated the department‘s policies and civil service law that prohibit discrimination in hiring.” And since they no longer work the Department of Justice, “they are no longer subject to discipline by the department for their actions.”

So that‘s it.  They broke the law, nothing can be done? Here to talk about it, NBC NEWS senior investigative producer, Jim Popkin, he‘s been looking at this story throughout the day.  And back with us is Brad Blakeman and Jonathan Alter. 

All right, so Jim, a lot of people are going to look at this and they‘re going to say you have this internal report from the Justice Department, itself, and they have determined that the law was broken by these two officials and yet nothing can happen to them?

JIM POPKIN, NBC SR INVESTIGATIVE PRODUCER:  Well, we don‘t know yet.  You know, as you pointed out, Dan, in your intro, in the report, the inspector general says that they did violate federal law.  But there‘s no explicit referral of any kind of—you know, for criminal charges.  And at this moment, we don‘t know yet what the Justice Department has decided regarding criminal charges.  That‘s a possibility, I suppose.  The other kind of interesting thing to mull over is whether any of these now lawyers, many of them probably gone on their—I‘m sure they‘re professional lawyers now, whether any of them would consider suing civilly.  Wouldn‘t that be sweet justice for them?

ABRAMS:  This is—Brad, look, this—you‘re a lawyer.  This is stunning, OK? This is a stunning misuse of the Justice Department.  I don‘t think you‘re going to disagree with that.  But, let me read you the statistic.  This honors program, one of the great, great honors a lawyer can get is to get into this program.  Eighty percent of liberal applicants rejected, nine percent of conservative applicants rejected, 29 percent of neutral applicants rejected.  I mean, Brad, this is shameful, it is not?

BLAKEMAN:  Well look, I‘m—you‘re getting all worked up over this.  This is a political town.  The Justice Department is not apolitical.  It‘s some parts of it are political because they‘re filled with political people. 

ABRAMS:  Some parts of it. 

BLAKEMAN:  There are 4,000 political appointees in Washington.  I‘m not condoning their behavior.  What they did was wrong, but overzealous political people, we‘ve seen it before, they‘re no longer in government.  And you know what‘s worse, Dan, not preventing somebody from getting a job, but firing somebody who deserved a job, that‘s exactly what Bill and Hillary Clinton did when the got rid of the entire travel office.  That was a crime.

ABRAMS:  Brad, great effort at moral equivalent.  But it‘s just not going to fly.  When you‘re talking about an honors...

BLAKEMAN:  What I‘m showing you is... 

ABRAMS:  No, what you‘re trying to show to me—you‘re trying to minimize this is what you‘re trying to do.  You‘re trying to tell me it‘s not that big a deal, everything‘s political.  The reality is, yes, the hiring of U.S. attorneys, Jonathan, is political.  You want to talk about firing, as Brad talks about, well, the firing of U.S. attorneys isn‘t supposed to be political and it has been in this administration, but more importantly to me... 

BLAKEMAN:  U.S. attorneys have been fired by Bill Clinton when he first took office.  They were fired completely. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Yeah, but that‘s, Brad.  It‘s different to fire someone when you take office and say, I‘m going to put in a new group of U.S. attorneys than it is to fire U.S. attorneys because they don‘t pursue cases for political motives that the administration wants.  There‘s a fundamental difference.  All right, Jonathan, go ahead. 

ALTER:  Let‘s just try to back up and put this into a little context. 

People like to dump on the federal government for a lot of good reasons.  There are a lot of bureaucrats who aren‘t getting it done, you know, they‘re not really serving the public.  For a half century or more, since the Teapot Dome Scandal in the ‘20s, there‘s been one department of government that has been considered to be exceptionally professional and below the level of attorney general, below political appointee, very nonpolitical.  That is the Department of Justice.  So, what they‘ve done is they‘ve taken the crown jewel of the federal government in terms of competence and professionalism and they have trashed it.  That‘s the bottom line. 

ABRAMS:  Yep.  All right, let me ask—Jim, let me read to you, this is, again, from the report.  I want to let Jim stick to the facts here of the report.  So, “the e-mail exchange between screening committee members and the report,” talking about McDonald here, “expressed disapproval of candidates‘ affiliations with liberal organizations such as the American Constitution Society, the Poverty and Race Research Action Council, Greenpeace.” I mean, Jim, didn‘t the report go as far as to say that even suggestions of being involved with environmental groups could work against a candidate?

POPKIN:  Yeah.  And the report goes on to say that Esther McDonald actually looked up a number of these applicants, looked them up in Google and other places to see what affiliations had they had.  And that became part of the political process.  And You know, just to go a little bit beyond what you just said, Dan, the Sierra Club, the NAACP, Save Our Wetlands, Human Rights Watch—these are all listed as liberal advocacy groups and under some of these folks in two years, they studied five years in total, 2002 and 2006, in many cases that was enough to get you blacklisted from the Justice Department. 

One other candidate was deemed, “quite liberal” and therefore suspicious because he supported reintroduction of the wolf on to federal lands.  And in many cases, these are people at the absolute top of their class at Harvard, Yale and other schools, so it is pretty remarkable. 

ABRAMS:  Yeah, and the argument, I assume, Brad, is, you know, the defense of some of these people will be, well, we didn‘t want to be elite, we wanted to move on beyond the ivy league schools, but there‘s one thing to say we want to expand our horizons and there‘s another thing to say we want to go for less qualified people who did less well in law schools from law schools that tend to be less well respected because they fit our politics. 

BLAKEMAN:  Look, it was wrong, these people are no longer in government.  They should have never done that.  I think the exercise of power should be done judicially.  They didn‘t do it in this case.  And they shouldn‘t have been involved in what was typically a career job at Justice. 

ABRAMS:  Let me ask Jim.  Jim, how high up did this go? I mean, where are we talking? I mean, we‘re talking about primarily under Gonzales and Ashcroft was this study done, but who are these two people, in particular, who they‘re talking about here, responsible?

POPKIN:  Well, they were both political hires and Esther McDonald had only been out of law school for, I think, three years.  So, but this other gentleman who was in charge of the screening committee was fairly senior at the Justice Department.  But the report does go on to say that both the attorney generals in ‘02 and ‘06, Ashcroft and Gonzales, there‘s no evidence that they had any knowledge of this program or had set it up in the way—in the kind of corrupt way that it ran. 

ABRAMS:  Except that I‘m right, am I not, that Monica Goodling may have hired both of them and this is what Monica Goodling had to say when she testified. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MONICA GOODLING, U.S. JUSTICE DEPT:  The best I can say is that I know I took political considerations into account on some occasions. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Was that legal?

GOODLING:  Sir, I‘m not able to answer that question.  I know I crossed the line. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What line? Legal?

GOODLING:  I crossed the line of the civil service rules. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Jonathan, I‘m sorry.  But as a lawyer, for me, this is just -

it is—we‘ve been doing these Bush league justice segments on this show for so long, and this confirms all the greatest fears that they set up this system in the Justice Department to make sure not that the best people got hired, not that the best lawyers would be arguing the cases, not that the best people got awards, but to make sure that the political cronies got payoffs.  It‘s just—it‘s hard to accept, as a lawyer who cares about the system. 

ALTER:  And this is what civil service system is supposed to prevent.  Now there are some problems with the civil service.  It‘s hard to fire people who are no good.  There probably aren‘t enough political appointees in the bureaucracy.  But, if you‘re going to have a civil service system, which we‘ve had since the 1880s, you‘ve got to respect it and you have to respect law above all in the Justice Department. 

ABRAMS:  And particularly we‘re talking about people who are in lower level jobs who are not supposed to be political appointments, I say shame, shame on you. 

BLAKEMAN:  Well, Dan, then shame on the Clinton administration... 

All right, yeah, yeah...

ALTER:  Come on...

BLAKEMAN:  ...who stacked the administration with career jobs and political people... 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:   Nice try.  All right, Jim, Brad, Jonathan—thanks a lot. 

Up next, Christie Brinkley‘s bitter divorce will now be public, including allegations that her hubby had an affair with teen and visited porn and swinger sites.  Is this information being made public, bad for their children?

And a drunk driver crashed into a utility pole.  “Reality Bites,” that‘s coming up in 60 seconds. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Now to “Reality Bites.” A dose of reality caught on tape, tonight a car wreck near Pittsburgh goes from bad to worse.  The driver of this truck—accused of being drunk when he smashed into a utility pole.  He was already in trouble.  Then the pole caught fire and started shooting sparks.  About 100 people lost power and the road was closed for hours.  Now the suspect looking at not only DUI, also probably some very angry neighbors and commuters. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back.  Supermodel, Christie Brinkley‘s bitter divorce from husband, architect, Peter Cook has led to new questions about whether a public divorce proceeding is bad for their children.  Brinkley filed for divorce nearly two years ago cited an affair Cook admitted having with his 18-year-old office assistant.  Cook wanted the case private, Brinkley wanted it public.  A judge recently ruled in her favor.  NBC‘s Michael Okwu has details. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHAEL OKWU, NBC NEWS ANCHOR (voice over):  Use to be the name Christie Brinkley conjured the thoughts cover girl, supermodel mom, former rock star wife, but now your first thoughts just might be divorce.  Nasty, bitter, public divorce. 

MICHAEL MUSTO, THE VILLAGE VOICE:  It‘s going to get extremely ugly. 

OKWU:  For the better part of 10 years, Brinkley‘s marriage to architect, Peter Cook, seemed idyllic.  But, two years ago, Brinkley filed for divorce after Cook made headlines, admitting to having affairs with two teenagers, including his 18-year-old office assistant.  This week, more headlines, more candids of Cook and a new girlfriend on the deck of “Sweet Freedom.” You heard that right. 

MUSTO:  She wants to shame Peter Cook as much as possible.  She‘s the victim in her eyes and in the world‘s eyes.  She‘s somebody who was shamed and wronged and really has a taste for vengeance right now. 

OKWU:  Divorce trials are usually public, but Cook‘s attorneys were trying to make it private, arguing that the airing of dirty laundry might harm the former couple‘s two young children.  He said...

PETER COOK, BRINKLEY‘S HUSBAND:  Family matter—or private matters should stay that way. 

OKWU:  She said... 

CHRISTY BRINKLEY, FMR SUPERMODEL:  I‘ve always hoped to be able to settle these matters privately, outside of the courtroom.  And I continue to hope that that will be the case. 

OKWU:  Brinkley‘s attorneys fought the motion and won.  The divorce trial will be public. 

NEAL HERSH, DIVORCE ATTY:  It could be strategic.  It could be done to put leverage on Mr. Cook in order to force a settlement. 

OKWU:  Or not.  For today, Michael Okwu, NBC NEWS, Los Angeles. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Regardless of how upset Brinkley is with Cook, some are saying it‘s wrong for her to push for the divorce trial to be made public knowing the effect it could have on their two kids.  I don‘t know that I buy that.  But here, joining me now, family law attorney, Monica Lindstrom, who feels the trial should be open to the public; and family law attorney, Vikki Ziegler, who thinks it should be private. 

All right, Monica, what‘s the argument for why it should be public.

MONICA LINDSTROM, FAMILY LAW ATTY:  Well, first of all, Dan, of course, he wants it private because he‘s the one that screwed up, allegedly, quite literally.  He‘s using her celebrity status to try to cover up his bad acts.  Look, there‘s no law out there that says when a trial should be public or when it should be private.  It‘s a balancing test.  And just like we heard, the judge agreed with Christy and decided that in this case, it‘s not harmful enough to make it private.  She‘s the mom, she knows what‘s good for the children and this is what she‘s put forward to the court and he agreed. 

ABRAMS:  A lot of divorce cases are public and suddenly Peter Cook is concerned about his family, right, Vikki?

VIKKI ZIEGLER, FAMILY LAW ATTY:  Well, I mean, that‘s the argument.  For me, I always believe that it‘s in the best interests of the children, if there‘s going to be salacious commentary, allegations such as pornography.  And we don‘t know if the children were present when he was actually viewing pornography on computers.  So, for me, the argument I believe... 

ABRAMS:  Why can‘t you keep the kids—the kids don‘t have to sit in the courtroom when they‘re testifying to everything. 

ZIEGLER:  No, they don‘t, of course not and you can mediate and you can arbitrate, but if it‘s going to be public, they go to school, there‘s parents, there‘s children, they‘re going to be tormented. 

ABRAMS:  They know about it, already. 

ZIEGLER:  What do they know about?

ABRAMS:  You just laid it out.  You just said, pornography, allegations, you know... 

ZIEGLER:  Allegations.  There‘s been no testimony, yet. 

The kids will distinguish between allegations of it and testimony. 

ABRAMS:  So, the 12-year-olds are going to distinguish between allegations of and actual testimony?

ZIEGLER:  Well listen, trial testimony, bringing in witnesses, people viewing him having an adulterous affair with and 18-year-old, I think can be certainly damaging.  And there is a balancing test, and it is true, but at the end of the day, if these are allegations that are so salacious and harmful to these children, they should close the courtroom down... 

ABRAMS:  So, it seems to me that using that argument, Monica, the worst conduct there is on the part of one of the parents, the more likely they‘ll be able to hide it from the public. 

LINDSTROM:  Well, that‘s what it sounds like, but you said it yourself, Dan, the information‘s already out there.  Since we‘re already talking about this, the public knows.  What more harm can happen? He‘s just trying to use this to cover up these allegations and his bad acts, and it‘s not going to work in this case. 

ABRAMS:  The attorney for—Christie Brinkley‘s attorney is saying, “Christy and her family have been the victims of anonymous leaks containing innuendoes, rumors, falsehoods...frankly his long affair with a teenage girl is the only the tip of the iceberg.” Basically, they‘re saying look, she‘s been the victim of all these leaks, she wants the truth to get out there.  Why are you afraid of the truth, Vikki? What‘s so scary about the truth?

ZIEGLER:  I‘m never afraid of the truth.  We know what he did, he committed adultery, it‘s not a crime, everybody knows that.  And that‘s bad.  However, the children have to face their friends, their peers every day, and I think that they need to be cognizant.  Fight it out, that‘s fine, keep the children out of it. 

ABRAMS:  Keep the children out of it, I agree with it, but the notion that somehow he suddenly gets to have a private trial in what‘s often public because he‘s so bad... 

LINDSTROM:  Why does he get special treatment?

ABRAMS:  Monica, Vikki.

ZIEGLER:  He‘s not.  It‘s open to the public. 

ABRAMS:  Thanks a lot.  Appreciate it, thanks.

Up next, will tonight‘s big winner or loser will be the Heinz company for dumping a joking ad showing two guys kissing, Anne Hathaway for dumping her shady boyfriend right before he was arrested today, or M&M‘s after a judge refused to dump a lawsuit brought by New York‘s Naked Cowboy against them. 

Plus, your e-mails in the “P.O.‘d Box.” Be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  With the average price of gas topping out at $4.07 a gallon, tonight, many drivers are slowing down to save gas.  “USA Today” reviewed 20 states and found in 13 states of them, the number of speeding tickets is down this year.  As a rule of thumb, you get 20 percent better gas mileage driving 55 miles-an-hour than you do driving 70.  And FYI, you don‘t save gas driving with the windows open instead of using the air conditioning. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Time for tonight‘s “Winners and Losers.” Our first loser, the Heinz company for caving under pressure after a handful of people took offense at a British mayonnaise ad that only ran over there where a deli guy pretends to be the “mum, in the family.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hey, ain‘t you forgetting something?

Love you.  Straight home from work, sweet cheeks. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Bill O‘Reilly aired it here and questioned why the guys have to kiss? His cronies must have called the U.K.  and complained.  Rather than telling them to lighten up, they caved. 

Loser, Duke football.  A judge spared my alma mater from paying damages for backing out of games with the University of Louisville by agreeing that it‘s true, there is no division one football team worse than Duke.  The contract said Duke would have to pay if Louisville could not find a team of similar stature.  The Duke lawyers successfully argued the Blue Devils had gone 6-45 in the past four years, are about as low as you can go and that any other team would have been at least similar.  I still love Duke football, but the lawyers win in court by arguing if they lose on the field?

Our big loser, M&M‘s.  A federal judge ruled a $6 million lawsuit filed by the so-called “Naked Cowboy,” who performs in New York‘s Times Square in just his skivvies and a cowboy hat, can move forward against M&M‘s.  At issue, this billboard in Times Square with a blue M&M dressed in his signature outfit.  A judge ruled a Jury should decide whether the billboard might lead people to think the Naked Cowboy endorsed M&M‘s. 

Our big winner, Ann Hathaway, who got smart just in time.  Last week, the actress reportedly dumped her shady boyfriend, Raffaello Follieri.  Today, the Fed swooped in and arrested the Italian business man on new charges.  At least now he‘ll be described as her “former boyfriend.”

Time now for the “P.O.‘d Box.” E-mails still pouring in over comments we uncovered last week where John McCain said he didn‘t always love his country and that it was tough to be proud of his country at time.  Comments similar to those fueling right-wing attacks against Michelle Obama. 

Ed Fuller:  “Why did you ignore the obvious answer to why reports were deferential to McCain when he questioned America? He‘s a war hero! He has a POW! If there is anyone Americans will allow to question our country it is those who have risked their lives for it.”

Fair enough.  You are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.  I respect you for that and as I said, I respected McCain for making the comment.  I just think the media should be playing this a little fair, that‘s all.

Alice Croll:  “Bravo VERDICT and our man, Dan.  The whole Michelle versus McCain thing is silly.  However, even silliness deserves equal time and viewing.”

And finally, Theresa Furtney-Hibbs from Dawson Springs, Kentucky: 

“Day after day we‘re now being subjected to coverage of Obama‘s so-called ‘flip-flop‘ on campaign finance, while not a word about Teflon John‘s changing positions on abortion, tax breaks for the wealthy, and off-shore drilling, to name a few.”

Theresa, the fact that you used the term “Teflon John” says to me that you know that we have been covering it fairly, even if others in the media have not.  That‘s all the time we have for tonight.  You can e-mail the show, verdict@msnbc.com, please include your name, where you‘re writing from, the Web site is verdict.msnbc.com. 

Thanks for watching.  I‘ll see you back here tomorrow night.

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

END   

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