updated 7/10/2008 12:10:33 PM ET 2008-07-10T16:10:33

Guest: Pam Paugh, Michael Kane, Larry Kobilinsky, Tanya Acker, Ron Reagan, Brad Blakeman, Maria Menounos, Michael Waldman, Paula Woodward

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Breaking tonight, new evidence officially clears JonBenet Ramsey‘s parents of her murder.  The break comes nearly 12 years after six-year-old JonBenet was found dead in the basement of her family‘s Colorado home.

The district attorney in Boulder, Mary Lacy, sent a letter to John Ramsey today saying, quote, “New scientific evidence convinces us that it is appropriate, given the circumstances of this case, to state that we do not consider your immediate family to be under any suspicion in the commission of this crime.  I wish we could have done so before Mrs. Ramsey died.”

Wow.  John Ramsey responded today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, KUSA)

JOHN RAMSEY, JONBENET RAMSEY‘S FATHER:  We‘re certainly grateful for the acknowledgment that we are innocent.  This was an intruder, which, of course, we‘ve always maintained.  And there certainly will be naysayers out there because of state positions and reputations that were abet.  I think that‘s been the hardest part, in my mind, to realize that, you know, my once good reputation isn‘t ever going to be the same.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  KUSA reporter, Paula Woodward broke the story and conducted that interview.  She joins us now.

Paula, thanks for taking the time.  Tell us more about how they found this new evidence and why now.

PAULA WOODWARD, KUSA CORRESPONDENT:  Well, the boulder D.A.  investigators had speculated last November or December when this new technology, the touch technology came out, that perhaps they should check the leggings because the child was undressed and then re-dressed.

And so, they sent it away to the Bode lab, they found the DNA on the waistband where the perpetrator would have unclothed her and then pulled the clothing back up and that new DNA matched what was in her underwear.

ABRAMS:  And the DNA in her underwear is DNA that we‘ve long known about, right, that‘s been sort of the subject of great debate over the years.  And now, they find this additional DNA on these leggings that matches that DNA, right?

WOODWARD:  That‘s correct.  It was skin cell DNA that was found on the waistband of the leggings and the other was fluid swab DNA that was in 1997 and that was finally admitted into COTUS (ph), the national database, in 2002.

ABRAMS:  All right, Paula, stay with us, if you will.

I want to bring in Michael Kane, the special prosecutor who led the grand jury investigation after the murder; and, DNA expert, Larry Kobilinsky; and on the phone is Patsy Ramsey‘s sister, Pam Paugh.

Pam, let me start with you.  What‘s your reaction to the news?

PAM PAUGH, PATSY RAMSEY‘S SISTER (through phone):  Well, it‘s a long time in coming and I‘m so glad now that the world knows that we knew all along, Patsy and John or Burke had anything to do with the murder of our beautiful JonBenet.

ABRAMS:  What do you think about the fact that it‘s 12 years after the fact?  Are you angry, are you frustrated?

PAUGH:  Well, there‘s frustration in waiting this long amount of time, but, I think, to do anything correctly, we must let the professionals, such as the person who‘s developed this new technology, come up with ways to or solve some of these really hard cases.  And that‘s what‘s happened here.  We‘ve been patient but we always knew the truth would come out, and it‘s appearing to do just that.

ABRAMS:  Before Patsy died, did she, do you think, feel confident that this was going to come out eventually, that there would be some piece of definitive evidence that would say, “It‘s simply wasn‘t us”?

PAUGH:  I think she was probably hoping for that all along, not for her sake or for John‘s, but for their children—for Melinda, for John, for Johnny Andrew.  But I can tell you this, emphatically without question, my sister went to meet her Maker with the full and undiluted knowledge that she, nor her husband, nor her son, had anything to do with the demise of JonBenet.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Here‘s more of what John Ramsey said today after finding out the news, after receiving this letter from the district attorney‘s office saying that he and his immediate family, not under any suspicion in connection with this case any more.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, KUSA)

RAMSEY:  One of the strategies that were employed by the police was to make us look guilty, so we‘d have intense media pressure on us, and so as information leaked, anonymously—that wasn‘t true—that implicated us and caused people to suspect us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Mike Kane, you were not there in the early stages of the case, you were brought in later—but is it fair to say, looking back on this, now with this new DNA evidence, et cetera, that on the whole, the authorities were very unfair to the Ramseys?

MICHAEL KANE, FMR. RAMSEY SPECIAL PROSECUTOR:  No, I wouldn‘t say that at all.  I wouldn‘t say that at all, Dan.  I mean, first of all, I think that, I guess, you have to look at this evidence in the light that it is and say it‘s a conclusion of this prosecutor that it exonerates somebody, but, you know, there‘s going to be an election in November and the next prosecutor will say that it doesn‘t.

And I‘m not trying to devalue the fact that it‘s a significant piece of evidence, but standing alone, it doesn‘t exonerate anybody and I think that the district attorney sending this letter really doesn‘t accomplish very much.  I mean, I know that she‘s felt and made it clear for a long time, publicly, that they were not under, nobody in the family was under suspicion.

And I‘m not saying that they should be or they shouldn‘t be, I‘m just simply saying that at the time that this investigation started, given all the facts that the police department knew, and all the circumstances, and given the way that some of the family members were reacting to the investigation, I don‘t think anybody was at fault for following the path that they followed.

ABRAMS:  Let me read you more from Mary Lacy‘s letter to John Ramsey, “I‘m aware that there will be those who will choose to continue to differ with our conclusion.  But DNA is very often the most reliable forensic evidence we can hope to find.  I am very comfortable that our conclusion that this evidence has vindicated your family is based firmly on all of the evidence.”

Are you one of the people who will differ with their conclusion?

KANE:  I don‘t differ with it or agree with it.  All I‘m saying is, for example, if, you know, if the police go in to a house of burglary and find a fingerprint that they haven‘t matched to anybody inside the house, until you find out who‘s that is and find out how that got there, you can‘t reach a logical conclusion.  That‘s all I‘m saying here.

I‘m not saying it‘s insignificant that the same DNA is found on this other item of clothing, but the point is, is that that other item of clothing was being worn at the same time.  And so, contamination from how the body was handled, contamination from how it was processed, all those things have to be discounted before you can say definitively, someone was not involved.

ABRAMS:  Let me get an objective assessment here from our DNA expert.

All right, Larry, let‘s take a step back here.  They do this new testing.  It‘s new sensitive, newer, newest sensitive testing which shows that the same DNA is found on the leggings she was wearing that was found in her underwear, both of them male DNA, not John Ramsey, not anyone in his family.

And the D.A. now—and let me read you from this letter and I want you tell me if you think this is fair based on your DNA assessment, “to the extent we may have contributed in any way to the public perception that you might have been involved in this crime, I am deeply sorry.  We intend in the future to treat you as the victims of this crime with the sympathy due you because of the horrific loss that you suffered.”

Is that a fair conclusion based on the DNA evidence?

LARRY KOBILINSKY, DNA EXPERT:  I think it is.  I think we have to step back and look at the evidence without any preconceived notions as to who was involved.  And see what the evidence says.

I mean, there is some evidence that there was an intruder.  There was some footprints, for example, found in that cellar right below the window.

But here we have DNA evidence that, you know, it‘s a very powerful tool for the prosecution, but it‘s also a very powerful tool for the defense.  And you can‘t have it both ways.  You have to respect it.

ABRAMS:  If you were advising the D.A., and they said to you, “Look, here‘s what we got, it‘s unbelievable.  I mean, this case has been going on for 12 years.  Look at what we found.”  And if they said to you, “Sir, should we write a letter to John Ramsey telling him, “You are cleared, you are vindicated,” what would you say?

KOBILINSKY:  It‘s a bold step, but at this point, I would say, yes, they did the right thing.  You know, this has been going on for 12 years.  We actually have some definitive evidence that there is a male, that we don‘t know who that person is.  They‘ve done all the elimination samples and they can‘t determine whose DNA that is.

ABRAMS:  This is—Paul Woodward, let me bring you back into this, because the key piece of evidence that always haunted the Ramseys and haunted the investigators, was this ransom note in this that the Ramseys found at the home.  I want to read you part of it, the ransom note said, “We‘re a group of individuals that represent a small foreign faction.  We respect your business but not the country that it serves.  At this time, we have your daughter in our possession.”

I mean, this, I still am convinced that this ransom note was staged by someone.  This idea that they‘re a small foreign faction, they‘re stating that that they‘re small and insignificant, and they‘re claiming they have JonBenet in their possession when they didn‘t.  You know, do you still believe that someone who wrote that ransom note knew John Ramsey, was someone who was familiar with the home, et cetera?

WOODWARD:  I just don‘t have any idea.  I ask him about the $118,000, which was the ransom demand today, and he said that it could have been someone who had access to his house; the house was under construction.  JonBenet had been in the Boulder parade and she was Miss Christmas.  They had tours of their house, about six or seven tours of their house.

We actually counted the windows and the doors in the house and there were about 140 ways to get in, about 99 of those doors and windows could unlock.  So, it‘s conceivable that someone could have gotten in ahead of time, I don‘t know.  But it‘s an odd, odd note.

ABRAMS:  But, Mike Kane, I mean, look, that remains, I think, the most important piece of evidence in this case.  There was a practice note that someone took the time to start writing and then stop writing and started again, and then they write what I view as this sort of nonsense about a small foreign faction, et cetera.  Do you think it‘s fair to still conclude that someone who wrote this note was doing it as a ruse?

KANE:  Oh, I think there‘s no question that someone who wrote it didn‘t intend to try to collect $118,000 ransom.  And, you know, the other thing that strikes me is, you know, your other guests talking about he would advise the D.A.—you know, there‘s so much urban legend out there about what the facts of this case are, an example is what he just said about there being a footprint at the base of a window.

There‘s no footprint at a base of a window.  There are so many things that have been put out and speculated about in the public domain and all I‘m saying is that those people who have researched all of the evidence in this case, have reached a certain conclusion in the D.A.‘s office now.

Other people who have been access to all the evidence in this case are not so convinced.  And that‘s not to say that they‘re convinced, that there is a particular person that you could name.  All I‘m saying is that given all the evidence that‘s still out there, that hasn‘t been explained, I would not say anybody‘s been exonerated in this case.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Pam Paugh, does that surprise you that some like Mike Kane still have their doubts?

PAUGH:  No, because I believe it was Mr. Kane who took drastic steps to try to keep some truth in the form of Lou Smith‘s findings, a serious investigator with a long history of solving homicides.  Mr. Kane, I believe, and his cohorts tried to keep Mr. Smith quiet.  And I don‘t think that that in any court of the land, that doesn‘t serve justice at all for JonBenet or anyone else who‘s murdered in this country.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Mike, answer the overview question which is—that effectively, you were responsible for preventing the truth from coming out.

KANE:  That is ludicrous and if you talk to anyone that was part of the investigation, or part of the grand jury, or talk to Lou Smith himself, he‘ll tell you that I‘m the one that ran that investigation and I‘m the one that made the agreement for him to testify.

So, to say that I tried to block any of his testimony—and, first of all, no one has a right to come before the grand jury, the grand jury hears whoever they want to hear.  And anybody that talks to anybody involved in this case, would say—and the very fact that, that, my finger was on the trigger and if I wanted to pull the trigger at the end of this case, the grand jury would have pulled it.

And the fact that there was nothing pulled, I think, speaks about the team that looked at this case, looked at all the facts and reached the conclusion that there was not enough evidence to indict anybody and that‘s the bottom line in this case.  And to suggest that somehow we hid facts from the public or we tried to suppress facts, is ludicrous and if I wasn‘t a public figure I‘d make her prove it.

PAUGH:  I believe that I do recall, clearly, a letter under the penmanship of your name that clearly said, “Lou Smith, you are hereby declined and asked not to come or pursue any further actions with the grand jury.”  Am I wrong?

ABRAMS:  Real quick response.

KANE:  You should read that letter again.

PAUGH:  I have, sir.

KANE:  Read that letter again and see who made the decision.  It was not me.  And then ask Mr. Smith who was the one that led –

ABRAMS:  All right.  I don‘t have the letter here so I don‘t the answer to the question. Larry, final question—the case going to be solved now, now that they got this?

KOBILINSKY:  Maybe never.  We don‘t have—we just know who that DNA belongs to and it may take years.  We may never solve the case.

ABRAMS:  Yes, but this is, you know, this is a major development when a D.A.‘s office steps forward and says, “We are clearing you, you are no longer under any sort of suspicion in the case.”  That is a big, big development no matter how you cut it.

Mike Kane, Paula Woodward, Larry Kobilinsky, Pam Paugh, thanks very much.  Appreciate it.

PAUGH:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Coming up: Jesse Jackson forced to apologize after making crude comments about Barack Obama.  We‘ve got the tape of what he said next.

But is it actually an opportunity for Obama to distance himself from Jackson?  And Obama now says it was a mistake to sit down for a TV interview with his kids.  Really?  This, as someone in the media piled on the interviewer.  She‘s with us.

Plus, Medicare duped into paying more than $90 million to fill prescriptions from dead doctors.  Another reason Why America Hates Washington is coming up in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Tonight‘s edition of Why America Hates Washington: Medicare paying out millions in taxpayer dollars to fill prescriptions from dead doctors.  Investigators say Medicare was duped into dishing out as much as $92 million since the year 2000 to medical suppliers who ordered wheelchairs and other equipment on behalf of deceased doctors.  Some of those doctors died more than five years before the claim was processed.

The agency that administers Medicare knew about the problem, pledged to correct it six years ago—didn‘t happen.  Medicare making taxpayers sick with incompetence: Another reason Why America Hates Washington.

We‘re back with Jesse Jackson‘s crude comments about Barack Obama.  Should Obama have accepted his apology?  Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Welcome back.

Former presidential candidate and civil rights leader, Jesse Jackson, forced to apologize for what he called crude and hurtful comments about Barack Obama.  Jackson‘s controversial remarks picked up by a microphone he didn‘t realize was on.  Here‘s some of what he said, criticizing Obama‘s support for faith-based initiative.  It is graphic.

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

JESSE JACKSON, CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER:  See.  Barack been talking down to black people on this faith based.  I want to cut his (BEEP) off.

Barack, he‘s talking down to black people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Jackson apologized before those comments were even made public during a hastily called press conference earlier tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JACKSON:  And this thing, I said in a hot-mic statement that‘s interpreted as a distraction, I offer apology for that because I don‘t want harm or hurt to come to this campaign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  The Obama camp released a statement late tonight, saying Senator Obama accepts Reverend Jackson‘s apology, even Jackson‘s own son issued a statement calling the remarks reckless and ugly.  Wouldn‘t this have been a good opportunity for Obama to distance himself from Jackson?

Here now political commentator Ron Reagan; Democratic strategist, Tanya Acker; and, former Bush aide, Brad Blakeman.

Ron, wasn‘t this an opportunity for Obama to distance himself and say, look, use the words that Jackson‘s own son used?

RON REAGAN, POLITICAL COMMENTATOR:  I don‘t think he really needs to do that.  I think that there‘s enough distance between them right now as evidence by Jackson‘s remarks.  Listen, Jesse Jackson is an old lion of the civil rights movement.  He‘s an old lion among Black Democrats.

And he sees that his day is slowly passing away now, and I think there‘s a little personal animosity, a little jealousy, but this sort of thing will blow over.  It‘s not going to be a big deal for long.

ABRAMS:  Brad?

BRAD BLAKEMAN, FORMER BUSH AIDE:  Well, I think it‘s the apology of the week.  I mean, last week was General Clark and we had Father Pfleger, and Pastor Wright, and Bill Clinton—I mean, this is just nuts.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Tanya—look, Obama through his spokesperson says that, “Obama has spoken and written for many years about the issue of parental responsibility, including the importance of fathers participating in their children‘s lives.  He, of course, accepts Reverend Jackson‘s apology.”

But, why, of course—I mean, again, I‘m not saying he has to sort of, you know, hold him, make him a public example of problems with Democrats or whatever, but why does he have to accept the apology?  Why not use it to say, “Look, that‘s not the kind of politics we‘re doing here”?

TANYA ACKER, POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I think for two reasons.  One, because I think as Ron pointed out, this thing would simply, it‘s going to blow over and I think that Senator Obama‘s right to not make it more of an issue than it already is.

I mean, and secondly, why not be gracious and accept the apology?  I mean, I think, that that‘s just outstanding, noble thing to do.  I mean, I‘d be happy to accept any apologies that Brad wants to offer at some point through the program.  I think it‘s the right thing to do.

BLAKEMAN:  No, listen—let me tell you what‘s happening here.  Jesse Jackson‘s underlying comments reveal is there‘s a deep-seated dysfunctionality amongst the Democratic Party.  You have Jesse Jackson who‘s dissatisfied; you have Hillary‘s people who are dissatisfied; you have Obama‘s people who are not giving money to Hillary to retire her debt.  There‘s trouble in paradise.

REAGAN:  There is no Jesse Jackson wing of the Democratic Party.  There may be a Jesse Jackson feather in the Democratic cap, but there‘s no Jesse Jackson wing here that get ticked off with Barack Obama.

BLAKEMAN:  I think he‘s got a lot of people who sympathize with what he said and the reason by which he said it.

ABRAMS:   But what about, Tanya, what about the moderates in the party who want to know.  They want to be assured that Barack Obama is not with Jackson on a variety of issues.  That they don‘t perceive it the way Brad is claiming.  Wouldn‘t this have been an opportunity for Obama to make it clear that‘s not where I am?

ACKER:  I think that just by a virtue of Jesse Jackson having made these comments, it‘s clear that that‘s not where Senator Obama is.  And then, I think, we also should look to, you know, what gave rise to Reverend Jackson making these comments in the first place.  And my understanding is that they come from what Senator Obama has spoken to, which is really a crisis in the African-American community, a single-parent family.

I think just like, just like Bill Cosby got a lot of flack for making some of the statements that he did, you see, now, Reverend Jackson coming down on Senator Obama.  I don‘t think that‘s anything to do with any deep-seated crisis on the Democratic Party.

ABRAMS:  What about his own son?  Well, his son says, “I‘m deeply outraged and disappointed in Reverend Jackson‘s reckless statements.  I thoroughly reject and repudiate his ugly rhetoric.  He should keep hope alive and any personal attacks and insults to himself.”

That‘s his own son saying that.

RON:  That‘s a little tough for your own son to be saying that.

ACKER:  Absolutely.

ABRAMS:  Although, Ron, I can imagine you probably had thoughts like that about your dad, at certain points in your life, is my guess.

REAGAN:  No, I never the had a thought like that.

ABRAMS:  All right.

REAGAN:  We had our disagreements, but no, I never went that far.  Now, you know, again, I think this is going to blow over and I think if there is a net benefit, it will accrue to Barack Obama.  You know, as was said here, you don‘t have to distance yourself with Jesse Jackson if you‘re Barack Obama; he just threatened to cut your bits off.  That says there‘s a big distance.

(LAUGHTER)

ABRAMS:  But, is there an issue, though, I mean, is he touching on something here, Tanya, about the notion, I mean, this is one of the things that he‘s got to be very sensitive about, is the idea he‘s talking down to people, right?  The idea that - yes, go ahead.

ACKER:  I think the comments, again, that gave rise to it are very different from the other comments that Brad and some of his cohorts would like to latch on to, in terms of, you know, what was admittedly in this statement about referring to people clinging to guns and religion.  I think that‘s very separate from what Senator Obama has spoken to here, which is that there‘s a problem with African-American men and not taking care of their families.  I mean, that‘s just a fact.

So, I don‘t want to turn that into, and I would ask that—I think that‘s a separate issue.  That‘s a separate issue.  That‘s not a Republican sound byte.  It‘s an issue that Senator Obama and other people care about.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Let him respond.

BLAKEMAN:  Here‘s the problem.  Here‘s the problem, whether you want to face it or not and that is Jesse Jackson hit on what the Republicans have said the last couple months, and that is—this guy is a snob.  He‘s an elitist.  He thinks he‘s better than everybody else and he talks down to people.  That‘s what Jesse Jackson was frustrated with.

REAGAN:  There‘s a larger context here as well -

ACKER:  I‘m very sorry to interrupt you, Brad, I‘m very sorry to interrupt you, Brad.  But neither you and nor the Republican Party for whom you speak, is really speaking to the issue that Senator Obama was talking about when he‘s talking about African-American families in these churches.  This is not one of your convenient political sound bytes.  This is a serious crisis and serious issue that people care about.

BLAKEMAN:  What we identify is a problem with Obama and that is—he‘s an elitist, he thinks he‘s better than everybody else, and he talks down to people.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Ron Reagan gets the final word—Ron Reagan, yes.

REAGAN:  How do you think that he thinks he‘s better than everyone else?  I want to know how you read his mind and his emotional state that way, to be able to say something like that.

BLAKEMAN:  The way he carries himself, the way he -

REAGAN:  What do you mean the way he carries himself?  How is that?

BLAKEMAN:  What do you think that Jesse Jackson was saying?

REAGAN:  Well, you mean that he‘s eloquent and somewhat graceful in his physical presentation?

(LAUGHTER)

BLAKEMAN:  No, no, the guy is a snob.

REAGAN:  How do you say that?  How do you know that?

ACKER:  What makes him snobbish?  What makes him snobbish?

BLAKEMAN:  Don‘t you think Jesse Jackson was at least inferring to the fact that this guy is—projects himself as being a little bit better than everybody else?

ACKER:  No, Jesse Jackson was speaking to Barack Obama‘s - Jesse Jackson was speaking to Barack Obama‘s having addressed the crisis of African-American men not stepping up to the responsibilities of parenthood.  Now, if you want to try to distort that and turn it into some Republican sound byte, that‘s a very, very desperate thing.

BLAKEMAN:  It‘s not a sound byte, I think that Jesse Jackson -

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  It‘s going to have to be that way, it‘s going to be the final sound byte.

REAGAN:  If you want to start describing motives to people like this, now, I can say that John McCain is not just foolish for proposing to balance the budget by 2013, but he‘s insane.

ABRAMS:  Here‘s the good news.  When I have good guests like Ron Reagan, Tanya Acker, and Brad Blakeman on, I can sit back and I can let Ron and Tanya go out to Brad and I can enjoy.  I can enjoy.  Good stuff, thank you.  Appreciate it.

REAGAN:  We make your life so easy, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Coming up: Obama says he got carried away and if he can do it over again, he wouldn‘t let his kids be interviewed on TV.  I thought it was a great interview.  Why was it a mistake?

And some anchors apparently jealous of Maria Menounos who got the big interview, talking about the questions she asked and what types of questions.  They‘re children.  Beat the Press is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It‘s time for tonight‘s “Beat the Press,” our daily look back at media hypocrisy, agendas, lead music, perils of live TV.

First up, the “Detroit Free Press” covered the Flint, Michigan, crackdown on saggy pants.  Yes, this graphic showed you what it has come down to.

Explaining to readers the potential crimes based on where one‘s pants are.  Penalties range from a warning for underwear exposed to a disorderly conduct charge for pants below the buttocks to an indecent exposure charge for exposed buttocks.  And potential punishments for the last two are up to a year in jail and $500 fines.

The first line of the story reads, “Flint residents now have to watch their butts because Chief David Dicks is on the lookout.”

Finally on Nancy Grace‘s CNN program they were showing techniques for self-defense.  And if you watch the face of their demonstration expert it sure looks like she is trying to show us what my pal Nancy Grace might look like if she were the victim.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If I go to grab her, she might take the lid of the cell phone and jab it into the throat and then close it, jam the antenna into my eye bringing my hands up and then attack a leg.  Once again, she goes low.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Up next, Obama says he regrets letting his 10 and 7-year-old daughters be interviewed by “Access Hollywood.”  Maria Menounos is with us; she conducted the interview as some in the media go after her.

And later Attorney General Michael Mukasey today refusing to take action against those who politicize the Justice Department.  It‘s Bush league justice, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(newsbreak)

ABRAMS:  Welcome back.

Last night we heard portions of the first ever Obama family interview.  Barack and Michelle Obama were joined by their daughters; 10-year-old Malia and 7-year-old Sasha.  Now Obama seems to be regretting his decision to allow them to be interviewed.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE:  I think that we got carried away in the moment.  We were having a birthday party and everybody was laughing and suddenly this thing cropped up.  And I didn‘t catch it quickly enough and I was surprised by the attention it received, as well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So if you had to do it over again—

OBAMA:  We wouldn‘t do it again and we won‘t be doing it again.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  “Access Hollywood‘s” Maria Menounos interviewed the Obamas and is with us and will bring us behind the scenes in a moment.

But first, here‘s more from that interview.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARIA MENOUNOS, HOST, “ACCESS HOLLYWOOD”:  What are your biggest pet peeves?

B. OBAMA:  Michelle‘s list is long.  This is only a half hour show, isn‘t it?

MENOUNOS:  Exactly.

MICHELLE OBAMA:  He doesn‘t hang up his clothes.

B. OBAMA:  Yeah, I do.  On the door.

MICHELLE OBAMA:  On the door in the bedroom.  And then you‘re trying to close the door and then he‘s gone, right?  So he leaves.

MALIA OBAMA:  No, this is what you do, daddy.  It‘s not that bad.  But when you come home, you have your big, gigantic bag and you leave it in the mud room and sometimes I trip over it.

MICHELLE OBAMA:  Yeah, you leave your bag.

SASHA OBAMA:  You leave your bag right there.

MICHELLE OBAMA:  It‘s heavy.

B. OBAMA:  I‘m putting it down because I‘m so eager to come and see you guys.

MICHELLE OBAMA:  That‘s a good one.  That‘s one.

MENOUNOS:  Fair is fair.  Senator, do you have any?

MICHELLE OBAMA:  Wait, we have one more.

S. OBAMA:  Bag on my shoes.

MENOUNOS:  On your shoes.

MICHELLE OBAMA:  In the mud room.  Where the shoes go.

B. OBAMA:  Malia is much better at talking on the phone than Sasha.  Sasha gets bored with talking to me.  Bye, love you.

MALIA OBAMA:  I‘m sitting and talking on the phone and sometimes I kind of feel bad for you.

B. OBAMA:  Do you?

MALIA OBAMA:  I am like, come on, sash.  He hasn‘t seen you in three days.  Like, bye.  I usually try to have a conversation.

B. OBAMA:  You make an effort.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Joining me now is Maria Menounos and back with us is Ron Reagan and Brad Blakeman.

Maria, were you surprised to hear Senator Obama say this morning, we got carried away, sorry we did it.

MENOUNOS:  Yes, I mean I definitely was a little surprised.  I thought the interview was a beautiful portrayal of their family and, you know, you can see their body language in the interview.  Everyone is really comfortable and it was only a positive story.

What happens after a story like this comes out, other media outlets weren‘t the ones to get it, everyone is quick to kind of come up with an excuse as to why they didn‘t get it.

They‘re saying all kinds of crazy things and now they‘re even getting it to the point where they‘re overanalyzing these kids rather than taking it for what it is, which is a beautiful family that‘s normal and much more normal than you could ever imagine, you know, a would-be potential president‘s family.

You know, they‘re saying Malia is too mature and having all these critiques.  Leave them alone.  They‘re a great family. She‘s a well-spoken young lady.  It doesn‘t mean she‘s fair game just because she did an interview.

ABRAMS:  Ron Reagan, as a son of a former president, you have a unique insight here.  What do you make of it?

RON REAGAN, SON OF RONALD REAGAN:  Well, this is one of the most difficult things that any politician, particularly one running for president, has to decide about.  If they have kids, you have kids and they‘re going to be around, people are going to know that.  People want to know about that.

How much exposure to do you give them?  Generally speaking the younger they are, the less exposure they‘re going to have.  They seem like great kids.  They seem like a very warm, happy family.

But I think he‘s making the right decision that now enough is a enough.  I think they were surprised by all the attention and this will do it.  One interview.

ABRAMS:  What do you think about it, Ron, as someone who has experienced it and someone who has known what it is like to grow up in the limelight like that?  If he came to you and he said, “Ron, I want your advice.  My kids are great, I love them, they want to do this interview.  They asked me to sit down and do this, should I do it?”

REAGAN:  You know, if it‘s just once I don‘t think there‘s a problem with it.  The problem that is going to crop up is if he‘s elected he has to realize—and I‘m sure that they thought about this—their children are not going to lead normal lives during their childhood.  It‘s just not going to happen in the White House.

That‘s no bad reflection on the Obamas, it‘s just a fact of life.  That is going to be something they really are going to have to deal with as these kids go through very delicate years.

ABRAMS:  And the other problems are people like Brad Blakeman who are going to look at this and somehow make this a political issue.  Right, Brad?

BRAD BLAKEMAN:  Call them snobs.

No, those kids were charming.  Ron is absolutely right and Maria did a great job.

I think the skunk of the party was Barack Obama.  He should have never commented on it.  If he didn‘t want to do it again make that a staff decision to go out and tell the press, that‘s enough.

The kids did a great job.  It was a beautiful interview.

But here‘s the problem with Obama.  He is so uncomfortable when he‘s not scripted.  This was an unscripted moment and he was not comfortable at all and I think that‘s what got to him.

And I hope he knows, no teleprompters at the debate.  He has got to be unscripted.

ABRAMS:  Well, I don‘t know that it was if he was unscripted was the problem.  Let me play a little bit more of the kids and then ask Maria another question.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHELLE OBAMA:  You know, we‘re usually doing picnics and fairs and ice cream parlors and things that are fun for the kids and, obviously, fun for us and a lot more fun than listening to daddy talk.

B. OBAMA:  They‘re basically cut out when I sort of make—

MICHELLE OBAMA:  Like, is he talking?

MENOUNOS:  You get ragged on a lot.

B. OBAMA:  Yes, I do.  What can I do.

MENOUNOS:  Oops, I think we just hit Sasha‘s blah, blah limit. 

S. OBAMA:  Mommy, when are we getting ice cream?

MICHELLE OBAMA:  When are we getting ice cream?  Later on.

MALIA OBAMA:  We‘re getting ice cream?

MICHELLE OBAMA:  I‘m sure there‘s ice cream.

B. OBAMA:  I‘m sure we can have.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Maria, you‘re making the point, you‘re saying what is the matter with—Obama is now saying it‘s going to be a one-time deal and not going to do it again.

MENOUNOS:  What is wrong with that?  I mean, to get an inside peek into their family is a beautiful thing and now we get to see a different side of them.

ABRAMS:  He sounds sorry he did it and you—

MENOUNOS:  I think he‘s sorry that it became as big as it did.  I think that‘s what he‘s sorry about.

ABRAMS:  Did he seem reluctant at the time?

MENOUNOS:  I think he‘s sorry because right now, I‘m sure their campaign is being swamped by calls.  Why didn‘t you do us?  You have to do us.

What they want to say now is, this is it.  It‘s been everywhere, our family, you‘ve seen our family, that‘s more than you need to know.  What more do you need to ask?

ABRAMS:  Was he reluctant?

MENOUNOS:  No, not at all.  It was a beautiful, beautiful moment.  And what I want to know is, what more do people want to hear from them?  Do we want to ask these kids more questions?  We found out what we wanted to know.

ABRAMS:  I want to give you a chance to respond to our friend, Anderson Cooper over at CNN, who let‘s just say wasn‘t so flattering about the choice to go with you and “Access Hollywood.”  Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR:  Over the Fourth of July weekend, Barack Obama let “Access Hollywood” interview his wife, Michelle, and their two daughters 10-year old Malia, and Sasha, who‘s 7.  Considering it was “Access Hollywood” the questions weren‘t hard-hitting and that‘s most likely why they got interview.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Give me a break, please.  No offense to Anderson but it‘s not exactly like when he does the interviews, there are always these hard-hitting—we did an example once when he said it was going to be the toughest interview Scott McClellan‘s ever done.  And then we compare the questions he asked to the ones that Wolf Blitzer had asked earlier in the day and they were exactly the same.

Are you insulted by it?

MENOUNOS:  I was a little disappointed because I feel like there should be camaraderie among us, to some degree, and I feel like, what more could you have asked?  You know I sat down even with—

ABRAMS:  Why didn‘t you grill the kids?  Why didn‘t you grill them? 

Go at them and get in their face.

MENOUNOS:  I know.  To me I‘m sitting here like—these are beautiful kids, I want to have a nice conversation, I want to get to know them and their family‘s dynamic.  I don‘t want to make them cry.

Does that make me more of a journalist if I have to ask them these horrible questions?  What is that?  Why are we going there?

ABRAMS:  Ron, who is going to ask tough questions of the kids?

REAGAN:  Exactly.  This isn‘t really an interview; it is just sort of an encounter.  The kids come on and they‘re sort charming and funny and all.

Again, this has become more of an intra-media story than anything else; there‘s animosity between different camps.

ABRAMS:  Lay off Maria Menounos, lay off her, people.

MENOUNOS:  Dan‘s my body guard.

ABRAMS:  She did a great interview and you‘re just jealous you didn‘t get the interview.  It was well done, the kids were charming, as they possibly could have been.

Congratulations to you and “Access Hollywood.”  Enough, people.

Maria, Ron, Brad, thanks so much.

MENOUNOS:  Thank you guys.

ABRAMS:  Karl Rove prefers to not to show up to testify in front of Congress about politicizing the Justice Department.  This as Attorney General Michael Mukasey says today no accountability is needed for those who may have broke on the law by putting politics over justice.  Really?

We‘re back in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Tonight “Reality Bites” for passengers doing a double take on the New York City subway.  Unsuspecting riders stumbled upon a car full of identical twins talking, texting and touching things in exactly the same way as their sibling across the aisle.

ABRAMS:  The scene was staged by a group of self-proclaimed pranksters and looked like something straight out of the twilight zone.  Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Welcome back.

In just over 12 hours Karl Rove is supposed to testify before the House Judiciary Committee about the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman, the Democrat.  But while members of Congress say they still hope Rove will be there, he isn‘t coming.

This comes on a day when Attorney General Michael Mukasey said no more accountability is needed for two former Justice Department officials even though an internal Justice Department report said they may have violated the law by rejecting job applicants because they worked for Democrats or worked for progressive causes.

Senator Russ Feingold asked Mukasey about this today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD:  What about accountability for those who did this?

MICHAEL MUKASEY, ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I think that to the extent that there is to be accountability that was covered in the OIG report.  People who were deficient were—some of them are no longer at the department.  Others came under criticism. 

FEINGOLD:  I want to review exactly—excuse me, sir.

MUKASEY:  No.  If any—if you can point to any criminal laws that were violated—

FEINGOLD:  All right we‘ll take this up more later, but thank you for that initial response.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  So Rove‘s not going to show up to testify about politicizing the Justice Department even though we‘ve got our clock up there.  Now Mukasey is not going to take action against those within the Justice Department who did just that.

Isn‘t this more evidence that Congress has to come down hard on tomorrow when he doesn‘t show?

Joining me now Michael Waldman from the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and again, Republican strategist, Brad Blakeman.

Michael, it seems to me that Congress has to send a message.  Now whether they actually need to put him in shackles and bring him to jail down at the Capitol, I don‘t know about that.  But they do need to send a message to Karl Rove that says, “We‘re serious.”

MICHAEL WALDMAN:  Congress on this, I think, has to play hardball and not worry about looking shrill or looking partisan.  People need to remember this is the biggest scandal at the Justice Department.  The biggest abuse of power since John Mitchell sat in the attorney general‘s office and planned Watergate.

This was the politicization of the Justice Department; attempts to get phony prosecutions to help affect an election.  Stacking career civil service jobs with political favorites; pushing out other people.  It was top to bottom.

A lot of people had hoped Mukasey would—he‘s certainly better than Gonzales but that‘s like saying today‘s Mets are better than—

ABRAMS:  But Mukasey‘s in a tough position.  He‘s in a tough position because all this occurred under of a different attorney general.  I think Mukasey‘s got potential to be a good attorney general, but he‘s in a tough place.  He‘s got to take a little bit tougher action.

WALDMAN:  I think that‘s right.  He‘s got a tough client, too.  There‘s a limit to what the White House is going to let him do on something like this.

But Congress has tools.  It obviously could put Karl Rove in jail for not testifying, which would certainly be dramatic, but there are other things they can do before that.

They can bring another lawsuit like they have done with Harriet Miers.  They can cut off funding, they can stop nomination.  There are a lot of ways to play hard ball.  And I think it‘s a matter of principle.  If we really want to get change at the Justice Department without having to wait until next year—

ABRAMS:  Are they going to do that?  Are they going to do it?

WALDMAN:  It‘s a political judgment.  I don‘t know.

ABRAMS:  Brad, look, this internal Justice Department report comes out.  It concludes that a couple of folks in the Justice Department violated the department‘s policies and civil service law that prohibits discrimination on hiring based on political or ideological reasons.  That‘s the finding.

And you‘ve got Karl Rove; they want ask him questions about similar type issues.  This is a major scandal and a major issue.  You don‘t think it‘s major.  You think this is just—this is a non-issue, right? 

BLAKEMAN:  No, it‘s not an issue at all.  It‘s a battle between the legislative body and the executive branch and the remedy is, go to court.

The Congress is crying wolf again.  They‘re not going to lock Karl Rove up.  You know what?  Karl Rove isn‘t going to show up because he has a good reason.  The president is invoking the executive privilege.

As far as Mukasey is concerned, Dan, you hit it on the head.  He wasn‘t at the helm when this took place.  The people who perpetrated this are gone.  If anything, no criminal liability is on the part of those folks who did this.  And if anything, it‘s civil liability.

And the people who have been harmed have a remedy.  They can bring an action.  But certainly Mukasey has a lot of other things on his plate that national security, white collar crime, drugs.

ABRAMS:  The argument that he‘s too busy to deal with this has never been one that‘s particularly persuasive to me.

BLAKEMAN:  It‘s a non-issue.  It‘s been dealt with effectively.

WALDMAN:  It‘s been dealt with in part because the attorney general and his chief of staff, the deputy attorney general have all resigned.  But, let‘s face it, the Justice Department for Republican administrations and Democratic administrations has been one of the jewels of the federal government.

BLAKEMAN:  Not during the Clinton administration, my friend.  Clinton on the eve of leaving stacked the federal government with civil service jobs.

WALDMAN:  The fact of the matter is the Justice Department needs to be fixed.  It needs to have restoration of its role.  And that‘s a long-term process.

ABRAMS:  And there‘s no comparison—I‘ve got to wrap this up, Brad.  You can pick cherry pick things that the Clinton White House should have done, shouldn‘t have done, et cetera.  There is no comparison to this scale, the massive scale—

BLAKEMAN:  Oh, come on.  Are you kidding me?

ABRAMS:  -- of intellectual corruption that‘s gone on in this Justice Department.  That‘s why you have a new attorney general there.  There‘s a good reason because the old one got in a lot of trouble.

BLAKEMAN:  And we have a new attorney general that has a lot of big things to do and this isn‘t one of them.

ABRAMS:  I‘ll give you the final word. Brad Blakeman and Michael Waldman, thanks a lot, appreciate it.  Up next, in winners and losers, a Republican group that compared Obama to O.J. And you‘re e-mails in the P.O. box about the Obama family interview coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Time for tonight‘s winners and losers.

Our big loser, the Republican Club of Pemberton, New Jersey.  They posted a banner on their website that says Obama loves America like O.J.  loved Nicole.  The club‘s webmaster says it was a joke.  And they‘ve taken it down.  They‘re such a bunch of kidders over there.  Everybody loves a good laugh when it comes to O.J.

Our big winner, Senator Ted Kennedy who got a hearty bipartisan standing ovation from his colleagues as he returned to the senate this afternoon for the first time since being diagnosed with brain cancer.  The veteran said he wanted to be there for an important vote on Medicare.

Time for the “P.O.‘d Box.”  Last night we talked about the Obama‘s first family interview.

L. Rumore writes:  “It‘s outrageous that the Obamas used their daughters on Access Hollywood to promote his campaign.  All bets are off.  The Obamas can‘t now say the press can‘t talk to them in the future.

Relax.  All bets aren‘t off because the kids were there for one interview talking about what dad likes to eat.

Rene Harrison:  “What a fabulous down-to-earth family the Obamas are.  I still have goosebumps and teary eyes in hopes that we will have such dignified first ladies Sasha and Mali.

That‘s all the time we have for tonight.

You can email us about the show, verdict@msnbc.com please include your name, where you‘re writing from.

I‘ll see you.

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

END   

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W atch Verdict with Dan Abrams each weeknight at 9 p.m. ET

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