updated 7/18/2008 10:59:43 AM ET 2008-07-18T14:59:43

Guests: Bill Gavin, Gary Johnson, Katherine Eismann, Brad Miller, Tanya Acker, Kris Kobach

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Hi, everyone.

More Bush League Justice tonight: Former Attorney General John Ashcroft on the Hill, answering questions from Congress today, this as the “Washington Post” reveals more evidence of just how polluted and politicized the usually apolitical Justice Department became during this administration.

And Karl Rove, is still refusing to talk to Congress despite a subpoena.  Rove, he‘s showing up and talking to FOX News about why he‘s defying that congressional subpoena, and in the process, mocking the House committee investigating allegations he had a hand in the prosecution of a prominent Democrat.

But first, the “Washington Post” reporting today that in 2003, the conservative former attorney general, John Ashcroft, offered up five names to head the Justice Department‘s Office of Legal Counsel, the office that writes legal opinions for the president himself.  But all five proposed by Ashcroft were rejected by the White House, they say in favor of a quote, “loyalist.”  Someone who would support the administration‘s efforts to effectively do whatever they wanted.  That loyalist—John Yoo, who‘d help draft memos supporting warrantless wiretapping and harsh interrogations.

Today, Ashcroft was on Capitol Hill, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee.  He wouldn‘t confirm the report but he seemed to, at least, admit he had reservations about Yoo.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN ASHCROFT, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I think it‘s very important and this is consistent with the traditions and responsibility of OLC to have independent, detached, fully-vetted advice provided by the OLC, the Office of Legal Counsel to the president of the United States.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  And that wasn‘t what was happening.  John Ashcroft maybe the most conservative attorney general this nation had ever had up to that point, and we know learn he‘s suggested picks weren‘t conservative for an administration that was apparently in search of rubber stamp lawyers.

Joining me now: Representative Brad Miller, a Democrat from North Carolina; Democratic analyst, Tanya Acker; and, constitutional law professor, Kris Kobach, who worked for Attorney General Ashcroft.  Thanks to all of you for coming on.  Appreciate.

All right.  Representative Miller, let me ask you—this revelation to me is enormous.  I mean, the idea that John Ashcroft, so conservative, is giving five names of people who believes were smart, conservative legal minds, and “The Post” reporting that the White House effective are saying, “They‘re not conservative enough”?

REP. BRAD MILLER, (D) NORTH CAROLINA:  We‘ve known the role in the Bush administration for a long time now.  This is more of the same kind of things that we‘ve heard all along.  It really points to the need to reform the Office of Legal Counsel.  That office exercises remarkable power.  Most Americans have never heard of it.  It really shapes what the administration does and it‘s all in secret.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Look, Professor Kobach, I have to say, that this, in a way, I think, puts your former boss in a good light, depending on who‘s looking at it, but from my perspective, it puts in a good light in a sense that he‘s saying, look, here were five people that he thought would have been good, smart, conservative lawyers who could have served in that role and the White House effectively said, “We want someone who‘s going to rubber stamp what we‘re doing instead.”  That‘s really disturbing.

KRIS KOBACH, WORKED FOR ATTY. GEN. ASHCROFT:  Well, I might disagree a little bit with the way you‘re framing.  The Ashcroft Justice Department was guided, at all times, by principle and integrity.  In other words, Attorney General Ashcroft wanted the right answer; he didn‘t want an answer that was, you know, twisted by politics.

And so, he wanted very independent people who would not be “yes man” and give him—and so that‘s what he was asking for when he put forward those names.  And so, you know, you led into this thing, well, he put forward these people who were conservative, and the White House wanted somebody even more conservative.  I don‘t think that‘s quite it (ph), he just, you know, evaluates people‘s character and decides who‘s best for the job and who has the most integrity.

ABRAMS:  But I‘m not criticizing Ashcroft here, I‘m criticizing the administration for effectively saying no to Ashcroft‘s suggestions because they wanted a rubber stamp guy.  They wanted someone who was just going to say OK, OK, OK.

KOBACH:  Well, it‘s hard to know exactly what the Office of the White House Counsel, or the Office of the President specifically was looking for when they had their pick for that job.

ABRAMS:  Let‘s assume this report is accurate, Kris.  If this report is accurate, aren‘t you disturbed, as someone who worked for John Ashcroft, as someone who, I think, you would consider yourself to be an honest conservative attorney, doesn‘t this report disturb you, the notion that they didn‘t want Ashcroft‘s people because they wanted someone who was going to simply approve what they were doing?

KOBACH:  It does disturb me that they couldn‘t find any one of the five people that John Ashcroft suggested as acceptable.  On the other hand, though, I do know John Yoo and I don‘t think of him as a “yes man.”  So, it‘s—we‘re not getting the full picture, I think.

ABRAMS:  John Yoo effectively became the ultimate “yes man” of this administration.  Whatever he was, he became the rubber stamp for this administration.

Tanya, let me read you something else, alright?  This is from Jane Mayer‘s new book.  And she talks about the Justice Department, “People were so paranoid there,” she says, again, two conservatives, but again, honest conservatives, Goldsmith and Comey, “actually thought they maybe in physical danger.  Goldsmith and Comey, who knew more about domestic surveillance program than practically anyone else in America, also feared that their communications were being monitored.”

I mean, it seems this new book in conjunction with this new report from the “Washington Post,” paints a more than just a disturbing picture of what this Justice Department became, but a frightening one.

TANYA ACKER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Absolutely.  I think that the really important thing to remember here is the institution that we‘re talking about.  The Justice Department is always, a supposed to be apolitical.

Look, we certainly know that when administrations change, legal priorities change but we do always expect that the lawyers who staff that department are going to make principled legal determinations.  I mean, the Justice Department in that sense is really sacrosanct.  And to see that the Bush administration is trying to undermine its integrity by putting forth it (ph), it shows, it‘s just simply absolutely shameful.

ABRAMS:  All right.  It‘s shameful.  Not to Karl Rove, all right, who still refuses to appear before Congress even though he‘s been subpoenaed to do so.  Rove is speaking out on FOX News.  Last night, Rove explained why he will not testify and even took a shot at a House Judiciary Committee which is investigating allegations Rove played a role in the prosecution of Democrat Don Siegelman, the former governor of Alabama.

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

KARL ROVE, FORMER BUSH ADVISER:  I said but I have been five times offered through my lawyer to meet with Democrat members, Democrat staff, Republican members, Republican staff or answer in writing, questions that they might want to submit about this in order to preserve the president‘s prerogatives, separations of powers, while at the same time, give them information that they supposedly want and not foreclosing any option.

BILL O‘REILLY, FOX HOST:  Yes, but you know, they don‘t want that.  They want to get you up there, mock you, and TV critics want to see you disparaged.

ROVE:  Sure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  No, they want to see him tell the truth and nothing but the truth about whether he was involved in politicizing justice.  But now, he is mocking the committee congressmen.  I mean, look, so far, the committee has done nothing about this.  Karl Rove was told, you‘ve got to show up, he didn‘t show, then they said to him, “No, no, no, you really, really got to show up,” he still didn‘t show up.

And nothing has happened—and now, he‘s mocking the committee on national television, congressman.

MILLER:  It‘s been a week.  I‘m probably more impatient than you

are but our legal system and our political system aren‘t really built for

speed.  We did bring a lawsuit over Harriet Miers and Josh Bolton‘s refusal

to testify.  I‘m feel pretty confident -

ABRAMS:  Are you going to have a vote on contempt of Congress with regard to Rove?

MILLER:  I feel pretty confident that we will.  I‘m just one member.  I haven‘t talked to our leadership about this but I feel pretty confident that we will.

ABRAMS:  Kris, isn‘t this problematic, that Karl Rove, I mean, put aside the sort of legalities about the executive privilege argument, et cetera, but Karl Rove now is talking about the circus that the House Judiciary Committee is trying to implement there.  I mean, he is now mocking this committee, Kris.

KOBACH:  Well, I think this is a situation that arises when the executive branch does have a strong argument, saying, “Hey, look, Article Two gives us certain prerogatives including the executive privilege and so we don‘t have to present the current or former officials.  Then, it leaves up to the discretion of the official, “Well, do I want to go or do I not want to go?”

And this is the kind of back-and-forth you get.  The official says, “Hey, you‘re going to use me like a punching bag and you‘re not really interested in the truth,” and the Congress is going to say, “Well, yes, we are.”  So, this is part of the, you know, the stand off between the branches that, you know, frankly, our Constitution envisions (ph).

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  You know, Kris, both of our other guests are shaking their heads as you talk.  So, I got to get (INAUDIBLE).

(CROSSTALK)

KOBACH:  Well, I‘ll love to hear their legal point of view.

ABRAMS:  Tanya, go ahead.

ACKER:  With all due respect to Kris, who, by the way, the law school classmate of mine, nice to see you.  I have to say, we are talking about something very critical here and I think that the American people don‘t have their heads around how serious this issue is.  You have somebody thumbing their nose at a coequal branch of the United States government.

It‘s one thing to say, “I‘m going to show up but I may not be able to speak to certain issues because they fall within the scope of executive privilege.”  Even that argument is extremely questionable but -

ABRAMS:  He didn‘t even show up to invoke his privilege.

ACKER:  He didn‘t even show up.  And for him, for Karl Rove to say that he is going to set the terms by which he will speak to Congress, he‘s going to negotiate with our co-equal branch of government, is absolutely, it is shocking to me and I think that people need to understand what‘s truly at stake here.  This is doing nothing but flagrantly violating the law and he‘s clearly not afraid -

ABRAMS:  Congressman, you‘ve got a proposal on that to resolve this issue (ph).

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Kris, I‘m going to give you the final word on this.  But let me, congressman, have a new proposal, I think, on how he wants to deal with this going forward.  Real quick, congressman.

MILLER:  It won‘t take effect until the next presidency.  But I think we need to set, we need to establish again there are checks on the president.  The president gets to decide everything for himself.  Instead of turning it over to the attorney general to prosecute, Congress could get a special prosecutor appointed by court who could then bring a contempt of Congress criminal proceedings and then act neutrally and not in the way that Attorney General Mukasey is acting.

ABRAMS:  I promised Professor Kobach, final word, you got it.

KOBACH:  Yes.  Well, Rove is violating no law right now.  In a very liberal Supreme Court, or a much liberal Supreme Court in the ‘70s handed down a pair of decisions saying, “Hey, there is an executive privilege here because, the president has the right to untempered advice and if you start making his people appear before Congress, appear in the courts, they‘re not going to give him untempered advice.”

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Right.  There‘s the right to executive privilege, but it doesn‘t mean that you can invoke it any time and every time someone is asked to come in and talk about anything and everything which is what this administration has done.  So, you know, all right.

I promise him the final word, but I had to take it, Kris.  I‘m sorry.  I had to.

All right.  Congressman Brad Miller -

KOBACH:  It‘s your show.

ABRAMS:  You‘re one of my favorite guests, Kris Kobach.  Tanya Acker and Kris Kobach, thanks a lot.

KOBACH:  My pleasure.

MILLER:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, “The View‘s” Elisabeth Hasselbeck in tears after an argument with Whoopi Goldberg over Jesse Jackson‘s views of the “N” word when talking about Barack Obama.  At issue: Should anyone be able to use that word?  Who was right, Whoopi or Elisabeth?

And police searching for the killer of a North Carolina mother takes DNA from her husband as the victim‘s family gets custody of her two kids.

Plus, the Small Business Administration seemingly asleep at the switch while thousands of companies reap government contracts they don‘t deserve.   Another reason Why America Hates Washington in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Tonight‘s edition of Why America Hates Washington: Waste, fraud and abuse right under the nose of the Small Business Administration.  It turns out, thousands of companies wrongly collected millions in government contracts by falsely claiming to have offices in four neighborhoods.

The SBA‘s “Hub Zone” program was created to help small businesses in distress areas but the SBA only checked up on 5 percent of the firm in the program from 2004 to 2007.  When it actually did an audit, it found more than half of the 13,000 companies did not qualify.

Taxpayers paying for companies to get breaks they don‘t deserve:

Another reason Why America Hates Washington.

Coming up, the women of “The View” battle out over who can say the “N” word after Jesse Jackson was caught on tape doing just that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Welcome back.

A major fight today on ABC‘s “The View” over Jesse Jackson using the “N” word.  Last week, Jackson created a firestorm after an open microphone caught him suggesting he wanted to castrate Barack Obama—he said something else.  Yesterday, going to TVnews.com, Jackson‘s full statement included, quote, Barack, he‘s talking down to black people, telling “N” words how to behave.”  That revelation sparked a heated and emotional fight on “The View” this morning between Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Barbara Walters, Whoopi Goldberg and Sherri Shepherd.

Hey, I got one more line.  I got more line here, sorry.  The question is whether the “N” word should be used under any circumstances and it left Hasselbeck in tears.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE VIEW”/ABC)

ELISABETH HASSELBECK, CO-HOST:  It‘s not a word that should be used.  I think it‘s -

SHERRI SHEPHERD, CO-HOST:  Don‘t tell me I can‘t use that word.  Because I use it.

BARBARA WALTERS, CO-HOST:  OK, there‘s something I want to add.

HASSELBECK:  So how is it—so, you‘re telling me I can‘t use it, but you can use it.

SHEPHERD:  It‘s not the same when I use -

HASSELBECK:  Why?

SHEPHERD:  Because -

WALTERS:  That‘s what I want to ask you.

HASSELBECK:  Is it when you‘re funny or you‘re not funny or all the time -

WALTERS:  Just a second.

SHEPHERD:  It‘s no different from being funny.  It‘s something that means something way different to me than it does to you.  I grew up with my family using it.  For me, I can use it as a term of endearment.

WALTERS:  If I use it.

SHEPHERD:  I don‘t want to hear it come out of your mouth.

WHOOPI GOLDBERG, CO-HOST:  You have to understand that (BEEP) has followed us around and basically what we did is we took it out of the hands of people who are using it and put it in our hands and we use it the way we want to use it.  And that‘s what it is.

HASSELBECK:  We don‘t live in different worlds; we live in the same world.

GOLDBERG:  We do live in different worlds, I‘m sorry.  I‘m sorry.  It‘s the way it is, Elisabeth.  This is the way it is.  This is how I grew up.  My mother could not go and vote in the United States of America, the place of her birth.  We go - wait.

WALTERS:  And don‘t we want that to change?

GOLDBERG:  Yes, we would like to.  But you don‘t understand.

HASSELBECK:  I‘m not going to take that away from you, no.

GOLDBERG:  I want you to, but what I need you to understand is the frustration that goes along when you say we live in the same world.  It isn‘t balanced.  And we would like it to be.  But you have to understand, you have to listen to the fact that what we‘re telling you, there are issues, there are huge problems that still affect us.

HASSELBECK:  This is upsetting to me because -

WALTERS:  OK, just take a breath and let someone else talk.

HASSELBECK:  I am, but this is a conversation that is hard and we‘re going to have it here and we have it here for a while because we love each other.  When we live in a world where pop culture then uses that term, and we‘re trying to get to a place where we feel like we‘re in the same place and we feel like we‘re in the same world, how are we supposed to then move forward if we use terms that bring back that pain?

GOLDBERG:  I can tell you.

HASSELBECK:  How?

GOLDBERG:  Here‘s how we do it.  You listen and say, “OK, this is how we‘re using this word and this is why we do it.”  You have to say, “Well, you know what?  I understand that, but let‘s find a new way to move forward.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  I‘m smiling at the fact, well, everyone is smiling.  I‘m glad to see everyone.  You have to smile when you see her crying about it, that‘s the part that‘s funny.

But John Ridley is joining, commentator for National Public Radio; and, MSNBC political analyst and pastor, Joe Watkins.

All right.  John, apart from the absurdity of the crying here, which - I mean, is Sherri Shepherd right here about sort of the African-Americans should be able to use it if they want to, that it‘s simply different?

JOHN RIDLEY, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO:  Yes, I would agree with that.  I mean, look, it is a word that is conditional.  Sometimes, for people of color, it‘s a word of empowerment, sometimes endearment and sometimes it‘s pain.  But I would agree that if we just leave it on the table for people who are going to use it in a hurtful and demeaning fashion, clearly, there are the ones who are going to use it.  Why leave it there for them?  I would agree with Sherri and with Whoopi Goldberg on this case.

ABRAMS:  Joe?

JOE WATKINS, MSNBC ANALYST:  Well, you know, at the end of the day, it‘s true.  I know that African-American, some, I‘m an African-American, sometimes people use that word maybe in a not offensive way to other African-Americans, but at the end of the day, I think that Elisabeth is right.  I mean, why can‘t call America to its better angles and why can‘t we try to be better?

You know, Kanye West used once in a while in some of his records and some of his CDs.  He‘s an outstanding artist.  Jay-Z used it sometimes.  A lot of the artists use that word from time to time but then they‘re not trying to lead, they‘re trying to sell CDs.

For those of us who aspire to leadership, why can‘t we call people to try to be better?  And one of the ways of trying to be better is not using the word.

ABRAMS:  But isn‘t there a leeway, John that is given to - well, you know, Jewish people can make comments about Jews that other people might not be able to.  Women can make comments about women that men might not be able to make.  I assume that there‘s some level of that that applies here as well.

RIDLEY:  Sure, it‘s context.  And adults understand that.  It‘s context.  If a woman says to me, the use of the “B” word means one thing or another, I don‘t, yes, I may have my opinion about it, but I‘ve got to defer to her.  She‘s a woman and she‘s the one who hits it.

And in response to the idea about leadership, who should use the word, you know, about a year ago, Jesse Jackson called for a universal ban on the word, that includes arts, letters, entertainment, things like that, not just pop culture.  And he‘s the one who turns and uses the word.  I guess, I think, this concept of banning the word -

(CROSSTALK)

WATKINS:  Jesse may have made a mistake himself by using it but I think Jesse‘s right.  I mean, the whole idea -

RIDLEY:  Jesse points out the hypocrisy of it.  I‘m sorry.  Jesse made - Jesse points out the hypocrisy of trying to ban a word.  You cannot ban a word.  We cannot pretend the word goes away.  And, by the way, I have a problem with us, as intellectuals, sitting here talking about this, we‘re having discussions and point the show game (ph) of the “N” word.  I mean, I thought, that‘s more demeaning that we, as intellectual people can‘t actually have the conversations that we need to have.

ABRAMS:  I think, if I can say this, I think that obviously you can.  This is America; people can say what they want to say.  They are free to use the words that they want to use.  But why can‘t we help people to be better.  You know, at the end of the day, as a leader in a church, what I try to tell people is, you know, we‘re supposed to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, and we‘re supposed to treat people the way we want to be treated.  So, we ought not to use words that could be hurtful, could be construed as hurtful.  We ought to use words that we wouldn‘t want somebody used on us.  And if you use that as a measure, that means that maybe that‘s a word that we don‘t use anymore, the “N” word, even among ourselves if we‘re African-Americans.

ABRAMS:  John, you want a final word on that?

RIDLEY:  Yes, look, I couldn‘t agree more.  We should be helping people.  We should be doing better people.  I don‘t disagree with that.  But the idea that we‘re going to leave a word that only the people—the only word that we‘re going to use, we‘re going to leave that word for people who are going to use it in a hurtful fashion; I don‘t think that‘s not the way to do it.  Let‘s take control of the word, let‘s use the word the way that we want to use the word and let‘s not make it a demonizing word by calling it the “N” word or things like that.

WATKINS:  Well, how about encouraging people not to use it at all.  I mean, you can‘t force them to not use it.  But how about encouraging people to not use the word at all?  How about encouraging people to speak in a civil way to each other?  That‘s a good thing.

ABRAMS:  Well, you know, I don‘t think anyone‘s going to disagree with that.

You know, all right.  John Ridley and Joe Watkins, thanks a lot.

WATKINS:  Thanks, Dan.

RIDLEY:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Coming up: Husbands and wives caught on tape trying to hire hit men to kill their spouses.  We‘ve got the tape and talked to an undercover cop trying to catch them.

And actor Tony Danza learns the same lesson that Reverend Jackson did.  When you have a microphone on in front of a camera, someone is listening.  That‘s next in Beat the Press.

What‘s your VERDICT?  E-mail us at: Verdict@msnbc.com.  Your e-mails are in the P.O.‘ed box at the end of the show.  Please include your name and where you‘re writing from.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up, my friend, Greta van Susteren got the first interview with former Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre on Monday.  And somehow, her producers decided that taped interview was breaking news.  OK.

So, while he did not make any real news, the story is arguably still unfolding.  But then, on Tuesday, they aired more of the taped interview, and again, it was breaking news.  And last night, the third straight night, still more of the same taped interview, and it was breaking news.  As we learned from Laura Ingraham, this week, that‘s just the FOX way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX HOST:  Why is this new tonight, guys?  It‘s not new tonight.  No, but he gave the speech yesterday.  That‘s the FOX way of doing things?  OK, then -

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  They report, you decide.

Next up, an old clip has just surfaced of actor Tony Danza preparing to do an interview with a local station in Jacksonville, Florida.  He began mocking the show to others in the room.  Of course, he should have known that they could be listening to him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY DANZA, ACTOR:  Those new shows are terrible.  Murder and mayhem and the rescue in California, Tonya Danza, I‘m so excited.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE HOST:  OK.  Tony, can you hear me now?

DANZA:  Yes, I can.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE HOST:  OK.  We‘re going to start the interview now.  No murder and mayhem, just the interview about your movie.  Are you ready?

DANZA:  All right, fine.  Oh, you heard me, huh?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE HOST:  Oh, every bit of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Finally, a guy who we will never ever, ever be beating up on this segment.  CNN assignment (ph) editor Brandon Ray, who is appearing on the cover of the August edition of “Muscular Development” magazine.  Mr.  Ray, I want to assure that anytime I mock CNN, it isn‘t no way is intended to reflect negatively on you, sir.

Oh, my goodness.

We need your help Beating the Press.  If you see anything right or wrong, amusing or absurd, go to our Website at: Verdict.msbnc.com.  Leave us a tip on the box, please include the show and the time you saw the item.

Up next: Suspects on tape trying to get someone to kill.  We talked to an undercover cop who posed as a hitman over 300 times.  And we ask: Do hitman really exists?

And later, a married mother of two murdered in North Carolina.  Today, her family got custody of her two kids after alleging her husband was abusive before she was killed.  No arrests yet.  We‘ve got the latest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MINNIE DRIVER, ACTRESS:  So, what‘s your business? 

JOHN CUSACK, ACTOR:  Professional killer. 

DRIVER:  You could turn on with that?

CUSACK:  No.  I got to go.  I know what I do.  You know, moral precepts.

DRIVER:  Does this gun work? 

CUSACK:  Sure.  But I think if you can just look past that, you can find a man worth loving. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  John Cusack, playing a hitman in the movie, “Gross Pointe Blank.”  Do hitmen really exist?  An MSNBC documentary airing tonight looks at average Joes who attempt to hire hitmen to kill someone, usually a spouse.  Here, a man tries to pay $50 to have his ex-wife killed. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 

TONY VELTRE, UNDERCOVER SERGEANT:  What would you like me to do for you?

LARRY DOUGLAS LEE, CONVENIENCE STORE CLERK:  Get rid of her 

VELTRE:  OK.  Let‘s get rid of her.  How do you want it done?

LEE:  An accident.

KOSINSKI:   Convenience store clerk Larry Douglas Lee‘s intentions are crystal clear.  He wants his ex-wife killed. 

VELTRE:  I don‘t know how much money you‘ve got.  But like I said, I owe Don the favor.  But I can‘t do it for free.  There‘s no way, OK?

LEE:  Don said $50.

KOSINSKI:   Wait, did Lee just offer up a grand total of $50 for the contract murder of his ex-wife? 

LEE:  Don said $50. 

VELTRE:  I‘m kind of - you know, $50 is kind of cheap.  You know, I mean, I‘ll break her leg for $50, but I‘m not going to do that for $50, OK?

KOSINSKI:   So instead of talking to a hitman about killing his ex-wife, Lee winds up talking to undercover sergeant Tony Veltre. 

Here, in a diner parking lot, three days after their first get-together, they go through the details of the hit.  Although, Lee first suggests making the hit look like an accident, Veltre, in character, tries to convince him that scenario is a bit of a gamble. 

VELTRE:  The accident - there‘s a lot of things you‘ve got to do to a car to make it have an accident, and I don‘t think I‘d really want to risk hurting anybody else. 

LEE:  OK.

VELTRE:  You know, let‘s - have you got any other way you want it done? 

KOSINSKI:   Lee‘s next suggestion shocks even the sergeant who has heard almost everything. 

LEE:  A robbery?

VELTRE:  I can do that.

LEE:  I don‘t know if you‘d like to rape her or anything like that.

KOSINSKI:   Lee is serious.  Dead serious.  He even suggested Veltre might want to knock off his ex-wife‘s husband and children as part of the package. 

LEE:  He should be at home with her.  And then his two kids. 

VELTRE:  OK.  OK.  I‘ll have to consider them, too. 

LEE:  I don‘t give a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) about them.

VELTRE:  You don‘t? 

LEE:  No. 

KOSINSKI:   Then, Lee seals his fate.  He gives Veltre a down payment for the hit.  But it is not $200 or even $50. 

VELTRE:  All right.  Let see how much you got here. 

LEE:  There‘s only $30. 

VELTRE:  $30?  OK, you‘ve got $30?

LEE:  And I had to borrow that.

VELTRE:  OK.

VELTRE:  This guy‘s just way out there, you know.  Oh, yes, I‘m going to kill a whole family for $30, $50.  The last (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of the conversation, I just, you know - “Please let me just arrest him.  Can I just turn around?  Can I arrest him now?”  That‘s what I wanted to say.  Let me do it. 

KOSINSKI:   Veltre practically gets his wish.  As he leaves the scene, officers arrest Lee on the spot. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Lee was sentenced to 40 years in prison for trying to hire a hitman and have his ex-wife killed.  But what I want to know is do hitmen really exist? 

Here now, former assistant director of the FBI, Bill Gavin.  And joining us on the phone in order to keep his appearance hidden, Gary Johnson with the Harris County, Texas Special Crimes Unit. 

Bill, first, let me ask you this, all right?  These people are looking for hitmen - we‘ve got another tape here in a moment about someone also looking for a hitman.  You see these movies where people advertise about hitmen, et cetera.  Do they really exist? 

BILL GAVIN, FORMER ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, FBI:  Yes, Dan.  Hitmen do really exist.  I think what you had there on that tape and probably what‘s going to come after is the typical example of how dumb some people can be to want to hire somebody to knock off a business partner or a wife or something.  But hitmen exist almost formally within gangs, within organized crime families, within narcotic cartels.  There are certain people who do just that. 

Hitmen aren‘t that easy to find.  If you want to kill somebody, you just can‘t look in the yellow pages to find a hitman.  And you usually end up talking to some informant who informs the police officer, and the police officer takes over as the would-be hitman.  So while they exist, they‘re not that prevalent. 

ABRAMS:  Lieutenant Johnson, you‘re setting up these stings.  How do you fake it, so to speak, that leads people to believe that they‘re actually hiring a legitimate hitman?

GARY JOHNSON, HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS SPECIAL CRIMES UNIT:  Well, by the time that I have contact with them, they have already established confidence in the go-between, the informant.  Basically, what I try to do is become as much like the informant as possible. 

From talking to them, I have an idea of what they expect and so I have an advantage in that I can be that person.  And then really, it‘s up to me to lose it.  They‘re pretty frustrated.  They‘ve developed tunnel vision and they see the undercovers kind of the light at the end of the tunnel. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Let me play another piece of sound.  Here‘s a man trying to hire a hitman to kill his wife of 17 years.

KOSINSKI:   Utah pharmacist Jay Allen Roach(ph).  In 1999, embroiled in a bitter divorce and custody battle, Roach came to this motel to try to hire a hitman to kill his wife of 17 years, Lorraine.  But the hitman he tried to hire was really Detective Skip Curtis of the Utah County Sheriff‘s Department. 

JAY ALLEN ROACH(ph), PHARMACIST:  Well, right now, I‘m to the point that I think the only way to solve it is an accident. 

SKIP CURTIS, UTAH COUNTY SHERIFF‘S DEPARTMENT:  And you want her hurt in the accident? 

ROACH(ph):  Dead. 

CURTIS:  Okay.  Do you want it to look like an accident then? 

ROACH(ph):  It‘s got to look like an accident.  If I have the cops or anybody coming at me, I‘m sunk. 

KOSINSKI:   Roach(ph) paid Curtis with drugs he steals from his job.

CURTIS:  It‘s $100?

ROACH(ph):  Four bottles.  Got the seal on top.

CURTIS:  The ironic thing is he hands me the drugs and says, “You know, I can lose my job for this.”  I kept thinking, “Yes.  That and a lot more.” 

KOSINSKI:   Once Detective Curtis has the down payment, his teams moves in for the arrest.  Roach(ph) pleads with the officers to kill him. 

ROACH(ph):  Please kill me.  Just kill me.  Just kill me.  I can‘t go on, I can‘t.  I can‘t go on.  Just kill me.  Let this be the end.  It‘s the end.  It‘s the end.  Kill me. 

KOSINSKI:   Ironically, it isn‘t even close to the end for Roach(ph). 

Seven months later, he is sentenced to only one year in the county jail.  The judge sited Roach‘s(ph) exemplary record in the past and said credit is due for that.  Jay Allen Roach(ph) has since served his time and is now a free man. 

ABRAMS:  Wow.  I mean, Bill Gavin, that‘s kind of amazing, isn‘t it?  That the guy served a year for that? 

GAVIN:  It sure is amazing, Dan.  You never know what‘s going to happen.  Some of the jurisdiction - you know, the judges sit up on the bench has a lot of latitude in assigning this person to the number of years in jail.  Lieutenant Johnson has a very dangerous job, too.  I think he‘s very cool and he knows exactly what he‘s doing.  But you never know when one of these people that try to contract a police officer to kill somebody - you don‘t know if they‘re going to show up with a gun and try to assist in that murder or not.  So, Lieutenant Johnson, we all have to take our hat off to people to do things the way he does them. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Well, as we‘ve said before, we‘re not showing Lieutenant Johnson‘s face because he‘s still trying to work undercover - this, obviously.  Bill Gavin, Lieutenant Johnson, thanks very much to both of you.  Appreciate it.

JOHNSON:  You‘re welcome.

GAVIN:  It‘s my pleasure, Dan.

ABRAMS:  “Murder for Hire” airs tonight at 1:00 a.m. Eastern on MSNBC.

Coming up, a woman murdered in North Carolina.  Today, her family got custody of her kids after alleging her husband was abusive before her death. 

Coming up next, on a much lighter note - does this look like fun - called zorbing?  Yes, there are people inside that ball.  Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Now to “Reality Bites,” a dose of reality caught on tape.  Tonight, for people who think roller coasters are just too tame, how about this?  Adventurous tourists in India are lining up to climb inside a giant inflatable ball and have someone push them down a hill.  It‘s called a zorb ball.  You want to share in the experience with a friend?  There is room for two inside.  Be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  New details in the murder of a young North Carolina mother.  Today, Nancy Cooper‘s family got custody of her two children away from her husband.  They claimed he was mentally unstable and they said he was having an affair too.  For him to lose the kids is a big deal.  The husband has not been named a suspect, but police have taken his DNA and assured the public they don‘t believe it‘s a random crime. 

Michelle Kosinski has the story. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MICHELLE KOSINSKI, NBC NEWS - CARY, NORTH CAROLINA:  It started as a case of the missing jogger ...

BRAD COOPER, VICTIM‘S HUSBAND:  I just want to thank all the hundreds of volunteers that came out. 

KOSINSKI:  ... mobilizing hundreds of volunteers with thousands of fliers. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Sir, do you have a flyer?

KOSINSKI:  Nancy Cooper was training for a half marathon when she was found murdered Monday on an empty street of a North Carolina subdivision under construction.  The same week that police in Florida searched for a suspect in a string of attacks on joggers there. 

But now, the large-scale search for clues in Nancy‘s killing has brought investigators right back to her upscale home, her vehicle and her husband.  Police obtained a search warrant to take a DNA sample from Brad Cooper who works at Cisco Systems in Raleigh‘s exclusive research triangle.

CHIEF PAT BAZEMORE, CARY, NORTH CAROLINA POLICE DEPARTMENT:  it was important that we secured the home as a possible crime scene. 

KOSINSKI:  Brad Cooper had been staying with friends while police scoured the inside and did not attend the wrenching family press conference, Wednesday. 

JEFF RENTZ, VICTIM‘S BROTHER:  And while that wheel is now forever changed, it‘s incumbent on us to adapt so we may continue to spin. 

KOSINSKI:  Police state that Coopers, with two young daughters - they‘re just two and four - had been having marital troubles.  Nancy went to a neighborhood dinner party on July 11th, but the next day, a friend reported her missing when she never arrived for a visit.  Her husband told the police she had gone out for a jog, and a few days later, he implored the public‘s help in finding her. 

B. COOPER:  If anyone knows anything, I just want to make them to contact the police with any information they may have.  And again, thank you to everyone who continues to come and help out. 

KOSINSKI:  Police do say they don‘t think Nancy‘s death near her jogging trail was random.  And while they haven‘t named anyone as a person of interest, they say they are certain they can solve this suburban murder of the woman everyone seems to look up to. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  She was an amazing mom and the best friend.  I couldn‘t think of a better person. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Michelle Kosinski joins us now from North Carolina.  Michelle, tell us more about what has happened since you filed that story. 

KOSINSKI:  Hi, Dan.  Well, Nancy Cooper‘s family petitioned for and got emergency custody of the couple‘s two children.  You know, as we mentioned early on, this was a case of a missing jogger, even though police were saying pretty early in the case that nobody‘s really at risk.  This is not a random crime.  Well, now, Nancy Cooper‘s family, in that petition say they don‘t believe she ever went jogging at all on Saturday morning, even though that‘s what her husband Brad told police. 

And then, in the petition, they go on to make a string of allegations against Brad, her husband, saying that he was having an affair and he was emotionally abusive to Nancy and the kids.  They called him emotionally unstable and said that he was a physical danger to his children, that he had threatened suicide last winter. 

They also said Nancy had wanted to separate from him and that he had allowed her, with the kids, to go to Canada and live with her sister.  He said that she could do that according to the family.  But then, the family said that he took the children‘s passports.  And what the judge ruled was that the kids were in immediate danger - a substantial risk of bodily harm that‘s what the judge said, if those children were to remain with their father.  They also said that the kids were at risk of being abducted and the judge ordered the husband to give back those passports so the family can now take those kids to Canada for the funeral, Dan. 

ABRAMS:  Michelle, look, they started looking for her pretty quickly.  I mean, he doesn‘t call the police; a friend of hers calls the police.  And usually, when it comes to adults, it‘s kind of hard to get the police out there searching for someone.  They say, look, how long has the person been missing?  They want a significant amount of time, but here, the police started searching right away. 

That‘s right, and that‘s an interesting thing.  I mean there were two things at work here.  The friend was the one who called police, a close friend of Nancy Cooper.  So it is possible that she told police something that indicated something is wrong here.  We need to get on this right away.  Then again, this is a very upscale, small, beautiful community.  And I mean, these tax dollars at work, the police have a good force.  They were ready to work at the time.  And - you know they wanted to get on it right away. 

Nobody wanted to be in fear in this community.  Nobody wanted people to be in fear.  But keep in mind this happened at the same time in Florida, the same week, the police down there were looking for a suspect in a string of attacks on joggers.  So that sort of media attention was there, and police were interested in this initially. 

ABRAMS:  And that‘s why it is so interesting that they‘re saying at this point, that they don‘t believe this is connected with other cases.  That certainly is a big clue coming from the police.  Michelle Kosinski, thanks very much.  Appreciate it. 

Up next, will tonight‘s big winner or loser be actress Helen Mirren, being bold, going out in a bikini at 62 and - why don‘t we have a picture of her up?  What‘s the news.  Director Roman Polanski asking prosecutors to review his 30-year-old statutory rape case.  Or Donald Trump who just sold this Florida mansion for $100 million to a Russian who wants to knock the whole thing down.  And plus your E-mails, we call it the “P.O.‘d Box.”  We‘ll be right back.   

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It‘s time for tonight‘s “Winners and Losers.”  Here to help out with tonight‘s line-up, my old pal, author and VH1 contributor, Katherine Eismann(ph).  Katherine? 

KATHERINE EISMANN, VH1 CONTRIBUTOR:  Yes.  Well, first up, Donald Trump has reportedly sold his Palm Beach mansion for nearly - wait for it - $100 million.  Donald claims it is the most expensive house ever in the U.S.  Now get this - the renovations are actually assigned to an “Apprentice” winner who decked it up in true Donald fashion, that‘s what - gold plated everything, fixtures in the bathroom, you name it. 

The owner is a Russian billionaire who apparently made his fortune selling fertilizer.  Now, he says he might tear down the mansion and build a new home on the ocean front property.  Now, you might think that he is a winner with that kind of money, right?  But I think he is a loser, this is why.  Yes, twice what he paid just five years ago and it is in fact great news for the real estate market.  But anyone who is going to pay $100 million and then tear it down to the ground and demolish it must be - 

ABRAMS:  Well, here‘s why Donald is a loser, all right?  I‘m a big Donald Trump fan.  But when you have a guy - I mean, some people might say, “Oh, you know, the Russian, their taste, whatever.”  I don‘t know.  But the guy made his money in fertilizer.  The guy made his money in fertilizer and he is saying, “Donald Trump‘s taste isn‘t good enough for me.”  And as a result, he‘s knocking the entire place down that he just paid $100 million for.  That‘s not a winning answer. 

EISMANN:  That‘s exactly it.  This guy is used to smelling things that don‘t smell so good. 

ABRAMS:  Exactly.

EISMANN:  He‘s used to cows, made a lot of money. 

ABRAMS:  Right.

EISMANN:  If your house -

ABRAMS:  And he still feels he has to knock the place down? 

EISMANN:  And he‘s still offended by it.  He‘d prefer to be in a field full of you-know-what. 

ABRAMS:  Donald is a loser then. 

EISMANN:  Massive loser.  But the real estate market is a winner. 

Now, next up, we have director Roman Polanski, who‘s fled the U.S. 30 years ago.  Of course, he‘s being sentenced for statutory rape of a 13-year-old.  Now, the Oscar winner is trying to get the Los Angeles district attorney to dismiss the case against him based on revelations of a new documentary that aired on HBO called “Wanted and Desired.”  Now, he has been called - he‘s been a fugitive since 1978.  Now, what do you think about this one?  Winner or loser? 

ABRAMS:  This documentary - this is serious.  This documentary a really well-done documentary, I‘ve got to say, and it definitely makes you have serious questions about the case.  So, Polanski is a big winner for the documentary. 

EISMANN:  Yes?

ABRAMS:  I don‘t think they‘re going to have any luck with the courts in saying there are new revelations.  But remember Polanski had an opportunity to come back to the country and get this resolved. 

EISMANN:  And didn‘t do it. 

ABRAMS:  He didn‘t do it.

EISMANN:  Absolutely not.

ABRAMS:  With that said, watch this documentary and say “Wow, he really got screwed.”

EISMANN:  Yes, absolutely.  But you know what?  He is not that good of a filmmaker to actually get my winner. 

ABRAMS:  Oh, I think he is.  Come on. 

EISMANN:  Yes, he is good.  All right.  Now, we have the best one, Oscar winner Helen Mirren who is a 62-year-old actress, of course, who convincingly played the role of the rather stiff-looking Queen Elizabeth just last year.  She proved she is the queen.  Here she is in Italy this week on vacation with her new home.  And I repeat she is 62 years old.  Now, I‘m telling you, she is a winner, but the rest of us are losers.  Let me tell you why. 

ABRAMS:  Put up the picture.  I mean, we have almost no time.  A closer picture.  Sixty two - she looks incredible. 

EISMANN:  Exactly. 

ABRAMS:  And she doesn‘t flaunt it either.  She‘s the one who‘s always dressing conservatively.  I am a big fan now of Helen Mirren. 

EISMANN:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to see her but consider -

ABRAMS:  Katherine Eismann, thanks very much.  We got to go. 

Time for the “P.O.‘d Box,” your chance to tell me what you hate and love about the show.  Many of you went after me for not correcting Brad Blakeman last night when he said the Attorney General Mukasey was trying to protect his client, the president, by ignoring a congressional subpoena. 

First up, Meghan writes, “Your guest Mr. Blakeman incorrectly identified the president as a client of the attorney general and you did not correct him.  The American public is the client of the attorney general.  The president is a client of the White House counsel.” 

Gary Powell, “As a lawyer, why did you let this misstatement go unchallenged?”

Look, a lot of you wrote in about this.  You‘re right.  I thought of it as he said it.  I should have corrected him, and I appreciate all of you who called me out for not calling him out. 

And last night asked you to tell me what you thought about Contessa joining me for “Winners and Losers.”  The overwhelming majority liked the edition. 

But Daren Livermore writes, “Dan, I have an idea to improve the segment with Contessa.  A little more Contessa and a little less Dan.  You had to see that one coming.”

Funny, Daren.  Very funny.  Contessa will be back next week and we‘ll see how it goes, Daren, OK? 

That‘s all the time we have.  See you next week.

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

END   

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