updated 8/12/2008 12:06:53 PM ET 2008-08-12T16:06:53

Guest: Contessa Brown, Stephanie Miller, Roy Sekoff, Joe Watkins

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Tonight on VERDICT.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN EDWARDS, (D) FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I am responsible for it and no one else.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Follow the money.  Who paid what to John Edwards‘ other woman?  Edwards‘ finance chair says he covered some costs for Rielle Hunter and for another Edwards‘ aide who claims to be the father of Hunter‘s son.  And, will she paid to make a campaign video before or after the affair started?

And if that‘s not salacious enough—Hunter was reportedly downright catty about Elizabeth Edwards.  So, what does the (INAUDIBLE) du jour have to say about the whole thing?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EDWARDS:   I mean, I‘m not the first person to do this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  The blame game.  Hillary Clinton‘s campaign now says it was Edwards‘ fault that they didn‘t win.  Former Clinton campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson says if only Edwards‘ infidelity had been confirmed earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HOWARD WOLFSON, FORMER CLINTON CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN:  My gut tells me that had Senator Edwards dropped out of the race or had this become public prior to Iowa, that we would have done better in Iowa.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  He, according to Wolfson, if Edwards have admitted before the Iowa caucuses, then Clinton would have beaten Obama in Iowa, then, well—she gets picked.

And, the fame game.  The McCain camp has been trying to paint Obama as a celebrity for weeks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN AD)

ANNOUNCER:  He is the biggest celebrity in the world.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  So, how does the Obama campaign respond?  Well, the point we made on this show last week—that McCain‘s done a lot of movie and TV appearances himself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, OBAMA CAMPAIGN AD)

NARRATOR:  He‘s been Washington‘s biggest celebrity.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  John McCain.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Has the race for the presidency, the highest office on the land, the most powerful on planet earth, come down to—which guy is less famous?  The battle for non-celebrity rages on.

Also tonight in Winners and Losers: President Bush had a standard (ph) trip to Beijing, talking a little basketball, hang on with fellows in locker room, showed up to the beach volleyball venue to—had America‘s heroes on the -- (INAUDIBLE).

Contessa Brewer joins us.

And what to say about this guy?  He grew up dreaming to have a career as a weatherman.  What is he doing with a live Burmese python in his pants?

That‘s ahead on VERDICT.

Hi, everybody.  Welcome to the show.  Tough new questions tonight for John Edwards over the affair that has shaken the political world.

NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell investigates the unanswered questions.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Benched from speaking at the Democratic convention because of his affair with Rielle Hunter, John Edwards now faces more questions about his confession, many involving money.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s a great speech.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Can you read it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, I can read it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You can?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.

MITCHELL:  Edwards‘ good friend and finance chairman, Fred Baron says he paid for Hunter to move to a $3 million dwelling (ph) in California.  Baron says he also help relocate another close Edwards aide, who claims to be the father of Hunter‘s five-month-old child.  No name is listed on the birth certificate.  The alleged father is now building this house in North Carolina.

Edwards told ABC‘s “Nightline”.

EDWARDS:  I had nothing to do with any money being paid.  I have no knowledge of any money being paid.  It wasn‘t being—if something was being paid, it wasn‘t being paid on my behalf.

MITCHELL:  Other questions.  Exactly when did Edwards begin his affair with Hunter?  How long did it last?  How and why did a novice filmmaker create a company and become a fixture on his campaign?

Hunter created her video company on June 30th of 2006.  His political action committee made its first payment to her company five days later.  But now, a friend of Hunter‘s tells NBC News, the relationship started months earlier and lasted long after Edwards claimed it was over.

(on camera):  “Newsweek” magazine reports that Hunter blames Elizabeth Edwards for getting her fired.  John Edwards has still not cleared exactly when he told his wife and how often he‘d seen Hunter and the child in recent months.

Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Joining me now, one of the men who was closest to John Edwards during his White House run, he‘s former deputy campaign manager, Jonathan Prince.

Jonathan, thanks for coming on the program.

JONATHAN PRINCE, FORMER EDWARDS DEPUTY CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN:  Hey, sure, Dan.

ABRAMS:  So, how—did you know Rielle Hunter?

PRINCE:  I met her, you know, a bunch of time in 2006, kind of towards the end of that year.  She was, you know, as has been widely reported, filming these kind of documentary stuffs and things.  I first met her when John was doing his book tour in November of 2006 for the book, “Home,” that I worked on with him.

ABRAMS:  Were there any concerns about her at that time—sort of what is she doing here, how did she get the job, anything like that?

PRINCE:   Not in particular, certainly not to my knowledge.  I had not met her when she was initially hired.  So, like I said, the first time I met her was November 2006 on that book tour.  And, you know, she was frankly by the end of December of 2006.  So, you know, she was like a lot of people around campaigns, you know, a little bit starry eyed, but that, again, is not atypical.

ABRAMS:  But there were no whispers about her, I mean, as you know, any workplace environment, there are sometimes suspensions and whispers, et cetera?

PRINCE:  You know, there are rumors about everybody in campaigns, so you know, nothing that I took seriously.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Now, let me ask you about this news about Fred Baron, the finance chair, sort of paying, you know, giving her money, giving this other Edwards‘ aide money, who says that he was actually the father of the child.  Would Edwards have known about that money, because Baron is saying that John Edwards did not know about it?

PRINCE:  I believe that entirely.  I mean, first of all, if you know Fred, and I know Fred well, Fred is a really terrifically generous guy who is, you know, not of insubstantial means.  And he certainly is a guy who would help anybody out who is in a jam.  He also, I mean, help you (ph) out not to jam.

You know, I know folks he‘s kind of helped starts get business going and things like that.  So, it really wouldn‘t surprise me and, frankly, you know, whatever, you know, in all honesty, that‘s gone on, as now been reported, if you got the “National Enquirer” chasing you, it is not like, you know, more reputable (ph) news organization chasing you.  I can imagine that Andrew and Rielle feeling, you know, reporter jumping out of bushes, their so-called reporters I supposed, jumping out of bushes that (ph) they want to get away.

ABRAMS:  Let me ask you and I‘m doing a little bit of psychoanalysis here in your responses, but it does seem that there‘s something about this which your response is kind of like, this happens in politics and, you know, it‘s unfortunate -

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  So, and we deal with these things.

PRINCE:  Look, you‘re reading something.  I think that‘s fair.  I think that you know, the whole thing is obviously disheartening.  The whole thing is disappointing.  I certainly, and my heart goes out to the entire Edwards family, to John, to Elizabeth, to the kids, to everybody obviously.

And unfortunately, it is true in our society and it‘s probably in human society forever that these things happen.  People are flawed and it‘s disappointing and it‘s upsetting.  But, you know, as I heard somebody say, I remember, in the countless hours of cable TV, you do understand, devoted to this story, I heard someone say, you know, I think it was James Carville, you know, “He didn‘t kill anybody, he didn‘t rob anybody, he didn‘t commit—you know, he made a big mistake, but a human mistake.”

ABRAMS:  Yes.  But look, no one‘s seeking the death penalty for him either.

I mean, let me read this from John Edwards in 1999 and I think this is part of the reason that people are, you know, so, I don‘t want to word shocked but disgusted by this.  Edwards about Bill Clinton, “I think this president has shown a remarkable disrespect for his office, for the moral dimensions of leadership, for his friends, for his wife, for his precious daughter.  It is breathtaking to me the level to which that disrespect has risen.”

That‘s him talking about Bill Clinton and yet, he, this affair, if he had been the presidential candidate, you know, would have probably or very well could have lost the election for the Democrats.

PRINCE:  Look, as you know, I worked for Bill Clinton for a long time, too.  And, obviously, that was disappointing.  But, you know, I mean, the parallel that it makes for me is probably not the parallel you are looking for but, you know, what Bill Clinton did which was wrong and he said so himself.  It didn‘t take away from his vast achievements in office.

ABRAMS:  But ended up, it did end up -

PRINCE:  It colored them and obviously affected, it had an impact on his effectiveness and, clearly, this is, you know, going to shape some of John‘s legacy.

ABRAMS:  The hypocrisy is the part that gets people.  It‘s not just the affair.

PRINCE:  He‘s never out to represent himself as perfect.  I mean, I believe he gave an interview the belief (ph) in that (INAUDIBLE) and in the beginning of the campaign where he talked about his struggles with sin every day.  The same struggles that all of us have.  And he certainly wasn‘t out there castigating, you know, others, in terms of kind of family values (INAUDIBLE).  It‘s not like Newt Gingrich who was leading the impeachment of Bill Clinton while he is, you know, involved or Bob Livingston (ph) and those guys.  It wasn‘t that kind of hypocrisy.

ABRAMS:  No, look, comparative hypocrisy is always interesting to delve into but -

PRINCE:  Fair enough.

ABRAMS:  But nevertheless, it is -

PRINCE:  He‘s not perfect.  That‘s obviously clear.

ABRAMS:  Yes, but you remained a supporter.

PRINCE:  Look, I do not obviously support what happened.

ABRAMS:  Right.  I understand.

PRINCE:  I remained a person who thinks that he is a good guy with a passionate commitment to making things better for Americans who obviously made a big mistake.  And I‘m sure he regrets it incredibly.  I wish it hasn‘t happened.  I think it‘s bad.

I think, like (INAUDIBLE) have said, it would be in a tough stuff, if you‘re the nominee, but I don‘t think that takes away from what I believe are his really honest, heartfelt commitment to making this country a better place and I hope that that voice could come back.

ABRAMS:  Jonathan Prince, thanks so much for joining us.  Appreciate it.

PRINCE:  You bet, Dan.  Thanks.

ABRAMS:  Joining me now, Maria Cardona, a former senior adviser to the Hillary Clinton campaign; Andrea Tantaros, a Republican strategist; and, Lynn Sweet, Washington bureau chief for the “Chicago Sun-Times.”

All right.  Lynn, what do you make of the timeline here and what Edwards is saying about the timeline?

LYNN SWEET, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES:  Well, it sounds—it‘s lame, Dan.  What more can you say about it?  What reasonable person would go to a hotel in the middle of the night to have a meeting when you‘re in his situation?

Even if those photographers weren‘t there, there would be people in the lobby.  It‘s just the timeline that makes no sense.  And he ran knowing this was out there.

ABRAMS:  But I guess, Maria, I‘m thinking of the timeline in terms of when he says the relationship began, when he says the relationship ended, et cetera.  And, you know, look, he is claiming, in essence, he told his wife at all the right time.  Meaning, he goes to the hotel, he says, “I told my wife the next morning, I told my wife immediately after it happened,” essentially in 2006.  I mean, there is some element of that, which is hard to swallow.

MARIA CARDONA, FMR. ADVISOR TO HILLARY CLINTON:  Of course.  I think the whole thing actually is hard to take, and frankly, and every time a listen to this on the news, I just have got to go “Ah,” and think about Elizabeth Edwards, my heart goes out to her, my prayers go out to her and her family.

But you know what?  I think that what we need to just really think about here is if John Edwards really decided to come out with this now, I really hope he‘s telling the whole truth.  And I don‘t think that there‘s a lot of people out there that thinks that he is.  And that‘s, you know, that‘s in communications 101.  (INAUDIBLE)

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Well, I don‘t think he decided to come out with this now either.  I mean, I think he was forced into –

CARDONA:  Well, he was forced to do it.  That‘s correct.

ABRAMS:  He is forced into discussing this now.  Andrea, is the money issue—is there any way Republicans like yourself are going to be able to use the money issue, the campaign chair who‘s giving her money, the fact that she‘s being hired to make these campaign videos, any way to make that a 2008 issue?

ANDREA TANTAROS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  No.  I don‘t think so, and I‘m not a criminal defense attorney or prosecutor.  I‘ve never been a cop.  And I don‘t think John Edwards is really an issue.  Look, this guy was a high-tech ambulance chaser and the American people clearly saw through it long ago.  They stuck a fork him years ago.

And so, I think we‘re talking about this now because, yes, it is salacious.  It sounds like a soap opera—you have the love child, and the party girlfriend.  You know, the party girl girlfriend and he is a politician.  And there‘s low (ph) media coverage before the conventions which, poor John Edwards, you know, he‘s really getting hit hard on this.

But I think you hit the nail on the head, Dan, and that‘s the hypocrisy.  The sick wife, I mean, that is what has people so upset.  The comment that he made about Bill Clinton and that‘s why, I think, we were reeling also over Eliot Spitzer.  It was the same type of thing, just the blatant hypocrisy and that‘s what we‘re dealing with right now.  And I think there is, to your point, there is a law enforcement, some questions about money.

ABRAMS:  Everyone is going to stay with us.  Let me take a quick break here.  Coming up—I‘ll let you finish in a minute, Lynn.

I want to ask a question: Could Hillary be the nominee if John Edwards‘ affair had come me out before the Iowa caucus?  A top Clinton aide says, “Yes.”

And: Barack Obama launches a new ad saying it‘s John McCain who is the ultimate celebrity.  Once again, we‘ll have some of our favorite McCain cameos.

Plus: Members of Congress spending other people‘s money to pay their legal bills.  It‘s tonight‘s edition of Why America Hates Washington.  We‘re back in 60 seconds.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Tonight‘s edition of Why America Hates Washington: Lawmakers using other people‘s money to pay their own legal bills.  Thanks to favorable campaign finance laws, some members of Congress are raiding their campaign coffers to pay their staggering legal fees.

According to “Roll Call,” Republican Congressman Don Young of Alaska shelled out $1.2 million to two forums (ph) in the current cycle.  While Democrat Jim McDermott of Washington pulling (ph) out $628,000 to fund a decade-long legal battle.

Reaching in to deep pockets, on our dime is another reason Why America Hates Washington.

When we come back, they say timing is everything.  So, if the Edward affair had surfaced earlier, a Clinton aide says it would have made all the difference to Hillary Clinton.  Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  The John Edwards sex scandal has ripped right into the presidential campaign with one of Hillary Clinton‘s top advisors saying that if the news of the affair had come out last year, Clinton, not Obama would be the nominee.

Campaign communications chief, Howard Wolfson is telling NBC News, quote, “I believe we would have won Iowa.  And Clinton today would therefore have been the nominee.”

Well, exit polls from the Iowa caucus don‘t necessarily support that.  As to their second choice was, 43 percent of Edwards backers picked Obama, 24 percent said Clinton.

But is this sort of speculation damaging to Obama? Back with us is Maria Cardona, Andrea Tantaros, and Lynn Sweet.

All right.  Maria, first, let me ask you as a former Clinton aide during the campaign, do you think it‘s true?

CARDONA:  No.  I don‘t think it‘s true.  I think it‘s a lot of lamenting that‘s going on.  I think that‘s a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking, trying to figure, well, you know, what if this had happened than that.  I think, frankly, it‘s not helpful and it‘s a little bit irrelevant.

It‘s like saying, if Senator Obama hadn‘t run, she would be the nominee or if we had run under the Republican Party rules, she would be the nominee.  Maybe.  But you know what?  None of that stuff happened.  So, it doesn‘t really, I think, there‘s not even the point to really talking about it.

ABRAMS:  Lynn?

SWEET:  I think she might have at least come in second in Iowa, but I don‘t know if it would have change the whole outcome if Edwards wasn‘t in there.

But, can I make a real quick point in your America Hates Washington, I hope you keep the clip of the point of the Edwards interview in NBC, where he‘s asked a plain question, “Is that a picture of you with this child?” and he just bamboozles and (INAUDIBLE) instead of saying it‘s me, it‘s not me.  Play that clip, Dan, whenever you‘re in a mood to do another America Hates Washington on Why America Hates Washington.  That‘s the clip that tells the whole story.

The man can‘t even say “it‘s me or not me,” and that is why this episode is as educational about John Edwards as it is about a lot of what goes in.  He calls the camera and he wants it in, he can‘t even say if he has (ph) similar picture.  Come on.

ABRAMS:  It‘s educational about American politics.  I mean, look, Andrea, I mean, I‘m sort of going on a tangent here0, but the bottom line is—to run in an American political campaign on a national scale, you have to talk about your morality.  You must.  And so, if you do something immoral, those words are going to come back to hunt you.

TANTAROS:  Yes, it‘s true.  Let this be a lesson to anybody who‘s considering running for public office.  I mean, when are they going to learn?  It‘s unbelievable.

But, you know, going back to Howard Wolfson, I think it‘s time that some ex-Clinton staffers enroll in group therapy.

Get over this.  Barack Obama beat you fair and square and it‘s time to move on.  And, look, either they‘re just really sore losers, they want to weaken him for the general election, or they want McCain to win because they have their eye on 2012.  This is the Clintons that we‘re talking about and those three items are not mutually exclusive here.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right.  Here‘s Wolfson sort of backtracking now on his comments after, I think, a lot of people called him up and said, “Howard, what are you saying?  Why are saying this?  Why you‘re doing this to us?”  So after that, he then comes back and here‘s what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, FOX)

WOLFSON:  Well, my gut tells me that had Senator Edwards dropped out of the race, or had this become public prior to Iowa that we would have done better in Iowa.  The exit polling tells something different.  You know, if Senator Clinton hadn‘t gotten teary-eyed in New Hampshire, I think Senator Obama would have won New Hampshire and he would have been the nominee in January.

So, there are 1,000 different ways you can play the “what if” game but I do believe that the result would have been different had this come public a year ago.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  Maria, like who calls someone like Wolfson after the fact.  Bring us behind the scenes, right?  The Clinton campaign has disbanded, right?  You were a member of the Clinton campaign.  Howard Wolfson makes a comment like this that drives everyone bananas.  He‘s saying it as an analyst, a television news analyst.

Who‘s the one who had to make the call to say, “Howard, you‘re killing us”?

CARDONA:  I don‘t think it was just one person.  I think he got multiple calls.

ABRAMS:  Did you call him?

CARDONA:  I did not call him.

ABRAMS:  All right.

CARDONA:  I did not call him.  But I think it was a lot of people and frankly, I do think that the point is that this isn‘t helpful.  It‘s not helpful to Senator Clinton, and you know what?  You know, all of us are still there for her and we are lamenting the fact that, you know, she didn‘t win.  But none of this helps.  It doesn‘t help Senator Obama, either.  We all want him to win.

ABRAMS:  Speaking of not helpful, these are campaign memos that have been disclosed that Maria Cardona must have been getting back in March of 2007, all right?

This is from Mark Penn, a campaign memo that has just been in “The Atlantic” and it says, “I cannot imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values.”

Wow.  Lynn, that‘s—I mean, let me ask, let me throw that to Maria.  Maria, that‘s what the Clinton was thinking about Barack Obama?

CARDONA:  Not all people in the Clinton campaign clearly.

ABRAMS:  Mark Penn, big guy in the campaign.

CARDONA:  Look, yes, of course.  But look, I think what this demonstrates, first of all, is that division politics is something that both parties are capable of.  Frankly, personally, I think it‘s something that comes out much more from the Republican playbook than the Democratic playbook.

And to Senator Clinton‘s credit and to a lot of people around her, they did not embrace this strategy because it‘s not something that was used by the Clinton campaign as everybody else (ph).

TANTAROS:  Whoa.  Maria, remember that quote, that Senator Clinton gave.  “He‘s not Muslim, that I know of,” when they asked—I mean, come on.  This came out of your candidate‘s mouth.

CARDONA:  Come on, she said that he wasn‘t Muslim.  I mean -

TANTAROS:  That she knew of?

CARDONA:  You know, now, you‘re just parsing words but she didn‘t, this is not -

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Wait, I don‘t want to get in to the debate -

CARDONA:  And you can say that it‘s something that she gave.

ABRAMS:  Hang on.  I don‘t want to get in to the debate again about the “60 Minutes” thin because there was some nuance there and there were some question, et cetera.  I don‘t want to debate that.

Lynn Sweet, let me give you the final word on this.  This was not a good day for the Clinton campaign.  Is it fair to summarize it?  If we‘re doing Winners and Losers, the Clinton campaign, the nonexistent Clinton campaign was a loser today.

SWEET:  I agree.  But don‘t—there‘s always tomorrow and she got this big speech coming up.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Now, look, I‘m not saying that they‘re permanently—I‘m just saying they‘ve had a very bad day with the release of these documents and the Wolfson -

TANTAROS:  The Democratic Party is in bad day.

SWEET:  Hobble.

ABRAMS:  Yes, I guess if you‘re -

SWEET:  Yes, you know, when you talk about game changers, if that memo had came out earlier that could have, you know, hurt her, too.  I mean, there‘s just so many things out there.  Their lucky it just came out now.

ABRAMS:  Yes.

Maria Cardona, Andrea Tantaros, and Lynn Sweet, thanks a lot.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Thanks, Dan.

ABRAMS:  Coming up: A new ad in the celebrity offensive.  This time, Obama is calling McCain “Washington‘s biggest celebrity”—that we talked about last week, that some of McCain‘s best cameos.

And an Iowa weatherman had a close encounter with a python at an Iowa stage fair, where the snakes slithered will make you squirm.  That‘s next in Beat the Press.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up: FOX‘s Neil Cavuto talked about how political images can backfire.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “YOUR WORLD”/FOX NEWS/FRIDAY)

NEIL CAVUTO, FOX HOST:  Sometimes things crack and carefully craft images begin to come apart, like that “Time” photographers caught John Kerry parasailing.  Remember that?  It just looked weird.  I didn‘t know what parasailing was.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  And it seems he still doesn‘t.  Of course, John Kerry was wind surfing, not towed behind a boat in the air with a parasail, although, that would have been funny.

Next up: My old pal, Ted Rowlands who‘s an excellent over at CNN introduced a story on Paris Hilton‘s ad and noted that she was even getting attention on Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “ELECTION CENTER”/CNN/THURSDAY)

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT:  Hilton has proposed energy plan in her mock campaign ad was referenced by a Republican congressman debating energy policy on Capitol Hill.  He says her idea is worth a look.

REP. MICHAEL BURGESS, ® TEXAS:  Even Paris Hilton had an energy plan that she‘s talking about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  So, the congressman is mocking the idea that even Paris had an energy plan, but the way Ted then said, it almost sounded like it was a real one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROWLANDS:  Hilton called for a limited offshore drilling and incentives for auto makers to produce efficient cars.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Hilton also believes that gathering warring nations together could help secure world peace.

Finally: The CBS affiliate in Des Moines, Iowa was at Iowa state fair on Thursday, and meteorologist Curtis Gurts (ph) had a Burmese python placed around his neck and then it moved—down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, KCCI-TV, THURSDAY)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This is all comes to an end.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I hate this snake, come on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s been a great 20 years of television, guy.  I get you never knew it, did you?

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Let‘s go to stupid human tricks.  You guys go ahead shot this one.  My mom always told me to wear clean underwear, I never that thought because of this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I guess (ph) I help you out.  Could use that (INAUDIBLE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Well, he handled that well.

Up next: Star power smackdown after McCain puts out an ad comparing Obama to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.  Obama hits back that McCain is a bigger celebrity than he is.

And later, breaking news.  Not really, Tori Spelling pulls out of “90210” remake.  Apparently she was getting paid less than her costars.  It‘s in Winners and Losers.  Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  We‘re back.  Somebody in the Obama camp is apparently watching our show.  Last week, in response to McCain‘s assertion that Obama is the biggest celebrity in the world, we asked whether McCain is actually a bigger celebrity, citing his numerous appearances in “Saturday Night Live,” his cameo roles in “Wedding Crashers” and “24.”  Now, in a new ad, the Obama camp suggests that yes, McCain is the bigger celebrity, at least in Washington. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MALE VOICE OVER:  For decades, he‘s been Washington‘s biggest celebrity -

MALE ANNOUNCER:  John McCain!

MALE VOICE OVER:  And as Washington embraced him, John McCain hugged right back - the lobbyists, running his low-road campaign, the money, billions in tax breaks for oil and drug companies, but almost nothing for families like yours.  Lurching to the right, then left.  The old Washington dance, whatever it takes. 

MALE ANNOUNCER:  John McCain!

VOICE OVER:  A Washington celebrity playing the same old Washington games. 

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m Barack Obama, and I approve this message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  So the McCain camp fires back today with a new Web ad. 

Here‘s a portion of it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MALE VOICE OVER:  We know he doesn‘t have much experience and isn‘t ready to lead, but that doesn‘t mean he isn‘t dreamy. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The aura around him is just really nice. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What I love most about him is he has very soft eyes. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hot chicks dig Obama.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘re not worthy.  We‘re not -

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  No one‘s laughing.  I think it‘s funny. 

Joining me now, MSNBC political analyst, Joe Watkins; radio talk show host, Stephanie Miller; and Roy Sekoff with “The Huffington Post.”

All right.  Roy, why the sour face? 

ROY SEKOFF, FOUNDING EDITOR, “THE HUFFINGTON POST”:  Sour face, Dan?  No, I mean, you keep finding things hilarious that I find horribly, you know, unintelligent and not that funny.  I mean, I get the intent of the ads. 

But any day they are talking about the inanity of who‘s the bigger celebrity or, as you phrased it at the beginning, who‘s not as big a celebrity is a win for McCain.  It means they‘re not talking about the policies, which is what Obama should be talking about.  And they‘re not talking about the key, the elephant in the room, which is whether McCain is really ready to lead on national security and the war on terror -

(CROSS TALK)

ABRAMS:  Look, we have Roy and Stephanie, who are both - at least at one time in their lives, were comedians.  And we‘ve got Joe Watkins, who‘s never been, in his life, a comedian.  He‘s been a pastor, and he‘s sitting there laughing about this. 

JOE WATKINS, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  I mean, - let me go to Stephanie on this.  Stephanie, look, the Obama camp put out an ad mocking McCain on this.  Is this really - I mean, do you agree with Roy that even discussing this issue of celebrity is somehow bad for Obama? 

STEPHANIE MILLER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Well, you know, all I can say as a comedian, Dan, is the Obama ad funny, the McCain ad, not funny.  Who is his campaign manager, Pee-wee Herman?  “I know you are, but what am I?”  That‘s what McCain has been reduced to. 

And let me just say, Dan, the McCain ad is based on a complete lie, that Obama would tax everybody over $4,200 a year.  That‘s a complete lie.  And the Obama ad is based on truth.  He has embraced every single one of George Bush‘s policies. 

WATKINS:  Dan.  Dan.  Dan. 

ABRAMS:  I mean, look - Go ahead, Joe.  Go ahead.

WATKINS:  This is the meaning of the word “fan” - the meaning of the word “fan” is “fanatic.”  It‘s somebody who so in love with a celebrity that they can‘t see the forest from the trees.  Barack Obama, in his ad about John McCain, got it all wrong.  It is funny, by the way, but he got it all wrong because he said that John McCain voted for the big oil company giveaways, and he‘s the one who did in 2005 with that energy bill.  He supported them.  John McCain voted against them.

ABRAMS:  I appreciate - everyone here gets kudos for bringing the topic back, everyone of you.  All three of you brought the topic back to more serious issues.  But let me tell you, you guys are doing a better job of it than the campaigns are.  Because here‘s what campaigns are saying. 

First, Steve Schmidt, McCain senior adviser, talking about these advertisements.  He says, “The advertising is effective because it speaks to a truth that people instantly get.  It opens the doors to an examination of what exactly are his qualifications to be president of the United States in a time of economic crisis and in a time of a national security crisis.” 

The Obama campaign responds to that, “Their intent is obvious.  But I don‘t see any evidence that they are gaining with this.  Obviously, his strategists met on the portico of the McCain estate in Sedona.  Or maybe in one of his six other houses and decided what line of attack they were going to use.” 

I mean, look, this is getting serious.  Both campaigns are taking this issue of celebrity pretty seriously, Roy. 

SEKOFF:  Yes, I mean, you know, I think, Dan, when you - the old Freudian thing that there is no joke.  I think we look at those ads and we see some subtle things in there.  Did you see who is saying that Obama was dreamy?  Is that shades of the Harold Ford ad to you?

ABRAMS:  Do you really think so?  I mean, do you think that‘s a fair comparison?  I mean, let me ask -

WATKINS:  He‘s a good-looking guy.  I mean, Barack Obama is a good-looking guy.  I mean -

SEKOFF:  Harold Ford‘s a good-looking guy. 

ABRAMS:  We‘re showing - by the way, as we‘re talking, we‘re showing this creepy scene from John McCain when he was on “Saturday Night Live” portraying himself as a stalker.  Let me play - this is some more of the McCain Web ad.  And then we can have no smiles coming out of this from Stephanie, Roy, et cetera.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MALE VOICE OVER:  You‘ve seen him in London, Paris and Berlin.  Now, you, too, can join the one‘s fan club right here in America. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE NEWS ANCHOR:  You‘d think Elvis or the Beatles had come to town. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This is amazing.  I almost felt like crying when he signed it.

MALE VOICE OVER:  The perks are amazing, like a tax increase for everyone earning more than $42,000 a year.  He‘s a rock star. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh, I‘d say he‘s at the level of Bono for me. 

MALE VOICE OVER:  Able to move appetites with just a local appearance. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You could feel it building at the Taco Bell just across town just before lunch. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We‘re not usually busy whenever it‘s raining, and it‘s been busy all day. 

MALE VOICE OVER:  So act now, and don‘t delay.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  So Stephanie, put aside the $42,000 thing which is a warped number, all right?  Let‘s agree that they‘ve twisted that number.  Let‘s agree on that.  The rest of the ad -

MILLER:  That‘s an ad based on a complete lie.  Yes.

ABRAMS:  But that‘s not what the ad is based on, Stephanie.

WATKINS:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

ABRAMS:  Stephanie, you‘re always on this program, honestly, laughing.  What is it about this that‘s getting you so upset, honestly? 

MILLER:  Did I just seem like I smelled something bad when I saw that ad? 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

MILLER:  And who is this helping, Dan?  Who is this helping health insurance?  Who is this helping get lower gas prices? 

ABRAMS:  I know - It‘s so preachy.  I mean -

MILLER:  It‘s like this is just so ridiculous.  It‘s like, “He‘s so popular and I hate him.”  It‘s just like John McCain has become (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

(CROSS TALK)

SEKOFF:  Even from a comedy level, you know, once you get to the Taco Bell girl, you know, we‘ve clearly jumped the shark on the celebrity issue. 

(CROSS TALK)

WATKINS:  Dan, this is funny stuff. 

ABRAMS:  I don‘t even know that it‘s that funny.  Yes, go ahead.  As the woman - go ahead. 

MILLER:  As the woman on the show tonight, I can stipulate that Barack Obama is hot.  However, that is not a fair ad in a political campaign. 

(CROSS TALK)

WATKINS:  Why not?  Why not, Stephanie?

ABRAMS:  I just want to know, Roy Sekoff and Stephanie Miller tend to be the two guests who smile the most ...

WATKINS:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  ... on this program.  And for some reason, this topic has you both furious. 

SEKOFF:  Well, Dan, comedy misused is a very (UNINTELLIGIBLE) thing.

WATKINS:  They can‘t admit that Barack Obama is a rock star.  They can‘t admit that Barack Obama is a good-looking guy.  They can‘t admit that Barack Obama will raise everybody‘s taxes. 

(CROSS TALK)

ABRAMS:  Now, you can get upset.  Now, you can get angry at what Joe said.  Now, you can get like, “He‘s misstating the facts.  He‘s misstating what Obama‘s position would be, et cetera.  It just seems to me that the ad itself - they‘re both not going to be particularly persuasive.  Neither one are going to define this election.  And I think that they‘re both a little bit fun.  I don‘t know. 

SEKOFF:  It takes up the oxygen, Dan.  It takes up the oxygen. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  So, you should all be blaming me for doing this segment. 

MILLER:  Dan, let me say in the spirit of this campaign -

WATKINS:  No, I like it.  I like this.

MILLER:  In the fifth grade - In the fifth grade spirit of the campaign (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

SEKOFF:  Joe likes it if we‘re not talking about important things. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Well, look.  Roy, I challenge you and “The Huffington Post” - I‘m going to go to “The Huffington Post.”  You‘d better promise me that everything you have on there is serious stuff, all right?  There‘s no entertainment.  There‘s no media.  There‘s nothing light.   There‘s not this McCain ad.  There‘s not the Obama ad.  You‘ve got it all on there, Roy. 

SEKOFF:  Yes.  That‘s right.  We cover it all. 

ABRAMS:  OK.  That‘s what I‘m saying.

SEKOFF:  But I‘m saying the McCain camp is not talking about it all. 

WATKINS:  John McCain was the one who was prescient in his remarks about Russia. 

ABRAMS:  I‘ve got to tell you.  I thought this was going to be a fun segment.  This has turned out to be so dour.  But I hear you. 

MILLER:  I know, Dan.  I‘m sorry. 

ABRAMS:  Guys, thanks a lot.

MILLER:  You know what?  We‘re usually the comedy (UNINTELLIGIBLE) show, and we‘re sorry.

ABRAMS:  Up next, French swimmers at the Olympics trash talking the Americans until they lost.  How do you say, “humble pie” in French.  That‘s in “Winners and Losers.”

ABRAMS:  And the most expensive house ever sold.  That‘s next in “Reality Bites.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Now, to “Reality Bites,” a dose of reality caught on tape.  Tonight, why settle for a million-dollar view when you can have one worth $700 million?  That‘s what an anonymous Russian billionaire - he‘d better be - shelled out for L.A. Leopolda, a villa in the south of France.  The actual price tag, $750 million, making it the world‘s most expensive home ever.  The villa was once owned by Belgium‘s king Leopold, and was later converted into a hospital.  Be right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  It is time for tonight “Winners and Losers.”  And we‘re going to start tonight with the winners and losers of the Beijing Olympic Games.  With me, but somewhere else on the floor where I am right now, MSNBC‘s Contessa Brewer.  Contessa?

CONTESSA BREWER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Oh, I‘m here somewhere.  I can see you.  I can hear you, and yet I can‘t reach out and touch you. 

OK.  So first up, President Bush‘s Olympic adventure.  The president spending the weekend in Beijing got in on the U.S. basketball team‘s huddle and - I don‘t know - maybe tried a little too hard to fit in.  He hung out with the women‘s softball team but left practice with a white chalk print hand print across his back.  There it is. 

And you may have seen the way volleyball players congratulate each other for a good play and they give a nice swat on the butt.  So when U.S. volleyball player Misty May Treanor offered up her ware, the president gave her -

ABRAMS:  Where is it?

BREWER:  I‘m waiting for it.  I‘m talking really slow, waiting for the video.

ABRAMS:  Where is it?  No, that‘s not it.  Where is it?  We don‘t have it.

BREWER:  OK, guess who‘s the loser? 

ABRAMS:  Oh, there is it is, finally. 

BREWER:  Oh, there‘s the president.  There it is. Slow mo - He gives her a little flick on the back instead. 

ABRAMS:  I mean, you know - You know, here‘s the problem for him, all right?  Anytime you get into the sports stuff and he‘s got to sort of pretend to play volleyball, to try and be cool.  It‘s sort of, you know, rife with danger.  Reminds me when Karl Rove was called on stage to try and dance, you know.

BREWER:  Do you know what the best move he could have made there?  It would have been far funnier than the little hand flick.  I think if he had gone up and given her a little hip-butt himself, it might have gone off really well.  Comedic -

ABRAMS:  Yes?

BREWER:  And yet respectful. 

ABRAMS:  Right.  See, that‘s the key.  He can‘t really go for the full hand-on-the-butt. 

BREWER:  I call him a winner here, because this is good sportsmanship.  But it‘s a little bit like calling a winner for the CEO of your company who you see doing shots (UNINTELLIGIBLE) everybody else. 

OK.  Next up, here‘s a lesson for the French swimmer - karma‘s a beast.  Alain Bernard reportedly was trash-talking the American team ahead of the four by 100 meter freestyle -

ABRAMS:  Alain - Alain Bernard - a bit accented.

BREWER:  OK.  So boasting the French, Dan - he was boasting that the French would just smash the Americans, and this has got to hurt.  There he is.  The Americans pulling ahead in the last leg of their relay, clinching the gold for the U.S. team.  Watch this.  Just by a hair.  And oh, where was Bernard and his teammates?  On the second-place podium.  Meanwhile, the Americans say the trash-talking might have even helped them win. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We love listening when other people talk stuff about us.  It just fuels us to be ready and we don‘t say anything until it is over.  You see in the pictures, that‘s when we start celebrating, when we win. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BREWER:  In French they would call this gagnants et perdants.  And guess who is who?  Winners and losers. 

ABRAMS:  Oh, c‘est bien.  You know, what is amazing is that swimmers trash talk.  I mean, it‘s like you would expect a lot of trash talking in contact sports or -

BREWER:  Soccer - 

ABRAMS:  Or, you know -

BREWER:  Boxing. 

ABRAMS:  Or even basketball, you know, you‘re getting in there.  But the fact that swimmers are trash talking. 

BREWER:  They have barriers between them. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  I know.  But still, you know, it just shows you that they‘re into this.  This is good.  Contessa, stay with us a minute.  We‘ve got more winners and losers coming up.  Martha Stewart trashes herself.  That‘s coming up. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We‘re back with Contessa Brewer and more of the “Winners and Losers.”

BREWER:  OK.  So Dan, are you ready for this?  Martha Stewart proving - you‘re not going to believe this? 

ABRAMS:  Actually, I read it already, so I do believe it. 

BREWER:  Viewers at home who are watching, forget about Dan.  Martha Stewart does have a sense of humor, kind of.  “The New York Times” reports the domestic diva is developing a series “Whatever, Martha.”  It‘s based on “Mystery Science Theater 3,000.”  That in and of itself is funny.  It will mock old episodes of her 1990s cooking and craft show, “Martha Stewart Living.”  But to ensure the slams won‘t be too harsh, Stewart has tapped her own daughter, Alexis, to co-host the series. 

Stewart said in an interview here, quote, “They promise not to be mean and I trust them.”  Here is my question - have you seen what she makes at Easter time for arts and crafts?  Do they really have to go back digging in a 1990s show for material here? 

ABRAMS:  I mean, look.  Here‘s the thing.  Martha is smart here, right?  Because there is no way this is going to be that funny if they‘re censoring the jokes. 

BREWER:  Right.

ABRAMS:  Meaning if they have to be Martha appropriate - I mean, the same way when you and I are on together, I have to be Contessa-appropriate, right? 

BREWER:  Which really isn‘t appropriate at all.

ABRAMS:  And as a result, I can‘t be that funny when making fun of you.  And the same thing is going to apply to Martha Stewart.  I think it‘s going to be kind.  But I think it‘s a good idea.  She takes control of the issue. 

I just don‘t think -

BREWER:  Are you comparing me to Martha Stewart? 

ABRAMS:  No.

BREWER:  Is that where we are going with this? 

ABRAMS:  You know, Contessa Brewer -

BREWER:  You know what?  I am not liking the way this is going at all. 

OK.  Next set.  Martha Stewart, a winner for making fun of herself if she really does it.  Let‘s wait and see.  Jury is out. 

Next up.  Bad news for 90210 fans.  Donna Martin has left the zip code.  Actress Tori Spelling reportedly backing out of the long-awaited remake after finding out her former co-stars were offered more money to reprise their roles.  “E! News” reports Spelling was offered up to $20,000 an episode.  You know, it doesn‘t really sound too shabby to me.  Until you learn Jenny Garth and Shannon Doherty were offered upwards of $35,000 per episode to appear in the series spin-off.  Don‘t they know who Tori Spelling is?  Don‘t they know who her dad was?  How could they do that? 

ABRAMS:  What do you mean how could they do that?  Let‘s just say that Brenda Walsh was the most popular character on the show.  As a result, she‘s making the most money. 

BREWER:  So apparently, if you are a high maintenance witch when you are shooting the shows, some 15, 20 years later you can come back and really rake it in. 

ABRAMS:  If you were a high - what did you say, high what? 

BREWER:  Maintenance.

ABRAMS:  High maintenance witch who was the star of the show and they‘re redoing the show.  Yes, you can come back and ask for more money. 

BREWER:  Well, I think Tori Spelling is obviously a loser because she is making $15,000 less. 

ABRAMS:  You know, if she thinks that the career is going well, I call her a winner for having willingness to pull out. 

BREWER:  She has her own show.  Why does she need the stupid “90210” sequel?  I mean, who‘s going to watch that? 

ABRAMS:  We‘ve got one more.

BREWER:  OK.  Here we go.  Donald Trump starting a huge legal battle with his own lawyers.  Trump says his former attorneys using his name on their Web site to advertise - really commercially exploited - Mr. Trumps name and reputation.” 

And of course, the lawyers say Trump owes them money and is suing them to get himself out of paying.

ABRAMS:  Yes.

BREWER:  What?

ABRAMS:  They‘re saying that he is trying to avoid paying the bills. 

BREWER:  I know.  I mean, I got that.  I‘m just saying, he needs $5 million? 

ABRAMS:  Here‘s - I have no idea if he owes them money or not.  I have no idea.  But here‘s what I like about Donald Trump.  He doesn‘t fear anyone.  He will sue or go after anyone including his own lawyers.  Think about it. 

I mean, it‘s like, you know, you‘ve got to give the guy some credit there.  Now, again, suing them for using his name, et cetera, is kind of silly because people always tend to use, you know, “I have represented this person, that person, et cetera.” 

BREWER:  I mean, what‘s the big deal?  If your lawyer said, “Hey, I represent Dan Abrams,” would you care? 

ABRAMS:  I would say, you know, I‘d be interested in what they represented me on.  If they said, “in his criminal case,” I would have questions. 

BREWER:  OK.  Well said. 

ABRAMS:  Contessa, as always.  Thanks a lot. 

Time for the “P.O.‘d Box,” your chance to tell me what you hate or love about the show.  First up - Charles McCamey from Gainesville, Florida writes, “Dan you keep insisting that Obama has to bow to the Clintons to win.  He doesn‘t need the Clintons.  Most of Hillary‘s voters will wind up voting for Obama because they won‘t want McCain making any Supreme Court appointments. 

Charles, I can assure you, that only a handful of voters are going to vote base on the Supreme Court.  I wish more people cared about it.  I do.  But look at any poll, and it‘s never even near the top of the issues voters care about. 

And I get hit on the other side of this by Susan from Lady Lake, Florida, “What planet do you live on, Abrams?  Clinton had 18 million people vote for her.  Do not assume that Hillary supporters have rushed to support Obama.”

Susan, I don‘t.  And while the vast majority of them will vote for Obama, I‘m not sure what I said that made you think I feel that way. 

Finally, Carrie Cramer from Raleigh, North Carolina, “This is now my favorite show.  It‘s sort of like ‘The Soup‘ on E! which is like my favorite show.  But then I watched your show and now it‘s like my favorite show.”

Carrie, like, thanks.  Sort of.  Contessa, you still there?  Are you laughing?

BREWER:  Yes.  I‘m here.  I mean, like, yes it‘s great. 

ABRAMS:  Right? 

BREWER:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  All right.  We‘ve got another five seconds.  Anything else to say? 

BREWER:  I am a big fan, too, like I really like your show too, Dan. 

ABRAMS:  Right.  Thank you very much. 

That‘s all the time we have for tonight.  E-mail us about the show at verdict@msnbc.com.  See you back here tomorrow.  And Contessa will be back. 

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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