updated 7/2/2009 10:52:28 AM ET 2009-07-02T14:52:28

Guests: Mike Murphy, Savannah Guthrie, Warren Bolton, Philip Rucker, Howard Fineman, Jennifer Loven, Philip Rucker, Tony Potts

CHUCK TODD, GUEST HOST:  McCain versus Palin.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chuck Todd in Washington, in for Chris Matthews, who‘s out of the country this week.  I can rule out Antarctica.  He is not on that continent, but he is on another continent.

Leading off tonight: Circular firing squad.  That “Vanity Fair” piece we told you about yesterday on the McCain campaign staff dissing Sarah Palin—well, it‘s hit the Republican Party like a skunk at a picnic.  It prompted a withering response by “Weekly Standard” editor-in-chief and Palin supporter Bill Kristol, trashing the campaign staffers he suspects of talking.  And they trashed him right back.  As Chris Matthews would say, “Vanity Fair” ripped the scab off that wound, and we‘ll survey the damage in just a moment.

Also, talk about drip, drip, drip.  If there is one piece of advice I think both supporters and detractors of South Carolina governor Mark Sanford would agree on, it‘s time for the governor to just stop talking.  There are now growing calls from conservative Republicans for him to step down.  We‘ve got the latest on that festering wound coming up later.

Plus, the latest on the Michael Jackson case—it‘s reality show television—his will, reports on the prescription drugs found at Neverland, and the latest theory about why Jackson might have been trying to land himself in the hospital.  My colleague, NBC White House correspondent Savannah Guthrie, who covered the Jackson trial, joins me later.

We‘ll also give you your daily “Politics Fix,” I promise, with the latest on Al Franken, the 60th Democratic senator, and what his victory could mean for the Democrats and President Obama.  And speaking of Franken, see if you can guess which Republican senator referred to him as, quote, “the clown from Minnesota.”  Here‘s a hint.  This senator refers to global warming as a hoax.  The answer in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

But we begin with the fall-out from the “Vanity Fair” piece on Sarah Palin.  Republican strategist and one-time McCain confidant Mike Murphy is an NBC News political analyst.

And boy, I tell you, part of me, Mike, just wants to say, OK, what‘s going on here?  But we got to set folks up.  We got to fill them in on where this thing started and how—and what happened.  So “Vanity Fair,” Todd Purdum writes, quote, “Palin was coping not only with the crazed life of any national candidate on the road but also with the young children traveling with her.  Some top aides worried about her mental state.  Was it possible that she was experiencing postpartum depression?  Palin‘s youngest son was less than six months old.”

Well, that prompted “Weekly Standard‘s” Bill Kristol to write on his blog, quote, “In fact, one aide who raised this possibility in the course of trashing Palin‘s mental state to others in the McCain-Palin campaign was Steve Schmidt.”  Of course,  Schmidt was the campaign manager for McCain.  Well, that prompted Schmidt to tell “Politico” last night, quote, “His allegation that I was defaming Palin by alleging postpartum depression at the campaign headquarters is categorically untrue.  In fact, I think it rises to the level of a slander because it‘s about the worst thing you can say about somebody who does what I do for a living.”

OK.  Obviously, there are a lot of bitter feelings going on here, Mike.  You know these players very well.  You‘re, I think, personal friends with both Bill Kristol and Steve Schmidt, worked with Steve.  What‘s going on here?  And you know, how much of this is just old wounds and—or is there something else?

MIKE MURPHY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  You know, it‘s hard to tell.  And I‘ve never worked with Steve, although I did recommend him for a job with Governor Schwarzenegger.  You know, one, it‘s troubling because these are the ghosts of the campaign that ought to stay in the graveyard.  I do think that what happened is Bill Kristol voiced some frustration that a lot of people, at least in one faction of the campaign, and I think a lot of Republicans had, that the McCain staff, particularly certain senior advisers—and it‘s always murky, you wonder which senior adviser it is because that‘s the cloak people do this kind of negative work under—have been trashing Governor Palin after the campaign.

Now, look, I am not the chairman of the Sarah Palin political fan club.  I was a critic of the choice.  But it‘s highly unprofessional for staff under these kind of tactics to beat the hell out of the vice presidential candidate after the campaign.  And here it is coming back again in yet another hostile piece, this time by “Vanity Fair,” about Sarah Palin.

So I think Bill did that.  Steve Schmidt, you know, came roaring back, a lot of strong denials.  In some ways, the denials were so long, I kind of started thinking the guilty dog may be barking loudest here.  I don‘t know what the truth is.

I know a lot of reporters do think there were senior sources in the McCain campaign that were surprisingly critical of the choice later in the campaign.  The irony to me, many of those same senior people were the ones who thought of the idea and sold to McCain the idea of picking Palin in the first place.  So it‘s hard to untangle all this.  It‘s great fun to read for those of us who are political junkies, though I hope it goes away pretty soon.  And in the big picture, I don‘t think it means a lot for the party, but definitely not a good day for us when we‘re fighting over stuff like this.

TODD:  Well, let me read you one more quote Steve Schmidt told “Politico.”

MURPHY:  Sure.

TODD:  He said—and this is going right after Kristol.  He said, quote, “I‘m sure John McCain would be president today if only Bill Kristol had been in charge of the campaign.  After all, his management of Dan Quayle‘s public image as his chief of staff is still something that takes your breath away.  His attack on me is categorically false.”

Now, this goes at something else that I know bothered senior folks inside the McCain campaign.  You‘ve had to deal with this when you‘ve managed high-profile campaigns, both with McCain in 2000 and these other ones that you‘ve had to deal with, with Schwarzenegger, the high profile, where you have a lot of back seat drivers.  And whether you agree with what Kristol said or disagree, he was back-seat driving a lot of the last final three months.  Fred Barnes over there, “The Weekly Standard,” the same thing.  He‘s obviously a part of this—a part of this group that is very upset at the attacks on Palin.

But these back seat drivers, how damaging is that to a campaign when they go public when they did and now?

MURPHY:  Well, every campaign is hugely irritated by critiques from outside the campaign about what kind of campaign they‘re running.  The difference is, generally, when you‘re running a winning, competent campaign, you get less of it, though the test of any campaign manager is your ability to not be rattled by a lot of that kind of criticism because it comes with the game.

I think the problem in the McCain campaign—and I was one of the back seat drivers.  I was a commentator during the campaign, loved John McCain, was hoping he‘d win.  I thought the general election campaign had absolutely no coherent strategy at all.  So—and I‘m sure my criticism irritated them tremendously.

But I‘d say, in hindsight, they had no strategy.  It was not a particularly competent campaign.  I will give them credit, they worked hard, they gave up a lot of their lives.  The staff—you know, they worked their hearts out for the guy.  They ought to be commended for that.  But strategically, I think the campaign was open to a lot of legitimate criticism.

Some of it came from Kristol, some of it came from others.  But it‘s the name of the game.  You know, and the criticism I used to read about me coming back was always from “senior advisers.”  Any of my criticism, I put my name on it.

TODD:  Well, I‘ll tell you, as a reporter, it‘s amazing who we‘ll call a senior adviser.  Did I just admit that?

MURPHY:  That is true!

(LAUGHTER)

TODD:  And you know, we got to make the story look good, right?

MURPHY:  Very true.

TODD:  But I want to—let‘s go now—put your media strategist hat on.  Sarah Palin‘s future—she‘s polarizing inside the establishment wing of the Republican Party, let alone what we see in the outside world.  Here was something interesting from Purdum‘s piece.  He said, “Sarah Palin is a star in Evansville and all the Evansvilles in America.”  He‘s referring to a speech she did in Evansville, Indiana.  “But there is a big part of the Republican Party, the Wall Street wing, the national security wing, in which she cuts no ice.  She could do well in the Iowa caucuses or the South Carolina primary, but it is much harder to imagine her making headway in New Hampshire, where independent voters were turned off by her last fall.  And it‘s also difficult to see just how she‘d expand that appeal beyond the base,” that—there...

So you‘re helping Sarah Palin.  In fact, it‘s not clear who is helping Sarah Palin right now manage her image.  But if you are, how do you go about laying the groundwork for 2012?

MURPHY:  Well, it‘s difficult.  I mean, the truth is, we have a big Republican primary coming up, thankfully for all of us, in a couple of years, so we have plenty of time to work this out.

And three things are going to happen to Sarah Palin.  She‘s either not going to run and then she‘s not going to matter much in national politics.  Two, she is going to run and do poorly, and then she‘ll matter a little but not a lot.  Or three, she‘s going to have the greatest comeback in American political history and get nominated.  If the Sarah Palin that people perceive today is the one who‘s nominated in a few years, I think we‘d lose the election.  But the very act of that kind of comeback that she would need to win the Republican nomination, probably—again, you know, it‘s crystal ball stuff—might be a new and improved Sarah Palin.  There‘s room to grow.  She‘s a lot of natural talent.

The problem is there‘s a lot of controversy, and if you‘re not in one big base (ph) part, which is important in the primary, of the Republican Party—right now, most Americans don‘t perceive her as qualified to be president or somebody they‘d support.  So she has a long uphill road.  My advice for her would be, be a great governor of Alaska right now.  Focus on that.  Play the long game.  And don‘t just play to the base of the Republican Party because them loving you is maybe enough to get nominated because they love others, but it‘s not enough to get elected president of the United States.

TODD:  Well, it does seem to me that you have this one wing of the party that says, Hey, you know what?  Reagan was ridiculed just like this back in the early ‘70s and even after ‘76.  And then there are others in the party that will say, Oh, my God, she‘s the reincarnation of Katherine Harris.  Obviously, you know, if she‘s straddling the fence of Reagan or Katherine Harris—that‘s what you‘re getting at here, right?  She could fall either way, if she‘s going to either flame out or succeed.

MURPHY:  Right.  It‘s like rocket fuel.  It‘ll either send you to Mars or blow up on the pad with an explosion you can see for a hundred miles.  The problem Sarah Palin‘s had in national politics—and a little of this is unfair to her.  The media, I think, is sometimes unfair to her.  But if you were to chart her from the day she hit the national stage until now, the slope of the chart has gone essentially up for a while and then down for a long time.  That generally means the voters don‘t tend to like what they see over time, which means she needs some fundamental changes in the way she communicates and the things she talks about.  And whether she can go through a primary process and learn that and improve and change the attitudes about her is very much an open question.

I‘m not sure she‘ll even run, but there‘s such a media fixation with her, she‘s going to get the spotlight.  So if she does...

(CROSSTALK)

MURPHY:  ... shot to rehabilitate her image.

TODD:  Very quickly, Mike, look, you‘ve dealt—you‘ve gotten an Arnold Schwarzenegger to listen to advisers.  How do you get a Sarah Palin, who doesn‘t like to surround herself with new advisers, to listen to new advice?

MURPHY:  Whiskey.

(LAUGHTER)

MURPHY:  No, I don‘t know.  Look, I don‘t know here.  And I‘ve got nothing against her personally...

TODD:  Right.

MURPHY:  ... but I think she was an ineffective choice for strategic reasons and not has been ready in some ways for the primetime of national politics, which is a rough and unfair business.  So she has some time now to pull back, reflect, I think get some seasoned people around her that she trusts and can get along with and agree to take advice from.  And you know, that‘s a threshold question of playing the big-time.  We‘ll see if she can get there.

TODD:  All right.  Well, let me know when your cell phone rings with those Alaska area codes, OK, Mike?

MURPHY:  Oh, I‘m out of it!

(LAUGHTER)

MURPHY:  It won‘t happen.

TODD:  Yes, yes, yes.  They keep sucking you back in.

MURPHY:  Never.

TODD:  Mike Murphy from out there in California, thanks very much.

Coming up: It‘s a mid-life crisis playing out in public.  Why does South Carolina governor Mark Sanford keep talking?  We‘ve got new audiotapes now of the governor talking about how he crossed the line with other women besides that Argentinean mistress.  And as this story grows odder and odder, how long will Sanford hang onto his job?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

GOV. MARK SANFORD ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  This was a whole lot more than a simple affair, that it‘s a love story—a forbidden one, a tragic one, but a love story at the end of the day.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TODD:  Wow.  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Drip, drip, drip.  So we had the interview yesterday that hits in print.  Now AP has got audiotapes of Governor Sanford talking to the Associated Press about this entire affair.  When will his apologies and confessions stop?  And will he keep his job?

“The Washington Post‘s” Philip Rucker has been covering this story from the start, and Warren Bolton is also covering this story for “The State” newspaper in Columbia, South Carolina.

Gentlemen, I welcome both of you to—there‘s so many reality shows we‘re watching on television right now, from the Michael Jackson saga to this thing that‘s going on down in your state, Warren.

I want to play another audio sound bite from Sanford from this interview.  Take a listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SANFORD:  It was wonderful in terms of—again, there was some kind of connections.  And so we caught up.  It was like catching up with a great old friend.  And it was some level of, again, that something, something that I‘ve never been able to put my hands on, was there.  I remember there was an older couple sitting to our right.  And I remember them watching us, in the way that we interacted.  They could see a spark, or I don‘t know what you‘d call it, but there was something there.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

TODD:  You know, guys, it‘s one thing to read it.  It‘s another thing to hear it.  And it could be that hearing it is creating this mounting pressure.  I want to throw up a couple of numbers at you, the mounting pressure Sanford‘s facing.  As of late today, 14 out of the 27 Republican state senators say he should resign.  That‘s a majority of the entire Republican Senate caucus there.  There‘s five Republicans in the statehouse I‘m sure if more reporters could get ahold of, we‘d probably hear about more.  Six newspapers in South Carolina plus “The Charlotte Observer” from North Carolina have called on him to resign.

Now, Warren, I know your paper has not.  But this pressure that Sanford is receiving now, how intense is it down in South Carolina?

WARREN BOLTON, “THE STATE”:  I think it‘s considerable pressure, Chuck.  But you know, this is a governor who has had pressure on him many times in the past.  He just came out of a grueling stimulus—fight over the stimulus funds, where he wanted to do something other than what the legislature wanted to do in terms of using it to keep teachers working and keep things going in South Carolina.  He wanted to use it—he didn‘t want it at all or wanted to use it to pay down debt.  And there was significant pressure on him then.

The question is, how much will the personal pressure really bear down on him?  I don‘t think he‘s going to just buckle under just because you‘ve got pressure from folks, many of whom never were in his corner in the first place over the past six-and-a-half years.

TODD:  Well, what does it mean—let me stay with you, Warren, here.  What does it mean that Jim DeMint—you know, obviously, we know Lindsey Graham, one of the two senators there, has put out a statement of support.

But listen to what Jim DeMint said earlier today on Fox.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JIM DEMINT ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  In this business, I say when you‘re explaining, you‘re losing.  And particularly on that subject, I think he was.  But obviously, I‘m concerned of whether or not he‘s in a position that he can continue to lead the state.  And a number of us are talking to him quietly, and hopefully, it‘ll be resolved.  But I have my concerns whether or not he can continue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  To put on my best Chris Matthews impersonation, it sounds like DeMint‘s thinking about becoming Barry Goldwater and going down to tell Richard Nixon it‘s time to go.  Is there a cabal of Republicans in South Carolina talking to the governor about this, Warren?

BOLTON:  Certainly, there is.  And there‘s some who are more well placed that would be more of a consideration for the governor, I think.  I don‘t know that he and Jim DeMint are that close.

TODD:  OK.

BOLTON:  But I do know when you see someone like Senate president pro tem Glenn McConnell come out and say it‘s time for him to consider resigning that that does have a different kind of weight than others would.

TODD:  Now, Philip, I want to go to you.  Today you had a story about Andre Bauer.  He‘s the lieutenant governor.  He obviously would become governor.  There‘s some speculation that one of the reasons why Sanford‘s not feeling as much pressure to get out is because there‘s some reticence about handing the governorship to Bauer.  Talk about this.

PHILIP RUCKER, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  There really has been.

And, you know, part of that is because Bauer has never really been a part of the South Carolina political establishment.  He has his own record of erratic behavior.  He has had several high speeding tickets.  He crashed an airplane a few years ago.  So, there‘s a lot of reticence there about handing over the power to him. 

But I have got to tell you, that seems to have shifted dramatically today.  We have got Republicans in South Carolina who are very close political allies of Governor Sanford coming out calling for him to resign.  So, that clearly is changing the dynamic. 

TODD:  And, so, is Bauer himself making any phone calls, trying to nudge people out of the way?  There had been some reporting...

RUCKER:  Yes. 

TODD:  ... about some of his political consultants pushing this.  But is he making any calls? 

RUCKER:  He‘s not.

And—and, you know, in the last couple of days, he did a number of interviews, including with us.  But, today, he seems to have been kept quiet.  In fact, one newspaper reporter in South Carolina found him at a whole foods market outside of Charleston. 

(LAUGHTER)

RUCKER:  So, he‘s clearly trying to stay out of the fray today. 

TODD:  Now, Warren, Philip described Bauer as somebody that is not in the establishment of the Republican Party down there.  Mark Sanford is somebody who I have covered and I have discovered over time not part of the establishment. 

Who is the establishment?  And why can‘t they get any of their guys elected to these top spots?  I mean, has that—has that been part of the issue here as well? 

BOLTON:  Well, that may be a part, Chuck, but what—what‘s happened is, you had folks like Bauer and—and Sanford, who endeared themselves to the people, Sanford a man who—who showed himself as a man of conviction and principle, and who—who would not bow to anyone.

And people like that in South Carolina.  And, with Andre Bauer, he flat outworks everybody. 

TODD:  Holiday weekend coming up.  You know, is—is—what is Mark Sanford going to do?  Has—has he got a public schedule?  Do you either of you know?

Philip, do you know?  Does he have a public schedule?

(LAUGHTER)

RUCKER:  I don‘t know, but his schedule changes every day.  And—and who knows?  Maybe he will have another interview. 

But, you know, his wife is out on vacation with the boys.  They have left the state.  So, he‘s probably, you know, in South Carolina, really trying to repair some of these relationships and see if he can‘t survive. 

TODD:  Warren, is that what he‘s doing?  He‘s going to be in the office on the Fourth of July? 

BOLTON:  I‘m not sure.  That would be my guess, but I‘m not sure. 

TODD:  Thank you very much, Philip Rucker and Warren Bolton. 

Up next:  Sarah Palin is bragging that she can beat President Obama.  At least she doesn‘t have to wait until 2012 to do it, in her mind.  Stick around for the “Sideshow.”

And, later, new developments in the Michael Jackson story—we have new details about his will—stop for that—and who‘s in and who‘s out, cut out.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  All right.  Back to HARDBALL. 

Time for a segment I‘m really growing to love, the “Sideshow.”

First up:  Leave it to Rush Limbaugh.  Check out now how the conservative radio entertainer is spinning the death of pop star Michael Jackson. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, “THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW”)  

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Michael Jackson‘s biggest successes and, as it turns out, his final successes, real successes, took place in the ‘80s.  He flourished under Reagan, languished under Clinton and Bush, and died under Obama. 

Let me—facts are facts.  The timeline is the timeline.  Let‘s—let‘s—let‘s just—let‘s hope the—the parallel doesn‘t continue. 

(END AUDIO CLIP) 

TODD:  It‘s always Reagan, right?  It always is. 

Moving on, how is this for a welcome?  Republican Senator Jim Inhofe wasn‘t feeling the love yesterday when asked about his soon-to-be-new colleague in the Senate, Al Franken.  He told “The Tulsa World”—quote—

“I will tell you what a lot of people are thinking.  We are going to get the clown from Minnesota.”

When asked if he was referring specifically to Franken, who starred on “Saturday Night Live” in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Inhofe said: “Well, I didn‘t mean to be disrespectful.  I don‘t know the guy.  But, for a living, he is a clown.”

No disrespect intended by the senator, of course.  It would be interesting to see how they do their little C-SPAN debates.  “The distinguished gentleman.”  “Distinguished clown,” maybe.  We will see. 

Next up:  Sarah Palin is ready to take on Obama on the racetrack.  That is, the Alaska governor tells “Runner‘s World” magazine that she‘s confident she could outrun the president, saying—quote—“I betcha I would have more endurance.  My one claim to fame in my own little internal running circle is a sub-four marathon”—sub—less than four hours.  “What I lacked in physical strength or skill, I made up for in determination and endurance.” 

Well, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs was asked today whether President Obama would consider running with the governor.  And here‘s what he said. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  That‘s an interesting question. 

How is her jump shot?

I—I—I guess it depends on where they were going to run.  Maybe there‘s a terrain advantage in—in a place like Alaska. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  Well, it‘s a race we would all like to see in more ways than one. 

Time now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”

It‘s been a good couple of years for the Democrats.  Factoring in Arlen Specter‘s switch and yesterday‘s news on Franken, how much ground have Democrats gained in the Senate in just two years?  Fifteen seats.  By the way, you can credit a lot of that to the party‘s one-time Senate campaign committee chair, Chuck Schumer.  He ran the DSCC both in 2006, 2008. 

And they now have that magic filibuster-proof number in the Senate. 

They have added 15 seats since 2006. 

That‘s tonight‘s “Big Number,” an unbelievable total, when you try to look at it from 30,000 feet. 

And, today, we lost yet another celebrity, Oscar-winning actor—I didn‘t know he had won an Oscar—Karl Malden, at the age of 97.  To us, Malden wasn‘t just an actor.  He was a testament to the six degrees between the news business here at NBC and Hollywood. 

Here it is.  Malden was perhaps known for his role in the 1970s TV series “The Streets of San Francisco.”  And who else was in that series?  Well, a young Michael Douglas.  And you might recognize Douglas‘ voice from this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS”) 

MICHAEL DOUGLAS, ACTOR:  From NBC News world headquarters in New York, this is “NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  Well, there you have it, the six degrees between Karl Malden and Brian Williams.  He will be missed. 

Coming up:  Michael Jackson‘s will has been filed in an L.A. court.  And while the mystery surrounding Jackson‘s death becomes murkier, now a nurse has come forward to say Michael came to her seeking a powerful sedative to help him sleep, despite warnings it could kill him.

We will sort it all out, figure out what we know are facts and fiction. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks kicking off the third quarter on a positive note today.  The Dow finished 57 points higher.  The S&P 500 gained about four points, and the Nasdaq added more than 10. 

Today‘s gains were tempered by tomorrow‘s release of the June jobs report, but stronger manufacturing data from the U.S. and overseas gave investors reason for optimism. 

Pending home sales rose a tenth-of-a-point in May, marking the fourth straight month of gains.  But mortgage applications fell to a seven-month low, as rising mortgage rates scared off new homebuyers. 

U.S. auto sales tumbled in June, Ford, GM, Chrysler, Toyota, and Honda all reporting a substantial drop in sales. 

Stanford Financial‘s former CFO has reportedly cut a deal with federal prosecutors.  James Davis will plead guilty to three counts in the probe into Allen Stanford‘s alleged $7 billion Ponzi scheme. 

That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to

HARDBALL. 

TODD:  And welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Michael Jackson‘s will was filed in court today.  Among other things it, it cuts Debbie Rowe, his former wife, and potentially the biological mother of two of his children, out of any inheritance.  You say potentially because you just don‘t know with—with the story.  It names Jackson‘s mother, Katherine, as guardian of his three children.  And, if she is unable to raise the children, Diana Ross—yes, that Diana Ross—is the backup, one of the few times she‘s a backup, and not the front singer. 

In addition, there will be no public or private memorial at the Neverland Ranch.  And reports continue to swirl about Jackson‘s use of prescription drugs. 

Well, joining me to try to sort out the latest on Michael Jackson‘s death, I have got my colleague over at the White House, NBC‘s Savannah Guthrie.  She covered the 2005 sex abuse trial very closely, and—and sort of understands how to cut between the craziness of news reports that you get...

(LAUGHTER)

TODD:  ... and fictional reports that we get on all things Michael. 

And then I have got Tony Potts of “Access Hollywood.”

Tony, I want to start with you.  Try to help me.

TONY POTTS, “ACCESS HOLLYWOOD”:  Sure.

TODD:  I know you have got a few more pieces of news out there that you want to talk about.  First, you have been talking with the—the security—people that were members of Michael‘s security detail.  Can you tell us any more about that? 

POTTS:  Yes.  You know, like Savannah, I also covered the trial back in the day...

TODD:  Right. 

POTTS:  ... and met a lot of people over the time.  And you try to ferret out who, you know, is telling you the truth, who is not. 

We just conducted an interview with a fellow by the name of Mike Laiperuke (ph).  Laiperuke (ph) was hired by Michael in 2001 as a security detail to kind of head up security wherever Michael went to make sure things were OK, left and did his own thing for a while, came back in 2007, a very straightforward guy.  We found him very above-the-line, as he would say.

And he tells us a couple of things.  He hopes that Grace, that nanny Grace gets custody of the children.  He believes that this is really the only mother figure they have ever known. 

TODD:  Right. 

POTTS:  So, he‘s hoping that—that nanny Grace gets the kids. 

Second, he talked about the drug use.  He did say—he was very reluctant to a certain extent, but he said Michael did have his demons.  But, on occasion, he would have to pull Michael out of various meetings, because Michael was—was out of it or what have you.

He said he would put him into bed, unzip his boots, put him into bed, and let him rest.  And he would stay in the room and watch him—and watch him as he slept.  A couple things, too, is that part of his job when Michael went on the road is that Mr. Laiperuke (ph) was supposed to find a so-called, a good, solid doctor, in that city in case anything happened to Michael as well. 

So, as we move along here, more revealing facts come out, as opposed to, you know, innuendo and rumors and what have you.  So, I think the picture that is painted is that, yes, Michael did have a drug problem, to some extent.  And to what extent, we will find out, I think, more in the next couple of weeks, when the pathology and the toxicology come back. 

TODD:  Now, Savannah, earlier today—or last night, we had a former nurse, Cherilyn Lee, a nutritionist, saying that Michael had begged her for a drug used by anesthesiologists during surgery. 

Here is what she said on “Good Morning America.” 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “GOOD MORNING AMERICA”)

CHERILYN LEE, REGISTERED NURSE:  He said: “Find me an anesthesiologist.  I don‘t care how much money they want.  Find me an anesthesiologist to be with me here overnight and give me this I.V.”

I mean, the last end result of this is death.  I said: “You don‘t want to do this.”

He said: “No, my doctor said it‘s safe.  It works quick and it‘s safe.  As long as somebody‘s here to monitor me and wake me up, I‘m going to be OK.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  Now, I know you went through this during the trial, Savannah.  These people pop up.  And, all of a sudden, they pop up and they become instant celebrities. 

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Exactly. 

TODD:  And you wonder, are they popping up to become a celebrity, or do they get accidentally discovered, and then they run off and hide and you never find them again? 

How did you deal with figuring out if this person is credible vs. not credible? 

GUTHRIE:  Well, this, we saw, of course, in Michael Jackson‘s life. 

And it is no shock that it continues in his death. 

I mean, Michael Jackson was constantly surrounded by people who claimed to be close to him, who claimed to know what he was doing, what was in his mind.  And they really would come out of the woodwork.  And, of course, we will see it now, too, everyone claiming to know something about Michael Jackson. 

And for—for us in the media who are covering this, particularly those in California covering it right now, like Tony, it‘s really a matter of—of weighing that credibility, whether or not these people actually know what they‘re talking about.  It just really strikes you as one of the sad things about Michael Jackson‘s life is that he was, frankly, used by a lot of people.  And that continues to this day, people trying to say that they know or have some inside information about Michael Jackson. 

And, you know, this whole confusion whether there‘s a memorial service at Neverland, Chuck, is just exhibit A.  I mean, this is just so typical.  It brings back so many memories.  You have some people going out there, all these rumors, all these reports.  Yes, there‘s going to be a memorial service, and then the backtracking, the family saying, no, that—that isn‘t the plan. 

I mean, there were lawyers who would come out and say, oh, I represent Michael Jackson. 

TODD:  Right. 

GUTHRIE:  And then other lawyers would have to say, no, that lawyer doesn‘t speak for Michael Jackson. 

Same thing with P.R. people.  It‘s just there always was this circus surrounding him.  And it continues. 

TODD:  Now, Tony, you‘re on the ground right...

POTTS:  Well, one thing I can tell you—I can...

(CROSSTALK)

TODD:  Go ahead.  Go ahead, Tony. 

POTTS:  Let me—let me back up Savannah there really quick, too, as well.  I completely back her up on that one. 

I was doing the Anna Nicole Smith story after her passing.  I‘m in the Bahamas, and I‘m getting calls at 1:00 in the morning from some Bahamian  people...

TODD:  Right. 

POTTS:  ... telling me they know certain things about her...

TODD:  Right. 

POTTS:  ... her son Daniel. 

Same thing with Michael Jackson now.  It‘s the same thing.  You really have to figure out who‘s saying what.  Now, is this woman here, Cherilyn—

Cherilyn, is—Lee—is she being paid?  That was the first criteria. 

People would come to me.  They would call me, you know, at 9:00 at night.  I want to meet you at Starbucks in the casino outside of Nassau.

TODD:  Right. 

(LAUGHTER)

POTTS:  But I want $50,000. 

TODD:  Right. 

POTTS:  If I heard that, I‘m done with them. 

TODD:  Well, I want to talk about that, because it does seem as if you‘re having to compete on the ground with other journalists now that aren‘t playing by the same rules.  And then you end up having to chase...

(CROSSTALK)

POTTS:  Absolutely. 

TODD:  And, so, I guess—look, I have—I have a friend of mine out in Los Angeles.  He says, I feel like, with local television, that he‘s watching the Internet live on television, meaning every Internet rumor makes it on air now, because no one‘s quite sure what‘s fact, what‘s fiction, because some of these entities are paying for stories, which then end up—could end up being true, but you‘re just not sure; correct, Tony?

POTTS:  Absolutely. 

And, at “Access Hollywood,” we‘re under NBC News guidelines. 

TODD:  Right. 

POTTS:  So, we sign all of that, too.  So, we‘re under the same guidelines as NBC News.

But I can tell you, the great thing about the Internet and Twitter and all that, Facebook, what have you, is that it‘s instantaneous.  The bad thing about is, it‘s instantaneous.  So, rumor gets out there.

(LAUGHTER)

POTTS:  It does circulate like that. 

But, at “Access Hollywood,” all we care about is being right first, not just first.  And there are a lot of things.  Like, in today‘s show that you‘re going to see tonight on “Access Hollywood,” we...

TODD:  Right. 

POTTS:  ... separate fact from fiction, because there is a—there is that tornado, tornadic activity, that you have...

TODD:  Right. 

POTTS:  ... to sift through.  And it‘s hard to hold onto something and figure out what it is. 

TODD:  Well, now we have got to go to one piece of—speaking of fact, we do have a fact today.  And that‘s Michael Jackson‘s will. 

And it states—quote—“If any of my children are minors at the time of my death, I nominate my mother, Katherine Jackson, as the guardian of the persons, and estates of such minor children.  If Katherine Jackson fails to survive me or is unable or unwilling to act as guardian, I nominate Diana Ross as guardian of the persons and estates of such minor children.” 

Tony, I‘ll start with you, since you‘re actively covering this story right now.  It probably isn‘t a surprise.  I guess Michael and Diana were very close.  But is it a surprise that they were that close that he was going to leave his children to her? 

POTTS:  It‘s a little surprising.  I read the document, too.  I have it here.  But we just did a story with one of Diana‘s children.  And if you remember, her children were never in the news.  She did a phenomenal job of trying to bring some normalcy to their lives.  As much as Michael‘s life was abnormal, to a certain extent, he did do that. 

If you talk to people who are in the know, and who are solid, Mr.  Branca, who was with Michael Jackson since 1980, who‘s mentioned with John McClain and Barry Siegel in this will; yes, it‘s right here on page two, by the way.  You understand that they say, to a person, that Michael Jackson was a good father. 

So it makes sense that both Diana and Michael wanted normalcy for their kids.  So Diana fits right into that. 

TODD:  Now John Branca, actually, I‘m glad you brought him up.  He is Jackson‘s attorney and the executor of his estate.  He told the “L.A.  Times” in May, quote, “the paradox is that Michael”—this is since he had been fired and he was rehired.  “The paradox is that Michael is one of the brightest and most talented people I‘ve ever known.  At the same time, he has made some of the worst choices in advisers in the history of music.”

And he also said he had previously split with the singer because Jackson invited into his inner circle, quote, people who really didn‘t have his best interests at heart.

Savannah, I‘m guessing you dealt with Mr. Branca.  What can you say about his intentions versus the other folks that you saw surrounding Michael? 

GUTHRIE:  Well, you know, I‘m not familiar with him personally to speak about his credibility.  But what he says also sounds so familiar.  I‘ve talked to lawyers who briefly represented Jackson back in the day, and then left his employee.  They would say the exact same thing.  Look, the people surrounding Michael Jackson are just crazy.  And that it was very hard for these lawyers, reputable lawyers, to do their jobs, because there were all of these people surrounding him, this entourage, something he apparently really couldn‘t control. 

And it‘s interesting to see what will happen with the will.  Just like everything else in this story, people will come out of the woodwork.  You really heard the judge alluding to it today.  Yes, there‘s this 2002 will.  Is there any other will?  Is there any kind of amendment?  Is there a codicils? 

They will all be raising to the court house.  Then, of course, there could be challenges to the will, that it was the product of undue influence.  This thing—that‘s the will.  Then you have the custody battle.  It‘s just going to go on and on and on. 

POTTS:  One thing I should mention. 

TODD:  Go ahead. 

POTTS:  One thing I should mention, Branca was with Michael for 20 some years.  He put together the 1985 deal for the 251 songs in the Beatles catalog.  If anybody knows the ins and outs—he always had Michael‘s best interests in mind, in the sense that he put together some incredible deals that allowed him to have his billions of dollars. 

Branca, for me, personally, what he says one-on-one, if I confirm it with a second person, definitely I would tend more to lean towards him than most others I‘m hearing these days. 

TODD:  Tony, is there—what are other celebrities watching this play out—do you think there are other celebrities who feel they‘re in a bubble like Michael, though nobody was—maybe a few people, maybe Princess Diana, maybe Elvis, were in a bubble similar to Michael‘s bubble.  But are other celebrities looking at this and thinking, boy, I‘d better clean up my act, or I‘d better make sure my affairs are in order, or I better see who I can trust?  Are you noticing any of that? 

POTTS:  Not really.  This is Hollywood.  We forget things the next day.  Remember, this—we‘ve been around for years here in Hollywood and scandal happens all the time.  The one thing about Hollywood is that Hollywood never learns its own lesson.  History will repeat itself forever here.  There will be scandals. 

Look at Heath Ledger, just, what, a year and a half ago died of an over-dose of prescription drugs.  Could Michael have seen that and said, oh my god, Heath Ledger, he is gone?  No, it‘s not going to change anybody.  But if it changes one person here, that would be good. 

Remember, there are PR firms to spin everything.  There‘s damage control.  And it‘s been happening in Hollywood since the ‘30s and ‘40s. 

TODD:  Tony Potts, we‘ll be watching your reporting on “Access Hollywood.”  And Savannah, he said Hollywood they never learn anything.  I think we‘ve noticed in Washington. 

GUTHRIE:  Washington, I thought the same thing. 

TODD:  It‘s unbelievable.  This is why Washington is Hollywood for ugly people. 

GUTHRIE:  To quote Michael Jackson, it‘s human nature, probably, right. 

TODD:  There it is, well done.  Savannah Guthrie, Tony Potts, a little bit of an uplifting note.  Thank you there. 

Up next, Al Franken says he‘s the second senator from Minnesota and not the 60th Democrat in the caucus.  So where does Franken stand on the issues, and how much can President Obama count on him?  The politics fix is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  It‘s time for the politics fix with MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman, who is also with “Newsweek,” and Jennifer Loven, who is normally my partner there in the front row at the White House briefing room.  She‘s at the White House, the White House correspondent for the Associated Press. 

Well, the big political story, and actually the one with the least amount of drama compared to Mark Sanford and our friend Michael Jackson, has been the fact that Democrats have 60.  Let‘s first talk about Al Franken and the temperament issue.  I was fascinated today, Howard, that the Democratic party sent out a list of quotes talking—showing examples where reporters were saying, hey, he never lost his cool.  He really kept his head.  He‘s very senatorial.  They‘re clearly worried about this.

Howard, you have spoke with Senator Elect Franken and some folks around him.  Tell me what you know about it.

HOWARD FINEMAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  More than that, I have known Al Franken for 20 years.  In the interest of full disclosure, we have been friends for most of that time.  I wrote a piece on MSNBC.com yesterday saying that people, even friends like me, wondered whether he did have the temperament and the focus. 

But he did.  I don‘t think I have seen anybody run a more disciplined, focused campaign other than Barack Obama.  Al Franken was advised by some to go Hollywood.  He went just the other way.  He was diligent.  He was attentive to the ground game.  He went to every county, every DFL meeting, you name it. 

He‘s been studying the issues since election day.  As a studious guy with a math degree from Harvard, in addition to a comedy career. 

So, the fact that everybody is saying, wow, can he have the temperament to do it is a measure of his previous career, but I don‘t think it‘s going to be a measure of the one to come. 

TODD:  Howard, the Minnesota Democrats are going to be very impressed that you used some DFL lingo there.  Jennifer, I want you to take a look.  I have duly noted that you were absent today.  But I want you to take a look at what White House Press Secretary said today about the idea that Franken is now the 60th vote for Democrats in the Senate. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  I don‘t know that 60 -- I don‘t know that the seating of one senator changes the notion that Democrats control both Houses of Congress and the White House.  I have said many times, I think we don‘t get everybody from every party on each vote.  That includes the Democratic party. 

I don‘t think one party can simply say, OK, it‘s all yours. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD:  Jennifer, I‘ve heard plenty of White House officials complain about the fact that they didn‘t have the vote in Minnesota.  One vote does matter to this White House, doesn‘t it? 

JENNIFER LOVEN, AP WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, but 60 doesn‘t mean 60 in the Senate.  You have to remember that people come from different parts of the country, different ends of the Democratic party.  And there are lots of factors—we can tick through them—why Senator Elect Franken may not be in the White House‘s pocket, in the Democratic caucus‘ pocket all the time. 

You just talked about the celebrity factor, his history as a comedian.  He has actually quite a lot to prove.  He may have shown himself in the campaign to be up to it, but legislating and governing are quite a different thing than campaigning.  He has to go into the world‘s most elite club, where everyone there thinks fairly highly of themselves.  He needs those colleagues of his to help him deliver from Minnesota. 

Remember, the official victory gap is 312 votes.  He has a lot to prove to his constituents. 

TODD:  I understand that.  What about the pressure on the White House now?  The fact is, the numbers say they have 60 votes.  If they can‘t get their agenda through, shame on them and their own party?  Yes, no?

LOVEN:  Yes.  I think that‘s exactly right.  I think the reason—or one indication that they are a little worried about that is the statement that President Obama put out yesterday, when the thing was decided.  It was the most bland election celebration I have ever seen.  I‘m not sure why they used the paper to put it out.  All he said was we want to work with Senator Elect Franken.  That‘s not celebrating. 

TODD:  I think they would say that about any Republican senator too. 

Jennifer, Howard, stick around for more on the politics fix.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TODD:  We‘re back with Howard Fineman and Jennifer Loven for more of the politics fix.  Right now, “Politico” is reporting that three leading South Carolina Republican office holders, including Jim DeMint and Lindsey Graham, the two Republican senators there, have reached out to Mark Sanford today to talk about his ability to do the job.  According to “Politico,” quote, “the conversations are clearly geared toward to do the right thing, said one top South Carolina Republican.” 

It sounds like, Howard, we have a Barry Goldwater moment here.  Lindsey Graham probably is the closest person that could do this and Sanford would have to listen, if this reporting is correct. 

FINEMAN:  That‘s right.  Both Graham and DeMint are much more powerful Republican politicians in South Carolina than Mark Sanford is or, indeed, than Mark Sanford has been for the last year or two, Chuck.  You know, he has not been popular among Republicans.  If it weren‘t for the complication of a lieutenant governor in place that people don‘t like, I think Sanford would have been out days ago.  This conversation would have been had days ago.

Now, with the revelations about his escapades with the Argentinean woman, and other things that he‘s laid on the table, it‘s pretty clear that that‘s the power structure in the Republican party and they are telling him he has to go. 

TODD:  Jennifer, you are a veteran of watching political scandals unfold, and how it plays out.  We have a holiday weekend coming.  I‘m not asking you to predict when this is going to happen.  I know you and I are not covering this story as closely, because of where our beat is.  This has a feel of if it happens, it‘s going to happen in the next 48 hours? 

LOVEN:  Yes, I think Governor Sanford is on some sort of personal journey that I‘m not sure anybody else can really understand right now. 

TODD:  That‘s a nice way to put it actually. 

LOVEN:  I‘m trying to be gracious here.  He utters sentences that don‘t really make sense.  So I think that makes it even harder to predict what he might do and when he might step down.  They can‘t force him to, in 48 hours anyway.  They can always bring some sort of impeachment action. 

So I find this story incredibly hard to predict.  I‘d hate to stay 48 hours.  Maybe he wants to take the weekend to think it over and hope it dies down over the holiday.  I seriously doubt that‘s going to happen. 

TODD:  Howard, very quickly, it‘s the audio, not the print that did him in, didn‘t it?  If it did do him in.

FINEMAN:  That woebegone interview with the AP reporter that came out afterwards and said, that was a beaten man. 

TODD:  Thank you, Howard Fineman and Jennifer Loven.  Join us tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 p.m. Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.

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