updated 9/13/2012 1:27:01 PM ET 2012-09-13T17:27:01

THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
September 12, 2012

Guests: Steve Clemons, Nia Henderson, Jim Frederick, Richard Wolffe, Ari Melber

LAWRENCE O`DONNELL, HOST: Moments ago the president made another
statement about the assassination of the American ambassador to Libya. The
president remains in command of the situation, and Mitt Romney apparently
remains lost.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Foreign policy is back in the headlines.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Violent protests against the United States.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Four Americans including our ambassador to Libya
have been killed.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Make no mistake:
justice will be done.

ALEX WAGNER, MSNBC HOST: This morning, Romney used the trivia to
criticize the president`s foreign policy agenda.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: An apology for America`s
values is never the right course.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is no time for politics.

ROMNEY: I also believe the administration was wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Romney campaign jumped the gun last night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Romney saying, quote, "It`s disgraceful."

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS: It`s disgraceful that the Obama administration
first response --

UNIDENTIFEID MALE: -- was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic
missions --

TODD: -- but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks."

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS: President Obama condemned the attack.

OBAMA: Justice will be done.

WAGNER: Team Romney has thus far focused its misleading attacks on a
statement made by the U.S. embassy in Cairo.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We shouldn`t be on an apology tour.

ROMNEY: An apology for America`s values.

HOWARD FINEMAN, HUFFINGTON POST: The original statements by the Cairo
embassy were long before.

MITCHELL: Six hours before these protests even started.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It suggests a level of desperation.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST: The desperate reach by Mitt Romney.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That makes him look a little bit out of touch.

TODD: Crass and tone deaf.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Politically opportunistic.

MATTHEWS: How did Mitt Romney get into this mess?

SARAH PALIN (R), FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR: He needs to be severely
aggressive.

ROMNEY: The first response to the United States must be outrage.

PALIN: Be very aggressive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, he aggressively shot himself in the foot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do not seem crass, do not seem exploitative. He`s
failed all those tests.

OBAMA: Governor Romney seems to have a tendency to shoot first and
aim later.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O`DONNELL: Today, Mitt Romney started a media controversy and
Republican backlash for comments he made on the attack at the United States
embassy in Libya that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador
Chris Stevens.

President Obama said this moments ago in Nevada.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: As for the ones we lost last night, I want to assure you we
will bring their killers to justice.

(APPLAUSE)

And we want to send the message all around the world, anybody who
would do us harm, no acts of terror will dim the light of the values that
we proudly shine on the rest of the world and no act of violence will shake
the resolve of the United States of America.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Shortly before that speech, President Obama conducted an
interview with Telemundo and he talked about how Mitt Romney reacted to
today`s foreign policy crisis.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I have observed that there`s a tendency to shoot before you
aim as I pointed out, and that as president, my obligation is to focus on
security for our people, making sure that we gather all the facts, making
sure that we`re advancing American interests. And not having ideological
arguments on a day when we are mourning the loss of outstanding folks who
have served our country very well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: As protesters gathered outside embassies in Libya and
Egypt, the United States embassy in Cairo released a statement at 6:17 a.m.
Eastern Time, saying, "The embassy condemns the continuing efforts by
misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims as we
condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions."

President Obama tells CBS News today that the memo was an effort to
cool the situation down. "It didn`t come from me. It didn`t come from
Secretary Clinton. It came from folks on the ground who are potential in
danger. My tendency is to cut folks a little slack, a little bit of slack
when they`re in that circumstance, rather than to try and question their
judgment from the comfort of a campaign office."

At 6:25 p.m. last night, a State Department spokeswoman confirmed that
the Libyan protesters had turned violent as reports emerged an American had
been killed. At 10:10 p.m.., the Romney campaign emailed a statement to
media, reading, "It`s disgraceful that the Obama administration first
response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to
sympathize with those who waged the attacks."

In a press conference today, reporters questioned Mitt Romney for
releasing a statement before details of the attack and American deaths were
known. Mitt Romney responded this way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Some people have said that you jumped the gun a little in
putting that statement out last night and that you should have waited until
more details were available. Do you regret having that statement come out
so early before we learned about all the things that were happening?

ROMNEY: I don`t think we ever hesitate when we see something which is
a violation of our principles. We express immediately when we feel that
the president and his administration have done something which is
inconsistent with the principles of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Republican Steve Schmidt, who served as the senior
campaign strategist to the McCain campaign said that Romney`s comments were
a big mistake and the decision to double down on them was an even bigger
mistake. The American people, when the country is attacked, want to see
leaders who have measured responses, not leaders whose first instinct is to
try to score political points."

"BuzzFeed reports" that a very senior Republican hand called the
statement an utter disaster and a Lehman moment, a parallel to the moment
when John McCain in 2008 financial crisis failed to come across as a steady
leader.

Here is what Nicholas Burns who served as undersecretary of state in
George W. Bush`s administration told Andrea Mitchell.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER U.S. UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE: I was frankly
very disappointed and dismayed to see Governor Romney inject politics into
this very difficult situation. Governor Romney has -- in a very unwise
way, injected himself in a situation where he clearly doesn`t have all the
facts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Romney`s statement did earn him this praise.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Today, Romney is the only guy
looking presidential. Romney is the only guy who looks like he understands
what went wrong, what went right, and what shouldn`t be happening now. He
looks like he`s the only adult in the room.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Republican congressional leadership chose not to join
Romney in condemning the administration today, instead chose to honor the
dead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: We honor the Americans
we lost in Libya and we will stand united in our response.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: I`m going to ask that
you all join me in a moment of silence in tribute to Ambassador Stevens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Joining me now, MSNBC`s John Heilemann and Joy Reid, and
Washington editor at large for "The Atlantic," Steve Clemons.

Joy, when your biggest fan of your foreign policy pronouncements of
the day is Rush Limbaugh, you`re in trouble.

JOY REID, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR: You`re in trouble. And I think, you
know, the word that keeps coming back to me when I think about the
performance Mitt Romney has put on here is it lacks a certain dignity, that
he`s run for president at this point lacks dignity, when all you`re doing
is constantly chasing the lowest common denominator and the approval of
people who have no responsibility for governing, who have never been
bothered to take the risk of getting involved in politics, who just sniped
from the sidelines and who themselves have no credibility other than the
far reaches of the right, there is no dignity and there is no decency in
it.

And the American people, if nothing else, they look for a lot of
intangible qualities in a potential president and dignity and decency are
two of them. And I think at this point, Mitt Romney has sacrificed both.

O`DONNELL: Steve Clemons, how should the Romney campaign have reacted
to the situation?

STEVE CLEMONS, THE ATLANTIC: I think they should have done, I think,
what Barack Obama would have done if Mitt Romney were president. I can
easily imagine Barack Obama going out before the cameras and saying
Americans was attacked, Republicans were attacked, Democrats were attacked,
the idea of America was attacked. And at this solemn time, with a loss of
such of great men as Christopher Stevens and others, including 10 Libyans
who were killed and wounded trying to defend them as well, that this is a
time to stand strong, and that would have been the kind of leadership that
Mitt Romney often talks about.

But whenever he delves into foreign policy, he doesn`t make it come
together.

O`DONNELL: Let`s take a look at a fascinating chart that Taykey did
today about the online conversation volume on this subject, and the
sentiment involved with Mitt Romney. We`re putting it on the big board up
there. And it shows you that starting around 9:00 a.m., this becomes the
online conversation in America, peaking around 12:15 p.m.

The Romney public statement to the microphones there was around 10:30
or so. And if you look at it, everything is trending downward and
negative. The conversation turns very, very negative.

John Heilemann, it doesn`t seem that the Romney campaign had that
graph in their heads. They weren`t reading the situation the way that
graph tells you to.

JOHN HEILEMANN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, no. And what that
graph, what I`d like to have on that graph is also in addition to the pink
coloring, I`d like to have a partisan breakdown, because what`s so
fascinating it was bipartisan. You know, it was not just the left
attacking Romney. It was Republicans, we had some in the opening of the
show, Republicans on the record, Republicans off the record.

No one, very few -- but almost no one coming to Romney`s defense on
how he handled this. And, you know, one of the things that is -- I`ve been
on TV a couple of times today and have criticized him for seeming crass and
politically motivated and exploitive and I think all of these are true and
this gets to the point where someone made about a Lehman moment, right?
This is a moment where you get to see the real test of a candidate`s
character and temperament in real time, as things in the world are
happening.

But what that chart gets to is another problem, which is that coming
out of the conventions, the media at large have started to think that the
narrative is taking hold, that Barack Obama is winning this race in a
decisive way. And so they`re looking to see how Romney handles the fact
that for the first time since his nomination, the basically static contours
of the race have been broken. Obama is pulling ahead. Nationally up by
seven points in the Gallup poll now. He`s approval rating over 50 percent
in the Gallup poll, leading in the battleground states.

What is Romney going to do? And what they saw, again, across the
ideological spectrum today -- what they saw was desperation. And that is a
dangerous place to be, because when the media filter starts to refract
everything they do are they being desperate? Are they off their strategy?
Are they off their strategy? Are they losing their heads? You are in a
downward spiral that can be very damaging to you on every possible level,
in terms of fund raising, in terms of your standing with voters, in terms
of your standing with the press.

This is a very, very delicate, very precarious time for Romney. He
made a situation in the world. And in this election, much worse than when
he started out today.

O`DONNELL: And, Joy, the bipartisan criticism came from what he had
to say, it came from Peggy Noonan, Joe Scarborough, also -- it`s being
called a strikeout. It`s basically called a strikeout.

And when you see a batter strikeout a couple of types in a row, the
third times it becomes the expectation this is the guy who strikes out.

REID: Yes. I think that -- I totally associate myself with what John
just said, because elections are a comparison. I think Romney has gone
into this thing from the beginning thinking this is just a referendum on
Barack Obama. So if I just keep shining the spotlight on the bad things
about Barack Obama, the things that I and the base don`t like about Barack
Obama -- that`s enough.

But the electorate actually factors in the challenger, who they are.
And they compare them.

And in a situation like this when the world is watching and focusing
on the president of the United States, the comparison of the challenger to
the president is even amplified all the more, because now you get to see
Barack Obama acting on an international event, you get to see him on that
stage acting in his role as president and then you get to contrast that
with Mitt Romney acting in sort of almost the shadow role, what he would be
like as president responding to the same event.

And when people see unsteadiness, a seeming desperation, it doesn`t
come across as somebody who would be a steady hand as a commander in chief.

O`DONNELL: "The Washington Post" posted an editorial today saying the
crude political attacks on President Obama, Mitt Romney is a discredit to
his campaign. But Bill Kristol actually is defending Mitt Romney. I want
to read the Kristol statement.

Bill Kristol says Romney is right to seize on this moment as an
occasion to explain the difference between his foreign policy and President
Obama`s. He`s right to reject the counsel of the mainstream media, which
is to keep quite and give President Obama a pass."

Steve Clemons, how would you respond to Bill Kristol on that?

CLEMONS: I think Bill Kristol has a lot of equity in the Romney/Ryan
ticket and he`s trying to defend what I think is indefensible. What Bill
is not getting and what Americans are becoming to get, it`s not just this
abhorrent day where he used the death of an ambassador and a staff to take
a political swipe of Obama, incredibly un-American act.

But when you add it up with what was supposed to be a safe trip to
Israel, England and Poland that really blue it up on Romney. When you add
it up with his comments about Russia in the past, incredibly uninformed,
and China in various ways, you basically see a guy who`s so maladroit in
foreign policy writ large. His two speeches, his first speeches had no
strategic sense.

I`ve been trying to lean over backwards to give Mitt Romney the
benefit of the doubt at the time he gave that speech, I said bad speech but
he`s got relatively good advisers around him.

But those for us who are trying to lean over backwards and be fair in
our analysis, when we see the kinds of things not just today but have been
building up over a period of time every time he steps in, you begin to see
that this guy is simply not prepared to make judicious and serious
discussions on America`s national interests.

O`DONNELL: Steve Clemons, John Heilemann and Joy Reid -- thank you
all for joining me tonight.

REID: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, a FOX News poll now shows President Obama with
a lead over Mitt Romney.

And later, there was a touching tribute today in the United States
Senate for Ambassador Chris Stevens, and this one was not from a Democrat.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: The John McCain many of you remember resurfaced today.
The John McCain you may have admired back in 2000. And he took to the
floor of the United States Senate and he taught Mitt Romney something about
how to respond and react on a day like today. You have to see what John
McCain had to say on the Senate floor today. That`s coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I think President Obama has demonstrated a lack of clarity as
to a foreign policy. As I`ve watched over the past 3 1/2 years, the
president has had some successes, he`s had some failures. It`s a hit or
miss approach but it`s not been based upon sound foreign policy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: That was Mitt Romney today trying to do damage control
this morning over the way he and his campaign have reacted to our latest
foreign policy crisis, including the assassination of the American
ambassador to Libya.

But some damage just cannot be controlled. Republican Joe Scarborough
said, "Who told Mr. Romney to issue a political broadside against the
commander-in-chief the day after a U.S. ambassador was murdered?"

Here`s how Romney foreign policy adviser Richard Williamson defended
Mitt Romney today. "Ty Cobb was the greatest hitter of all time and he
batted about .355 and he still is the greatest hitter. There isn`t
something in my 63 years I couldn`t have done better except con my wife
into marrying me."

Joining me now, Sam Stein, political editor and White House
correspondent for "The Huffington Post" and MSNBC contributor, and Nia
Anderson, national political reporter for "The Washington Post."

Nia, I think that was the craziest thing I have ever read from a
campaign spokesperson. I actually -- I have to read it again because he`s
absolutely nutty. He`s saying that it`s OK, saying -- he`s comparing Mitt
Romney`s performance to Ty Cobb`s batting average, which was basically Ty
Cobb did well a third of the time and he was out and wrong all the rest of
the time. And this guy seems to think that`s OK for a presidential
candidate and it`s especially OK apparently on foreign policy.

NIA HENDERSON, WASHINGTON POST: You know, I don`t know baseball but
those stats certainly don`t sound very good and in some ways mimic what
we`ve seen from Mitt Romney in terms of foreign policy. And many
Republicans obviously have condemned what he said or even have much more
measured approaches to this.

He is a candidate who is very much surrounded by foreign policy
advisers who are from the Bush era, from the Reagan era, and who are
neocons and feel like they have their day now and this whole idea of cowboy
diplomacy which very much I think has been rejected by the American public,
where they feel through Mitt Romney it can have a new airing and a new
hearing.

But again this was obviously Mitt Romney`s decision alone. He sat
with strategists, with policy advisers and communications folks. But
ultimately he`s the one who signed off on this statement. It will be
interesting to see if he doubles down on this. Bill Kristol said, well,
maybe it`s an opportunity for him to outline some foreign policy views
which he has yet to do. But so far, he just looks like he`s doubling down
on this statement.

O`DONNELL: Sam Stein, this comparing Mitt Romney`s performance to a
baseball batting average has got to get this guy Williamson fired by
midnight tonight, right? There`s no way he`s on the payroll in the
morning.

SAM STEIN, HUFFINGTON POST: No, I think he`ll stay on the payroll,
unfortunately. It`s a bad analogy, obviously.

You know, there`s an issue here, which is -- you know, Mitt Romney
could have waited 12 hours, woken up and seen the news and said, listen, we
all mourn the loss of life here but it`s time to look at the president`s
strategy vis-a-vis the Arab spring. And that would have sparked that may
have been more damaging to President Obama, more damaging to President
Obama that`s what transpired currently.

The problem I think that Romney has is that there`s about three
different factions within the Republican Party with respect to foreign
policy. There are people who are unapologetically pro-international
engagement, the neocons who think you can use military might to shape the
world in your image. There are people who want to do it more subtly,
they`re more realistic. And then there are the people who are the Ron Paul
types who want to disengage from the international community.

So, whenever Mitt Romney wants to put a statement on Libya, he has to
contend with three separate faction within his over party about what that
statement is. I think they look at that and say, you know what, it`s a lot
easier for us to go after President Obama on character grounds, accuse him
of sympathizing with the protesters than it is to craft something that
might -- you know, be a little confusing to members of our party.

And that`s where he gets in trouble. He`s not being weighty. He`s
actively shying away from the weightiness.

O`DONNELL: Nia, the huge mistake here, in my judgment, is a Romney
campaign staff that actually believed they could win a news cycle against
the president of the United States during a foreign policy crisis. I don`t
believe that has ever happened in our politics.

HENDERSON: And it`s the nature of obviously the presidency and the
bully pulpit, and the sort of stature that any president has. But it`s
also the nature of these conflicts. They just unfold throughout the day.

Reporting on this throughout the day, I`m sure Sam had the same
experience, we just learn more and more about this as we actually report it
and talk to people. So there was Mitt Romney again jumping the gun in a
similar way he did with the Chinese dissident. It was a similar situation
where he weighted in early and got his hand slapped in some ways at least
by Bill Kristol for jumping in so early.

STEIN: Lawrence, you`re right because sometimes the scene tells the
story and what you had this morning was Mitt Romney`s advisers literally
tearing down a campaign rally to set up a more somber setting so he can
deliver this statement in a drabby, dark, Jacksonville office.

Whereas Obama all he did was step out into the Rose Garden and by the
sheer fact that he`s president, he looked presidential. Sometimes we look
too much into the optics and the setting, I think in this case, the optics
and the settings are huge part of the story.

O`DONNEL: And, Nia, there seems to be now a developing story here
about the incompetence of the Romney team. These are same people who
brought Clint Eastwood out on to the stage. These are the same people who
sent Mitt Romney on to a stage today where he could not possibly win,
especially after what his staff had already done for him in this crisis
earlier in the day.

HENDERSON: That`s right. I mean, this is the same team. And people
generally believe, and I think this is true, that Mitt Romney lost the
summer. He was supposed to have something of a rebound in August with the
choice of Paul Ryan and then the convention, but all missed opportunities.

And here again I think they thought they would have some opportunity
to score some points against the president, primarily because Mitt Romney
doesn`t actually have a foreign policy record nor has he outlined any
foreign policy strategy. So, all he has is rhetoric, this sort of red meat
rhetoric, which Sarah Palin agrees with Allen West. But it`s certainly not
within the mainstream of where Americans are at this point.

O`DONNELL: Sam Stein, does this kind of thing that makes Republicans
more nervous than the polls are making Republicans about how the Romney
campaign is going?

STEIN: Yes. And you hit on the main point which is that they`re not
sure it`s being run as an effective campaign. The convention Clint
Eastwood gaffe, whatever you want to call it, was hugely embarrassing. I
think people looked and said this is not a professional operation.

You know, I want to bring something that your colleague Rachel Maddow
brought up in the last hour, which is there`s a major endorsement out there
for the taking in the form of Colin Powell. And Steve Schmidt talked
openly about in 2008 election, his endorsement really stopped the tie that
the McCain campaign had and sent them back. Colin Powell must be looking
at this and wondering -- or scratching his head and wondering what exactly
is the foreign policy Mitt Romney is trying to articulate, do I feel
comfortable with someone like this in the White House? Should I go out and
endorse Obama again this cycle?

If he were to do that, that would be a huge blow to the Romney
campaign.

O`DONNELL: Well, Nia, I don`t think there`s a possibility of a Colin
Powell endorsement of Romney, especially since Colin Powell criticized him
for saying Russia was our biggest foreign policy problem.

HENDERSON: That`s right. And he said the people who are surrounding
Mitt Romney in terms of foreign policy are far to the right. So that just
seems unlikely. But again if he does step out and come out and endorse
Barack Obama, I do think that would be a boon to Barack Obama.

But let`s face it, President Obama already has a lead on those issues.
He`s been out on the campaign trail most recently, saying that these people
are going to be brought to justice. He still has the pulpit and the upper
hand on this issue. And I think Mitt Romney did himself no good-bye
jumping the gun.

I`m quoting Peggy Noonan of "The Wall Street Journal" who had been a
cheerleader of Mitt Romney in many aspects.

O`DONNELL: And, Sam, we have to remember -- this was not a gaffe in
any sense.

STEIN: No.

O`DONNELL: That`s something that happens extemporaneously and you
chose the wrong word. I mean, you might want to call the Russia thing a
gaffe, except there`s no indication that Romney didn`t fully believe it.
This was planned, this was staged, this was the campaign saying this is
what we must do today.

STEIN: No, no. I mean, they had hours and hours to think about this.
Remember, there was a supposed to be a partisan detente yesterday for 9/11.
They knew about the embassy being breached. They planned their statement.
And they actually lifted the embargo to get ahead of the news cycle.

They were very much aware of what they were doing. It was -- the
statement was signed off by Romney himself according to "The New York
Times" for tonight. They knew what was happening.

And if it were a gaffe they would have backtracked today. But instead
they went back and they said, you know, we stand by it and condemning what
the Cairo embassy put out.

So, now, this was planned from the beginning and they totally
miscalculated what would happen once they decided to say that Obama was
sympathizing with the protesters.

O`DONNELL: Sam Stein and Nia Henderson, thank you both for joining me
tonight.

STEIN: Thanks, Lawrence.

HENDERSON: Thank you, Lawrence.

O`DONNELL: Coming up, Rush Limbaugh says the polls showing President
Obama in the lead are a liberal conspiracy. Rush is going to have a tough
time explaining the latest FOX News poll.

And John McCain is in the "Rewrite" tonight teaching Mitt Romney a
lesson.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O`DONNELL: We`re looking at live pictures of the scene outside the
American embassy in Cairo at this hour. Egyptian police have surrounded
the embassy at this time. The embassy is secure. That`s the scene outside
the American embassy in Cairo at -- the crowd has been dispersed a short
time ago. We will be back with more coverage of this breaking news
situation in Cairo.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States
condemns in the strongest terms this outrageous and shocking attack. We`re
working with the government of Libya to secure our diplomats. I`ve also
directed my administration to increase our security at diplomatic posts
around the world.

And make no mistake, we will work with the Libyan government to bring
to justice the killers who attacked our people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Joining me now, MSNBC`s Richard Wolffe and "Time"
International editor Jim Frederick, whose new cover reads "The Agents of
Outrage, an Embassy Attacked, Diplomats Murdered, The New Calculus of
Violence Against America."

Jim, what is the new calculus?

JIM FREDERICK, "TIME" INTERNATIONAL: Well, it goes back to the fact
that before the Arab Spring, you had dictators who might be bad guys, but
at least they had a hold on their own countries. I think what we`re
looking at now is the new calculus, is these democracies have flourished,
have flowered, but they don`t really have good control, security apparatus.
Things are changing all the time. You don`t really know.

Even Obama today said that he doesn`t know whether he considers Egypt
an ally or an enemy. So now you have a much more chaotic environment where
you really don`t know where the attacks are coming from and the local
security apparatus can`t really stop local and spontaneous demonstrations
like these quite as well as they used to.

O`DONNELL: Richard, what is your sense of how spontaneous this was?
First of all, very few of those people could possibly have seen this movie.
Richard Engel reported to us today that they were lied to about it, saying
that it`s a big important American movie that`s going to be shown on 9/11
to the whole country. But still, there`s hundreds of people there, at
most, reacting to this.

And the vast majority, 99 percent of the people in these countries,
are not at all perturbed by this movie they`re supposed to have heard
about.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. Well, you don`t get
many spontaneous demonstrations where people show up with rocket propelled
grenades. So clearly there was something organized by this, maybe
opportunistic. Benghazi, though, I`ve spoken to U.S. diplomats who have
been to Benghazi. One they talk about is how incredibly grateful the
people of Benghazi are to the United States, because the United States
saved them, saved them from slaughter and helped them to overturn and
topple this terrible dictatorship that was the Gadhafi regime.

So yes, there`s clearly some manipulation. There are strange forces
at work in Libya, as there always have been under Gadhafi. The hard work
that this embassy staff were engaged with and surely will continue to be
engaged with is about democracy promotion, civil society. Libya has never
been a functioning society, even in the corrupt and dysfunctional ways of
the Middle East.

And the hard worth isn`t about toppling the dictator. One thing the
Republicans who experienced Iraq should know is that the hard work begins
post-regime change, post-dictatorship ending. And that`s what we`re seeing
today. So it is ripe for misfits and miscreants to come in and manipulate
the situation, stage these fake demonstrations and use them as cover for
attacks.

But there`s no reason for the hard work that America has been engaged
with to stop.

O`DONNELL: We`re looking at live coverage of the scene just outside
the American embassy in Cairo. The crowd seems to have been largely
dispersed at this point. I want to go to Jose Diaz-Ballart`s interview on
"Telemundo" that he taped tonight with President Obama, talking about
Egypt. Let`s listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSE DIAZ-BALLART, TELEMUNDO ANCHOR: Would you consider the current
Egyptian regime an ally of the United States?

OBAMA: I don`t think that we would consider them an ally, but we
don`t consider them an enemy. They are a new government that is trying to
find its way. They were democratically elected. I think that we are going
to have to see how they respond to this incident, how they respond to, for
example, maintaining the peace treaty with Israel.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Jim, a new government trying to find its way. There`s a
new government in Libya trying to find its way. These are unique
presidential challenges about how we should find our way in that region.

FREDERICK: Yeah. I think President Marci in Egypt has really got a
lot to answer for at the moment, because he`s been reluctant to come out
with any statements condemning the attacks or declaring solidarity with the
United States. If anything, as a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, he
probably would have been part of the demonstrations himself just a few
months ago.

So I think it really -- it is a new calculus in the Middle East. At
least the president of Libya publicly apologized. And as you mentioned as
well, the people of Libya, the people of even Benghazi -- there was a
spontaneous demonstration today where local Benghazians demonstrated in
favor of the United States with signs in English that apologized.

But I think really the biggest problem -- because for so long, Mubarak
and Egypt, whether or not a dictator, was really the bulwark of American
foreign policy in the Middle East. And so to have Egypt be a big question
mark and to have Marci be really missing in action when it comes to having
something to say, if he wants to be considered an ally of the United States
and the second largest aid recipient of the United States. He needs to
come out and say something.

O`DONNELL: Jim Frederick and Richard Wolffe, thank you both for
joining me on this breaking news story.

Coming up, Rush Limbaugh says that polls showing President Obama in
the lead are a liberal conspiracy. I don`t know how he`s going to explain
the latest Fox News poll.

And John McCain is in the Rewrite tonight. In the United States
Senate today, he taught Mitt Romney a lesson.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER: I think I know how Mitt
Romney will approach foreign policy. He will be very cautious. He will
think about America`s interest first. He will apply a decision-making
process that relies very heavily on facts. And he will distrust the State
Department.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: That expert on foreign policy and the State Department had
no idea who the ambassador to Libya was before Chris Stevens was killed on
the job. Republicans like Newt Gingrich never miss a moment to take swipes
at people working in the State Department and government workers generally.

They say things about them that they would never say about people
working in the Defense Department, people who wear our military uniforms,
even though they are government workers, too. People like Gingrich and
Mitt Romney, both of whom never once considered enlisting in the military,
are not just publicly respectful of our military government workers, they
are publicly in awe of them.

They are relentless reverential when they speak of our men and women
in uniform. That reverence borne of the fact that our soldiers and sailors
and Marines and Airmen so frequently put themselves in harm`s way,
willingly and bravely risk their lives. People like Gingrich and Romney,
who would never consider doing a dangerous job, seem to think that the only
government workers who risk their lives are the ones who wear uniforms.

Tonight they know better. Tonight, their understanding of how
dangerous life can be in the State Department has been Rewritten in blood,
the blood of Shaun Smith and Ambassador Chris Stevens.

There is a Republican who didn`t have to be taught this lesson the
hard way. He knew who the ambassador to Libya was before he was killed.
And that Republican rose on the Senate floor today where he proudly called
Chris Stevens his friend.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: It`s with a heavy heart that I rise
today to speak about the horrific attack yesterday on the U.S. consulate in
Benghazi that killed four American citizens. The two confirmed thus far to
be among the dead are Shaun Smith, an Air Force veteran turned State
Department information management officer, and Ambassador Chris Stevens,
one of America`s finest and bravest foreign service officers.

I didn`t know Shaun Smith. I know he`s a great American who served
his country. But I had gotten to know Chris Stevens quite well. And in
Ambassador Chris Stevens` death, the Libyan people have lost a great
champion and believer in the peaceful aspirations of their democratic
revolution. The American people have lost a selfless and dedicated servant
of our interests and our values.

And I have lost a friend. My thoughts and prayers today are with
Chris` family and the loved ones of his fallen colleagues. May God grant
them comfort in their time of grief.

One of my most memorable meetings with Chris Stevens was last April in
Benghazi. As U.S. envoy to the Libyan opposition, Chris had traveled to
Benghazi at great personal risk to represent the country that he loved so
much, while Libya was still gripped in a brutal fight for freedom. It was
clear there was nowhere that Chris would rather have been than Libya.

We spent the day together meeting Libyan opposition leaders and many
ordinary citizens who spoke movingly about how much the opportunity to
finally live in freedom meant to them, and how grateful they were for
America`s support. Chris Stevens embodied that support. And his passion
for his mission was infectious.

I kept in touch with him often and frequently after my visit. I was
happy when President Obama nominated him to be America`s ambassador to the
new Libya. The last time I saw Chris Stevens was shortly after he had
taken up his post during my most recent visit to Tripoli.

The sorrow that we and all Americans feel at the loss of a brave and
dedicated American. But it will be a long time before we forget Chris
Stevens, because he will stand as a shining example of patriotism of love
and country.

Chris Stevens was not unaware of the danger that he faced. He was
privy to intelligence information and others. But he went forward and he
did his job with a smile, a love of his country and love of the country
where he was serving. I cannot be more proud of Ambassador Chris Stevens.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I have never seen this intense
an effort by the Democrat machine, including the pollsters. We know these
polls are all conducted by people who want Obama re-elected, who want the
Obama agenda. The polls now are just being used as another tool of voter
suppression. The polls are an attempt to not reflect public opinion, but
to shape it, yours. They want to depress the heck out of you.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: A lot of the polls people could -- all
weekend long would ask me what do you think? The polls showed that Obama
is still doing well. He`s up in this poll, that poll.

DICK MORRIS, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: There are three sources of
distortion in these polls you`re looking at.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Oh, Rush and Sean and that other guy have a big problem
tonight, because of a new poll that they cannot blame on the lefty
propaganda machine. In a new Fox News poll of likely voters, President
Obama and Joe Biden lead Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan 48 to 43. That
incumbent ticket also has a 14-point lead among women voters. In that same
Fox New poll, President Obama`s job approval rating is at 50 percent; 57
percent of people say that they are as well or better off than they were
four years ago.

And with new numbers about an hour old, statistician Nate Silver of
the "New York Times" 538 blog forecasts, as of tonight, that on November
6th, President Obama will within 315 electoral college votes, Mitt Romney
will win 223. And President Obama has an 81 percent chance of winning the
election, while Mitt Romney has a 19 percent chance.

Joining me now is Ari Melber, correspondent for "The Nation," and an
MSNBC contributor. Ari, I want you to hear something that President Obama
just said in Las Vegas, talking about the Republican obsession with taxes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: This is their prescription for everything, tax cuts in good
times, tax cuts in bad times, tax cuts when we`re at peace, tax cuts when
we`re at war, tax cuts to help you lose those few extra pounds, tax cuts to
give your love life that extra kick.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: He`s turning it into a joke.

ARI MELBER, "THE NATION": Yeah. I think he`s turned it into a joke
and he`s turned it on them. "The Washington Post" poll had Obama`s trust
on taxes at 43 percent two weeks ago. It is up to 50 percent, tracing with
the polls you just introduced. The Democrats and Barack Obama have done
something remarkable. They`ve taken taxes, an issue that Republicans, as
you know from your time in the Senate, for decades have used as a cudgel
against Democrats, and they`re winning on the taxes issue, among others.

O`DONNELL: We have to look at this ad. They have a new 30-second ad
out about taxes. Let`s listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I`m Barack Obama and I approved this message.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mitt Romney, he won`t reveal what`s in his taxes
and he won`t tell you what he`ll do to yours. To pay for huge tax breaks
for millionaires like him, Romney would have to raise taxes on the middle
class, 2,000 dollars for a family with children, says a nonpartisan report.

You could lose the deduction for your home mortgage, college tuition,
health care. How much would you pay? Romney just won`t say.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O`DONNELL: Most effective Democratic campaign ad on taxation possibly
in history right there. He won`t reveal what`s in his taxes and he won`t
tell you what he would do to yours.

MELBER: Exactly. It`s vintage Bill Clinton. It`s what we saw last
week that I think was very effective. There`s a problem with Mitt Romney
being a rich phoney who won`t tell you the truth about himself or, as you
said before, what he wants to do to your taxes, to your -- to your
livelihood. And I think that`s very effective.

O`DONNELL: What would the potency of that ad be if you couldn`t say
the part about he won`t reveal what`s in his taxes.

MELBER: Right.

O`DONNELL: That`s the first line.

MELBER: I don`t think it goes as far. That`s the funny thing.
Republicans I think they dislike Mitt Romney for all kinds of other
reasons. He`s not conservative enough. But I think they`re going to learn
that he`s also really hurting them on the big pet Grover Norquist issue,
because he`s such an unreliable messenger here.

O`DONNELL: And they seem to have thought in camp Romney that we can
get by this tax return thing. They`ll give up. The media has -- by the
way, the media does historically have a habit of, if you stone wall them in
a campaign for about two weeks, they tend to stop asking the question.
That`s not working this time.

MELBER: It`s not working. I think we`re in a different media
ecosystem. I do think that the instant fact checking and Twitter and sort
of the fact that the secret back channel has now become more public online
means that issues don`t die as easily.

Larry Flint is offering a million dollar bounty for anyone with
information on Mitt Romney`s taxes. That`s had about 3,000 web hits just
this week. And then we`ve got the debates starting in October. I don`t
think this Obama campaign, which as you said has been all over the tax
issue -- I don`t think they are going to let it go quietly through those
three debates.

O`DONNELL: All right, we`ll see how Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity
attack the Fox News poll tomorrow on their shows. Ari Melber gets
tonight`s LAST WORD. Thanks, Ari.

MELBER: Thank you.

O`DONNELL: "THE ED SHOW" is up next.

END

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