updated 4/30/2013 11:47:07 AM ET 2013-04-30T15:47:07

THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL
April 29, 2013

Guests: Wade Davis, Chris Kluwe, Nia-Malika Henderson, Dick Harpootlian, Richard Wolffe; Chris Hayes; Krystal Ball; Michael Isikoff

ALEX WAGNER, GUEST HOST: Twelve years as an NBA with a secret. And
with 12 words, Jason Collins made history. I`m a 34-year-old NBA center,
I`m black, and I`m gay.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

THOMAS ROBERTS, MSNBC ANCHOR: Big news right now coming out of the
NBA.

TAMRON HALL, MSNBC ANCHOR: It`s a historic day in American sports.

ROBERTS: Jason Collins --

HALL: Twelve-year NBA veteran.

ROBERTS: -- is the first American athlete in a major sport to come
out.

ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC ANCHOR: Jason Collins announced that he is
gay.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We view it as another
example of the progress that has been made.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the way social change tends to happen.

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC ANCHOR: Now, we have the first team sports athlete.

MITCHELL: The first currently male pro-athlete in the United States
to come out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is really a watershed moment for sports.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The floodgates have opened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is really unprecedented.

UNIDENTFIEID MALE: It`s one word, gravitas.

MARK SANFORD (R-SC), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Little bit higher right
about -- well, she`s not that much taller than I am.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Completely gravitas in that situation.

TODD: Tonight in South Carolina.

MARTIN BASHIR: South Carolina`s first congressional district.

TODD: Former Governor Mark Sanford and Democrat Elizabeth Colbert-
Busch.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sanford will debate Democrat Elizabeth Colbert-
Busch.

SANFORD: Let`s have that conversation that I think is so vital.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At least he gets to debate a live person this
time and not a cutout of Nancy Pelosi.

SANFORD: At the end of the day, you have an idea, and I have an idea,
but at the end of the day --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He`s embarrassed the state on many, many
occasions.

SANFORD: If at the end of the day, we can`t -- how you doing?
Appreciate it. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Jumping the shark doesn`t look good. Mark Sanford
is in serious trouble.

SANFORD: How you doing? Appreciate it. Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WAGNER: I`m Alex Wagner, in for Lawrence O`Donnell.

Today, for the first time in our nation`s history, a male athlete on a
major sports team is openly gay.

Jason Collins writes in this week`s issue of "Sports Illustrated,"
"I`m a 34-year-old NBA center. I`m black and I`m gay."

Collins is a 12-year veteran of the NBA. He`s from Los Angeles,
played for Stanford University and most recently, the Washington Wizards.
He writes, "The more that speak out the better, gay or straight. It starts
with President Obama mentioning the 1969 Stonewall riots that launched the
gay rights movement during his second inaugural address."

Here is what President Obama said that day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We, the people, declare
today that the most evident of truths -- that all of us are created equal -
- is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forbearers
through Seneca Falls, and Selma and Stonewall.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: This afternoon, President Obama called Jason Collins to
express his support. He told Collins he was impressed by his courage.

First Lady Michelle Obama also tweeted, "So proud of you, Jason
Collins. This is a huge step forward for our country. We`ve got your
back."

Jason Collins` announcement nearly one year after President Obama
became the first sitting president to say this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: For me, personally, it is important for me to go ahead and
affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: According to the latest NBC News polling, 53 percent of
Americans support same-sex marriage and 42 percent oppose it. As recently
as October, 2009, only 41 percent supported same-sex marriage and 49
percent opposed it.

In 2008, President Obama said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Now, for me
as a Christian --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: Jason Collins writes, "I`m glad I`m coming out in 2013 rather
than 2003. The climate has shifted, public opinion has shifted, and yet we
still have so much farther to go."

Joining me now, Reverend Al Sharpton, host of MSNBC "POLITICS NATION",
and Wade Davis, LBGT surrogate for President Obama and former NFL player.
He publicly revealed he was gay last year. And Chris Kluwe, Minnesota
Vikings punter, marriage equality activist who Jason Collins praised today,
writing, "I`m impressed with the straight pro athletes who have spoken up
so far."

Chris, Jason Collins is a free agent. He is 34 years old. And today,
Rush Limbaugh speculated he came out so that if a team doesn`t sign him, he
can sue for discrimination. Rush also mentioned you. Let`s listen to what
he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO HOST: Now, the NFL draft, Vikings in fifth round
took a punter. Well, guess what, there`s already buzz, that the Vikings
took a punter because of Kluwe`s off the field activism. It is already
being whispered -- it`s not being whispered. It`s being shouted. The
Vikings don`t want that kind of distraction. Kluwe is going to talk about
gay marriage, fine, but not on our team. So, this kind of stuff is already
alleged.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: If you are not the starting punter for the Minnesota Vikings,
will you blame it on activism as Rush Limbaugh suggests you might?

CHRIS KLUWE, MINNESOTA VIKINGS: No. I mean, for me, it`s the team.
You know, if they decide to move that direction, that`s their choice to
make. All I can do is go out and punt to the best of my ability, and let
my body of work stand for me. You know, I think I punted pretty well over
the years.

WAGNER: Wade, I want to go to you as someone that`s come out as a
professional athlete. There`s a lot of talk about how difficult this is
admission to make not only in the sports community but also the African-
American community. And Jason Collins touches on that in his "Sports
Illustrated" op-ed. I will read an excerpt.

He says, "My maternal grandmother was apprehensive about my plans to
come out. She grew up in rural Louisiana and witnessed horrors of
segregation. During civil rights movement, she saw great bravery play out
amid the ugliest aspects of humanity. She worries that I`m opening myself
up to prejudice and hatred. I explained to her that in a way, my coming
out is preemptive. I shouldn`t live under the threat of being outed. The
announcement should be mine to make, not TMZ`s."

Is that stuff you thought about when you`re coming out?

WADE DAVIS, FORMER NFL PLAYER: Definitely. I am so thankful that
Jason reframed it in such a way, because I think there`s this overwhelming
notion that the African-American is homophobic. I think we`re seeing
Jason`s family that`s African-American is loving him, that NBA players from
Kobe Bryant to Paul Pierce give him overwhelming support. So it really
reframes the idea that the African-American is homophobic because it`s just
not true.

WAGNER: And, Rev, you have been very out front on this issue.
There`s a lot of talk about gay rights being a civil right. Do you think
the black community and, well, the athletic community as well, is out of
place where they`re ready for equality on every level?

REV. AL SHARPTON, "POLITICS NATION" HOST: I think a lot of both
communities are. I think that what Jason did today brings "don`t ask,
don`t tell" to another level, around this country. As we look up to
athletes and our artists.

And he`s right, in 2003, I remember, I came out saying people should
be able to marry no matter what. There was a big reaction differently
then. I had ministers tell me, well, you can`t preach at my church
anymore. Now they say people have the right whether they agree or not to
live their lives.

You cannot have civil rights for one and going to oppose it for
others. If you intolerant of anyone, you justify intolerance of everyone.

And I think what Jason did today was heroic. He knows that he is
going to face some flack, but I think the wind is to his back, and history
is on his side.

WAGNER: And the fact that the president and first lady came out. I
mean, we played the tape from a few years ago when the president couldn`t
say he was a supporter of marriage equality to today, where he is roundly
applauding an athlete for making a very difficult decision and not worried
about the political calculus around it.

SHARPTON: And the president took some flack when he brought it up.
Certainly was something he could have waited until after re-election, he
didn`t. I think that when you see people like Chris, you see people like
Jason that will take the risk, that`s when you make progress, and I think
that it is for the rest of us to stand with them and say, wait a minute,
they don`t need your approval, we just need to have a society where
everyone can be who and what they are.

WAGNER: Chris, one of the things that`s been I think powerful about
this announcement is the combating of stereotypes, especially in the
athletic community. And Jason talks about, quote-unquote, "being a gay
athlete," going against stereotype.

I will read an excerpt from his op-ed, where he says, "I go against
the gay stereotype which is why a lot of people will be shocked. That guy
is gay? I have always been aggressive player, even in high school. Am I
so physical to prove that being gay doesn`t make you soft? Who knows?
That`s something for psychologist to unravel.

My motivations like my contributions don`t show up in box scores and
frankly I don`t care about stats. Winning is what counts. I want to be
evaluated as a team player."

How important do you think those words are for other athletes who may
be gay and still in the closet?

KLUWE: I think they`re very important. What it shows not just to
other athletes but it also shows to team managers and executives that a gay
player is -- you know, he can play well, he can play at a high level, he
can play at the highest level.

And one thing that really struck me from Jason`s piece was when he
talked about, you know, I feel like I have been baked in an oven 33 years.
Think about how much potential possibly was lost because Jason Collins
couldn`t be who he was. I mean, if you`re an executive and looking at
that, you have to think, why am I squandering my guy`s abilities when they
could play better if they`re more comfortable in their own shoes?

WAGNER: And, Wade, that op-ed is beautifully, movingly written, and
so far, it`s pretty emotional, goes deep into what it is like to be on the
sidelines when the Supreme Court is debating critical issues for the gay
community, what it`s like not to march in a pride parade, how hard it is
for him as an athlete where it`s all about unity and teamwork. How is it
for you?

DAVIS: It was very, very similar. The thing that Jason said that I
related to the most was that when he was with his teammates, you know, he
felt safest when there was a lockout, he didn`t have the distractions of
playing a sport to actually keep his mind from the fact that he was living
his life in the closet.

It was the same for me. When I was in the locker room playing
football in the weight room, I was safe because I never worried about my
teammates treating me differently. It was when I was alone in my silence
that, wow, you know what? I`m not living in my own truth, like how can I
get to the point where I`m loving myself enough to own it.

WAGNER: Rev, you know, I mean, there`s been a lot of positive
reactions to the statement but there also have been some negative ones.
Chris Broussard at ESPN saying, personally, I don`t believe that you can
live an openly homosexual lifestyle or an openly like premarital sex
between heterosexuals. If you`re openly living that type of lifestyle,
then the Bible says you know them by their fruits. It says that, you know,
that`s a sin.

As a man of the cloth -- I mean, what do you say to folks who put
forward that argument?

SHARPTON: I say that we live in a democracy, not a theocracy. If we
are going to judge people by the Bible, let`s have the whole Bible. Let`s
say that people that do anything against the Bible shouldn`t be allowed to
play sports or shouldn`t be allowed to do other things.

And I have debated this issue with ministers. That, well, Reverend
Al, you`re straight, we`re straight, marriage is sacred. Well, if marriage
is sacred, why don`t we just allow marriages in the church? Why do we let
justice of peace do it? He may be an atheist.

Why don`t we have divorce in the church? Why doesn`t that become
sacred? And why don`t ministers decide child support and divorce?

I mean, it`s absurd. We go back between civil and sacred. People
have the right to live their lives. I have the right to preach and convert
you, but I do not have the right to force you to believe what I believe.

WAGNER: A modern sermon for a modern era from a modern reverend.

Thank you all. Reverend Sharpton, host of MSNBC`s "POLITICS NATION",
Wade Davis, and Chris Kluwe, thank you all for joining me tonight.

DAVIS: Thank you.

WAGNER: Coming up, the low down on the show down in South Carolina,
the debate between Elizabeth Colbert-Busch and former Governor Mark
Sanford.

And what Texas Senator Ted Cruz told the Tea Party about his fellow
Republicans in the Senate and why there are, quote, "squishes" on gun
control.

Up later, the comic-in-chief delivered on Saturday. What his one-
liners tell us about his presidency. That`s coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WAGNER: Now that the Bush Presidential Library is open, we can add
one more chapter of rewritten history to the stacks. Former Supreme Court
Justice Sandra Day O`Connor now wonders whether the high court should have
taken the case of Bush v. Gore. Last week, she told "The Chicago Tribune"
editorial board, quote, "maybe the court should have said we`re not going
to take it, good-bye."

O`Connor described the ruling as "stirring up the public," a decision
that "gave the court a less than perfect reputation." Quote, "It turned
out the election authorities in Florida hadn`t done a good job there, kind
of messed it up," she said. "And probably the Supreme Court added to the
problem at the end of the day."

O`Connor`s vote in the 5-4 decision, of course, gave President George
W. Bush the victory over Al Gore.

Up next, it`s debate night in America. Elizabeth Colbert-Busch versus
Mark Sanford.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WAGNER: After weeks of campaign back and forth, former Republican
South Carolina governor and Appalachian trail enthusiast, Mark Sanford,
faced off against his Democratic challenger, Elizabeth Colbert-Busch.
Throughout the evening, Sanford repeatedly tried to link his opponent to
Nancy Pelosi which sort of but not really explains the bizarre performance
is the art of him debating a cardboard of Nancy Pelosi last week.

Heading into tonight`s real debate between two carbon-based life
forms, Colbert Busch had a 9-point advantage on Sanford in the latest PPP
poll. Her favorability rating was at 56 percent in that poll, while
Sanford was much lower, at 38 percent.

And tonight, it was during a discussion about federal spending when
Elizabeth Colbert-Busch brought up Sanford`s travels to Argentina, and
Sanford suddenly had difficulty hearing his opponent.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ELIZABETH COLBERT-BUSCH (D-SC), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: When we`re
talking about getting our fiscal house in order, we need to look at
everything from cutting spending to what are our costs. So, during the
time when we`re having all this fiscal spending, fiscal cutting, and back
to the days where everybody had a furlough in the state, everybody was
losing their jobs and we were pulling our belts in, when we talk about
fiscal spending and we talk about protecting the taxpayers, it doesn`t mean
you take that money we saved and leave the country for our personal
purpose.

(APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She went there, Governor Sanford.

SANFORD: I couldn`t hear what she said.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: But later in the debate, Mark Sanford used the public
humiliation resulting from his 2009 affair to explain why he`d be good at
compromising with Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANFORD: You don`t go through the experience I had in 2009 without a
greater level of humility.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: Yes, that actually happened.

Voters in South Carolina go to the polls next Tuesday. Looking ahead
to the last few days of the campaign, Colbert-Busch has topped Sanford in
the latest round of fundraising by nearly a half million dollars. Sanford,
however, still has more cash on hand for the final week of the race,
topping Colbert-Busch by nearly $30,000.

And while, nationally, Republicans have avoided Sanford like an
Appalachian hiking trip, he will be joined by South Carolina Governor Nikki
Haley at a fund-raiser on Wednesday.

Joining me now to discuss this, Nia Malika-Henderson, political
reporter for "The Washington Post," and Dick Harpootlian, chairman of the
South Carolina Democratic Party.

Dick, I want to go to you first.

The Nancy Pelosi references were flying on the stage tonight. Mark
Sanford really making attempt to tie Colbert-Busch to Nancy Pelosi and
unions and national Democrats. She repeatedly pushed back. Let`s take a
listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLBERT-BUSCH: First of all, I want to be very clear, Mark, nobody
tells me what to do, except the people of South Carolina`s first district.
And, secondly, if you have been looking at the commercials and paying
attention, I am fiscally conservative, independent, tough businesswoman.
OK?

And then if you also notice, one last point, I push back on the Obama
budget. So let`s talk about independent reach across the aisles and being
reasonable. I told you no one tells me what to do. I am an independent
business woman and I will reach across the aisles.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: Dick, I thought she might reach across the debate stage and
maybe knock one on Sanford`s chin there. She was not pulling any punches.
She was not tying herself to Nancy Pelosi. Elizabeth Colbert-Busch was
certainly channeling the fighting spirit of Nancy Pelosi.

What did you make of that?

DICK HARPOOTLIAN, SC DEMOCRATIC PARTY CHAIR: I think it is
fascinating to me. Mark Sanford, I counted, mentioned Nancy Pelosi`s name
16 times tonight. He`s clearly obsessed with the wrong woman, again.

This guy is just amazing because he thinks the public is so stupid,
they don`t understand. He wants to talk about Nancy Pelosi. He wants to
talk about anything about his record as governor, his record with the
Argentinean trail, and his record when he was in Congress before.

Elizabeth pointed out that the huge issue in that district is the
deepening of the Charleston port, which Sanford voted against any federal
funding for that when he was in Congress before, voted against funding for
the Ravenel Bridge, and she just hammered him with it, and he came back
with, I was against earmarks.

This is ridiculous. He is a man of principle and his principles trump
our needs, and that was clear tonight. He was caught unaware, flat footed.
And I think she beat the doo-doo out of him.

WAGNER: Nia, what did you make of that exchange over the Appalachian
Trail, Mark Sanford saying he couldn`t hear what Elizabeth Colbert-Busch
was saying. Does that pass muster with South Carolina voters?

NIA-MALIKA HENDERSON, THE WASHINGTON POST: You know, absolutely not.
It was like, you know, 10 seconds of hearing loss there, very strategic
hearing loss. I thought she was both brilliant and brave with that
statement. It was like she was going on this whole rant about spending,
and then, out of nowhere brings up the issue of his infidelity and off with
the Argentinean mistress.

He played it I think -- he must have debate-practiced known that this
may have come up, and this is what he was going to plan to say. But, I
mean, clearly, he heard what she was saying. I think part of her whole
message: (a), it`s about she represents the future. She`s a businesswoman.
And also, the people of South Carolina can trust that she means what she
says and trust that she`s going to follow through.

I think in that moment, he very much came across as somebody that was
a little shifty, sort of, you know, you couldn`t really trust him, a little
slippery. Clearly everyone on that debate stage and in that debate hall
heard what she said and he was pretending in that moment that he didn`t.

WAGNER: Shifty is not the way you want to be described if you`re Mark
Sanford, Dick. One of the craziest exchanges I thought was over the issue
of gay marriage. We have been talking a lot about that today, given Jason
Collins coming out, subject of marriage equality is very much on the front
burner.

Let`s hear what each candidate had to say about gay marriage.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLBERT-BUSCH: I am a supporter of full equality.

(APPLAUSE)

This is a matter of civil rights and equal protection under the law,
that`s what this is. And quoting Dick Cheney, "Freedom is freedom for
everyone."

SANFORD: Marriages have historically been the purview of states, and
the idea of letting states continue to decide what they do or don`t want to
do to me is consistent with the notion of federalism and consistent with
the 200-year tradition of this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: Dick, Elizabeth Colbert-Busch quoting Dick Cheney there in
support for marriage equality. I don`t know, what did you make of that
answer from Mark Sanford?

HARPOOTLIAN: Well, I mean, Mark Sanford is basically saying that if
you violate -- we ought to allow states to violate people`s civil rights,
do it state by state. That was something that we tried that Mark and his
ilk want to go back to, that would be the 18 -- prior to 1865, where state
by state, they decided civil rights.

I mean, Sanford is afraid to -- I mean, he couches everything in that
principle when in fact he`s afraid to speak his mind. He`s against gay
marriage. He`s said that on many occasions. He`s against equal civil
rights for gay couples. He`s just afraid to say that.

In Charleston, especially where there`s tremendous huge gay community,
many of whom vote Republican. Let`s not forget, this district voted, gave
20 points, 20-point victory to Romney over Obama. It`s going to be a tough
race for Elizabeth, but I think she`s going to pull it off.

WAGNER: Nia, after that, Mark Sanford was asked about his vote on
DOMA, whether he would take that vote again. He channeled the spirit of
Bill Clinton and said, do you think President Clinton should be condemned
based on a mistake he made in his life?

He keeps going back to the forgiveness notion as a sort of canned
answer, rather than go on the record with an actual opinion, it seems.

HENDERSON: That`s right. Some of those ads were about wrapping up
himself in the idea of redemption and Christianity. When you look at South
Carolina voters, I think they`re going to ask themselves, are they sick of
Mark Sanford? Are they sick of having to even think about this or, you
know, some of the things that have come out about him showing up at his ex-
wife`s house?

You know, there`s sort of a rule in South Carolina, keep your dirty
laundry to yourself. He hasn`t been very good at that. And I think for
voters, that`s going to be something that they have in mind when they go to
the polls on Tuesday.

WAGNER: Nia Malika-Henderson of "The Washington Post," and Dick
Harpootlian, chairman of the South Carolina Democratic Party -- thank you
both for joining me tonight.

HENDERSON: Thank you.

HARPOOTLIAN: Thank you.

WAGNER: Coming up, Joe Biden is still bullish on gun safety reform
happening.

And new details about DNA found on the Boston bomb fragments, what it
means to the investigation. The latest from Pete Williams and Michael
Isikoff is coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WAGNER: In the spotlight tonight, the latest on the Boston bombings.

It has been two weeks since two bombs at the Boston marathon killed
three people and injured more than 260. Only 23 patients remain
hospitalized tonight, and for the first time since the bombing, none of the
patients are in critical condition.

And this evening, investigators announced that female DNA was found on
at least one of the bombs used in the attacks.

NBC News justice correspondent Pete Williams has the latest -- Pete.

PETE WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Alex, good evening.

Legal sources say tonight prosecutors and lawyers for the surviving
bomb suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, had began very early discussions about the
possible deal in which he could avoid a death penalty in return for a full
accounting to the FBI on what happened and why as investigators continue
working to find those answers for themselves.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAMS (voice-over): In Rhode Island today, an FBI team conducted a
search at the house where Tamerlan Tsarnaev`s widow, Katherine, has been
living since the bombing. She has said she was shocked by the attack and
had no idea he was planning it.

Law enforcement officials say they took a sample of her DNA to compare
to female DNA found on a piece of the pressure cooker from one of the
bombs, but caution it could have come from employees at the stores where
the parts were bought.

U.S. officials confirm reports that it was a Russian wire tap of
Tamerlan Tsarnaev`s mother in which she spoke about jihad that prompted the
Russians to ask the FBI for more information about him two years ago. Some
members of Congress say the Russian intelligence service should have been
more explicit.

REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: If the Russians had given the FBI the
information they had regarding the mother and the son and their views on
the mother`s radicalization and son`s radicalization, it would have
dramatically changed the investigation.

WILLIAMS: But tonight, U.S. officials say they doubt it would make a
difference. They say it was clear two years ago that the Russian thought
Tsarnaev`s mother was becoming extremist, but that she spoke about jihad
only generally.

The FBI is also looking at whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev met in Dagestan
with two men, the Russians considered radical Muslims. One, William
Plotnikov was a Boxer from Canada, killed by Russian special operations
forces last July in Dagestan. The other, (INAUDIBLE) was killed in another
Russian operation last May.

Back home, law enforcement officials say they found nothing in local
landfills, but are still searching garbage containers thinking someone may
have carried items out of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev`s college dorm room a few days
after the bombings. Authorities say it is not clear yet whether whoever
may have done so knew that evidence could be destroyed or did something
just to help a friend.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

Late today, the judge in the case approved request from Dzhokhar
Tsarnaev`s public defenders to add an experienced death penalty lawyer,
Judy Clark of California, to his legal team. She moist recently
representing Jared Loughner who pleaded guilty to the two sons shootings
that wounded Gabby Giffords and in exchange, the government did not seek
the death penalty in the case -- Alex.

WAGNER: Thanks, Pete.

Joining me from Boston, NBC news national correspondent Michael
Isikoff.

Michel, thanks for joining me.

How important is the new information about the female DNA found on at
least one of the bombs?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NBC NEWS NATIONAL INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: I
don`t think we know yet. I think this is a sort of standard investigative
technique the FBI would go through. And as Pete pointed out in the piece,
it could have well have come from the employee at the store where the
pressure cookers were sold.

But I think the larger points here is in many respects, the needle has
moved in this investigation. Last week, the general tone you were getting
from the FBI is it was these two guys, we found no evidence of any outside
accomplices, no indication of ties to international terror groups. The
case is moving towards a rapid closure.

I think now the tone and what you`re hearing from investigators is
somewhat different and somewhat nuanced. This is an open question. There
are some large unanswered questions here, six months in Russia, large time
particularly in Dagestan that ties to this radical mosque. Did Tamerlan
Tsarnaev visit that mosque. Did he meet with some of these radicals. That
mosque and area in Dagestan is a hot bed for Islamic jihadists. And it
seems more and more an open question whether something would have happened
there that would have helped radicalize Tamerlan and also may have
encouraged him. And it is no coincidence that just within a month of him
returning to the United States last year after that trip, he sets up that
You Tube account where suddenly you are seeing all these postings from the
radical preacher in Australia, Faiz Muhammad, the videos about the black
banners of Kyrgyzstan, clearly a sign his radicalization has progressed
much further.

You put it together with what we are now learning from the Russians
about the transcripts they had in 2011 with his mother discussing jihad,
not information the Russians provided earlier and you have been asking
questions about here in the United States, and whether they could have made
these bombs themselves.

WAGNER: Michael, to that point, in terms of piecing together what may
have happened in Dagestan when Tamerlan Tsarnaev went over back over the
caucuses region, as Pete Williams mentioned in his piece, the Russian
special ops killed two men last year who were considered radical Muslims
Plotnikov and Mendel (ph) who apparently consorted with Tamerlan Tsarnaev
in some way, one was a Boxer like him. Do we know anything about the
auspices under which they were killed?

ISIKOFF: Well look, one of the issues here, and one of the issues
there was, this perhaps the original Russian report wasn`t taken as
seriously as now in retrospect people should have been is that there`s a
general sense that the Russians tend to view any insurgents, any opposition
to the Putin government as terrorists. And so, therefore, the Russian
request may not have been about genuinely finding terrorists who we would
worry about but more about finding political opponents to their regime.
And I think that`s been the dilemma from the beginning. The FBI without
more information was a little skeptical about that original Russian report.

WAGNER: Michael Isikoff, thanks for your time tonight.

ISIKOFF: Thank you.

WAGNER: Coming up, the NRA may love them but the senators who voted
against gun safety last week are losing support from voters.

And ahead, what the president`s jokes at the White House
correspondents` dinner told us about the president.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WAGNER: Six months ago today, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut
woke up to the devastation caused by super storm Sandy. Seventy-two people
were killed in that storm. Congress approved $60 billion in aid for Sandy
victims and their communities in January this year. But even today, much
of the damage has not yet been repaired and there are still people who have
not returned home.

Today, New Jersey governor Chris Christie appeared on "Morning Joe" to
talk about the cleanup and about whether or not it was a good thing for him
to tour the damage with president Obama. Christie says he has no regrets,
that it was about doing what was right for New Jersey and not about
presidential politics.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE (R), NEW JERSEY: Listen. The president`s kept
every promise he made, and the fact is that that`s what I was saying at the
time. What I was saying at the time I was asked about how was the
president doing, and I said he`s doing a good job. He has kept his word.

And so, everybody knows that I have about 95 percent level of
disagreement with Barack Obama on issues of principle and philosophy. But
the fact is we have a job to do, and what people expect from people they
elect is to do their job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: Up next, the damage done to senators who voted against gun
safety.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think this will
pass before the year is out within this Congress. And the reason I think
it will is because the public has changed on this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: That was vice president Joe Biden`s bold prediction about
expanded background checks after the bipartisan legislation failed in the
Senate. Public policy polling has been tracking support for expanded
background checks in states whose senators voted against them.

In Arizona, where 70 percent of voters support expanded background
checks, no vote Jeff Flake has a 32 percent approval rating.

In Alaska where 60 percent of voters support background checks, no
vote Lisa Murkowski has 46 percent approval rating.

And in Ohio where 72 percent support expanded background checks, no
vote Rob Portman has a 26 percent approval rating.

But Republican senator Ted Cruz doesn`t look at those polls and think
it is reasonable for Republican senators elected to represent and serve the
people to, you know, consider the will of the people. As he told the tea
party summit in Texas, that`s something only a Republican squish would do.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TED CRUZ (R), TEXAS: I don`t know that there`s an issue that has
generated more heat internally in the Republican conference. We have had
probably five or six lunches with a bunch of Republican senators standing
up, looking at Rand and Mike and me, and yelling at us at the top of their
lungs. We really upset. They said look, why did you do this?

But as a result of what you did when I go home, my constituents are
yelling at me that I`ve got to stand on principle!

(LAUGHTER)

CRUZ: I`m really not making that up! And I don`t even bother to
argue with them. I just sort of let them yell, say look, you know, vote
your conscience. And there are a lot of people don`t like to be held
accountable. But, here was their argument. They said listen, before you
did this, the politics of it were great. The Dems were the bad guys, the
Republicans were the good guys. Now we all look like a bunch of squishes.

(LAUGHTER)

CRUZ: Well, there is an alternative. You could just not be a bunch
of squishes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: Joining me, Richard Wolffe, executive editor of MSNBC.com.

Richard, Ted Cruz is calling members of his own parties squishes.

RICHARD WOLFFE, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Not a squash, a squish.

WAGNER: Squish, to be clear. But on some level, does the angst that
all of these gun safety reform, does the fact that it is turning
Republicans inside-out mean that actually the tide may have changed? That
there`s trouble inside the party?

WOLFFE: Well, it certainly helps, if it can be sustained. And I
think that`s the big if here. You know, these poll numbers that have
changed, you know, is it just the vote? People that in tune with the vote,
or is it the ads, you know? Is the Bloomberg group messing its illegal
handguns, are they going on the offensive, stay on the air, and push this
forward. Because if they are, then this kind of turmoil is going to play
on people`s minds. If they drop it, however, if the public just moves on
and forgets about it, goes on to debt ceiling crisis or immigration reform,
then, they are all going to be squishes together.

WAGNER: But to some degree, I mean, does Ted Cruz keeping the issue
alive in some level force the Lisa Murkowski and the Kelly Ayotte to tack
further right or does it give them space to go to the left?

WOLFFE: I think if you are looking for moderate support, and most of
these people are in states where they actually do need to have statewide
support, right, you know. And even in Texas, even in Texas, there are
Democrats you do actually need to be a bit more, this may be Harry Sy (ph),
but a bit more like governor George W. Bush. You actually have to get some
Hispanics, you have to get some moderate Democrats and that`s how you build
the coalition statewide. It is not like a house race. So, I think if this
continues, if the pressure continues, then Ted Cruz is going to be out in
lens.

WAGNER: I think every time you see Republicans trying to double down
on why it is good to support assault weapons, it is a testament to the fact
they think it might be a controversial issue. And the NRA has launched a
new channel to appeal to women we know are probably swing voters on this
issue. Let`s take a listen to some of the audio and video from that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They want everyone to be afraid of firearms.
They`re not focusing on a woman being able to protect herself.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have always come back, say why do you need
this, why do you need this, why do you need this, and they are not assault
weapons, military style weapons, but that`s terminology somebody else
developed for the gun. What it is, it is a sporting rifle and it is a self
defense rifle, and it is a hunting rifle, and there are so many of them in
existence.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: Richard, it is a kinder, softer, gentler assault rifle that
you can fire in the video with a manicure. I mean, does this work for moms
that remember Newtown?

WOLFFE: No, it doesn`t at all. And I guess again if you could forget
Newtown, if it was that easily displaced by just something you could focus
group nicely, I mean, they are attractive people, and they are speaking in
convincing ways. If they weren`t holding a military style assault rifle, I
mean, don`t trust your lying eyes here, just listen to the nice people
talking on TV. If you could forget all of that, if you could forget what
you`re looking at, forget the pictures of those families from Newtown, then
yes, it could work, but that would be an alternate reality.

WAGNER: Joe Biden thinks 85 percent of people that support background
checks are not going quietly into the night. We shall see. Richard, thank
you, as always, for your time tonight.

WOLFFE: Thank you.

WAGNER: Coming up, the mad comedic skills of the commander in chief.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WAGNER: It turns out those put upon air travelers who have had
flights delayed because of the sequester will have to wait just a little
bit longer for relief. In its rush to end the furloughs of air traffic
controllers, the Senate passed a bill with a typo in it. It appears on
page two of the bill, where the authors of the bill left off the letter in
the word accounts. It is a critical S because it gives the secretary of
transportation more flexibility moving funds from different accounts to
keep the air traffic controllers on the job.

Most of Congress is not working this week, so the Senate will have a
performance (ph) session tomorrow to fix that typo and send it to the
president`s desk. With that done, air travelers will be relieved of having
to wait to fly, while head start and food assistance programs like meals on
wheels will still be waiting for the funds they lost in the sequester.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WAGNER: Comedic timing on point, President Obama delivered a lot of
memorable one liners at the White House correspondents dinner. This joke
elicited response afterwards.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some folks still don`t
think I spend enough time with congress. Why don`t you get a drink with
Mitch McConnell, they ask. Really? Why don`t you get a drink with Mitch
McConnell!

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: Today, Mitch McConnell Senate campaign tweeted this picture
of the senator, sitting at a bar with a beer, next to an empty tool and
glass of red wine with the caption @barackObama, @Eastwood, greetings from
coal country, hazard, Kentucky, signed MM.

One Republican strategist had this advice for the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT SCHLAPP, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I had a beer with Mitch
McConnell, and had a good time. I would encourage him to give it a shot.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: Joining me, Krystal Ball, co-host of MSNBC`s "The Cycle."

Krystal, we are giggling through that.

KRYSTAL BALL, MSNBC HOST, THE CYCLE: Yes.

WAGNER: You know, I saw you in the hallway at the dinner, and there
were a lot of chuck else. It was revealed by the Cracker Jack White House
NBC News team that President Obama had a hand in writing all of the jokes.

BALL: I believe it.

WAGNER: Script writers, Cody Keenan and David Lit (ph), I believe it
is all he has an inherent sense of humor. What struck me the most about
the evening, how willing he was to be the butt of his own jokes. We have a
little montage. Let`s play it.

BALL: Let`s see it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Said I should start with some jokes as my own expense. Just
take myself down a peg. I was like guys, after four and a half years, how
many pegs are there left? These days I look in the mirror and I have to
admit I`m not the strapping young Muslim socialist I used to be.

I know Republicans are still sorting out what happened in 2012, but
one thing they all agree on is they need to do a better job reaching out to
minorities. And call me self centered, I can think of one minority they
can start with. Hello!

(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WAGNER: Krystal, President Obama can laugh at himself.

BALL: He is great at that. And that was actually one of my favorite
moments, that minority language. It is hysterical because he was laughing
at himself, he was laughing at the Republicans, Republicans were laughing
at themselves, Newt Gingrich clearly loved it, which we love.

But, and you don`t want to overstate these things. But, in all
honesty, this side of the president, his ability to be funny, and relaxed,
and personable is as important, was as important to his election as
anything else. Because people feel like he has a sense of humor. He can
look at himself critically. He let things roll off his back and we like to
see that in a president.

WAGNER: We also like to see bipartisan laughs. So little happens in
bipartisan fashion in Washington, it is nice to see Republicans and
Democrats laughing.

BALL: It is one of the good things about this night.

WAGNER: It brings them together or us. Wonderful. Look at who is
not laughing is Sarah Palin who attended the White House correspondents`
dinner, I remember being in the same room with her, who tweeted that #White
house correspondents dinner was pathetic. The rest of America is out there
working our asses off while these D.C. assclowns throw themselves a quote
"#nerdprom."

Having ass twice in the same tweet is one thing, so angry Sarah Palin.

BALL: I know.

WAGNER: Assclowns, what do you make of that?

BALL: Well, I do want to get her credit because assclown is a great
word, and under a used word, I might add. So, I do want to give her credit
there. But I also love that she says that we are out there working our
asses off. What is she working her ass off doing again, I have forgot
since she resigned as governor and got fired from FOX.

WAGNER: Hash tagging. But, as if the president isn`t working his ass
off.

BALL: Clearly, obviously. And, but you know, Alex, in fairness, the
dinner has gone way downhill since Sarah Palin stopped going. She was
really what was holding it together and making it worthwhile.

WAGNER: Krystal, I think it is really this whole block was an excuse
for you and I to say the word assclown as much as possible.

BALL: Thank you, Sarah Palin.

WAGNER: We do have something to thank Sarah Palin for.

Krystal Ball, you get the last word tonight. Thanks for joining me.

BALL: Thanks.

WAGNER: I`m Alex Wagner in for Lawrence O`Donnell. And you can catch
me on "Now" which is n noon eastern, Monday through Friday.

Chris Hayes is up next.

END

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