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'Verdict with Dan Abrams' for March 19

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Tonight: Hillary Clinton said Barack Obama‘s refusal to back revotes in Florida and Michigan is un-American.


We‘re On Their Trail assessing tonight‘s misstatements, cheap shots, and blunders on the campaign trail.

And we‘re on his trail: The president‘s big speech on the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war.  He says the successes are undeniable, and so are his misstatements and flip flops.

Plus: Why is most of the media giving John McCain a nearly free ride even after another major gaffe about Iran and al Qaeda?  It‘s our new segment we like to call: Teflon John.

VERDICT starts now.

Welcome to the show.

Today: The Clinton campaign claiming it‘s un-American for Obama to stand in the way of a revote in Michigan.

And: Obama on a major Iraq speech today, hammering Clinton for what he says as a wavering opposition to the war.

As always, we‘re On Their Trail assessing who tonight‘s misstatements, cheap shots and blunders.

Here to separate facts from fiction, cheap shots from fair game:

Former Bill Clinton Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers, she‘s author of the new book, “Why Women Should Rule the World”; political analyst Lawrence O‘Donnell; and A.B. Stoddard, editor of “The Hill” with us as well.

All right.

First up: Hillary Clinton making a last minute campaign stop in Michigan today, a last ditch effort to drum up support for a revote there which now seems like a long shot.  On the stump in Detroit, Clinton acted shocked that the votes in Michigan won‘t be counted.


SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Senator Obama speaks passionately on the campaign trail about empowering the American people.  Today, I‘m urging him to match those words with action.  To make sure the people of Michigan and Florida have a voice and a vote in this election.

These nearly 2.5 million Americans are in danger of being shut out of our Democratic process.  I think that‘s wrong and frankly, it is un-American.


CLINTON:  Un-American?  I‘m ruling this one a Clinton cheap shot.  Totally disingenuous for the Clinton campaign to act shock that the Michigan primary won‘t count.

They accepted these rules when the DNC voted to strip Michigan and Florida their delegates last year.  And Clinton herself made it absolutely clear that she understood that.


CLINTON:  It‘s clear this election they‘re having is not going to count for anything.  I personally did not think it made any difference whether or not my name was on the ballot.


ABRAMS:  I have said I think there should be revotes in Michigan and Florida but this mock outrage just feels totally dishonest.

Dee Dee, you disagree with me?

DEE DEE MYERS, FMR. CLINTON PRESS SECRETARY :  I think she‘s right on the substance.  I think what troubles about it was a cheap shot is to call it un-American.  I think given the week that Senator Obama has had, I think, that‘s it‘s unnecessary and sort of inflammatory and she ought not to go there.

But I think she‘s right on the substance—I don‘t mind if she uses passion.  We, Democrats have a vested interest in getting those votes counted and seat those delegates.  I‘d like to see it happens.

ABRAMS:  Lawrence, the passion is one thing.  You can‘t be outraged at this point.  You can say, look, I‘m sorry we agreed to this.  I‘m sorry this is the way it went about but to suggest she‘s absolutely stunned and outraged that all these people are going to be disenfranchised seems to me is mock outrage.

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, Dan, when you juxtapose those two statements, the things she said earlier in the campaign in order to please people in New Hampshire and Iowa with what she‘s saying today, this is what provokes people in the Obama campaign to murmur to reporters that the Clinton‘s will say anything.

And as you saw Hillary do this time, Hillary can do it with a beautifully straight face.  It‘s really an absurdity.  We don‘t have 50 primaries, all 50 states do not vote on the nominee.  Michigan is not going to be one of them.


A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL:  I agree.  I mean, Michigan violated the rules.  She knew it then, she said it then and to act now like this is an electoral hijacking is - it doesn‘t pass the smell test.

The problem though, for me, I mean, I think, I agree with you.  I‘d just think that neither Barack Obama nor Hillary Clinton showed any kind of good faith efforts to make a compromise on revotes.  They just didn‘t show any leadership on this issue.

ABRAMS:  Look, it is a shame.  It is a shame that the people of Michigan, the Democrats in Michigan and Florida that their votes won‘t count.  That is unfortunate.  But, again, it just smacks pure politics to it, at this point .

MYERS:  I think the circumstances have changed.  I mean, to cut Hillary Clinton a little slack today on the substance and not the un-American comment.  We didn‘t know, you know, she didn‘t know in January that this election would be this close that it would come down .

ABRAMS:  What kind of excuse is that, though?

O‘DONNELL:  That‘s exactly the point.

MYERS:  No, but I think it‘s in the interest to the party.  I really do, I think this would be in the interest of the party to have every vote count, to have every delegate seated .

ABRAMS:  Look, I agree with you.

MYERS:  . not to have this thing turn into chaos.

ABRAMS:  I agree with you.  The problem is when it smacks the dishonesty the way this, when it smacks of, you know, a political opportunism.  That‘s the problem.

MYERS:  But you know, I think she‘s both doing what‘s in interest of her campaign and in doing what, I think, in the interest of the Democratic Party.  So, the tone doesn‘t bother me.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Well, I‘m giving it against Clinton, giving her our first strike of the night.

Next up: One day after his major speech on race, Barack Obama turned the page to focus on Iraq, outlining his plan for dealing with a war that‘s now on its fifth year, Obama used his speech today to take a shot at Senator Clinton.


SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Senator Clinton has tried to use my position to score political points suggesting that because I want to withdraw prudently and would listen to our commanders on the ground that I am somehow less than fully committed to ending the war.

She makes this argument despite the fact that she‘s taken the same position in the past.  So, ask yourself, who do you trust to end the war?  Someone who opposed the war from the beginning or someone who started opposing it when they started preparing a run for president?


ABRAMS:  That is an Obama misstatement.  It is true, Clinton did vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq and he spoke out against it in 2002.

But she‘s been extremely critical of President Bush on the war and now, that was well before she started running for president as far back as November 2005, she was voting in favor for change of policy in Iraq, demanding the administration provide reports on Congress, on the progress in Iraq.

And in August of 2006, she grilled then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, saying, quote, “Because of the administration‘s strategic blunders, and frankly the record of incompetence in executing it.  You are presiding over a failed policy.”

Look, they got nearly identical voting records on Iraq, they both now want to withdraw our troops but, Lawrence, this is a clear mischaracterization, they‘re both doing it, but today it‘s Obama.

O‘DONNELL:  Not a bit, Dan.  Hillary Clinton started running for president the day after John Kerry lost.  By November 5th of 2005, Hillary Clinton had been running for president for months of that point.

ABRAMS:  Wait, so, when do we officially count Obama as running for president, then?

O‘DONNELL:  I would say the day after John Kerry lost, also.


STODDARD:  Well, remember the point here is she was for the war, probably having presidential candidacy consideration in 2002 when she voted for it and then, when the war became unpopular, she started to be critical.  But .

ABRAMS:  She actually was—is it possible it wasn‘t purely just political?  That she came to believe that this was a mess?

STODDARD:  Yes, it‘s possible, but you know what, for Barack Obama to be raising questions right now about her and whether or not you can trust what she‘s saying because she has straddled this issue unbelievably in the last year.

She told “The New York Times” last March, she‘s going to keep troops there, a reduced but a significant force.

ABRAMS:  No, but that‘s not specifically we‘re talking about here.

STODDARD:  I think it‘s fair for him to try to draw a contrast and raise questions about whether or not you trust what she‘ll do.

ABRAMS:  I‘m all for—I totally think that‘s fair game.  Barack Obama can make all the contrast he wants but to suggest that she only became against the war once she started running for president, I don‘t know how he can back that up?

MYERS:  Yes, I think you laid out the evolution of her position pretty clearly.  As things started to go bad, she was trying to hold the administration accountable.  She was trying to get, you know, push to a change in strategy, a change in policy, unsuccessful, but I think it was more than simply her campaign for presidency that drove that evolution of opposition.

You can vote against her because she voted for the war, many people have but I think, the evolution of her position followed events in Iraq.

ABRAMS:  The problem is, Lawrence, again, Obama, yes, he gave his speech in 2002, when he wasn‘t in the Senate but then when it came to the vote, when it comes to the time when you got to actually step up, Obama is voting the same way as Hillary Clinton.  Neither of them have the true moral high ground.

Yes, Obama can cite his speech but to start attacking Hillary Clinton‘s position sort of 2004, 2005, 2006 doesn‘t seem to me to be particularly persuasive.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, their positions did become virtually identical for awhile right up until that vote on the Iran Revolutionary Guard this year.  But yes, that‘s absolutely true.  But, I mean, you can‘t take away from Obama the fact that he was original instance against the war.  And if Obama had not been against the war before it started, he would not be in this race today.

ABRAMS:  Look, agreed, he‘s allowed and encouraged to talk about, again and again, his own vote.  All I‘m saying is, when he mischaracterizes Clinton‘s position on this, at the very least doesn‘t have proof to say she only became against it when she started running for president.

He gets a strike, and so, leaving us at one to one.

Next up: Barack Obama fighting back today on the issue of meeting with rogue leaders.  He‘s been hammered by the Clinton camp for saying he would meet with leaders of countries like Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, and Cuba without preconditions.  An attack he responded to today.


OBAMA:  Senator Clinton, Senator McCain, and President Bush have all made the same arguments against my position on diplomacy.  It seems that they‘re all reading from the same political play book.  They say I will be penciling in the world‘s dictators on my social calendar.  Just as misrepresenting my positions on Pakistan, they are mistaken in standing up for a policy of not talking that is not working.


ABRAMS:  You can‘t talk about misrepresenting, and then, say that.  Clinton has never said she won‘t talk to those leaders.  And the lump her position in with Bush isn‘t fair.  What she‘s consistently said is she would meet with them as long certain preconditions were met first.

Obama is, again, trying to use what I view is his blunder of having said he‘d meet with no rules against her, Dee Dee?

MYERS:  Yes, I think that that‘s a position that he is trying to fudge.  If I was him, I wouldn‘t want to carry it into a general election.  I don think that stands up very well in the general election.  I think, you know, Senator Clinton has a more traditional position.  It‘s not the same position as President Bush or even John McCain but I think she does believe preconditions are required.

ABRAMS:  Lawrence?

O‘DONNELL:  I think Hillary‘s position is absolute as Dee Dee just said, traditional which means that is identical to Bush, to John McCain, to the previous President Clinton, to the previous President Bush.  This is the American way, very, very heavy preconditions on meeting with anyone.  Barack Obama wants to break that.  He‘s coming from a very different perspective on this.

ABRAMS:  Yes, but again, that‘s not the words he used.  I mean, he‘s talking about unwillingness to meet, A.B.?

STODDARD:  Right.  She has said that she‘s willing to meet, but do so with preconditions, in an effort, at this hour where he needs to draw a contrast, he shouldn‘t fudge the facts.  You know, this was a turning point for them last August at a debate where she was more the commander in chief, more presidential and he‘s trying to fight back against her but he can‘t fudge the facts.

ABRAMS:  And again, he was fair.  The attacks were OK until the very end.  Obama gets the strike on this one.  That gives us two strikes for Obama, one for Clinton, heading into the break, everyone is sticking around.

Coming up: More on their trail: Clinton releases thousands of pages of documents from her years as first lady.  Now, she‘s going after Obama to release his records as a state senator.  Fair game or cheap shots?

We‘re on his trail:  The president celebrating the Iraq war successes today, five years later.  We expose his misstatements in his speech.

Plus: The U.S. Postal Service wants to make sure you keep getting junk mail.  It‘s today‘s edition of Why America Hates Washington.

VERDICT is back in 60 seconds.


ABRAMS:  Tonight‘s edition of Why America Hates Washington.  The U.S.  Postal Service is fighting the fight to keep your mailbox stuffed with junk mail.  That‘s right.  Neither snow nor rain will stop the Post Office from battling states that are trying to stop junk mail.

The postmaster general says banning brochures and catalogs will lead to too much lost revenue.  So, that means all those pre-approved credit card offers will just keep on coming.

It‘s tonight‘s reason Why America Hates Washington.

More Clinton v. Obama On Their Trail in a moment.


ABRAMS:  We‘re back On Their Trail.  Tonight, assessing today‘s misstatements, cheap shots and blunders on the campaign trail.  Right now, Obama is behind at our nightly scorecard with two strikes against him, Clinton has one.

Next up: Hillary Clinton speaking yesterday alongside former U.S.  Ambassador Joe Wilson, touting her foreign policy credentials by discussing a diplomatic trip she made to Africa in 1997.


CLINTON:  I‘m delighted to be here with Ambassador Wilson.  He and I did traveled together to Africa and paved the way for the president‘s trip the following year.


ABRAMS:  I‘m going to give Clinton a slight misstatement on this one.  According to ABC News, Joe Wilson never made that trip with her.  Clinton may have been confusing Joe Wilson with his predecessor Susan Rice., who did go on the trip with Clinton.  She also happens to be a top advisor to Barack Obama‘s campaign.

Now, look, there have a lot of allegations that Clinton is overstating the facts when it comes to her foreign policy experience.  Most of those issues are pretty hard to fact check but, Lawrence, this one seems pretty easy to check.

O‘DONNELL:  Yes, I think you‘ve got her on this one, Dan.  I wish she would not rely on trying to beef up her resume as first lady.  She was involved in one extraordinary governing attempt as first lady on the health care bill.  She failed miserably and has said so.

She‘s got a solid, substantial record as a senator, that‘s where the concentration should be.  That‘s where her campaign concentration should be.

ABRAMS:  Dee Dee?

MYERS:  She made a mistake.  It‘s poor staff work, perhaps, I don‘t know, or memory failed.  So, yes, if ABC News is in fact correct, which we assume they are, she was wrong about that.  But I don‘t understand why nobody wants to give her credit for her time as first lady.  She‘s not claiming that as her only credential.  She did a lot, you know.

ABRAMS:  It‘s just hard to know exactly what she did.  That‘s the problem.

MYERS:  And we‘re going to find out a little more about the 11,000 pages of documents that came out today.  But I think that traveling around the world as ambassador on behalf of the president of the United States, having a high profile, you know, from entering to these countries and dealing with world leaders counts for something.  I just do.

I think it‘s not the same as cutting ribbons in, you know, somewhere, stateside.  I think that gives a perspective of the world.  It‘s not the only credential she claims, but, you know, give her credit for it.

ABRAMS:  Yes, A.B., I think the problem a lot of people have is saying, look, whatever she did, a lot of people view it as she‘s the wife.  She‘s the wife, not the president.  And therefore, for her to sort of, to claim credit for accomplishment there, it‘s hard.

And it‘s so hard to quantify what did she exactly do.  OK, yes, she was on this trip, yes, she took a trip here, but how much influence does she have when she is a first lady, et cetera.

STODDARD:  You know, you‘re going to hear it in a way that she‘d describe it as which is this trip paves the way for the president the following year.  It‘s sort of, you find this moments where she‘s trying to claim the credit, but then, disassociate herself on the failures.  It‘s an awkward dance for her to do it when she talks about, you know, 35 years in the Senate.

And she tries to lump together the administration sort of in to her resume and it‘s always awkward for her because she has not been able to be too specific as Lawrence mentioned beyond health care in what she‘s really been involved in that she can take credit for.

But in terms, look—I agree with Dee Dee.  I‘m just confused, she‘s a smart lady and this is a strange gaffe for her to not know who she was traveling with Susan Rice who went to work for Barack Obama.

ABRAMS:  Clinton gets the strike on this one, tying up our scorecard going into the final round.

Today: Clinton released more than 11,000 pages of records dating back to her time as first lady.

The Clinton camp now turning the tables on Obama demanding he‘ll release all of his records from his time as a state senator in Illinois, quote, “Senator Obama and his campaign like to talk about transparency.  We call on him to back up his words with action and release his schedules and other records from his time as an Illinois state senator.”

Lawrence, I‘m going to rule this fair game.  First lady records, yes, they‘re more significant, but if the Obama camp is going to make a big deal out of Clinton‘s first lady record, shouldn‘t they expect the same type of scrutiny?

O‘DONNELL:  Yes, I suppose.  I personally don‘t care about any of these.  I care about what‘s their position on financing Social Security which neither one of them wants to talk about.  How are they going to keep Medicare solvent?  Neither one of them wants to talk about that.

This is all about what are they going to do as president and I think,

it‘s also relevant to talk about what they‘ve done as United States

senators.  I think the first lady years are irrelevant than I think Obama‘s


ABRAMS:  Once you go down the road of demanding records, right?

MYERS:  Right.  Yes, I think it‘s totally - I mean, you know, the Obama campaign has made transparency an issue.  They‘ve attacked Senator Clinton for not releasing her tax records and other records from White House days.  You know, put your records out there and I don‘t think there‘s anything too terribly damaging about Obama‘s Senate years.

ABRAMS:  A.B., any thoughts on this one?

STODDARD:  Yes, I mean, all fair in love and war and petty politics.  If you ask for something from your rival‘s campaign, you ask them to disclose one thing, you better know that they‘re going to ask you to disclose everything including your seventh grade diary.

ABRAMS:  Yes, I guess, the difference is when you‘re state senator of Illinois, you probably have one person working in your office and it‘s not exactly like the records are going to be kept the way you‘re first lady.

MYERS:  But you know, that people say, oh, her years as first lady aren‘t irrelevant.  She didn‘t do anything meaningful, let‘s have the records.  And for Senator Obama, it‘s like, you know, we don‘t really care what he‘s doing in the Senate.  I mean, it‘s an interesting contrast.

ABRAMS:  All right.  I‘m not giving either of them a strike on this one, ;leaving us with a rare, on their trail tie tonight.

Dee Dee Myers, great to have you hear.  Thank you very much for coming on.  Appreciate it.  As always, Lawrence and A.B., (INAUDIBLE).

Coming up: President Bush gave a major speech today on the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war.  He calls it a major strategic victory.  We‘re on his trail looking at his misstatements on his speech.

And:  FOX‘s ego war between Hannity and O‘Reilly heating in tonight‘s Beat the Press.

Plus: Your emails, we call it the P.O.‘ed box because not all of them are that nice.  Send them in to   Tell us what we‘re doing right and wrong.  Be sure to include your name, where you‘re writing from.

VERDICT will be right back.


ABRAMS:  It‘s time for tonight‘s Beat the Press: Our daily look back at the absurd and sometimes amusing perils of live TV.

First up: Last night, we brought you the brewing battle at FOX News between Bill O‘Reilly and Sean Hannity.  Both are inaccurately trying to take credit for the recent uproar over Barack Obama‘s pastor.  And last night, Hannity seemed to be sticking it to O‘Reilly again.


SEAN HANNITY, TV HOST:  You know, it‘s gotten out there in the media that I broke the story, it‘s gotten out that our interview back in March.  And by the way, other people are trying to take credit.  That‘s just their ego‘s talking.  But in reality.


ABRAMS:  Did you hear those O‘s in the background?  You mean Bill O‘Reilly has a big ego?  No, come on.

Next up: Last week, CNN‘s Wolf Blitzer told us why we should be concerned about the economy.  But take a look at the monitors behind Wolf as he explains.


WOLF BLITZER, TV HOST:  There are more reasons today for Americans to feel anxious about the economy.


ABRAMS:  I can‘t imagine that a stunningly high-prices for alleged prostitutes would affect the economy and oil prices.

Finally: In a more serious note, Anderson Cooper announced today that he had minor surgery on Monday to remove a spot, a skin cancer from under his eye.  We‘re just going to say that we wish him the best and hoping for his speedy recovery.

Up next: We‘re on his trail, examining the President‘s big Iraq speech today on the fifth anniversary of the war.  While he celebrated the success of the war, we expose today‘s misstatements and flip flops.

And later: Our new segment - Teflon John.  The media‘s soft touch when it comes to Senator John McCain, including virtually ignoring the McCain‘s major gaffe when talking about Iran and al Qaeda.  If it happened to Clinton or Obama, they would have skewered them.

We‘re on his trail: Teflon John is coming up.


ABRAMS:  We‘re back, five years ago tonight, March 19, 2003, the U.S. began bombing Baghdad.  Today the sixth year begins with a major speech from the president, where once again he said the war has been worth it, that the successes are undeniable.  And the surged opened the door to a major strategic victory in the war on terror.  It was also a speech filled with misstatements, exaggerations and flip-flops.  We‘re on his trail tonight, evaluating all of them.

Here to help us separate faction from fiction, retired Four-Star General Barry McCaffrey who was a commander of the United States Southern Command and is also an MSNBC analyst.  And a political analyst Lawrence O‘Donnell.

All right.  First up, as always President Bush offered up an optimistic assessment of the progress in Iraq and he used the past to prove his point. 


GEORGE BUSH, UNITED STATES PRESIDENT:  A little over a year ago, the fight in Iraq was faltering.  Extremist elements were succeeding in their efforts to plunge Iraq into chaos.


ABRAMS:  The problem, a little over a year ago, as he said, he sure didn‘t sound like he was saying the fight was faltering. 


BUSH:  We‘re staying ahead of the enemy.  We‘re inflicting damage and at the same time, helping this young Iraqi democracy succeed.  We‘ve got tremendous stuff going forth.


ABRAMS:  So how can we trust the president‘s chest beating remarks today, if that also means he was not being honest a little over a year ago, Lawrence?

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, we can‘t.  The president has consistently overstated how well things were going in Iraq.  If you were to look back at his third anniversary statement about how things were going in Iraq, it was very, very positive.  You couldn‘t find any signs failure in it.  And so that‘s just been consistent overstatement on the part of the president all the way along.

ABRAMS:  General, what do you make of it?

BARRY MCCAFFREY, RETIRED FOUR-STAR GENERAL:  Well, first of all, Dan, I wouldn‘t consider the speech on a serious attempt at introspection.  You know, he‘s down there in the Pentagon sort of cheerleading to his generals and admirals - 33,000 dead and wounded.  What do we expect him to say? 

This administration made a mess of that intervention in Iraq.  You know, it really turned into a strategic blunder of immense proportions.  The country is not standing behind that war.  The only good news is, in a static sense, right now it looks considerably better from a military perspective on the ground.  But we‘ve got to wait until the next president gets them there in the hope they can straighten the thing out and get U.S.  troops out, which is probably going to happen. 

ABRAMS:  And I should say our video a minute ago said 2007.  That was the president from 2006.

All right, on the same day, a new alleged bin Laden message appeared on a militant Web site.  President Bush claimed today that the war in Iraq is the center of an uprising against Osama bin Laden. 


BUSH:  In Iraq, we‘re witnessing the first large-scale Arab uprising against Osama bin Laden. 


ABRAMS:  Misstatement.  There is some uprising against extremists in Iraq, maybe even against Sunni terrorists in Iraq.  But what evidence is there, General, that the uprising is against Osama bin Laden?

CAFFERTY:  Well, I don‘t think that‘s relevant.  What‘s going on in Iraq is essentially a civil war.  Now there‘s a small element of a Jihadist foreign presence there.  But by and large, this is between Sunni and Shia, a fractured federal government, 40 years of cruelty and mismanagement by Saddam. 

Osama, on the other hand, is still a force in the international community.  He‘s out in Pakistan and that Al-Qaeda network has, in some ways, rejuvenated itself. 

ABRAMS:  But the problem is, Lawrence, this is again an effort to link Osama bin Laden to Iraq.  And there is absolutely nothing to indicate that even the uprisings there, even if they are against Sunni terrorists, that they are against Osama bin Laden. 

O‘DONNELL:  No, I agree.  I agree with general McCaffrey.  And it‘s especially peculiar, I think, politically to have brought Osama bin Laden into this speech.  Because it simply raises that issue again of why hasn‘t Osama bin Laden been caught. 

And also, in this particular locution, it seems to deflect the job of taking out Osama bin Laden to Iraqis.  It is now Iraqis‘ job to go revolt against Osama bin Laden and get him because I, George Bush, and the American military, failed to do so. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Number three - President Bush also repeatedly claimed the surge of additional American troops is working well. 


BUSH:  Since the surge began, the level of violence is significantly down.  Civilian deaths are down.  Sectarian killings are down.  Attacks on American forces are down. 


ABRAMS:  The problem is, that‘s just not true.  The Iraqi government figures show civilian deaths in February were up 36 percent from January.  That‘s the first increase, to be fair, after six months of falling casualty tolls. 

Despite the decline in the latter part of 2007, Iraqi figures show more civilians died overall in 2007 than in 2006 - 16,232 in 2007 to 12,360 in 2006.  The surge began in January, 2007. 

As for the sectarian killings, no one ever knows what that means.  As the “Washington Post” found, “Bullet-riddled bodies of four Iraqi men found in a Baghdad street.  A single man dead with one bullet in his head.  The solitary man was victim of sectarian violence, the first four were not.” 

I mean, Lawrence, look.  This is important stuff.  And it seems to me that the president needs to be very specific.  He can say there was a period there.  We believe that the surge is working.  But when he starts saying these broad, sweeping generalizations and the numbers don‘t back him up, I don‘t know how he gets away with it. 

O‘DONNELL:  I agree and this comes after work like Bob Woodward has done in his last book, “State of Denial,” that showed how the Bush White House was consistently understating the violence reports that they were getting from Iraq.  They would discount them and use a lower number of presentations publicly.  This just adds to that. 

ABRAMS:  So Gen. McCaffrey, this to me minimizes the successes.  Meaning, there‘s no question that this surge had an impact.  There were reduced casualty numbers.  But when the president makes these sweeping generalizations about the numbers that simply aren‘t true, he takes away from that, doesn‘t he?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, a couple thoughts.  First of all, I‘m not too sure that the surge of five additional brigades is essential to the changed realities on the ground.  A lot goes into that. 

I think, first of all, the Sunnis got horrified the U.S. was leaving.  They decided to get ready for the next phase of the civil war.  They‘re joining the police and the army; 80,000 have joined concerned local citizen groups or a village guard.  Those were the people that were shooting at us six months ago. 

So there is a changed reality on the ground.  The level of violence in Baghdad and Anbar province is down dramatically from a year ago.  The real question, Dan, again, is what‘s it going to look like in January?  And there, the jury is out. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Finally, the president is highlighting the help, as Gen. McCaffrey is referring to.  U.S. forces are now getting on the ground. 


BUSH:  Today, there are more than 90,000 concerned local citizens who are protecting their communities from the terrorists and insurgents and extremists. 


ABRAMS:  This is misleading.  Yes, the 90,000 figure is a Pentagon estimate, according to White House spokesperson Dana Perino.  And the so-called concerned local citizens are mostly Sunni insurgents being paid by the U.S. not to fight us.  In other words, General, they are effectively employed. 

MCCAFFREY:  Yes, that‘s pretty good news, too.  It‘s a lot cheaper giving them $300 a month than it is fighting them.  But I think there‘s also another reality to that, Dan.  There was widespread antipathy among the Sunni population to the excesses of these extremists.  You know, cutting fingers off, people smoking, chopping heads off.  So that‘s part of the political reality.  It‘s not just, we bought the insurgents.  

ABRAMS:  Right.  But I do feel, again, Lawrence, like there‘s a level of - it‘s either dishonesty or at the least, misleading us into believing that 90,000 people have just risen up.  It may be a good idea, as the General points out, and a good thing for our troops.  But the president is making it sound like, “Lo and behold, these people have come to fight.  They‘ve come to realize the United States is on the right side.”  They‘re getting paid. 

O‘DONNELL:  Right.  I don‘t have a problem with them getting paid

especially going back to what many think -

ABRAMS:  I don‘t either. 

O‘DONNELL:  What many think is the single most important mistake made in the aftermath of the invasion, which was the disbanding of the Iraqi army. 

MCCAFFREY:  Absolutely.

O‘DONNELL:  The president was advised to hold on to that army and to pay that army.  Jay Gardner, who was the president‘s original representative in Iraq, said that when that army was disbanded, we have 300,000 enemies that we didn‘t have tomorrow.  This 90,000 on the payroll, if that‘s real number, is a step back in that direction that was supposed the original poll.

ABRAMS:  General, I just want to ask you a final, sort of broad question.  I mean you‘ve been talking, I think, very smartly about, did the realities on the ground - et cetera.  But does it bother you when you hear the president speaking this way? 

I understand that cheerleading is one thing.  I think he said some things about how successful and effective our troops were in the early days.  But to have him offering up what are still misleading comments about the war, does it trouble you?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, to be honest, and I want to be - I‘m always trying to be very respectful of the president of the United States in public.  I pay attention to Bob Gates and now Dr. Rice who I think has been freed from the tyranny of Rumsfeld and is now engaged in diplomacy. 

So the people are watching this thing are Gen. Petraeus, Ambassador Ryan Crocker, Sec. Bob Gates.  That who you pay attention.  They are trying to set this thing up so the next president, whoever she or he may be has a chance to, in their first year in the next administration, unscrew the mess we made. 

ABRAMS:  Got it.  Gen. McCaffrey, great to have you on the program.  I appreciate it.  Lawrence O‘Donnell, as always.

Up next, our new segment, “Teflon John.”  The media‘s soft touch with John McCain after he repeatedly blew it on the facts on Iran and Al-Qaeda.  The debut of “Teflon John” is coming up.

And our own Chris Matthews, bust a move.  “Reality Bites” is coming up in 60 seconds.


ABRAMS:  Time for “Reality Bites,” a dose of reality caught on tape.  Tonight, something must be in the water here at MSNBC because we seem to have  a lot of anchors who love to dance on TV.  The latest example, Mr.  HARDBALL himself, Chris Matthews showed off his moves this morning on Ellen DeGeneres‘ show.  Not since Tucker boogied down on “Dancing With the Stars” has a TV news host so adeptly busted a move.  We‘ll be back.  


ABRAMS:  It‘s time for our new segment, “Teflon John.”  Much of the media has been giving John McCain what sure feels like a free ride.  Barely going after him for flip flops and a host of issues from torture and taxes to abortion and gay marriage, the press just loves his image.  The maverick from Arizona riding around on a bus called the “Straight Talk Express.”  That‘s why we‘re calling this segment, “Teflon John.” 

Tonight, the tepid response to a major McCain gaffe, the kind of mistake that would have devastated Clinton or Obama, and we would have called either of them out on it too.  But Teflon John walks away unscathed.  It happened yesterday during McCain‘s on his Middle East trip.  At a press conference in Jordan, he needed fellow Sen. Joe Lieberman to bail him out. 


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ):  Well, it‘s common knowledge and has been reported in the media that Al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and coming back into Iraq from Iran.  That‘s well known and it‘s unfortunate. 

I‘m sorry.  I‘m sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not Al-Qaeda. 


ABRAMS:  So McCain had made the mistake twice before earlier in that press conference and in a radio interview.  But here‘s what‘s really bizarre.  Even though McCain admitted that he was wrong, today his campaign issued this statement, quote, “Al Qaeda and Shia extremists - with support from external powers such as Iran -  are on the run but not defeated.

Such as Iran.  He already admitted he was wrong.  McCain is running on the strength of his foreign policy knowledge and judgment.  So how is this not a major story? 

Back with us is A.B. Stoddard, associate editor with “The Hill” and Republican strategist Brad Blakeman. 

All right, Brad.  First, let me ask you this.  If this had happened to Obama or Clinton, wouldn‘t the media have been all over it to the point that this would have been a huge issue for either candidate?


ABRAMS:  Really? 

BLAKEMAN:  No, I don‘t.  Let me tell you why.  I think the press were all over McCain for his misstatements as they should be.  He misspoke, but what he was right about was the fact that Iran, a Shia state, is supplying aid and comfort and killing Americans in Iraq. 

ABRAMS:  But that‘s not the point here.  I understand that you want to sort of help justify what he said.  And look, I accept the fact that people make mistakes.  The problem is, when you‘re running for president and you‘re running on your foreign policy experience, if it happened to Obama or Clinton, I think it could have devastated - If it happened to Obama, let‘s say, with this sort of lead that he‘s got, I think it might have even devastated his campaign. 

BLAKEMAN:  No, come on.  You‘re giving too much credence to the fact that McCain is somehow Teflon.  He‘s not at all.  He‘s been criticized for his statements as he should be. 

But the problem is, his statements pale in comparison to what‘s going on with the Democrats.  They‘re disenfranchising two important electoral states.  Obama has embraced a racist minister.  Clinton exaggerated her experience as first lady. 

ABRAMS:  Look, but that‘s why -

BLAKEMAN:  That‘s what has been dominating the news. 

ABRAMS:  Look, we have a segment called “On Their Trail” where I go after them and I explain who‘s going forward with the misstatements, the cheap shots and the blunders.  A lot of people talk about it when it comes to McCain and Obama. 

Let me bring A.B. in here.  It does seem to me that there is an entirely different standard.  And maybe it‘s because there‘s an ongoing fight between Obama and Clinton now.  But this story about McCain has been covered on a few programs.  It has been mentioned in passing.  But on the whole, when you look at sort of the macro media coverage, this would have been front page news all over the country if it happened to Clinton or Obama. 

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, “THE HILL”:  I agree completely.  I think that if Barack Obama had confused Sunni and Shia, Al-Qaeda, et cetera, it would have been a disaster.  He would have been Mr. Green, wet behind the ears, can‘t find his way around. 

If Hillary Clinton had done so, it would have been, oh that poor first lady.  She‘s just trying to pretend that she could be president, but it‘s not going to work. 

I think the problem for John McCain is that we assume that he knows his stuff, that he‘s Mr. National Security, so we say, it couldn‘t be an indication of his ignorance.  He must be tired.

mentioned in passing, but on the whole, when you look at the media coverage, this would have been front page news all over the country if it happened to Clinton or Obama. 

ABRAMS:  But that‘s - let me read this.  This is what McCain said to Kelly O‘Donnell, all right, tonight, in Jerusalem.  Here‘s what he said.  He said, “To think that I would have some lack of knowledge about Sunni and Shia after my eighth visit and my deep involvement in this issue is a bit ludicrous.”

Look, Brad, I‘m not going to challenge that statement.  But what I‘m going to say is, this is politics.  And whether he swears to us that he knew it and it would be ridiculous, the reality is he said it and said it again and again and again. 

BLAKEMAN:  He said it three times. 


BLAKEMAN:  He misspoke.  But he was right about - what he was right about is his policy.  What he was right about is that the Sunni-led Al-Qaeda is in Iraq killing our troops. 

ABRAMS:  All right. 

BLAKEMAN:  And what he was right about is Iran is sponsoring terrorism. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Look, whether he was right about that, there are a lot of things Clinton and Obama are right about that the press doesn‘t talk about every day on the news. 

BLAKEMAN:  Because they are not right very often. 

ABRAMS:  Brad, thank you very much.  I appreciate you coming on the program.  A.B., as always. 

This is an on-going segment, this “Teflon John.”  He has been getting too light a coverage, too-easy coverage from the media.  We‘re going to stay on him. 

Up next, will tonight‘s big winner or loser be Eliot Spitzer‘s alleged prostitute who lost out on $1 million for appearing in “Girls Gone Wild”?  An Idaho‘s senate candidate who‘s gone wild and legally changed his legal name to pro-life?  Or John Mason whose ex-fianc’e went wild and became known as the “runaway bride?”  He finally gets his wedding day, not to her.  Coming up on “Winners and Losers.”  And the “P.O.‘d Box” is coming up.


ABRAMS:  It‘s time for tonight‘s “Winners and Losers” for this 19th day of March, 2008. 

Our first loser - Eliot Spitzer‘s alleged prostitute, Ashley Dupree, who lost out on a million-dollar offer from “Girls Gone Wild.”  They discovered she already had gone wild on tape.  They found archived tape of Ashley shedding her clothes in Miami four years ago.  They say they have seven full-length tapes, including Ashley nude and in several same-sex encounters. 

Loser - Idaho‘s senate candidate Marvin Richardson, or from now on, Mr. Pro-life, literally; it‘s now his legal name.  The independent who is running the seat being vacated by Larry Craig is so adamant about his anti-abortion stance, he wants to appear on the ballot that way.  It would seem his stance is far more narrow than his predecessor who claimed he had a wide stance. 

But our big loser of the day - Vice President Dick Cheney for these comments on ABC this morning. 


DICK CHENEY, UNITED STATES VICE PRESIDENT:  The surge has worked.  That‘s been a major success. 

MARTHA RADDATZ, ABC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Two-thirds of Americans say it‘s not worth fighting. 


RADDATZ:  So?  You don‘t care what the American people think?

CHENEY:  No, I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuation of the public opinion polls. 


ABRAMS:  They haven‘t been fluctuating a whole lot lately.  They have to let him out more. 

Our big winner of the day - John Mason.  The ex-fianc’ of the infamous runaway bride, Jennifer Wilbanks.  She disappeared just days before their wedding in 2005, only to turn up several days later on the other side of the country.  He finally got married this weekend, fortunately for him, to another woman. 

Time for the “P.O.‘d Box,” your chance to tell me what you hate or love about the show.  A number of you wrote in after last night‘s discussion when we assessed Obama‘s race speech. 

First up, Margaret Wallace from Los Angeles, “I love you and your show, but I was so disappointed by your analysis of Obama‘s race speech.  Obama did an incredibly courageous thing by not throwing Rev. Wright under the bus.”

Margaret, it was courageous, but I remain extremely offended by the reverend.

Drane Reynolds says, “You idiot!  You missed the point you missed the point of the speech entirely.  You keep making this about Obama dispensing with a political liability, Rev. Wright.  He took the opportunity to project a vision for America, not just get himself off the hook.”

Drane, look, I may be an idiot, but the speech also came only after Rev. Wright became a political liability.  But this idiot agrees that it was not just to get himself off the hook.  But you, as a non-idiot, have to admit that it was not just a speech about a vision for the future either, right?

Adam Sharpe goes after me for discussing the repeated references to the unfair way the media portrayed it, “He never attacked the media.  He was saying that if the people only looked at snippets that are played by the media, they may not get a full measure of the man Rev. Wright is.  The media is being unfair to him.”

OK, Adam.  So you believe the media is being unfair.  I hate to break the news to you, but right or wrong, that‘s an attack on the media. 

Katie McCray, “Barack Obama gave such a great speech and you try to demean it by saying he attacked the media.  Was that all you heard?”

Katie, is that all you heard?  Did you not hear when I called it clever, smart, effective to reach out to working class, whites, or when I said it would have been a great closing argument again and again.  I talked about it being a great speech.

And Nikki wants to know, “Does your E-mail segment have to be called the “P.O.‘d Box?”  Are your viewers really that hostile towards you?  I think you‘re the most neutral guy on TV and I love that about you.  Half that time, you‘re wrong, but half the time, you‘re right.”

It was appropriately named.  Look at this, everyone is beating up on me tonight. 

Larry B. from Washington D.C. writes about our “On Their Trail” segment, “The score will always be driven by the statements and actions that you and your staff choose to include.  What does the score mean anyway?  Does the winner get a toaster or something?” 

It‘s funny, Larry.  Look, we all go through - we go through all the attack each candidate made that day and yes, we decide who made more misstatements and blunders.  But I do believe it accurately reflects who had a worse day in our opinion.

Remember to send your E-mails at  Please include your name and where you‘re writing from.  We go through all of them and appreciate every single one of them, even when you disagree with me. 

That‘s all the time we have for tonight.  You can E-mail me:  See you tomorrow.



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