Guests: Pat Buchanan, Lawrence O‘Donnell, Wayne Slater, April Ryan, Wesley Clark
DAN ABRAMS, HOST: Tonight: The White House smear machine is on. The target: their own former press secretary, Scott McClellan, after his new book blasts the White House and accuses them of misleading the country in the war.
And Hillary Clinton makes a final pitch to superdelegates claiming she has evidence to prove she‘s more electable than Obama. We fact-check it.
Among our guests: General Wesley Clark, Pat Buchanan, and Lawrence O‘Donnell.
And right wing bloggers convince Dunkin Donuts to pull this ad because of Rachel Ray‘s scarf. Yes, really.
VERDICT starts now.
Hi, everyone, welcome to the show.
Shocker: The White House is going after former press secretary, Scott McClellan, for his new book blasting the administration for, among others things, using propaganda to sell the war in Iraq.
Today, the White House slammed McClellan as disgruntled. The official talking points included the words—puzzled and sad. Some former White House officials took to the airwaves to discredit McClellan as well.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “HANNITY & COLMES/FOX NEWS)
KARL ROVE, FORMER BUSH ADVISER: This doesn‘t sound like Scott. It really doesn‘t. Not the Scott McClellan I‘ve known for a long time. Second of all, it sounds like somebody else. It sounds like a left wing blogger. Second of all, you‘re right, if he had these moral qualms, he should have spoken up about them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “ANDERSON COOPER 360”/CNN)
FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, FMR. BUSH HOMELAND SEC. ADVISER: As an advisor to the president, I, or Scott, have an obligation and responsibility to voice concerns on policy issues. Scott never did that on any issues as best I can remember and as best I know from my White House colleagues.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: He never spoke out?
TOWNSEND: No. And so, for him to do this now, frankly, strikes me as self-serving, disingenuous, and unprofessional.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ARI FLEISCHER, FMR. PRESS SECRETARY TO PRES. BUSH: He‘s now saying things that are 180 degrees the opposite of what he told me privately. What he said himself publicly from the podium and even what he said in TV interviews after he left the White House.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Joining me now: Wayne Slater of the “Dallas Morning News,” author of” Bush‘s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush”; April Ryan, White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks; MSNBC political analyst, Pat Buchanan, author of the new book, “Churchill, Hitler, and The Unnecessary War”; and, political analyst, Lawrence O‘Donnell.
All right. Pat, here‘s what the White House statement is today, “Scott, we now know, is disgruntled about his appearance at the White House. For those of us who fully supported him, before, during and after he was press secretary, we‘re puzzled. It‘s sad—this is not the Scott that we knew.”
Look, it‘s possible he is disgruntled. He‘s angry he was lied to and as a result, he‘s now writing this book. What‘s the problem?
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that‘s right. I think he was used, especially in the Scooter Libby matter and the Valerie Plame matter. He was sent out there to say things that proved to be untrue. He was misled by Rove. He was misled by Scooter Libby.
But I think he‘s going out there now and he‘s going right at the
president of the United States, Dan. What he‘s saying is, I mean, I
basically knew, that a lot of us knew, the president believes in democratic
imperialism, that‘s one of great reasons behind the war and he used however
ABRAMS: It wasn‘t a stated reason for the war.
BUCHANAN: They (ph) justified. I listen in all of his speeches, but the real reason for the war was WMD and the imminent threat of Saddam Hussein. Now, the question: Is Scott McClellan saying that Bush did not believe he had WMD or it was just a cover story? Or did he just use his stronger argument to take down Saddam Hussein?
But I do think this is a case of someone, and you know, I just find it mildly reprehensible that somebody would turn on the president of the United States not having expressed disagreements in there, why didn‘t he resign if he believed this is an unjust, unnecessary, unwise war and he sat there selling it?
ABRAMS: Because - Lawrence, I mean, first of all, he wasn‘t the one there during the lead up to the war but second of all, because life isn‘t perfect. I mean, you look at the debacle, if for example, the Jeffrey Wigand, did he go immediately and say, I want out, whistle blowers often don‘t go or if they do, they know that they‘re not going to be heard? I mean, this is the way the world works.
LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, POLITICAL ANALYST: It‘s great to hear Pat Buchanan complaining about the lack of courage in a White House, where White House staff did not come out and try to expose that White House. Pat was part of the most corrupt administration in the history of the United States, the Nixon administration, luckily, Pat wasn‘t one who went to jail.
But to this day, you can‘t get Pat Buchanan to say one negative word about the criminal operation called the Nixon administration that he worked inside of. That‘s what I call loyalty.
BUCHANAN: Let me just say, the break-in was a mistake, I agree with you. Go ahead.
O‘DONNELL: Finally, 2008, Pat Buchanan says the break-in was a mistake.
ABRAMS: All right. Wayne Slater, let me read you this—this statement from McClellan. I think you were surprised by this as well and you know as much about this administration and what was going on behind the scenes as anyone. The media - this is about cocaine use.
“The media won‘t let go of these ridiculous cocaine rumors, I heard Bush say.” This is in McClellan‘s words. “You know, the truth is, I honestly don‘t remember whether I tried it or not. We had some pretty wild parties back in the day and I just don‘t remember.
The overheard comment struck me and has stayed with me to this day—not for what it revealed or concealed about the young George W. Bush, but for what it said about Bush as an older man and political leader, especially as revealed through my later experiences working for him.
I remember thinking to myself, how can that be? How can someone simply not remember whether or not they used an illegal substance like cocaine? It didn‘t make a lot of sense.”
Were you surprised by that, Wayne?
WAYNE SLATER, DALLAS MORNING NEWS: I was surprised by that. I really was. And I think the reason I was surprised is because it seems at odds with other parts of the book that we‘ve read. It may not seem that way, it may seem that this is a real screed against George Bush and the administration but, in fact, if you really look at the book, and people in the next week or two, will be able to digest the entire thing.
Much of this is a balanced to both praise of George Bush and sort of critique of what George Bush in Scott McClellan‘s eyes had become. In a sense, Scott McClellan thought that he was being something of a loyalist. I know this would sounds absurd but something of a Bush loyalist and coming out and in bringing to the president, bringing publicly the idea now that there are real problems in the administration but a lot of those problems were those people who were surrounding them.
But when he made these comments about Bush, which I thought was a gratuitous reference in the book, it really surprised me and undercut at least that piece is, that part of Scott was attempting to tell the truth. That looks like a section designed to damage the president.
BUCHANAN: And to make money. I mean, that‘s appalling.
ABRAMS: Pat, why are you writing - I mean, we all—people write books in part to make money and in part to tell a story, right?
BUCHANAN: But let me, wait a minute now. I mean, this may be is an
old town tradition but the president of United States has honored this man
with the tremendous post, he‘s made him famous -
ABRAMS: And they lied to him.
BUCHANAN: And he turns around and starts talking about what Bush remembers about cocaine use 20 years ago. That is ratting out your boss. That is a rotten thing to do.
ABRAMS: Can you distinguish that from these comments about the war?
BUCHANAN: Yes, I certainly do in terms of the nature of them. I certainly do. That‘s the personal thing you don‘t say.
ABRAMS: April, go ahead. You want to get in?
O‘DONNELL: Pat Buchanan will always rise in opposition to the revelation of truth about president. That‘s what the Nixon administration was about - suppress the truth, hide the truth, cover up. Look, this stuff if true is a valuable historical contribution. And by the way, this guy, the president we know and president acknowledged he had a big drinking problem through a lot of his life. That‘s one way you don‘t remember whether you did cocaine.
ABRAMS: April, I want to ask you a question. As someone who‘s covered the White House, all right? I‘m going to play you a piece of sound of McClellan talking about Richard Clark‘s book when it came out. Remember, he was critical of the administration and the claim now that people are saying about McClellan is why didn‘t he speak about this earlier if he had a problem?
Here‘s McClellan talking about Clark.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MARCH 22, 2006)
SCOTT MCCLELLAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, I mean, you know, why all of a sudden if he had these grave concerns did he not raise these sooner, that this is one and a half years after he left the administration? And now all of a sudden, he‘s raising these grave concerns that he claims he had.
And I think you have to look at some of the facts. One, he is bringing this up in the heat of a presidential campaign. He has written a book and he certainly wants to go out there and promote that book.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: I mean, I guess that‘s his job, April. But that kind of sound byte doesn‘t help him.
APRIL RYAN, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS: It is he‘s - right. Do as I say, not as I do. But you know, one, any time there is any kind of negative where someone is talking, I‘m giving fact. Of course, the spin is to discredit them.
But one thing I can say for sure, in talking to Scott in the last days that he was in the White House, you know, Scott was very hurt. He was—he felt betrayed. He told me, he said—look, he said, “I can only really trust the president at this point.” You know, people were even reporting at the time that someone else was going to get his job. He was going to leave the White House. He didn‘t even know—he was very angry about that.
And he said at that time, “Look, the only person I can trust is the president.” He had lost all trust in those to include Karl Rove and Dick Cheney and all of the rest of them involved with leak-gate. And this is really the primary crux as to why this book is here today.
ABRAMS: And, Wayne, I think that that was really the focus of this book. I mean, look, there is—you made this point before about the cocaine suggestion surprised you, but a lot of this book is about Rove and Libby and suggestions about the vice president even, but it‘s not really attacking the president that much.
SLATER: Let me tell you, April has it exactly right because I‘ve talked to Scott a lot. Certainly, since he left the White House, as well as knowing him for years before that and that was Scott‘s intent. His intent in writing this book was to really articulate the problems of people like Karl Rove, who he really did not like, thought Karl Rove had sent him out to lie and to damage his own reputation and his own credibility—and others in the administration, who in Scott‘s mind were not serving the president well.
And so, much of this book, as people will see it, will see really a sort of positive as well as some of these negatives and I think that‘s what he wanted to portray.
ABRAMS: But, April, if that‘s the case, shouldn‘t we be offended by the way the White House is going in with these talking points—they‘re puzzled and they‘re sad? They‘re not sad or puzzled. They‘re angry. They‘re ticked off.
RYAN: Yes, they‘re angry. Yes, they‘re angry, Dan, and they have to be because, you know, the American public, of course, they were already saying—look, the president played and his top aides played on the emotions of the American public trying to intertwine Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, talking about weapons of mass destruction.
And you know, Scott said, you know, about a year ago, when I was talking to him about the book, I said to him, “What‘s the book is going to be about?” He said, “The truth.” And so, this is the truth as he sees it.
ABRAMS: Yes. I mean, so, Pat, isn‘t there something then—let‘s assume for a minute that he‘s not making this stuff up at a whole, right? That he believes it. But even just say believes what he‘s saying.
BUCHANAN: All right. But what bothers me is this, and I don‘t say
the guy is not telling the truth, I say the guy probably should not do
this, he should never talk about the personal -
ABRAMS: You‘re saying no one should write books about the president while they‘re in office?
BUCHANAN: They should—certainly should not write about the
ABRAMS: No matter how corrupt or how awful?
BUCHANAN: Look, Dan, you and I know personal secrets of friends we‘ve known, and bosses and things like that, you don‘t rant them out like that. But I will say this about Scott McClellan, I agree, he‘s a bitter and angry man. I understand that.
But what I don‘t understand if you believe your being—your country is being deceived into war, why would you continue to be a defender of that if you didn‘t believe in the war and guys are dying from it? Now, if that‘s the case and you believe that, you say—Mr. President, I love you, but I can‘t support this war and I certainly can‘t support these arguments, I don‘t believe it and I don‘t think I belong in this job.
ABRAMS: But Lawrence, I mean, even he -
RYAN: But that‘s what Republicans are saying right now, what about the Democrats? Democrats are basically saying—why didn‘t you come out with this before? He‘s, I mean, he‘s caught in the middle.
BUCHANAN: Well, that‘s exactly right.
ABRAMS: But Lawrence, I mean -
O‘DONNELL: But that wasn‘t Scott McClellan‘s position. He doesn‘t say that they lied their way into the war. He simply says in the book that he thinks history is on the verge of concluding with the majority of the American public is that the war was a mistake. McClellan doesn‘t say, when we were ramping up to this war, I thought it was a mistake or I had evidence it was a mistake. He doesn‘t say that.
ABRAMS: Wayne, look, final question on this. When they say that they are, you know—sad and puzzled, this is not the Scott McClellan that they knew, et cetera - I mean, look, the other way to look at it is—boy, sometimes someone who doesn‘t just fall into the party lines, someone who decides that the facts are more important than loyalty, is going to surprise you?
SLATER: That‘s exactly right. And that‘s what as exactly what‘s happened here. In the Bush operation and Bush world there are two teams—your team and everybody else. In this case, Scott McClellan has cut himself off and he‘s no longer a loyalist.
BUCHANAN: A lot of folks here are praising this guy as a hero because he is doing their work for them.
RAY: I‘ve heard more negatives than I‘ve heard positives.
O‘DONNELL: He‘s contributing to history, Pat. He had a choice. He‘s
typing the pages -
BUCHANAN: When did you decide it was great history because it bashes Bush?
ABRAMS: All right. But maybe it‘s true.
BUCHANAN: Possibly true.
ABRAMS: So, that is history. If it‘s true, it‘s history, right, Pat?
BUCHANAN: Why are you enthusiastic about it?
ABRAMS: Because if it‘s true, it‘s history. If it‘s true, it‘s history.
BUCHANAN: If he came out and praised Bush -
ABRAMS: Because he‘s a loyalist. He‘s one of Bush‘s old time friends coming out in a way that someone who has known the president for a long time and had no agenda to go after him.
BUCHANAN: Suppose he walked out and say, let me tell you—this is
the greatest president you‘ve ever seen and those guys at MSNBC - they‘re
just after Bush, would we be talking about -
ABRAMS: We if he‘s saying the guys at MSNBC are after Bush, would I be celebrating the book, no, I‘d say it‘s not true, so it‘s not history.
ABRAMS: Thanks to my panel.
Coming up, how will this book impact the 2008 campaign and John McCain in particular? General Wesley Clark joins the panel.
And Hillary Clinton argues to superdelegates that she has a better shot at beating McCain than Obama. We‘re on her trail fact-checking the claims.
Plus: Republican Senator Ted Stevens slams the G.I. Bill even though the G.I. Bill paid his way through college. Why America Hates Washington is coming up in 60 seconds.
ABRAMS: Tonight‘s edition of Why America Hates Washington: Alaska Senator Ted Stevens pooh-poohing the new G.I. Bill which would give today‘s veterans the same level of benefits he received after serving in World War II. Speaking to a group of disabled American veterans over Memorial Weekend, Stevens said today‘s vets shouldn‘t get the same deal he got because the military can‘t afford to lose them.
Senator Stevens getting his tuition paid but denying the same benefit to others, another reason Why America Hates Washington.
We‘re back with more about Scott McClellan‘s book, and how it will impact the 2008 campaign, General Wesley Clark, Pat Buchanan, the panel, are back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “TODAY”/NBC)
TIM RUSSERT, MODERATOR OF “MEET THE PRESS”: It will fuel the debate about the war in Iraq, whether or not we should have gone into Iraq. John McCain said yes, Obama said no. I believe that this will be expert testimony used by the Democrats against their incumbent president.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: NBC‘s Tim Russert on the effects former Press Secretary Scott McClellan‘s new book could have on this year‘s election. McClellan describes a president determined to go to war in Iraq and the lengths to which the White House went to mislead the public.
Barack Obama‘s campaign wasted no time today, linking the book with John McCain, saying, quote, “On the day after the former White House press secretary conceded that the Bush administration used deception and propaganda to take us to war, it seems odd that Senator McCain who bought the flawed rationale for war so readily, would be lecturing others on their depth of understanding about Iraq.”
Joining me now, former NATO supreme allied commander, presidential candidate, and Hillary Clinton supporter, General Wesley Clark; and back with us is Pat Buchanan.
All right. Let me, we just got this and John McCain was just asked the question about this book by NBC‘s Kelly O‘Donnell and here‘s what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I‘m sure people will judge me on my record, and including my advocacy for and strong opposition to a failed strategy and Iraq and for the strategy that is succeeding. I‘m very confident to that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: General Clark, how significant does this book become on the 2008 campaign?
GEN. WESLEY CLARK, HILLARY CLINTON SUPPORTER: Well, it probably—actually it‘s probably a little early coming out to have the staying power to make a dent in the campaign but it certainly sets the backdrop, and should raise some questions, and hopefully, the media as well as the Democrats will use it to ask those important questions.
Look, all of us at the time who had seen intelligence, who understood what was going on in Washington, were asking questions. A few of us got to speak out about it. I‘m glad Scott McClellan has seen the light after he got out of the administration and he‘s told it the way I believe it really was—the administration did use deception. They did use exaggeration.
They did use innuendo and implication and threat to sort of herd the American people into fighting a war. That was a war of choice, it wasn‘t a necessity.
ABRAMS: So, Pat, how does McCain distance himself for something like this?
BUCHANAN: Well, I think, I mean, this hurts. There‘s no doubt about it because the appearance is that the administration cherry-picked and hyped intelligence that made their case, ignored what did not made their case, they proved to be wrong about the weapons of mass destruction, and they made that argument based on it to cover the argument that Bush believes in global democracy to make us secure. So, what I think it does is it puts a cloud over why we went into Iraq.
ABRAMS: And isn‘t that a cloud over John McCain?
BUCHANAN: It is a cloud over McCain and it‘s a cloud over Hillary Clinton, quite frankly, who voted for the war as well. But there‘s no doubt, this looks like, again, to the American people—the Republicans and Bush and the whole gang—they deceived into us into this war, we don‘t want the war now, let‘s get rid of them and McCain is close to him. So, I think some of it splashes off on him undoubtedly.
ABRAMS: Let me - yes, go ahead.
CLARK: Well, I just want to say, Dan, if I could. I think there was a big difference if you go back and look at the statements on the record in 2002 between John McCain and Hillary Clinton. Hillary Clinton reluctantly went along with this. John McCain was pushing for it. He‘s seen a threat behind every rock over there. He‘s never been slow to advocate the use of force.
Frankly, when I had to use force as a NATO commander in Kosovo, he did support me, and I was grateful for that support. But I think that was a much different case than we had in Iraq and he was out there just champing at the bit to get in there and mix it up with Saddam Hussein. And I think the best rule is: Don‘t go to war unless there‘s no other choice.
BUCHANAN: Right. I think, John McCain, however, will stand up and
forthrightly defend his decision to go to war and he will say it was the
right thing to do. I‘m not sure -
ABRAMS: What about the reasons for it, though? I mean, this book is about a lot of this isn‘t about the decision to go to war per se, it‘s about why we went to war.
BUCHANAN: I think - I‘ve read John McCain‘s speeches. They‘re very much track with George Bush‘s about this idea that we can‘t be secure until the world is democratic, and we got an obligation to make the world democratic. I mean, Bush said we‘re going to eliminate tyranny from this world in his inaugural.
I do believe that John McCain and Bush do believe there was truth in
their statements about whether -
ABRAMS: Wait. There was truth meaning, a kernel of it?
BUCHANAN: No, no. I think they believed he had weapons of mass destruction. I was against the war, I thought he had weapons of mass destruction.
And what about Hillary Clinton, General Clark—I mean, does this hurt Hillary Clinton as much as it does McCain?
CLARK: No, I don‘t think it hurts Hillary Clinton. I mean, Hillary Clinton did vote for that resolution. She did it because it was the only way to get the problem to the U.N., she did not want to go to war.
And so, I don‘t think it‘s at all the same as it is with John McCain. But I do think it raises the issue of this administration, the character and integrity of the administration, the character and integrity of the people that John McCain is aligning himself with. And so, I think it does have a carry-over effect.
But, again, this is not just for Democrats to make. I think some of
the interesting comments in the book are the criticism of the media and why
the media didn‘t ask tougher questions. And something that always -
ABRAMS: Look, there‘s no question there‘s blame to go around but the notion, again, that the media is to blame for not pushing the spinners harder and him being one of the spinners is a little bit of a hard sort of intellectual belief to make.
BUCHANAN: Why didn‘t you challenge my phony statements?
ABRAMS: Yes, exactly. How did you believe me?
CLARK: How do you let me get away with that? I know. But maybe this
is the kind of testimony -
BUCHANAN: This is why I don‘t think Scott is a hero.
CLARK: This maybe the kind of testimony that actually needs to be
made. This is a guy who‘s been on the other side and he‘s sort of saying -
you know, in retrospect, I think you let me get away with too much. And I think you should have pushed harder.
Because it looks to me like this is a guy who was caught up in the system, he was caught up in the power - personalities and went along with them until he got out.
BUCHANAN: But, general, he‘s also a fellow who‘s moved when he can
make millions of dollars. He‘s number one on Amazon.com. He‘s hitting -
ABRAMS: That‘s the same place they‘re selling your book, right Pat?
BUCHANAN: Yes. We‘re not - we‘re moving but we‘re not near number one.
ABRAMS: The new book on Churchill and from that 1901 to the late 1930s. Pat, thanks for joining.
BUCHANAN: Thank you, sir.
ABRAMS: General Clark is staying with us.
Coming up: Clinton claims she‘s the one who can beat McCain in the general election not Obama, citing, quote, “every poll.” We‘re on her trail assessing fact from fiction.
And the big three anchors did a round this morning and offer up some Beat the Press moments, that‘s next.
Your VERDICT—E-mail us at email@example.com Your e-mails are in the P.O.‘ed box at the end of the show. Please include your name, where you‘re writing from.
Back in a minute.
ABRAMS: It‘s time for tonight‘s Beat the Press.
A special Beat the Press tonight. The big three: Brian Williams, Katie Couric, and Charlie Gibson made the morning show rounds today together to promote stand up to cancer, an hour long event that will be simulcast on NBC, CBS, and NBC in September to raise money for cancer research—a topic close to my heart. But they still managed to have fun beginning with CBS at 7:30.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE EARLY SHOW”/CBS)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know I have a very clean you know what.
KATIE COURIC, TV ANCHOR: Colon.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, exactly right. Thanks to you.
COURIC: People often think of me when they have the colonoscopy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: The three anchoteers (ph) then made their way to the “TODAY” show, a reunion for Matt and Katie together in the studio for the first time in almost two years.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “TODAY”/NBC)
MATT LAUER, TV HOST: With your gentlemen‘s position, watching the car
pull up, yes, can only -
COURIC: Can we have a moment?
LAUER: Watching the car pull up, seriously, you know at 7:45, just reminded me of what time you used to normally get here for the show.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you want to run -
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Then they were heliported, not really, over to ABC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “GOOD MORNING AMERICA”/ABC)
CHARLIE GIBSON, TV HOST: We want to say together, one, two, three -
BRIAN WILLIAMS/COURIC/GIBSON: Good morning, America.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Say with feeling next time, Katie, good morning, America.
COURIC: I tried. Good morning, America.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Congrats to all of them for coming together for a good cause.
We need your help Beating the Press. If you see anything right or wrong, amusing or absurd, go to our Web site: Verdict.msnbc.com. Please leave us a tip in the box, please include the show and time you saw the item.
Up next: Hillary Clinton lays out her final argument as to why she has got a better shot at beating John McCain than Obama. She bases it on, quote, “every analysis, bit of research, and every poll in every state a Democrat has to win.
We‘re on her trail assessing fact from fiction.
And later: The Democrats meet this weekend to decide what happens in Michigan and Florida. But there is now talk that Clinton will take it to the convention in August?
ABRAMS: Welcome back. Hillary Clinton‘s final argument to superdelegates - it‘s a two-page letter leaked to reporters today. In it, Clinton lays out her case that she‘s a stronger nominee than Barack Obama. Tonight, we‘re on her trail, assessing her claims. Still with us, retired general and Hillary Clinton supporter Wesley Clark. Political analyst Lawrence O‘Donnell is with us as well.
All right. First up, in her letter, Clinton cites none other as Karl Rove in making her claim that she has better shot at beating John McCain in November. Clinton writes, quote, “Nearly all independent analyses show I‘m in a stronger position to win the Electoral College.” Then as part of their evidence in this independent analysis, Clinton camp includes maps drawn up by Rove.
His version of the map shows Clinton leading McCain by more than 50 electoral votes with 73 votes in the toss-up category. Rove‘s hypothetical map which—between Obama and McCain shows McCain leading Obama by just 17 votes with 79 votes as toss-ups.
General Clark, Karl Rove as the source of independent analysis?
RET. GENERAL WESLEY CLARK, CLINTON SUPPORTER: Well, you know, Dan, he proved he knows what he‘s talking about. When it comes to getting people elected, he did it twice.
ABRAMS: Except in 2006, right?
CLARK: Well, he did it for George W. Bush twice and, you know, he‘s a pretty shrewd analyst. A lot of us don‘t like what he did in the White House, and maybe some of it was even illegal. But you‘ve got to give the devil his due.
ABRAMS: But doesn‘t - but isn‘t there some legitimacy to the claim that Karl Rove may have a stake in this and that the longer this goes, the better it is for the Republicans and as a result, he wants to keep pushing the Hillary argument?
CLARK: I think that superdelegates really have to look at all of facts and all of the analyses. And have to see through whatever motives various sources might have. And one of the things I learned running for president is that just about every piece of advice you get is colored by someone‘s motives in giving to you. There‘s no such thing as objectivity in this realm.
O‘DONNELL: Well, you know, if you looked at the polls in 1992 at this point in the race, it was Bill Clinton running third against Ross Perot and George W. Bush. So professionals know that these polls at this stage mean absolutely nothing, that you have to run a general election campaign to find out who‘s actually going to win the White House.
And you know, one of the problems with the Hillary calculation is that it assigns exactly zero votes from the entire state of Michigan to Barack Obama. Now, voters in Michigan were well primed by the media there. It was made very clear to them that it was impossible to go to the polls and vote for Barack Obama. So I think we can fairly assume there were people living in the state of Michigan who didn‘t go to the polls that day or did go to the polls that day and by the way, didn‘t vote for Hillary Clinton. I mean, you know, why didn‘t Hillary 100 percent of the vote in Michigan?
ABRAMS: Next up, the Clinton camp arguing that a primary or caucus win should be assessed by their electoral value - this is in the letter that is just released - as if the candidate won the general election in that state not a primary, quote, “The states Hillary Clinton has won in the primary have a total of 308 electoral votes; the states Sen. Obama has won have a total of 224 electoral votes. Hillary won seven of the eight states with the most electoral votes - Sen. Obama won his home state of Illinois.”
Now, I think the problem here, Gen. Clark, is that - you know, doesn‘t that assume that only Clinton can win the states she won in the primaries, for example, like California and New York?
CLARK: Well, what it says is that the general election is uncertain. I mean, nobody knows - just like Lawrence says, nobody knows what‘s going to happen in the general election. So what it‘s saying is you‘ve got to win the states. You should pick someone who seems to be intrinsically stronger in those states. That‘s the argument.
ABRAMS: But Lawrence, it sounds to me like they‘re going further than that. I mean Gen. Clark is making a more rational argument than the one that they‘re making.
O‘DONNELL: That‘s true. And you know, in the current California polls, Barack Obama does better against John McCain than Hillary Clinton did and we all know Hillary Clinton handily won the State of California. And Hillary Clinton is counting that she‘ll win Texas, you know, which the Democrats aren‘t going to win Texas this time. We know that, but she did win Texas in the primary.
You know, there are other things we don‘t know. Who will Barack Obama‘s vice presidential candidate be? Now, I have been predicting for a very long time that he‘s going to have to get someone with very strong military credentials like John McCain has on that ticket. And if he were to pick someone like oh, say - Gen. Wesley Clark, he could pick up the state of Arkansas, Wesley Clark‘s home state. And so there‘s a lot of things we have yet to find out about how this general election is going to be run, including what happens to the general on this show tonight.
ABRAMS: Lawrence, you‘ve changed the order of the show.
CLARK: Well, but the most important thing is who‘s going to be the nominee? That‘s the question that‘s at hand.
ABRAMS: But let‘s assume for a minute that it‘s Obama. Gen. Clark, what do you think of the possibility of Gen. Wesley Clark as the vice president?
CLARK: Well, I just haven‘t thought about it. I think it‘s presumptuous. I think really where we are right now is - and Dan, think about this. I mean we‘ve got this very important meeting coming up. We‘ve got the superdelegates charged here and surely we‘re going to have the superdelegates focused on the choice at hand. Who can best represent the Democratic Party and best win the general election. That is the issue.
ABRAMS: That may be the issue. Let me play this piece of sound from Bob Shrum from “Meet the Press” on April 13th.
We don‘t have it. OK. He said, “I think you have the bet Obama is going to be the nominee. And I think under those circumstances, he‘ll pick someone with a military background despite what he said. And I think Wes Clark might be it. Now, I know why you don‘t really want to talk about this a whole lot because you‘re still hoping that Hillary Clinton may be able to pull this out.
But, you know, assuming she doesn‘t, they are going to be looking for a military person, maybe, and they might be looking for a Hillary Clinton supporter. So you know, you said you haven‘t started thinking about it. I‘ve got to tell you, General, you‘ve got to start thinking it, because they may be calling pretty soon.
CLARK: But, Dan, look, assumptions can get you in a lot of trouble. And right now, what we‘re doing is we‘re trying to help Hillary become the next president.
ABRAMS: Yes. Well, we‘ll continue. Let‘s go back—
O‘DONNELL: Dan. Dan -
ABRAMS: Yes, go ahead.
O‘DONNELL: Dan, I think Gen. Clark should have started thinking about this a year ago when I said that both Hillary and Obama should pick Gen. Clark as the vice presidential nominee, no matter which one of them got nominated.
ABRAMS: All right. He wants to change the subject.
O‘DONNELL: All right.
ABRAMS: All right. I know. I‘ve done everything I can. Anything else I can get you to say on this, Wes? I mean, anything? Any news I can get from you on this one.
CLARK: I‘m really happy to be here talking about who‘s going to be our next president. That‘s the issue.
ABRAMS: All right. I got it. Next up, Clinton on the stump in Montana yesterday (UNINTELLIGIBLE) claiming that she has a bigger lead than Obama in every state that will matter in November.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You have to ask yourself, who is the stronger candidate? And based on every analysis of every bit of research and every poll that‘s been taken and every state that a Democrat has to win, I am the stronger candidate against John McCain in the fall.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Well, here she does have a real argument, Lawrence. Clinton does lead Obama in polls in key swing states like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. That‘s the significant argument. The problem is she‘s saying she‘s a stronger argument in every state a Democrat has to win, probably an overstatement because you know, take the state of Washington John Kerry won in 2004. Clinton leads McCain there by just four points, while Obama holds a 12 point lead. Or Oregon - Clinton leads McCain by six points, Obama leads by 14. I don‘t know if Colorado is a state that a Democrat has to win, but there‘s certainly a lot of talk about it. And Obama‘s beating McCain there by six points and Clinton is losing by three points in the latest polls.
But look, this is one of our strongest arguments, isn‘t it. It‘s not one that‘s going to sway the superdelegates in my view, but it‘s probably her strongest argument.
O‘DONNELL: She does have a strong argument and Obama has a very strong argument. And you know, let‘s just say she would win New York, say, by more votes than Obama, so what? They‘re both going to get the New York electoral votes. The other way to look at this - this is the way the superdelegates have been looking at this - is has one of these candidates earned a place on this ballot in a way that the other one didn‘t?
O‘DONNELL: And that can be a different calculus from which one is the stronger candidate.
O‘DONNELL: And you know, stronger might not be the way it ends up.
ABRAMS: And Gen. Clark, isn‘t the reality that none of these superdelegates are going to be convinced by any of these arguments? I mean, come on.
CLARK: Well, I hope that the superdelegates are going to be selfless. I hope they‘re not thinking about, you know, who their loyalty is, who helped them, who is going to support them, what the next position is. I hope it‘s all about selflessness because that‘s why we created this superdelegate system and that‘s why we have American politics the way it is. We‘re looking for selfless service. This is one of the toughest calls these people are going to make in their entire lives.
ABRAMS: I‘ve got to tell you, I think it‘s actually at this point it‘s probably not that tough a call for them. The tougher call may be what happens if it‘s the Obama-Clark ticket. Do you want to comment on that?
ABRAMS: I‘m just kidding.
O‘DONNELL: That‘s the -Dan, that the unity ticket. That‘s how you get unity with the Clinton campaign. It‘s a brilliant technique.
ABRAMS: Non-vice presidential candidate Gen. Clark and Lawrence are staying with us.
Up next, the coming showdown in Washington this weekend as the Clinton and Obama campaigns battle over what to do with Michigan and Florida. Now a new legal ruling can be in the fight goes all the way to the convention.
And the annual race for a wheel of cheese. It‘s coming up in 60 seconds.
ABRAMS: Now to “Reality Bites,” a dose of reality caught on tape.
Tonight, to Gloucester, England for their annual cheese rolling contest. Hundreds of competitors gathered on the 45-degree incline of Cooper‘s Hill to chase a wheel of cheese. Rainy conditions sent cheese chaser tumbling rather than running, but fortunately most escaped without any serious injuries. Nineteen-year-old Christopher Anderson won the race and was carried off on a stretcher after tumbling past the finish line and slightly injuring his back. We‘ll be right back.
ABRAMS: We‘re back. The Democratic Party heading into a make or break showdown this weekend. The meeting set for Saturday could lead to Clinton versus Obama going all the way to the convention. The party‘s Rules Committee trying to resolve the issue of how or whether to seat the delegates from Michigan and Florida. Both states stripped their delegates for holding the primaries too early in violation of party rules. Obama wasn‘t even on the ballot in Michigan.
It‘s beginning to seem like a compromise is becoming more unlikely. Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson demanding again that all the delegates from both states be seated at the convention.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
HOWARD WOLFSON, CLINTON SPOKESMAN: We are going to go to the committee with our position. We think it is the fair position. We think it‘s a position which is well within the construct of the rules. And very importantly, we think it is the position that recognizes the vote of 2.3 million people which just cannot be blithely swept aside as the Obama campaign apparently has been willing to do month after month.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
ABRAMS: Here‘s what could be the big problem. In a memo to the committee, DNC lawyers are now saying the party was within its rights when it stripped both states of all their delegates. And Rules Committee, they say, doesn‘t have the power to restore all of them. According to DNC lawyers, a later meeting of the Credentials Committee could restore the delegates but that decision couldn‘t be finalized until the first day of the convention in August.
So is the Democrat‘s nightmare scenario of a floor fight in Denver really a possibility now? “Chicago Sun Times” columnist and Washington bureau chief Lynn Sweet joins us along with Gen. Wesley Clark and Lawrence O‘Donnell.
All right. Gen. Clark, look, as a Clinton supporter, if the Clinton camp doesn‘t hear exactly what they want to hear this weekend, are they going to effectively appeal this, which means it goes to the convention?
CLARK: I would say this, Dan - I think it‘s - it will be a shame and a travesty for the Democratic Party not to count every single vote. I mean, how can you use some technicality to screen out the votes of over 2 million people?
ABRAMS: Is it a technicality that Obama wasn‘t on the ballot in Michigan?
CLARK: At any time, they could have gone back and redone the election. The point is that one of the things we should have learned as a nation in 2000 is when people vote, count it. One of the things we‘ve always said in the military is, don‘t punish the troops. If something was done wrong by the leadership of the party in Michigan, then punish the leadership of the party, but let those votes count.
ABRAMS: But getting back to my question, if they don‘t hear what they want to hear, do you expect that the Clinton camp will appeal this in a way that it will go to the convention?
CLARK: I suspect that they will appeal it but maybe there will be enough - at this point, enough energy in the Democratic Party to let people vote again or do whatever has to be done. But people have a right to have their votes counted and that is fundamental in democracy and that is what this is about.
ABRAMS: Lynne Sweet, if there‘s ever an expert on the DNC Rules Committee - we didn‘t know that there was such a thing - you may one of them. Tell us, as a practical matter - I mean this legal ruling seems to sort of lead towards the possibility of this not being resolved until the convention.
LYNN SWEET, “CHICAGO SUN TIMES”: Absolutely. That‘s a potential. The DNC hopes to have this resolved Saturday or maybe slip over into Sunday for the rules and by-laws committee which by the way, Dan and everyone, this is a very hot ticket in Washington. There are 500 seats and they are all spoken for already.
ABRAMS: How much are they scalping those for now? Do you know?
SWEET: I don‘t know. Maybe they are on eBay right now. We could check before the segment is over, and you know, maybe that would be something. But in all seriousness, there‘s no political incentive, I think, for the Clinton people and you know - General, tell me what you think - to really concede anything on Saturday if things don‘t go their way, which, by the way they will not probably go their way before they, you know, have the election Sunday in Puerto Rico and in Montana and South Dakota on Tuesday.
CLARK: Well, I think that‘s right.
ABRAMS: Let me bring in Lawrence. So how do they resolve this, Lawrence. I mean, look, you‘ve said to us that your reporting has indicated that Hillary Clinton was ready to sort of close up shop in the middle of June. But in this campaign, things have been changing day by day.
O‘DONNELL: No, they haven‘t. They will close up by June, a senior campaign official told me that. I think they will reach a tentative resolution this weekend. The problem for the Clinton campaign and they know it when they present their case, is the first question they‘re going to be asked is, how many votes should we assign to Obama in Michigan? And that is unanswerable and that is going to put the Clinton campaign on the side of an effect of vote counts suppression and they‘re not going to be able to sustain that position.
SWEET: Actually, that‘s not how the - this isn‘t just - Whatever the solution is, it‘s not kind of a haggling situation where you say, you know, “I want 10, you want eight. Let‘s, you know, compromise at nine.” There has to be some - there was going to be some authoritative guideline for figuring out once, if you have the principle of should the votes be - should the punishment be rethought. Remember, this is a punishment situation that everybody bought into. And there‘s going to be some punishment for jumping ahead.
ABRAMS: I‘ve got to wrap it up. But Lynn, real quick, is this going to be resolved this weekend? Yes or no - do you think?
ABRAMS: OK. See, right there I think that‘s the great - Wes is nodding.
CLARK: This is a very important principle, Dan. Every vote must count. Every Democrat should say that.
ABRAMS: The Clinton talking points continue, but look, I‘m not saying you‘re wrong.
CLARK: It‘s not the Clintons, it‘s America‘s talking point.
ABRAMS: Fair enough. Good answer. Gen. Clark, great to see you back on the program. Appreciate it. Lynn Sweet and Lawrence O‘Donnell, thanks a lot.
SWEET: Thank you.
ABRAMS: Up next, will tonight‘s big winner or loser be organizers of the “Sex and the City” premiere who overbooked the event leaving 2,000 ticket holders in the rain. Dunkin‘ Donuts for overreacting to right-wing pressure over a scarf. Or polygamy leader Warren Jeffs seen in photos with wives not over the age of consent. Plus your E-mails in the “P.O.‘d Box” when we come back.
ABRAMS: It‘s time for tonight‘s “Winners and Losers” for this 28th day of May, 2008. Losers, the organizers of the “Sex in the City” New York premiere. 2,000 of the 6,000 ticket holders for the big event at Radio City were left standing in the rain. Many decked out in their Carrie Bradshaw best. The theater only holds 4,000. Some spent thousands of dollars getting to New York. But they watched the show. They probably guess that that sort of nonsense happens in New York.
Loser, Dunkin‘ Donuts for caving under pressure from the far right-wing blog. They pulled an ad with Rachel Ray because she was wearing a scarf that someone the fringe thought looked too much like the traditional scarf worn by Muslim terrorists. In a statement, Dunkin‘ Donuts says absolutely no symbolism was intended. Maybe the right wing bloggers were just angry they didn‘t get into the “Sex and the City” premiere.
Our big loser, polygamist Warren Jeffs and his FLDS church, after creepy pictures were released of the jailed 52-year-old leader, with two of his underaged wives. One of them 12 years old. The photos show Jeffs kissing and embracing the girls in what is apparently their wedding and first anniversary pictures.
Our big winner of the day, Madonna. A judge ruled today she is now officially the mother of the Malawian boy she adopted in 2006. The judge called her and her husband, quote, “perfect parents” to raise two-year-old David.
Time now for the “P.O.‘d Box,” your chance to tell me what you love or hate about the show. First up, a lot of reaction to our coverage of the Scott McClellan book and his accusations against the Bush administration.
Stephen Ramsay writes, “Thank you for standing on the side of the American public on the Scott McClellan revelations for his book. Gov. Rendell and Tucker Carlson were trying to play it down as political types would, but the truth is that it is shocking.” It was related to last night‘s coverage of it. I was stunned how nonchalant they were at the time.
Mark Bye says, “A true patriot would have stood up for what was right at the time and would not have waited for cover years later in order to make quick buck off the lies, deceit and criminality within the administration.” Maybe he‘s not a true patriot, but that doesn‘t mean that his book is not important.
Ellen Johnson, “The press secretary isn‘t a major policy maker so give Scott a break.
You can E-mail us - firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name and where you‘re writing from. Our Web site is Verdict.MSNBC.com. See you tomorrow night.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.