IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

'The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell' for Thursday, May 26th, 2011

Read the transcript to the Thursday show

Guests: Rep. Antony Weiner, Robert Bennett, Ezra Klein

LAWRENCE O‘DONNELL, HOST:  I‘ve said it before, and I‘ll say it again.  Sarah Palin is the most recent losing vice presidential candidate who will never be president.  And she is not going to run for president.



CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTON POST:  The broader Sarah Palin branding—

Sarah Palin has pop culture figure, best-selling author,



O‘DONNELL (voice-over):  Sarah Palin needs attention.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It would just be another stunt to keep her name in the headlines.

O‘DONNELL:  She‘s got a new gimmick.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A multistate bus tour this Sunday.

CILLIZZA:  A bus tour.

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS:  Heading up the East Coast of historic sites.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wonder if that includes Coney Island.

SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  I‘m still seriously considering it and praying about it.

MITCHELL:  Now, Palin has bought a big house in Arizona.

MEGHAN MCCAIN, SENATOR MCCAIN‘S DAUGHTER:  I don‘t want to go to Phoenix and run into her at the grocery store.

PALIN:  I do have the fire in my belly.  I have that fire in my belly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Sounds ready, willing, and eager.

MITCHELL:  Supposedly has an independent producer doing a two-hour biopic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Might just be another stunt to keep her name in the headlines.

MITCHELL:  Former Palin staffer Frank Bailey today who spent four years at the former governor‘s side.

FRANK BAILEY, FORMER PALIN STAFFER:  I do not believe she would be a good leader.  I do not want to see her lead a party.  I do not want to see her lead this country.

O‘DONNELL:  But Palin can no longer steal all of the attention from the real presidential candidates.

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS:  Every day that there‘s a story about Sarah Palin running, that‘s a good day for Mitt Romney, isn‘t it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I want to be polite, less than stellar candidates.

MITCHELL:  Bachmann has been showing signs of some interest in the race.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN ®, MINNESOTA:  Make Barack Obama one-term president.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Sparkling diamonds in an iconic blue box have worked magic for men for decades.  But for Newt Gingrich, not so much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A diamond maybe forever.  Newt‘s presidential run, probably not.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He and his wife Callista have been dubbed the “Blingriches.”

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  -- half a million dollars worth of jewelry on credit.

NEWT GINGRICH ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  You‘re far more fascinated than most of America about that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No more questions.

O‘DONNELL:  Congressional Republicans are running in circles around the Paul Ryan plan to kill Medicare.

DICK CHENEY, FORMER U.S. VICE PRESIDENT:  I worship the ground that Paul Ryan walks on.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This is really touchy for the Republicans.

LUKE RUSSERT, NBC NEWS:  Real offensive by Republicans to ship the message -- 

MITCHELL:  Change the subject -- 

UNIDENTFIED MALE:  In 2012, we‘ll have to explain that decision.

RUSSERT:  -- controversial plan to make it into a voucher system.

HERMAN CAIN ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  -- is a voucher now.  A lot of people don‘t like to use that term.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It is not a voucher.

MITCHELL:  Where is the Democratic budget plan?


O‘DONNELL:  Good evening from New York.

The political press has suffered no greater embarrassment in recent memory than the way it fell for the obviously fake Donald Trump campaign for president.  Trump‘s act was so transparently fake that I could predict from this desk the exact time, place, and reason he would formally announce that he would not run for president.  I take no great credit for this very easy prediction, but the political press does deserve blame for failing to see clearly the fraud that was right in front of them every day in the person that was Donald Trump.

The political press proved itself to be the most gullible press in America.

Having learned absolutely nothing from the Trump experience, the press is at it again, over the second biggest fraud in our political landscape, Sarah Palin.  The greatest newspaper in America, indeed the greatest newspaper this country has ever had, “The New York Times,” jumped the shark today with its page one political coverage of Sarah Palin under the headline, “Recent Moves by Palin Hint at Candidacy.”

The article—here it is.  The article begins on page one, right here, jumps over to A-24, takes up more than half of page A-24, more than half the page.

And here are the hints.  Sarah Palin has purchased a home in Scottsdale, Arizona, for $1.7 million.  “The New York Times” authoritatively tell us in the photo caption right here, “associates of Ms.  Palin have said it could serve as a base for a presidential campaign.”

Yes.  I guess it could serve as a base for a presidential campaign.

My house, in theory, could serve as the base for a presidential campaign.  Your house could serve in theory as the base for a presidential campaign.  So sure, theoretically, it could serve as a base for a presidential campaign.

But most $1.7 million homes in Scottsdale, Arizona, serve as a base for retirement of very rich white people who enjoy the company of other retired, very rich white people.  The Palin home is actually minutes away from the home of Dan Quayle, where Palin can easily obtain authoritative tutorials on what life has in store for losing vice presidential candidates who will never be president.

The purchase of this home is a hint of absolutely nothing.

Another hint that “The Times” breathlessly reports is, quote, “rehiring two aides who have helped plan her political events,” end quote.  Wow!  Rehiring two aides.  Why would she be rehiring aides?

Well, first of all, because she fired those two aides.  These oh so important aides that “The New York Times” thinks hints at a presidential run were actually fired by Sarah Palin, and now, these two fire-able aides have been rehired by Palin, which right there defines them as the most desperately available aides in American politics.

Each of these aides are actually low level Republican operatives who know nothing, nothing about running a presidential campaign, or even a campaign for mayor of Phoenix.  They do know something about getting candidates to the airport on time and making sure their hotel mini bars are stocked correctly.  That‘s the kind of thing they‘ve done in the past.

In other words, they‘re pretty good at the services that a reality TV star and a public speaker for hire requires when on the road.  Neither of those aides is a hint that Sarah Palin is running for president.  And added together, those two aides do not add up to a hint that Sarah Palin is running for president.  They are evidence of absolutely nothing.

“The Times” got the quote it needed from Jeff Jorgensen.  “Whenever political reporters are doing stories about so-and-so might be running for president, they have to find someone who says, in effect, I think she‘s going to do it.  I think he‘s going to do it.”

This article, this big front page article that takes up half, more than half, of page A-24, relies entirely on Jeff Jorgensen for that key quote.

Now, Jeff Jorgensen is not accustomed to having front page “New York Times” articles built around his thinking.  A computer search of “The New York Times” Web site indicates that Jeff Jorgensen has never before appeared in “The Times.”  Jeff Jorgensen is the chairman of the Republican Party of Pottawattamie County, Iowa.

And that title is enough to make today‘s “New York Times” entrust to him the responsibility of delivering the most important quote in this article.  “All indications are that she will be in—her supporters have an intuition about it.”  That‘s the Jeff Jorgensen quote.  That‘s the “she‘s going to run” quote.

There is no indication in the article that Jeff Jorgensen has ever met Sarah Palin.  So, we called him today, and he confirmed my suspicion that he has never met Sarah Palin and has absolutely no idea what she might be thinking about anything.  And those Palin supporters in Pottawattamie County that Jeff Jorgensen says have an intuition about Palin running, they were actually able to deliver a second place to Sarah Palin in a straw poll in Pottawattamie County.

“The New York Times” didn‘t tell you this, but Jeff told us today that Sarah Palin was beaten in that straw poll by Herman Cain.  So much for the “fired up, ready to go” Palin troops.

The Jeff Jorgensen quote using the words “all indications” cannot be twisted in such a way that it could ever take the shape of an actual hint, a reportable hint, reportable by “The New York Times,” that Sarah Palin is running for president.

Then, there‘s Sarah Palin‘s contribution to the article, which is really Greta Van Susteren‘s contribution since the Palin quotes were lifted from an interview on FOX News where Palin said the magic words that political reporters are dying to hear.

The imagery of these words is ugly and stupid, and the phrase itself is absolutely meaningless.  But political reporters never tire of using it or hearing it.  And when they hear it, they suspect someone of harboring presidential ambitions.

Well, that‘s enough to get those reporters some space on the front page.  Yes.  Sarah Palin said it to Greta Van Susteren.  She said, “I have that fire in my belly.”


SARAH PALIN ®, FORMER ALASKA GOVERNOR:  I think my problem is that I do have the fire in my belly.  I am so adamantly supportive of the good traditional things about America and our free enterprise system.  And I want to make sure that America is put back on the right track, and we only do that by defeating Obama in 2012.

I have that fire in my belly.  It‘s a matter for me of some kind of practical, pragmatic decisions that have to be made.  One is with a large family understanding the huge amount of scrutiny and the sacrifices that have to be made on my children‘s part in order to see their mama run for president.

But, yes, the fire in the belly, it‘s there.  That‘s kind of my problem, is that it‘s such a roaring fire in my belly to preserve and restore all that‘s good about America that, you know, I struggle with that every single day.


O‘DONNELL:  Not just the fire in the belly, a roaring fire.  The woman has got a roaring fire in her belly, and she struggles with that every day.

That is the most intense, most overwhelming fire in the belly political porn that political reporters have ever seen.  I mean, ever.  And I almost feel sorry for them for falling for that.

If Sarah Palin had said fire in the belly once, it would have been enough to provoke a lot of press coverage.  She said it four times in one short answer.  She was obviously trying to get attention to her use of “fire in the belly” knowing that those are the magic words that would fuel speculation among political reporters.

But it is not a hint that the most recent losing vice presidential candidate who will never be president is actually thinking about running for president, seriously thinking about it.  It is very obviously a phrase chosen to manipulate press excitement about her.

Now, I don‘t know Sarah Palin.  You don‘t know Sarah Palin.  But we can think.  We‘ve spent some time on this planet observing human beings.

Do you think that Sarah Palin likes attention?  Do you think Sarah Palin was satisfied with the level of attention that she was getting in a political news year dominated by Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Barack Obama, Osama bin Laden, Newt Gingrich, Barack Obama, Paul Ryan?  I don‘t.  I don‘t think she was satisfied with how much attention she was getting.

Now, I can speculate about Sarah Palin as well as anyone else can.  As well as “The New York Times” can.  I can speculate that she loves being rich.  What rich person doesn‘t love being rich?

I can speculate that she knows how to read polls, the polls that show her having a prohibitively high disapproval rating that would prevent her from ever being elected president.

I can speculate that she‘s smart enough to realize that she has no better answer now than she did a few years ago to the question of what newspaper does she read.

I can speculate that she‘s smart enough to know that the other former Republican governors that actually served full terms, the ones who are actually running for president, know a lot more than she does about everything, and could humiliate her on a debate stage about anything.

I could speculate that like Donald Trump, she needs to drive up the

value of her public appearances, drive up her speaking fees, drive up her

price as a reality TV star.  And the only way for her to do that is to keep

speculation alive that she might, might run for president, because the day

the day that it becomes absolutely clear to everyone who doesn‘t already get it that Palin will never run for president, on that day, she becomes worth half as much or less as a reality TV star.


I can speculate that Sarah Palin is smart enough to know that.  She‘s been in show business long enough to know that.

I can speculate that the bus tour she announced today is a bus tour of the Northeast because it is really a bus tour conveniently located for the news media.  If it were a bus tour in search of Republican voters, it wouldn‘t start in Washington, D.C. and go north.

I could speculate that the absurdly titled documentary about Sarah Palin, “The Undefeated,” is going to open in Iowa because where else could you open a movie about Sarah Palin and get the political press to notice it and talk about it?  The Palin documentary is otherwise straight to DVD material.

I could speculate about all of these things, but there is no need for speculation in this case, because Sarah Palin‘s primary employer has done its duty and made it very clear to us on March 2nd exactly who in their stable is going to run for president and who is not going to run for president.


BRET BAIER, FOX NEWS:  Effective today, March 2nd, FOX News has suspended its contributor arrangements with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, both of whom have signaled possible runs for the president.


O‘DONNELL:  Roger Ailes has made it this very, very easy for us.  He got rid of anyone in his stable at FOX News who was even thinking about running for president.  He did not get rid of Mike Huckabee and he did not get rid of Sarah Palin, which means they each told him they were not thinking of running for president.

Still, when Huckabee created some fake suspense a couple of weeks ago by announcing that he would announce on his FOX News show whether he would run for president, “The New York Times” actually fell for that hype and reported it as news in a half-page article—reported it as news that Huckabee was not running for president, even though FOX News had made that very clear to us months before.  It may be more than we‘ve come to expect from Roger Ailes, but he has done an honest job of keeping the presidential candidates off his payroll this spring.

Today, Bill Shine, the executive vice president of programming at FOX News, told NBC News, quote, “We are not changing Sarah Palin‘s status.”

The press made the mistake of seeing Donald Trump as a political candidate when, in fact, his real occupation, the occupation he can never afford to quit, is TV star, which just so happens to be the real occupation of Sarah Palin.  And she can‘t afford to quit it either.

Coming up: former Senator John Edwards may fight the criminal charges against him in court.  The lawyer who defended President Clinton during the Lewinsky scandal joins us.

And Republicans are saying that voters don‘t like the Ryan plan to abolish Medicare because they don‘t understand it.  But most Republicans know that the real problem is that voters do understand it.

And Newt Gingrich does his version of the Sharron Angle run away in “The Rewrite.”


O‘DONNELL:  Nine Americans died today in Afghanistan, eight were killed today in an improvised explosive device attack in southern Afghanistan.  Officials tell us that the American unit was struck by two separate improvised explosive devices.  The ninth service member died in a helicopter crash in eastern Afghanistan.  It was the deadliest day in nearly a month and the worst IED attack against NATO forces since October of 2009.



REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE:  Special elections are just that.  They‘re special.  And when you look at what happened in this election, you have a third-party candidate that spent nearly $3 million attacking the Republican candidate.  And I could be somewhat critical of how the campaign was run, but the fact is we didn‘t win.  And part of—the small part of the reason we didn‘t win clearly had to do with Medicare.


O‘DONNELL:  Well, what did you expect them to say?  That the Paul Ryan plan to abolish Medicare destroyed the Republican candidate‘s chances in a heavily Republican congressional district last night?

The Republican line today, which virtually none of them believes, is that it‘s not ending Medicare that‘s the problem.  It‘s the party‘s messaging.

So, today, while sensible Republicans tried to map the path of retreat from the Paul Ryan plan, publicly, they worked on their message, adding a bankruptcy twist.


BOEHNER:  We have outlined a plan frankly that we believe in it.  And the other fact is that the Democrats have no plan, which is going to lead to bankruptcy and cuts in seniors‘ benefits.  It‘s about time that they are honest with the American people.


O‘DONNELL:  The Ryan plan has not been easy for Republican presidential candidates to deal with.  Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty has been twisting his position on the Ryan plan in a way that is not so easy to follow.


TIM PAWLENTY ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Our Medicare plan, which we‘ll have out shortly in the not-too-distant future, will have some differences.  We‘ll be offering a variety of choices to people where they can choose to stay in the current program or select from other options.

We‘ll have our own.  But if I can‘t have my own plan—I mean, as president, I‘ll have my own plan.  If I can‘t have that, and the bill came to my desk and I had to choose between signing or not Congressman Ryan‘s plan, of course I‘d sign it.


O‘DONNELL:  Republicans got some surprising and useless help from someone not normally regarded as an authority on Medicare.


CHENEY:  I worship the ground that Paul Ryan walks on.


O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now is New York Congressman Anthony Weiner, who represents parts of Brooklyn and Queens.

Congressman Weiner, thank you very much for joining us tonight.

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK:  It‘s my pleasure.

O‘DONNELL:  I want you to listen to what the newest member of the New York congressional delegation, your new colleague, Kathy Hochul, said to Rachel Maddow last night.


REP.-ELECT KATHY HOCHUL (D), NEW YORK:  I think the lesson to take away from this as well is that people in this district, when we spoke about the inequity of clearly the tax code where my folks on Main Street and the small town you listen and many more, and I met many of them, think it‘s unfair.  People in this area say we understand we have to get our debt under control and there‘s two ways to do it.  It cannot be all—we cannot cut our way out of it exclusively, and they sure don‘t like the priority of saying that our seniors should bear the brunt of this.  And I‘m talking about future seniors as well.


O‘DONNELL:  So, she ran a tax campaign, as well as a preserve Medicare campaign.

WEINER:  Yes, certainly, she did.  Look, the American people I think kind of have an understanding of what the challenges are that our country faces.  Very rarely do you stop—does someone stop me on the street and say, boy, I wish you‘d take away my Medicare from me or I wish you privatize Social Security.

The fact of the matter is that the Republicans, you know, they ran such a campaign that was all the things that they were against, that when it comes time for them to put forward their own plans, all they really are is to peel back the programs that many Americans like and support.  This was not an accident.  You know, it‘s true, they are tying themselves in knots trying to explain what‘s going on here, but what it really comes down to is the American people like the Democratically-created programs of Medicare, Social Security, and the like.  They believe that they are fundamentally good and should be saved.

O‘DONNELL:  You‘ve—I hope you‘ve seen that backstage video that we ran and that other shows have run about Bill Clinton talking to Paul Ryan backstage, where Ryan is very clearly saying to President Clinton, look, it was—we had to put something out there.  It was worth trying.  I mean, it‘s a throw in the towel conversation legislatively if I‘ve ever heard one.

Are you getting the sense from Republicans that despite the spin that, you know, oh, gee, it was about other stuff, that they realize that this is an unsellable plan, and what they are going to have to do is find a way to abandon it?

WEINER:  Not entirely.  You know, there‘s a lot of true believers in the Republican Caucus who fundamentally believe one of the things wrong with the country right now is Medicare.  They fundamentally believe but they don‘t understand how someone could possibly want that type of thing that has low overhead, relatively inexpensive compared to private insurance plans.  They just don‘t really get it.

And I do think that there is a political mindset over there, that you know what, we came to Washington to tear the place down.  Let‘s start with Medicare and we‘re not going to stop until we‘re successful.

Look, they are running for the exits.  We Democrats are doing everything we can to stop them from getting out.  I mean, they deserve to be in this situation because Republicans campaigned like the dickens lying about health care reform, lying about Medicare, and now, the American people frankly are onto it.

O‘DONNELL:  Congressman Weiner, if you take the Tea Party candidate and the Republican candidate in New York 26, and you add their total together, you still see a 20-point drop in what the last winning Republican, just in the 2010 election.  They got—the Republican candidate got 74 percent of that vote up there.  They have lost 20 points off of that.

And when you stare at that district, that seems like a campaign that you can duplicate in more than the 24 districts you need to win to get the House back.

WEINER:  Oh, absolutely.  You know what?  I bet you Paul Ryan has trouble winning his seat if we can make Medicare the issue that it is.

And I can tell you something else about that district, the notion that Speaker Boehner has that this third-party candidate took only Republican votes, he ran as a Democrat the last two times he ran.

This was a clear win on an issue-based campaign, in which basically the truth won out, and people of all political stripes at the end of the day may agree that you need to figure out some ways to get the cost of health care down.  And that‘s true throughout the system.

But deconstructing and eliminating Medicare is something that‘s not popular, but it does tell you where this Republican Congress wants to go.

And I‘ll tell you one other thing—in the very same book that they laid out their plans to eliminate Medicare as we know it, they also talk about privatizing Social Security.  That‘s the next conversation we‘re going to have.

O‘DONNELL:  If they can‘t find a way to disown that vote that they cast on that Medicare plan, you‘ve got to get ready to move back into the majority in the House of Representatives.

Congressman Anthony Weiner of New York, thank you very much for joining me tonight.

WEINER:  Thank you, Lawrence.

O‘DONNELL:  Former Senator John Edwards is facing a federal indictment over alleged misuse of campaign funds.  What happens if he decides to go to trial?

President Clinton‘s former attorney, Bob Bennett, joins us.

And former Republican Senator Alan Simpson thinks Grover Norquist, who has been identified on this show as the most powerful man in America who does not live in the White House, is bad for America.


O‘DONNELL:  In the Spotlight tonight, former senator and two-time presidential candidate John Edwards has a decision to make.  The Justice Department is reportedly on the brink of indicting Edwards on felony campaign finance charges linked to covering up an extramarital affair and the birth of his child during the 2008 presidential campaign. 

Edwards may have to choose between risking a fight in court in front of an unpredictable jury or pleading guilty and negotiating a penalty that might or might not include losing his law license and facing jail time. 

Joining me now, the man you want to know if you ever get in trouble, Robert Bennett, author of “In The Ring,” trials of a Washington lawyer.  Thanks for joining me tonight, Bob. 

ROBERT BENNETT, AUTHOR, “IN THE RING”:  Well, thank you very much. 

Happy to be here. 

O‘DONNELL:  Greg Craig, John Edwards‘ lawyer, is making much of the idea that the charges that we are talking about here are novel charges that have never been brought before, never been shaped in a criminal indictment about misusing campaign funds this way. 

How accurate is that?  And then how important is it?  If it‘s a crime that hasn‘t been prosecuted before, but it is a crime, how much does that matter to a jury? 

BENNETT:  Well, let me say I have to qualify because I don‘t know all the facts that the prosecutors have.  Nor do I know all the facts that the defense has.  But Mr. Edwards‘ lawyers, Greg Craig and Ken Gross, who is one of the country‘s leading experts in this field, are quite right.  This is a very novel application of the law, the Federal Election Campaign Act.

And I know personally of no precedent for bringing the case.  Now—because campaign funds were not used.  These were moneys that didn‘t—were not in the campaign coffers. 

Now if the prosecutors had evidence that they really were, and it was just disguised as a gift, that‘s something else again.  But I have no knowledge that that‘s the case.  So they‘re quite right. 

Now your question is a terrific one.  I think they have a very strong shot at getting a judge, or if he is convicted getting a court of appeals to reverse it.  But if they are not successful in getting the indictment dismissed, then it goes to a jury.

I don‘t think personally, having tried lots of cases, that this will be of particular importance to the jury, even if they are properly instructed, because John Edwards will not be coming into court as he once came into court, as a charming, attractive trial lawyer.  But he‘ll be coming in as a defendant in dealing with events which everyone agrees are unfortunate and raise serious questions of morality. 

So it‘s interesting.  I think they have a good legal case, the defense, but if it gets to a jury, I think Mr. Edwards is going to have serious problems. 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, polling indicates he would have trouble with juries in North Carolina.  There‘s a local poll that was taken there last year that indicated that Edwards ‘approval rating stood at 15 percent in North Carolina, which made him, according to the pollsters who did that poll, the most unpopular person we‘ve ever polled anywhere at any time. 

That‘s not the kind of poll a defense lawyer likes to look at when you‘re going into jury selection, is it? 

BENNETT:  No.  Absolutely not.  And this jury, if it gets to a jury, and the judge doesn‘t toss it out, you know, will be very disposed to convict him.  And that‘s why the big question that you raise in your introduction is so poignant.  You know, does he take a chance with a jury or does he try to strike a deal which minimizes the amount of time he could spend in jail and also might give him a better shot at not being disbarred? 

So he‘s got some tough decisions to make. 

O‘DONNELL:  What is it like representing a client who is himself a very sharp trial attorney?  I mean, this is someone who can sit there and game it out himself, especially that point you make, Bob, about, OK, we might have trouble with a jury, but if we are at an appeals court, we might do very well with an appeals court? 

The only way you‘re going to get to an appeals court is with a conviction.  But this is someone who can follow you through those steps and maybe have his own strong opinion.  Does that become like a difficult partner to work with in these kinds of defenses?  Or is it an asset? 

BENNETT:  I think it varies.  Sometimes some of my colleague clients who have been lawyers are very easy, and others are very difficult.  So it depends.  It depends on the individual. 

What makes this so interesting to me is I have a theory over—which I guess based after 45 years of practice, that if a jury likes a defendant, if a defendant is articulate and attractive, that person has a much better chance of being acquitted.  And John Edwards has all of these things. 

But the context of the offense is not a dry campaign violation, because they‘ll be able to get out in evidence, if they get past motions, the rather sordid context of where it—of how it arose.  So their best shot is on the law.  And their worst shot is letting a jury decide it on the facts. 

O‘DONNELL:  Bob, I‘m going to close with a quick war story.  You talk about what happens when a jury likes a defendant.  My father was a criminal defense lawyer in Boston.  And he walked a defendant out of the building with a not guilty.  I was standing beside him and the client as a juror, walked past on the way to an elevator, and the juror said to the client, who was a very likeable client, a very likeable defendant—the juror said to that defendant, don‘t do it again. 

That‘s after finding him not guilty. 

BENNETT:  That‘s a wonderful story.  I‘m going to use it. 

O‘DONNELL:  You‘ve got it.  Take it on the lecture circuit.  Bob Bennett, an attorney and author of “In The Ring, Trials of a Washington Lawyer,” thanks for joining me tonight, Bob. 

BENNETT:  Thank you, Larry.  Bye. 

O‘DONNELL:  Yesterday, Newt Gingrich pulled a Sharron Angle and dodged reporters who was trying to ask questions about—you guessed it—his astronomical Tiffany‘s bill.  That‘s in tonight‘s Rewrite.


O‘DONNELL:  in tonight‘s Rewrite, Newt Gingrich Rewrites the campaign performance art of Sharron Angle.  You remember Sharron Angle, the Tea Partier in Nevada who guaranteed Harry Reid‘s otherwise doubtful reelection to the Senate. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What do you mean when you mean Second Amendment remedies? 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Second Amendment remedies, anything? 

ANGLE:  Well, I have to get on.  But I just want to ask you to get out the vote, OK?  Thank you. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Why won‘t you answer what Second Amendment remedies means? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We have to go.  I‘m sorry. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  So you don‘t have anything to say about Dean Heller‘s comments from last night?  Sharron, you don‘t have any—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We tried to ask you that question earlier.  We have tried with your campaign for days. 


O‘DONNELL:  Ah, Sharron Angle.  The ever perceptive Rachel Maddow recently predicted that will be more Sharron Angles in the Republican presidential campaign. 


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR:  They will establish a new litmus test for Republican candidates, which is that they do not do mainstream media interviews, that doing a mainstream media interview is itself a capitulation, that only conservative media should be engaged with. 


O‘DONNELL:  Yesterday in New Hampshire, reporters closed in on Newt Gingrich, with one of them trying to ask what is the most important Gingrich question, what did you buy at Tiffany‘s, Mr. Gingrich?  The question he refused to answer when Bob Schieffer asked him. 

What does Tiffany‘s sell that is so embarrassing for a Republican to get caught owning?  So much so—so embarrassing that Gingrich is actually willing to tell you how much he spent, half a million dollars—willing to tell you that, but he just can‘t bring himself to tell you what he spent that money on. 

It should come as no surprise that Gingrich didn‘t like the question.  And what followed was exactly what Rachel predicted.  Presenting now the first installment in what is sure to become a series of Newt Gingrich doing his version of the Sharron Angle run away. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Guys, we‘re not answering questions today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He said you guys were going to do a media thing after.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘re not answering questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So you‘re not doing that anymore?

But he also talked about a media thing after. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You‘re not understanding?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No, I‘m just asking you because  he said—

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He said I‘ll talk to the media afterwards.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He said I‘ll answer anyone‘s questions.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes.  And then he said, what about the media.  he said, I‘m going to talk to them afterwards. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No more questions.  It‘s a long trail.  I‘m sure we‘ll see you along the way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Are you going to block us the way you did today or—are you going to block us from going up the stairs to talk to him?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Hi speaker, I‘m Nia Henderson with the Post.  Do you not want to answer questions from the press or—




JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We‘re confident that if we keep on this pace, we can get to a relatively large number.  And we still have to discuss—I‘ve made it clear today we have to—revenues are going to have to be in the deal. 


O‘DONNELL:  That was Vice President Biden just after the latest round of 2012 federal budget negotiations earlier this week.  Those negotiations include Republican Senator Jon Kyl and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, two of the 275 members of Congress and the Senate who have signed Grover Norquist‘s pledge. 

That pledge binds those members of Congress to oppose any form of tax increase.  It is no surprise then that House Majority Leader Eric Cantor emerged from the Biden negotiations and told reporters this House will not support tax hikes. 

Former Senator Allen Simpson, the Republican co-chair of President Obama‘s deficit reduction commission, described just how powerful Grover Norquist has become. 


ALLEN SIMPSON, FORMER SENATOR:  If the American public remain or get enthralled with Grover Norquist and the AARP, you haven‘t got a chance.  We won‘t make it at all.  If the American people are enthrall to Grover Norquist, some guy just wandering around in the swamps, taking a pledge from people when America was flush, and then pushing people like Orrin Hatch off the cliff like he was a commie. 

I mean, what kind of a nut is this guy?  But he‘s tough. 


O‘DONNELL:  Joining me now “Washington Post” columnist and MSNBC political analyst and possibly commie, Ezra Klein.  Thank you for joining me tonight, Ezra. 


O‘DONNELL:  I guess we are all commies to Grover Norquist.  This

pledge of his that forbids any participation in any form of tax increase,

which includes eliminating any tax loophole that would then increase the

tax bill for any corporation or any individual, is now driving Republicans

old fashioned Republicans like Allen Simpson absolutely crazy. 


But Grover Norquist does seem to be holding the cards here, doesn‘t he? 

KLEIN:  So I guess the answer to Senator Simpson‘s question is a powerful nut.  But I think you can overstate Grover Norquist‘s power quite easily.  What Grove Norquist It think is very good at is picking off Republicans who stray from the reservation. 

So you‘re a single Republican, a Tom Coburn at the moment, but a moderate Republican generally, and you begin talking about revenues in some way, shape, or form.  And he comes after you and he‘s effective and he gets in the media. 

You‘ve had him on the show.  He is great in the media. 

What he can‘t do is stop the Republican party from doing some en masse.  He can‘t primary everybody.  So the question with Grover Norquist is not whether or not he can go on the attack against a singular Republican who tries to talk about taxes, but whether or not he can stop the Republican party from doing something it wants to do as a collective. 

In the end, Grover Norquist is, as Senator Simpson said, just one man. 

And the Republican party is a lot more than that. 

O‘DONNELL:  Let‘s listen to what David Brooks, Republican columnist for “the New York Times,” had to say about Grover Norquist and the pledge and how Republicans think about it. 


DAVID BROOKS, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  I had a number of Republicans come up to me and say, hey, I signed that pledge, but I‘d love Coburn to win that fight.  And as I understand it, Coburn has maybe lost that fight.  And so, you know, I think they‘re more locked in to the no new taxes forever, no new tax revenue forever position more than they were a week or two ago. 


O‘DONNELL:  He was talking about Grover Norquist‘s little run-in with Senator Tom Coburn, Republican senator, over this pledge.  So David Brooks is saying it sounds like they may be, as he said, you know, more locked in. 

KLEIN:  I was actually moderating that panel that Brooks and Simpson were on.  And I asked David Brooks whether the anti-tax stance of the Republican party right now was true belief, whether they really believed that you shouldn‘t under any circumstances raise taxes, because that was sort of an article of faith, or whether it was a negotiating posture. 

And his answer I found very disappointing.  He said he believed that at this point it was an authentic belief.  Not that they wouldn‘t perhaps be flexible on it if you offered them the right deal, but it‘s an authentic belief. 

That‘s what‘s scarier.  The scary thing is not that Grover Norquist has people scared.  Because if he simply has people scared, then all you have to do is unscare them.  All you need to do is show them the political incentives point in a different direction.

If he has them convinced, if he and others in the Republican party have really convinced Republicans that taxes are somehow separate from deficits, that they shouldn‘t be any part of a deal, that they are so deleterious to growth, despite the high growth in the Clinton years and the low growth in the Bush tax cut years, that‘s more scary. 

Because people have more trouble overcoming a belief than they do changing their mind about what the electorate wants. 

O‘DONNELL:  Absolutely.  This is a moment where you are hoping they don‘t mean what they say.  It tragically could be that they do mean what they say. 

Ezra Klein of “the Washington Post,” thank you very much for joining me tonight. 

KLEIN:  Thank you. 

O‘DONNELL:  You can have THE LAST WORD online at our blog,, and you can follow my Tweets @LAWRENCE. 

“THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” is up next.  Good evening, Rachel.

MADDOW:  Good evening, Lawrence.  That was very nice of you to play my prediction from Chris‘ show this past weekend in a way that made it look like I was right.  That was very nice. 

O‘DONNELL:  Come on.  When you‘re right, you‘re right,


Copyright 2011 CQ-Roll Call, Inc.  All materials herein are protected by

United States copyright law and may not be reproduced, distributed,

transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the prior written

permission of CQ-Roll Call. You may not alter or remove any trademark,

copyright or other notice from copies of the content.>