Shaheen-Gate: Consultants Clash, Pundits Pooh-Pooh Hillary Denial

This is getting wild . ..

The Iowa caucuses might be a few weeks off, but MSNBC pundits have already cast a resounding "no" vote in a referendum on Hillary's credibility. A bi-partisan consensus of blatherers today rejected the Clinton campaign's denial of involvement in NH co-chair Bill Shaheen's raising of Barack Obama's past involvement with drugs.

Meanwhile, things are getting downright nasty among top consultants to the frontrunners' campaigns . . . and Barack made Hillary regret her latest cackle.

View video here.

In the punditocratic equivalent of Dixville Notch, Howard Fineman on Hardball was first to "vote" on the believability of Hillary's hands-off claim.

HOWARD FINEMAN: The notion that Billy Shaheen was acting completely on his own without any knowledge or interest of the Clinton campaign I think is going to be hard to defend. He's in on those conference calls, he's in close-in.

Fineman later branded as "completely phony" the Clinton campaign's claim that Shaheen's statement wasn't "authorized." Said Howard: "that's a big rabbit-hole you can jump down."

Matthews himself saw an elaborate kabuki dance.

CHRIS MATTHEWS: This is a Washington ritual. Someone makes a comment. It's challenged as unfair, evil, dirty tricks. Hours pass, in this case 24 hours, during which the dirty work gets done and reporters begin to ask the questions and the solution is already there in terms of the purpose of the person that made the comment. He got the dirty word out there -- let's start talking about drug use, possible drug sales, the whole thing. And then after he's done the job he resigns from the field, only to be rehired of course several months later in another capacity. I am predicting the last part because it is predictable.

With Norah O'Donnell guest-hosting Tucker, Pat Buchanan and the liberal Bill Press were similarly skeptical.

BILL PRESS: They're panicking in the Clinton camp. I can't believe that Bill Shaheen goes out and says -- plants -- and tries to get a reporter to run with this story, without somebody knowing that he's doing it.

NORAH O'DONNELL: The Clinton campaign has said in no way was this sanctioned or planned, that Bill Shaheen would be able to say this. Pat, you've been involved in presidential campaigns.

PAT BUCHANAN: I don't believe it.

O'DONNELL: Why not? Look, this is an experienced man, his wife has been governor of New Hampshire, he's an able fellow. And to go to the Washington Post and say "ask about selling drugs," nobody thinks that up. Somebody fed that to him.

If there was harmony in the chattering class, there was bad blood to burn among senior advisors to the Clinton, Obama and Edwards campaigns. Check out this epic footage from Hardball of the foodfight involving Mark Penn, David Axelrod and Joe Trippi. A highlight is Edwards advisor Trippi calling a statement by Hillary strategist Penn "garbage."

Bonus Coverage: If you haven't already seen it, treat yourself to this clip of Barack's devastating put-down of Hillary. During today's debate, Hillary cackles when the moderator mentions that Obama has a number of Clinton administration advisors on his campaign staff. Big mistake.

Campaigns & Elections 2008 Presidential Culture/Society MSNBC Hardball Tucker Video David Axelrod Joe Trippi Mark Penn