updated 11/14/2005 10:08:29 AM ET 2005-11-14T15:08:29

Guests: Jim Gilmore, Bob Shrum, Steve Hayes, Chuck Todd, Mary Mapes

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Tonight, President Bush says Democrats share blame for buying pre-war intel, but special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald keeps the heat on both Scooter Libby and Karl Rove. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews. 

And a happy Veterans Day to all the men and women who have served this country proudly in our armed forces. 

President Bush used the holiday to attack Democrats for turning up the volume on criticism of pre-war intelligence in the wake of the CIA leak investigation. 

We resume our HARDBALL special series tonight, going inside that leak probe.

Tonight, we‘ll look at the rhetoric the Bush administration used to perpetuate the idea of a connection between Iraq and the 9/11 attacks.  We‘ll have much, much more on that later in the show, as well as an interview with Mary Mapes, the former CBS reporter/producer fired for the “60 Minutes II” report on Bush‘s National Guard record. 

But first, we‘re joined by NBC News chief White House correspondent David Gregory for more on the president‘s campaign-style speech in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania today. 

What a day, huh? 

Thank you, David. 

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  Certainly an interesting tactic by the White House now, Chris, the president using a Veterans Day speech in Pennsylvania to, as the White House says, go on the attack.  But it was really to defend the pre-war intelligence and to lash out against Democrats.

And really not since the campaign has the president so pointedly accused Democrats of undermining our troops in the field by questioning how and why we got into the war.  That‘s certainly what he did today. 

MATTHEWS:  President Bush opened fire at Democratic critics of the war. 

Let‘s take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war. 

And many of these critics supported my opponent during the last election, who explained his position to support the resolution in the Congress this way, “When I vote to give the president of the United States the authority to use force, if necessary, to disarm Saddam Hussein, it is because I believe that a deadly arsenal of weapons of mass destruction in his hands is a threat and a grave threat to our security.” 

That‘s why more than 100 Democrats in the House and the Senate, who had access to the same intelligence, voted to support removing Saddam Hussein from power. 

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with David Gregory. 

That was the president today. 

Of course, you know—help me out here.  The president‘s charge seems to be that the Democrats blew it as badly as he did.  They bought the bad intel just like he did that got us into the war. 

But the bad intel came from the White House, didn‘t it?  It came from the president‘s own case for the war. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

But the argument that he‘s making today is, “Don‘t accuse me and my administration of manipulating intelligence when you were looking at the same intelligence that I was working off of, the same intelligence the Clinton administration saw, the same that the U.N. did, the same that was generally agreed upon worldwide.” 

And what Democrats are saying today is, “Look, that fundamentally misses the point.  Yes, it‘s true that two investigations, the Senate and the president‘s own intelligence investigation found no evidence of any pressure on the part of the administration on intelligence analysts when it came to Iraq.” 

The Democrats still want to know, and they want this investigated by an independent commission, whether or not there was an intentional misuse of this intelligence in the way that the president argued the case for war; did he exaggerate; did he hype it; did he try to spread fear among the American public to support a war that some believe members of this administration wanted to fight all along, even before September 11th

It‘s certainly a loaded charge, but one that has been made against this administration and one that continues now even with the president‘s remarks today. 

MATTHEWS:  But the polling data must be what is bothering the president.  We just saw in our NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll yesterday information, almost 60 percent of the American people believe that the administration and the president himself deliberately misled. 

Isn‘t that who he‘s fighting with here, public opinion, more than the Democrats? 

GREGORY:  Well, I think there‘s no question about it, Chris. 

Look, this president—for all of the recent troubles the president‘s had, Iraq is still the bedrock problem, the bedrock liability for the administration. 

In that same poll, nearly two-thirds of the American people disapprove of the president‘s handling of the war.  This is the legacy, this is what the administration sort of turns on, this is what his presidency turns on. 

The president wants to A, fight about something.  He‘d like to fight as he did last year during the campaign.  That worked well for him. 

And taking on John Kerry again today when his poll numbers are so bad may regenerate, may re-energize his political standing. 

But he also wants to make a larger argument that the war is part of something bigger; as he said today, that the fight against Islamic extremists is the number one threat in this 21st century. 

So this is an argument he‘s making about the struggle that he, in fact, launched in Iraq that he argues was brought to our shores on 9/11, is something that will outdistance even his time in the White House. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, David Gregory, chief White House correspondent for NBC. 

Jim Gilmore is the former governor of Virginia and a former chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Bob Shrum is a HARDBALL political analyst. 

Let me go to you, Governor.

After the president—after we got into Iraq and we realized there was no WMD, the president‘s people all apologized for the fact that the president had said in his State of the Union address that there was evidence of an Iraqi deal to buy uranium from Africa.  Stephen Hadley apologized.  Ari Fleischer apologized.  Condi Rice took the bullet.

Now the president is coming out and saying, “Well, we didn‘t make a mistake.  It wasn‘t our fault.” 

What is he saying now?  What‘s his point?

JIM GILMORE ®, FMR. GOVERNOR OF VIRGINIA:  Well, first of all, Happy Veterans Day, Chris, to you and to all your viewers as well. 

You know, what I think‘s going on here is this.

This is no longer just about the president or his popularity or his standing; this is about what is in the best interests of the nation that he is leading.  And I think what he‘s really trying to say is, “Look, we‘re all in this together.  There were Democrats who were supportive of us.  There are some that were not and that‘s fine.  They‘re entitled to their point of view.  But those who supported us ought to remember that we‘re all in the same boat and still stick with us.” 

And second, I think he‘s issuing a message of steadfastness.  I think he‘s trying to let the people of the world know that Americans stand by their principles and stand by their commitments. 

And, you know, so I think that this is really what‘s going on.  I think he‘s beginning to once again lead the nation at a time of crisis. 

When he‘s at rock bottom, then it isn‘t any longer about just him personally, it‘s about the good of the nation.  And I think that‘s what he‘s trying to speak to.

MATTHEWS:  Bob Shrum, what is the president defending today?  Is he defending the quality of the WMD?  Is he defending his own honor?  Or is he defending the vice president‘s work with regard to WMD? 

What‘s the defense here?

BOB SHRUM, HARDBALL POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, we never had an independent investigation of Vice President Cheney‘s role. 

Cheney seemed to arrive at the CIA like Darth Vader demanding the information he wanted. 

I think what the president is trying to do today is given the election results, given his standing in the polls, given the fact that his presidency now comes down to the Iraq war, he‘s come up with a pretty (INAUDIBLE) defense of what went on before the war. 

Because the fact is the Democrats did not see all of the intelligence the president had access to—I assume the president saw it.  Democrats did not know, for example, that Ahmed Chalabi was the source for many of the allegations about WMDs and that he was unreliable.

And General Powell, Colin Powell himself has said that the presentation he gave to the United Nations before we went to war was in fact wrong, incorrect, had intelligence in it that never should have been there. 

MATTHEWS:  Why has it taken so long for the Democrats, Bob, to say that there was something wrong with the WMD argument, there was something wrong with the cause for war given by the president? 

They haven‘t been at their leadership level critical of the war.

SHRUM:  John Kerry was certainly critical during the campaign of the intelligence that led to the war and in fact said...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He defended during the campaign his vote for the authorization right to Election Day. 

(CROSSTALK)

GILMORE:  Sure did. 

SHRUM:  Yes.  He defended the vote to give the president the power to do it.  He said knowing what he knew then, that is back in the campaign, he would not have gone to war.  And he went after the president, I think quite correctly, for the fact that there were no WMDs, we didn‘t give the inspectors time.

And by the way, that‘s the other level of deception that the president doesn‘t want to talk about. 

When he asked the Congress for this authority, he said, “I will go to the U.N. and make a concerted effort.” The U.N. for him was window dressing. 

He said, “I will give the inspectors time.”  He didn‘t give the inspectors time. 

GILMORE:  That‘s not true. 

SHRUM:  It is absolutely true. 

(CROSSTALK)

GILMORE:  That‘s not true. 

SHRUM:  The reason that Mohamed ElBaradei has just been given the Nobel Peace Prize...

GILMORE:  Hey, Bob, that‘s false. 

The United Nations voted repeatedly to put pressure on Saddam Hussein in order to come forward and allow the inspectors to go everywhere in order to clear up all those things and they repeatedly voted over and over again to support the United States‘ position in this. 

And I think the trouble that you‘ve got right now is that it‘s a little slippery to say that, gee willikers, now that we know more after the fact, only one side is to blame here. 

I think that—besides, you‘ve got to get beyond all this.  This is about what‘s in the best interest of not only our fighting soldiers and not even just the United States, but the future of the world here. 

SHRUM:  Jim Gilmore, that was a pretty slippery answer because the United Nations would not give us the authorization at the end to go to war.  People asked for more time for the inspectors.  Of course they passed resolutions trying to hold Saddam Hussein accountable. 

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  Now, I agree with you on one thing.  No speech, no piece of rhetoric is going to solve this problem.

The Iraq war is now central to the Bush presidency.  There is, as far as I can tell, no coherent plan to get us where we need to go on that war, no sense of how long we‘re going to be there and how much it‘s going to cost.  And people are going to hold the president accountable for that, not for the speech he gives today, where he says we‘re on the hunt.

You know, we have another one of those wonderful phrase.  We were on the hunt.  Well, we were on the hunt this week to stop suicide bombings and we had a huge one yesterday in Baghdad that killed 29 people. 

MATTHEWS:  Is the president grabbing control of the reins again, or is he still relying on the vice president and Karl Rove to be his sort of co-governors?  Did you have a sense he‘s out there on his own today? 

GILMORE:  I do. 

MATTHEWS:  This wasn‘t the vice president‘s message he was delivering?

GILMORE:  No.  No, I think that this is the president basically saying look, this is a time of crisis.  This is a time of great challenge.  We—

I think most of all, we should, and I believe he is, working to send the message worldwide that we are the good . 

That we are not the guys that blow up weddings in Amman, Jordan.  We are not the guys that destroy people innocently in their beds at night. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s true.  That‘s all true.

GILMORE:  That‘s right.  And if we don‘t send the message that we are the people who are in the right, then we don‘t win the propaganda war and then the military war can‘t be won either. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do we go back two a 2-year-old argument about WMD then? 

GILMORE:  What I think he‘s doing is that he is saying that all the information that was available at that time, he was looking at.  He was making a best decision based upon a hostile nation that was working to obtain those kinds of weapons earlier.  And one more point.  I think with the Khan incident that we saw out of Pakistan, it is very clear that people who don‘t mean our best interests would like to get their hands on those kinds of weapons.

MATTHEWS:  Governor Gilmore, stick with us.  Bob Shrum, stick with us.  We‘ll be right back to talk about this.  By the way, it turns out Karl Rove is not in the clear yet. 

Still coming up, inside the CIA leak investigation, how the Bush administration successfully publicly linked al Qaeda to Iraq and to the attack on 9/11 to win support for the war.  We‘ll be right back with that.  You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Send the wrong signal to our troops, and to an enemy that is questioning America‘s will.  As our troops fight a ruthless enemy determined to destroy our way of life, they deserve to know that their elected leaders who voted to send them to war continue to stand behind them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That was President Bush speaking earlier today Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.  We‘re back with Former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore, and HARDBALL political analyst Bob Shrum. 

Governor, you know, the president has a problem with a little dissidence here from his own guy, Stephen Hadley.  Just yesterday, Stephen Hadley, in a response to a question from David Gregory of NBC said there were mistakes made about the WMD.  They were wrong.  Isn‘t it hard to come out a day later and say yes, we were wrong but so were the Democrats? 

GILMORE:  You know, I don‘t think that the president, at this point in time, has to pretend to be perfect.  I don‘t think anybody does.  But I think that he does have to provide leadership.  And that‘s, I think, what he‘s doing with this speech. 

I think he‘s saying, look, where I am today, the time has come to rally the nation and remind the Democrats that they stuck with me at the beginning of this and to now to bail out on me is a lack of character.  And I think that he‘s saying that loud and clear and he‘s beginning to really exude the strength of character that‘s necessary to bring him back I think from the depths. 

MATTHEWS:  Bob Shrum, the Democrats the president talked about today were divided on the issue of the war, and a lot of them—he talked about 100 member of the Congress and the Senate who supported him on the war authorization.  Did they support him on the war because they were afraid of losing reelection or they were afraid of not positioning themselves correctly for the next election to look tough, or were they really convinced of the WMD argument? 

SHRUM:  I think a lot of them, most of them were convinced of the WMD argument, that there were WMDs there.  Even some of the people who opposed the war said it‘s possible he does have WMDs.  We need to give the inspection process time to go to work.  Look, this is not ...

MATTHEWS:  Did you guy the idea that Saddam Hussein had a nuclear weapon or was about to get one that could be launched at the United States on that balsa wood plane they showed?  I mean, I always wondered what exactly is the threat here?  Tell us what it is. 

SHRUM:  I don‘t think any—I don‘t ...

MATTHEWS:  Mushroom clouds over America?  If that was the argument I‘d like to see it backed up by somebody. 

SHRUM:  I don‘t think serious people believed that argument and I think the administration had reason to disbelieve it, especially after Joseph Wilson went to Niger.  And that‘s why it was included in the State of the Union message, with those weasel words, “British intelligence shows,” when, in fact, the administration knew that the intelligence was wrong. 

So I don‘t think that the mushroom cloud was something the Democrats believed.  There were Democrats who believed that he probably did have weapons of mass destruction.  He did in the mid-90s. 

GILMORE:  Well, one thing‘s for sure.  In a dangerous world, when you have a dictator like Saddam Hussein, a sworn enemy of the United State, how many chances can you take with weapons of mass destruction? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘ll tell you something.

GILMORE:  If they are not here today, maybe they would be here next year.  But one thing we have to do is we have to stand up for the safety of this country. 

MATTHEWS:  You think we are better off for being in Iraq right now? 

GILMORE:  Well, I think we are better off having eliminated Saddam Hussein. 

MATTHEWS:  Are we better off for being in Iraq right now?

GILMORE:  I think ...

MATTHEWS:  All things considered.

GILMORE:  All things considered, I think that we have a new policy that‘s going to be necessary to apply some of the different diplomacy to add some additional thoughts to this, and I think the president is beginning that process right now. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you hedge from the question are we better off to be in Iraq right now?  Are we better off being in Iraq right now or not having invaded? 

GILMORE:  You know, I think that the best thing for us to do is to try to stand for what is right in the Middle East and democracy and to demonstrate that we are doing the right thing.  You can‘t do if you believe Saddam Hussein in charge of a nation like that. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much for joining us today.  Former governor of Virginia, Jim Gilmore, former Republican national chairman, and Bob Shrum, former party adviser for every recent Democratic candidate for president.  Thank you Bob, our analyst. 

Up next, more on the CIA leak investigation.  David Shuster will have

he‘s been doing great work—an in depth look at the way the Bush administration made a link between al Qaeda and what happened to us on 9/11 and also what Saddam Hussein was involved in.  This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  All this week we‘ve been examining the Bush administration‘s claims about Iraq that sold America on the war.  We‘ve looked at claims that Saddam was a nuclear threat, that our troops would be greeted as liberators and that administration ally Ahmed Chalabi could be trusted. 

All of those claims, of course, were false.  Tonight, we offer you a closer look at another key White House argument.  The alleged link between Iraq and 9/11.  HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster reports. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Just days after the 9/11 attack, Vice President Cheney on “Meet the Press” said the response should be aimed at Osama bin Laden‘s al Qaeda terror organization, not Saddam Hussein‘s Iraq. 

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Saddam Hussein is bottled up at this point, but clearly we continue to have fairly tough policy where the Iraqis are concerned. 

TIM RUSSERT,  NBC HOST:  Do we have any evidence linking Saddam Hussein or Iraqis to this operation? 

CHENEY:  No. 

SHUSTER:  But during that same time period, according to Bob Woodward‘s book, “Bush at War,” Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was pushing for military strikes on Iraq.  And during cabinet meetings, Cheney  quote, expressed deep concern about Saddam and would not rule out going after Iraq at some point.

That point started to come 11 months later, just before 9/11‘s first anniversary.  The president and vice president had decided to redirect their war on terror to Baghdad. 

So, with the help of the newly-formed White House Iraq group, which consisted of top officials and strategists, the selling of a war on Iraq began and the administration‘s rhetoric about Saddam changed. 

Not only did White House hawks tell The New York Times for a front-page Sunday exclusive that Saddam was building a nuclear weapon, and not only did five administration officials that day go on the Sunday television shows to repeat the charge...

CHENEY:  That he is in fact, actively and aggressively seeking to acquire nuclear weapons. 

SHUSTER:  But the White House started claiming that Iraq and the group responsible for 9/11 were one in the same. 

BUSH:  The war on terror—you can‘t distinguish between al Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror. 

We‘ve learned that Iraq has trained members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases. 

He‘s a threat because he is dealing with al Qaeda. 

SHUSTER:  In pushing the Saddam/Iraq/9/11 connection, both the president and the vice president made two crucial claims. 

First, they alleged there had been a 1994 meeting in Sudan between Osama bin Laden and an Iraqi intelligence official. 

BUSH:  We know that Iraq and al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade. 

SHUSTER:  After the Iraq war began, however, the 9/11 Commission was formed and reported that while Osama bin Laden may have requested Iraqi help, quote, Iraq apparently never responded.

The other crucial pre-war White House claim was that 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta met in a senior Iraqi intelligence official in the Czech republic in April of 2001. 

GLORIA BORGER, CNBC HOST:  You have said in the past that it was quote, pretty well confirmed.

CHENEY:  No, I never said that.

BORGER:  OK, I think that is...

CHENEY:  ... I never said that.  That‘s absolutely not...

It‘s been pretty well confirmed that he went go to Prague and he did meet with senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service.

SHUSTER:  Confirmed or unconfirmed by Vice President Cheney, the 9/11 commission stated quote, we do not believe such a meeting occurred.  Why?  Because cell phones from the time show Atta in the United States. 

Nonetheless, the White House strategy worked.  In March of 2003, one poll found 45 percent of Americans believed Saddam Hussein was personally involved in 9/11. 

And on the eve of the Iraq war, the White House sent a letter to Congress telling lawmakers that force was authorized against those who, quote, aided the 9/11 attacks. 

Yet the Bush administration continues to say it never claimed Iraq was linked to 9/11. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER (on camera):  The irony of course, the brutal irony, is that while implications about a 9/11 connection, innuendo or false claims, if you will, helped take us into Iraq. 

The Iraqi war itself has created real al Qaeda/Iraqi links that might keep us from getting out. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  That was fascinating seeing the vice president denying something and then seeing the tape a year before of what he was denying.

Anyway, thank you David Shuster.  Up next, more analysis on the al Qaeda/Iraq link. 

And later on in this show, former “60 Minutes” producer Mary Mapes will be here.  She produced that trouble-strewn story last year on President Bush‘s National Guard service.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

More now on our special report on how the Bush administration sold the war in Iraq with Stephen Hayes, the senior writer for “The Weekly Standard,” who has reported extensively on the Iraq war.  And Chuck Todd, editor and chief of “The Hotline.”

What did you two guys make of the vice president of the United States denying that (INAUDIBLE), that he had made that claim that there was a connection, a meeting in Prague between intelligence officials of the Iraqi government, at the time, and Mohammed Atta, and then saying he never made such a claim? 

CHUCK TODD, “THE HOTLINE”:  It was, to me, a political fumble.  I mean, how do you mess that up? 

MATTHEWS:  But, isn‘t that part of the creed, the belief?  You hear it from people like Lorey Melroy (ph) that a lot of people who support this war with great fervor, who really do believe that there was some kind of Iraqi role in 9/11? 

CHUCK HAYES, “THE WEEKLY STANDARD”:  Look, the vice president has never claimed an Iraqi role in 9/11.  What he said in that clip that you showed...

MATTHEWS:  The Mohammed Atta meeting in Prague. 

HAYES:  He said that it was pretty well confirmed at a time, December 9, 2001.  If you read “The New York Times” three days later, I believe, December 12, 2001, he has senior intelligence officials throughout the story confirming the meeting, the alleged meetings.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

HAYES:  So, he wasn‘t saying anything at that time that the intelligence community didn‘t offer.

MATTHEWS:  But a year later he denied making that claim. 

HAYES:  Well, a year later...

MATTHEWS:  Why did he deny making that claim?

HAYES:  It was three years later. 

MATTHEWS:  Why did he deny making the claim?

HAYES:  It was a mistake.  It was a mistake.

MATTHEWS:  You mean, he forgot he made the claim? 

HAYES:  Yes, I think he probably did.  It was a mistake. 

MATTHEWS:  If he forgot making the claim.... 

HAYES:  What do you think he was doing?  I mean, do you think he was lying at that point? 

MATTHEWS:  I think he was denying the obvious according to the video. 

That‘s all I can go by. 

HAYES:  Well, if you know—if you are the vice president of the United States, and you know that there is video of you making the claim, why would you deny it? 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Let‘s talk about the politics of this.  It‘s not just the assertions that have been made and remade.  It‘s the language that has been used, that the war on Iraq was a war on terrorism.  That, somehow, it was payback. 

That was part of our culture for three years.  A lot of people supported this war. 

In fact, poll data shows, just like poll data now shows they think the president deliberately misled on the Intel, polled out  at before we went to war, was that there was Iraqis were on the planes that attacked us on 9/11.  The people thought so. 

That somehow Iraq had attacked us.  That‘s why we had attacked them. 

TODD:  Because the lines were fuzzed during this run up to the war there.  I mean, nobody can deny it‘s technically accurate that this administration never said Iraq was part of 9/11, but it was fuzzy.  And it fuzzed everything up. 

MATTHEWS:  Was that conflation on purpose? 

TODD:  It certainly appears to be on purpose. 

HAYES:  It‘s a political sales job.  So, of course, in some form it was purposeful because they were trying to get—build political support. 

MATTHEWS:  Was this a remember the Alamo kind of war?  Where we went to war in Iraq to get even for something done to us at 9/11?

HAYES:  No, I don‘t think it was.  I mean, look, if it was a conspiracy to conflate 9/11 and the Iraq war. 

MATTHEWS:  It might be a public relations charge. 

HAYES:  Look, if it was a conspiracy you had Hillary Clinton involved in the conspiracy. 

MATTHEWS:  What was she saying about the connection of 9/11 and Iraq?

HAYES:  She said in October.  She mentioned Iraq in the same paragraph as 9/11, which these days, apparently is foreboden.  We‘re not supposed to do that.  Nobody is supposed to do that. 

MATTHEWS:  No, no.  Only saying that it‘s payback, that it‘s somehow connected.  What is the connection?

HAYES:  They didn‘t say that.  They didn‘t say that. 

MATTHEWS:  What did Hillary say? 

HAYES:  Hillary said on the Senate floor, Iraq has harbored and sponsored terrorists, including al Qaeda.  She didn‘t say that Iraq was behind 9/11 just as the Bush administration didn‘t say Iraq was behind 9/11.

And let me say one other thing.  When President Bush was asked that question twice directly, was Iraq behind 9/11?  He twice said we have no evidence that suggests that Iraq somehow directed or was behind 9/11. 

Condi Rice said it repeatedly.  The administration said it repeatedly in the run up to war.  What they said was that 9/11 changed everything.  We have to look at threats through a different prism after 9/11.

The threat that we see from Iraq is unacceptably high based on what we‘ve seen happen in our country. 

MATTHEWS:  So, you deny that the administration made it seem to the American people like the people who attacked us 9/11 are the same people we are going after in Iraq?  You deny that? 

HAYES:  No.  I think, look. 

MATTHEWS:  The same people.

HAYES:  The president, at one point, said you can‘t distinguish between Iraq and al Qaeda in the war on terror.  Now, you can take that literally, and say you literally cannot distinguish it because they were the same.  Fine. 

I think he was making a much more general statement that Iraq is part of the war on terror, which is something he has said ever since. 

TODD:  I think the better question is would the—did the administration ever want to correct people, who said—correct supporter who said, oh so you‘re saying Iraq is part of 9/11.

No, they never—they wanted that.  They didn‘t—it was an added benefit... 

MATTHEWS:  Is that a fair assessment... 

TODD:  ...that people felt like that.

MATTHEWS:  ...that they have never disabused people of that notion, those who did hold it. 

The polls show people believed that Iraqi...

HAYES:  No, I actually disagree with it because of what I just said this.

He told “Newsweek.”  There is a “Newsweek” article, in which he‘s quoted in saying we have no evidence that Iraq was behind 9/11. 

TODD:  But, saying we have no evidence.  That‘s what a trial lawyer says when they are trying to use circumstantial evidence. 

(CROSSTALK)    

MATTHEWS:  ...I think the president was addressing and the vice president and the people in the White House, Karl Rove, all the political people and the ideologue.  They were trying to put together, it seems to me—let me ask you this, open ended.

The president‘s speech today.  Is that in response to this new NBC “Wall Street Journal” poll that said 57% of the American people, all people, universal, believe he deliberately misled us into war.

HAYES:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  Not on a WMD, just generally.

HAYES:  Is the speech that he gave today was based on a poll that came out today?  No, I don‘t think so. 

MATTHEWS:  The poll came out yesterday.

HAYES:  A poll that came out yesterday.  No, we were getting word that the White House was going to do a combatant speech today.

MATTHEWS:  What was the purpose of the speech today?

HAYES:  The purpose of the speech was to correct the misimpression that has given by really 18 months of Democrat dishonesty on this, with respect to Iraq and al Qaeda. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s go to where I think 9/11 still obtains power in this country. 

I think 9/11 is enormously important in New York City and anywhere around it.  And I look at Hillary Clinton‘s vote and Chuck Schumer‘s vote.  They are very tough on the war.  They have not turned 180 on the war because they represent, 9/11.  They call it ground zero. 

Let‘s take a look at the latest poll.  And I want to suggest who was leading among Democrats for 2008?  Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton is walking away with, look at these numbers, 41 percent.

Closest to her is John Edwards, who has been almost invisible.  Behind him this is fascinating Al Gore and behind him is someone even below, further back in that is, of course, John Kerry. 

What do you make of that run, one, two, three, Steven?

HAYES:  Well, I think it shows that Hillary has got a pretty solid lead if she decides to do what everybody thinks she‘s going to do. 

I think John Kerry‘s number are particularly interesting that they are as low as they are.  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  OK. And why do you think Hillary is doing so well?  Name

I.D.?

TODD:  I think because she‘s—oh, there‘s name, I.D.  And the party is looking for a new face, and, you know, women—if you look at the cross taps of that poll.  Women are flocking to her at least in the Democratic primary. 

She gets something like 50 percent of women.  Only about 30 percent of men, but women are going to flock to her. 

MATTHEWS:  Is this a general election calculation or is it the classic old Democratic attitude that November doesn‘t count?  This is just for to pick the nominee we like.

Are they picking a person that can win in November?  Are they thinking like that? 

TODD:  No.  They don‘t think like that.  But, I‘ll tell you this front-runner stuff does matter.  It doesn‘t matter where you are if you are not in front, but if you are in front and you actually run...

MATTHEWS:  It means that somebody has got to come up with 40 percent to knock you out. 

TODD:  You‘re going to win.  Yes, that‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at the other side of the mountain.

Look, what I keep seeing in these numbers and everybody challenges me who is a Republican, active in the party or thinking.  I always look at these numbers. 

Rudy every poll I see, every network, who takes it, every newspaper, it comes up Rudy, Rudy, Rudy, who is hardly ever in the news.  He‘s out giving speeches.  Why does Rudy keep winning these things? 

HAYES:  Well, I think we talked about it, name I.D.  And people identify.  And I do think he‘s got an incredible name I.D.

MATTHEWS:  You think he‘s got more name I.D. than John McCain? 

HAYES:  And look, think about what people think of when they think of Rudy Giuliani right now? 

MATTHEWS:  I think of a guy standing in the street giving us the facts.

HAYES:  Well, I think of that and certainly his response to 9/11.  I think everybody was...

MATTHEWS:  Street cred.

HAYES:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Street cred. Authority through authenticity.  Right? 

HAYES:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  We might agree on something here. 

TODD:  He‘s the defect of Bush era when Republicans are asked us.  He‘s where Conservatives are going.  I think if you take him out of the equation those numbers don‘t automatically go to McCain.

MATTHEWS:  Who predicts Rudy Giuliani will be the Republican nominee next time around? 

HAYES:  I think he very well could be.  And I actually agree with something Chuck says about Republican, Conservatives flocking to him. 

MATTHEWS:  I think he will be, by the way.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ..and I think Hillary will be the other one.  It will be the subway series of our life.  This will be great in New York City.

Anyway, thank you Steve Hayes.  I‘m just dreaming right?

Thank you Chuck Todd, both of you.

When we return Mary Mapes, the former producer of “60 Minutes II.”  She‘s got a new book out telling her side of the story about President Bush‘s National Guard Service.

And a reminder, the political debate is ongoing on Hardblogger, our political blog Web site.  And now you can download Pod cast of HARDBALL.  Just go to our Web site, hardball.MSNBC.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Former CBS News reporter Mary Mapes broke many big stories over the years, including the Abu Ghraib prison scandal during her 15 years at the network.  But, it was her report on George W. Bush‘s alleged dereliction of his National Guard duty on “60 Minutes Wednesday”  that got her fired and forced the resignation of three senior CBS executives. 

In her new book, “Truth and Duty: the press, the president and the privilege of power.”  She offers a behind-the-scenes look at her reporting and its aftermath. 

At the heart of the “60 Minutes Wednesday” story, reported by Dan Rather on September 8, 2004, were documents that CBS News said were evidence that Bush failed to fulfill his Texas National Guard obligations. 

The documents were obtained and given to Mary Mapes by Bill Burkett, a former lieutenant colonel in the Texas National Guard. 

Burkett gave me an exclusive interview on HARDBALL on February 12, 2004.  Here‘s Burkett describing one of three events he cited when he says he saw or heard officials trying to cover up Bush‘s guard record. 

It‘s a phone conversation, his first one, he says he overheard involving then Governor Bush‘s inner circle.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  How do you know that Dan Bartlett‘s voice was the voice you heard?  How do you know Joe Allbaugh was the voice you heard?

LT. COL. BILL BURKETT, RET., TEXAS NATIONAL GUARD:  Primarily because

there was reference to both of them in the first phone call.  There was

reference to both of them within the conveyance, the informal but direct

conveyance of that message to gather the files to the state service‘s officer.

MATTHEWS:  What do you mean by conveyance?

BURKETT:  In this case, it was General James was moving between

meetings very rapidly.  General officers do that sort of things.  Senior

officials do that thing.  He happened into somebody that was on the way to

he was—that he saw on the way to the meeting that was responsible for that area, and he told them he wanted this done. 

MATTHEWS:  And where was that?  Where did you overhear that conversation? 

BURNETT:  That was the following day, Mr. Matthews, the day after the directive from the governor‘s office. 

MATTHEWS:  So how many instances did you observe this effort to try to gather the president‘s—the now president‘s records?  How many times did you overhear conversations? 

BURKETT:  The first time I overheard a conversation, then I heard the conveyance, as I said, the directive to get it done.  The third time I saw files in a trash can. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  That was Bill Burkett,  who supplied the documents that were the basis of Mary Mapes‘ story on “60 Minutes Wednesday.” 

And Mary joins us now from New York.  All things considered, what do you think of Bill Burkett‘s reliability? 

MARY MAPES, FORMER “60 MINUTES” PRODUCER:  Oh, boy, mixed feelings.  I think like a lot of people have about most sources.  I don‘t think that Burkett is a forger or a liar.  I think he is a self-interested person.  I think he has strong feelings about Bush. 

The one thing I would point out, in the year since the debacle, as you guys framed it there, which is probably a pretty good word.  I have done some more reporting and I did find somebody who backed up, not a friend of Burkett‘s, but a guard employee, who backed up his story about the scrubbing of documents and how they were all put inside a huge trash can in 1997. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he told us, we‘re not going to waste time showing all the tape, but three things he said.  He said one, he overheard a telephone conversation with the General James at the National Guard.  He was standing outside the door, the door was open about a foot and a half.

MAPES:  Right, I‘ve heard that. 

MATTHEWS:  He said he overheard Joe Allbaugh‘s voice, he overheard Dan Bartlett‘s voice and he heard them talking about sending Karen Hughes, the president‘s other aide, out to collect the information on the former governor.  Do you buy that? 

MAPES:  You know what Chris, I have not really looked at that.  I‘ve not done a lot of reporting on it.  I‘ve not looked for that.  I looked in a completely different direction. 

What I can tell you is I do buy that in 1997, there was some kind of scrubbing.  I don‘t know if it was aimed specifically at Bush, but there was some kind of big deal going through files there at Camp Mabry at the Austin headquarters of the guard.

MATTHEWS:  Did you buy the fact that as he just said, that he happened to be walking by and overheard a senior officer talking to another officer about how they were going to scrub the records of President Bush?

I mean, the second incident.  And then the third incident, where he was standing and he was looking into a trash can.  He had already been on the hunt here, 10 days later, he said.  And he‘s looking, he‘s standing in that same office of that General James and he happened to look in this giant trash can. 

And on the top of the giant trash can, right on top, were George Bush‘s records.  He then began to read, read six or seven pages of them, describing what he read.  Do you believe in those three coincidences?  One, he overheard this conversation.

MAPES:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  Two, he bumped into some officers talking about Bush and three, he just happened, when he‘s on the hunt for this guy, to see the president‘s record right on top of it the trash can. 

MAPES:  No.

MATTHEWS:  What part of it do you believe? 

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s what I‘ll tell you I do believe.  I believe what I was able to confirm, which is that there was the scrubbing in 1997. 

The person I spoke with, who was a guard employee told me that Burkett came in and looked in the trash can.  And these were a number of trash cans.  And that several people came in and came through and took documents. 

What I also have learned about the guard in the years since, and actually in the years before our story aired, was that the Texas Air National Guard and the army, but the air in particular, I think, was a tremendously politicized organization, full of patronage.

They had been a real—during the Vietnam War, it had been an incredibly favored spot, it had been a place for children of privilege and it had been a place that political favors were paid back. 

MATTHEWS:  Did the document he gave you stand up under your inspection?  Do you believe that the document he gave you was authentic? 

MAPES:  He actually gave me, ultimately six documents.  What I did was, first of all, we had the document analysis done.  And I know that‘s highly controversial and it‘s always so technical that it makes your eyes glaze over to talk about it.  And that‘s what conservatives, bloggers in particular, seized on.

But the things that really gave me confidence were the vetting that we did, where we went through looking for small errors in service number, address, rankings.  We looked up the 1972 Air Force manual paragraph and page. 

We did all the kinds of tiny things that give away forgeries like the Niger forgeries that people talk about, the uranium document. 

The other thing I did was mesh these new documents with the old official records so I could see—and I really actually—I was skeptical enough, I believed I was going to see dates bump against each other, things that were impossible. 

And then the other thing I did was corroborate it with Lieutenant Colonel Killian‘s commander, Bobby Hodges, General Bobby Hodges. 

MATTHEWS:  If you believed in that document, Mary—and I‘m looking at your book here, it‘s about 350 pages—how come nowhere in this book do you show us a copy of those documents? 

Books always show materials relevant to the main story.  The main story here is that document.  I can‘t find it in the book.  Why didn‘t you put it in the book so we could look at it? 

MAPES:  Well, actually, it was—as I said, it‘s six documents. 

If you go to the back of the book, what I did do was show an example.  What we did at CBS was put up a copy, a faxed copy of the document, and then I put up a copy... 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Here we go. 

MAPES:  ... no one has ever seen before, which is an unfaxed copy. 

And you can see there‘s a real difference in the way they look. 

The bloggers all seized on the faxed copy and started taking that apart.  And to me that was one of the relevant points.  These things have been out on the Internet forever.  You can look up all kinds of things. 

And we have a Web site at truthandduty.com where you can go and see them and actually see...

MATTHEWS:  So you stand behind them? 

MAPES:  I do, because—I mean, in great part because, look, I‘ve looked at these things for more than a year and I cannot find...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

MAPES:  ... a problem.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back.

Mary, I‘m getting yelled at here.  Please. 

We‘ll come right back with Mary Mapes of CBS, formerly of CBS, when we return.

This is HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with former CBS and “60 Minutes” producer Mary Mapes.  The name of her book is “Truth and Duty:  The Press, the President and the Privilege of Power.”

I thought there were some curious comments in there.  I want you to put them in context, Mary. 

One is, you are talking about these documents, the ones that talk about the—show the president as having been derelicted his duties as an National Air Guardsman down in Texas back in the—back when he was in the service in the ‘70s.  Quote, “We had to build our own confidence in the authenticity of the papers.” 

Were you instinctively a little worried that they might not be real? 

MAPES:  Absolutely, I was. 

I‘ve lived in Texas for 15 years, I watched Karl Rove cut his teeth on the gubernatorial races and some other races, along with some other extremely colorful Texas political consultants. 

And I sort of—I mean, as you know, politics can get wild and woolly down there.  And I‘m going to do what Dan Rather always said, be skeptical, don‘t be cynical. 

But I was skeptical.

MATTHEWS:  You know, we had Bill Burkett on—I showed you the tapes

and what made me somewhat skeptical I suppose, although it‘s in retrospect having seen everything that‘s happened, he said to me he had no problem with President Bush, he has nothing against him. 

And that isn‘t the case, is it? 

MAPES:  No, not at all. 

He‘s like most whistle blowers, he‘s got his own agenda. 

Mother Theresa never hands you documents.  It‘s always got to be somebody who‘s got a motivation of some kind, and Burkett had a lot of them. 

What I believe though was he didn‘t have motivation to forge or to lie about getting—about what he knew about these documents. 

I mean, he told me he really knew virtually nothing.  He couldn‘t vouch for them. 

I did believe Burkett was a likely conduit for documents that somebody else was trying to bring forward. 

I just can‘t emphasize enough to you, Chris—and I know you understand how politicized things can become—how this organization, the Texas Air National Guard was an absolute hotbed of—I don‘t want to say corruption, but I will say it was a hotbed of cronyism, of these political coups within the organization, discrimination suits. 

There was so much bad blood and street theater going on there all the time that it seemed quite likely to me that people would hand out something like this to Burkett, who had already kind of impaled himself on the Bush story and had nothing to lose someone else would see. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I didn‘t find him very reliable when I had him on, because of the—because what seemed to be a delusionary notion of how important he was.  He kept talking about he‘s a strategic planner.  He was very formal in the lingo he would use, conveyances.  He never spoke in simple...

(CROSSTALK)

MAPES:  ... whatever a conveyance is, I know. 

MATTHEWS:  And every time he wanted to dodge, he would say, “Mr.

Matthews,” he‘d slow down the conversation, try to reach for some notion.  He had tremendous recall on the size of the trash can, how many gallons the trash can was, where it was placed. 

But still I‘m struck with the incredible serendipity of spotting that Bush record right on the top of the trash can when he was on the hunt for it.  Things like that don‘t happen in life. 

Let me ask you...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You had a good case, I believe based upon all that I read in the report itself, you had a pretty good case about favoritism in the Air National Guard and you know the culture down there, as you said. 

Wouldn‘t you have been better off not putting this document into the report or these documents? 

MAPES:  Well, look, in retrospect, would my life have been easier, would my career have gone better if I hadn‘t?  Absolutely. 

On the other hand, what do you do when you get documents that you believe are significant?  You check them out every way you possibly can.

You know, what I was taught to do in terms of investigative journalism is to build a stool or build a table that you can sit a story on.  And I did that with three or four legs of documentation and convincing sorts of evidence for me. 

And I felt that they were ready to be presented to the American people.  I think what my, you know, myopic, as I was referred to in the report—if I had any myopia it was because I didn‘t realize what a toxic political atmosphere we were in and I didn‘t realize there would be this incredible swarming blog attack on CBS News and I didn‘t know that they would cave in to it. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much for coming on the show. 

Your book‘s called “Truth and Duty.”  It‘s by Mary Mapes.  It‘s about a big story in American journalism. 

Join us next week for more on the CIA leak investigation.  Guests include Maureen Dowd of the “New York Times.”

And finally, for all the service men and women out there, I‘d like to say to you now on television what I really try to say every time I meet one of you incredible people, what you have done for our country I can only thank you for me.  I think everybody feels it.  I hope more and more we begin to say it—thank you for your service.  And to your families, thank you for your sacrifice.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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