updated 11/15/2005 9:12:10 AM ET 2005-11-15T14:12:10

Guest: Nicolle Wallace, Kit Bond, Dana Milbank, Byron York, JC Watts, Hilary Rosen

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Tonight, fool me once.  Shame on you.

Fool me twice.  Shame on me. 

The Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said that senators will be extremely skeptical the next time a president makes a WMD case for war. 

So, why is Vice President Cheney hosting Ahmed Chalabi, the man who gave us the bad Intel on Iraq? 

Why is Cheney, who most Americans suspect was involved in the CIA leak cover up and only 29 percent believe is generally honest, refusing to answer questions while his chief of staff faces 30 years? 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews.

The issue of pre-war intelligence cuts deeper as President Bush attacks critics of his case the administration made for war. 

Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says that Congress won‘t accept such intelligence at face value anymore.  In other words, it‘s not just the Democrats who feel burned by pre-Iraq claims of WMD. 

Roberts‘ committee is supposed to decide, by the way, whether the Bush administration exaggerated or misused pre-war intelligence. 

Meanwhile, the president‘s chief war advocates, Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, met late today with Ahmed Chalabi, the Iraqi exile, who provided bogus intelligence before the war, and now wants to be Iraq‘s prime minister.  The question is why. 

We will have a lot more on the pre-war intelligence debate later in this show.

But first, we are joined Nicolle Wallace, the White House communications director. 

Thank you for joining us.  And happy married woman you are.

NICOLLE WALLACE, WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR:  Thank you. 

Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  And best wishes to you and your family that is just beginning.

WALLACE:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about what is the president‘s purpose in giving such a tough speech this past Friday?  What‘s the real message here? 

WALLACE:  Well, you know, he is going to do it again in about an hour in Alaska again today, Chris.

And, you know, the purpose, and I think the media plays an important role too in refereeing this debate and this discussion that we are having. 

You know, one thing that makes this country different and truly sets us apart is the right to disagree with our leaders and the right to dissent. 

And I think that is a debate that we should have in this country.  We should talk about—we should debate the policy of preemption, the decision that the president made to remove Saddam Hussein from power and our belief that the world and Iraq‘s neighbors and Iraq are safer without Saddam Hussein in power. 

What is completely out of bounds is this effort by Democrats to rewrite history, and to rewrite their own records, and to almost ask for a do-over with the American people for their own positions and conclusions that they reached over the years about the threat that Saddam Hussein posed. 

MATTHEWS:  Was this entirely a partisan issue?  Because Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee and is a conservative Republican, says that from now on, senators, I think he is talking for Republicans as well as Democrats, are going to be very skeptical about a president‘s WMD case for war. 

WALLACE:  Well, all senators and all Americans should demand better. 

This president demands better intelligence. 

You know, I think that we have put in place massive reforms to our nation‘s intelligence capacity.  And I think the world over is going to look at how they got the question of WMD wrong here. 

But it is a blatant lie to assert that somehow the president misled people.  The French—and you tell me the last time the French, the U.N., the Russians, the Brits and the Americans, a Democrat administration and a Republican administration, all agreed on something? 

They all agreed, Chris, that Saddam Hussein had WMD.  And as we have said we now know that wasn‘t the case.  But there is not a glimmer of truth in the Democrat assertion that the president misled the American people. 

John McCain yesterday called it a lie to assert that the president lied to the American people. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the Johnny Appleseed of a lot of the lying that got into the intelligence of a lot of countries, you mentioned, was Ahmed Chalabi. 

He was out there pushing stories that got Judy Miller forced out of her job at “The New York Times.”  Most people now recognized that what he was selling wasn‘t true.  A lot of our people bought it.  The American media bought it.  I guess a lot of other world leaders bought Chalabi‘s case.

Why are welcoming coming him to the White House today and the vice president‘s office?  Why is he getting this sort of statesman visit to the country? 

WALLACE:  Well, let me make a broader statement about cherry-picking intelligence.  I agree, that is the wrong way to look at any intelligence that is gathered, and that is not how they policymakers evaluated the intelligence about Iraq. 

And anyone that pulls a single piece of Intel, I know the Democrats are waving around some reports that you have covered, that you‘ve spent time on your show. 

But to cherry-pick any single source or any single piece of intelligence is to do a real disservice to the American people, because that‘s not how intelligence is consumed by policymakers in this country. 

And you know better than I do, probably because you have spent al lot of time talking about it, but what they looked at and what the Congress looked at was the NIE, which is the gold standard of intelligence, and it represents the collective judgment of all of these intelligence sources. 

MATTHEWS:  But, Chalabi was the one that sold “The New York Times” on the aluminum tubes argument that he was building nuclear.  It got on the front page of “The New York Times,” and that day five administration officials came on and said, hey, look what “The New York Times” said today. 

I‘m not saying saying anybody did anything deliberately.  What I am saying is this bad Intel got into our system.  It was foisted on us by people who really wanted us to go to war with Iraq. 

And Ahmed Chalabi‘s exhibit number one, why is everybody accepting him with open arms in the White House today? 

WALLACE:  Well, look, 30 months ago, who would have thought that we would be sitting down and meeting with the Democratic leaders of a new and free Iraq.  And that‘s what‘s happening now, Chris. 

You know, we don‘t from here and from our post.  Certainly not as the White House communications director do I get to pick which leaders will be freely elected in a country like Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  Fair enough.

He is here as a visiting leader.  Not as a guy we trust. 

WALLACE:  Well, he is here as a visiting leader. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Let me ask you about the torture issue.

You know, sometimes I have to admire people for the strangest reasons.  Vice President Cheney is absolutely fearless to take on an issue, which is so unpopular on its face. 

I mean, nobody wants to be out there it seems as the case advocate for torture as an option.  And, yet, he has gone out there and done it.  How did he get this job? 

WALLACE:  Well, I agree with you on one thing, the vice president is fearless in his defense of this country, and he is fearless in the case that he will make to protect America. 

But, while we are a country at war, we are a country of laws.  And torture is against the law in this country.  And we follow all the international treaties, and as a country, we do not torture. 

And so the debate that is happening is a serious debate taking place among serious people about the best way to protect Americans and to fight and win the war on terror. 

But there is no consideration in allowing torture.  We do not torture in this country. 

MATTHEWS:  But, what is wrong with outlawing cruel and degrading treatment of prisoners? 

WALLACE:  Well, you know, again you are talking about the specific language of Senator McCain‘s amendment.  And, you know, I have enough respect for Senator McCain to leave his debate and his policy discussions something private that doesn‘t get debated on TV. 

If it were debated anywhere, we would do it with you.  But, that‘s something that is taking place at very high levels in the administration.  And it‘s going to be worked out. 

We agree on the principles.  We agree on the goals, and we agree on the values.  But as a nation, we are a nation of laws, and even as a nation at war, we do not torture.  We will not torture.

And I point out, and not enough attention is paid to this, Chris, when people operate outside the laws, when people are found to have treated inmates or prisoners in a way that is outside our laws, they are prosecuted and they are held to account. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we don‘t know a lot about it, but we do know something about it because “The Washington Post.” 

If we follow the law in the way we treat prisoners, including terrorists suspects, who I am not particularly fond of nor is anybody else, and I wouldn‘t mind pushing the envelope with some of these characters.  I wouldn‘t treat them like they were soldiers we picked up in battle.

But why do we have to have these secret hiding places in Eastern Europe to take care of prisoners if we are willing to stand up to what we are doing to them? 

WALLACE:  Well, look, Chris, you know as well as I do, that a lot of the things that we do on the war on terror are out in the open.  We are very clear about our policies, and there is a real alliance, you know.

Part of this trip overseas to Asia is an opportunity to thank countries that are standing by America and our allies in fighting and winning the war on terror.  So, you know, I just think it‘s really important. 

Sometimes the debates inside the belt way get boiled down into a ping pong match, but this is a broad sweeping value that held by, I believe, Democrats and Republicans that we do not torture. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure, but my point, why do we have to have hiding places in Eastern Europe if we do the things we are willing to accept we do? 

WALLACE:  Well, I‘m not, you know, I can‘t speak to any of that, but certainly we are a country of laws that follow, and we value, and we cherish, and that we are proud of. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of McCain?  What do you think he‘s up to?  Why would he take on the administration on this issue where he looks like the good guy because he was a POW in Vietnam, and he suffered for five and a half years? 

He was physically tortured, and you can see it in his arms.  He‘s still injured seriously by that.  Why do you think he is taking on the president like this?  Is he going to be your party‘s nominee next time around? 

WALLACE:  Well, I don‘t think that he—I don‘t speak for Senator McCain, but I don‘t think he views himself as taking on the president. 

I think he certainly has spent much of the last seven days as a real advocate, one of the strongest, most powerful voices out there. 

And, you know, he said something really interesting about the media. 

And I think this is a good assignment for you. 

He talked about the media having a role where the media finds it so convenient and easy to show the day to day consequences of the setbacks in Iraq, but they don‘t spend any time talking about the consequences of what the Democrats are proposing, which is withdrawal, which would lead to failure.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I could argue that he was probably writing correcting the media generally because there hasn‘t been a whole lot of public debate about the war in Iraq when there was time to do something about going in there.

And my critique of the media was we should have argued a lot more about this war before we get stuck in the sand when it would have done some good.  Now, we‘re stuck there.  And you‘re right, this is the time to think about how we eventually get out of there, not why we got in.

WALLACE:  And not just, Chris, not how we get out of there, but how we win.  The American people...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a definitional question, isn‘t it?  Winning is a tough question to define at this point.  What do you think winning is over there? 

WALLACE:  Well, I think that we see it every day.  We see it in the courage of the Iraqi soldiers who—I heard a wonderful story, I‘m not sure if this has made it‘s way into the American media. 

But Iraqi soldiers who were so moved by the victims of Katrina, they sent their salaries, their military salaries here to America for the victims.  There‘s something going on over there that I think very Americans understand, or really have a grasp of.

But, I think we went from five battle-ready battalions to 91 in the last about 13, 14 months.  And the debate in America gets boiled down to, are there - was there one battalion that can fight without the support or three. 

This is a real dramatic change in the battle space that is controlled by Iraqis.  And I think it‘s inspirational.  And I get to, in travels with the president, I actually get to meet people who have come back from there. 

And you really, we have to take the word of the people that know best, the generals that are over there that are directing our efforts and that are working hand-in-hand with the Iraqis, who are standing up and taking the fight to the enemy, to their enemies, to the terrorists who are killing predominantly Iraqis. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what they do.  They kill Arabs, kill Arabs to win some kind of argument.  Hey Nicolle, I can‘t wait to get over there to Iraq and meet with the troops next year, early next year.  I hope we can pull it of.  I would like to get over there and meet one and just chat with them on the record and let their feelings be heard and their courage be obvious.

Thank you very much, Nicolle Wallace.

WALLACE:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, will Senate Republicans investigate how the Bush administration used pre-war intelligence?  I‘m talking about the Republicans.  When we return, Senator Kit Bond, a Republican member of the Select Intelligence Committee, is going to join us here. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

As President Bush hits war critics, the Senate Intelligence Committee proceeds with a long-promised inquiry into whether the White House distorted or cherry-picked the intelligences to make the case for war. 

Republican Senator Kit Bond of Missouri, is a member of the Intelligence Committee.

Senator Bond, where does it stand right now on this phase two, where the committee was going to look at the role of the executive in terms of using the intelligence? 

SEN. KIT BOND ®, MISSOURI:  Two things, Chris.  Last year, we completed a two-year examination of the pre-war intelligence.  We found out that it was not good.  We didn‘t have the resources. 

But, the intelligence, according to our committee and the Silverman-Robb Committee, found absolutely no evidence that the administration influenced, or changed, or tried to pressure analysts. 

The Democrats are not happy with that.  They wanted to look at how the administration used it.  Well, I think we‘ve been through that.  I think we‘ve already learned that the intelligence that was there, was not as good as it should have been. 

Now, we began an effort at the staff level—working, four people working since February to look at all the statements that they selected and putting together the intelligence that backed them up.  And we are going to come out the same place we were. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you going to have a phase two, or are you going to look at how the administration itself used the intel that they got from the intelligence community? 

BOND:  That is part of—there‘s a five-part investigation.  That‘s going forward.  But, the only reason we‘re doing that, after we looked at the intelligence and the need for reform, is the fact that as one editorial said last week, the Democratic leadership has become a one-trick donkey. 

The president is trying to win the war against terrorism and the Democrats are trying to defeat Bush and the Republicans.  There is a lot of work that needs to be done, still needs to be done, in making sure our intelligence is better and we should be spending our time on that. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, 58 percent of the American people think the president deliberately misled them on pre-war intelligence.  Doesn‘t that doubt, that skepticism, which seems to be growing every week, because of the problems with the war itself have to be addressed? 

BOND:  Unfortunately, our intelligence findings in the Senate Intelligence Committee, unanimously adopted by Democrats and Republicans, that said there was no pressure, no change. 

The intelligence was what it was at the time.  The Silverman-Robb report said the same thing.  And some of my Democratic colleagues said even more definite statements.  Senator Rockefeller said there was unmistakable evidence. 

But you go back and look at it, and President Clinton, back in 1998 was saying the same thing.  He said that if we don‘t do something about it, some day I guarantee you, Saddam Hussein will use the arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and everybody who was in the military planning in ‘98, he said I know you believe that, too. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s a case in point and you are an expert on this, on the committee.  You know, the president said in his 2003 State of the Union that there was a British report that there were—Saddam Hussein was buying nuclear materials, uranium, yellow cake down in Niger.

And then it turns out that they did send—the CIA did send somebody down there, Joe Wilson, and something must have happened in his trip.  Some kind of report came back. 

And it turns out that later on, when this all came out, Ari Fleischer, the president‘s press secretary.  Stephen Hadley, the deputy then of the National Security Council, Condi Rice.  All apologized for the fact that that claim had been made in the State of the Union.

The CIA director, the DCI came out and he said he hadn‘t read the State of the Union.  It was his fault too.  So all this kind of, odd, sort of, failure to execute their jobs in checking stuff out as it went into the speech, isn‘t that a problem that ought to be looked at? 

It‘s not just the intelligence committees—I mean, the intelligence community, it‘s the failure of people who work for the president, the National Security Council, the head of the CIA, the president‘s press secretary.

All those people saying, we made a mistake.  It shouldn‘t have been in there, in the president‘s name.  Why doesn‘t somebody go back and check, how could that have happened?  Who jammed that through?  Who made that happen, even if there were questionable intelligence?

BOND:  The intelligence community did review that speech.  If the director didn‘t review it, it was reviewed by the intelligence community.  What Joe Wilson did when he went over there was to come back and present information that seemed to support the allegations that Saddam was trying to get uranium.  And secondly, the Brits did a study on it, the Lord Cook‘s report said that the statement made by the president in his state of the union message was based on the best intelligence at the time.  And it was not until after Wilson, totally blown the cover as a hoax that we found out that some of the documents—when we got our hands of it, we found out they were fake.  The documents...

MATTHEWS:  Why did the vice president get a trip—when I asked Tenet, why didn‘t the vice president get a report back on a trip that his question had triggered, he says ask the vice president.  There is something queer about this thing.  Why doesn‘t the vice president get a report back if it was his question about the uranium deal in Africa that led to Joe Wilson‘s trip? 

Why didn‘t the CIA go back and say, well here Mr. Vice president, it turns out there is something to it, there is some kind of deal under works there?  Why didn‘t he ever get that information back?  I don‘t get it. 

BOND: Well, I can‘t tell you what the CIA thought about.  But the evidence that Joe Wilson Brought back was tangential, it tended support what they had.  And based on the intelligence that we had at the time, it appeared that Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium. 

MATTHEWS:  But wasn‘t a lot of this coming from Ahmed Chalabi about aluminum tubes and all that stuff, and aluminum tubes.  Is he to be believed, that guy? 

BOND:  That is something—we are going to look at what Mr. Chalabi put into the intelligence mix.  But like so many other sources, he is one of many other sources everybody has to look at in basing they‘re estimates.  They are all estimates.  If his assertions were wrong, then so were others that went into the mix. 

Chalabi is the latest whipping boy.  But the Democrats are still trying to use—trying to go back to the pre-war days to try to discredit the president.  And all they are doing is encouraging our enemies.  Zawahiri in his famous letter to Zarqawi said we can get them to cut and run as they did in Vietnam.  And the result would be they could pursue they‘re Islamofascist califat, which would be absolutely deadly, not just for the Middle East, but for the entire world. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Senator Kit Bond, a member of the Intelligence Committee, senator from Missouri. 

Up next, the White House fights back.  This is HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  The recent indictment of Scooter Libby has raised questions about the vice president‘s office itself and the White House Iraq group, which sold the administration‘s case for war to the American people.  Polls now show that most Americans now don‘t trust this White House.  Strong words but it‘s true and it‘s in the polls.  So, who is telling the truth now anywhere?  HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster reports. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Good morning, Matt. 

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  White House officials took to the cameras again today to try to reinforce the president‘s defiance last week.  On Friday, President Bush accused Democrats of rewriting history about the administration‘s case for war with Iraq. 

BUSH:  Some Democrats and anti-war critics are now claiming we manipulated the intelligence and misled the American people about why we went to war.  These critics are fully aware that a bipartisan Senate investigation found no evidence of political pressure to change the intelligence community‘s judgments related to Iraq‘s weapons programs. 

SHUSTER:  But who investigated it and what did they find?  There have been two investigations, one by the Senate Select Intelligence Committee chaired by Kansas Republican Pat Roberts.  The other, a White House appointed bipartisan commission led by former senator Charles Rob and Judge Laurence Silverman. 

Neither found intelligence analysts were pressured.  However, several key issues were not addressed.  Most notably, whether the White House took intelligence and then hyped it, used selective pieces, or buried dissenting information.

As the White House appointed Rob-Silverman commission reported, “our executive order did not direct us to deal with the use of intelligence by policymakers.  And all of us were agreed that was not part of our inquiry.”

President Bush also criticized Democrats for suggesting the administration‘s view of Iraq was not widely shared. 

BUSH:  They also note that intelligence agencies from around the world agreed with our assessment of Saddam Hussein. 

SHUSTER:  It‘s true that foreign intelligence agencies and the Clinton administration agreed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.  But the Bush administration was the first to argue Saddam posed an imminent threat to the continental United States. 

SEN. TED KENNEDY, (D) MASSACHUSETTS:  President Bush exaggerated the threat to the American people.  It was not subtle, it was not nuanced, it was pure, unadulterated fear mongering. 

SHUSTER:  President Bush said comments like that undermine national security. 

BUSH:  The stakes in the global war on terror are too high, and the national interest is too important for politicians to throw out false charges. 

SHUSTER:  But when it comes to false charges, Democrats want dozens of administration claims made before the law that implied the facts about Saddam were clear. 

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  That he is, in fact, actively and aggressively seeking to acquire nuclear weapons.

BUSH:  Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons every devised. 

SHUSTER:  According to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 57 percent of Americans are convinced the president deliberately misled the nation.  Some Democrats say the president can not even be trusted now. 

HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN:  The president didn‘t even tell the truth in his speech.  He said that the Senate had the same intelligence that everybody else did.  That was not true.  He withheld some intelligence. 

SHUSTER:  Republicans throwing in the L word are hitting back. 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, ® ARIZONA:  I happen to believe that it is a lie to say that the president lied to the American people. 

SHUSTER (on camera):  But when will the American people get an independent view?  The Senate select committee began only recently what is known as phase two, an examination of pre-war intelligence claims and public statements.  And the committee chairman says there will not be any report or conclusions for months. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster. 

Up next, who knew what about pre-war intelligence?  “The Washington Post‘s” Dana Milbank and the “National Review‘s” Byron York will be here to talk about it.

Plus, President Bush‘s Supreme Court nominee.  There‘s a new controversy brewing over Judge Alito‘s paper trail on abortion.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL from New York.

The president is directly taking on his critics.  Will he be able to change the opinion of the American people?

Dana Milbank, a reporter for “The Washington Post,” and Byron York is White House correspondent for “The National Review.” 

Gentlemen, this new poll out that must trouble the White House.  It may have something do with its latest strategy, an aggressiveness. 

Fifty-eight percent of the American people believe the president deliberately misled them with regard to pre-war.  Fifty-seven percent with regard to pre-war intelligence.

Your thoughts on that, Byron? 

BYRON YORK, NATIONAL REVIEW:  Well, a lot of Republicans were very, very happy when the president started fighting back a few days ago, because they had seen these polls going south.  They knew the Democrats had been hammering on this very hard. 

And I asked a senior White House official on, I believe, November 2, when is this going to happen?  Is the president going to fight back? 

And as it was, it was 10, 12 days before it did happen.  So, yes, they were worried about it, but this is one of the things where the Bush administration seems to let a problem fester and go for a while before finally taking action. 

MATTHEWS:  Is this a question of the Democrats being on top of things, which I‘m skeptical to believe, or simply that they exploited what seems to be a growing pessimism about the war, and, therefore, a desire for some sort of a permission slip to say it was a mistake to go in there in the first place?

(CROSSTALK)

YORK:  I think that‘s the latter completely. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me go to Dana Milbank.

Scooter Libby, your paper had a great story on Saturday, sort of a catch up piece by your colleague Jim VandeHei, pointing out that the only explanation for Scooter Libby‘s absolute denial of the evidence is that he is practicing a great defense for his boss, the vice president. 

Seven different people he talked to about the identity of the agent, Valerie Wilson, before he ever talked to any reporters.  Seven different  people, his own notebook, he is challenging. 

It‘s the only explanation.  Is he just lying down for the boss, and Cheney is going to let this guy go to prison for 30 years knowing he is simply defending him?  It‘s a hell of a drama, isn‘t it? 

DANA MILBANK, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Oh, it sure is.  And, I mean, that piece is based on the logical deduction on why would a guy like Libby, who is after all a skilled lawyer, who knows how the process works, why would he subject himself to that. 

But it also gets into this area of is the administration willing to tolerate a huge trial going on next year right before these midterm elections.  It‘s going to be a lot of pressure on Scooter Libby to reach some sort of a plea agreement. 

MATTHEWS:  This is an amazing drama to me, Byron. 

Scooter Libby, a man who gave up a lucrative law practice, came into Washington government with the idea, I guess, of becoming another Paul Nitzer (ph) or a George, you know, Cannon (ph), sort of a wise man. 

And now he risks becoming a felon.  Why would he take that—make that sacrifice in the line of political duty, when, in fact, he is really not a political gun slinger.  That is not his background. 

YORK:  No, no, it‘s not.  And I think, first of all, “The Washington Post” piece while it did make some—a few logical deductions, it didn‘t have any factual knowledge so we don‘t know that‘s what... 

MATTHEWS:  What do you mean?  It had the language of the indictment, which points out all those cases in which Scooter didn‘t know about the identity of this agent. 

YORK:  Yes, but “The Post” went a step further, which is to say, that gee, it looks like he lied here, here and here.  And, yet, it made no sense because his notebook had given the evidence concealing—showing his lie. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  And that‘s the point.

YORK:  But “The Post‘s” conclusion was he had to be doing it to protect Cheney, and we don‘t know why he did it.  That was the jump that “The Post” made. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that is what I posed as what I thought was a reasonable question to you.  Why would he testify against his own notebook, testify against seven other administration witnesses?

YORK:  You know, I don‘t know, especially in light of the fact that it seems that if he had simply told the truth, then Fitzgerald, at least not from what we know now, would not have charged any underlying crime. 

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t it awful? 

I mean, it must drive a lot of people crazy.  But, I‘m amazed that the vice president is standing—well, we will talk about the vice president later on.

Let me ask you about Ahmed Chalabi.  “The New York Times” forced Judy Miller out because she believed him.  The paper felt ashamed that it had believed him. 

And now the vice president treats him to a 21-gun salute today.  What is going on?  Why is the vice president and other administration officials like Rumsfeld seeming to reject the notion that this guy is full of it? 

YORK:  Well, a couple of reasons.  One, he is now a high ranking Iraqi official so we do recognize... 

MATTHEWS:  Well, thanks to us we gave his country back. 

YORK:  Well, we do recognize his position. 

And the other thing is, look, I think there are a lot of people in the administration, who still believe that there were weapons of mass destruction somewhere that they were spirited away or in some way not found, so he‘s not the total bad guy.

MATTHEWS:  Who would  believe that?  Who do you know who believes that?  Any brand names?

YORK:  I‘m not going to say any brand names, but they do believe that it was not possible that all of the intelligence was totally wrong. 

MATTHEWS:  But, so much of this claim before the war—I was just trying to make a list of it, Dana. 

There was going to be WMD.  There was going to be a particular nuclear weapons program under way.  There was going to be a warm reception of us.  There wasn‘t going to be any insurgency.  The oil was going to pay for the war.  We were going to get much more access to plentiful oil and cheaper oil. 

All those promises, economic, political, ideological, weaponry, none of them came true.  I mean, it is zero for four.  I mean, it‘s not like the president, sort of, had a flaw in his predictions.  It was all wrong. 

MILBANK:  Well, right.  It is no coincidence that your first question was about the plummeting polls, and the second one being about this.

This is what people are seeing more than the Democratic attacks.

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t think the Democrats are very scary myself.

MILBANK:  No, not at all.  You‘d be completely giving them too much credit to think this has something to do with them.

Now, Chalabi‘s group, in particular, had to do with, remember the biological mobile, biological weapons laboratories and restarting the nuclear program.  So, he certainly has a key role in this. 

Now, he is not exactly getting the full red-carpet, state-dinner treatment here.  They spirited him in to talk to the vice president today without allowing any photos, any coverage of it.  Wouldn‘t even allow him to go to a stakeout afterwards.  So, they are giving him some of that treatment, but they also don‘t want it to be observed.  You‘re not going to get the photo of that handshake.

MATTHEWS:  But you know, the praise is, you hear it a lot.  I‘m sure you‘ve heard it, too, Dana, both you and Bryan.

This is the only man ever to get his country back through the vice president‘s office, like it was a constituent service operation.  Is that still a going relationship, Byron?  The vice president, the Chalabi people?

YORK:  Look, the one thing that‘s offensive about a lot of this argument is there‘s this assumption that Dick Cheney is running the country, and I think it‘s pretty clear that George W. Bush made the decision on the war.  So, I would just completely disagree on that premise.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s not—the premise about the relationship between Chalabi and the vice president is sound.  That‘s the premise I‘m holding to.

YORK:  Clearly, a lot of people in...

MATTHEWS:  ... it manifested again late this afternoon with their new meeting.  I mean, I don‘t think there‘s any doubt about that warm relationship.

YORK:  Clearly a lot of people in the administration and the vice president‘s office believed what Chalabi was saying.  And people in journalism, too, by the way.  So, what can I say?  There are some who still, I think, believe. 

MATTHEWS:  I, by the way, believe President Bush took us to war.  I think the vice president was in many ways an extremely persuasive partner in that. 

Anyway, thank you very much.  Dana Milbank, thank you Byron York. 

When we return, did the president get Americans back to supporting this war? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. As the president‘s approval rating continues to erode, he is facing even more problems.  According to the latest Newsweek poll, 50 percent of Americans say President Bush is not ethical and honest.  That‘s half the country.  Vice President Dick Cheney fares even worse, 55 percent of those say he‘s not ethical and honest.

For an assessment of these latest poll numbers and a look at some of the big issues this administration‘s facing now, we turn to former Republican Congressman from Oklahoma, J.C. Watts and Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen. 

Well, let‘s be optimistic here, three more years in this second term of President Bush‘s presidency.

Congressman Watts, what would you advise that he do to shake things up? 

J.C. WATTS ®, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN:  Well, Chris, first of all, Chris, he‘s going to have to get on offense.  And I only saw that last Friday. 

In politics, you are either on offense or you‘re on defense.  And if you‘re on defense, you are losing.  And I think the president, for the last two months has either been standing still or he‘s been totally on defense.

I think he has to come out, as he did last Friday on Veterans Day and start to state the facts and defend what he did.  The Democrats supported this effort to go to war, or the vast majority in the United States Senate did.  They supported this war and now all of a sudden, they‘re saying, just kidding.  We want to take our vote back.

MATTHEWS:  Well, to be honest, half the Democratic senators voted against the resolution, 21 voted against it. 

WATTS:  Well, 21 voted against it is what we‘re—Chris, that‘s less than the majority, that‘s less than half. 

MATTHEWS:  Right, but I think the ones who were opposed to the war in the beginning have a right to speak now, don‘t they? 

WATTS:  Well, Chris, no, they do have a right to speak.  And I will defend their right to speak, but I think it is disingenuous to say that—if you‘re going to say that the president misled the country, or the president didn‘t come forward with the truth or with the facts, then you have to say those 24 Democrats who voted for it, that they did the same thing. 

It‘s disingenuous to say that it‘s all the president‘s fault when he was using the same information, the same intelligence, as the 15 members of the United Nations Security Council.  They saw the same intelligence. 

And one other thing, Chris.  If there‘s anybody, anybody in the Senate, that disagreed with the intelligence, they had the right to call in any national security adviser, any secretary of state, any general and ask them those questions that they had concerns about.  They failed to do that, and now they‘re against it. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to that same question.  Hilary, it seems to me, he‘s got a point there. 

People like John Edwards, I talked to him at the time of the Iraq war.  He was totally for it.  Totally for it, not just because of WMD.  He believed in the cause, he thought it was a reasonable threat to countries like Israel and other allies over there.  Edwards was completely for the war.  And this weekend, I read a column from him saying, I was wrong, I shouldn‘t have voted for the war.  John Kerry did that a week or two weeks ago.  What good is this Monday morning quarter backing by the quarterback do?

HILARY ROSEN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Three years into a war, to wonder what our strategy is, and how we‘re getting out, and why so many Americans and Iraqis have died, is not Monday morning quarter backing.  It‘s asking the right questions.

I think the president is on the offensive.  I think the problem is, what he‘s saying, is still kind of offensive to the American people.  His speech this week was No. 1, the critics are unpatriotic.  And No. 2, we were wrong, we didn‘t lie, we were wrong. 

And if you criticize us, you‘re unpatriotic.  So ,they‘re making a circular argument.  But what they‘re not doing is giving people the strategy for success,  here.  You ask the White House communications director that tonight, she didn‘t have an answer.  And I think the president‘s approval ratings are simply showing that people are not buying it anymore. 

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, I want to ask you both, do you think the Democrats and Republicans, Democrats are any better than the Republicans, J.C., in making big decisions when you have to make them?  In 2002, in 2003, a decision was made to go to war with Iraq.  I agree with you, I did not hear the big voice of the Democratic party.  Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, John Kerry, all for the war.  Hillary Clinton for the war.  Bill Clinton for the war.  I didn‘t hear the big voice of opposition.  I did see there were 21 who did vote against the war, though. And I think they have a particular right to speak now because they can say, I told you so if they want to, can‘t they? 

WATTS:  Chris, is that to me or to Hilary? 

MATTHEWS:  Try at both.  It‘s a jump ball.

JC WATTS, ® FRM. U.S. CONGRESSMAN:  I have made that case.  I don‘t, as Hillary would say, I don‘t think that because someone would be critical of the president that they are unpatriotic.  I just think it is disingenuous and it‘s dishonest to say that the president—I mean the way they are framing it, you would almost think that the president was only one that saw the intelligence, that he and the vice president alone are the people that saw the intelligence when the other people saw just like the president did.

Again, Chris, 15 members of the United Nations security council said yes, come clean.  Saddam Hussein did not do that, he suffered the consequences.  So now to say that somehow the president hyped the intelligence or there was an intelligence hoax, the Clinton administration saw that intelligence.  I just think it‘s disingenuous and dishonest to do that.  Not that they can‘t be critical, but I think you have to be careful in taking this as though the president was the only one that saw it. 

ROSEN:  Well first of all, the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi and Ted Kennedy, there were a lot of people against this war.  But that‘s not the point, the point is now we are three years into this.  And if you noticed, since we are in the political part of the hour, that every single time Democrats ask questions, the White House and Republican response is you are asking the wrong questions.  That‘s your problem, you just keep asking the wrong questions. 

They are not giving any answers.  OK.  You don‘t want to talk about why we went into it, talk about how we are going to get out of it.  This is not an adequate response for the American people.  And people just don‘t want to hear this White House attacks on Democrats‘ motives any more. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of the new senate proposition that there be a date and plan for withdrawal—Hilary? 

ROSEN:  I think that the president is obligated to tell this country what his strategy is.  Whether or not it makes sense to have a date or not, we need to leave that to more thoughtful experts.  But the key issue here is how do we define success as a nation?  Because it‘s not the things we said we went in there for.  There are no weapons of mass destruction.  We are not going to change democracy in the Middle East forever.  And we are not eliminating terrorism with our activity there.  What are we doing?

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go back and talk about what the Democrats and the Republicans are going to agree to do, because there is a big push.  It started now in the Senate today to get the president to lay out a plan for withdraw from Iraq.  We will be right back with JC Watts and Hilary Rosen.  This is HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with former Oklahoma Congressman JC Watts and Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen. 

Hilary, I want you top respond to this.  This is a quote from Sam Alito who is up for Supreme Court back in ‘85.  “I am particularly proud of my contributions in recent cases in which the government has argued in the Supreme Court that racial and ethnic quotas should not be allowed and that the constitution does not protect the right to an abortion.”  Will that have an impact on his confirmation hearing? 

ROSEN:  I think it‘ll have an impact on the hearings.  And, you know, it‘s good reporting that this memo was found that he had written while he was in the Reagan administration.  But it‘s not particularly big news.  That‘s why he was appointed.  The conservatives have embraced this guy. 

This guy has gone against affirmative action.  He‘s gone against a ton of

progressive issues where this country has moved and he hasn‘t and the

president hasn‘t.  So, I think it‘s going to be—the hearings are going -

he‘s going to be put on the spot.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you Hilary Rosen.  Thank you JC Watts.  This weekend “Saturday Night Live‘s” Darryl Hammond and company played HARDBALL.  Let‘s take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DARRYL HAMMOND, ACTOR/COMEDIAN:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  As the Republicans dig themselves deeper and deeper into a political hole, one question remains: What are the Democrats doing in order to blow it?  Here to offer her two cents is House minority leader Nancy Pelosi. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s nice to be here. 

HAMMOND:  No, it‘s not. 

Ms. Pelosi, the Bush administration is in turmoil.  Top Republican leaders are under indictment and the vice president‘s top priority seem to be getting the go ahead to attach a car battery to a man‘s nipples, yet despite all this the Democrats have staid relatively quiet.  What are the Democrats proposing to counteract all this corruption?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  That‘s easy, Chris, we‘re going to do nothing. 

HAMMOND:  You‘re going to do nothing...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  That‘s right.  And here‘s why.

We‘ve learned that whenever we do anything, people hate us.  In fact our studies have shown that John Kerry would have won in a landslide if he had just never said or did anything ever. 

HAMMOND:  I got to say, I like your style. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It‘s not like we still don‘t have ideas.  We do.  It‘s just when we have something to say now, we record it on tape, then we put those tapes in a box.  And then put that box in the garbage.  It‘s really working for us. 

HAMMOND:  Joining us now to provide an historical perspective on the issue of torture is former senator and current danger to himself, Zell Miller.  Go!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  George, you‘re a phony (ph)!  Where I come from, if we wanted to get a man to talk, we had our ways!  And I ain‘t going to say what them ways was!  But suffice it to say that nearly all them involved blacksmithing tools and the genitals. 

And I got news for you Matthews!  If it wasn‘t for doing weird stuff to a man‘s genitals, we‘d all be speaking Korean right now!

HAMMOND:  You‘ve done it again.  Final thoughts. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You put me in a room with an al Qaeda and a pair of pliers and a sack full of door knobs, and I‘ll get you what you need!  I have ways of making a man talk, Matthews!  And one of them is live from New York, it‘s Saturday night!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  One of has to days that poor guy‘s going to die doing that. 

Anyway, join us again tomorrow at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.

Right now it‘s time for the “ABRAMS REPORT” with Dan.

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

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