updated 11/18/2005 11:23:15 AM ET 2005-11-18T16:23:15

Guest: John McCain, John Kerry, Bob Bennett

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight, our calls for withdrawal from Iraq smart or are they aiding and abetting the enemy?  I‘ll ask Senator John McCain and Senator John Kerry. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews.  A top pro-military Congressman from Pennsylvania today called for immediate troop withdrawal from Iraq.  Is he right or do we stay until victory?  And what is victory at this point? 

Later we‘ll talk to Senator John Kerry and Senator John McCain, but first David Shuster with the latest on the administration‘s attack on critics of the war. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT:  Well Chris, the CIA leak investigation has clearly put the heat on the administration‘s case for war.  And in the wake of evidence that intelligence claims, some of them were hyped and other claims were buried, Democrats have been on the attack.  And last night, Vice President Cheney hit back with this.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The suggestion that‘s been made by some U.S. senators that the president of the United States, or any member of this administration purposely misled the American people on pre-war intelligence is one of the most dishonest and reprehensible charges ever aired in this city. 

The president and I cannot prevent certain politicians from losing their memory or their backbone.  But we are not going to sit by and let them rewrite history. 

SHUSTER:  But speaking of history, here is Vice President Cheney on allegation that Iraq was linked to a 9/11 hijacker. 

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

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

CHENEY:  No, I never said that.  I never said that.

BORGER:  OK, I think that is...

CHENEY:  ... that‘s absolutely not.

It‘s been pretty well confirmed. 

SHUSTER:  Now, regarding Vice President Cheney‘s claims about Iraq‘s nuclear program, the intelligence had some caveats and some uncertainties.  And yet Vice President Cheney used phrases like, we know and, in fact. 

CHENEY:  We now know that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. 

He is, in fact, actively and aggressively seeking to acquire nuclear weapons. 

SHUSTER:  Of course what makes Cheney even more controversial is the Scooter Libby indictment.  The Libby indictment says that Vice President Cheney told his chief of staff, Libby, on June 12, 2003, that Valerie Wilson, the wife of an administration critic, worked in a covert division of the CIA.

A month later, the indictment says that vice president Cheney gave Scooter Libby some media advice about the matter.  And later that same day, Scooter Libby talked about the Wilsons to two well-known reporters. 

And add to all of this, Chris, is the news about Bob Woodward, that we now know Bob Woodward was the first reporter to get information about the Wilsons.  He says he got it in mid June of 2003.  And today, all the administration officials contacted by reporters, all of them said they were not Bob Woodward‘s source.  The one exception was Dick Cheney.  He said he was not going to comment on an ongoing investigation.  Chris?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you David Shuster.

Senator John McCain has earned the right to be an outspoken national leader.  As naval aviator, tortured prisoner of war, war hero, Congressman and Senator from Arizona since 1987, McCain has been making sacrifices and serving out country most of his life.

He‘s also a respected author.  His latest book, Character is Destiny, has just been published.  With everything going on in Washington these days, a discussion of good character and values seems in order. 

Welcome, Senator.  Good timing.  You‘re like Bob Woodward in getting these books ready.

I love some of the stuff in this book, especially about some of my heroes like Teddy Roosevelt and Sir Thomas More.  And if you‘re a Catholic, we call him St. Thomas More. 

But let‘s talk about this.  Is the administration right to go out there and really whack the Democrats the way Vice President Cheney was for questioning the WMD case for war at this point? 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  I think the polls indicate that a lot of Americans, a majority of Americans, believe that they weren‘t told the truth. 

That requires a vigorous response.  That absolutely requires a vigorous response. 

I think it‘s a lie to say that the president was lying.  Colossal intelligence failure?  Yes.  Were we responsible, all of us, for a colossal intelligence failure?  Absolutely.  We have to fix it, yes.  Has it been fixed?  In my opinion, no. 

But I do not believe that there was a massive conspiracy between the Russian intelligence agency and Israeli, French.  Every intelligence agency in the world said that Saddam Hussein drew the same conclusion, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that the vice president selected the worst case scenario, in terms of evidence.  And perhaps ignored some of the exculpatory facts he was getting from the intelligence community, which we know is much more skeptical than he was about the cause for war.

MCCAIN:  I have no information.  I know that when I served on the Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, every analyst that I asked, I said did you ever feel political pressure to change or distort any of your conclusions?  Every one of them said no.

MATTHEWS:  And you don‘t believe the vice president‘s half-dozen trips over to Langley, the CIA headquarters, had anything to do with influencing their reports?  All those trips.

MCCAIN:  You know, in an issue this serious, Chris, maybe it‘s a good idea for administration officials to go over and examine the information that‘s provided.  I can‘t say...

MATTHEWS:  ... the No. 2 guy over there said he hadn‘t seen such a hammering in 35 years from outside. 

MCCAIN:  I don‘t know anything about that.  I just know that the analysts who came before the commission that I sat on said, they hadn‘t felt...

MATTHEWS:  ... OK after all is considered, when you were voting to authorize the use of force if necessary by the president in 2002, in October.  Did you believe, after listening to the vice president that there was a chance that Saddam Hussein could deliver a nuclear weapon to this country?  Drop a bomb on us? 

MCCAIN:  I believed not just from the vice president, but I believed in all the intelligence analyses.  Maybe not that he could drop a bomb on the United States.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s what he was saying.

MCCAIN:  But certainly that he was acquiring.

MATTHEWS:  OK, he was getting toward one.  But the idea of a mushroom cloud was a very vivid image, as you know.

MCCAIN:  Yes, it was.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s V.J. day, it‘s right from World War II.  And it wakes people up, and say, wait a minute, we‘d better not have that happen. 

MCCAIN:  But I could in a little different context.  He had acquired and used  -- he was the only dictator in the world who had used weapons of mass destruction twice. 

And, that we had the sanctions were eroding.  We know the oil-for-food program was filled with corruption.  The sanctions were not going to hold.  And in my view, his entire record showed that he would acquire and use weapons of mass destruction if he ever had the chance to do so. 

Were we wrong?  Yes.  That‘s what I think has the American people confused.  But, there is a difference between being wrong and intentionally deceiving some people. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the president should come out and explain how he made these mistakes?  I mean, how did they get it all wrong?  There‘s no weapons of mass destruction evident when we got into Iraq.  Shouldn‘t he explain how that could have happened? 

MCCAIN:  I think he probably should, but I think the most important thing now is to rebut the charges that are being made that he intentionally deceived the American people. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘ve got a tough headline here in a piece you wrote for the “New York Post” today.  And I know you don‘t write headlines, but here it is.  Aiding and abetting, you talked about how the people in the United States Senate, most of them Republicans in your party, by the way, this past week, pushed a resolution through.

A non-binding resolution that basically said, let‘s have a big transition next year. 

The message was, as you noted, Senate presses for concrete steps toward withdrawal of troops out of Iraq.  The message was, we‘re getting out.  Is that aiding and abetting, even though the Republican party supported that? 

MCCAIN:  Absolutely not.  Nor do I ever questions anyone‘s motives who disagrees with policies on the war. 

One of our most cherished rights is to disagree with the policies of our government.  I respect, enormously, the views of other people, or at least their ability to voice their objections ...

MATTHEWS:  ... so you don‘t like this headline, aiding and abetting?

MCCAIN:  I think it‘s outrageous. 

MATTHEWS:  But they put it on your piece.

Have you complained to the “New York Post” yet about it?

MCCAIN:  No, I hadn‘t.  I hadn‘t seen it.

MATTHEWS:  Why don‘t you complain if you don‘t like it?

MCCAIN:  I will, but I hadn‘t seen it.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it says aiding and abetting by John McCain.  And then its got your piece, which says these words, the Senate Republican Majority‘s, will be read closely by both our friends and enemies over there.  Doesn‘t that sound like the enemies will use it against us and they‘ll say we‘re on the run? 

MCCAIN:  But that may be a risk we take.  I believe that one of the cherished rights we have is to disagree with our government. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, here we go, John Murtha, a man we all love in this town.  A veteran of Congress, a very strong combat veteran, like yourself, from Vietnam.  He stunned many today with his comment, this is not a dove talking here.  This is a life-long hawk.  Why troops should be re-deployed outside of Iraq immediately.  Let‘s listen to a portion of this man‘s emotional remarks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  The threat by terrorism is real.  But we have other threats that cannot be ignored.  We must prepare to face all these threats.  The future of our military is at risk.  Our military and our families are stretched thin.  Many say the army‘s broken.  Some of our troops are on the third deployment. 

Recruitment is down, even as the military‘s lowered its standards.  Defense budgets are being cut.  Our military has been fighting this war in Iraq for over two and a half years.  Our military has accomplished its mission and done its duty.  Our military captured Saddam Hussein, captured a few of his closest associates. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look now at his plan, the Congressman is very particular here, Senator.

Let‘s take a look at what John Murtha says we should do over there with regard to our troops and their deployment in Iraq. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MURTHA:  My plan calls for immediate re-deployment of U.S. troops, consistent with the safety of the U.S. forces.  To create a quick reaction force in the region.  To create an over-the-horizon presence of Marines and to diplomatically pursue security and stability in Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Strong stuff, Senator.

MCCAIN:  Strong stuff.  There‘s no man in Congress I respect more than John Murtha, he‘s a great, truly great American.  And I not only have respect, but affection for him.  We just simply disagree. 

MATTHEWS:  What would happen if we withdrew our troops right now, the way he says, from the country of IraqrMD+DN_rMDNM_?

MCCAIN:  Anarchy.  You‘d see ethnic clashes between Shia, Kurd and Sunni.  And you would see an insurgency that I think would probably prevail over time and eventually become a breeding ground for Muslim extremism. 

I think—I respect John Murtha.  We need to have this debate across this country.  And I think we have to win.  I think the consequences of failure are incredible, and the benefits of success are marvelous. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about your book.  It‘s a beautifully done book.  I‘m not going to be superficial, but it‘s nicely put together.  It‘s Random House.  It‘s “Character is Destiny.”  It‘s kind of like “Profiles in Courage” except it‘s about a lot of people, not just Americans.  It‘s about character, it‘s about honesty. 

One last news question as we go into this book, do you think the vice president‘s chief of staff is facing 30 years right now, owes the country an explanation of his role in this thing? 

MCCAIN:  Sure, sure.  Absolutely.  All of us need to know the events surrounding what happened.  Now if there‘s an ongoing investigation or for some reason for him not to, I can see why there might be a delay, but at some point clearly. 

MATTHEWS:  I love trying to read your mind.  You‘re an interesting fellow, senator, and a hero.  I‘m going to break in a minute.  But I want you to think about this.  So many of the people you talk about here, these heroes, Thomas Moore, Alexander Colby, who gave his life in the holocaust, Mandela, Victor Frankel, Joan of Arc all spent time in prison.  And I want to talk about that.  You‘ve had that shared experience because you were a P.O.W. in Hanoi Hilton.  I want you to talk about why you identify—well, maybe obviously with these amazing people—John McCain, we‘ll talk about character and how it shows up in people who stuck in prison and what he thinks now more than ever about torture.

Plus, lots about his new book “Character is Destiny.”  Bound to be a best seller.  We‘ll be right back.

And John Kerry is coming up later in the show.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with Arizona senator John McCain.  He‘s the author of an important new book, “Character is Destiny.”

Why do you think character—I mean, Reagan, a lot of talk about character in his books.  Character still counted, you know, stories about, you know, Lombardi.  Why are we going back?  Why are we going back to that right now?  Why is that important? 

MCCAIN:  I think because the country is in real disarray.  When we look at our public opinion polls it shows that the country is on the—the majority think we‘re on the wrong track.  Many Americans don‘t believe that they‘ll keep their job.  That there‘s distrust in government. 

MATTHEWS:  Not you.  You‘re Mr. Right.  You have got the best numbers in the country on that issue. 

MCCAIN:  But approval of Congress overall is very low.  So I think Americans are—they‘re confused about the war, obviously.  They had their expectations raised too many times.  That‘s one of the problems why we‘re seeing this eroding support.  So I think there‘s a great unease out there in the country today.  And so when that happens they turn back to some of the basic qualities that they can trust and they can believe in. 

MATTHEWS:  They just did a “National Journal”—I don‘t know if you participated—for Democrats and Republicans in the Congress.  Is the Congress got as many good people as it did 20 years ago?  Now it was two to one, no.  That was—it‘s like majority both Republicans and Democrats say no. 

And one person volunteered the comment the House and the Senate have both become launching pads for lobbying careers.  That is the most depressing thing I‘ve ever heard.  Usually you become a lobbyist if you get beaten, but you don‘t plan on it. 

MCCAIN:  But it‘s happened in many cases recently, as you know.  And one of the reasons why we need some lobbying reform.  We have to really understand that we always look back with some nostalgia to the good, old days, the people there were more perfect than they actually were.  You‘ve got to take that into account. 

But still when you see—I didn‘t take part in that poll.  When you see those kinds of numbers...

MATTHEWS:  So, you think the men of Congress has as many men of character as it did when it had Barry Goldwater and Hubert Humphrey and people like that in the old days—Everett Dirksen and Jack Javitz.  They seem like such heavyweights today.

MCCAIN:  They were giants.  And they had enormous public appeal.  There‘s not many Congressmen and senators that are known throughout the country these days.  Were they more honest and have more integrity?  I‘m not sure. 

The majority of men and women I serve with I have the highest respect and regard for.  Are there giants like there used to be?  The guy you worked for in the House?  I mean, these people—whether you agree or disagree with Tip O‘Neill, he was a giant when he entered the room, right? 

MATTHEWS:  Something to ask you about.  You‘re Episcopalian, right? 

MCCAIN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Why did you choose to write in this amazing book about a Roman Catholic hero—maybe he‘s a Christian hero—religious era—

Thomas Moore, a man who stood against Henry VIII when he founded the Episcopalian church, basically. 

MCCAIN:  I didn‘t write about him so much because he was a Catholic, I wrote about him because he was faced with an incredible dilemma that he had to give up his life for, his beliefs, that the King of England was not superior to the pope.  That was really what it was all about. 

MATTHEWS:  This is what he thought. 

MCCAIN:  You know, the interesting thing about it is he never came out in opposition to the king, he just was silent.  He wouldn‘t come out in support.  And that wasn‘t sufficient for the King Henry VIII.  And he also had a marvelous intellect as you know.  He was one of the giants of his time.  And he went to the scaffold and said it was very polite and joked with the executioner as he was executed. 

MATTHEWS:  In the book you said don‘t cut my hair, my hair didn‘t offend the king.  Amazing.

We‘ll be right back with Senator John McCain.  We‘re talking about character.

And coming up in the next half-hour here on HARDBALL, my interview with another great senator, the man who lost the presidency, very close race.  Lost in Ohio and lost it all last time—John Kerry.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Senator John McCain.  His new book is “Character is Destiny.”  That‘s the title of it.  It‘s been published.  It‘s an important new read, especially for the times we‘re living in right now.  Obviously character is destiny.  Why do you do this?  Aren‘t you busy enough? 

MCCAIN:  You know, with Mark Salter who is my administrative assistant, we‘ve been together for 16 years, we think a lot alike, and we spend a lot of time together and not only professionally but socially, and we talk the these things.  And, frankly, it was our—this book was our publisher‘s idea, but ... 

MATTHEWS:  How do you do this?  I just want to ask you.  I want to quiz you about your methodology here.  How do you get the idea—well, let‘s talk about the Ike, because you‘re a military man.  Do that first one.  But I am amazed as how you look at these names—Ferdinand Magellan, Leonardo Da Vinci, Charles Darwin, Theodore Roosevelt, Wilma Rudolph—we all great up with her. 

The four chaplains—we all know that story about the heroic guys that went down with the ship.  Nelson Mandela, of course, and Maximilian Kolbe, the guy who gave his life who wasn‘t Jewish but went down, basically -- it‘s almost like out of “Tale of Two Cities.”   He gave his life for the other person. 

MCCAIN:  He said take me.  He said take me, and another man who survived, who had children, he said take me.  And they starved him to death and then they ended up injecting him.  I mean, it‘s not believable.  Viktor Frankl, you know, his famous phrase, “they took everything away except for our right to choose our own way.”  It‘s marvelous. 

MATTHEWS:  Tell me the Ike story.  We got a minute.  I love the Ike story. 

MCCAIN:  Ike—you know, and that‘s an area that really applies today because the night before the Normandy Invasion, Eisenhower went to his quarters and he wrote two letters.  One of them was congratulating the men and the marvelous job they did in carrying out a successful invasion, the largest invasion in history and congratulating for their heroism, etc. 

The other letter, I‘m resigning from the United States Army, taking full responsibility for the failure of the landings at Normandy.  You know, how many leaders today, including this one, would think of that kind of humility that he really understood that he was prepared to take the responsibility for failure.  And he placed it all on himself.

MATTHEWS:  When is Ike going to get his day?  When are we going to talk about him the way we do about Truman today?

MCCAIN:  History is treating Eisenhower more and more kindly as time goes by.  He is one of those presidents that wear well.  Some don‘t.  He was in a period of peace.  He didn‘t want us to go to Vietnam.  His farewell address I quote all the time about the military industrial complex and running up debts that mortgage our children‘s futures.  And he had a congeniality about him, and of course his troops loved him.

We can‘t understand exactly how transcendent these heroes are of World War II—Eisenhower, Halsey, Bradley—these great leaders that won World War II. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, this is a great story to tell.  By the way, Ike is reason enough to buy this book for Christmas and the holidays this year.  “Character is Destiny”—don‘t wait for the holidays.  Of course, anyway, thank you, Senator.  You‘re a great part of this show. 

Up next, another you once and perhaps future presidential candidate, John Kerry.  He says it‘s hard to name a government official with less credibility, he says, on Iraq than Vice President Cheney.  It‘s going to be a tough interview.  I‘m going to ask him what he means by all that.  This is HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Vice President Dick Cheney has attacked Democratic senators who voted for the war in Iraq and are now opposed to it.

One of those senators is John McCain.  And late today, I sat down with Senator Kerry in his office on Capitol Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Senator Kerry, for having us to your Capitol office.  You made a very strong statement in a press release last night.  You said, “It‘s hard to name a government official with less credibility on Iraq than Vice President Cheney.”  Why‘d you say that?

KERRY:  I said that because I meant it.  He is the person who stood up and talked about how Iraqis met with the people who hijacked the airplanes.  The intelligence community never shared that information.  He personally, and his small group of people, according to Colin Powell, former secretary of State‘s own chief of staff, sort of took over and became a cabal that ran American foreign policy.

He opposed the inspections, going to the United Nations.  And he, together with the president, provided America with intelligence that was not shared by the intelligence community, and they misled America.

Now Dick Cheney, a man who had five deferments in the course of the Vietnam War, if he‘s going to challenge me with respect to my support for the troops, that‘s a debate I‘m prepared to have with him anywhere at any time.

MATTHEWS:  Are you surprised that the president himself went after you personally last Friday?

KERRY:  I‘m not surprised by anything from this White House.  I learned that during the course of the campaign.  I‘m sorry for America that on Veterans Day, a day that is sacred to veterans and certainly not a day for attack politics, the president not only engaged in attack politics, but continued to distort, continued to misrepresent to America my position, the position of the United States Congress.  Point blank. 

The United States Congress did not get the same intelligence that was available to this administration, and for them to say so is to continue to mislead America.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the difference between what you believe Dick Cheney had in hand when he pushed for the war, and what you had in hand when you voted to authorize the president‘s use of force if necessary?

KERRY:  Well, I‘ll give you a number of examples:  In the State of the Union message, the president of the United States used information about nuclear materials and Saddam Hussein trying to get them from Africa. 

Three times the White House had been told by the CIA, in writing and verbally, that is not accurate, don‘t use that intelligence.  They used it.  They didn‘t tell Congress it wasn‘t accurate.

Likewise, when they announced to people that they had the delivery ability for weapons, biological and chemical weapons, within—I think it was 45 minutes, if I recall, but less than an hour.  That was not shared by members of the intelligence community, and it was not shared with Congress that the intelligence community disagreed.

When they said that there were poisonous gas and bomb-making training given by Iraqis to al Qaeda, that was not accurate.  It was discounted by the Defense Intelligence Agency.  They never told us about the discount. 

There were a whole series of occasions where they took evidence, took the best light of the evidence only, kept the worst or alternatives from Congress, and fed the American people with the imperative for war.

MATTHEWS:  Why did they have their on the war, that they would this sort of thing?

KERRY:  I believe—I personally believe now, the evidence is clear as we‘ve looked at any number of things.  I mean, it‘s amazing to me that the memos from Great Britain, from Prime Minister Blair‘s cabinet have not received more analysis here, because they talk about how people within that cabinet believed the intelligence was being shaped to try to fit the mission.

And I think that the decision was fundamentally made that they wanted to remake the Middle East, remove Saddam Hussein, have a foothold in that part of the world, and they naively and inaccurately believed the intelligence people like Chalabi and others.  And it was a cause of many people like Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith and others.  This was the course they wanted to go on, and Vice President Cheney was pushing it very hard.

MATTHEWS:  So it was ideology rather than fear of an attack by Saddam Hussein in this country?

KERRY:  I think the initial idea clearly began to be worked on, and then they began to massage the different components of how do you persuade people it‘s the right thing to do.

The weapons of mass destruction were a legitimate concern.  I am not saying—and I said it on the floor of the Senate.  I stand by what I said on the floor of the Senate.  Saddam Hussein who was allowed to develop these weapons, or if he grew his arsenal, was a threat to the United States.

The issue is, was the only way to respond to that threat the way the president chose to?  And in fact, the president promised he would respond differently, Chris.  He told Americans in his speech in Cincinnati, war is not inevitable, that if in fact we go, we will plan carefully.  He said we would go with our allies, and he said we would go as the last resort.

The fact is, we did none of those things.  We clearly didn‘t plan carefully.  We didn‘t go with a whole pack of allies the way his father did, and he certainly didn‘t go as a last resort.

MATTHEWS:  Last night Vice President Cheney said there were a few opportunists, he called them, back home who are suggesting that our GIs were sent into battle for a lie.  Is that a fair characterization of what you are saying?

KERRY:  No.  I didn‘t say—I never used the word that they were sent into battle for a lie, but they were—we were misled as a nation.  Yes we were misled.  On his face we were misled.  There were no weapons of mass destruction.  By anybody‘s simple definition, if you think you‘re doing one thing and it‘s not there, you‘re misled.

The question is were you misled intentionally.  And to what degree did they distort evidence in order to force that issue?  Now, I also have to tell you, the president says to all of us, we‘re going to take the United Nations seriously and we will go through the inspections process, and we are going to plan carefully and really build a coalition.

Then you believe one thing.  You think that if you go to war, you‘ll go to war a certain way.  But in fact, they didn‘t do those things.  The president didn‘t even accept his own State Department‘s detailed plans for how you manage post-war Iraq.

And so they misled us with respect to the planning, misled us with respect to the numbers of allies that would be involved, misled us with respect to the inspections.

Now, I said during the president debates, when the president said, well, if he thinks those are mistakes, how can he lead?  Well, I‘ve always said we need to try to be successful.  We need to support the troops.  We need to back those troops up.  And the way you support them is by giving them the best policy possible.  That means, as I‘ve laid out, we need, need to shift more rapidly the responsibility to Iraqis to begin to provide their own security.  There‘s no excuse for Americans to be engaged in some of the activities they‘re engaged in over there.  We could pull them back into a more rear guard, garrison kind of deployment.

We need to pull back, I think, 20,000 extra troops that were put in for the referendum and for the election.  My benchmark is not that you pull them out automatically, but that if the election is successful, and I believe it will be, we will achieve that benchmark.  And then you don‘t need the 20,000 extra that you put in for that purpose.

You‘ve got to set benchmarks.  Every time you say to the Iraqis, take as long—we‘re going to be there as long as you want, you say to the Iraqis, aha, we can take as long as we want.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  What do you think of General Casey—George Casey

saying that it could take—it takes on average nine years to defeat an insurgency?  That‘s a hell of a benchmark.  Are we willing to stay for nine years?

KERRY:  Not in the current construct, nor should we in the current construct.  I mean, if you do what we‘re doing today, and it‘s nine years, the American people are not going to support that.  I‘m not sure—I think most people I talk to in the military don‘t believe our military can withstand that, because you have a certain recycling and redeployment and training—

MATTHEWS:  Should we be there in any form nine years from now, still having military troops in Iraq, nine years from now?

KERRY:  Certainly not a combat kind of operation.  It‘s conceivable you could have some sort of small assistance or training—but I would hope not.  I would hope the United States of America would have done its job.  I think you can do this within the next 12-to-15 months, and that‘s the plan that I‘ve laid out.

If you set—not specific—this is where frankly the president, the vice president and his supporters distort this issue.  They try to say to America the Democrats want to just cut and run.  No, we don‘t.  We want to succeed.  And we believe we have a better plan for success.  Our plan for success is to set benchmarks of achievement which you reach.  And as you reach those benchmarks of achievement, you can draw down American forces.

And it‘s only by setting that responsibility on the shoulders of Iraqis that you will begin to have them actually assume that responsibility.

MATTHEWS:   We‘ll be right back with more with Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Senator John Kerry.

Do you have a sense now that so much information is getting out now about the, really, questions—and they‘re hard questions—about the WMD case, the connection with 9/11, all the interesting finessing that went on before the war.  Do you think if it had, the public would have been better off with an election where they knew more?

KERRY:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Would they have voted differently?

KERRY:  America is always better off with information.  That‘s who we are.  We are a democracy that thrives on the truth.  And the American people were not given the whole truth.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s so long ago.  I mean, you voted in 2002 to authorize the use of force if necessary.  And then in the 2004 election, for two years, everything seemed to be under wraps. 

And it‘s only now, post-election, that this stuff is getting—was there an attempt to keep everything really secure, these cases for war that turned out to be questionable—solid and secure for all these months?  Why are we getting the information now?

KERRY:  I think—well, I think it‘s pretty obvious, Chris, why it happens now.  The Republicans stonewalled for a year and a half the investigation of the Intelligence Committee into this question of manipulated evidence.  Only after the Democrats shut down the Senate last week into secret session did we force their hand with respect to that. 

Now, you know, the fact is, that during the election, I pointed out the failure of Tora Bora.  And I think I was the first United States senator to stand up and say this administration allowed Osama bin Laden to escape through their clutches.

And more and more evidence has come out since then, contrary to what they even said in the—during the campaign, that in fact, it was, I think, incompetence, bad judgment, and bad decision making that allowed Osama bin Laden to escape.

MATTHEWS:  In the fall of 2001, right after 9/11, we all knew by reading the newspapers, and even more, that al Qaeda had locations in Somalia, Sudan, the Philippines, and of course, in Afghanistan.

Why didn‘t the United States Senate say, why don‘t we track down al Qaeda, get that job done while we pacify some of the Arab world, instead of going out and starting a war in Arabia—in Iraq, that‘s probably caused us more terrorism?

KERRY:  Well, many of us argued at the time that that was the more important effort, that the real war—I said during the campaign again, I said, wrong war, wrong place, wrong time.  I was criticized for saying that.  But I stand by that.

MATTHEWS:  Are you still right?

KERRY:  Yes, I am right.  I am right that the right war was in Afghanistan.  The right time was then.  And the place was obviously Tora Bora and the other places where we should have apprehended and broken the back, entirely, of al Qaeda.

More importantly, even the terminology of the president, to scare Americans, sort of the war on terror which they now started not to use, I pointed out, you know, during that time, is not correct.

Terror is a tactic. Terror is the tactic.  The war is against the extremism and the ideology and the people who engage in these kinds of tactics.

And that is something that is spread much wider and was not in Iraq at the time that the choice existed for us, whether to go to Iraq or whether to complete the task in Afghanistan and hunt down al Qaeda.

MATTHEWS:  How did you react when you read that that woman in Fallujah and her husband—he had come back with some bodies of people who were killed as we were retaking Fallujah that time. 

They go into Jordan and they try to blow up a hotel, because she‘s angry about the way we treated her hometown in Fallujah.  Are we creating more terrorists?

KERRY:  Many people have argued throughout this.  And again, I think

I‘ve said this before, that some of what we are doing winds up inevitably -

General Casey has said this. 

Some of our generals who have obviously been right on hand and who are living with this day to day, believe that the overall presence of American troops and some of the things that we‘ve had to engage in, alienate Iraqi people. 

Go into—I mean, when an American soldiers winds up going into a Muslim home and engaging in a search mission, it‘s highly culturally difficult for us to be able to make that something that works well.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

KERRY:  Which is why I keep saying that you‘ve got to get this structured in a way that its Iraqis going into Iraqi homes, Iraqis policing Iraqi streets.  We‘re there to back them up until we can have sufficient confidence.  But clearly, there are terrorists in Iraq today that were not there before.

MATTHEWS:  Does the president believe, watching him all these years, that there‘s only—it‘s like an ethnic group.  There‘s a certain number of people who are terrorists, and we simply have to wipe them out and we win the war.  Does he look at it that way?

KERRY:  I can‘t tell you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  No, do you look at it that way?

KERRY:  Obviously not.  The war on terrorism—war on terror, I mean, the war against the extreme Muslim ideology, extremists, is far more complicated than that.

And it has differences in different countries.  What‘s happened is, because of this war in Iraq, they found a common linkage with each other.  And there‘s been a much greater empowerment, if you will, of their ability to go out and recruit people and engage in tactics that before, they weren‘t able to or didn‘t even know how to.

MATTHEWS:  The president‘s been speaking very strongly ...

KERRY:  ... and the intelligence—that‘s not me talking.  The intelligence community will tell you that.

MATTHEWS:  The president‘s been very tough on the Democratic opposition and that‘s fair enough.  That‘s the way it works.  It‘s a debate.  But you had the Republican majority operate this week to go along with a resolution which is a bit watered down from your sides, but what did you take from that Republican majority resolution this week on the war in Iraq?  What‘s the message to the president?

KERRY:  Many of our colleagues in the United States Senate are deeply concerned.  They know, and in conversations will acknowledge, that unbelievable mistakes have been made.  Many of them, obviously, with 2006 coming at them, are realizing that this is something they are going to have to live with

And I think they‘re beginning to try to pressure the administration, together with others, to come up with the real policies that made a difference.

MATTHEWS:  Are you surprised that Jack Murtha, the Congressman from Pennsylvania, he‘s such a pro-military guy, another combat veteran from Vietnam, coming out so emotionally today, saying we basically have to get the troops out.  This is not where we should be. 

KERRY:  I have so much respect for Jack Murtha.  He is one of the best in the Congress.  His love of the military, his respect for those in uniform is second to nobody in the Congress.  Everybody knows that. 

So that‘s a very important statement that he made.  I don‘t happen to agree and I‘ve laid out a way that I think we can get out over the course of time, in a way that doesn‘t require such precipitous transition. 

But, I understand—I understand where he‘s coming from.

MATTHEWS:  But why would a guy who‘s so fond of military say let‘s get out guys out?

KERRY:  Because he sees the mess.  Because he doesn‘t see this administration changing their policy.  Because he has no confidence, as most of us do, have no confidence, in this administration‘s willingness to do what‘s necessary. 

And if they are not willing to do what‘s necessary, a lot of people here are beginning to feel very deeply, the responsibility for the lives of those young soldiers.  And I know Jack feels that above all. 

MATTHEW: Senator, thank you for joining us on HARDBALL.

KERRY:  My pleasure. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MCCAIN:  When we return, Bob Bennett, the attorney for ex-New York Times reporter Judy Miller on Bob Woodward‘s disclosure that he knew about Valerie Wilson‘s identity a month before it was made public. 

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Late today, I talked to Bob Bennett, he‘s the lawyer for ex-New York Times reporter Judy Miller.  I asked him what he thought, or what he made of Bob Woodward‘s admission that he knew Valerie Wilson‘s identity a month before it became public.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Bob, what do you make of this senior administration official, he said described here as, coming forth a week ago after the indictment of Scooter Libby.  Showing up and saying, I got the leak first.  I got it from Bob Woodward.  What is the game here?

BOB BENNETT, JUDY MILLER‘S ATTORNEY:  Well, I don‘t know Chris.  But it looks like maybe somebody has a guilty conscience or feels that they should have disclosed this sooner or someone‘s thinking that maybe now they better come forward to be of assistance to Libby. 

MATTHEWS:  How does this help Libby? 

BENNETT:  Well, I think it helps Libby in the sense that first of all, it undercuts any suggestion that Libby was the first.  And I think it gives him some support for the argument that people were talking about this. 

That other reporters were involved and other officials were involved and so I think it helps them and I also think he could say now.  I don‘t have any idea if he will, I made a mistake about Russert.  I didn‘t mean to say that about Russert.  You know, the guy I talked to was Woodward and I just sort of, got that all confused.

MATTHEWS:  One thing that everybody‘s learning about this is how background rules work between reporters and their sources.  Your client, Judy Miller had a background relationship with Scooter Libby.

Now we‘re finding out that Bob Woodward had one with somebody, a senior administration official, who at his convenience, is now saying, well you can testify in court, Bob Woodward. 

I‘m waiving that confidentiality, but I‘m not waiving the confidentiality in public as to who I am.  Oh by the way, somehow Bob Woodward now feels he has the right to report what the conversation was.  It was a leak of the identity of this undercover agent‘s role in the CIA. 

Is this a game being played by the sources to the journalists?  Now, we‘re going to use it like little monkeys on a string.  Whenever I want them to say something, well, I‘ll release a little confidentiality.  Then I‘ll release a little more at my convenience.  And make them part of my legal defense and public relations campaign. 

BENNETT:  I think that‘s an excellent observation and really, the only person that can answer that is the reporter himself, about whether he accepts that kind of a relationship. 

MATTHEWS:  Scooter Libby, for example, out of nowhere, recently, this summer came out and said I‘m releasing Judy Miller, your client, from her confidentiality commitment.  He did it in a way that he claims he didn‘t have to do.  He said he had done it a year ago. 

BENNETT:  Yes, that‘s right.  But Judy always required a personal waiver and she didn‘t have a personal waiver until recently.

And that‘s when she spoke.  But you know, it‘s interesting, Chris, that The New York Times position was having given Judy a waiver to talk to the grand jury.  That amounted to a waiver for them to disclose to the public everything Judy said. 

MATTHEWS:  Wow. 

BENNETT:  So they took an entirely different approach.

MATTHEWS:  The Washington Post is letting Bob Woodward keep secret when he‘s testified to the deposition.

BENNETT:  It would appear that way and I‘m not making a judgment either way, because I really oppose The New York Times view.  I didn‘t feel that a waiver to talk to the grand jury was a waiver to put on the front page of your paper what he said. 

MATTHEWS:  Was The New York Times fair to your client by Bill Keller, the editor of the paper, the executive editor, referring to an entanglement between her and her source, Scooter Libby. 

BENNETT:  No, that was an outrage what he did.  I mean, here‘s somebody who‘s a wordsmith.  He uses worlds all the time and of course, he retracted it and he backed off it, but a lot of the damage was done.

And I also think, to be candid, that at least up to now, it appears that The Washington Post, Mr. Downie, is certainly giving a lot of support to Mr. Woodward, much more support than The New York Times gave my client, Judy Miller. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean, calling it a mistake rather than firing someone is a big difference.

BENNETT:  There‘s a big difference. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, there is.  Anyway, thank you Bob Bennett. 

BENNETT:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think they‘re going to make this case against Scooter Libby? 

BENNETT:  I don‘t know.  I think you just can‘t make predictions what juries will do. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Tomorrow on HARDBALL, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd will be here.  We‘ll also have U.S. Congressman Jack Murtha, who‘s come out for pulling the troops out of Iraq.

Right now, it‘s time for “THE ABRAMS REPORT”  with Dan Abrams.

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

END   

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