updated 11/23/2005 11:23:47 AM ET 2005-11-23T16:23:47

Guest: Joe Navarro, Lindsey Graham, Deborah Orin, Chuck Todd, Hank

McKinnell

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Tonight, torture of the real kind and torture of the political kind haunt the office of Vice President Cheney.  Experts saying real torture doesn't work hasn't stopped Cheney from pushing it. 

But it's the political kind, the charges of criminality that hit Chief of Staff Scooter Libby, the charges of selling bad WMD intel, that go directly to his boss that also hurt like the Dickens.  Let's play HARDBALL.  

Good evening, I'm Chris Matthews.  The debate over the use of torture pits Senator John McCain, a former prisoner of war, against Dick Cheney, the vice president of the United States.  But is the use of torture an effective interrogation tool against terrorists?  We will talk to a former FBI counterintelligence agent in a moment. 

Now for the political torture.  While the vice president bats off the demons of bad WMD scares and dropping to hell poll numbers, Republican leader Tom DeLay goes to court today, while a pair of former top DeLay aides, Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon, duke if out for lower prison sentences.

Plus the “National Journal” is reporting late today that President Bush was told 10 days after September 11th, 2001, that there was no evidence whatever connecting Saddam Hussein to the attacks.  More on the significance of this report later in the program. 

First, for 50 years, the United States has agreed with the United Nations and opposed the use of torture, but now, U.S. forces are fighting an unconventional enemy that has led to a bitter debate here at home.  HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster reports. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It's an enemy that consistently targets civilians.  Last week, there was the van packed with explosives next to a Baghdad hotel.  A few months ago, a suicide bomber in Bali walked into a crowded restaurant and blew it apart. 

The well planned attacks come as U.S. forces continue rounding up suspected terrorists and enemy combatants.  Some prisoners, such as 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, apprehended two years ago in Pakistan, may have information about al Qaeda's biggest plans for the future. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Any activity we conduct is within the law.  We do not torture. 

SHUSTER:  But earlier this month, the “Washington Post” reported the CIA is interrogating suspected terrorists at secret prisons around the world, including at former Soviet gulags. 

And Vice President Cheney recently pressed Congress to allow the CIA to continue using what's known as “enhanced interrogation techniques,” such as water boarding or making a prisoner think he is drowning.  The shades of gray in White House policy has prompted sharp exchanges in the press briefing room. 

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  We will continue to work with the Congress on the issue that you brought up, the way you characterize it that we are asking for an exemption for torture just flat out false, because there are laws that are on the books that prohibit the use of torture, and we adhere to those laws. 

QUESTION:  Are you asking for an exemption?  Is that right?  I mean, be simple. 

MCCLELLAN:  I just answered your question.  The president answered it last week. 

SHUSTER:  The debate has also erupted behind the scenes on Capitol Hill.  On this issue, the leading foe of the Bush administration is Senator John McCain, who was himself tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  Torture does not work.  The Israeli Supreme Court in 1999 said that the Israelis could not torture or practice cruel or inhumane treatment on the people they take prisoner.  The Israeli defense officials who I have discussed this with say that it doesn't work and they use psychological techniques.  And so one, it doesn't work; two, it is so damaging to us in an image fashion. 

SHUSTER:  McCain's amendment, attacked to two pending defense bills, is based on the Army's own field manual, quote, “no individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment.”

If approved, the language would implement a single set of acceptable interrogation techniques.  And supporters argue it could start to repair the image of America associated with Abu Ghraib. 

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There is not a major human rights organization in the world that is not now condemning America as one of the foremost violators of basic human rights. 

SHUSTER:  But many interrogation techniques, such as sleep deprivation or forcing a prisoner to stand for long periods of time, are not clear cut examples of torture.  And the Bush administration wants far scarier options to be left to the CIA.

(on camera):  The debate is already having an impact overseas.  The European Union is sending the Bush administration a letter asking for a clarification.  Again, the issue is whether U.S. interrogators are engaged in mere disorientation, or whether they are embracing tactics that are hurtful and cruel. 

I'm David Shuster for HARDBALL, in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David.  Joe Navarro is a former counterintelligence agent and interrogator for the FBI.  He has been involved in many of the major terrorism and espionage investigations over the past 20 years. 

He has also written a book about interrogation—I love this title—

“Advanced Interviewing Techniques.”  Is that meant to be sarcastic or what?  Interviewing techniques—I mean, if somebody has their thumbs in screws, is that an interview technique? 

JOE NAVARRO, FMR. FBI INTERROGATOR:  Well, I think it reflects both authors, Jack Schafer and myself, who decided that to be effective interviewers and collectors of information, you really don't have to interrogate.  And that reflects—it's reflected in the title; it's reflected in the material in the book. 

MATTHEWS:  We've talked about this many times, but let's start from the basics here, because I think a lot of people are curious about this.  They may have attitudes; they don't have understanding.  Torture, does it ever work? 

NAVARRO:  You know, I suspect that it may, but in reality, you know, the only thing that torture guarantees is pain.  It never guarantees the truth.  It's a technique that we in the FBI have never used, we don't need.  Professional interviewers have never subscribed to it. 

The American Association of Marine Interviewers don't subscribe to it.  In fact, most of the military interviewers that I've worked with don't subscribe to it.  And so we are not sure where the need for this is coming from. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me get a little graphic here.  You see a snake pit in front of you, all these snakes down there, killer snakes, horrible looking creatures, and you say to a person, if you don't answer the next three questions, you are going in that, and you are going to die in that pit.  That doesn't work? 

NAVARRO:  It doesn't, because what may happen is, what that will generate is, they may just begin to provide superfluous information. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, then you say that is not good enough, buddy.  You're going in the pit unless you tell us the truth. 

NAVARRO:  We don't—you need to establish the truth.  For instance, if you harass someone long enough or even torture them, one of things that happens is it attenuates our ability to detect deception.  The best way to detect deception is to establish some sort of norm.  If we are torturing somebody or harassing them, we are, in fact, affecting their limbic system and our ability to read them.  So it works against us.

MATTHEWS:  If it doesn't work, why does the mob use it?  Don't they use it to find out who ratted who out?  They used to do it in the movies. 

NAVARRO:  They use it because they are psychopaths, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  So they just like to hurt people?

NAVARRO:  They just like to hurt people.  But your professional interviewers, -- look, the FBI for 40 years we've been fighting terrorism.  We fought the KKK, the Macheteros, the FALN.  We didn't need any of these techniques, we used traditional techniques that stand up to judicial scrutiny, and that's where we should be. 

MATTHEWS:  What about sodium pentathol, truth serum? 

NAVARRO:  Well, you know, there is a lot of speculation that there may be some drugs coming down the line that we may be able to use, I think, and it has been debated in the intelligence community, perhaps if there is a court we could go to and say, last case scenario, we have got a ticking time bomb, perhaps a judicial officer would grant us an opportunity. 

It's the least intrusive.  But there is no guarantee.  All it does is relax you.  All it does is permit you to relax enough so you are not fighting the interrogator, but it doesn't guarantee you anything. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, suppose you were the officer in charge, you were the special agent in charge in Minnesota.  And you picked up Moussaoui, the guy who was taking flying lessons who was apparently going to be or could have been one of the—would have been the 20th hijacker, and you had a reason to believe that he knew something was up, something big.  What would you have done with him? 

NAVARRO:  Number one, get the best interviewer that we have got in the bureau; number two, make sure that we create the right theater to be able to evince the information from him and psychologically seduce him into cooperating.  Have we done that before?  Absolutely.  I can't give you the cases, but we've done it. 

MATTHEWS:  Would you say that we picked up the other guys and they are already ratting you out?  Would you stay we've already apprehended certain people?  Can you say it's next Tuesday?  They've already had the disaster?  Can you fake the day? 

NAVARRO:  We could.  We could have.  We could have tried any different kinds of techniques, but it's based on a personality assessment of that individual. 

MATTHEWS:  So you don't buy the Alan Dershowitz, the professor at Harvard, who says if you've got somebody in the 11th hour and they know that it's going to be doomsday for the planet like a nuclear weapon in New York, a real nuclear bomb in New York, in the subway system, you don't think you would go to extreme measures? 

NAVARRO:  Look, Dershowitz is a brilliant attorney.  He is not a world-class interviewer.  I have talked to world class interviewers, I have taught these individuals.  We don't need to torture these individuals. 

MATTHEWS:  What is the risk though in doing it?  If you're really brutal about it, you needed to get the information, what's wrong with torturing somebody if it's a million people or 100,000 people are going to die the next day.   

NAVARRO:  Number one, the person may die.  Number two, he may lie to us.  Number three, he may lead us astray.  Number four ...

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you have to lose at that point, if they're not talking? 

NAVARRO:  What do you have to lose?  A lot.  Because what if he has other information.  What if he ...

MATTHEWS:  What about in the 11th hour situation, though? 

NAVARRO:  Eleventh hour information, you know, that's often bantered about and ...

MATTHEWS:  OK, we don't do it.  Let's talk Turkey, and in fact literally Turkey.  We send people at renditions.  We send them to parts of the world that don't have this intellectual approach to this.  They may have some psychopaths on the payroll down in the basement of some truth ministry in Cairo or Amman or somewhere else over there in that part of the world.  Why do we do that if we don't think torture works?  Why do we have these renditions to these dark basements in the third world? 

NAVARRO:  I've never been party to it.  And if it is going on, I don't agree to it.  I think everything that we do should—or we do should stand up to judicial scrutiny.  And I think rendering individuals so that they are somehow softened up by another government works against us. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think that the agency, as we call it in Washington, is asking—why is CIA asking for this?  Or is it CIA, or is it just the vice president wants it? 

NAVARRO:  Well, I'm not sure if it is the CIA.  And if it is the CIA, I would like to know, because I teach occasionally at the CIA.  I've dealt with their instructors, and none of the ones I dealt with have asked for this. 

And once again, Chris, I'll tell you, good interrogators don't need these techniques, they don't want these techniques.  We just absolutely don't need them. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the best—the country figured that has maybe the best intelligence service, because it's such a small country and surrounded by hostility: Israel.  How tough is Masad when they catch somebody, a terrorist?  How do they deal with them?

NAVARRO:  Well, interestingly enough, having worked with individuals from our sister services over there, they use psychological techniques. 

MATTHEWS:  Give me an example if you can? 

NAVARRO:  They will isolate the person and surround them in such an environment that they feel that for—to attend to any need that this individual has, they have to cooperate with...

MATTHEWS:  I read that in our pre-interview that they have to come—let's talk about what time you want to have diner tonight, would you like to have dinner today or tomorrow? 

NAVARRO:  We make the mistake of setting a schedules of feeding these individuals and bathing them.  And you can change the table by saying, if you want to be fed, if you want to be bathed, if you want recreational time, you have got to come to us and talk to us about it.

MATTHEWS:  Do the Israelis keep their prisoners naked for weeks at a time, like in “Little Drummer Girl,” that movie? 

NAVARRO:  That I don't know. 

MATTHEWS:  Do they turn the lights on, like in “Darkness at Noon?” 

NAVARRO:  You know, a lot of books have been written about some of the techniques.  I think they have gotten away from that because the Israeli Supreme Court said knock it off. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that it's torture to keep a person awake for long periods of time, to use sleep deprivation to weaken their resistance?  Is that torture?

NAVARRO:  Yes I do.  I do. 

I don't think it works.

MATTHEWS:  It doesn't.  I bed you become very hallucinatory and weak-minded if you are awake for days after days without getting enough night time. 

NAVARRO:  Look, if I have a subject I'm working on I want his mind to be lucid.  I don't want his mind to lose... 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, you worked for the FBI for 25 years.

NAVARRO:  Yes, sir.  I did.

MATTHEWS:  Is there anybody who disagrees with you on this, who thinks torture works? 

NAVARRO:  There may be, but I'll tell you what, it's not something the FBI has ever taught and I still teach there.  And we don't teach that.  And we never will.

MATTHEWS:  No thumb screws, no electric charges, nothing like that? 

NAVARRO:  Absolutely not. 

MATTHEWS:  God, it makes me surprised.  I'm amazed there is no effort like that, even in extreme cases? 

NAVARRO:  We don't want it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, thank you very much, Joe Navarro.   You know what you are talking about.  Twenty-five years at the FBI.  Good luck with the book, it's name is “Advanced Interviewing Techniques.”

This sudden smile you had when you said—I find that it's probably a very aggressive approach, but it must be a hell of a book. 

Coming up, Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, Republican member of the Armed Services Committee and former military JAG officer on the political debate over torture.  More of this conversation.

Plus, Senator Graham says his Republican party is in trouble.  He'll tell us what must be done to improve things.  You're watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  How far is too far?  The debate as to how you get information from U.S. prisoners is a hot topic worldwide as you can hear tonight.  Senator John McCain introduced an amendment forbidding what he called cruel or inhuman or degrading treatment of any person in U.S. custody. 

But the Bush administration says that amendment ties the hands of CIA interrogators.  Senator Lindsey Graham is in the Senate.  He's in the Senate Armed Services Committee.  He joins us right now from South Carolina, his state.

Senator, where are you on this issue?  Are you with McCain or how would you put down your position here? 

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, ® SOUTH CAROLINA:  Well, I'm a co-sponsor of the amendment, original co-sponsor.  Ninety senators voted for the amendment. 

There are two parts to it, both of them are very important.  The amendment requires all interrogation techniques to be used by the Department of Defense to be included in the Army Field Manual. 

And the reason is, Chris, when we first started this effort to change interrogation techniques, as a military lawyer for over 20 years, I can't myself understand waste inbounds and what's not.  So, standardizing interrogation techniques, putting them in the Army Field Manual gives your troops the guidance they need not to get in trouble themselves. 

The second part of the amendment is equally important.  It says that no agency, including the CIA, will engage in cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment when it comes to interrogating detainees. 

The reason we need both parts, we need to clarify for our troops what's inbounds.  We need to recapture the moral high ground after documented cases of abuses. 

And the reason we don't want to go down this road, one day, our troops could get in the hands of a foreign force and what we do on our watch will give them justification to treat our people in the same fashion.  And I don't want to be part of that.

MATTHEWS:  Well, being from South Carolina, you are very close to the military down there, senator.  Is this the military's view about this? 

GRAHAM:  To a person.  The number one fan mail I receive about standing up against the abuses of Abu Ghraib and trying to standardize interrogation techniques and recapture the moral high ground comes from those in uniform who believe their honor was stained. 

A few people have brought dishonor to the military.  The vast majority of the people who serve in the armed forces do not want to be judged by those few and they are embracing these reforms. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the fact that we watched these vivid executions on TV the last two or three years, not our own of course, but you watch somebody being beheaded if you want to go watch on the Internet.  I have never done it, but I guess you can do it.  It's pretty horrible. 

Do you think those people who capture our people over there, whether they be contractors or military people or reporters even, do you think they give a damn to what we do to prisoners?  They're just going to be psychopaths about it.

GRAHAM:  There are going to be psychopaths, but Senator McCain said it very eloquently.  He knows this better than you or I, Chris.  Detainee treatment is about us, not about them.  Our enemy wears no uniform.  They don't represent a nation.  We wear a uniform.  We represent a set of values. 

They're ideology has no tolerance for anybody who is different.  They have no sense of humanity.  We do.  We're different.  That's our strength, not our weakness.  To adopt the tactics of your enemy is going to the wrong way.  We can beat our enemy without becoming our enemy.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you the Dershowitz question—you've got Moussaoui in custody, but this time you know a little bit more, you know he's number 20 on the terrorist list for 9/11.  You are in an 11th hour situation, what do you do to get info from him to stop from what's happening the next day? 

GRAHAM:  I associate myself with your last guest who clearly defined what works and what doesn't.  The Israelis don't go down this road.  I have been to Guantanamo Bay and have asked every interrogator there who is interrogating the hardest of the hard, is the army field manual too restrictive.  If you had to live by that document, would that hurt you?  And they all say no. 

The bottom line is, when you go gown that road of exempting yourself, or making exceptions to what makes us a great nation, it eventually catches up to you.  If a captured airmen is in the hands of an enemy force, we would be legitimatizing anything that goes for our airmen because the next wave of bombers would create a lot of havoc for that host country. 

So you can't start this without it hurting you eventually as a nation.  And we don't need to do it to win the war.  The only way we are going to win the war is adhere to values that make us different than our enemy. 

MATTHEWS:  Remember school yard fights or fights with your siblings and one kid, usually the older one, would grab the other one and pull his arm behind his back and say, uncle.  And eventually the little kid says, unless they are somewhat like I was occasionally, uncle. 

Why do they say uncle?  because it hurts real bad.  Why don't we say that grownups don't submit to torture the same way?  They say uncle.

GRAHAM:  I'm not a professional interrogator but I am a lawyer, I'm a military lawyer and I think techniques applied that are ruthless—you can get people to confess to things that they didn't do. 

There is plenty of evidence out there in the law of armed conflict, there is plenty of evidence out there in criminal law where people confess to things they didn't do.  John McCain eventually signed a statement that he was an air pirate because they literally almost killed him. 

Is that what you want?  That's not what you want.  That's not what I want.  That's not the way to get good information.  And there is a consequence for going down this road.  It will eat at your soul if you engage in this. 

MATTHEWS:  Let's talk about the House of Representatives, a real torture chamber.  We'll be back to talk to Lindsay Graham about recent events on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and this fight of who is a coward, who is a patriot, et cetera, et cetera.  You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We are back with Senator Lindsay Graham, Republican from South Carolina.  He serves on the Armed Services Committee.  A political question, a partisan question, why has the vice president become so visible in our lives? 

He is the man we think of in this torture issue, he's out championing it.  He is the man defending the pre-war intel, or at least the honesty in presenting it.  The WMD before the war, the fact that the war was going to go well.  Why are you putting the guy out front who was so connected with the problem area? 

GRAHAM:  Well, I think a lot of our Democratic friends have put him out.  Number one, events put him out front.  Scooter Libby put him out front.  One of the things he brought to the table was a great understanding of foreign policy.  He was the secretary of defense in the first Gulf War. 

If the war is going badly, he is one of the architects of the war.  By his association with the president in terms of the advice he gives, he is out front.  I think he has been treated unfairly at times and sometimes I disagree with him. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think this country would have been better led the last five years by John McCain than by President Bush and Dick Cheney?

GRAHAM:  I think John McCain, like Lindsay Graham, supported this president, will continue to do so and disagree when we think we need to.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about South Carolina.  It was living hell, your state, for John McCain the last time through in 2000.  His record the last couple of years, I look at this as a journalist, has been pretty strong. 

He is out there for a lot of reform issues, he has been out there for a tougher military, stronger compliment of troops in Iraq, much more aggressive strategy, very hawkish of course, but stronger than the president.  He has been also for elimination of some of this push for cruelty and torture. 

It seems like he is popular with the media and has a lot of things going for him.  Is he any better received in your part of the country than he was five years ago? 

GRAHAM:  John's numbers have consistently been good.  You indicated that the South Carolina primary was tough, that's an understatement, it was really tough.  John left South Carolina.  He has a 60 percent approval rating among Republicans.  That has been the same.  John is a fiscal discipline hawk.  He is a hawk on the war.

He is his own man and valuable ally of the president when it comes to selling this war.  And on occasion, he disagrees.  He is a politically viable person for the Republican Party.  And you know better than I do about political capital. 

The people that are in trouble politically, they are going to ask folks to come into their districts and their states to help them during crunch time.  Watch who they ask for next October. 

MATTHEWS:  You think it might be McCain. 

GRAHAM:  I know it will be McCain. 

MATTHEWS:  If you were to be the new Karl Rove, in addition to the United States senator from South Carolina, and you were with the president tonight over dinner and he said let's sit around and smoke cigars, or whatever they do at the White House these days, the President doesn't drink.  What would you tell him to do to get himself back in control of events like he was a couple of years ago? 

GRAHAM:  Veto the next bill that comes from the United States Congress that spends taxpayer money unwisely.  Take a stand on spending.  Try to help us find offsets from Katrina.  Let's not borrow the money from our grandchildren to solve every problem.  Get back to the basics being a party of fiscal discipline. 

Put immigration on the table.  We have to seal our borders.  It is a national security and economic disgrace what's going on along the southern border of this country.  Take a hard stand on immigration, including a guest worker program that will be a win-win. 

Put on the table tax reform, not just tax cutting.  Lead decisively and start with controlling spending. 

MATTHEWS:  You are good.  I love that stuff.  Sounds like the genuine article and doesn't sound like some watered down new conservative—but the real thing. 

GRAHAM:  It's what I hear.  I hear from the people I represent who want our president to do well.  And we've lost our way as a party and he can lead us back.

MATTHEWS:  It would be a hell of thing if the only bill he ever vetoed was the one that said we can't have torture. 

GRAHAM:  It would be a huge mistake.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much.  It's great to have you.  Happy Thanksgiving, Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina.  Member of the Armed Services Committee.

Up next, a partner of top Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleads guilty.  We'll get the latest on the Abramoff case.

Plus, the next steps in the CIA leak case. 

You're watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Sometimes the troubles of a Washington insider can have repercussions that reach outside the Beltway.  That's the case for the high-powered lobbyist named Jack Abramoff. 

MSNBC's chief Washington correspondent Norah O'Donnell is here to explain why. 

NORAH O'DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  Hi, Chris.

Well, today in an effort to get his political career back on track, Tom DeLay was in a Texas court seeking to get charges of conspiracy and money laundering dismissed.  The judge said he would not rule on the case immediately, and that ended DeLay's hopes of regaining his former position of the House majority leader any time soon. 

This comes just one day after DeLay's former top aide Michael Scanlon pled guilty to charges of conspiracy.  He is cooperating with authorities and many suspect that this will help the government build their case against his former partner and another DeLay confidante, Jack Abramoff. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O'DONNELL (voice-over):  Jack Abramoff was once Washington's most powerful Republican lobbyist.  But now his former partner Michael Scanlon, once a top aide to Tom DeLay, has pled guilty in a case that threatens to explode into one of the biggest scandals in congressional history. 

NORM ORNSTEIN, CONGRESSIONAL EXPERT, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INST.:  This is a scandal that could reverberate over the next couple of years and implicate many members of Congress, top administration officials and major outside political operatives. 

O'DONNELL:  Prosecutors charge Scanlon with conspiring with Abramoff to defraud Indian tribes of millions of dollars and then bribe government officials, including a member of Congress, Republican Bob Ney of Ohio. 

LAWRENCE BARCELLA, WASHINGTON DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  There's a good possibility given at least the relationship that we have seen so far in the press, I think there's a good possibility that Scanlon knows everything that Abramoff knows.  And if that's the case, then to the extent that there are bodies buried, he knows where every one of them likely is. 

O'DONNELL:  Abramoff has not yet been charged in the case. 

But along with Scanlon, the fees paid to Abramoff were extraordinary -

·         $82 million in four years from the Indian tribes, earning Abramoff the nickname Casino Jack. 

Documents also show he asked for $9 million in 2003 from the president of Gabon in West Africa to set up a meeting with President Bush. 

Abramoff and his friends are some of the biggest players in the conservative revolution.  Former House majority leader Tom DeLay once called Abramoff one of his closest and dearest friends. 

Others touched by the investigation include Christian Coalition founder Ralph Reed, anti-tax guru Grover Norquist, and Republican Congressman John Doolittle, whose wife worked with Abramoff. 

At the White House, the former procurement officer David Safavian was indicted for lying about his ties to Abramoff. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'DONNELL:  Now, Chris, the Abramoff case does have a number of Republicans here in Washington deeply worried. 

Federal investigators are said to be looking at half a dozen members of Congress, former and current Hill aides, as well as people who worked in the Interior Department. 

So some Republicans are worried that a big trial may add to the Democrats' argument that the Republican Party is breeding this culture of corruption, certainly with the investigation into Senator Majority Leader Bill Frist's stock sale, the CIA leak investigation, et cetera—Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  This is like sleaze from central casting, Norah.  I mean, exploiting Indian tribes, buying members of Congress, the whole routine. 

I mean, who is scared most right now about all this investigation? 

O'DONNELL:  Well, there are a lot of people scared. 

And this is a story that's probably flying below the radar, if you will.  But anyone you talk to, whether it's a reporter, a lawyer, a Hill person who's familiar with this, says that this is going to be a huge scandal. 

The tentacles that Abramoff had were huge.  He was a super lobbyist here in Washington, raking in $82 million in four years.  That's extraordinary, unheard of. 

He knew everybody.  And so this has a lot of people worried. 

Certainly other lobbyists abhor this sort of greed that Abramoff was involved in and it gives most of them bad names. 

But this is a big deal. 

And the very fact that Scanlon has copped to a plea deal, as the one former attorney—defense attorney noted in our piece, he may know—

Scanlon may know where all the dead bodies are buried in this particular case.  So flipping on this is a big deal. 

And, Chris, as you know, having worked up on the Hill and having covered the Hill, cases of bribery are very hard to prove.  You have to find someone on the inside who is willing to flip and say there was a quid pro quo. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

Well, it looks to me like Scanlon is going to be singing like Dennis Day. 

Anyway, thank you very much, Norah O'Donnell.

Deborah Orin is Washington bureau chief for the “New York Post” and Chuck Todd is the editor-in-chief of the Hotline.

Deborah, it seems like DeLay's had his own problems.  He's down in court today trying to get a faster trial so he can get back into business again.

This Abramoff thing, is it bigger than the problems he's got already? 

DEBORAH ORIN, “NEW YORK POST”:  I don't think anybody knows, because you don't know what the connections are. 

It's interesting—what everybody does know is it's ugly.  And anybody it pulls in is not going to come out looking very good. 

But it's entirely separate from the issues in Texas, where you have a prosecutor who appears to have been grand jury shopping and there appear to be some serious legal questions as to whether those particular charges against DeLay will stick. 

MATTHEWS:  In other words, there's a problem of credibility on the prosecution side as well?

ORIN:  There's a serious problem of credibility...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... it's hard to find a nonpartisan judicial figure in Texas.

Anyway, this really—this smells like the old stuff.  You know, I mean, we've all grown up with cowboy movies where there's the dirty Indian agent, the guy's exploiting the tribes, stealing their meat, giving them bad meat, you know, selling them booze.

I mean, here's a guy who seems like out of the movies.

CHUCK TODD, EDITOR IN CHIEF, THE HOTLINE:  Well, and he came from nowhere.  You know, not just out of the movies.  Before he did this, he was a movie producer.  He was a B movie producer.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the storyline is from hell. 

What about DeLay?  Does this make DeLay smell worse because he has this bad former guy that took him on a couple of golf trips?

TODD:  I think the Scanlon connection just hurts DeLay by association because right now, DeLay is in the crosshairs over here in Texas, right?  And then all of the sudden, you move here, and you've got this whole Abramoff thing.  So, it just looks like, jeez, what kind of show was DeLay running?  Even if DeLay really wasn't running the show, and it's not clear he was, on the K Street end of things, in this Abramoff, it's just guilt by association. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the main thing is, you covered the Hill and you try to figure out what's going on at the Hill at the time.  I always wanted to find out what DeLay was up to.  So, I'd call this guy, this nice young guy named Michael Scanlon and he's the guy that would be feeding me stuff about what DeLay was up to.  Now I see he's out singing for supper.  He's going to be the prime witness.  Did you ever deal with him? 

ORIN:  I never did. 

TODD:  Here's my favorite thing about him.  Today in “The New York Times,” a reporter asked him, “why are you smiling?”  And he goes, “I always smile.”  I think he's the guy in the movie “Catch me if you can” with Leo, where he just loves being there.

MATTHEWS:  A moment's joy. 

TODD:  He's kind of excited about this in a weird, perverse way.  I think he's enjoying himself.

MATTHEWS:  What about the intrigue in Washington?  These are all unconnected cases, the Frist insider trading, the DeLay money laundering for fund raising, the president's problem with the CIA leak case because it doesn't seem to want to go away.  Is there anything that ties all these together, except they're all bad news?

ORIN:  There's nothing that ties them together and I would disagree with you on the CIA leak case.  I think it is starting to go away. 

MATTHEWS:  Your prediction is that—your evidence, your reporting tells you that the Fitzgerald, the prosecutor, is not going to prosecute Karl Rove or anyone else in the weeks ahead? 

ORIN:  I don't know.  But, I think we are starting to have some reason to think that the leak had nothing to do with this whole idea that there was a conspiracy to get Joe Wilson and Bob Woodward coming forward this week and saying, “my source told me casually.” 

And we all know the speculation is that the source is Richard Armitage, who probably was closer to agreeing with Joe Wilson on the Iraq war than with the Defense Department of the vice president.

MATTHEWS:  So you believe that the motive behind Karl Rove or Scooter talking to the press about Joe Wilson was not malignant, it wasn't to hurt him? 

ORIN:  I think it was simple gossip. 

MATTHEWS:  It wasn't to hurt him? 

ORIN:  No.  I think it was simple gossip, in the same way that Woodward has said this week.  My source to say—it was just casual gossip, he was just saying, by the way.

MATTHEWS:  No, I'm talking about when Armitage or somebody else was talking.  I'm talking about the people who had a real reason to defend the vice president's role in WMD, and would have a reason in trying to remove from public credibility, somebody like Joe Wilson, by saying, “his wife sent him on the trip.”  You don't believe that motive is still at large? 

ORIN:  Oh no, I think that motive is the case, but I don't think she was an undercover agent.  There is nothing wrong with saying that the guy's trip is suspect. 

TODD:  The connection is, this is what happens when one party is in power for a certain period of time.  It happens in states, in cities, we've seen it.  It happens when Democrats were in power in Congress for four years.  It just happens this way.  You have too much power at any given time and somebody abuses it too much. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it also because whenever the same party controls the subpoena power on Capitol Hill as controls the White House, there's unlikely to be serious oversight?

TODD:  Well, that's true.  But let's see...

MATTHEWS:  ... I think we should have a constitutional amendment that says the other party should always have the subpoena power, because then you can keep the boys honest.

We'll be back with Deborah Orin of the “New York Post” and Chuck Todd of “Hotline.”

And a reminder to check out Hardblogger, our political blog Web site, where you can now download Pod casts of HARDBALL.  Just go to HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We're back with Deborah Orin of the “New York Post” and Chuck Todd, editor in chief of the “Hotline.” 

I guess the hottest story this week, as we go into Thanksgiving, and I think this was somewhat planned, according to Howard Fineman of “Newsweek.”  And I think the timing was planned, I don't know, but that's how he's reporting it. 

Jack Murtha's basic decision to go public, in a very passionate way, with the position he's sort of been developing for months, if not a year, he's been against the war in Iraq, the decision to go in.

The idea of doing that before this long two-week period, so that people would go home and check at home.  Then I'm reading in the major papers today, stories about back home in Pennsylvania.  Apparently, it's going over with mixed results, his decision to say we have to pull the troops home. 

Deborah, your reading on that decision, by this working-class congressman, Western Pennsylvania, to raise the issue of an immediate pullout? 

ORIN:  Well, I think the Democrats were trying to have it both ways.  They were trying to talk up the idea of a pullout, but they didn't want to have a vote on it. 

MATTHEWS:  So they wanted a canary in their minds, and he goes out and does it for them?  And they don't have to—Pelosi can keep her hands off of it? 

ORIN:  Yes, and it's also important to remember that this is not somebody, contrary to a lot of the media reports, Murtha was not a strong supporter of the war. 

MATTHEWS:  Of the war, you're dead right.

ORIN:  In fact, right at the beginning, he almost didn't vote for it. 

So this whole promotion of a hawk turns dove is not exactly accurate. 

MATTHEWS:  No, he's historically been a hawk, but not on this issue.

ORIN:  Well, he's pro-defense, but not on this particular war.  The thing I thought was most fascinating was that yesterday, Hillary Clinton came out and said it would be a mistake to pull out of Iraq.  And her husband said it would be a mistake to pull out of Iraq.  Where last week, he said it was a mistake to go into Iraq. 

So you're right, the canary...

MATTHEWS:  ... well, it gets deeper and deeper with Clinton, because he's always interesting to watch as he positions himself.  He said, as if he'd never heard this proposal before, he said, “I'm going to have to study this proposal of Jack Murtha's more carefully,” which is even more interesting. 

Like, everybody's trying to position themselves—Chuck, nobody wants to take a, we're staying forever position, except maybe McCain.  A few people are willing to say, we'll stay as long as it takes.  If it's nine years, it's nine years.  Or maybe the “Weekly Standard,” but most politicians are saying, I'm somewhere between—we can't pull out this second and we better start doing something next year to begin to come out.  That seems to be the position that most people take, right? 

TODD:  Which is something I think the White House is nervous about, that this is going to bubble.  I heard an interview with a relatively new Republican member of Congress, Thad McCotter who is in Michigan, represents a leaning Republican district, blue collar—very blue collar district.  And he is like—you know, he's getting questions at home, how long are we going to be there?  I was for this thing at first, but I'm not interested in being there the whole time. 

So—by the way, the other thing with Murtha is, Murtha is on that side.  Don't forget, you said he is pro defense, he is pro military.  And there's a difference.  He is not into this Defense Department.  There has been this split between the civilian leadership and the uniform guys.  And I think that split.

MATTHEWS:  He's not an—he doesn't have this idealistic notion of going out and spreading democracy. 

TODD:  No.  And I think Murtha splits back a little bit.  I think he was speaking for members of the military in the Pentagon for the uniform guys. 

ORIN:  I went through something else, which is I think we are close to starting to pull troops out.  Talk to people at the White House and the Pentagon, they feel the Iraqis really are stepping up.  And some of them, if you want to be conspiracy theorists, think this was all a Democratic game so that when we announce after the elections in December, that they are a success and when we start pulling troops out, Democrats can say see, we are responsible.  We did it.

MATTHEWS:  You think they are that smart? 

TODD:  You're giving them a lot of credit.

ORIN:  But I do think we are—I do think that by 2006 election, we will be starting to pull the troops. 

MATTHEWS:  That would make political sense.

Anyway, thank you Deborah Orin.  Happy Thanksgiving.  Happy Thanksgiving Chuck Todd.  Up next, six weeks after the devastating earthquake in Pakistan, we are going to see how some U.S. corporations are stepping up to help out.  It's an interesting side line for our story tonight.  It's not exactly HARDBALL, it's more about Thanksgiving.  This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We have got a Thanksgiving story tonight for you, it's a little off the beaten path from what we usually do here.  We are taking some time to highlight a region of the world that's been hit hard by a recent detestation and what some corporations are doing to help.  More than 70,000 people were killed and half a million left homeless by a 7.6 Richter scale earthquake that rocked Pakistan last month. 

Pfizer CEO Hank McKinnell toured the earthquake ravaged zone just last week as part of a U.S. delegation of business leaders.  And upon visiting the region he doubled Pfizer's earthquake contribution to $2 million in cash and $10 million in pharmaceuticals.  Hank McKinnell welcome and congratulations on your good efforts. 

How bad is it over there in Pakistan? 

HANK MCKINNELL, PFIZER CEO:  Well, almost 80,000 people lost their lives that day, another 80,000 were severely injured.  And some 3.5 million, mainly women and children, lost their homes.  There is now 3.5 million people who urgently need our help.  And this Thanksgiving while we give thanks for what we have it would be great time to share our bounty with those desperately in need by contributing at www.SouthAsiaEarthquakeRelief.org

MATTHEWS:  How bad can it get?  Can it get worse?  I've seen—you are talking about the number of people killed in Iraq, it's about 2,000 Americans—and 2,100 actually unfortunately today.  And we look at these numbers, these tens of thousands of people dead.  Any more danger facing this country because of this earthquake? 

MCKINNELL:  Well, there certainly is.  There is 3.5 million people homeless.  The immediate need is for shelter.  The U.S. military is providing emergency evacuation and relief.  A number of organizations, including the U.S. government and the Pakistan government, are providing winterized tents, and in some cases single warm dry rooms for people to get through the winter. 

But there is also an urgent need for medicines to prevent disease outbreaks.  And eventually here, once the weather clears, we are going to have to think about rebuilding the more than 500 health clinics and hospitals that were destroyed and the more than 200 schools that were destroyed by this devastating earthquake. 

MATTHEWS:  What's the reaction from people in Pakistan to your efforts to help them? 

MCKINNELL:  Well, the government of Pakistan is a very important ally in the war on terror.  They are deeply appreciative of our efforts.  We flu up in two Blackhawk helicopters and was we flew along the edges of the valleys, there were many people out in the yards of destroyed homes not throwing rocks but waving and smiling.  It was great to see. 

MATTHEWS:  Is this going to help our relations with the Islamic people in that large—big Islamic country of Pakistan? 

MCKINNELL:  Well, it will if we do the right thing.  There is 3.5 million people that need our assistance.  If we provide it that will stop some of the more extreme organizations to stepping into the gap.  I think there is a wonderful opportunity for us to improve the opinion of which Americans are held in this extremely volatile and important part of the world. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you make sure that the medicines you are providing from Pfizer, for example, get to people without them going on the black market or being sent back to Europe or somewhere else for a higher price? 

MCKINNELL:  We are doing two things.  We are working with the government of Pakistan.  I did meet with President Musharraf and Prime Minister Aziz and impressed on them the importance of transparency in this process. 

We are also working with the USAID and a number of nongovernmental organizations such as the Red Cross, UNICEF, Save the Children that are on the ground, experienced, and will be recipients of the medicines that we donate. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you feel about the world when you come back from a trip like that being from a prosperous part of the world and going to a place that's not only bad off all the time but seems to be hit by these natural disasters more often than anybody? 

MCKINNELL:  Well, this is a natural disaster unseen in modern memory.  It's not something that occurs in this area very frequently.  It makes you very grateful for what you have.  But a very strong part of the American culture and tradition is when your neighbor needs help, you try to help.  You don't stand by helplessly.  And we have that opportunity right now in this beautiful part of the world in the northwest frontier provinces of Pakistan. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Hank McKinnell, it's an honor to have you on the show. 

Thank you.  Very nice from Pfizer—CEO of Pfizer. 

Join us tomorrow night out there 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.

END   

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