updated 11/30/2005 4:26:35 PM ET 2005-11-30T21:26:35

Guest: Stan Brand, Howard Fineman, Tony Blankley, Seymour Hersh, Alan Alda

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Tonight a sinful comedy of corruption is playing out in Washington riddled with lies, greed, and political destruction.  But it‘s only funny if you don‘t care about the country. 

From the CIA leak investigation to the Abramoff scandal, from twisted pre-war intelligence to the absence of post-war planning, its tentacles go from the White House to Congress and reach all the way to Iraq.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Tonight big questions are facing America.  What do we do in Iraq, and what is our exit strategy?  President Bush is going to try and reckon with the public skepticism in a major speech tomorrow morning at the Naval Academy, but can he explain his own administration‘s failures on pre-war intelligence and post-war planning?  We‘ll talk about Iraq with investigative reporter Seymour Hersh in a moment. 

And Americans are also asking, who can they trust when a parade of politicians, lobbyists, and top White House officials are being indicted for crimes that include bribery, tax evasion, fraud, conspiracy, perjury, and obstruction of justice.  And the investigations are just heating up now. 

People want to know what‘s going on here in Washington.  HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has some answers with the latest on the CIA leak case and the wave of criminal charges coming out of this city. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In the CIA leak scandal, Karl Rove‘s lawyer, Bob Luskin, tells MSNBC he has been in frequent and even daily contact with prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.  It‘s a clear indication that Rove, President Bush‘s top adviser, remains in the legal crosshairs, and that Fitzgerald is still deciding whether Rove‘s misstatements to the grand jury were the work of a bad memory or simply of bad character. 

The “Washington Post” reports Fitzgerald held off indicting Rove a month ago only because Luskin, during an 11th hour meeting with Fitzgerald, mentioned conversations with “Time” magazine reporter Viveca Novak. 

It‘s not clear what the information is, but the Novak/Luskin discussions started before “Time” reporter Matt Cooper testified, and Novak could shed light on whether Rove intended to lie or tell the truth.  The ongoing probe of Rove comes in the wake of the indictment of Vice President Cheney‘s chief of staff, Scooter Libby. 

PATRICK FITZGERALD, SPECIAL PROSECUTOR:  Anyone who would go into a grand jury and lie and obstruct and impede the investigation has committed a serious crime. 

SHUSTER:  But on top of the CIA leak case, there are other investigations swirling here, and already six Congressional Republicans and one Democrat have been dragged into the spotlight. 

Yesterday Republican Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham pleaded guilty to taking bribes and resigned. 

REP. RANDY “DUKE” CUNNINGHAM ®, CALIFORNIA:  I know that I will forfeit my freedom, my reputation, my worldly possessions, most importantly the trust of my friends and family. 

SHUSTER:  Cunningham admitted to tax evasion and taking from defense contractors he favored $2.5 million in cash and gifts, including this yacht, a Rolls Royce, antique nightstands, four armoires, and a 19th century toilet valued at $7,000. 

Republican Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has been subpoenaed by the Securities and Exchange Commission investigating Frist‘s sale of millions of dollars of stock. 

Democrat William Jefferson is under investigation for a telecom deal he was trying to arrange in Nigeria. 

And then there is the growing probe into the cozy and possibly illegal relationships between lawmakers and lobbyist Jack Abramoff.  Abramoff allegedly extracted $82 million from Indian tribes.  And Abramoff‘s partner, Michael Scanlon, has admitted using some of the money to bribe members of Congress and their staff. 

Forty Justice Department investigators and prosecutors are said to be looking into the activities, gifts, and benefits given to Republicans including Senator Conrad Burns, Representative Robert Ney, Representative John Doolittle, and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay who is facing separate campaign finance charges in Texas.  The Congressmen‘s wives are also under investigation. 

And two months ago, Republican David Safavian, the top procurement official at the White House, resigned after being charged with obstructing the Abramoff case. 

Democrats are having a field day with the GOP, describing a “culture of corruption.” 

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE DEMOCRATIC LEADER:  Until they break with that culture of corruption of which they have all been complicit, and they all enable. 

SHUSTER:  But the perception that lobbyists and special interests rule Washington is hurting Democrats as well.  Over the last four years, the public‘s approval of Congress has dropped 22 points and now stands at just 37 percent.  And according to an NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll, the public for the first time in the poll‘s history, now has higher negative feelings than positive feelings about both parties. 

(on camera):  It‘s all bad news for politicians here, but perhaps more so for the Republican majority, because just as this town moves into an election year, the Bush administration‘s own Justice Department prosecutors are seeing reasons to move the CIA leak case and other investigations into high gear. 

I‘m David Schuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Schuster.  Attorney Stan Brand served as the House of Representatives counsel for many years, an old pal of mine.  You know, I feel like we ought to have public showers in this town to clean the corruption.  Have you ever seen this much, this jamboree of hell? 

STAN BRAND, FMR. HOUSE COUNSEL:  Well, you know, Chris, you and I have been here since 1971. 

MATTHEWS:  ‘71 in my case, yes. 

BRAND:  Koreagate, Abscam. 

MATTHEWS:  This is just more of the stinky poo you‘re used to. 

BRAND:  The magnitude here is large. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s also got a lot of scope.  It includes a lot of big things that have to do with war and a lot of things about this guy Cunningham. 

Let me ask you about the CIA leak case.  Everybody in this town was doing the high fives for Karl Rove, at least the people in the White House, that he was off the hook a month ago when Scooter got indicted on six counts or five counts.  Is this guy still twisting in the wind?  Is he possibly going to be indicted before Christmas? 

BRAND:  I think Patrick Fitzgerald, as we‘ve seen, is a dogged man, and while he‘s not tipping his hand, he indicated in his very first press conference he was going to have a grand jury ready and prepared to go forward in the event that he got new facts. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s it tell you that he‘s talking to Luskin every single day, the lawyer for Karl Rove? 

BRAND:  Well, I mean, that‘s a stylistic, you know, approach of some criminal defense lawyers. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s like the old Boston Celtics offense or defense where you had your hands on the other guy‘s chest all the time to see how he‘s going to move, you feel any movements.  Is that what he‘s doing? 

BRAND:  I don‘t see how that‘s going to work with the ilk of a Patrick Fitzgerald who is so doggedly faithful to the facts and the law.  And so I don‘t know what he‘s doing there.

MATTHEWS:  Is he looking at obstruction of justice or perjury?  He‘s not looking at the central crime anymore?  Is that what it looks like to you?

BRAND:  My guess is that he‘s still looking at the coverup, the obstruction, and whether people lied under oath or in their statements to the FBI.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s missing here?  I‘ve got to ask as a non-lawyer, it seems to me you know that he talked to two reporters.  You know that Karl Rove basically outed Valerie Plame, the undercover agent.  You know that he did it.  You know that in one case he never told the prosecutor about it when he talked to the “Time” magazine reporter. 

We know that in Scooter Libby‘s—let me bring in another fellow here, the vice president.  We know the vice president told Scooter Libby about this woman‘s identity, and counseled him on how to deal with the press.  Why isn‘t the case going all the way to the V.P.? 

BRAND:  Well, we don‘t know that yet because Scooter ... 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we know the two facts that I just gave you because they‘re in the indictment. 

BRAND:  The president is likely to be a witness against Scooter Libby. 

And usually what prosecutors do is they take the lower down first. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

BRAND:  They may be able to roll the lower down into the higher up.  Certainly Vice President Cheney and Scooter Libby would be entitled to talk about classified information in the cone of the White House.  What they wouldn‘t be entitled to do would be conspire to disseminate classified information outside that area.  So it remains to be seen. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, one White House guy told me what happens is Scooter gets all wrapped up and excited about this thing, that Joe Wilson‘s out there saying they had bad intel, and they had covered up for this intel that said we shouldn‘t have gone to war because there wasn‘t any nuclear weapons. 

And then the vice president goes nuts because Scooter gets him to go nuts, and they both are in this kind of pinball mentality, all the lights and bells flashing.  And then all of a sudden, things happen like an agent is outed. 

BRAND:  Well, but they never counted on a grand jury to be probing into the inner recesses of the White House and who said what to whom.  That‘s the wild card. 

MATTHEWS:  Does it matter if Karl Rove wanted her outed?  Does it matter whether he wanted to hurt her?  Does motive matter here? 

BRAND:  Motive matters.  Motive matters, because you have to show state of mind.  You have to show an intent to violate the statute.  That‘s a huge element. 

MATTHEWS:  I see, OK.  What‘s your nose tell you?  Are we going further in this case or is this the end of it?  Is this going to be a CIA case that continues through Christmas, the holidays? 

BRAND:  I think this is going to continue because there are people in the CIA who are not going to take a bullet for something they don‘t believe they should. 

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s that? 

BRAND:  People within the CIA who are career people. 

MATTHEWS:  Who feel that this administration, this White House, has made them vulnerable to being taken out by our enemies? 

BRAND:  Set them up to be the fall guys in an exercise that hasn‘t worked out.  They don‘t want to be the fall guys. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about—it‘s sort of almost like comfort food, old-time corruption here.  This ain‘t complicated about spies and CIA people.  Duke Cunningham, a conservative Republican—maybe that‘s irrelevant, it probably is—caught taking $2.4 million in cash, a million in cash, a yacht which is called the Dukester—it‘s got a name on it—a Rolls Royce, some $7,000 antique toilet. 

Is he a balloon head or what?  Is he just greedy?  How can he think—he‘s crying now, but he‘s only crying because he got caught.  He wouldn‘t have been crying if he wasn‘t caught. 

BRAND:  Well, you know the old saying, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  And I‘m not saying that the Democrats aren‘t capable ...

MATTHEWS:  Well, he‘s not that powerful.  He‘s the San Diego Congressman.

BRAND:  But the notion that people are going to be called to account in this system which is one-party controlled.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BRAND:  And I think these people actually believe that because the Justice Department was controlled by the Republicans, that they were safe.

MATTHEWS:  And the other party didn‘t have the subpoena power either.

BRAND:  Right.  And so what they didn‘t count on are those little G.S-16‘s buried in the Justice Department who came up in Watergate and can‘t be bought and can‘t be pushed down.

MATTHEWS:  Just to brag about my profession, a good newspaper man went out there and noticed apparently that this guy was selling his house at double the market rate to a defense contractor—a contractor who‘s doing business with the government.  And that‘s these pass throughs, these—same thing with traffic.  Remember they bought his house, at some exorbitant price, the congressman, the democrat? 

You‘re in this business, you‘ve defended a lot.  Is this basically nonpartisan, this kind of corruption?

BRAND:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Just stealing money?

BRAND:  Because look, in the past, we‘ve certainly had Democratic scandals. 

MATTHEWS:  So there‘s no difference in the saliva test of these guys. 

The corruption is in a person‘s character, not in their politics? 

BRAND:  I think so, but again, the notion that they would get away with it is engendered by the fact that there was no adverse party to look at any of the stuff and force the issue.  And they thought they were insulated from review. 

MATTHEWS:  Because he could. 

BRAND:  Because he could. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Stan Brand.  Happy holidays. 

Coming up, Republican Duke Cunningham pleads guilty to taking bribes, $2.4 million in bribes and quits Congress.  Is there a culture of corruption?  I‘m not sure about that phrase.  I think we‘re deciding it‘s nonpartisan here in Washington, the corruption.

And later, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh says President Bush doesn‘t want to hear bad news about Iraq, even when it‘s coming from top generals.  Hersh joins us a little later.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RANDY DUKE CUNNINGHAM ®, CALIFORNIA:  The truth is, I broke the law, concealed my conduct, and disgraced my office. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. That was Congressman Duke Cunningham, ex-Congressman Duke Cunningham of California, announcing his resignation yesterday after pleading guilty to fraud, conspiracy to commit bribery and tax evasion. 

Here to talk about it now and a slew of other scandals sweeping the city are “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman and Tony Blankley of “The Washington Times.”

Tony, I think it‘s fair to say—we‘ll start with you, since you‘re an editorial page editor, who‘s free to express opinion—that stinky-poo corruption, the stealing the money, just stealing the money for greed reasons—is fairly nonpartisan. 

TONY BLANKLEY, THE WASHINGTON TIMES:  Yes, both sides have done it.  It doesn‘t relate to anything other than the individual and his fall from ethical standards. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you proud of the president for coming out and trashing this guy?  “The idea of a U.S. congressman taking money is outrageous and Congressman Cunningham is going to realize that he has broken the law and is going to pay a serious price, which he should.”  Pretty tough language for a president about a colleague.

BLANKLEY:  I mean, if he didn‘t say it, then people would question why he didn‘t say it.

MATTHEWS:  I think it‘s great.  I‘m encouraging you to say it‘s great. 

I mean, shouldn‘t presidents come out and say, “I‘m not some observer here.  I‘m a leader of a political party, and if one of my troops commits a major greedy, greed-led crime, I‘m going to nail him.”

BLANKLEY:  Look, I mean, sure, of course.  And Duke has committed a very serious crime in one of the biggest briberies I can remember.

MATTHEWS:  Did you like Rush Limbaugh saying today, “it was a mistake he made?”  A mistake?  Like he wrote, you inched into the wrong lane on the highway by accident?  He demanded $2.4 million from a lobbyist.

BLANKLEY:  I knew him, when I worked for Newt, and it‘s always painful to see people you knew and respected—I mean, he was a war hero—see him fall to this level.  He has fallen to this level.

MATTHEWS:  Did he give any good speeches on law and order while he was a congressman?

BLANKLEY:  No, it was usually on military orders, he gave his best speeches.

MATTHEWS:  You never sensed he had a nervous second life that was going on out there?

BLANKLEY:  No.  I mean, I knew him as well as I knew most congressman, and to me, he was always a completely honorable and straight forward guy.  There was no appearance at that time.

MATTHEWS:  OK, mental illness possibility, Howard.  We live in a society where Mohammed Atta can be checked out at the ATM machine, at Wal-Marts.  I mean, we‘re all being checked, all the time in terms of our data.

If you have an infusion of $2 million into your bank account in the form of yachts, a Rolls Royce.  First of all, where‘s he going to drive this Rolls Royce in his district without being noticed, you know?  He‘s not some pimp that can ride around in a Rolls Royce.  People are going to notice.

HOWARD FINEMAN, NEWSWEEK:  Probably rule No. 1 for a member of Congress, if you have a Rolls Royce, keep it in the garage.

MATTHEWS:  Well, especially if it‘s a hot Rolls Royce.  Howard, you cover these guys.  Are they just—like you used to say, people drank and they got beer goggles on when they drank too much, but they didn‘t know people were watching them? 

FINEMAN:  I think they obtain, eventually, a sense of invulnerability.  A lot of them do.  They don‘t all end up stealing $2 million and buying yachts and Rolls Royces and sending homes, and all that. 

But yes, if you‘re around here for a long time, if you‘re elected time and again, if you‘re in a district or a state where the race isn‘t competitive.  And by the way, most of these districts...

MATTHEWS:  California especially. 

FINEMAN:  ... most of these districts are artfully constructed, you develop a sense of invulnerability and entitlement.  I really think a lot of them do.  Not all of them, but a lot of them do.

MATTHEWS:  I‘ve heard those conversations, by the way, from clean members who will just say: what are you worried about the immigration issue for?  You can‘t get beaten in your district.

BLANKLEY:  You know, you may be right, but I think it‘s something else.  I think the average congressman, particularly a powerful congressman, he has no money, unless he happens to have made a lot.  But most of them...

MATTHEWS:  Before they came in.

BLANKLEY:  ... before he came in, they have to figure out how to pay for a ticket for an airplane to Chicago.  And they‘re surrounded working with rich people, powerful people, and I think there‘s almost a psychological need to be able to strut a little stuff.  I mean, you think of Rostenkowski, I mean, he was a great mad, he took petty Andy kind of stuff.  I mean, if he‘d wanted to be a real thief, he could have stolen countless millions.  Instead, it was like, some furniture that he took.

MATTHEWS:  It could have been he wanted to be able to play golf with guys. 

FINEMAN:  I think Tony makes a very good point.  The Hill, obvious point, but a true point, the Hill is suffused with people with money, all over the place.

MATTHEWS:  Billionaires walking around.

FINEMAN:  They want a favor from you, they want to take you to play golf, they want—and if you‘re a member, and if you have a safe district you think, “hey, I can live this kind of life, too.”

BLANKLEY:  I don‘t think it‘s out of a sense of power.  I think it‘s out of a sense of almost weakness and embarrassment. 

MATTHEWS:  What I think we ought to say here, and I think you‘ll share this, and I‘m not being goody two shoes here.  But so many members of Congress, the overwhelming majority I‘ve known, live on their salary, which is OK, by any standard it‘s OK, it‘s better than OK. 

But they live on that salary.  They have two homes.  The kids oftentimes go to state university.  They can‘t afford private university.  They work very hard, some of these guys.  And you know how you know they‘re living close to the bone?  Every time there‘s a pay vote, they need it.

BLANKLEY:  Yes, exactly.

MATTHEWS:  They fight, and their wives or husbands want the pay raise.  It‘s not like they‘re getting any money on the side.  And then you read these polls, that say, people think that congressman are taking the typewriters out the back door at night.  People think they‘re actual thieves up there.

And yet to most of America the salary is...

FINEMAN:  It‘s way over the average Washingtonian. 

BLANKLEY:  Having said all of that. 

MATTHEWS:  You also have to pay the taxes that these guys charge, also. 

BLANKLEY:  Having said that, if I were a Democratic operative right now, I‘d be putting on my lobster bib because I would be drooling at the opportunity. 

MATTHEWS:  Would you put together the Abramoff case, which has already brought in one congressman from Ohio, because Michael Scanlon has already pled guilty to bribing one member, apparently this guy in Ohio.  You‘ve got three or four others brought into the thing.  DeLay, DeLay‘s chief buddy Abramoff is out there apparently buying congressmen. 

BLANKLEY:  The first answer is sure.  The second answer is there will be some Democrats who will get swept up in this, too, probably.  I think that will be a price the Democrats would be glad to pay.  They‘ll take a Democratic senator or congressman. 

Look, obviously I‘m thinking back to when Newt and the Republicans back in 1994, when we were taking on the Democrats and we pointed out the bounced checks scandal, the drugs being sold. 

MATTHEWS:  You came in on that in ‘94. 

BLANKLEY:  That was half, a third of it.  A third of it was Democratic and congressional corruption, a third was Hillary Care and a third was our Contract with America. 

FINEMAN:  Now the third is a big third, and Tony‘s right.  The Democrats would be crazy not to drive this as hard as they can even if it‘s not the ultimate thing that decides the election. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree.  You put together Hillary, she overreached with health care, and you put together the bank scam, which looked much worse than it was, but it looked terrible to people, and then you had a contract.  I‘m still waiting for that Democrat...

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  Because it was checks, people understood the mechanics of it. 

MATTHEWS: It looked like they were stealing, but they weren‘t. 

Actually they were borrowing money from each other.

Howard Fineman and Tony Blankley, when we come back.  Later, investigative reporter Seymour Hirsch, and why top generals are afraid to talk to the president about what‘s going on in the war in Iraq.  Scary stuff.  You‘re watching “HARDBALL” on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Howard Fineman of “Newsweek” and Tony Blankley of the Washington Times.  This guy Lawrence Wilkerson—I wish these people would talk when it mattered.  You know, I wish General Powell had spoken up in the way that we think he really felt in the issue over the war. 

Here‘s his chief of staff, Lawrence Wilkerson saying to a British reporter just yesterday that the president gave no thought to post war, the post war situation in Iraq. 

In other words, the situation we confront now, which is an insurgency, and, to some extent, terrorists coming in from outside the country making a nest of terrorism in that country.  The whole hell that we‘re facing over there.  The president never wanted to talk about. 

FINEMAN:  Well, that‘s not surprising because the president had a plan.  He had an intention I think from the very beginning.  I think most of the reporting and most of the semi-confessions, if you will, that have come out since the start of the war have shown that. 

MATTHEWS:  The happy Iraqi scenario, the phrase was in fact in the minds of the White House. 

FINEMAN:  That was in their minds, not only what they were hoping, but what they were expecting to happen, and they also had a Pentagon that didn‘t want to use 300,000, 400,000 troops. 

BLANKLEY:  Keep in mind, Larry Robinson is the man who said that the vice president and the secretary of defense usurped the authority of bureaucrats at the state department to be making foreign policy.  This man has a very distorted view of the role of the state department.  The vice president wasn‘t usurping the authority of the state department. 

MATTHEWS:  Who should set foreign policy?

BLANKLEY:  The president and whoever he designates with the counsel, as he might take it, of the secretary of state.  Nixon didn‘t take Secretary Raunch‘s advice very seriously.  He had Kissinger in the White House. 

So plenty of presidents write off the State Department for reasons we now understand.  And Wilkerson, who is not in the White House circle, probably wasn‘t in on an awful lot of meetings.  Indeed, he was complaining that ...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You‘re saying, are these rats leaving the ship, an unpopular war? 

BLANKLEY:  I wouldn‘t call the man a rat. 

MATTHEWS:  Is the behavior that of someone like that? 

BLANKLEY:  I don‘t know.  All I know is here is a man who was not in the loop and complained all along he wasn‘t in the loop and now he‘s telling the world what he thinks was said in a loop that he wasn‘t in. 

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  Here‘s the other thing, though.  A lot of the things that the State Department people were saying and warning about have turned out to be true. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean the civil war potential. 

FINEMAN:  The Civil War potential.  The fact that if it breaks it‘s going to be hard to fix. 

MATTHEWS:  The Crate & Barrel argument was if you broke it you bought it.  And we broke Iraq.  We took it down and now we own it. 

FINEMAN:  And now we‘re going to try to get out of owning it, all the while saying we‘re not cutting and running.  We‘re going to trim and tiptoe.

BLANKLEY:  I want to make a point here.  I think this idea that everyone‘s suggesting in this town that Bush is looking for an exit strategy coordinated with the election suggests a level of cynicism that I think is...

MATTHEWS:  You mean next November?

BLANKLEY:  Next November.  Is to impugn a level of cynicism to the President that I think is unjustified. 

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s saying this by the way? 

BLANKLEY:  Everybody. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s just ask the president.  The president is speaking tomorrow morning at Annapolis, the Naval Academy.  It‘s a major podium for him to speak from.  It‘s our guys fighting.  What‘s he going to have to say to get the public back during this holiday season, and there‘s some sense of confidence that we have a direction over there and it‘s getting us somewhere. 

FINEMAN:  Well he gave a preview of it today, and what he said was we‘re winning.  We have a plan to win, and I‘m not going to leave unless we win. 

MATTHEWS:  What was this evidence? 

FINEMAN:  Well, his evidence is going to be that they‘re training an increasing number of Iraqi soldiers, that there‘s actually more progress on the ground in civil institutions than you see on television.  He‘s going to tell people I‘m not going to leave if we don‘t win, and we‘re going to win, and at the same time I‘m training up all these troops and they‘re going to take over. 

At the same time at the White House Scott McClellan is saying we are going to be withdrawing troops after the election on December 15 there, but we were planning to do that all along because we had increased the troop levels to try to keep things calm for the election. 

So they‘re already explaining that they‘re going to be withdrawing troops and saying it‘s all part of normal procedure.  And the president is going to say we don‘t cut and run.  America never cuts and runs, but we‘re going to begin drawing down the troops over there. 

BLANKLEY:  Every time I‘ve heard the president speak and all the people around that I know, they always say if the conditions on the ground in Iraq are satisfactory, we intend to do the following.  The Pentagon has driven up these plans. 

MATTHEWS:  That could mean we‘d never leave. 

BLANKLEY:  The point is I‘ve never heard the president or anyone who I thought was actually speaking for him say we are going to go on this plan.  They say if we accomplish the objectives we intend to ...

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  I‘m not being cynical, Tony, but I can assure you they‘re going to find the conditions acceptable after December. 

BLANKLEY:  Then you are being cynical.  Then you are being cynical. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Howard Fineman, thank you very much.  Tony Blankley. 

Up next, are America‘s top generals are telling the president what he needs to know about what‘s going on in Iraq?  Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh says they‘re too afraid to speak the truth to the president, and Seymour Hersh is coming here from “New Yorker” magazine.  Right now, you‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We have Seymour Hersh here, one of the great investigative reporters ever.  You broke the My Lai story and many others.  Let me ask you, what have you got here now? 

SEYMOUR HERSH, “THE NEW YORKER”:  You mean in “The New Yorker” this week? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, what have you got about this war in Iraq, because I read something brand new in there, and I‘d like to hear it from you. 

HERSH:  If we can pull out troops, that would be great.  It‘s wonderful to get our boys out of harm‘s way, but it isn‘t going to end the war.  It isn‘t going to win the war.  The war goes on. 

When we pull out, we‘re going to make up for the lack of American troops by increasing the bombing to support the Iraqis, and there‘s a reality that nobody can—you can‘t escape.  The reality, forget the Iraqi police.  They‘re nowhere. 

But the Iraqi military is not in good shape.  There are some units that we think can get better with the addition of American air.  You know, I see an insurgent, let‘s get everything bombed.  But that‘s—and it‘s got the Air Force rattled, because the Air Force—to its credit the Air Force says we‘ll deliver bombs, but we want to know who‘s telling us where to go.  We want to know who‘s targeting. 

You know, we‘re talking about very sophisticated, laser-guided JDAMS.  You have to illuminate the target with a beam.  Who‘s going to do the illumination, the Air Force wants to know?  And the answer is, well, we‘ll have some joint teams, the Americans and Iraq, and eventually we‘ll work it out.  There‘s going to be a struggle about that I think. 

MATTHEWS:  So we‘re going to be the new Iraqi government‘s big brother. 

HERSH:  Well, we are already. 

MATTHEWS:  But we‘re going to be in there taking it, going out, and they‘ll say fire on this village because they‘re causing us some trouble, and we go in and kill a bunch of Arabs for them.  So in other words, we‘re the ones with blood on our hands helping one side of a factional dispute in Iraq. 

HERSH:  You sound like some of the Air Force ...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m asking.

HERSH:  You sound like some of the Air Force officers I talked to for this story, you know, who say, are you kidding me?  You know, I‘ll tell you another thing.

MATTHEWS:  I mean, Ahmed Chalabi says blow up that village because they‘re causing me trouble, I‘m serious.  And we go in to kill people because—you‘re only supposed to kill people in self-defense or fighting a war that‘s justified.  What would you call it if the United States military, the Air Force, was used as sort of like a bigger weapon, like we are a weapon, for one side of a dispute in Iraq? 

HERSH:  That‘s something, let‘s put it this way ...

MATTHEWS:  It‘s beyond morality, isn‘t it? 

HERSH:  The people I talked to don‘t want to have happen.  They want controls.  They want people—they want to know who‘s doing the targeting.  But I‘ll tell you the other question.  You can take it further.  Sure, the insurgency could penetrate any military unit.  We know that.  Who‘s—you know, what are we going to be bombing?  But I‘ll give you another thing people have said to me.  How do we know some Iranians aren‘t going to be involved in targeting our planes?  Because there‘s no pressure ...

MATTHEWS:  Because of their influence over the majority Shia. 

Let me ask you, when you talk to the military, let‘s get some facts from the ground here.  Because we argue about this a lot here, and Americans are arguing about it.  When we say the enemy over there, the insurgency, or the president uses the term terrorists as a catch-all phrase, are we fighting Iraqis who don‘t like us being there for a lot of good and bad reasons? 

Mostly bad, they just back the Saddam regime, they‘re all Baathists or whatever they are.  They don‘t like the fact we‘re pushing democracy over there, don‘t like the fact we‘re there, or are we fighting people that came in their from other countries that saw it as an opportunity to kill us?  Who are we fighting? 

HERSH:  Jack Murtha, as you know from years on the Hill. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘ve known him forever. 

HERSH:  He‘s one of these old war horses from, you know, what is it, the Appropriations Defense Subcommittee.  This is the guy the generals talk to.  Murtha says in that famous speech, seven percent, no more than seven percent are outsiders. 

MATTHEWS:  So we‘re fighting Iraqis. 

HERSH:  By and large, well over 90 percent of the people there, and often they were people who welcomed us when we first began the war, but the way we‘ve conducted the war, search and destroy ...

MATTHEWS:  Well, what‘s the word terrorist mean to me? 

HERSH:  What‘s the word insurgent mean?

MATTHEWS:  Terrorist to me means somebody who comes to another country and kill civilians or their own country and kills civilians.  If you‘re attacking military targets and you‘re a domestic person, you‘re an insurgent, in this case. 

Let me go—let‘s take a look at what the president said today about troop levels in Iraq and see how it squares with your reporting. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  People don‘t want me making decisions based upon politics.  They want me to make decisions based upon the recommendation from our generals on the ground.  And that‘s exactly who I‘ll be listening to. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s the question.  In your piece you say the generals, I guess two star or three star—I‘m not sure how it works—are afraid to talk to the president. 

HERSH:  Oh, speak truth to power?  My God.  Look, they talked to Murtha.  That‘s what made the White House—I also said in that piece that the White House was beyond angry at Murtha, because you know that Murtha is one of those few guys in the Senate—you‘ve got Inouye, Ted Stevens, the old-timers that they talk to.  I think Jerry Lewis you could put in that crowd in the house. 

MATTHEWS:  So he‘s a voice for the military. 

HERSH:  He‘s somebody they talk to.  And for him to make that speech means that the generals are telling him something that they can‘t tell other people.  They‘re doing it because they‘re very frustrated.  My sense of them, the three or four—I‘m not going to tell you that many—I speak to that many more four stars, but I speak to some. 

They are—there‘s an acute sense that this guy won‘t listen.  You can‘t get it in.  You can‘t get the message in.  And not only that, I‘m not sure, you know, generals being generals, as I say, speaking truth to power is tough for them.  I‘m not sure they often ...

MATTHEWS:  Are you sure you‘re not just hearing from the ones who are disgruntled?  You‘re not hearing from the real gung-ho guys.

HERSH:  Of course I‘m hearing from the ones that are disgruntled.  Of course.  But, you know, that doesn‘t mean that ...

MATTHEWS:  Because I just heard Michael O‘Hanlon‘s speech in the paper the other day that said that the civilians in the Defense Department are getting pessimistic about the war, but the uniformed guys are more optimistic now.

HERSH:  The uniformed guys are always more optimistic.  One or two stars are always going to tell you that things are going great.  What else do you want to hear from them?  You‘re not going to get a two star or a three star, you‘re just not going to have it.

But the fact is, look, there are some things being done better.  There are some—some of the special forces guys.  There‘s a couple of young colonels, who really know what they‘re doing, doing some good work.  Where every bit of good that gets done, working against some very bad guys, is outcome by...

MATTHEWS:  ... Sy, you mention—you call in your piece, a former defense official as saying that Rove and Cheney quote, “keep President Bush in the gray world of religious idealism, where he wants to be anyway.”  And you refer to President Johnson.  “He knew that he was a prisoner of the White House, but Bush has no idea.”

Are you saying the president‘s out to lunch?

HERSH:  I don‘t think he‘s reachable.  I think he‘s committed to what he‘s doing beyond what we might think he is.  In other words, I don‘t think...

MATTHEWS:  OK, Johnson was down in the war room.  He was in the sit room, he was gathering, he was reading the dispatches hour-by-hour.  Every time there was a sortie, every time there was a bombing raid, Johnson wanted to know who‘d come back.  He was really following the war intently and just trying to be a general.  Is the president like that?

HERSH:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Where does he get his information on the war and how it‘s going?  Who does he trust?

HERSH:  I can‘t pretend to know.  I can tell you what people tell me.  It comes through—Cheney‘s a big filter.  That office is a big filter for a lot of intelligence. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you trust Cheney to give the president the unvarnished truth?

HERSH:  Did he give us the unvarnished truth about WMD?

MATTHEWS:  As he knew it, maybe.  As he knew it.

HERSH:  You know...

MATTHEWS:  ... or what do you know?

HERSH:  I can‘t get inside somebody‘s mind.  I do think they...

MATTHEWS:  ... does your reporting tell you that he discounted information that would have suggest they did not have WMD?  So that he could make the case?

HERSH:  There‘s no question you could have looked at the whole intelligence and come up with a different conclusion.  A lot of people did inside.  This notion that everybody in the world thought WMD existed is not true.  Guys in the CIA, Department of Energy, et cetera. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, I‘ve only got one question,  because you‘ve got to

leave.  The president of the United States, we were arguing off camera here

and I think it‘s always interesting what happens off camera here—you came in and you said you agree with Tony Blankley, that this president will not cut and run because of election losses to come next year.  He will fight this war until when?

HERSH:  I don‘t think he cares how many body bags come back.  He wants to win.  He wants democracy.  I don‘t know whether it‘s because God is talking to him, or whether it‘s...

MATTHEWS:  ... so the president is a neocon?  He‘s a total believer now in democratization through force.

HERSH:  I don‘t think there‘s any question.  Just listen to him, he by the way, didn‘t come in this way, but he is now.  He totally believes democracy is possible and he‘s going to see it through.

MATTHEWS:  By force of arms, you can create a democracy with a military?  A strong American presence in a third-world country?

HERSH:  He may leave the Congress with this option: if you want to end this and get re-elected, you might have to do something about the defense budget.  I don‘t think they can stand up to that, but that‘s where he might lead us.

MATTHEWS:  So he that this—the passion of the convert.  Having come into the White House and sort of a guy who said we need humility and foreign policy.  We shouldn‘t be into nation-building. 

Sort of a traditional Bush, like his father, a man who recognized the limits of foreign policy.  He now believes that there are no limits.  That we can go into a part of a world where we‘re not really that welcome, where we had no real history of colonialism certainly, and change the culture of that country to a democracy.  He believes we can do that? 

HERSH:  And he‘s not interested in hearing contrary opinions.  I‘m agreeing with you and I‘m saying he‘s also not interested to information which drives people to the edge of being very rattled. 

That‘s why some of the people talk to me.  The underlying fear—what I‘m writing about—the underlying issue is fear, fear of what this guy—he‘s a utopian in a funny way.  I think he believes in what he‘s doing.  He‘s a utopian without any information, and without any ability to change.

MATTHEWS:  So Paul Wolfowitz lives, because he is the great expositor of that point of view.  When you sit down and talk to him for two or three hours, the president now talks like Paul. 

HERSH:  He‘s got a better job.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s amazing.  You speak with strength, Sir.  Thank you—and you speak with a single tongue.  I like that.  Anyway, thank you, Seymour Hersh, “New Yorker Magazine” has the whole story in this week.

Tomorrow on HARDBALL, reaction to President Bush‘s speech on the Iraq war in Annapolis—that‘s going to be in the morning—from Congressman Jack Murtha, who has called for withdrawal if U.S. troops in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  My plan calls for immediate redeployment of U.S. troops consistent with the safety of 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:  So let‘s get together tomorrow night at five and seven and hear what Murtha has to say about the president‘s speech, because it‘s a big one.  This speech is going to carry this administration through the war and through the holidays.  This is the big one. 

And coming up next, he could be “The West Wing‘s” next president.  We‘re talking fiction and television here, when Alan Alda stands for a lot in this country.  He‘s going to be with us to talk about his new book.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back as promised, Alan Alda sits before me right now.  He obviously has a great new book, “Never have your dog stuffed.”  And of course, he‘s on “West Wing.”  He plays this sort of interesting Republican on “West Wing.”  And he‘s running for president against Jimmy Smits, who‘s sort of this—what did you call this guy?  Charismatic Hispanic?  I mean, he‘s sort of an interesting guy.

ALAN ALDA, ACTOR:  Sure, he was a popular—wasn‘t he the mayor of San Antonio?

MATTHEWS:  I always thought that he wasn‘t going to beat you in this election because he‘s a congressman.  I never heard of a congressman getting elected—because a senator like you, I figure...

ALDA:  ... well, senators don‘t tend to get elected either.

MATTHEWS:  Do you have a script—when you read the script every week and you‘re working on this all the way through next spring, as the show continues.  Do you have a sense, Alan, that you‘re going to win or lose this baby?

ALDA:  I can‘t tell from the scripts, because they‘re very clever about their story telling.  They make you do really well and you go up in the polls, and they talk about the poll numbers, and then suddenly you make a slip and the other guy goes ahead. 

It‘s like a horse race.  And they‘re plotting out a horse race.  And just like a real horse race, it can get very exciting at the end and something happens that you really didn‘t expect.

MATTHEWS:  Do you feel yourself being manipulated because you‘re this wonderful southern conservative?  You‘re sort of like a Jesse Helms, the best kind of him, and you‘re also the best kind of Pat Moynihan, a thoughtful guy, a big-picture guy.  And then every once in awhile, just to keep the other guy in the running, they have you—it‘s sort of like, not a louse, but as a venal politician. 

ALDA:  Well, I don‘t know if he‘s venal.  I haven‘t seen him be venal. 

He‘s done things—he lied to somebody.

MATTHEWS:  Well, using the ethnic card against Jimmy Smits because he‘s Mexican-American...

ALDA:  Don‘t attack me personally. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re a guy who‘s an Anglo.  The other guy doesn‘t want to talk about border issues, so you raise the border issue. 

ALDA:  OK.  I give you that.  I thought when you said venal, I thought you meant...

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t even know what venal means.  Let‘s say sleazy. 

ALDA:  I thought you meant, you know, like Rolls-Royces. 

MATTHEWS:  Were you amazed that a congressman gets caught stealing $2.4 million right up front like that? 

ALDA:  Can you answer this?  If you steal that much money, does that put you in a higher bracket so you get a tax cut? 

MATTHEWS:  He didn‘t pay his taxes at all. 

He‘s got the Al Capone problem. 

ALDA:  I see. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you something about your book, which is great.  “Never Have Your Dog Stuffed.”  I love when people do things that I remember as a kid.  My parents, my dad passed away this summer, my mom‘s been dead for a while.  But they never talked politics, never.  We would talk about what‘s in the newspaper, what we thought of Kennedy or Johnson, but nobody ever said how they voted.  My dad would never say in public—

ALDA:  In public?  You mean like to you. 

MATTHEWS:  And mom always kept it secret.  In your book, you ask your father and he says, we have a secret ballot in this country. 

ALDA:  Yes.  He went to vote, came back from the schoolhouse.  I said, so who did you vote for?  I was about 10 or something.  And he said, well, secret ballot.  I didn‘t know there was a law against telling your son how you voted. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you remember the great scene in “The Honeymooners” where

Alice yells out the window what her husband made for living.  Isn‘t it

like, you don‘t talk about your salary with your kids

ALDA:  No, I‘ll tell you what I think it was.  He was in Hollywood, he was an actor, and I think that people didn‘t want to talk about their politics because it cold be bad for business.

MATTHEWS:  Just like you.  Just like right now.

ALDA:  I just didn‘t care.

MATTHEWS:  You know what I like about your book, “Never Have Your Dog Stuffed.”  First of all, you wrote the book.  It‘s really well-written.  Every sentence sounds like the title of a book.  The first line of the book, if this doesn‘t grab you, “my mother didn‘t try to stab my father until I was six.” 

And then you talk about referencing the fact that your mom tried to put a knife in your father‘s face as you were growing up.  And then you bring it up a couple of weeks later and your mother says “I love your father.  I would never do that.” 

Is that like this because you don‘t want to bring your dog back because he‘s dead?  You don‘t want to relive the past? 

ALDA:  That title means a lot to me.  It means partly that.  To me it means this.  I guess to different people it will mean different things.  But to me it means, you can‘t really bring back what‘s gone, you know.  You can try to evoke it.  You can try to smell it again if you use words right and stuff like that.  I think that‘s for me the closest thing to come. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that a good thing:  the past is the past? 

ALDA:  Sure it is.  Yes.  The past is over.  The past is dead.  When it‘s dead, it‘s gone I think, and I think one of the lessons I‘ve had to learn is to let it go and be here, be now, and not be in the future, either. 

MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t that the key to marriage, moving on? 

ALDA:  I don‘t know.  Do you know what?  A lot of people ask us that because we‘ve been married for 48 years.  There‘s no key, I don‘t know what the answer is except we love each other.  So I would suggest people start with that, you know, and then move on from there, you know. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re a great guy.  We‘ll talk more with Alan Alda when we come back.  His book is “Never have Your Dog Stuffed.”  He did, like Trigger, and he didn‘t like his dog as much when it came back stuffed. 

ALDA:  That dog was awful stuffed.  It was better off dead. 

MATTHEWS:  Reminds me of Stephen King in “Pet Cemetery.”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with “The West Wing‘s” Alan Alda, author of the new book “Never Have Your Dog Stuffed.”  It‘s about not trying to relive the past or recapture those old moments, which are only useful in memoirs, right? 

We have a lot of guests who come on this show on to promote books that they didn‘t write.  There is something idiosyncratic.  The way that only the person who knows the story can tell it.  And there are a lot of ghosts out there who do a good job. 

And when I read this book, no ghost would have written this, because it is about growing up in a regular family who happens to be famous.  A lot of people think people like you lived in a different world than they do, and you didn‘t? 

ALDA:  No.  It was different in that it was weirder than most peoples‘ world. 

MATTHEWS:  You talk about people watching you on the other side of the stage, when we had lunch today you talked about those being civilians.  There is your father, Robert Altman. 

ALDA:  That was a couple of days before I got polio.  The civilians would be on the other side.  They were in the audience.  And we were on the entertaining side.  And I grew up thinking that we were different from the civilians. 

We were the ones—I was part of this group, the burlesque comics, they could be funny.  The comics and the talking women could do lines. 

MATTHEWS:  And the strippers? 

ALDA:  The strippers didn‘t do lines, that‘s why they had to take their clothes off.  The comics would always say, when a woman came into the company, they would say, can she talk?  That would mean that she could do lines with you. 

MATTHEWS:  Sometime in life you realized you were a civilian.

ALDA:  I realized—you asked how my wife and I made such a partnership.  She helped me understand that I was a civilian, too.  And I had to learn how I was connected to the people on the other side. 

MATTHEWS:  Taking out the garbage. 

ALDA:  I would come home from “MASH,” the first thing I would do is take out the garbage.  And I came from the set.

MATTHEWS:  And everybody thinks you had people to do that.

ALDA:  Well, you shouldn‘t.  The first scene I did on “West Wing,” I don‘t know if you saw that.  Shining my own shoes.  That‘s what I do.  I‘ve always done that.  It means something to me.  It means that I‘m taking care of business. 

MATTHEWS:  The name of the book is “Never Have Your Dog Stuffed.”  One of the real written books by a guy you like.  It‘s a great book for Christmas.

And tomorrow morning, as I said, join me for MSNBC‘s live coverage of President Bush‘s speech on Iraq at Annapolis at 9:30 eastern.  And then at 5:00 and 7:00 tomorrow night, Jack Murtha, the man who stood against the president will do it again tomorrow night.

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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