updated 12/13/2005 11:35:24 AM ET 2005-12-13T16:35:24

Guests: Evan Thomas, David Gergen, Mitt Romney, Jim VandeHei, Christopher Gelpi

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  President Bush says the war in Iraq is not a war with Iraq, but against those who are using Iraq as a base for terrorism.  But can we win the war in Iraq when polls show that two-thirds of Iraqis want our troops out?  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews broadcasting from Boston tonight.  Today President Bush marched into the battleground state of Pennsylvania and delivered his third speech on the war in Iraq.  The president picked Philadelphia, the birth place of the Constitution, and made his case for democracy before the December 15th elections in Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  When the new Iraqi government takes office next year, Iraqis will have the only constitutional democracy in the Arab world.  And Americans will have a partner for peace and moderation in the Middle East.  People across the broader Middle East are drawing and will continue to draw inspiration from Iraq‘s progress and the terrorists‘ powerful myth is being destroyed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS” anchor Brian Williams was with the president today, and here‘s what he said to Brian in an interview before the speech.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC NEWS ANCHOR:  “Time” magazine says you are out there talking to people and “Newsweek” says you‘re in here not talking to people.  So what is the truth, Mr. President?  This says...

BUSH:  ... well, I‘m talking to you, you‘re a person.

WILLIAMS:  This says you‘re in a bubble.  And you have a very small circle of advisers now. 

BUSH:  Yes.

WILLIAMS:  Is that true?

BUSH:  I don‘t think so.

WILLIAMS:  Do you feel in a bubble?

BUSH:  No, I don‘t feel in a bubble.  I mean, you feel in a bubble in the sense that I can‘t go walking out the front gate and go shopping.

WILLIAMS:  Do you read this kind of stuff?

BUSH:  No.

WILLIAMS:  No?  You don‘t read the news weeklies?

BUSH:  I really don‘t.  I mean, I‘m interested in the news.  I‘m not all that interested in the opinions.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  More on Brian‘s interview on “NBC‘s NIGHTLY NEWS” tonight.  And later on our show, we‘ll have the latest on the CIA leak case, lots more there perking along.  And talk about whether Karl Rove only admitted to his conversation with “Time” magazine‘s Matt Cooper when he heard that Cooper was about to testify about it. 

But first the president talked about democracy in Iraq in his speech today.  And for reaction, we‘re joined by “Newsweek‘s” Evan Thomas and by David Gergen, who‘s been an adviser to four presidents.  Evan, I have to start with you, because we just heard the president of the United States diss your magazine.  The cover you put on it, about him being a bubble baby.  He said he doesn‘t even read your mag.

EVAN THOMAS, ASSISTANT MANAGING EDITOR, NEWSWEEK MAGAZINE:  I‘m sure he doesn‘t.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you make of the fact that he doesn‘t read any news magazines, according to him.  That he thinks they‘re filled with opinion, that he has other sources for news besides news magazines?

THOMAS:  I think it‘s admirable in some ways, the way Bush does not listen to the Washington chatter.  He‘s always been somebody who could tune it out.  And I think that‘s healthy.  But as we write in the story, I think he‘s gone a little bit too far. 

He says he doesn‘t read the papers.  He needs to read the papers, at least.  He needs to be—he needs to reach out a little bit more than he does.  According to the people around him, he lives in a pretty closed world.  He talks to his close personal friends, he talks to his advisers.  But unlike other presidents who‘ve been in trouble before, he doesn‘t really reach out.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he‘s reacting to this criticism?  I don‘t know if he got a heads up on your magazine cover this weekend, but clearly today he took questions for the first time, and it wasn‘t a military audience or a conservative audience.  It wasn‘t the American Enterprise Institute or The Heritage Foundation.  It was the rather mixed, I know the group, the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia.

THOMAS:  Yes, they are definitely in a reach-out mode now.  I mean, they‘ve been feeling the heat and when we were talking to them last week, it was clear they‘re having Democrats—imagine that, they are having Democrats into the White House this week.  He‘s doing a bunch of things to show that he is reaching out.  Whether it‘s really substantive, we‘ll see.

MATTHEWS:  Let me—is this—David, is this just to bring a Democrat to dinner kind of formality that we‘re seeing right now?

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ADVISER:  I think he‘s changing the tone, Chris, but I don‘t think he‘s changing the substance of his policies.  He is showing them a softer tone, a more reasonable tone. 

He is acknowledging mistakes in Iraq, he‘s acknowledging problems today in Philadelphia, you know, he acknowledged we had 30,000 people on the Iraqi side death.  You know, we haven‘t heard that kind of thing from him before.  But I see no change, none, in the hard-line policies he has been following.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you both about what looked to me like a continual shift over the last three speeches.  You know, if you listen to the whack jobs on the right, by which I mean the people on call-in radio around the country, the real extremists out there.  They refer to anybody who is fighting us in the world, for any reason, nationalistic, religious or whatever, as being terrorists.  Anybody who doesn‘t like us is a terrorist. 

The president is so careful now to say the large body of the people opposing us in Iraq are what he called, ordinary Iraqis.  They‘re people of the Sunni faith, that part of Islam, who feel that they will lose out under the new government.  He suggests that they will eventually, if we‘re lucky, join the government. 

There is nothing wrong with these people morally, they just see things differently than us.  And he says a very small, but lethal number, are outside terrorists. 

Why do you think, Evan, that he‘s begun to discriminate clearly now in the public mind, between the large force of people in that part of the world who just don‘t like us and the actual terrorists?

THOMAS:  Well, he wants the Sunnis to participate.  He wants them to get involved in the government, even if it‘s not to like us.  In the back in the mind, he may not—in the long run, he sort like, I think, like the Iraqi government to ask us to leave after there is an Iraqi government.  So he wants to engage, you know, the Iraqi people in democracy, and calling them terrorists is not a great way to do that.  Calling them citizens is a better way. 

MATTHEWS:  Why is he doing it to us though, in a speech to us?

THOMAS:  Well, I think he is trying to show some change in his tone here.  He actually has been more willing to admit that there have been mistakes.  In the last couple of speeches there is a different tone.  He says things that he wasn‘t willing to say before, that things have not gone as well as possible.  I don‘t see a huge change in policy, but I see some greater willingness to admit trouble. 

MATTHEWS:  David Gergen?

GERGEN:  I think another thing though, Chris, my sense is he is preparing the way now for whatever his exit strategy is.  He did—there was a time when all insurgents were terrorists in his speeches.  And now he distinguishes between terrorist versus insurgents.  And the terrorists are mostly those who come from out of country. 

I think what he is preparing to do, Chris, is just have an exit strategy says, “Look, United States job is to take care of the terrorists.  We will try to hammer those and really get those under better control, but we‘re going to leave it to the new Iraqi government to deal with the insurgents.”  So that he can leave when there is not a secure Iraq, when there‘s not a safe Iraq.  There‘s going to be a lot of violence, but he can say now it‘s up to the Iraqi government to deal with its own locals.

MATTHEWS:  But he doesn‘t treat them, as you know, just to use the terminology we were used to the last couple of years, the evil ones, the bad guys. 

GERGEN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  He doesn‘t use those terms anymore in describing the Iraqis who don‘t want us there.  He‘s just not using that sort of Manichean language anymore.

GERGEN:  I think that‘s right, because he‘s got to have a way that we can leave when there‘s still a lot of violence on the ground, as there inevitably is going to be.  I think he‘s also beginning to recognize and prepare this country to accept that the Iraq that emerges is not going to be like a unified nation. 

It‘s not going to be like the United States or Great Britain or France.  It‘s going to be loose federation.  And increasingly, we see that in these polls, that say the Kurds feel very happy about what‘s evolving and the Shiites are moving toward Iran and we‘re going to have the Sunnis who are going to be extremely unhappy and probably be, you know, have a lot of insurgency and not going to be a united nation.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me go midway between your very practical assessment and my somewhat optimistic, which is we have a lot of Sunni allies in the war, Mubarak, King Abdullah of Jordan.  Our friends tend to be Sunnis.  They are the ones that lead these Arab governments, Evan.  And it seems to me that they are getting a little tired of us treating Sunnis in Iraq as the bad guys.

THOMAS:  Well, it‘s true.  We got—you know, the administration has always had sort of two faces about the Arab—existing Arab governments.  On the one hand, they‘re our friends, we need them, they‘re our allies that sell us oil.  On the other hand, in the long run, we want to overthrow them. 

MATTHEWS:  We do?  Speak for yourself.  What do you mean by we in this case?  Seriously.

THOMAS:  What I mean is that if you...

MATTHEWS:  ... the neocons in this administration, but do the American people have any interest in throwing over Mubarak or King Abdullah?

THOMAS:  I‘m talking about the administration.  This administration‘s made it clear that they want long-term reform and that ain‘t the oligarchs who run it now.  So he‘s—Bush has signaled in his last inaugural address, he certainly did, that he is in favor of liberty.  In the long run, that‘s going to mean getting rid of the dictators that run it.  But we‘re caught.  On the one hand, we want to get rid of those people and bring democracy.  On the other hand, we need them, we need their help in fighting against terrorists.

MATTHEWS:  Well, they‘re the only countries, if you‘ve noticed, those oligarchs and those bad guys, as you call them, are the only ones that are willing to recognize Israel, for example.  Starting with Egypt and onto Jordan, and so if we‘re overthrowing the leaders, in exchange for the people, do you think the people of those countries would want to recognize Israel? 

THOMAS:  No.  In fact, part of the dilemma the Bush administration has, is if you have a true democracy, you might have Islam.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

THOMAS:  What they might elect is the new caliphate.  So I think the administration is at a very awkward place, but they‘ve tried to have it both ways.

MATTHEWS:  Did you think it was interesting, David, for the first time today, the president basically laid out for the fact that getting a constitutional democracy in that part of the world, an Arab constitutional democracy, is good policy if you care about Israel, because Israel needs to have at least some friends besides the cold friendship they have, and very cold friendship with Egypt, and the somewhat warmer friendship with Jordan.  They could use another country in that region that wasn‘t hostile to them. 

GERGEN:  Well, they sure could.  But I think it—it is, listen, I think that the president was right to say this is going to be the first constitutionally constituted government, but it‘s wrong to think it‘s going to be somehow partner with us, a steady partner.  We are going to have a series of partners in this loose federation, and one of those—and we are going to have one part of this, the Shiite group, it‘s going to be much closer to Iran.  I mean, at the end of the day, the big winner in Iraq may be Iran.

MATTHEWS:  You mean, a new government of Iraq will be Shiite, and therefore pro-Iran—Iranian.

GERGEN:  Well, but the southern portion of Iraq, which is going to be a huge chunk of this federation, is going to be fairly autonomous, much more like the Kurds in Kurdistan, and they‘re going to be closely allied with Iran, and you can make the argument at the end of the day we are going to wind up having liberated the place from Saddam, but also creating an extension, an annex to Iran if we are not careful.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about...

GERGEN:  And that‘s not in our best interest. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s certainly not.  Let me ask you about something one of you mentioned, which is that the administration would like to have the new government of Iraq, when it gets formally organized in the next couple of months, to begin to tell us to leave.  We have got a new poll by ABC News and “Time” magazine, David, that says two-thirds of the Iraqi people want our troops out. 

Do you believe we have a clear policy of removing all our troops eventually? 

GERGEN:  No.  I think under all circumstances, we are going to maintain troops just over the horizon. 

MATTHEWS:  How about in Iraq? 

GERGEN:  Well, I think they may well be in Kurdistan to the north, or it may well be in Kuwait to the south, and we are clearly going to be in a position to come in with air power and troop power, and we are also going to be keeping an eye on the oil wells.  I don‘t think we are intending to leave altogether, but we may be just over the horizon. 

MATTHEWS:  I wonder if any country is going to be seen as legitimate and sovereign as long as there is a substantial number of American troops in country. 

Anyway, thank you, David Gergen.  Thank you, Evan Thomas. 

When we come back, more reaction to President Bush‘s third Iraq speech in this series and what it means for our troops over there, from Governor Mitt Romney, our host tonight, the Republican government—he is a Republican—of a very blue state, Massachusetts.

And later, inside the CIA leak case.  Do all roads lead to Rove?  You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Republican Mitt Romney was elected governor of Massachusetts in 2002.  He recently became head of the Republican Governors Association nationwide, and soon we might know better whether he will run for reelection as governor of Massachusetts, or for president of the United States.  Maybe he will do both.  Welcome, Governor, thank you.  Any chance you will do both, run for reelection and then run for president after that? 

GOV. MITT ROMNEY ®, MASSACHUSETTS:  Well, I think it would be pretty disingenuous for someone to announce that they are going to run for governor, and then turn around the day after they get inaugurated and go full time running for president. 

MATTHEWS:  The way Bill Clinton did it. 

ROMNEY:  And that‘s not something I would...

MATTHEWS:  But that‘s what Bill Clinton did.

ROMNEY:  Well, a lot of people do that.  I think politics has changed.  I think running for president today entails a full-time campaign two years out at least.  And it just—just wouldn‘t be appropriate not to be level with people and tell them that you are going to go do that.  So by and large, I think folks who are looking at that kind of a choice are going to level with people. 

MATTHEWS:  So if you decide to run for governor of Massachusetts again, you are not running for president. 

ROMNEY:  That‘s for sure. 

MATTHEWS:  And if you are not running for reelection as governor, we can take that as an announcement for president?  

ROMNEY:  No, not really.  I think you have to wait another full year for anybody who says they are keeping their options open, that they are going to look at what is going to happen down the road, and a lot, as you know, in politic, a whole year is a lifetime.  And so you wait a while and see what the circumstances might be. 

MATTHEWS:  We love looking at polls here on HARDBALL. I love them.  In fact, I really believe in them. 

ROMNEY:  They‘re useless. 

MATTHEWS:  And every time I take a poll or look at a poll, it‘s Giuliani number one and it‘s McCain number two for your party.  

ROMNEY:  They are great guys.  And have terrific records, and I think either one would be a wonderful president, after President Bush has served his term.  And they are the people who we know and I think they are great people. 

MATTHEWS:  Would the Republican Party ever vary from its strong commitment to the values questions of abortion rights and be ever in a position to nominate a candidate who didn‘t support basically getting rid of abortion?

ROMNEY:  I think the Republican Party will insist that their nominee is ...

MATTHEWS:  Pro-life? 

ROMNEY:  ... pro-life.  I think that‘s one of the fundamental principles of the party, but of course we welcome people who have differing views to be part of the party and to run for various offices.  But in terms of the presidential position, I think that they will look for somebody who is pro-life. 

MATTHEWS:  How does a pro-life fellow like you get to be governor of Massachusetts, which is inordinately pro-choice? 

ROMNEY:  Well, I made it clear when I ran in Massachusetts that while I personally did not favor abortion, that if elected governor I wouldn‘t change the law here.  I believe that each state should be able to make their own choice as to whether they are pro-life or pro-choice.  Massachusetts is overwhelmingly pro-choice.  I said, I‘m not going to change the law here, a moratorium on change.  There is some people who wanted to reduce the age of parental consent from 18 to 16.  That was a big issue in my debate.  I said no. 

MATTHEWS:  Senator O‘Brien, I believe.

ROMNEY:  She did.  She...

MATTHEWS:  I believe it was Mr. Tim Russert who asked her why she thought we needed to have a lower age for consent. 

ROMNEY:  What a memory you are.  You are extraordinary.  So, you‘re right.  And I said, no, no, we are not going to change the law, we are going to keep it the way it is.  No more encroaching on that.  And as a result, we have kept it there. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that being a red state person in the sense of your politics, being a Republican, and being in a blue state like this gives you an advantage in going into a national general election? 

ROMNEY:  I haven‘t a clue.  I mean, you are what you are, and I happen to have been living in Massachusetts for the last, what, 33, 34 years.  I love living here.  And yet, I‘m more conservative than most people here.  And yet, people in this state are very happy to have a governor who believes in spending their money wisely, not raising their taxes, reforming government.  And I work pretty well with the folks across the aisle.  We have got a good Senate president, good speaker of the House, and get a lot done. 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t gamble, do you? 

ROMNEY:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of people who gamble, like me, who bet on elections and things like that?  You think that‘s OK?

ROMNEY:  It sounds like fun to me. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, here‘s what I want your help in.  I was thinking of betting that you‘re going to run for president.  Do you think I‘m OK?  

ROMNEY:  I would never give somebody advice on making a bet. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about two or three hottest issues in the country.  What is heating oil?  Up here in Massachusetts, I know from working for Tip all those years, that heating oil is a hot issue, because you can‘t just drive less.  You are in a house.  The temperature—the thermostat gets below 60, suddenly you are going to start really freezing, so you need to heat your house and your home.  How is it going to be this winter? 

ROMNEY:  It‘s going to be a tough winter, for two reasons.  One, the price of heating oil is going to be high, and number two, we are not going to have as much natural gas as we are used to, and that‘s because of what‘s happened in the Gulf.  As a result, people are going to have to turn down their thermostats, we are going to have to do a lot in terms of insulation and conservation, and we‘re going to have to also have financial support from the state government and the federal government, and we‘ve just put in place a program to put in tens of millions of dollars in support for the poor, for those who are on fixed incomes and that are poor. 

Ultimately, however, we have got to learn to use a lot less oil in this country, and that‘s efficiency.  That‘s conservation, that‘s automobiles that use less energy.  I proposed a plan that says... 

MATTHEWS:  Have you talked to Cheney about this?  You talk completely different than Vice President Cheney.  Vice President Cheney talks—as an oil patch senator—or vice president, from Wyoming, he talks about, we need influence in the Middle East to protect our rights over there.  You know, they said when we went in this war that we would get cheaper gas as a result of this war, cheaper gasoline and oil.  But it was always about the fact—maybe not the war was definitely just for this purpose, but one of the byproducts of this war was going to be cheaper gas and oil.  What happened to that promise?

ROMNEY:  Well, I don‘t look at the war against terror as something about oil.

MATTHEWS:  No, but a byproduct of it.

ROMNEY:  Well, that hasn‘t happened yet, and we will see what happens down the road, but that‘s not how I look at it.

Fundamentally, you have got two things that are going to effect the price and supply of oil in this country.  One is, of course, how much we are using. 

And the other is how much we are producing.  And, of course, we need to produce more oil and generate more renewable sources of energy.  And we can do that through the farmland.  We can do that through wind power, solar power.  But we also have to use a lot less energy, a lot less oil. 

MATTHEWS:  I am stunned by this.  Jimmy Baker, who was secretary of state at the time back in the first Gulf War, said why are we fighting the war over Kuwait?  He said jobs, jobs, jobs.  He was very clear it was about oil. 

This administration has been pretty clear that one of the reasons we are fighting over there is to keep the oil lanes open.  You are saying that is not one of your concerns? 

ROMNEY:  Well, what the heart of my concern is that you have a group of people in the Muslim world...

MATTHEWS:  Sure, we know that.

ROMNEY:  ..who are fundamentalists Islamist and there are among them, jihadists who want to bring down the governments of the Western world, bring down modern governments in their sector of the world.  And they are fighting a Jihad against us.  They attack us... 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but that wasn‘t Saddam Hussein.  Saddam Hussein attacked Kuwait.  We went after him because of territory, because of his behavior in the region, starting two wars against Iran, the other one against Kuwait.  That was about oil. 

ROMNEY:  You‘re talking about the last two...

MATTHEWS:  The last two wars had to do with oil.  Didn‘t they? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m amazed that you are up here where people need cheap oil.  They are dying from high oil costs, and you are saying that when the administration said we fought that first Gulf War over oil, you said they weren‘t telling the truth or what? 

ROMNEY:  No, of course not.  And I‘m not saying that the administration said nor did they say, we fought this war over oil.  We fought this war to allow the Kuwaitis to establish their own management of their own country, and we also fought this war to keep Saddam Hussein from continuing to march on to the Saudi Arabia peninsula.  There were a lot of good reasons. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure, but the Secretary of the State at the time, James A. 

Baker, a Republican...

ROMNEY:  Of course, there are benefits.

MATTHEWS:  ...said it was for jobs, jobs, jobs.  He said that. 

ROMNEY:  I‘m sure that there are benefits in having a stable Middle East with regards to the supply of oil to the entire world.  But, ultimately, our ability as a nation to have a bright economic future relates to our reducing the amount of oil we have to buy from around the world as opposed to increasing it. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe we should go up in the Arctic, to the Arctic reserve land up there, and prospect for oil up there? 

ROMNEY:  I think we ought to have more oil.  We ought to develop more sources of oil so that we can increase our supply.  But the last thing I want to do is suck it all dry as quickly as we can.  I want to use less of it. 

Let‘s have the supply to give ourselves the strategic and the market clout that we need to keep the price down.

MATTHEWS:  So open up the wilderness lands up there the Arctic?

ROMNEY:  Yes, but let‘s not just suck it all out.  Let‘s make sure that we keep that reserve. 

MATTHEWS:  It won‘t last that long even if we do suck it all out.  You are right. 

ROMNEY:  I don‘t want to use it all in one decade. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We will be back with Governor Mitt Romney when we return.

And a web site note, we are putting together our list of the best HARDBALL moments.  Maybe this one of 2005, we are producing a year-end special on those moments, and we want to hear from you.  Vote for the biggest HARDBALL moment of your life this year.  Our web site just go to hardblogger.MSNBC.com.  You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

MATTHEWS: We are back with Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. 

You know, back when your dad was running for president, George Romney, and a lot of people thought, he was ahead of American Motors, he was gong to be the kind of guy you are.  Put it together, you‘re a business guy.  You think like a business guy, but you‘re a great manager.  All the good things, practical, solid, middle of the broader kind of guy.  That‘s you? 

ROMNEY:  A lot better than me, he was. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

When he came back from meeting with the generals in Vietnam.  You know, what I‘m going to say.  He said he was brainwashed.  But a lot of Americans today might not find that as funny as they did back then because today a lot of Americans are led to believe certain facts about this war in Iraq that have turned out not to be well founded. 

Do you think we were brainwashed to the extent of saying that there was a connection to 9/11, that the people there were going to greet us with flowers and roses and love us, that it was going to pay for all our cheap gas, that it was going to pay for the war itself, the Iraqi oil?  All these flowery promises about the war in Iraq that turned out to be way over optimistic. 

ROMNEY:  Well, McNamara actually said that he lied to the American people.  So we know that my dad was right.  But putting that aside.  With regards to this conflict...

MATTHEWS:  Were we brain washed? 

ROMNEY:  Of course not. 

There is a fog aboard.  There is a fog of foreign relations as well as to what‘s happening in the world.  What‘s happening in the world of Islam?  What‘s happening with the different factions of Islam?  Which jihadists are going to thrive?  Which ones are going to shrink?  It‘s a very complex picture. 

MATTHEWS:  But we went to war with Iraq because it didn‘t have a Jihad problem.

ROMNEY:  Clearly we were very, very surprised by the fact that there weren‘t weapons of mass destruction, apparently.  Did we make a mistake?  Absolutely.  We thought there were weapons of mass destruction there.  When I say we, I‘m not just talking about our intelligence resources.  I‘m talking about those around the world.  We were wrong. 

MATTHEWS:  So you believe that Dick Cheney and the president were both shocked too?  They were completely surprised by this.

ROMNEY:  I believe that Dick Cheney and the president told the truth as they understood it and have done what they believe is in the best interest of the American people without exception.  They are doing what they think is right in the country.  Look, life is too short for politics... 

MATTHEWS:  How about the claim that was much more dangerous to us?  Not that we went into a country and got rid of a bad guy.  But that we got into a country now where two thirds of the people over there say we wish they weren‘t there.  Shouldn‘t we have known that when go to a foreign country that people are going to resent your occupation just by definition? 

ROMNEY:  Of course.  And we don‘t want to be there either.  Of course, they don‘t want us there.   

MATTHEWS:  But why didn‘t we predict that there would be an insurgency? 

MATTHEWS:  What they do want us to do is to make sure their country is stable.  They do not want to return to the Saddam Hussein Baathist rule.  They are not saying, oh, yes, let‘s get rid of the Americans and go back to Saddam Hussein.  They are saying, no, we want the Americans to get the job done, to get our people able to manage our own security and then get out.  We all agree. 

And the question is how fast can we do that?  And we will do it as fast as we can.

MATTHEWS:  Governor, you‘re great.

We have got a new poll showing it‘s 50/50, by the way.  Whether they like it this way or the old way. 

ROMNEY:  I don‘t get my information from intelligence sources.  I get it from the news media.  But I read Joe Lieberman‘s column, and I say, you know, there is somebody on the other side of the aisle saying the same thing the president is saying and that gives me a great deal of confidence. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you want him to join the Republican Party? 

ROMNEY:  No, I like him right where he is.  I know you do.  I think it‘s great to have someone.

MATTHEWS:  Because then you can keep pointing to him.

ROMNEY:  No, but it‘s a guy that‘s above politics.  He has been around a long time.  Politics comes second.  The country comes first.  And he says what he believes.  Hey, I hope he is right.  I hope we are on a path towards victory.  I know that‘s what the president and vice president are fighting for.

MATTHEWS:  So let me get this straight.  A person on the Democratic side who agrees with the Republican side is above politics?

ROMNEY:  I think a person who looks at that conflict and says, you know what‘s going on here, this Jihad, this global Jihad, is bigger than politics.  And neither party should make politics out of it.

Mark Warner, governor of Virginia, maybe a presidential candidate, said, look, let‘s not debate about how we got in.  Let‘s not debate about how quickly we get out.  Let‘s talk about how we are going to win this overall conflict. 

MATTHEWS:  I would love to see a debate between you two guys.  You‘d be great. 

ROMNEY:  He‘s a great guy.  I don‘t know if we will see that or not.

MATTHEWS:  By the way, governor‘s get elected president.  I have noticed the pattern, Governor Romney.

ROMNEY:  Thanks Chris.

MATTHEWS:  When we return, the latest on the CIA leak case with “The Washington Post” Jim VandeHei and MSNBC‘s Norah O‘Donnell.  You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

On the CIA leak case, “Time” magazine reporter Viveca Novak has now provided a first-person account of her role in tipping off presidential adviser Karl Rove that he was headed for trouble unless he changed his testimony. 

Rove did change his testimony, but the president‘s top adviser still appears to in the legal cross hairs, and there are now strong indications that the 11th hour defense that kept Karl Rove from getting indicted six weeks ago is splintering. 

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster reports. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice over):  It‘s evidence related to presidential adviser Karl Rove that may establish a crucial time line.  “Time” magazine reporter Viveca Novak writes in this addition for the first time about a conversation with Rove lawyer Bob Luskin. 

Quote, “Fitzgerald (the prosecutor) had asked that I check a couple of dates on my calendar, one of them March 1, 2004, checked out.”  Novak told Fitzgerald she though it was during this meeting when she said that reporter Matt Cooper, if he was forced to testify, would implicate Rove as a CIA leak source. 

But it was not until October of 2004, seven months later, when Rove changed his testimony, disclosed he had, in fact, spoken with Cooper.  The time lag seems to contradict Luskin‘s assertions Rove acted immediately, assertions made at the 11th hour two months ago that kept Rove from getting indicted. 

If Prosecutor Fitzgerald is now returning to the theory Rove updated his testimony only because Matt Cooper was subpoenaed a few day earlier, legal experts say Rove is in trouble. 

Viveca Novak revealed Prosecutor Fitzgerald first spoke to her last month informally, but then came back and said he needed her again, quote, “under oath.” 

Novak testified last week just as Fitzgerald empaneled a new grand jury to consider a possible indictment. 

SCOTT FREDERICKSEN, FMR. INDEPENDENT COUNSEL:  I think what it means is that he is going to come right down to the end before he makes his decision.  We are at the finish line.  I think it could go either way, but Mr. Fitzgerald could not be more serious and if you are Mr. Rove, this is a difficult time to sleep. 

SHUSTER:  For months, prosecutors have been trying to decide whether Rove deliberately misled the grand jury early on and should be charged with perjury and obstruction of justice, or whether Rove honestly couldn‘t remember some things and should be cleared. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How was it?  Any comments?  What do you think? 

SHUSTER:  One key issue appears to an e-mail from Rove to White House colleague Stephen Hadley right after the July, 2003, Cooper conversation.  Rove wrote: He (Cooper) immediately launched into Niger.  Isn‘t this damaging?  Hasn‘t the president been hurt?  I didn‘t take the bait.  But I said, if I were him, I wouldn‘t get “Time” far out in front on this.

Bob Luskin maintains he and Rove found the e-mail only because Viveca Novak prompted them to try to refresh Rove‘s memory.  Until then, at least according to Novak‘s first person account, Rove and his lawyer were steadfast in their denials. 

Novak says she was told by Luskin, quote, “Karl doesn‘t have a Cooper problem.  He was not a source for Matt.  I responded something like, ‘are you sure about that.  That‘s not what I hear around “Time.”  He looked surprised and very serious.”

SHUSTER (on camera):  For not telling her bosses at “Time” magazine that she may have tipped off Karl Rove‘s lawyer, Viveca Novak has now been given a leave of absence.  As for Karl Rove, the presidential adviser continues working at the White House as the prosecutor and grand jury decide whether Rove should be indicted. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.

Joining me now is MSNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent, Norah O‘Donnell and Jim VandeHei of “The Washington Post.” 

Jim, I‘d like to start with you about our fellow reporter Viveca Novak.  What‘s her status right now as “Time” magazine after this flap involving her and tipping off Karl Rove‘s lawyer? 

JIM VANDEHEI, THE WASHINGTON POST:  She is definitely in the dog house.  She has taken a leave of absence that apparently was mutually agreed upon by her and “Time” management. 

Several people at “Time” have told us that they are very unhappy with the fact that she did not tell the magazine about her initial conversation with Rove‘s lawyer, who is Robert Luskin.  And then didn‘t even tell the magazine when she was first contacted by the prosecutor. 

So she is on a leave of absence.  I think they are going to reevaluate the beginning of next year what exactly her status with the magazine will be. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s Karl rove‘s status right now as best you can ascertain?

VANDEHEI:  I think it‘s still very much under investigation.  Most of the people I have talked to still there is a chance that he could get indicted, that the focus of the investigation is very much on whether he provided false testimony in the course of the investigation. 

And I think we are going to know soon, because I have learned from our reporting that the one piece that was outstanding that had to be looked at was this whole conversation between Luskin and Viveca Novak. 

Now, we know that Fitzgerald has now taken a deposition from both parties so, presumably, he is probably at an end.  So we might know relatively soon, perhaps even this year, whether or not, you know, Rove is in the clear or whether he will be indicted. 

MATTHEWS:  Norah, what do you hear from the White House or their friends around this town as to whether their top kick is in trouble? 

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  Jim is right, the thinking is that there could be a decision as early as this month and that Karl Rove is still in legal jeopardy.  And I think it‘s not clear that this testimony by Viveca Novak and the conversation that she had with Luskin early on clears Rove all together. 

There is still some huge questions that this opens up.  I mean, we know that Karl Rove first went to the grand jury in February, 2004.  And at that time he told the grand jury that he was not Matt Cooper‘s source.  And then in October, 2004, he went back to the grand jury, and that‘s when he corrected the record and says he was Cooper‘s source.

In that period of time, Luskin even says before the first grand jury appearance, he knew from Viveca Novak that everybody at “Time” said that Cooper said that Rove was his source.

Why then did it take almost 10 months, as long as 10 months, for Karl Rove to correct the record?  Why wasn‘t this e-mail from Karl Rove to Stephen Hadley where he said, hey, I just talked to Matt Cooper about yellow cake and Niger—why wasn‘t that found in the original sweep and the original subpoenas by Fitzgerald?  Why did it take Karl Rove to find that?

These are all really big questions and the type of questions, certainly as a reporter and certainly Fitzgerald asking and saying something does not make sense here.  Something does not fit here. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Jim, there is one explanation.  That is that Karl Rove playing it safe, said I‘m not going to give this away unless I‘m sure the other guy is going to give it away.  If Matt Cooper is not going to testify, and he is going to protect me as his source, why should I give it away? 

VANDEHEI:  Right.  Though I think what‘s going on here—I don‘t think that this conversation between Viveca Novak and Luskin is about this whole change testimony and the e-mail that happened about seven months later. 

I think what‘s happening is Luskin is probably trying to convince Fitzgerald that it would be foolish for Rove to have testified that first time before the grand jury that he did not have a conversation with Matthew Cooper when he knew from Luskin, who had learned from Viveca Novak, that everybody at “Time” was buzzing about the fact that there had been that conversation. 

So he would have had to have known that eventually that was going to become public. 

MATTHEWS: So why didn‘t he say so?  Why didn‘t he answer the question honestly and totally honestly? 

VANDEHEI:  According to the version of events that I have heard from his testimony is that he says he still, even when he heard about it from Luskin, did not recall that he had ever talked to Cooper. 

It wasn‘t until right before that October testimony when he found that e-mail from Hadley that he suddenly—his memory was jarred and he recalled.  I think it all sounds very foggy.  It all sounds very mysterious.  That is his testimony and that‘s what this whole thing is hanging on right now. 

O‘DONNELL:  The problem with that explanation is and I‘m sure you know this, Jim, too.  Is that if, in fact, Luskin had told Karl Rove before Rove‘s first grand jury appearance, hey, but I heard from “Time” that they are all buzzing, in fact, you were Matt Cooper‘s source.  And that Rove said, that‘s not true, I‘ve still got to go to the grand jury and I‘m going to tell them I‘m not Cooper‘s source. 

Then what was it all the sudden, within those ten months, that he thought maybe I was Matt Cooper‘s source, and I better have everybody at the White House look for some e-mails or anything like that. 

What then triggered that, and that‘s the big question.  Why all of the sudden did he then believe that Luskin may be right?  What triggered that chain? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you one thing.  One thing watching this thing from a bit of a second-degree look, it seems to me there‘s interesting in the dates.  The very day, July 12, I believe, that Scooter Libby is accused of telling two reporters about this.  That is Matt Cooper and his favorite reporter, Judy Miller.

The day before that, Karl Rove now apparently told Matt Cooper.  So, it looks like these two guys were working together to put this story out, right, Jim? 

VANDEHEI:  That‘s always been—it‘s always...

MATTHEWS:  I mean, just from the looks of it.

VANDEHEI:  That‘s what it looks like and we do know from the indictment of Scooter Libby that there certainly was a conversation between Libby and Rove where it was mentioned that Bob Novak, no relation to Viveca, was making phone calls and asking about Valerie Plame.  And that they discussed it.

We still don‘t know exactly where Karl Rove originally learned about Valerie Plame.  That‘s still one of the mysteries.  We know one of them he had heard it from Hadley as just sort of chatter inside the office, but he had learned it earlier from some other place.  And we still don‘t know where that is. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with Norah O‘Donnell and Jim VandeHei. 

This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

MATTHEWS:  We are back with Norah O‘Donnell, chief Washington correspondent for MSNBC, and Jim VandeHei of “The Washington Post.” 

Norah and Jim, let me recap for people who are not aficionados of this.  Sometimes in last year or two years ago rather stories began to appear in the paper in the various bylines that someone in the state department had put out the word that the CIA had checked out this whole story of a Uranium deal by Saddam Hussein to get uranium out of Africa.

Debunking, basically, what the president had said in his State of Union about such a deal.  And then, of course, the article appeared.  But during the meantime, the vice president got the word that, in fact, it was Joe Wilson was involved in this, the former ambassador, who was very much a partisan against the administration. 

All of this is happening in public.  This big back and forth developing all the way to the article that ran on the 6th of July that year by Joe Wilson‘s outing basically the administration. 

Then all of the apologies from Condi Rice, from Stephen Hadley, from Ari Fleischer, the press secretary at the time.  All this public discussion as to whether the president was well founded in saying we faced a nuclear threat from Saddam Hussein and Joe Wilson‘s very successful debunking of it. 

The vice president, we know , told the Chief of Staff Scooter Libby about it, about who Valerie Plame was at the CIA and the role she may have played in sending her husband. 

And then, of course, all the rest of this came out.  The article came out in “The New York Times.”  The vice president counselled Scooter Libby on how to handle this in the press.  And low and behold a few days later it shows up in the Bob Novak column and then “Time Magazine.”

How can we continue to act like the King Kongs in the room?  The president and the vice president weren‘t involved in this effort to fight the charge that they had taken us to war on false pretenses? 

You first, Jim.  Why do we keep acting like the president and vice president were observers or not even observers, almost not interested observers? 

VANDEHEI:  Well, I think you have to separate the two.  Number one, we know a lot more about the vice president‘s role than we do the president‘s role.  And we certainly do now know, from the indictment and other reporting, that there was certainly a lot of involvement of the vice president‘s office and the vice president himself. 

But there is a difference between—and we have talked about this before.  There is a difference between going after a critic, trying to make your case for why you went to war and why this critic might be wrong and whether you have actually crossed that line of illegality. 

Fitzgerald never has proved that anyone knowingly leaked the identity of an officer, but we are now looking at perjury and obstruction of justice.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  My point—let me try my point with Norah. 

My point is not to say they were involved in a conspiracy simply to wonder why anyone would assume they weren‘t following the case, they weren‘t extremely interested in the results of this charge they had gone to war for false pretenses, and weren‘t aware that their own people had leaked this, and why they didn‘t try to bring those people to the public? 

Why didn‘t they out their own people?  Why didn‘t they say, Karl, and in this case Scooter Libby—the vice president, why didn‘t he say to Scooter, I didn‘t tell you to leak these names, why did you do it?”

It‘s so clear if you look at the timeline of what happened here, that they knew who was doing it.  Go ahead.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, it may be that the president and the vice president knew about it, and certainly they would want to counter any charges of anyone who is claiming that the going into the war in Iraq was wrong.  But that‘s a different thing than saying that something that someone has done is illegal. 

And as we know following this Fitzgerald investigation, that what he indicted Scooter Libby on was five counts of perjury and obstruction of justice, in this investigation, not the original charge.  And if Rove, who still remains in legal jeopardy does face indictment, and if he is indicted, it will be on those same charges for changing his story.

Which again gets into why did all this happen in 2004?  And I think you have to look at, as well, that of course, the campaign was going on, the campaign to get re-elected.  That may be part of the explanation to why it may have taken people longer to find e-mails or recollect.

MATTHEWS:  Jim, the point I made—the question I‘m trying to put, I guess I wasn‘t clear in my question in putting all that together.  My question is, does anyone really believe that those people, the president, the vice president, made any effort whatever to clear this matter up, in the public‘s mind, to help us understand who did this.

VANDEHEI:  No.  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Even though they publicly said so, the press secretary to the president, McClellan kept saying: we‘re checking around, we‘re making sure none of our people did it.  In fact, vouching for them even, in the name of the president.  In the name of the president, McClellan came out and said, “they didn‘t do it.”

VANDEHEI:  Absolutely not.  They never made an effort to clear it up.  Chris, you know Washington and you know the Bush world.  These guys are absolutely loyal, and we‘re not talking about low-level aides here.  We‘re talking about Scooter Libby and Karl Rove, arguably the two most powerful aides in the entire government.

So of course they‘re going to stand by them and they‘re going to fight, and they‘ve always had an antagonistic view of their relationship with us and their relationship with their critics.  So of course they were going to fight to the death, particularly when you are dealing with Iraq or you‘re dealing with the weapons argument, because that is so core to this presidency.

MATTHEWS:  So when Scott McClellan speaks in the name of the president

by the way, that‘s the only reason we listen to the guy.  He‘s the president‘s spokesperson.  Otherwise we wouldn‘t be listening to him.  In speaking for the president, in saying, “We‘ve made every effort to find out who these people are, and they‘re not our people.”  What do we make of that?

VANDEHEI:  It‘s been absolutely proven to be untrue.  And Scott McClellan now has to wiggle and worm every time he‘s out at the podium talking about this, because he knows he was put out there to put out false information.

MATTHEWS:  By whom?

VANDEHEI:  Clearly, Karl Rove told him a story that was put out to us that turned out not to be true.  I think that‘s been proven airtight.

MATTHEWS:  And he never had the guts to go ask the president what the truth was.

VANDEHEI:  Not that we are aware of, or if he did, we don‘t know what the response was.

MATTHEWS:  That is the conundrum here.  Norah, last thought?

O‘DONNELL:  Well right, well, Chris, this is a story about, why did they lie?  Why were they lying from the very beginning?  And just as this president is trying to turn the corner in Iraq, with the December 15th election.  They are talking about the State of the Union, they‘re talking about all these smaller policy initiatives. 

We‘re going to have a trial, or the beginnings of a trial with Libby.  We may have a decision this month on whether Karl Rove is indicted, and that may throw this White House for another loop.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re right.  Thank you very much, Jim VandeHei, thank you very much, Norah O‘Donnell.  Up next, new polls about Americans tolerance for war and why we like that word victory.  This is HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  The president is stepping up his efforts to rally American support for the war in Iraq.  But will his strategy resonate with Americans? 

Christopher Gelpi is an associate political science professor at Duke.  Last year he and two of his colleagues did a study on public opinion with regard to the war.  Since then the study has provided major guidance as to how the Bush administration sells the war to the public.

Professor, why does the president use the word “victory” so much?  He mentioned it six times today.

PROF. CHRISTOPHER GELPI, POLITICAL SCIENCE, DUKE UNIVERSITY:  Well, I think the focus on making an argument that success is achievable in Iraq is certainly something that‘s consistent with our research, and I think that‘s a theme that the president‘s picked up on over the last several speeches.

I think framing the issue for the public that way is well and good in his speech, but I think what will end up determining whether this is a long-term change in public support, will have a lot to do with what happens on the ground in Iraq, as well as the rhetoric in his speech.

MATTHEWS:  How did your research get to the president‘s speechwriters? 

How did this happen, technically?

GELPI:  Well, this is research that we conducted through 2004 with a series of polls and we‘ve briefed a lot of people in Washington.  We briefed both Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill, people in the Pentagon, on the White House staff and ...

MATTHEWS:  ... who on the White House staff did you brief?

GELPI:  Karl Rove‘s staff and we didn‘t actually speak to Mr. Rove but apparently our research got up to him and I started hearing from reporters that Mr. Rove was putting our name out there to reporters as ...

MATTHEWS:  ... you never spoke with Karl, then, himself?

GELPI:  I have not met the man, no.

MATTHEWS:  Did your partner who worked on this project with you and now works for the NSC, has he met with Karl Rove?

GELPI:  I would assume so, but I haven‘t actually asked him that. 

But, yes, I would expect that he has.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, you know I remember back in Vietnam, after the Tet Offensive in ‘68, which killed support for the war and the reason why, Walter Cronkite and others switched on the war and most of the public, was the sense that after Tet, we couldn‘t actually ever end the war, it would just keep going, even though we won that battle as a military issue, but politically it looked like the war was never going to end.

Do you have any independent evidence that this war in Iraq will end? 

That there will be a victory?

GELPI:  No.  Our research isn‘t really about that and doesn‘t show that.  What we just show is that if the public perceives that victory is successful, they will be more likely to want to continue fighting.

MATTHEWS:  Is it your sense that the word “victory” will be true in the end, that we will win that war?  Do you believe we will...

GELPI:  ... do I think we will?

MATTHEWS:  Do you think we will ever come out of Iraq and say, “Good job, well done, it‘s over”?

GELPI:  Do I think that? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

GELPI:  I‘m skeptical, but you know, I think time will tell.  I think it‘s possible that the benchmarks, that the president put out in his speech can be met.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, the only problem is all we‘ve got now, Professor, is the word “victory” and you‘ve given that word to the president.  I wish there was a military guy or somebody who could give him some useful information on how to sell this war, but congratulations.  It‘s a bull‘s eye for you guys.  Thank you, Professor Gelpi from Duke.

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

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