updated 12/14/2005 2:55:44 PM ET 2005-12-14T19:55:44

Guests: Karen Hughes, Stephen Hedges, Stan Brand, Scott Fredericksen

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Tonight, two big interviews, President Bush‘s best friend and world spokesman, Karen Hughes come to HARDBALL and President Bush gives quality time to Brian Williams.  Questions on the table, how can we spin the world on a war the world resents, and how can the President win public backing for a war that Americans resent?  Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews, and welcome to HARDBALL.

President Bush has been accused of living in a bubble of being cut off from the world outside the White House.  Tonight NBC News anchor Brian Williams pierces that alleged bubble in a rare interview with the president. 

And I ask the president‘s best friend in government how she can sell a war to the world that hates that war.  We begin with Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes. 

Madam Secretary, you have a huge job, which is to sell the Arab world and the rest of the world on our role in Iraq.  What don‘t they get about the war that you can tell them? 

KAREN HUGHES, UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE:  Well, Chris, I think a lot of people still misunderstand the why.  When I traveled to the region recently, a lot of people said, tell me why. 

And what I explained, in the aftermath of September 11, we had to look at our national security in a new and very different light.  In light of the threat that this region of the world, the Middle East, had produced conditions of such hate that it led to people who are willing to get on airplanes and fly themselves into buildings and kill a lot of innocent people in the process. 

And so it required a new look at the threats in the world.  And what‘s happening today in Iraq is very optimistic.  It‘s interesting, Chris, one of the things I noticed on my trip is that people around the world look at Iraq and they see the violence.  

They don‘t see it the same way as the Iraqi people themselves do.  They Iraqi people themselves are increasingly optimistic.  I saw a poll this week that 71 percent feel their lives are good now and even bigger numbers are convinced their lives will be better a year from now. 

Two thirds of the people in Iraq in a recent poll said that their lives were better now than they were under Saddam Hussein.  And, of course, this week, they have elections to elect a permanent government, which will begin a new chapter in Iraq‘s history. 

There is some very optimistic things happening in Iraq.  I think a lot of the world looks at Iraq and what they see is the daily and nightly violence which is of course horrific.  And no one likes war.  But I think they fail to see some of the more positive things that are happening there. 

MATTHEWS:  Did we have a clear eye going into that war?  When Vice President Cheney was asked how our reception was going to be, he said we would be greeted as liberators, when in fact we were greeted by a war, by huge insurgency and the outsiders coming in, the terrorists. 

Why didn‘t we foresee that invading a country, liberating it if you will, would cause resentment and opposition?  Why didn‘t we see that coming? 

HUGHES:  Everyone knew going in that war is never—no one likes war.  And the decision to go to war is the hardest and most profound decision that a president can ever make. 

It‘s interesting, I notice in hindsight now people sort of act as if somehow it was made very cavalierly, and I can assure you that was not the case.  I had left the White House in the summer of 2002 but I remained involved and I saw the difficulty of that profound decision.  It was agonizing.

You remember that the president went to Congress and talked with Congress and wanted to make sure that Congress felt that it was important for us to go to war.  He went to the United Nations and got a unanimous resolution. 

The world community was concerned about what was happening in Iraq.  That said, as I travel, particularly in the Arab world, that much of the Arab world sees what‘s happening in Iraq as you said, as an occupation. 

I hope, obviously, that is not our intent and we would love nothing better to begin to bring our troops home.  And as that happens, I think the world will understand our true intentions were to help Iraq emerge as a unified and stable and democratic country, ultimately without our presence.

MATTHEWS:  Did we get that information before going in from people like Chalabi, Ahmed Chalabi, the leader of the Iraqi National Congress, that we would be greeted without violence, once we knocked off Saddam Hussein‘s army, the people would love us and it would be like Eastern Europe changing after the fall of the Berlin Wall. 

Were we misled by people like that into believing there wouldn‘t be this insurgency? 

HUGHES:  Well, I don‘t know specifically what he said.  Chris, we clearly knew that the terrorists that view Iraq as the central front in the war against terror, they understand the stakes and they are fighting as hard as they are fighting, because they know the stakes. 

They know if Iraq emerges as a unified and stable and democratic country, that it will be the beginning of a very different Middle East and as Secretary Rice says frequently and said again today, it‘s a substantial change in our policy, because for 60 years, our policy in that region was basically to ignore the freedom deficit there, thinking that we would work for stability and that would lead to greater security. 

On September 11, we saw that that was not the case, by ignoring the freedom deficit in that region, we had actually led to a despair and hopelessness so profound that it led people to feel that they obviously had no hopes for the future. 

You don‘t blow yourself up or not willing to go on a suicide mission, I don‘t believe, unless you have very few hopes for your own future. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree with that.  Let me ask you about the polling.  We have some new polling from ABC and “Time” magazine that shows something like two thirds, or 65 percent of Iraqis, that say our troops should get out. 

At the same time, we never get a commitment from the administration that we ever going to completely leave that country.  You hear stories about we are going to keep bases in that country, we‘re never going to leave ultimately, we‘re always going leave behind a few divisions.  Doesn‘t that send the message of an occupation? 

HUGHES:  That is certainly not our goal. 

MATTHEWS:  Have you heard from the president that we are going to pull out all our troops.  Have you ever heard that as a policy statement as you go around the world?  Is that what you are telling people, we will eventually pull out completely? 

HUGHES:  What I‘ve heard from our president is that we want nothing more than to bring our troops home once their mission is complete.  As soon as their mission is complete.  On the other hand, we don‘t want to abandon our partners, the Iraqi people, who are just beginning to be able to have their country be more stable. 

For example, this week—let me give you one hopeful sign for the progress that‘s being made there.  This week as Iraqis go to the polls to elect a permanent government, which opens a whole new chapter in the future of Iraq, a permanent government, no longer a transitional government, as they go to the polls, 225,000 Iraqi security forces will be protecting people along with our American and coalition forces.  That‘s a huge increase from the first election in January, where I think there were about 100,000 trained Iraqi forces. 

So increasingly the Iraqis themselves are taking the lead, are working in partnership with—America is there to support them.  I saw some figures today from one of our generals that now 28 percent of the security is being provided by Iraqi-led groups. 

The vast majority is still done in partnership, but only 13 percent of the operations there are U.S.-led currently.  Increasingly, Iraq is taking over the security of Iraq and the Iraqi security forces and that‘s good news for all of us who want nothing more than to be able to complete the mission and bring our men and women home. 

MATTHEWS:  If you were looking at another country in the third world, somewhere in Africa, for example, where the French army keep coming in every once in a while to support the government they support, or they stay in there as a foreign legion, you never think of those governments as sovereign. 

Do you think the world will look at the new Iraqi government, the permanent government that‘s elected this week, as sovereign as long as there‘s a substantial numbers of foreign troops in the country? 

HUGHES:  Chris, I do believe they will.  Every time the Iraqi people have had the opportunity to come forward and express themselves, they have made it very clear that they choose ballots not bombings.  They have come forward. 

Eight and a half million people in the very first election in January to elect the transitional government, which wrote the constitution.  Then the Iraqi people came out in even greater numbers, more than nine million people, to adopt that constitution, which put in place the provisions under which, on Thursday, they will go to the polls to elect a permanent Iraqi government.  And I think that‘s a very important step. 

It will take some time for that government to be seated and for the new parliament that‘s chosen to choose the president and prime minister and other leaders.  We are seeing signs of steady progress on every track, the political track, the security track and the economic track, as we work in partnership with the government of Iraq to help rebuild infrastructure and rebuild the country. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go back and talk to the Undersecretary of State for Public Affairs, Karen Hughes, in just a moment.  And I want to talk about the president‘s new candor, I‘ve noticed he has been very clear and very definitional in talking about the kinds of people we are fighting in Iraq. 

And later NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams will be with us to talk about his day, Monday it was, with President Bush.  A rare opportunity to talk to the president at length. 

You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Karen Hughes, undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs. 

Madam Secretary, I‘m so impressed by the president‘s hard work in the last couple of weeks of trying to explain—I think he is the first person to do it in this administration—who we‘re really up against in Iraq. 

It‘s not just the terrorists, the people that come in from outside who are joined by people there who just hate us, the Islamists who are out to kill anybody in the West and destroy the world, perhaps you could say, the Western world, but also there‘s a lot of Sunni people there that just don‘t like the idea of being a minority under a coming Shia-dominated government.  And he‘s talking about them as ordinary Iraqis that are just sort of nationalists who are resentful of our presence and the coming new order. 

Does that spell something new in—not in his understanding—I assume he‘s always understood this—but in the way you‘re going to explain what we‘re up to over there? 

HUGHES:  Well, I think it‘s important as this goes forward, Chris, that we do, do a better job of explaining to the American people. 

And I would even break it down to three groups.

There are the ordinary Sunnis who had a pretty good life under the previous regime and sort of—or there‘s different groups.  There are some groups who maybe were a part of the atrocities of the previous regime and obviously don‘t want to give up any of the power they had.  There were others who just sort of were forced to go along.

And I think it‘s important to distinguish between those as we work to build an Iraq that is—that‘s government is broad enough to take in the interests of a lot of different concerns, Sunni, Shia and Kurd. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about—you know, there‘s a definition of a gentleman, I‘m sure you heard it.  It‘s not to hurt someone‘s feelings or insult someone unintentionally, and if you want to call somebody out for a fight, fine.  But if you don‘t want to hurt their feelings, don‘t do it by accident. 

You know, when I was working in the White House for President Carter as a speech writer, I was shocked to realize that the people in Iran hated the shah, that they—not just the Islamists and the right wing and the fundamentalists, but everybody wanted him out of there, including the middle-class business people wanted him out. 

And we, unfortunately, were wining and dining with him right to the end, and you saw what happened.  We were hated and they took our hostages and humiliated us for a year.  And then, of course, bin Laden, rightfully or wrongly, called out us for insulting his country by keeping 10,000 troops there for 10 years under the Clinton administration, coming into your administration, the president‘s. 

Are we sometimes to blame for the hell that we have raised? 

That‘s all I‘m asking. 

Is it always the other guys‘ fault, or do we do things that send signals that we are the enemy of those people? 

HUGHES:  Well, I think sometimes there is concern and legitimate concern across the world about policies, about policies that people perceive are not fair or policies that...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... that aren‘t fair. 

HUGHES:  Well, and as I said, Chris, for 60 years, we basically ignored the freedom deficit. 

We sort of said, oh, we‘re interested in stability and security in the Middle East and therefore we‘ll ignore the presence of tyrants who repress their people. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

HUGHES:  President Bush now has changed that policy, though, because he realizes it‘s in our long-term own interests, as well as the interests of the people of that region, that people are allowed to have—live lives of greater opportunity and dignity and to have greater freedom, which is for example, why, as we go—as I travel the world, I talk about freedom;

I talk about building democratic institutions.

And that is now the policy of our country.  That was the entire point of the president‘s second inaugural address, was that we recognize that freedom is not just something for Americans to horde, but freedom is something that is the universal human right of every man and woman in the world.  And that is now—President Bush has made that the policy of our country.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s the policy, and I take him to heart on that and I agree with you—I know you do.

But the message that gets sent when we went into Iraq was, according to the polling, all we care about is oil and Israel in the Arab world.  The Arab mind says, “They‘re over here to kick butt because they care about Israel and they want some cheap oil; they‘re not here to help us in any way.” 

How do you—if our goal is not to do those things, secure our oil lines and just to help Israel, but we have a larger goal of democratizing that region, how are they going to bite on that?  When are they going to take that as our primary goal? 

HUGHES:  Well, it‘s a big challenge, as you say, and it‘s not easy to overcome, but I think it is possible to overcome. 

One of the things I came back with from the region was the feeling that to the extent that we could be seen as visibly working to help the Palestinian people, for example, improve their lives, that, that will be viewed very favorably in the region. 

I thought before I went, frankly, that because we supported a Palestinian state, because it is now the official policy of our United States government that we support a Palestinian...

MATTHEWS:  First time ever.

HUGHES:  Exactly.

That we support a Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel that, that would be enough.  Well, that‘s not enough.  People there say, “Well, those are words; we want to see actions.” 

And so that‘s why like something like Secretary Rice staying and overnight negotiating the crossing at Rafah so for the first time since 1967, the Palestinian people have some control over access to their territories—that‘s a huge positive for us. 

And I came back convinced that to the extent we could be seen visibly working with the Palestinians to help develop institutions, that, that would be something that would be viewed very favorably in the region. 

But you‘re right, there is long history there of concerns, of grievances. 

But, again, as we achieve—as we do what we say we will do, as we help the Iraqi people develop a democracy, and then as they succeed and their security forces are increasingly able to secure their country, we begin to bring home our troops, I think the world will see that that‘s what this has been about. 

MATTHEWS:  I think you‘re right if we bring them all home.

Karen Hughes.

Thank you very much, Madam Secretary. 

HUGHES:  Thank you, Chris.

It‘s always great to see you.

MATTHEWS:  Undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.

Up next, NBC‘s Brian Williams.  Wait until you catch this part of the show—that part was pretty good, but wait until you catch this part where he talks about his meeting and what it was like to spend the day with the president and catch the cut of his jib, as we like to say.  He is going to tell us what it was like in there with the president. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

“NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams spent a good part of the day Monday with President Bush.  And as—you can see it all on a full broadcast of Brian‘s report tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, an MSNBC special presentation, “A DAY WITH THE PRESIDENT.” 

Brian, you know, it‘s rare to get this much access with any president, but especially with this one.  And I was particularly taken by your very frontal question to the president when you said, do you even read the weekly news magazines?  Here is a piece of it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC ANCHOR:  Now, how do you wake up on a Monday morning?  I brought some visual aides.  I have “Newsweek” and “TIME”.  The cover of “Newsweek,” look what they have done to you.  “Bush‘s World: The Isolated President.  Can He Change?” 

And inside “TIME” it says “Bush‘s Search For His New Groove.”  “TIME” magazine says you‘re out there talking to people, and “Newsweek” says you‘re in here not talking to people, so what is the truth, Mr. President?   

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Well, I‘m talking to you.  You‘re a person.

WILLIAMS:  This says you are in a bubble and you have a very small circle of advisors now.  Is that true?  Do you feel in a bubble? 

BUSH:  I don‘t think so.  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 or go shopping like I would love to do for my wife, although I may and I‘m not going to tell you what I‘m going to buy her. 

WILLIAMS:  I understand that.

BUSH:  No, look, I feel like I‘m getting really good advice from very capable people and that people from all walks of life have, you know, informed me and informed those who advise me.  And I feel very comfortable that I‘m very aware of what‘s going on. 

I just talked to the president-elect of Honduras.  You know, a lot of my job is foreign policy and I spend an enormous amount of time with leaders from other countries.  And they come right here in the Oval office and tell me what‘s on their mind, and I tell them what‘s on my mind.  And so, you know, it‘s the first time I have seen those magazines, by the way. 

WILLIAMS:  Now, do you read this kind of stuff?

BUSH:  No.

WILLIAMS:  No, you don‘t read these the “Newsweek” ... 

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Brian, his answer to you that he doesn‘t read them, it reminded me of his father getting laced on the cover of “Newsweek,” remember when he was accused of having the wimp factor? 

WILLIAMS:  Sure do.

MATTHEWS:  How can you not—well, what did you make of that response?

WILLIAMS:  Well, as you‘ll see in a little while, Chris, we returned to the topic of the news media later in the day.  I had reason to believe that the White House may be anxious to change the president‘s on the record opinion.  It was an interview a few years ago, I think  with Brit Hume, where he said famously, “I don‘t read none of you guys.” 

I don‘t look at your on television.  I don‘t read the papers.  It‘s just not interesting to me.  I get my news orally from members of my staff.  And because it fed into this perception that he is in a bubble, Elisabeth Bumiller from the “New York Times” said on your Sunday show, she said I‘m hear to tell you he reads the papers.  And intimates of the president have been saying this for years.  Don‘t believe that stuff.  Of course he reads the newspapers. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  How much television news do you watch?  How much do you read the morning papers, news magazines?  How much do you see in an average week? 

BUSH:  I see a lot of the news.  I—every morning, I look at the

newspaper.  I can‘t say I‘ve read every single article in the newspaper,

but I definitely know what‘s in the news.  Occasionally, I watch television

I don‘t want to hurt your feelings, but it‘s occasionally. 

But I‘m very aware of what‘s in the news.  I‘m aware because I see clips.  I see summaries.  I have people on my staff that walk in every morning and say, this is what‘s—this is how I see it.  This is what‘s brewing today, on both the domestic and international side.  But it‘s a myth to think I don‘t know what‘s going on.  And it‘s a myth to think that I‘m not aware that there‘s opinions that don‘t agree with mine. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Did you get a feeling, Brian, that he really wanted to do this interview or his public relations people, his press people, said you have got to get out there and kill this idea that you are isolated? 

WILLIAMS:  Very hard to know the motivation, Chris, but we have been lobbying for a good long time.  I had not had any exposure to him or chance to ask him any questions since Katrina.  A whole lot of people have been after them for more exposure.  It was really unprecedented.  They allowed us with him in many behind the scenes moments, five different venues, three different sit downs that were brief, but cumulatively, it was a lot of exposure to the president. 

MATTHEWS:  Were you surprised at the kind of—and I mean this with respect—the kind of towel-snapping he engaged in?  No matter how legitimate or central your question was, whether it was reading the weekly news magazines or keeping up with the news broadcasts, at one point he sort of minimized your question by saying, of course, I can‘t get out and shop like a regular person but I‘m not going to tell you what I‘m getting for my wife and then later on saying, I hope I‘m not embarrassing you, always bringing it back to the ad hominem, bringing it back to the towel-snap rather than a straight answer? 

WILLIAMS:  Well, I just think that‘s his way of speaking.  He is that way privately.  It‘s his way of answering the question.  And I think were he not president, it would be his manner, just kind of the jousting, reminding you who he is. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he did that.  Let me ask you about the sensitivity.  Tell me about the Katrina thing, because you raised the Katrina thing, which unfortunately is going to probably be part of his presidential record, and what did you make of his response? 

WILLIAMS:  Well, I had a lot of pent-up questions, because you were standing down there as we were in that water, and you‘re thinking about the response, are they watching, that kind of thing. 

So we started on that line of questioning when we sat down in his office in the front of Air Force One flying from Andrews Air Force base to Philadelphia, and I quickly found out when I raised a few factors including class and equality in this next question, that emotions on that topic with him are still raw. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  After the tragedy I heard someone ask rhetorically, what if this had been Nantucket, Massachusetts or Inner Harbor Baltimore, or Chicago or Houston?  Are you convinced the response would have been the same?  Was there any social, or class, or race aspect to the response? 

BUSH:  Somebody—I heard, you know --  a couple of people, you know, said Bush didn‘t respond because of race, because he is a racist or alleged that.  That is absolutely wrong and I reject that.  Frankly, that‘s the kind of thing that you can call me anything you want, but do not call me a racist. 

Secondly, this storm hit all up and down.  It hit New Orleans, but it hit down in Mississippi, too.  And people shouldn‘t forget the damage done in Mississippi. 

WILLIAMS:  Biloxi was hit terribly. 

BUSH:  Absolutely.  And Pascagoula and Waveland.  You know it.  You saw it firsthand what it‘s like.  And we had people from all walks of life affected by that storm.  I remember saying that.  When I thanked those chopper drivers from the Coast Guard who performed brilliantly, they didn‘t lower those booms to pick up people saying, what color skin do you have?  They said a fellow American is in jeopardy and I‘m going to do my best to rescue that person. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Right back with Brian Williams.

Brian, it seemed like he‘s obviously—like anyone in America would take, if you were accused of being racially prejudiced, you would respond quickly, and you should if you are not, certainly.  But the charge against the president which was leveled by most people wasn‘t that he was racist but that he was inattentive, that it took him about 48 hours to really catch up, and in fact, he needed a DVD to sort of bring him up to date on what the news coverage had been. 

WILLIAMS:  Well, that‘s where I started with him, Chris, and a question that we are not repeating here will be part of the special later tonight.  We were you watching?  I asked the same question that was being asked all that week in millions of Americans‘ households.  Are they not watching this kind of thing? 

And the guess on his staff part was that that answer about you can call me a lot of things, but don‘t call me a racist, was probably based in large part by the cost of good intentions, the now famous telethon to raise money where Kanye West made his comment about Bush and black people in America.  And that apparently got back and stung.

MATTHEWS:  We will be back with Brian Williams.  We want to remind our viewers that you can see much more of Brian‘s interview with President Bush tonight at 10:00 Eastern here on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. we are back with the anchor of NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams.  Brian, in your interview with the president yesterday, you asked him the central question of our time about the debate over Iraq.  And you asked him about the number one critic out there, Jack Murtha. 

WILLIAMS:  That‘s right.  You know where we were, in Center City, Philadelphia.  We pull up, you can hear the protesters yelling shame, shame. 

Something I haven‘t said before is, to dampen the noise outside the hotel because of the floor we were on, we had mattresses that our production crew had put up against the windows and curtains on the other side, because we had to conduct this interview. 

They were making enough noise to be heard inside.  So I asked him about the man whose comments had lately changed the debate. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  What effect did John Murtha‘s statement on this war have on you? 

rMD+UL_rMDNM_            BUSH:  On me?  John Murtha is a fine guy and served our nation admirably.  I just think he‘s wrong.  I think the idea of having a timetable for withdrawal does three things that would be bad.  One, it emboldens the enemy, precisely what they want.  They want us to withdraw and by the way here we are telling them when and how and they will adjust accordingly. 

Secondly, it sends a bad message to the Iraqis.  We said to the Iraqis we will help train you, we‘ll stand with you, we‘ll get you on your feet so you can take the fight to the enemy.  If our commanders on the ground say we are not ready to stand down, a timetable would dispirit the Iraqis. 

Finally, it will dispirit our troops, because the troops know the mission hasn‘t been complete.  My strategy—my plans are these:  I will listen to the commanders.  I understand war is objective-based and not timetable-based.  And we will complete this mission for the good of the country. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Brian, every time you interview someone in politics, you get the on the record and off the record and you walk away with an impression that informs your reporting later on.  Was there some intangible about this interview with the president that‘s going to inform your reporting? 

WILLIAMS:  There was quite a lot of private time, Chris, more than I expected.  I found, and I guess we are supposed to say this, if you have the right lead character and you are the president‘s staff and you are confident about putting him out.

I found that he was comfortable in the job, very jovial and comfortable in his own skin.  And we should probably point out that every journey begins with a step, and I suspect they are about to put this president out a lot more. 

I think they view this as having gone well for him.  Were there topic, I didn‘t have time or form at to get to, you bet you, including the false news reports in Iraq, including a lot more on torture, but others will.  And hopefully there will be other opportunities. 

Because of that format we had, it was tough to get a train of thought going and then follow up because you‘re waiting to get in the next motorcade.  But a very interesting day with him to see him interact.  And because they allowed us access, you‘re right, it does inform your reporting. 

MATTHEWS:  One of the biggest debates in Washington, as you know, is the buzz about whether there will be a shakeup or not.  Not only in the cabinet but in the people around the president.  What struck me, in between the lines, was the amount the president relies on people around him to take in information, there is intake valves. 

He says people talked to my people and then my people talk to me, relying as he did in that earlier interview with Brit Hume on the people around to tell him what the world is all about. 

WILLIAMS:  It‘s probably never been as crucial.  Perhaps since Roosevelt, who truly was confined for a set of circumstances, and whose wife, and for whom Harry Hopkins really became his window in a way to outside the structure, I don‘t know of a case where staff and those immediately around the chief executive, in all my reading and experience, has been as crucial as it is with this president. 

It‘s the way he likes it.  But, privately and on the record, he stressed to me, yesterday, Chris, he‘s got this focus group, my word, not his.  Some are old friends and some are contemporary friends, but because he‘s the first president since 9/11, and because he is living in a secure environment that we know a fraction about, that is beyond his wildest dreams in terms of security and isolation, he brings people to him. 

He has a huge base of people he talks to on the telephone.  I spoke to one person known to both of us today who confirmed that today.  He knows it‘s out there in the air.  He sees the cover of “Newsweek.”  If he wasn‘t going to see it, at least we know he‘s seen it now because I brought it as a little welcoming Monday morning wakeup gift. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it your sense that he talks to old pals and we all trust our older friends than newer friends, about substance, about what he is facing in the world today? 

WILLIAMS:  Absolutely.  I asked him do these old pals, even the guys you go back with to college and beyond, do they speak truth to power?  He said, absolutely.  And he said sometimes it gets very frank and very candid, but that‘s what he likes about the relationship, his words. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s going to be very interesting to watch this new development and watching the president come out of, whether it‘s a bubble or a cocoon or an imaginary line that we are thinking about here.  But if he‘s out to meet the press, it‘s all the better for the country, I think. 

Anyway, thank you very much, Brian Williams again.

You can watch on MSNBC, the special presentation tonight with Brian, “A Day with the President.”  That‘s tonight at 10 eastern on MSNBC. 

When we return, American taxpayers footing a million dollar bill for a media firm for the Afghanistan government.  Even though Afghan leaders complain the firm didn‘t do enough work for the money.

That story when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Today‘s “Chicago Tribune” reports that the U.S. government paid millions for public relations work in Afghanistan that the Afghans themselves didn‘t even want. 

Stephen Hedges reported that story and he joins us now.

What‘s up? 

STEPHEN HEDGES, “CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  Well, John Rendon runs a company called the Rendon Group.  They were hired by the U.S. government to help the Afghan government with their press relations in Afghanistan. 

So they were paid up to about $5 million or $6 million to first help President Karzai with his media relations, and then they worked on counternarcotics in Afghanistan.  Karzai didn‘t like them almost from the start and wanted them out.  They stayed through the length of their contract, which wasn‘t very long, and then they wanted to stay in.  They got another contract apparently from the Pentagon to work on counternarcotics. 

MATTHEWS:  So we are basically paying an American a lot of money to teach the president of a sovereign country over in that part of the world, Afghanistan, how to talk to his own people? 

HEDGES:  How to talk to his own people, but more importantly how to talk to the international press which descended on Afghanistan after the Taliban was removed. 

MATTHEWS:  To what effect?  Did this help Karzai? 

HEDGES:  Well, Karzai didn‘t think so, and some people in the U.S.  Embassy also didn‘t think so, including Zalmay Khalilzad, who was then ambassador—U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, now ambassador to Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  So we‘re watching Karzai right now.  A lot of people think of him as like a Victor Laszlo, a real hero.

The presumption is he doesn‘t know how to talk to the world, that we have to help him? 

HEDGES:  Well, that is the presumption. 

He seems pretty media savvy these days, though.  He‘s talked to the reporters a lot.  They have press conferences.

MATTHEWS:  I saw him speak at a hotel here a couple years ago after the liberation, he was damn good. 

HEDGES:  Well, I think he is too.  And I—you know, there were real questions about this contract both from his own people, from the president himself and from...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘re hearing a lot of bad news about the way we‘re spending American money.  I know we‘re all borrowing money now, we‘re not actually taxing it.  A lot of it‘s just deficit we‘re rolling out now.

But how does this fit into this story we had a week or so ago that broke that we‘re paying people to write phony news stories in Iraqi newspapers? 

HEDGES:  Well, the Rendon Group is one of the larger Pentagon contractors controlling images, tracking media.  They have been doing it since September 11th, something like $56 million to the Rendon Group alone. 

Images are probably one of the most important things in this war on terror and the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

MATTHEWS:  But does this—I mean, the Arab world in every poll I looked at blames us for just wanting to be over there for Israel and the oil.  They don‘t—they take our worst instincts or our worst sense of who we are and they believe it.  I‘ve never seen anybody saying, “Three cheers for America.” 

So all this P.R. money isn‘t really achieving any goal, is it?

HEDGES:  Well, more importantly, the military is getting hammered on Al Jazeera every night with images of soldiers and hurt Iraqis, hurt children.

MATTHEWS:  So are we getting any money for our money—I mean, are we getting any impact in our money? 

HEDGES:  Well, how do you measure it—it doesn‘t seem to be working. 

How do you measure P.R. though?  That‘s the only way.

You can‘t look at sales figures.  It doesn‘t seem to be working very well.  The Pentagon is way behind on this.

MATTHEWS:  Do you have a sense that we‘re throwing a lot of money, like, you know, they used to say—and I think fairly sometimes with the liberals—that every time there is a problem they threw a lot of money at it. 

Are we throwing a lot of money at this war in the Middle East and at the problem in Afghanistan, just chucking money out there, hoping something will work? 

HEDGES:  Well, I guess we are.

I mean, look at how much money has been spent just on public relations alone—probably close to a hundred million dollars.  We‘re how many years into a war?  We still don‘t know where it‘s going and we‘re still getting hammered by images. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about this particular Rendon Group. 

I mean, I know John Rendon from years ago working in Democratic politics.  He worked for Carter.  He was active in Pennsylvania, in Massachusetts. 

How do these people hook up?  I haven‘t talked to Rendon in a long time.  How do these people hook up and get these jobs working for the U.S.  Defense Department? 

HEDGES:  Well, he got a job—he started out working for the exiles who went back to Panama and took over after Manuel Noriega.  He got that job, he told me, by sitting in John Kerry‘s office one day and meeting them just by chance. 

He had a media firm after.  He worked for Jimmy Carter in Washington.  Then he went to work for the Kuwait government.  Then he went to work for Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress in London on behest of the CIA. 

MATTHEWS:  I did hear that...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Who recruited him, the CIA? 

HEDGES:  CIA got him that work and ended up not being very happy with it.  There was an audit of his work by the CIA because of questions about the spending and the cost—people being paid $14,000 a month to go work in London. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Put it together—we‘ve got Karen Hughes on, a very strong advocate for the president.  I think she‘s very good at it, as we saw tonight.  Undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.

We‘ve got this effort to create phony news stories in that part of the world to help offset Al Jazeera.  And now we find out we‘re paying a ton of money—we already paid a ton of money to help the Afghan government sell itself to its own people and to the world. 

This is the biggest P.R. enterprise in history, isn‘t it?

This is like selling Camel cigarettes.  This is like selling Coca-Cola. 

We‘ve never done anything like this before, have we? 

HEDGES:  Well, and it‘s sort of the pre-school rule, you know—don‘t lie; it‘s going to come back to haunt you. 

And it is coming back—the planning the stories abroad clearly hurt the administration‘s efforts in Iraq, clearly hurt them.  I mean, and if more comes out that they have been controlling images, counseling other governments like the Rendon Group has been doing to tow the American line, that‘s going to come back and hurt the Bush administration‘s war on terror. 

MATTHEWS:  I think it strikes a lot of people as a lot of wasted money and crapola, to be honest about it. 

I think so.  I think you know that when you reported this story.

(LAUGHTER)

Thank you, Stephen Hedges.

When we return, the CIA leak case—when it comes to high-level public officials, what‘s the deciding factor on when to indict?  We‘re going to get some technical information because something may be coming down the line on a high administration official. 

And a reminder, Hardblogger is the place to be online for all the best political debate.  Plus, watch my video blogs.  Just go to hardblogger.msnbc.com—same old spot. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

The new grand jury in the CIA leak investigation is scheduled to meet tomorrow for just the second time.  Will special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald make a decision on Karl Rove before the holidays?  I‘m with attorney Stan Brand and Scott Fredericksen. 

Let me go to you, Stan, first of all.  The situation right now is tomorrow is Wednesday.  It‘s before the holidays and they‘re calling a meeting with the special prosecutor, a meeting with the grand jury.  What‘s it tell you? 

STAN BRAND, FMR. HOUSE COUNSEL:  It tells me he‘s bringing somebody before his second grand jury.  I mean, remember, this grand jury has an 18-month life.  So while we live in terms of holiday schedules and the end of the year, he doesn‘t.  And if we‘ve learned anything about him, he‘s careful, he‘s thorough.  I don‘t think he‘s going to be rushed to make a decision. 

MATTHEWS:  So you don‘t think it‘s coming tomorrow? 

BRAND:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  Scott Fredericksen, thank you for joining us.  I hope you offer a different opinion just for excitement purposes here. 

SCOTT FREDERICKSEN, FMR. INDEPENDENT COUNSEL:  Pleasure to be here.

MATTHEWS:  What does the timing of this meeting with the grand jury tell you?  And the reason we raised this is because we‘ve been tracking this Karl Rove possibility.  And the reason we‘ve been tracking it, is the president‘s top political kick is now with an indictment.  That‘s the biggest news of the year in this administration.  And wrMD+IN_rMDNM_e would like to be ahead of it. 

FREDERICKSEN:  Right.  Well, Fitzgerald is rounding third base and coming to home, to steal an analogy.  Tomorrow, I think what the grand jury will hear is the testimony of Viveca Novak, read to them by an FBI agent and whatever else from the testimony or interview of Karl (sic) Luskin, Rove‘s attorney, on the same subject.  So I think that‘s going to be the issue du jour for the grand jury.

MATTHEWS:  To what effect? 

FREDERICKSEN:  He‘s got to put that in front of the grand jury first before he does anything.  And once he gets done with that, and assuming there‘s any other evidence he puts before them, then it‘s time to start presenting a case to the grand jury, depending on whether he decides whether or not to indict. 

MATTHEWS:  How long—let me just phrase it this way—does it take more than an hour or so to present to a grand jury and get their verdict on an indictment? 

FREDERICKSEN:  Well you can do ...

MATTHEWS:  Can you do it all in one afternoon, one morning? 

FREDERICKSEN:  You can do—you can get the grand jury indictments in much less than an hour.  That‘s not this case, though.  This case he‘s going to be meticulously careful because if he indicts and goes to trial, transcripts of that grand jury, of any witnesses, are going to be available to the defense counsel.  And so he‘s going to meticulous and careful. 

MATTHEWS:  Stan? 

BRAND:  No question about it.  And here you have a very complicated

...

MATTHEWS:  One thing that may make this faster than you think.  If he was on the verge six weeks ago of indicting not just Scooter Libby, the vice president‘s chief of staff, but also Karl Rove, the president‘s top political guy, and the only thing that stopped him was his lawyer, Bob Luskin—the lawyer for Karl Rove came to him and said, wait a minute, the reason my guy was a little slow in admitting a conversation with a reporter was he wasn‘t reminded of it until this woman at “TIME” gave him the heads up. 

And then now it turns out that she gave him the heads up way before the first interview with the grand jury or whatever.  That‘s no good as an excuse.  Suppose he had the whole case ready to go, and that‘s the only thing that stopped it.  He could move quick, couldn‘t he? 

BRAND:  He could, but he‘s shown himself be careful.  And he‘s got complications now with Rove‘s lawyer being a witness.  And part of the grand jury is going hear what did Luskin and Viveca Novak talk about?  And that‘s key to deciding whether or not Karl Rove had, you know, intent to mislead the grand jury.  So it‘s not quite as simple as a one-hour presentation.  It‘s going take some time. 

MATTHEWS:  Scott, bring us up to date.  You haven‘t been on this program.  Stan‘s been on before and been great, and still is.  I‘m just trying to figure out your perspective on this so we don‘t get caught in a rut here. 

The president of the United States, through his spokesman, Scott McClellan, said from the beginning he was going to root around in the White House and find out if anybody broke the law or anybody leaked the name of this undercover agent in retribution, perhaps, for the fact that her husband was out there saying that the United States government, the Bush administration, had used false or bogus intel to get us into the war with Iraq.  It‘s serious business. 

The case as it‘s going, Scooter Libby sits there is with the 30 years of indictments packed against him.  Is that enough for him to stop?  Can he now end this case, do you think? 

FREDERICKSEN:  He absolutely can‘t end this case.  Fitzgerald is a bulldog, he‘s relentless.  But he‘s also very professional and very careful.  That‘s why he didn‘t, by all accounts, indict at the end of October.  He listened to Luskin and then he went out and he interviewed Viveca Novak and then he came back and said now I want your testimony under oath.  And then he did that with Luskin as well from everything. 

He‘s run everything to ground on this.  He‘s being extremely careful.  You can‘t be any more careful than he is.  Some of the people he has working with him from the Department of Justice have that same reputation, I guarantee you. 

So when he comes down to a final decision, he‘s going to take the views of all of the staff.  He‘s going to do a prosecution memo.  He‘s going to look at all of the evidence because he has got Rove right now right in the crosshairs.  He‘s got to make a tough decision, and then he‘s going to decide based on what he believes happened. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘ve watched this guy.  We all have, Fitzgerald.  He‘s amazing to watch.  He‘s gone after Conrad Black, Lord Black, head of the big Hollinger empire.  He‘s gone after the mayor of Chicago, Richard Daley.  He‘s gone over the governor of Illinois, and what he tends to do is follow a certain pattern. 

Find a number two or number three person, in some cases both, hit them with incredible charges, pile on with them.  I mean, throw the book at them, and then listen and see if they would like to spend less time in prison, which means he then goes for the top guy.  I‘ve heard it said he goes after Scooter Libby, he then goes after Rove, and then he goes for the vice president or someone else.  That would be the pattern. 

BRAND:  Well, certainly that would the pattern.  But, remember here, it‘s—if you‘re going to shoot the king, you‘d better kill him.  And the risk for him is a misfire against a sitting vice president.  Under the Spiro Agnew case, you know, you do not shoot at the vice president or the president of the United States unless you are 100 percent certain you‘re going to hit them. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, they nailed Agnew.  He was taking the money in bags at DOV (ph).

BRAND:  This is a different kind of case.  And you‘ve got to be dead certain that you can nail it in front of the public and in front of the jury before you do it. 

MATTHEWS:  Now, in front of this jury, Scott Fredericksen, give me a prediction of where we‘re the next couple of weeks before Christmas and the holidays? 

FREDERICKSEN:  Under this grand jury? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, this grand jury of one, and the public watching. 

FREDERICKSEN:  Well, there‘s a difference between the jury that‘s going to hear Mr. Libby‘s case and the grand jury that‘s going to hear from Mr. Fitzgerald.  I think Mr. Fitzgerald has not decided yet.  He could bring an indictment tomorrow.  I‘d be surprised. 

I think he‘s got to sit down with his staff and really look at this very closely.  I‘m not sure he‘s decided.  I think it‘s very close.  I‘m not sure that the way this whole evidence about Viveca Novak and Luskin, that conversation, has played out the way that Luskin wanted it to play out. 

MATTHEWS:  I think it hasn‘t. 

FREDERICKSEN:  Yes, I think it hasn‘t too. 

MATTHEWS:  I think he‘s back where he started before this last appeal and he‘s back to rMD+IT_rMDNM_I‘m going to indict this guy. 

BRAND:  Well, he has got to explain away a five-month gap between the time they had the conversation and the guy went back to the grand jury. 

(CROSSTALK) 

MATTHEWS:  Big question.  I think we‘re getting to where we want to get.  Anyway, thank you Stan Brand.  Thank you Scott Fredericksen. 

Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now it‘s time for “THE ABRAMS REPORT” with Dan Abrams.

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