updated 1/23/2006 10:40:04 AM ET 2006-01-23T15:40:04

Guest: Marie Helene Carleton, Micah Garen, Rep. Jane Harman, Dick Sauber

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Tonight the premiere of the HARDBALL hot shots.  MSNBC's prime time anchors, Rita Cosby, Tucker Carlson and Joe Scarborough all hit the hot stories of the week and nail the winners and the losers, the heroes and the villains, the victories and the defeats. 

Plus, the latest on the NSA fight.  Let's play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I'm Chris Matthews and welcome to HARDBALL. 

The Bush administration put on a full court press on the president's authorization to spy on Americans suspected of terrorist ties without a court order.  More on this later tonight. 

Plus, the HARDBALL hot shots, MSNBC's primetime anchors Rita Cosby, Joe Scarborough and Tucker Carlson will be here on HARDBALL to give us their take on the biggest stories of the week. 

But first the fate of kidnapped American journalist Jill Carroll is still unknown.  Sunni leaders in Iraq have demanded her release, and a team of U.S. hostage situation specialists are chasing down leads, as the deadline set by her captors runs out. 

Journalist Micah Garen was kidnapped himself and held hostage in Iraq for nine days back in 2004, and his fiancee Marie Helene Carleton used her contacts at the time in Iraq to help influence his captors.  They wrote a book about their experience called, “American Hostage.”  Both of them know Jill Carroll and are in touch with her family. 

Welcome.  Micah, what do we know now?  Here we are 5:00 Eastern time on Friday. 

MICAH GAREN, HELD HOSTAGE IN IRAQ:  Well, we know as much as you know.  I mean, it's a very difficult situation.  There have been a lot of appeals that have gone out and an incredible ground swelling of support by Islamic voices, people in the Muslim world, even the Muslim brotherhood, the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq.

So this is a hopeful sign.  I mean, I really am heartened by this, because this is what makes the difference to have Muslim voices speaking out on behalf of Jill. 

MATTHEWS:  Helene, let me ask you about the perhaps the quid pro quo, even if it's not official involved here.  The captors have called for the release of what they say are eight Islamic women by the authorities in Iraq. 

I understand by watching last night, the latest news is they are—some of them—most of them are going to be released as a matter of course next week.  Is this part of the deal?  Do you think this might work? 

MARIE HELENE CARLETON, MICAH GAREN'S FIANCEE:  The release of the women? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

CARLETON:  It can be tied, but I understand that Delamey (ph), who is part of the Association of Muslim Scholars, is working on that as a separate issue. 

And I think what really matters here is the pressure and the positive statements that are being put out by Islamic clerics, because these are the people who can really influence the minds and the thoughts of the people who are holding Jill. 

MATTHEWS:  Tell me about those thoughts.  Because you've been through this before with your fiancee with Micah sitting with you helping to get him out or getting him out.  What did you learn about the way that captors think? 

CARLETON:  Well, Micah can tell from you his experience, but what we learned is that it is so important to reach out on a humane level and get a dialogue going based on trust. 

And that's why all the efforts of different journalists on the ground, who have contacts with people, who know people, who can get these Islamic leaders to speak out is so important, because it's important to think of Jill not as a symbol of her nationality, but as a person. 

Jill is a dedicated professional journalist who was telling the story of what is going on if Iraq, who's showing the truth of what's going on, and she's also—she's a daughter and she's a sister.  And to frame her that way is the most important thing. 

MATTHEWS:  Micah, do the people in Iraq, who are on the other side of the fighting and on the other side of this kind of hostage taking and terror generally—do they understand the nuance of the American debate about the war here at home, as well as over there? 

GAREN:  I believe they do.  I mean certainly in my case, my captors were very well informed.  They were watching the news, reading events, and they're very savvy. 

And, you know, that was one the reasons that a dialogue could be opened up with them, because they also understood the importance of journalism and journalists.

And in my case, you know, I did try to open that dialogue myself with my translator.  The two of us, as much as possible, spoke to my guards and tried to pass the message along that, you know, we were just journalists.  And it really made a big difference. 

MATTHEWS:  How did you speak to them?  Did you have enough Arabic or how did you manage—were there English speakers in the captor group? 

GAREN:  Well, I couldn't really tell if any of them understood English.  To the best of my knowledge, they didn't really understand English very well, but it was through my Ramir (ph).  I have studied Arabic for a year and a half.  So I would spoke at kind of a rudimentary level.

But Ramir was constantly talking back and forth to them.  And it was a mix.  A little bit of English, a little bit of Arabic, and, you know, a lot of it was just purely by being with them.  You know, once they kind of get to know you after a period of days, they sort of see what kind person you are, and that makes a big difference. 

CARLETON:  And I think it's important too to remember that Jill is an advocate for herself too inside the kidnapping.  There's a lot of positive steps that are being taken outside.

But Jill is someone, because she knows Arabic, because she knows the culture and because she respects the culture is someone who can also advocate for herself and communicate herself and that will make a big difference too. 

MATTHEWS:  What was her personal mission in taking the risks of going over unprotected by the green zone or the military into Iraq? 

GAREN:  Well, sorry.

MATTHEWS:  Helene.

CARLETON:  I know that Jill is a very passionate and dedicated journalist, and things that are happening in Iraq and in the Middle East in general are the center of our and many other country's foreign policy and they affect the lives of millions of people and telling the story of what's happening there is crucial.  It's very important.

And the public needs to know this because it affects their lives and their ability to make a decision on what's going on over there. 

MATTHEWS:  Micah, why would a captor want to help out or even show any human sympathy for Jill Carroll, besides just the basics of being a fellow human being?  Is there any sensitivity on her part toward the situation in Iraq that they might like to see expressed in journalism? 

GAREN:  Oh, absolutely.  I mean, you know, they are very suspicious of foreigners in general, and journalists, you know, a lot of times they think of as maybe tools of the coalition. 

So to know that journalists are actually there to write stories that may not be favorable to the coalition, that actually, you know, makes an impression on people in this situation. 

And I think, you know, with Jill's case, she's a very, very honest and open person.  And she really made an incredible effort, you know, taking risks to go and hear the stories for herself, to go into these areas and, you know, at great risk and find out what was really going on the ground.  And then write about it.

MATTHEWS:  You know, we're watching these pictures, Micah and Helene, of this very appealing young woman.  I mean, she's just very appealing.  She comes off as a person who can express herself with great sensitivity/  She's obviously very attractive.  She's trying to make a point, and she's very plaintive. 

Does that matter to these tough customers, these hard guys over there? 

GAREN:  Absolutely. 

CARLETON:  Yes, I think it does.  I think the fact that she's a woman is helpful and—but I think her personality plays into this.  She's so open, and when I knew her and she was working uncovering stories in Iraq, she would always reach out to Iraqis, any Iraq and ask them their story, really relate to them on a human level.  And I think that's going to come out and that's going to be in her favor. 

MATTHEWS:  Micah, how humiliating is it to beg for your life? 

GAREN:  Well, it's something that, you know, it's hard to describe unless you have to do it.  And one of the most difficult things about being a captive is you have to accept that you've lost control. 

And, you know, you fight for control in any way you can, but once you, in essence, you're better off once you accept that.  And you don't look at it as being humiliating.  You look at it as being something necessary to securing your life and your freedom. 

MATTHEWS:  Helene, why is it important for Jill's mother, who's been very wonderful and I've been listening to her tapes, putting the message to the captors over there, hoping it will reach them, that they're in charge, that they're basically the proctors, they're in charge of the situation, her life, the life of her daughter lies completely in their hands, why is that important to say? 

CARLETON:  Well, I think her statement humanizes Jill, and it reminds them that she is a daughter and she's loved.  But I think by saying and realizing that they have the power, she's realizing the context of the situation and understanding their psychology.  And to say that, and admit that, is a very good thing. 

MATTHEWS:  Last question for you, Micah, is there any role for the government here, for our government or should they just stay back on this one? 

GAREN:  Well, you know, there is always a role, but it's really in the back seat.  I mean, what's most important here is that the Iraqis, the Muslim world, really comes forth and supports Jill.  And that's what we're seeing happen. 

And, you know, I'm just so impressed by the number of voices who have come out, the Iraqi forces.  Sunni leaders saying, you know, this woman is a good woman and she should be released. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well said. Thank you very much Micah Garen and Marie Helene Carleton.

Coming up, the Justice Department says the Bush administration is well within the law when it comes to the NSA's domestic spying program. 

And later, it's the debut of HARDBALL hot shots tonight.  You got to watch that.  MSNBC's primetime hosts, they're all here.  Rita Cosby, Joe Scarborough, Tucker Carlson are coming on to take on the week's biggest and best stories.  You're watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back. 

President Bush is planning to visit the ultra-secret National Security Agency next week as part of a campaign to push back against criticism of the administration's domestic spying program.  All this as Congress is planning to launch hearings into whether the president has the legal authority to eavesdrop on Americans. 

Dick Sauber is a FISA court expert.  That's the court that decides on these cases.  He's also a Georgetown University law professor specializing in national security law. 

Thank you, Dick.  Thank you for coming on. 

DICK SAUBER, FISA COURT EXPERT:  Pleasure.

MATTHEWS:  You know, this is a fairly simple case that has totally different perspectives on it.  The administration looks like they're in there to run up the score—“You want to talk about spying?  We're spying.”  They're just throwing it right back at the critics.  Why do you think? 

SAUBER:  I think that's the best defense is an aggressive, no nonsense offense.

But I think when you look at their argument, the argument that the attorney general released today, at best it's a weak argument and at worst it's a silly argument. 

MATTHEWS:  Would lawyers left, right and center agree that it was a truly judicious analysis by Alberto Gonzales or was he just doing what the boss told him to do? 

SAUBER:  I think it's somewhere in between. 

Look, it's a serious effort.  These are serious questions. 

But I think when you get right down to it, the arguments about using the congressional resolution on military force as a basis to go around FISA is just a silly argument. 

MATTHEWS:  We're all—we all like to see a scoreboard, I certainly like it.  I like to know who won and who lost. 

Will there come a time when there's litigation here, whether it's the ACLU or someone else, and they sue the government or the president—tell me which—and they say, “You have no right to check on my e-mail or to put me in as part of some sort of class-action or grab bag of mining for data, what I might have said in an e-mail, I'm going to sue you and I'm going to win”; will there be a moment of victory or defeat at that point? 

SAUBER:  I think those cases that you mentioned are unlikely to come to a resolution. 

I do think, though, that in the criminal investigation of the leak of this entire matter, there's a better possibility in that case that somehow the issue of the president's authority and whether this whole program was legal or not may come actually to a resolution. 

MATTHEWS:  How could that be resolved if the question is whether somebody illegally leaked something to the press? 

SAUBER:  Because I think there's going to be a question about whether

the grand jury can properly be used to pursue a criminal case where the

criminality may have been the release of information about criminal conduct

by higher ups. 

For instance...

MATTHEWS:  Is that a defense, that you're leaking criminal behavior? 

SAUBER:  It gets to be pretty close. 

If you're charged with leaking classified information, which seems to be the focus of the ongoing criminal case, it may be a defense, and it would certainly be a defense in a grand jury setting to subpoena compliance, that the grand jury is being used improperly to silence the critics, to silence those people who came forward and said, “I'm reporting criminal conduct.” 

That's a possibility. 

MATTHEWS:  Apart from the theory here, and maybe the constitutional principle, which I don't want to knock, why should a particular American watching right now be afraid that the NSA has been out snooping on electronic transfers of information? 

SAUBER:  An American thinking about this today should know that every time the government has instituted a program of electronic surveillance with no rules, with no standards and with no oversight, it has resulted in abuse—every single time.  That's the reality of these programs.

And the other reality, which is why I think this whole thing is a little silly, is that every time the government does institute a secret program with no standards, it's abused, and the second thing is, it's always disclosed.  Someone always comes forward and blows the whistle.  And...

MATTHEWS:  So you believe that somebody out there might at some point if this thing isn't stopped, from your point of view, that somewhere down the road, people on the left, people—or on the right if it's a liberal administration, a Democratic administration—this will be used, this NSA machinery will be used to track down and exploit and perhaps defame or, worse, harm people who are just expressing opinions? 

SAUBER:  I think what we're going to find as we get into this is that, that may already have happened.

And if you'll recall, the last time this issue came up it was the staffers in the Nixon White House who complained most about the illegal electronic surveillance. 

MATTHEWS:  And Nixon was bugging them.

SAUBER:  Kissinger and Nixon were bugging them.

So I don't think we have to rely really on the ACLU or the far left.  There are going to be mainstream citizens who are going to say, “This is improper and I was improperly surveilled.” 

MATTHEWS:  Good report.

Thank you, Dick Sauber. 

Up next, Karl Rove still isn't in the clear in the CIA leak investigation, but that hasn't kept him off the radar screen.  We're going to hear what Rove has to say at a Republican luncheon today. 

You're watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Karl Rove is still under the microscope in the CIA leak case, as prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has yet to decide whether he will indict the president's top political advisor. 

Rove was the guest of honor, however, at an RNC—that's a Republican National Committee—luncheon today, and MSNBC's chief Washington correspondent, Norah O'Donnell, is with us to tell us what he told the party faithful—Norah. 

NORAH O'DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  Well, good evening, Chris.  Well, today Karl Rove reemerged from the shadows of the CIA leak case.  Today he made a rare public appearance. 

He made no reference to the fact that he's still under investigation, but he did manage to fire off the opening shot in the 2006 elections, making the case that Republicans will once again make the war on terrorism a central issue. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O'DONNELL (voice-over):  In a speech before leaders of the Republican National Committee, Karl Rove, at first, pledged civility. 

KARL ROVE, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY CHIEF OF STAFF:  Our political opponents are our fellow citizens, not our enemies.  Honorable people can have honest political differences. 

O'DONNELL:  But he quickly added that when it comes to national security ...

ROVE:  Republicans have a post 9/11 view of the world.  And Democrats have a pre-9/11 view of the world.  That doesn't make them unpatriotic.  Not at all.  But it does make them wrong—wrong, deeply and profoundly and consistently. 

O'DONNELL:  Rove lashed out at the “New York Times” for leaking the story that the NSA was spying on Americans, arguing the program is legal, limited, and necessary. 

ROVE:  Let me be as clear as I can be.  President Bush believes if al Qaeda is calling somebody in America, it is in our national security interest to know who they're calling and why. 

O'DONNELL:  Today's speech marks Roves's first major public appearance since the indictment of the vice president's chief of staff, Scooter Libby in the CIA leak case.  Rove remains under investigation and today special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald refused to say if Rove will soon be cleared of any wrongdoing. 

PATRICK FITZGERALD, SPECIAL PROSECUTOR:  I can't comment on the leak investigation. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'DONNELL:  Now Republicans today made the case that the fact Rove decided to give this speech is a sign that the White House is increasingly confident that he will escape indictment.  That's not entirely clear, but Rove's lawyer tells me Rove has not received any indication from Fitzgerald that he be will be questioned again—Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Does anybody at the White House, Norah, from your reporting know, whether Rove is still being considered for indictment or not?  Does anybody know anything from Fitzgerald? 

O'DONNELL:  Only, according to Rove's attorney, that he has not been called back to testify again or give a deposition, that they've not had much contact with him and that they believe that Fitzgerald will wrap this up sooner rather than later. 

MATTHEWS:  What about this Libby motion today? 

O'DONNELL:  Well today lawyers for Scooter Libby told a federal judge that they want to know subpoena journalists and news organizations, so this is a big development and Libby's lawyers did not say which reporters they want information from, but that a trial will likely be delayed by this additional discovery.  There's a hearing set for February 3. 

MATTHEWS:  That could create a lot of stumbling blocks to getting evidence in discovery, because reporters, as you know, are hesitant to turn over—that's putting it lightly—hesitant to turn over any kind of testimony, much less their notebooks for some sort of free for all examination of what they know, what they've been able to dig. 

O'DONNELL:  Absolutely.  Fitzgerald has given Libby's lawyers more than 10,000 pages of documents, but Libby's attorneys say we want more and we wants the right to subpoena journalists' notes.  Of course, journalists and news organization are going to fight that, but this is a sign that Libby's attorneys want to play hardball, if you will, Chris, and they could delay this and draw this out if the judge agrees that they should have that subpoena power. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it could be Ted Wells, a Holy Cross grad.  He's out there trying to slow this game down.  Anyway, thank you, Norah O'Donnell.

Up next, Osama bin Laden's latest message.  What's his game plan and what's America's response?  The ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee joins us to talk about bin Laden and what he's up to. 

And later the HARDBALL hot shots.  And this Sunday, on “Meet the Press,” Tim Russert has an exclusive interview with Senator Barack Obama.  You're watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(STOCK MARKET REPORT)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Questions about whether the NSA's once secret domestic spying program is legal continue to fly.

Vice President Cheney vigorously defended it again in his speech Thursday.  Today the White House held a briefing for it for some members of Congress, and Democrats convened an unofficial hearing to discuss whether the president broke the law.

Representative Jane Harman of California is the ranking Democratic on the House Intelligence Committee, also a member of the Homeland Security Committee. 

Congresswoman, what can you tell us?  And why should we care?  First of all, just the basics here, why should an American citizen, a law abiding citizen or any other citizen, worry that the NSA is conducting mining of data or any other kind of electronic intercepts? 

REP. JANE HARMAN (D), RANKING MEMBER, SELECT INTEL. CMTE.:  Well, let's start with this.  It's a dangerous world, and just like you, Chris, I want to get the bad guys.  And I want to learn their plans and intentions before they have attack us.  And I am for a program that targets al Qaeda members and sympathizers, and tries to find out what they're talking about before they launch their operations.  So I'm for that kind of program. 

But my view is twofold.  Number one, whatever the program is, and I have been briefed on a highly classified program, it has to comply with our law.  And number two, Congress has to be briefed, because under the National Security Act of 1947, Congress has to be kept fully and completely informed. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me bring you down, who out there should be afraid of being spooked, bugged, listened to? 

HARMAN:  Well, innocent Americans going about their daily lives should be able to rely on the fact that they can't be spooked and bugged and whatever without court order.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ...this administration and what it is up to.

HARMAN:  And if they have nothing to do with al Qaeda or terrorism, they should be confident that they will not be spooked and bugged. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you tell them now that they should be confident? 

HARMAN:  Well, I would hope so, but that is the point of having a system of laws.  We don't want some zealot in any administration, in any justice department to decide I don't like Chris Matthews, and there may be a few in the Justice Department who already hold that view...

MATTHEWS:  That's fair enough, but I just want to know...

HARMAN:  ...and I just want to bug this guy and find out about his political affiliation and personal life.

MATTHEWS:  Is there any evidence that has come to you that the United States government and the National Security Agency is digging into political activities in the United States? 

HARMAN:  No.  No, but I want that potential for abuse not to be there. 

And I think every American agrees with me. 

MATTHEWS:  Suppose we had by the toughest standards the most law abiding administration in history who wanted to go to this court, the FISA court, to get approval every time they wanted to do an intercept, do you believe they could have gotten the kind of OK's from this court that were necessary to protect this country? 

HARMAN:  Well, that's what we need to learn.  I have been in this gang of eight.  I believe the administration under the law is required to brief the full intelligence committees, both in the House and Senate, and the Congressional Research Service agrees with me.  And this may have to be litigated eventually.  I think the courts will rule the way I believe the law works.  That's one point. 

But the second point is, FISA is an old statute.  It's a 1978 law signed by President Clinton, who said when he signed it that it was to be the exclusive way, this is a way to get a court order. 

MATTHEWS:  1978?

HARMAN:  1978.  I'm not kidding.

MATTHEWS:  So Carter signed it? 

HARMAN:  Yes, President Carter signed it.  Excuse me.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

HARMAN:  Thank you.

The exclusive way that we do eavesdropping on Americans in America.  Twenty-five years later, communications have totally changed, and the systems that were in place in 1978 are completely outmoded. 

I think we need a new look at FISA, and we need to be sure that the legal framework that applies to eavesdropping on Americans in America fits the threats of the 21st century.  That's something Congress should do, but we can only do it of after the intelligence committees get full information about this program. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you trust this administration to operate the way it's been operating?  In other words, do implicitly believe that there are law abiding people, until proven otherwise, they're innocent of any misuse here? 

HARMAN:  Well, that's a theoretical question.  I trust...

MATTHEWS:  No, it's a particular question.  Is your concern higher now because it's the Bush-Cheney people in there?  Or would you be concerned about anybody in there? 

HARMAN:  Well, I would be concerned about anybody in there.  This is not a—I hope I'm not—I'm not the most partisan player in this Congress. 

MATTHEWS:  I know this.  You're moderate. 

HARMAN:  Which you know.

MATTHEWS:  But I just want to know, a lot of people wonder about Cheney.  He's a very tough guy, very hard case. 

HARMAN:  Here's what I'm worried about.  It's not the individuals.  It's the fact that there are lawyers in the White House, in the Justice Department, who have written memos in the last several years, and they keep writing them, that basically say to us, to some degree, the president is above the law.  That's not what they technically say. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Alberto Gonzales is doing what's he told or is he being a real adjudicator here? 

HARMAN:  I think he's a good advocate for the president's point of view, and I think that the president's point of view about this is weaker than some of the arguments others against him have made.

MATTHEWS:  Great having you.  U.S. Congresswoman Jane Harman of California, ranking Democrat on intelligence.

Up next, the premiere of HARDBALL hot shots tonight.  This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, HARDBALL hot shots.  MSNBC's prime time hosts Rita Cosby, Joe Scarborough and Tucker Carlson are coming on this show to take on the week's big stories when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  It's time to kick off a special new feature.  It's something we'll be bringing you every Friday, HARDBALL HOT SHOTS, where my MSNBC colleagues Joe Scarborough, Rita Cosby and Tucker Carlson join me.  We'll nail the winners and the losers, the heroes and the villains, the brilliant and the buffoonery from the past week.

What stories have the jolt to rock the country?  Which pack serious punch?  Who's heading up and who's going down?  Here we go. 

Plantation politics.  This week, Hillary Clinton celebrated Martin Luther King Day her way, you know, like Frank Sinatra.  Let's listen to her dulcet tones one more time. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK:  When you look at the way the House of Representatives has been run, it has been run like a plantation, and you know what I'm talking about. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)             

MATTHEWS:  All week long, Republicans have been jabbing back at Hillary.  Even First Lady Laura Bush wants a piece of Hillary.  She said, quote, “I think it's ridiculous.  It's a ridiculous comment.  That's what I think.”

Tucker, what do you think? 

TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC ANCHOR:  I mean, Chris, the first time you see this, it's easy to imagine Mrs. Clinton misspoke just because it's so embarrassing.  The phoniness of the cadence, that phony black church cadence, and you know what I'm talking about.  I mean, it's her Al Sharpton impression. 

And it is humiliating, but it is not accidental because nothing Mrs.  Clinton ever says is accidental.  She has complete control over everything that merges from her mouth.  And I believe this is likely an attempt to shore up the left and that's where her problems are. 

The left wing of the Democratic Party is growing increasingly contemptuous of Mrs. Clinton.  It began more than a year ago, last early January when she went to Iraq and made all sorts of approving noises about the president's Iraq policy, something that the left wing of the Democratic Party hates.

And so she knows that in order to get the nomination, she's got to quell that, you know, noisiness from that side.  And I think her attacks on the White House, including this Al Sharpton imitation, are an attempt to do that and they're probably pretty effective. 

MATTHEWS:  Rita, was she going for quote of the week with this plantation remark, do you think? 

COSBY:  Yes, oh definitely. 

I mean, I think I agree with Tucker, that everything I think she does is extremely calculating. 

I mean, I think she certainly knew she was trying to appeal to that base. 

I agree with Tucker in terms of she's trying to sort of please everybody too much and now she's going back to her base, back to her roots as she's looking to what's ahead for her in her future. 

You know, on the other hand, I went to school in the South and when I heard the comments of plantation, these are such offensive, such hard-hitting words, I think a lot of people find what she said very distasteful. 

What I also find interesting, Chris, in addition to that is the response from Laura Bush. 

I mean, she said it's ridiculous, but the ground swell that came up of those comments—there was even an article that I read, the White House is saying Laura Bush is not running for office.  No one expects Laura Bush to run for office, but everyone is trying to read into words on both sides. 

It's been fascinating this week what's been happening. 

MATTHEWS:  Joe, were you offended?  I mean, were white Southerners offended? 

I'm trying to figure out exactly who was offended by this remark? 

SCARBOROUGH:  I thought it was a disgusting remark. 

I was offended as a white Southerner who also was a former member of the House of Representatives. 

I mean, of course, you're used to this type of hate speech from the left, but it came on Martin Luther King's day, a day honoring a man who preached racial reconciliation.

I thought it was disgusting, but let's forget about that for a second, because hurt feelings come and go. 

Let's talk about the practical politics of it all. 

This tells us what type of campaign Hillary is going to run.  Remember, Chris, 1992, Bill Clinton set himself apart from the left wing of the Democratic Party that played this type of racial politics by doing what?  By going after Sister Souljah.  He had his Sister Souljah moment that connected him with Middle America and that's why he won. 

Hillary Clinton—I don't know if it was calculated or not, but she turned her back on her husband's own strategy and actually went out and went to the other, the extreme... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So you're saying she was playing Sister Souljah? 

SCARBOROUGH:  She was playing Sister Souljah. 

It will help her with her base; it will absolutely kill her when she runs in the general election, because she sounds just like every other race-pandering leftist Democratic politician, which I don't think she is.

But again, that's the way she played it out this week.  It was a big mistake in the long run. 

MATTHEWS:  Next up, warning shot—Osama bin Laden threatened new attacks on the U.S. this week, but this time he says he's open to a long-term truce with Americans. 

Joe, is bin Laden playing politician here? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, I think he's a guy that understands the United States is not going to back down, that he crossed a president who, again, really doesn't care what Americans think when it comes to his war policy, that he's going to do what he thinks is right. 

Now, you know, this past week, of course, he bombed Pakistan, parts of Pakistan, may have killed a couple al Qaeda leaders. 

And, you know, the president is just not going to back down, and so bin Laden is actually parroting a lot of what we've heard from Democratic leaders across America over the past two or three years and also, of course, Michael Moore and other leftists. 

You look at, like, for instance, him saying that George Bush went to war because of—because he wanted to help his buddies out, his oil buddies out.  Well, that sounds a lot like not only Michael Moore, it also sounds like Ted Kennedy who said this whole thing was invented, this war was invented in Texas by Karl Rove to help his political supporters out. 

It said a lot of other things that show that he's astute and he's astute in this way:  that he is listening to the civil discourse in America, he is listening to people that are attacking the president's policy and actually, he's parroting the Democrats.

The Democrats aren't parroting him.  He's parroting some of the more extreme voices out of Washington. 

MATTHEWS:  Why is he doing it?  Why is he trying to track what he picks up in the Internet and from the media as the lingo of the left in America, like Moore?  Why would he start to talk like Moore? 

People misunderstood what I said last night.  I think he's getting some advice from people, he's getting some lingo, some wordage that he hears working somewhere in the United States about this being for war profiteers and he's jumping on every opportunity. 

Is that what you're saying, Joe? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Listen, if somebody can't look at the words that bin Laden said last night and match them up with what Michael Moore said; with what John Kerry said on “Face the Nation” when he said Americans were terrorizing Iraqi women and children in their homes at night, which is what bin Laden, in effect, said; what Ted Kennedy has been saying that—remember, he said after Abu Ghraib that Saddam's torture chambers have been turned over to new management, U.S. troops.

That's the same exact theme that bin Laden hit on.  I mean, he's doing it because he's trying to divide America and he's stupid enough to believe that somehow it's going to work. 

All he does when he shows his ugly mug on TV is help the president, help Republicans, help conservative Democrats like Lieberman, who believe that the NSA should have more power, the CIA should have more power, this president should have more power to execute the war on terror. 

MATTHEWS:  Tucker, do you buy that, what Joe just said? 

CARLSON:  Of course I buy that.

And I think it is an important distinction to make. 

There's no question, and anyone who reads bin Laden's statements yesterday will come to I think the same conclusion, that he is parroting the Democratic left talking points about Iraq.  I mean, it's uncanny, it's unbelievable—point by point by point, all the way down to mocking Bush for his remarks on the aircraft carrier, the “mission accomplished” speech so derided in the years since.  There's no question. 

But that's not a slur on the Democratic left. 

I mean, he's copying them, not vice versa.  The question is, will anybody buy this? 

I was really struck and fascinated to see that the book bin Laden mentioned yesterday, by this character Blum (ph), really is an over-the-top fringe book, and I'm not just saying that.  I mean, it is a fringe book, pure anti-Americanism.  Jumped many thousands of places on Amazon overnight and I believe it's now, as of today anyway, in the top 100. 

(LAUGHTER)

Hard to know what to make—I think that's true and it's hard to know exactly what to make of that. 

(CROSSTALK)

COSBY:  In fact, I have some statistics, guys.

On the Amazon list, it was 2,086 and now it is 37 on the list. 

You know—but despite all this, I mean, why are we even talking about bin Laden being a politician?  He's certainly playing into the hand. 

On the flip side, this guy is a sadomasochist.  His whole goal is to do these mind games. 

But his real focus is what he's planning on doing to America, and that's what I think we can't lose sight of.  I mean, I think it's absolutely frightening, the fact that he came out with this message.  None of sort of the experts believe it's a call to arms.

But I think what's critical is we can't lose sight of what is behind this.  Why is he releasing this?

I don't think it's just to spread a message of fear.  I think we still

·         you know, when I talk to folks in the intelligence community, they are very worried about what, you know, lays ahead for us in the next few months. 

You know, we can't lose sight of the fact that he's planning, he is plotting, and what do we need to do to prepare. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

When we return, more from the HARDBALL Hot Shots. 

Is George Clooney joining the ranks of Tim Robbins and Barbara Streisand? 

Plus, what can we learn about booze, cruise ships and shady characters? 

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to our Friday HARDBALL hot shots with MSNBC's Tucker Carlson, Rita Cosby and Joe Scarborough. 

Next up, overboard.  It's the mystery that keeps on mystifying.  Six months ago George Smith disappeared from his honeymoon cruise ship leaving behind a wife and blood stains with dripping with drama.  Royal Caribbean says it was an accident.  His family is crying foul play.  Now they are battling hard in public.

Rita, there is something about this story that makes me not want to get on a cruise ship.  How about you?

RITA COSBY, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Well, you know, a lot of people too have a lot of reservations about this story.  The big question is did George Smith—this is, of course, this honeymooner from Greenwich, Connecticut.  They're their honeymoon.  They go on this Royal Caribbean ship in July on July 5th.  Suddenly, nobody can find him. 

The question is did he fall overboard, was he pushed overboard?  They found this big bloodstain on the canopy.  The other question is what about the investigation?  Was there a thorough investigation? 

We revealed last week—we had some photos, some pretty powerful photos, sort of before and after what happened to the cabin.  The cabin looked pretty trashed.  The question is did Turkish authorities do that?  Did Royal Caribbean really seal off the room? 

FBI would probably have done maybe a different job.  U.S. authorities had they gone in there.  And then on Monday, this Monday, Dr. Henry Lee, from O.J., a noted forensic expert, is going to go in there.  He's representing the Smith family.  He's representing Jennifer Hagel-Smith. 

He's going to get just two hours, Chris, on the ship.  He's going to go in.  He's actually going to use a dummy.  He's going to put some weights on the dummy, drop it overboard to see if someone that would be a dead body, a live body falling over, check the room to see if there's any evidence.  

But things have been getting so heated on both sides.  Royal Caribbean throwing salvos at the family.  The family throwing salvos back.  A lot of people have a lot of unanswered questions on this one. 

MATTHEWS:  Joe, I was on one of these cruise ships up in Alaska a couple of years ago, and they told me that if somebody goes overboard it's picked up on the cameras.  They have cameras running like in convenience stores all the time along the sides of the ship.  How come the cameras didn't pick up this guy going overboard or his body going overboard? 

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC ANCHOR:  We really don't know if they did or not.  They had scores of cameras on board that night that were supposedly going.  All of the tapes have been turned over to the FBI, and the FBI's locked down this investigation from the very beginning.  They're focusing on two, three, four possible suspects, and they're not talking at all.  So it's left to everybody else to speculate.

But, you know, this story's got everything.  It's got a beautiful couple from two great families, Greenwich, Connecticut, and a murder mystery.  It's a CSI story that keeps unfolding by the day. 

MATTHEWS:  Tucker, what about the Russians?  What were these three characters, these Smith brothers or the pep boys, whoever the hell they are—what were those three guys hanging around a honeymoon couple for? 

CARLSON:  Well, I mean, obviously the foreigners are guilty.  That's a foregone conclusion.  I mean, I could have told you that right at the beginning.

But let me just say what I object to in all of this and that is people casting aspersions on the wife.  I mean, maybe there is some incredibly complicated diabolical plot afoot whereby she killed her husband, but you got to consider that very, very unlikely.  She's a widow.  On her honeymoon her husband disappeared, likely killed.  That makes her a victim if there ever was one. 

COSBY:  I just think that she shows up late for a massage.  She can't remember what she did. 

CARLSON:  That's not evidence that she killed the guy.  And I just think before we have photographs of her killing him, we ought to pull back and not imply in anyway she had anything to do with it, because it's just such a horrible thing to say about somebody. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Rita, what is with the Russians?  What were they doing with them? 

COSBY:  With the Russians they were hanging around with Tucker.  The Russians were last seen with George Smith, along with also a California student.  They were the last people to see with him alive.  They were drinking. 

We know this from the record that they were drinking something called absinthe.  It's very strong liquor that's illegal in the U.S.  It's legal— remember it was an international ship so it was legal on board there international.

But the big question is it goes back to the wife again.  She doesn't remember what happened that night.  She was found passed out in the hallway.  Separate from that, these guys have still not apparently disclosed all they know to authorities.  So I think there is a lot of unanswered questions all the way around. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure. 

Next up, Clooney goes off.  Clooney offs Abramoff, I should say.  First there was Barbara then Susan Sarandon and now George Clooney joins the chorus of the Hollywood left.  He went home from the Golden Globes this week with an award for his role as a secret agent in the movie “Syriana,” but not before he spat this spitball at sleezeball Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE CLOONEY, ACTOR:  I want to think Jack Abramoff, you know, just because.  Let's get this thing rolling.  I don't know why.  Who would name their kid Jack with the last words off at the end of your last name?  No wonder that guy is screwed up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Get it.

And now Jack Abramoff father released this open letter to George Clooney, “Is this the tradition of Gable, Bogart, Pacino and Burton?  Are you the heir to the dignity and greatness of Hollywood's past, or more likely a portent to a depressing and horrific future?  Your glib and ridiculous attack on my son, Jack, coupled with your obscene query as to the choice his mother and I made in naming him, brought shame and dishonor on you and your profession.”

Joe, you're laughing.

SCARBOROUGH:  I though, you know, Clooney is taking himself too seriously in the past when it comes to politics.  The thing I hate about these Hollywood types is when they are Sean Penn and take themselves so damn seriously.  They are actors.

George Clooney was having fun.  I saw it.  It was hilarious.  And, in fact, it is just like what he said.  He didn't get involved in the Kerry campaign, because if he got on the bus, Kerry would have lost.  This is a guy that is having fun.

And I think for Jack Abramoff's father to say, and I've got the quote here.  It has something to do about him denigrating soldiers and the American flag.  I would actually say Jack Abramoff's done a pretty good job of that over the past couple of months. 

CARLSON:  I agree.  And I never defend actors when they get political.  But actually George Clooney is a pretty decent guy, the truth is.  And Jack Abramoff is not.  And so in this case, I don't know, I know there are a lot of people the right, but it's just true people on the right will more flexibly attack George Clooney.  But this, I think, one case where, yes, let's pile on Jack Abramoff he deserves it. 

COSBY:  There is an irony here.  My favorite is what happened just in the last few hours, George Clooney's dad responded to Jack Abramoff's dad.  So I'm waiting for George Clooney's niece's brother's uncle to get in to the battle against, you know, Jack Abramoff's niece's other uncle.  I mean, it's just so funny, the back and forth between the battle of the dads.  I think is hilarious.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let's finish up now.

Let's turn to the attention of our HARDBALL hot shots to the 2008 presidential prospects.  Our weekly heads up of who made news, who's looking smart and who's not. 

In the headlines this week, Hillary Clinton kicked off Martin Luther King Day with her plantation surprise.  Mark Warner finished up his tenure as Virginia governor.  He's  already been all over New Hampshire and Iowa.  John McCain led the charts this week with major lobbying reform in Congress. 

Laura Bush said she would love to see Condi Rice run for president.  Condi flew to Liberia for the swearing in of Africa's first female president.  And Al Gore reemerged from the shadows with a slamming the president. 

Joe, who takes the cake this week? 

SCARBOROUGH:  The big winner, I think, is John McCain.  And McCain is a bigger winner not because of the lobbying reform, but mainly because McCain came out a week ago after the Pakistani bombings, and he said, you know what, these sort of things happen.  And we're in a war that knows no boundaries, and we're not going to apologize for it.  And this is a guy who is very aggressive.

When Osama bin Laden comes up, talks about future attacks on the United States of America, the clear winners are people like John McCain and Rudy Guiliani.  The clear losers are people like John Kerry and others who have been seen weak in the was on terror. 

And, again, I think Hillary Clinton really helped herself with her base, and really hurt herself and made herself even more radioactive with middle America.

MATTHEWS:  I agree.  It helps Guiliani too, as well.

Rita, your thought, winner?

COSBY:  You know, I think Hillary obviously because she did put herself, you know, in the forefront.

Also, another name that...

MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute you're saying she's a winner this week or a loser?

COSBY:  Well, she's a winner and a loser.  I mean, she helped with her base.  I agree with Joe that she helps with her base tremendously because she sort of distances herself from her base with the remark. 

But I think she also just makes herself such a target, and it's going to be a nasty race in '08 because, you know, she's going to throw herself in.  They're going to play that plantation remark over and over again.

Also, Chris a name you did mention.  Barack Obama sort of was put as the front man, the Illinois senator, African-American.  Also, put as a front man for lobbying and ethics reform this week.  I think those focusing on those issues are big winners.

MATTHEWS:  Tucker?

CARLSON:  I actually agree with Rita.  I think Hillary Clinton's goal right now is to shore support on the left.  I don't think she is thinking about winning a general election at this time.  It's a long way until there.

I do think Governor Warner of Virginia.  He's a perfect candidate on paper becomes less appealing the closer you get.  I think it still is Hillary's (INAUDIBLE).

One more thing, I think John McCain revealed himself again this week to be the neo-con hawk that he is.  Liberals who love him don't remember that.  They put it out of their mind.  This guy is a hawk.  he is pro-war.  Will they still like him when they figure that out?  I don't know.

MATTHEWS:  That is the question of 2006, Tucker, because he is as hawkish as everybody, and, yet, he seems to have so much support in the middle and even on the left. 

Anyway, thank you Rita Cosby, Tucker Carlson and Joe Scarborough.

More HARDBALL hot shots next Friday.  And join us again Monday night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern as HARDBALL goes on the road for decision 2006.  Our first stop Houston, Texas, where Tom DeLay is at a tough reelection battle.

Right now, it is time for “The Abrams' Report” with Dan Abrams.

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

END   

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