updated 1/30/2006 10:37:51 AM ET 2006-01-30T15:37:51

Guest: Dick Sauber, George Allen, Eugene Robinson, Jimmy Carter

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  HARDBALL hotshots.  Back by popular demand, Rita, Joe and Tucker, to wallow in the week's news, from George Bush's secret pictures to Oprah Winfrey's brutal justice.  Let's play HARDBALL.

I'm Chris Matthews, and welcome to HARDBALL.  Tonight, a new twist in the Jack Abramoff scandal.  President Bush has nominated Noel Hillman, the chief prosecutor in the corruption investigation for the past two years, to a federal judgeship. 

Hillman will now step down next week, ending his involvement in the politically-charged case.  The Bush administration says the appointment is routine, but Democrats question the timing, as the scandal now threatens to reach into the White House. 

Plus, our special Friday feature tonight, the HARDBALL hotshots, MSNBC prime time anchors Rita Cosby, Joe Scarborough, and Tucker Carlson will dine out on the hottest stories of the week, and we've had some good ones this week. 

But first, MSNBC chief Washington correspondent Norah O'Donnell has a report on the Justice Department's chief prosecutor dropping off the Abramoff case for a seat on the bench. 

NORAH O'DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  And good evening to you, Chris.  Well, today Democrats are turning up the heat.  They are demanding that a special counsel be appointed, especially now that that lead investigator is off the case only weeks after Abramoff copped a plea.  Now, Democrats today also wrote directly to President Bush, asking him to release all records of meetings, phone calls, and correspondence with Jack Abramoff. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O'DONNELL (voice-over):  At the White House today, the president's spokesman brushed aside Democratic demands to release documents as nothing more than a fishing expedition. 

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Mr. Abramoff was involved in wrongdoing.  He has admitted wrongdoing.  It was outrageous behavior.  The Department of Justice is holding him to account for that wrongdoing. 

O'DONNELL:  Mr. Bush yesterday made clear he will resist turning over photographs showing the president and disgraced lobbying Jack Abramoff together. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Having my picture taken with someone doesn't mean that, you know, I'm a friend with them or know them very well.  I've had my picture taken with you at holiday parties. 

O'DONNELL:  But demands for disclosure comes as a new “Washington Post” poll shows an overwhelming three out of four Americans believe that the president should come clean about all contact between his aides and Abramoff.  Meanwhile, Democrats are now demanding a special counsel. 

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK:  Given what we know so far about golf trips, photo ops, favors for members of Congress and this may be just the tip of the iceberg, a special counsel is clearly needed in this case. 

O'DONNELL:  Democrats are especially alarmed that the top investigator in the Abramoff inquiry, Noel Hillman, is stepping aside just three weeks after Abramoff announced his guilty plea.  The president has nominated Hillman to the U.S. District Court, including his name in a press release of nominations Wednesday night.  And the timing has raised eyebrows. 

SCHUMER:  A new prosecutor's going to have to take over the investigation anyway.  And now is the appropriate time and appropriate juncture for the special counsel. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'DONNELL:  Today Justice Department officials tell MSNBC that Hillman's departure as the top cop in the most important federal corruption investigation in a generation will not affect the Abramoff inquiry.  And officials said the investigation won't, quote, “skip a beat,” because Hillman will be replaced by a career prosecutor. 

Also the huge team investigating Abramoff, including 14 FBI field offices and dozens of FBI agents, will continue to remain on this case.  And finally, Chris, an official said there was nothing unusual about the timing of Hillman's nomination to the district court.  He was proposed for the job by two of New Jersey's Democratic senators nearly a year ago—

Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Norah O'Donnell. 

Let's bring in former federal prosecutor Dick Sauber.  Dick, is there anything out of line in the president nominating a guy who's prosecuting perhaps him or his White House? 

DICK SAUBER, FMR. JUSTICE DEPARTMENT PROSECUTOR:  It's highly unusual.  And what's so ironic is that this fellow holds a position ahead of the Public Integrity Section, which just a few years ago during the Clinton administration, a career prosecutor, a registered Republican, was in that position and he was essentially hounded out of that job, because he refused to support calls for an independent counsel to investigate the campaign finance violations. 

So it's come full circle.  Now there is another problem in this position.  And the difficulty here is that the head of the Public Integrity section is traditionally a career prosecutor, someone who, because of the nature of the position, should be entirely above reproach. 

And whether or not there's anything nefarious about what happened here today, the optics of it are terrible.  And as was just mentioned by Norah, the optics in the middle of what is one of the most serious political corruption cases in a generation couldn't be worse. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you about Norah's reporting there.  She had the White House—rather the Justice Department people, all the people in the administration are lined up saying they won't skip a beat.  We've got all the testimony there, the reporting there. 

They said it won't hinder at all the investigation.  Is that a fair, objective estimate, that the fact you're yanking the chief prosecutor from the case, does that normally upset a case or not? 

SAUBER:  Of course it does.  I mean, it has to upset a case.  And to yank the section chief, who's been in the position, who knows the case, who knows the documents, who knows the individuals, that can slow down the case. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, so another case two years down—I want to be sure about what I said.  He's not actually prosecuting the president, but there is a lot of reporting that they're beginning to look in.  I mean, why are we arguing about pictures of the president?  Is there, in fact, any evidence that this prosecution, this investigation, has reached the steps of the White House? 

SAUBER:  Well, there is a fellow who worked in the office of the president ...  

MATTHEWS:  Safavian.

SAUBER:  ... Safavian, who's already been prosecuted. 

MATTHEWS:  And he was picked up at the White House and arrested and everything. 

SAUBER:  Exactly.  He got arrested in the White House.  So it's a little difficult at this point to say that it's not an investigation that involves the White House.  The point, though—the broader point is Abramoff has just pleaded guilty.  He is giving testimony I'm sure night and day.  He's identified a set of people.  Those people will now be squeezed to see who they can provide information about. 

MATTHEWS:  Two questions, can a defendant in this case, assumingly—well, let's leave it open.  Whether they're part of this administration or not, can they claim as part of their defense that a prosecutor was yanked from the case and that has somehow tainted the prosecution fairness? 

SAUBER:  Yes, I expect to see that in one of the cases, and if you remember ... 

MATTHEWS:  But can't it—since it was a Republican president who yanked the prosecutor, can a Republican officeholder who may be targeted here or indicted here claim that somehow there was political bias when it was his own team that made the change?   

SAUBER:  Yes, of course.

MATTHEWS:  He can? 

SAUBER:  Yes.  When somebody's going to be charged with a crime and facing 10, 15, 20 years, that person's lawyer is going to come up with any argument. 

MATTHEWS:  Any wrinkle on the world. 

SAUBER:  Exactly, and ...

MATTHEWS:  What about—let's be completely straight here.  As Norah pointed out in that report, which was damn balanced, look at the thing there.  The Democrats—you know, Lautenberg—I mean, what's his name—the senator from ...

SAUBER:  The two senators from New Jersey. 

MATTHEWS:  ... and Corzine nominated this guy for this judgeship.  So how can the Democrats now complain that he got the judgeship that their fellow Democrats recommended him for? 

SAUBER:  Well, it's a good point, but I think the narrower issue, and the one that's more interesting, is why now?  Why today?  The recommendation was quite some time ago.  Circumstances have changed.  Abramoff has pleaded guilty, the investigation is widening.  Under these circumstances, it would seem prudent for someone to say ...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Does it need to be on the front page of “New York Times”?  Is it that big a enough story? 

SAUBER:  The last time this happened, aides to President Nixon went out and talked to the judge trying the Ellsberg case and offered him a job, and the entire prosecution crumbled. 

MATTHEWS:  What about this problem with the pictures, has that got any legal issue here?  The president won't show these pictures. 

SAUBER:  It is symptomatic of the question of what meetings took place at the White House that Abramoff affected.  He was either at the meetings or he introduced lobbyists, clients, issues ... 

MATTHEWS:  So you think there might be some legal information here that might bear on this prosecution? 

SAUBER:  Absolutely.  Who was present?  Why are these people here? 

MATTHEWS:  So it's not just a question of embarrassing the pictures as the president says, but these could be evidence. 

SAUBER:  If you're a federal prosecutor, you want to see those pictures, to see who was there and then find out why. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, and the big question is, are they all grip and grandeur, or is there a meeting, where three or four people are sitting down with the president—you know, an Indian leader and Abramoff and the president.  That would be an interesting picture.

SAUBER:  Let's at least find out.

MATTHEWS:  It doesn't look like a Christmas handshake.  Anyway, thank you ... 

SAUBER:  My pleasure. 

MATTHEWS:  ... if that's the picture.  Dick Sauber.

Later tonight, President Jimmy Carter, from Jerusalem.  When we return, Senator George Allen takes on John Kerry's call for a filibuster. 

And a reminder, as part of HARDBALL's “Decision 2006” coverage and our run-up for the president's State of the Union address next week, we want you to know—want you to tell us what issues you think the president should address in his speech.  This is your last chance to go to hardball.msnbc.com and register your vote tonight. 

Here are the top vote-getters so far.  Holding strong as the leader, 20 percent of the people—of you—want to hear the president talk next Tuesday night about the NSA spying issue; 16 percent about improving ethics in government; and in a tie for third, 14 percent of you want to hear about making prescription drugs and health care more affordable; and 14 percent about reducing our dependency on foreign oil.  You're watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  As folks lined up for Senator—

President—I'm sorry presidential nominee Samuel Alito for the judgeship  to become the next Supreme Court justice, Senator John Kerry issued a last-minute call on Thursday to filibuster this nomination. 

Joining me now is Republican Senator George Allen of Virginia. 

Senator, do you believe that Alito has been confirmed, in effect, it will happen next week? 

SEN. GEORGE ALLEN ®, VIRGINIA:  I believe...

MATTHEWS:  What is it, 60 votes you need?

ALLEN:  I think we do.  And when the debate first started, and that was on Wednesday morning, I spoke on the floor and I—there was inklings, an assertion by some Democrats that they wanted to filibuster him.  And I said, well, my reaction is, make my day. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Because you've already picked up three Democrats, in addition to your majority.  You've got Tim Johnson of South Dakota, Bobby Byrd of West Virginia, Ben Nelson.  That's three, plus your 55.  That's 58, right?

ALLEN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  What do you have, the two more to break a filibuster you need? 

ALLEN:  Sure we do.  And there are some Democrats who don't want to see this filibustering continue.  My general view is if they filibustered, we'd have to pull the trigger on constitutional option, which I think is fine, because I don't think it's too much to ask a senator to get off his cushy seat, show some backbone and spine and vote yes or vote no. 

MATTHEWS:  So you would like to see a straight majority vote if there's any successful filibuster here? 

ALLEN:  Exactly.  I don't think they'll be successful, because I think a lot of Democrats also understand that the architect of this obstruction approach was Tom Daschle, the former Democrat leader.  And I was chairman of the Republican Senatorial Committee last year, and now Tom Daschle is the former leader and John Thune's the senator.

And I don't think the people of America like to see this character assassination and so forth of a lot of nominees.  There's nothing wrong, Chris, with scrutiny.  This is only...

MATTHEWS:  What was the worst thing they said about Alito in the hearings? 

ALLEN:  Oh, they were making these allegations, bringing up these arcane, archaic archives that he was in whatever this Princeton Alumni Club and trying to make it look like he was a racist and anti-women, when the only reason he joined it is he didn't like the treatment of the military on the Princeton campus. 

This man, the best way you can determine what kind of a justice he'll be is his 15 years on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals.  And the ABA unanimously gave him the highest rating on his integrity, on his knowledge and his temperament. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, when you speak in Clint Eastwood language and say “make my day,” do you really think it's good for the Republican party and the country to have a failed filibuster effort led by John Kerry?  That's good for the country?  You mean that.

ALLEN:  I sure do.  You know why?  Because I think it's going to be hard in the long term if this continues, this sort of approach where someone goes—runs the gauntlet, all this the scrutiny, the character assassination.  At the end of the day, if they're reported out of the committee favorably, they're not accorded a vote.  It's going to be hard to get good quality men and women to serve on the bench or other positions of government. 

I think it was wrong the way that John Bolton was treated, as well, as our U.N. ambassador.  I just think it's just a sense of fairness, a sense of decency and civility—that they may be voted down, but give them the fairness of the vote. 

MATTHEWS:  So you like John Bolton?

ALLEN:  I sure do. 

MATTHEWS:  Why? 

ALLEN:  Why?  Because I think we need someone in the United Nations who's going to advance our ideas, accountability.  And the United Nations.  is in a great deal of need of reform.  The wastefulness, the scandals and for the billions of dollars we send up to the United Nations, I'd just assume have a watchdog rather than a lap dog. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the president's press conference yesterday where the press three or four times asked him to release these photos, which allegedly exist in the White House archives of he—handshake—you're hanging around in whatever form with Jack Abramoff? 

ALLEN:  Oh, you all know why you want to do that.  You want to make all sorts of wonderful, salacious allegations.  I think that the most important thing here is not the gotcha aspects of it, it's integrity in government.  And that's more important than any of this other partisan gotcha and bump and run.

MATTHEWS:  So you think...

ALLEN:  And I think—I think...

MATTHEWS:  You think the press is pushing to get this information for what?  Why does the press want pictures?  To put them on the cover of magazines? 

ALLEN:  Sure.  And put them on your shows and so forth. 

MATTHEWS:  What's wrong with it? 

ALLEN:  Because you'll say, oh, he had his picture made with someone, and they're—so therefore he was somehow influenced by this person who has pled guilty. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this.  If you were running against—if you ever had a tough election there in Virginia, which you probably won't...

ALLEN:  I have, many times.

MATTHEWS:  ... and you're running against someone who's hung out with somebody that's really scurrilous, wouldn't you like to blast the picture of him and that person all over the state of Virginia?  Well, wouldn't you want to do that?

ALLEN:  So what your suggestion is, it would just be a wonderful political ploy. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes!

ALLEN:  Well, we ought to get above political ploys. 

MATTHEWS:  Because the president I thought made a good remark last night at the press conference.  He said that the reason he doesn't want to release the pictures is not because the press will put them in the front of magazines.  His concern was that the Democrats would run them in their ads. 

ALLEN:  Of course they would.  Of course they would.  So why give this political fodder?  Let's get to the most important thing, and that is integrity in the government.  What Congressman Cunningham did was wrong, and he's being prosecuted and has been.  Anybody who is taking a bribe, extorting contributions or money or favors or gifts to do something for them, they ought to be prosecuted. 

And I think it's very important that the American people, regardless of party—and I hope that somehow we can come together, Republicans and Democrats, to get the right disclosure, so the scrutiny...

MATTHEWS:  In the interest of full disclosure, Senator George Allen of Virginia, Republican, can you tell me why in every poll taken of Republican insiders—that sounds insidious enough—you are the favorite to be the Republican nominee in 2008 for president.  Why are the insiders backing you? 

ALLEN:  I reckon those folks like me.  And it's nice when folks like you.  I've rarely been on the side of the insiders.  Whenever I...

MATTHEWS:  Will you respond to the will of the insiders and run for president?  They seem to want you. 

ALLEN:  Well, I'm looking to be reelected.  If I'm given the honor by the people of Virginia of being reelected this fall, I'll look at all of that in the future. 

MATTHEWS:  Good luck.  Please come back when you're famous.  Senator George Allen...

ALLEN:  You're making me famous.

MATTHEWS:  Up next, will we ever see those pictures of Jack Abramoff and the president?  We're all looking for them.  The press is horny for those pictures.

You're watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We are back.  Joining me now is “Washington Post” columnist Eugene Robinson.  Eugene, thank you for very much for joining us tonight. 

Two Washington-based stories here.  One is the U.S. Senate.  Why is John Kerry who has been over in Davos at that conference over there calling for a filibuster attempt when everybody knows he doesn't have is the votes? 

EUGENE ROBINSON, WASHINGTON POST:  You know, that was a great line, wasn't it.  Scott McClellan today said this was the first call for a filibuster ever from the slopes of Davos.

MATTHEWS:  I love it too.

ROBINSON:  I'm not quite—I think it's probably counterproductive.  I guess you could argue that if, you know, it's really his conviction that Alito will be that bad for the court, then it's his duty to call for a filibuster.  But everyone knows it's doomed, it's not going anywhere. 

MATTHEWS:  And the big question, of course Eugene, is whether the Democratic minority, the 45 votes they do have, including Jeffords from Vermont, that they have enough organization to even get the 41 votes they need to stop this.  Is Kerry really leading the caucus?  Or is he just on his own out there? 

ROBINSON: You know, I get the sense he's kind of on his own.  I mean, he and Kennedy and others will sign on.  But I don't think they'll get 45 votes.  I think the Democratic members of the gang of 14 are going to basically go—you know, going to vote for cloture and it's going to end. 

MATTHEWS:  So what he could expose in this effort here, this PR effort

is to not expose the strength of the opposition, but show the large number

·         probably double digit number—of Democratic senators who have no problem with this judgeship going to a vote. 

ROBINSON:  Well, in a sense.  I mean, those senators will still be able to vote against the nomination.  They'll just say, well, we thought it should go to a vote.  And if you think about it slightly differently way, it kind of gives cover for some senators who want to be seen to be against the nomination itself.  A few people might sign on to the filibuster motion, knowing it's really not going—the filibuster is not really going to take them any place. 

MATTHEWS:  Yeah, it won't get up to 41.

Let me ask you about this real press story here.  In the press conference yesterday we were all watching, the president was fending off demands for these half dozen pictures of himself with the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.  Is this one of those stories that just burns and burns and burns—or I should say, like one of those late afternoon summer showers, where it gets hotter and hotter and hotter, then you have the thunderstorm at 4:45 every day like we have here as you know so well.  And then it happens.  And we see the damn pictures, they're boring, and that's the end of it? 

ROBINSON:  It could be.  I assume eventually we'll see the pictures. 

It's really kind of a—one of these Washington no drama stories, isn't it?  Because everybody knows—we're talking high-minded, it's really about integrity of government.  No, it's about the pictures that would be embarrassing to the president.  The Democrats want them.  And the president doesn't want to give them out.  And presumably there's somewhere on somebody's hard drive or in somebody's e-mail somewhere and they'll leak out. 

MATTHEWS:  They're not exactly Paris Hilton, anyway. 

Thank you very much, Eugene Robinson, columnist for the “Washington Post.”

Up next—don't go away—it's our Friday treat, I think.  HARDBALL hotshots with Joe Scarborough, Rita Cosby, Tucker Carlson will wallow in this week's stories.  And that's coming up right now right after this commercial.  You're watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  It's time for our special Friday feature—our new feature—HARDBALL Hotshots where my MSNBC colleagues, Joe Scarborough, Rita Cosby—look at them, they look great—and Tucker Carlson join me.  We're going to nail the winners and the losers, the heroes and the villains, the brilliants and the buffoonery of the past week.  What stories have the jolt to rock the country?  Which pack serious a punch?  Who's heading up and who's heading down?  Here we go. 

Just say no.  President Bush has the photos, but can he handle the negatives?  This week, the president confirmed he took at least five photographs with low-life lobbying Jack Abramoff, but he won't let you see them—or the Democrats, certainly. 

Sure, it may be a low level of news value, but stonewalling didn't begin with this president.  Remember Richard Nixon who refused to give up tapes of his White House chit-charts?  Or Bill Clinton, notorious for handing over nothing from Whitewater or Monica?  Here's George Bush from his press conference yesterday. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  I mean, there's thousands of people who come through and get their pictures taken.  I'm also mindful that we live in a world in which those pictures will be used for pure political purposes and are not relevant to the investigation. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Joe Scarborough, should the president release these pictures or hold on tight? 

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY”:  If I'm the president, I hold on tight.  I mean, the thing is, there's such hypocrisy, where all the guys and women of the news room are asking the president to release these pictures, acting like it's this huge news event when, Chris, you and I both know that all of those jack—I'll call them jackrabbits—probably have four or five pictures sitting next to the president, standing next to the president, shaking hands at Christmas parties or spring parties. 

They know there's no news value to this whatsoever.  And for them to act shocked and stunned like this is a great news event just seems a little silly to me, to say the least. 

MATTHEWS:  Rita, why not when in doubt, put them out?  That's the old rule. 

RITA COSBY, HOST, “LIVE AND DIRECT”:  You know, that's my feeling.  I disagree with Joe.  I think they should be released.  And I've also—we've heard some reports that maybe there's one with an Indian chief.  That could be intriguing, and, of course, why not just release it? 

Again, if it is just these Christmas pictures that all of us have had when we've gone to these parties at the White House, just release them.  I think it causes a lot of controversy, it causes a lot of fuel. 

And Norah, at the top of your show, Chris, had the poll.  Three out of four Americans are saying come clean.  If there's nothing to hide, just release them.  End it.  You know, why have this dribs and drabs and fuel the press for the next few months? 

MATTHEWS:  Tucker, is he building up the excitement here, the possible juice behind these pictures when they finally do come out and they show perhaps him not just grip and grinning, like he's done with a lot of us—and I do enjoy those pictures with the president—but actually sitting down and having a meeting with somebody, an Indian leader and Abramoff in what looks like an actual setting to do business?  Does that hurt him after all these weeks that he holds on?

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “THE SITUATION”:  You know, it almost doesn't matter.  I mean, the pictures could be Bush and Abramoff at the other sides of a room.  They will be used in every Democratic campaign in '06 or '08 or whenever they come. 

They're going to come out.  The rationale for releasing them is pretty clear.  If they were taken at public expense, the public has a right to see them.  There's no compelling reason that they would not be released. 

As a political matter though, I absolutely agree with Joe.  These

pictures will be used against Bush, no matter what they actually signify

the second they're released.  So you might as well forestall that as long

as you can.  They're going to come out, but better later than sooner from

...

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, I have go to say this, also.  I mean, for any Democrat to try to make any issue about George Bush not releasing a picture, after I was on the Government Reform and Oversight Committee through the 1990s where Bill Clinton would send his lawyers up to Capitol Hill and give us nothing, answer no questions.  I mean, he'd take Lindsay and those other people—Nussbaum.

Those people held back more information from the United States Congress and the American people that any administration since Richard Nixon.  Democrats defended their right to do that.  We're talking about a couple stupid pictures.  It just doesn't matter. 

MATTHEWS:  Maybe Jack was wearing a blue dress.  Anyway, Cindy's world tour.  America's loudest war critic, Cindy Sheehan, has gone global.  Last month, she took her anti-war, anti-Bush message to England and Ireland.  Now she's taken it to Venezuela, where she said “George Bush still continues his evil rhetoric that he waging a war on terrorism, and he is really raging a war of terrorism against the world.” 

Sheehan says she's going to meet with the Venezuela's left-wing president Hugo Chavez.  Tucker, what about that picture? 

CARLSON:  It's terrible.  It's inexcusable.  I mean, look, Cindy Sheehan thinks this war was a bad idea.  So do I.  So do a lot of other, I think, thoughtful people.  Where Cindy Sheehan differs with the rest of us is she attacks the United States. 

There's no other way to read her comments of her presence even next to Hugo Chavez.  Her trip to Venezuela was paid for by the Socialist, anti-American government of Hugo Chavez.  She attacked this nation. 

Her writings, which I had the misfortune of having to read over the past week, are just an unending string of invective, aimed not just at Bush but against the idea of America, calling the national anthem a hymn to war, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.  And I just think that the left is in danger of being infected with this.  Again, it's legitimate to be opposed to war.  It's not legitimate to attack your own country as she has. 

SCARBOROUGH:  In danger?

CARLSON:  Well, I mean to mainstream figures on the left.  You hate to see it happen.  It's horrible.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  They've already been infected by it.  And they've been infected for several years.  They hate George Bush so much ...

(CROSSTALK)

COSBY:  ... the other statement that she made—I think this is even more powerful—she said she admired President Chavez for his strength to resist the United States.  This is an American speaking.  And I think what she does, in addition to all of this, you guys, is she also isolates herself. 

I think there was a part of the American public, that even if they felt she was a little wacky and extreme before, they felt sympathy for her because she lost her son in IraqrMD+IN_rMDNM_.  Now she goes to this person who is, you know, holding hands with Harry Belafonte, saying Bush is number one terrorist.  This puts her on the radical, radical side, and I think she's going to get alienatedrMD+IN_rMDNM_. 

SCARBOROUGH:  No, no.  Rita, hold on, Rita.  That's the bad news.  Three, four, five years ago that would have been the radical left.  That radical left has been moving more to the center of the Democratic party.  We saw Michael Moore spread lies across America a few years back and you saw 150 or so Democrats go to his premiere.  They're embracing this hate speech and they're too stupid to realize that they're only hurting themselves, just like Republicans in the late 1990s. who ... 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hold on a second.  Republicans were so driven crazy by Bill Clinton they shot themselves in the foot time and time again.  That's what's happening with the Democrats.  And they're not distancing themselves from this lady or from Michael Moore or any of the extremist nut jobs on the left. 

(CROSSTALK)

COSBY:  I think it's going to hurt them though if they do align themselves after this one.  I agree.

MATTHEWS:  I'm with Tucker on this, because the thoughtful criticism of this war has been drowned out by the crazy criticism. 

We'll be right back with more “HARDBALL Hotshots.”  Are Natalee Holloway investigators close to cracking the case? 

Plus, Oprah's commentary and, in fact, her judgeship.  And what is the state of lying in America right now after her decision yesterday?  You're watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL “Hotshots.”  MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, Rita Cosby and Tucker Carlson. 

Next up, Aruba to Alabama, investigators in the Natalee Holloway case have new information that could lead them to her burial site.  Eight months after she disappeared, they're now in Alabama for the first time to question friends of Natalee Holloway.  Here's the mother of one of those friends. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I think if there's any way it's going to help Beth with closure, it will be great.  I think it does stir the girls up a little more.  They've had time to settle down.  But they do want closure, and they do—you know, anything that will help Beth, because she has worked so hard to find her daughter. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Rita, are we getting to the truth in this horrible case? 

COSBY:  You know, it's hard to say, Chris.  If you talk to Aruban authorities, they strongly lead us to say yes.  They said that there was someone close to Joran Van Der Sloot—he's sort of the main suspect in this case—and they say that someone close to him leaked some information, or sort of they squeezed it out of him during an interview that suggested that maybe Natalee may be somewhere near the lighthouse, near the sand dunes, that her body may have been placed there.  That's what led authorities to also come to the United States and do this new round of questioning of Natalee's friends.  You know, they're going to state of mind.  Was she drunk?  What was going on that night?  What did this guy say to her? 

You know, Aruban authorities, even on our air, the head chief there said these guys are guilty as hell; we just have to prove it. 

MATTHEWS:  What does your nose tell you?  Your bloodhound nose tell you, Joe?

COSBY:  Go ahead.  Continue, go ahead, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH:  I have a very big nose, bloodhound or not.  It tells me unfortunately—I don't think Natalee is ever going to be found.  I mean, we've been hearing this for months, that Natalee is possibly in this pond or she's on this side of the island.  I don't think she's going to be found, and she is not going to be found because the Aruban authorities have waited eight months to come to the United States and question these kids.  They've been dragging their feet from the very beginning. 

They don't want her found.  If her body is recovered, it hurts Aruban tourism, and let's face it, that is their big industry.  And so I think they've been engaged in a cover-up for the past six, seven, eight months. 

And of course, you know, wait eight months to talk to these kids, when they were telling me back in July some things that happened in the bar that night between Joran Van Der Sloot and Natalee that nobody's talked about.  Shocking information that they told me off the record that I still can't believe hasn't come out. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me go to Tucker.  Tucker, this case obviously grabs a lot of people. 

CARLSON:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  There's a beautiful woman involved.  She was killed totally mysteriously.  She's disappeared.  It's on a remote—it's on an island of glamour and excitement, that people associate with fun.  But it seems like every time we have one of these cruise ship things, there's always a bunch of foreigners—I hate to sound as such a xenophobe—who are strangely hanging around with an American, and booze is involved, and it just is hell, the whole thing. 

CARLSON:  You're baiting me, Chris, you're baiting me! 

MATTHEWS:  OK, I'm baiting you. 

CARLSON:  Look, I'm not even in this—yes, I agree, I'm happy to blame foreigners for most things.  But in this case, I'm not even as offended by the behavior of the foreigners as I am by the behavior of some people on American television.  It was on Dr. Phil's show a couple of months ago where someone got up and said, you know, Natalee Holloway is alive and she's working in a strip bar in Venezuela.  And now, it seems pretty clear that Natalee Holloway, sadly, has probably been killed.  OK?  So you have got to think about the family of Natalee Holloway having to listen to this garbage day after day, people making completely uninformed, speculative guesses as to what might have happened to her.  How does that affect her parents?  I mean, it's just wrong, in my view.

MATTHEWS:  I think message to parents on vacation: Stay in the United States on vacation, go to Florida.  Anyway, Joe, is that a good idea?  Anyway...

SCARBOROUGH:  That's a great idea. 

MATTHEWS:  Next up, next up, Judge Oprah.  “The Oprah Winfrey Show” became the Judge Oprah show this week as best-lying author James Frey was put on trial in the courtroom of daytime television.  Frey lied about his accounts of his criminal behavior, his time in jail, his role in a train wreck.  The guy who once graced Oprah's book club paid a big price for lying.  Joe? 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, unfortunately, I don't think he did pay a big price for lying.  If you looked at Amazon.com this morning, after the big blow-up, he's still at the top of the charts.  I certainly like what Oprah did yesterday.  It seemed to be a complete, you know, 180-degree turn from what Bill Clinton did back throughout the 1990s when he said, you know, what's the meaning of is?  It doesn't—so hard to say when (INAUDIBLE)...

MATTHEWS:  Why do you have to go back and take one more punch at Bill Clinton when we're talking about Oprah Winfrey and some lying author here? 

SCARBOROUGH:  I'm glad you asked me that question, because I think in part the death of shame—“The New Republic” had a cover in the 1990s—I think Bill Clinton had a lot to do with that.  We always talk about Monica or Chinagate or all these other scandals.  I think American culture was profoundly shaped in the 1990s, from '92 to 2000, because of Bill Clinton's moral relativity.  And I think it's had a great impact.  People can chuckle all they want, but it's the truth. 

(CROSSTALK)

COSBY:  You guys, I'll talk about today.  I think that Oprah—I think—I have talked to Oprah.  And look, you know, this woman is an amazing figure, just reinforced who she is.  I mean, she is just not known nationally, but internationally.  She did the right thing.  She fessed up.  And I do agree with Joe, that I think other politicians, whoever it is, can learn a lot from her.  The sad thing, I think, one thing we can't lose sight of, this book was supposed to be an inspiration for recovering addicts.  What do they have to hold on to now they've got a liar who wrote this book?  I think (INAUDIBLE).

CARLSON:  You want the truth about why he lied?  I've thought a lot about this for the past week.  Why is James Frey so offensive?  He lied for this reason.  James Frey is not an interesting guy.  Here's a guy writing about his own life.  He's had a totally conventional life.  He was like some stoner frat boy who went to rehab.  How many of those do you know, like, 100, OK?  So this guy had to make up all these (INAUDIBLE).  So before he writes again, here's my demand of James Frey.  He'll write more memoirs, but before he does, this guy has got to leave the Upper West Side of Manhattan and do something worth writing about.  Become a skydiving instructor, join the Foreign Legion.  Do something that's interesting.  Please.

COSBY:  And you know, the sad thing, Tucker, I do think we're going to hear from him again.  And as Joe pointed out, his book is big.  I bet the next one is going to be big.  What does that say about America?

MATTHEWS:  Well, it says what Tucker says, if you're going to write, first do something that's interesting, and then write about it.  Hemingway, this guy's hero, did just that.  He did not.

Anyway, great group.  Thank you. 

Next up, let's turn our attention to our HARDBALL hotshots to the 2008 presidential prospects, because the race has already began.  Now, down South this week, Rudy Giuliani took the opportunity to address a conference for evangelicals.  The pro-choice, pro-gay rights former mayor of New York knows how George Bush won Ohio in the last election.  Republican of Virginia, Senator George Allen scooped up a priceless endorsement this week from Rush Limbaugh, who was quick to dismiss the maverick John McCain.  The Republican governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee, took a surprise trip to Iraq this week.  He and three other governors received the hot invite from Condi Rice and Don Rumsfeld. 

On the Democratic side, John Kerry led the call for an Alito filibuster, as we said, but the Republican National Committee noted that Kerry came—Kerry's call came from Switzerland, where the senator was attending the blue chip conference at Davos.  And presidential wannabe John Edwards is out and about, helping his Senate colleagues with their reelection campaigns, perhaps a response to critics who say he's too focused on his own '08 ambitions.  Joe, who owned the week?

SCARBOROUGH:  Big winner, Rudy Giuliani.  And I'm telling you, I know Christian evangelicals.  They helped elect me, despite the fact that sometimes they didn't agree with me on all issues.  Rudy Giuliani is going to the right group.  This is who he needs to talk to.  And when I talk to him, I'm always surprised to hear how open-minded so many of them are.  Maybe not the leadership, but so many of the rank-and-file of the Christian right are open to Rudy Giuliani because they like his leadership, they like his style.  They like what he did after September 11th, and they think he can be a strong, powerful leader. 

And they believe, the ones I talk to believe that he's going to moderate his positions not only on guns—he'll do that dramatically—but also on abortion, and also on gay marriage.  And he's going to say, hey, you know what, when I was the mayor of New York City, you didn't need guns, because response time for police was two, three minutes.  If you're out in North Dakota, that response time is 35 minutes.  You better have a shotgun behind your door.  And you're going to hear that time and time again as he moves to the right.  I think he's a big winner this week. 

MATTHEWS:  Tucker, you're smiling very carefully there.  Do you think Rudy has a shot at the South? 

CARLSON:  Well, you know, I admire Rudy Giuliani, as I think all Americans do.  If he can convince evangelicals, though, that he's one of them, he ought to go into sales because he'll make billions.  He's absolutely not.  Now, Joe Scarborough, I think that's a sellable case.  I mean, I can imagine, Joe, why they supported you, and I mean that as a compliment.  Rudy Giuliani, come on?  I mean, I, you know...

MATTHEWS:  OK, Rita, I'm with Joe.  What about your vote?  I'm with Joe all the way.  I think Rudy is the under-the-radar candidate who could well win this whole thing, the whole presidency in 2008.  What do you think?

COSBY:  I think so, and also, and we talked about this last week, don't count out John McCain.  I am also going to play a little bit of devil's advocate... 

MATTHEWS:  Well, can we count out John McCain just for practice, so we'd get used to it? 

COSBY:  All right, all right...

(CROSSTALK)

COSBY:  I'm still sort of thinking of this Giuliani-McCain ticket, because I think that could be pretty strong.   

The other one I want to bring in, I want to bring in Mike Huckabee, because this guy, I just think he's an interesting character.  Not necessarily for president, but maybe VP, because this guy—talk about a guy who knows goals.  Beat Tom Vilsack in a marathon by 40 minutes in March of 2005, after losing 110 pounds.  Certainly rising up on the national level.  We might see a little more of him.  I think there's some intriguing candidates. 

MATTHEWS:  Does he still have the weight to be president? 

COSBY:  What's that?

MATTHEWS:  Does he have the weight to be president?

COSBY:  No, I don't think right now.  Let's talk about V.P. 

MATTHEWS:  Has he lost too many pounds?

COSBY:  I think V.P.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, God.  OK, let's go back here again.  I think the news we've just committed here, Joe Scarborough, you leading the way, me coming along behind you, is this whole thing about evangelicals and the Christian right being at war with the more secular Republicans.  I think both sides of the Republican party, of which you're an active member, and you represent—let me tell you, don't you both want a winner who cares about security of the country? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Not only a winner, but you hit the perfect word.  It's all about security.  It's why the Christian right supported more moderate candidates during the Cold War. When the wall came down in 1989, they were able to focus on more domestic issues.  That's what happened in '94.  But it's not happening moving forward.  They're going to be interested in security. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much.  Joe Scarborough, Rita Cosby, Tucker Carlson.  More “HARDBALL Hotshots” a week from tonight. 

Up next, former President Jimmy Carter.  He's in Jerusalem after watching and observing the Palestinian elections.  We'll have his take on the results.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back.  After the dramatic results of the Palestinian elections, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who headed a team of international election observers, said that vote had been conducted fairly and peacefully. 

He sat down today for an interview with the NBC news correspondent in Jerusalem, Martin Fletcher, who began by asking the former president if he thinks the peace process can continue with Hamas in power. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIMMY CARTER, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT:  No, I'm not confident at all that the peace process will continue.  As a matter of fact, there is no peace process.  There hasn't been a peace process even attempted for the last three and a half years, as you know. 

When Arafat was president, his last few years, he was imprisoned.  And last year, when Abbas was elected president, I had hopes, and everybody had hopes, that there would be peace talks originated.  There have been no peace talks. 

And I think that Abbas was bypassed, and not given a chance to represent the Palestinian people in prospectively negotiating for peace, has been one of the things that debilitated him and removed his esteem among his own people, because he was not accepted by the outside world. 

So we have we haven't interrupted any peace processes with the election of Hamas, but I certainly don't claim or believe even that Hamas will be better able to initiate peace talks.  I think it's much more remote now than it was two or three days ago. 

MARTIN FLETCHER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  How do you feel about the election of Hamas? 

CARTER:  Well, I'm surprised.  I was—I don't—as an observer, I don't take positions about who should be and who should not be elected.  I thought it was—that the United States government was correct in insisting to Israel that the election be held, even with Hamas on the ticket.  That was a basic problem. 

FLETCHER:  May I just interrupt you?  Do you think that before that was—that became the American position, American/Israel should have insisted that Hamas give up its demand for the destruction of Israel and that Hamas renounce terrorism?  Because they went into the elections, ready or not, without giving up anything. 

CARTER:  That's true.  Well, I don't have anything to do with that.  You know, I don't decide who runs and who doesn't run.  But once Hamas announced that they were going to be a candidate at the national level, this was just another step above and beyond their previous elections all over the West Bank and Gaza, as you know, for local elections.  And they had been extremely successful. 

And so far as I know, they—Hamas, in their local, official capacity, had not promoted violence and had not been accused of corruption.  I think this is one reason that President Bush did decide, when Israel was very equivocal about it, to insist that the election go forward, including East Jerusalem, with Hamas on the ballot.  And I think it would have been a mistake for the outside world to tell the Palestinians that they could not have the election and Hamas could not run. 

FLETCHER:  You've been coming here for so many years now, interested

in this region and peace between Israel and the Palestinians.  How do you -

·         are we closer to peace today than 20 years ago? 

CARTER:  Twenty years ago—yes, we were close to peace 20 years.  Twenty-five years ago, we had peace for a while.  And in 1993, which is now 12 or 13 years ago, there was great hope for peace.  I thought the Oslo agreement was superb, with the Israeli prime minister negotiating face-to-face with the Palestinian leaders and concluding a peace agreement. 

Later, with the assassination of Prime Minister Rabin, the Oslo agreement went down the drain, in effect, although the Palestinians still cling to some—cling to some aspects of it.  But since the Oslo agreement failed, there have been no—there has been no progress made, in my opinion, toward peace. 

FLETCHER:  Is that disappointing to you? 

CARTER:  Yes, it's very disappointing to me.  I'm 81 years old and one of my constant prayers is that I will live to see peace between Israel and all of Israel's neighbors, obviously including the Palestinians, as well as Jordan and Egypt, with which I helped to some degree; with Lebanon, and with the outside world. 

FLETCHER:  Well, Israelis say, may you live to 120.  Hopefully by then, there will be peace.  And way before that, I hope. 

Mr. Carter, thank you very much indeed.

CARTER:  It's a pleasure.  Thank you, Martin. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  You can watch more of the interview with President Carter on our Web site, hardball.MSNBC.com. 

Join us again on Monday night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for the launch of MSNBC's 2006 election coverage and my exclusive interview with Tom DeLay.  Here's a preview. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Why do these rank-and-file Democrats make you a target? 

Why do they hate you? 

REP. TOM DELAY ®, TEXAS:  Well, I hope that they hate me because I'm effective, that I get things done.  We've had 11 year run of a Republican majority doing things I am incredibly proud of—cutting taxes, strong national defense, welfare reform, balancing the budget, paying down on the debt.  I mean, one thing after another and we've been effective at it.  And Democrats don't like it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Catch that Monday.  He's a tough customer. 

On Tuesday, I'll be here anchoring MSNBC's coverage of President Bush's State of the Union address.

Right now, it's time for “THE ABRAMS REPORT” with Dan.

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

END   

Content and programming copyright 2006 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2006 Voxant, Inc. (www.voxant.com) ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.'s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

Watch Hardball with Chris Matthews each weeknight at 5 & 7 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,