updated 2/6/2006 10:34:22 AM ET 2006-02-06T15:34:22

Guest: Jon Meacham, David Hand, Robin Hand, James Cavanaugh, James

Johnson, Con Coughlin

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Did you hear the one about the politician who promised to give up sex for the duration?  We did.  Let's hear what the hotshots have to say.  Let's play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I'm Chris Matthews.  First, fire has destroyed three Baptist churches and damaged two others last night, just outside of Birmingham, Alabama.  Authorities suspect arson, but there are no charges yet.  We'll hear later from the federal agent leading the investigation as well as the former co-chair of the National Church Arson Task Force.

But first the pastor of one of those churches, Pastor David Hand and his wife Robin.  Their church, the Old Union Baptist Church was damaged by one of the fires last night but, fortunately, it was saved before it was destroyed. 

Pastor, thank you very much for joining us, and Robin as well.  You're standing in front of another Ashby Church which was completely destroyed, right? 

PASTOR DAVID HAND, OLD UNION BAPTIST CHURCH, RANDOLPH, ALABAMA:  Yes, sir. 

MATTHEWS:  Well tell me what you sense ...

D. HAND:  Yes, sir, yes ...

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead.  I'm sorry. 

D. HAND:  Yes, sir, we're standing in front of Ashby. 

MATTHEWS:  Tell me about what you think may have—what, is there any hint as to what behind this stuff, all these churches getting torched last night? 

D. HAND:  No, sir, we don't really have any idea what the reasoning behind it is. 

MATTHEWS:  Is there any issue within the Baptist affiliation, any issues that have caused a lot of anger or any reason why a person would not like the position taken by your churches? 

D. HAND:  Not that I'm aware of.  There's not many accounts of anger lashed out or anything that we know of. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, well, tell me how you heard about this thing, take me through it, Pastor. 

D. HAND:  Well, Ashby, of course, was on fire before our church was, and one of the ladies from the church called one of our deacons at our church and they went out to see if they might have set a fire in our church.  And, of course, two of them arrived there and both of them found the fire, went in and used the fire extinguisher and put the fires out. 

MATTHEWS:  What made the person at the Ashby Church think that it might be a series of burnings, not just one church? 

D. HAND:  Well, we had kind of heard already about another church that was a little bit further away from us, they had—when the firefighters come here, I think that they already knew about another church in our county.  So they kind of put it together, and just called for precautionary purposes. 

MATTHEWS:  Robin, what's your reaction to this? 

ROBIN HAND, CHURCH BURNED IN ARSON:  It's very sad.  I'm very sad.  This church is—all of these churches are in a very historical part of the county, and not only are they very tender to the hearts of the people in the community, but they're historical and just this community is just very close. 

All of the churched have a good relationship with each other and everybody just seems to be so kind and outreaching to each other.  And it's very sad, yet it's a time that the people in the church can reach out and maybe, you know, help one another and grow closer. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about—Reverend—or rather, Pastor Hand, let me ask you about the relationship among these churches.  Your church is the Old Union, you're standing at the Ashby.  How many of the churches have a connection among themselves in terms of your congregations? 

D. HAND:  I would say probably within a five mile radius, most of the

·         most of the people are somehow connected whether they be cousins—some kind of relationship, family. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  And when you—was it your deacon who got there first?  Who got to your church first? 

D. HAND:  One of our—well, both our deacons arrived at the same time. 

R. HAND:  Alvin Lolly (ph). 

D. HAND:  Alvin Lolly and ...

R. HAND:  And Joe Killman (ph).

MATTHEWS:  And what did they find was going on when they got there? 

D. HAND:  Well, they was two flower pots in the sanctuary.  One was on our remembrance table in front of the pulpit.  It was on fire, and then there was another one set over to the side up under one of the flags, and it was on fire also, the flag also was. 

MATTHEWS:  And if they hadn't gotten there, you think the whole church would have burnt? 

D. HAND:  Oh, yes.  Five, 10 more minutes, it would have been on fire. 

MATTHEWS:  How did they put out the fire? 

D. HAND:  We had a fire extinguisher in the sanctuary and they put it out with it. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the fires that have gone down there. 

Do you have a sense of how a person could get in to your church? 

D. HAND:  Well, on every church that we've had reports back on, they kicked the door in.  Most of them was a back door of the church where it was kind of concealed, and then they come in and did what they were going to do. 

MATTHEWS:  So they wanted these fires to go all the way.  They wanted to start them inside the church so they'd would do a lot of damage fast, they didn't just want to throw a torch at the church? 

D. HAND:  Yes.  That's correct. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Pastor David Hand and Robin, stay with us.  We're going to bring in now a man who's written a lot about religion, especially in the south, “Newsweek” managing editor Jon Meacham. 

He joins us.  He's the author of the forthcoming book, “American Gospel.”  Jon, thanks for coming in tonight and talking about this.  What is your reaction as a person who's studied church history, especially in the region of the country you come from down there? 

JON MEACHAM, “NEWSWEEK” MANAGING EDITOR:  Well, this has deeply uncomfortable echoes.  There was—this comes and goes in sort of tragically fevered spikes. 

The first great wave of church burnings were unfolded in 1955, right after the second Brown decision, not the first Brown decision in May of 1954, but the second decision, which was when the Supreme Court said we must integrate with all deliberate speed. 

The first time around, a lot of white southerners didn't think the court was really serious -- '55 said yes, we're very serious.  And you had a reaction from a part of the white community in burning mostly African-American churches, because that was the center of life for so many communities. 

And even now, whether there's a racial motivation at work now or not, there's clearly a cultural motivation, because the burning of a church is the burning of the heart of a community in a way that almost nothing else is, even burning a courthouse. 

You burn a church, you are striking a blow—an angry, furious blow -

·         at that community, and it's a very emotional, it's a very angry crime, and historically and almost certainly here. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, all but one of these churches had a majority white congregation, so I don't think there's any evidence of it being racial, but let me ask you about that word cultural. 

MEACHAM:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Is there any tradition in this country of barn burning, just starting fires, starting fires as a pattern, sort of like some kind of person doing that because they're mad at people, mad at a community? 

MEACHAM:  Absolutely.  I think that's what this has to be, whether it's racial, and as you say, blessedly, this is probably not, but there's clearly something—someone is angry about something.  No one is doing it presumably for the insurance money. 

You wouldn't have this many—someone is making a statement, someone feels wronged or alienated by some part of this world, and wants to strike as hard and damaging and divisive and long-lasting a blow as possible. 

We forget, I think, in the first years of the 21st century, how truly horrifying and damaging fire can be.  We saw how damaging and horrifying flooding can be in Katrina, but if you've ever been through a fire, if you've ever been around a fire, it's a quick and anguishing and destructive force. 

And so this is not something that someone undertakes casually.  This is something that I suspect there is some strong motive behind, and it will be the task of law enforcement going forward to find out what that is. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you—let me go throw some things out here.  First of all, we can see from the pattern here, from Pastor Hand, that these fires were started inside, after someone broke into a back door of each one of the churches.  They were started at night. 

There have been no casualties yet, so the person had some kind of, I guess, Christian concern about human life and not doing evil as they saw it.  No throwing of a fire bomb or anything in a church filled with people like we saw in the south in the past. 

Clearly a deliberate, premeditated, middle of the night campaign to go from church to church, break in these churches in a very small area, making sure that the fire would have its effect.  In other words, you start it on the inside so it will burn down the church. 

It isn't done for just symbolism reasons or to hurt anybody—in fact, particularly not to hurt anybody, but to make a very clear statement.  They want the church leveled to the ground. 

Just hunching it out, being a bit of a cop here, I'm trying to think, could it be a person who doesn't like what they stand for?  Is there any outstanding disputes on social issues, gay right, marriage—let me see—abortion?  Any of those issues out front where the Baptist Church might have got an enemy it didn't know about here, or knew about?

MEACHAM:  Well, the Southern Baptist Convention, in the past 20 years or so, has become an increasingly conservative cultural force in the South, and in the country.  I must admit, I have a hard time seeing how this could be politically motivated, in any way.  But the Baptist Church in—as I say, in the South, is obviously on the right side, lower case r, meaning right to left, of issues. 

It seems to me, and I'm just playing cop as well a little bit, I have a feeling there's probably something very directly personal, it just intuitively, it seems as though someone was fairly—it's a cowardly thing to do, but fairly gutsy in its execution, as you say, by going in and not just throwing some kind of bomb in from outside.  Someone took time, someone wanted to do it in a concentrated area.  It's not just one church, it's not just two churches, so I think you've got—and I would suspect for law enforcement purposes, that there couldn't be a huge pool of suspects for something like this. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much.  Jon Meacham, managing editor of “Newsweek” magazine, who has written a book about religion in this country we're all going to be talking about in a few weeks.  Anyway, than you.

Coming up, how do you crack an arson spree like this?  How do you get to the bad guy here? 

Later, the trial date is set for Scooter Libby in the CIA case. 

Plus the HARDBALL hotshots—it's Friday.  Rita Cosby, Tucker Carlson and this time, Craig Crawford is going to be here to tee off on the big stories of the week, including that story about the politician who said he was going to give up sex.  We'll see what he said a few days later when he thought about it. 

You're watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back.  More now on the fires that destroyed three Baptist churches and damaged two others last night outside Birmingham, Alabama.  I want to first thank Pastor David Hand and his wife, Robin, of the Old Union Baptist Church for being with us. 

Now we're joined by ATF Special Agent James Cavanaugh, who is in charge of the Nashville Field Division, and James Johnson, who's the former undersecretary of the Treasury for Enforcement.  He was also co-chair of the National Church Arson Task Force. 

Agent Cavanaugh, I have to ask you, does this look like it could have been done by only one person or was there a group involved? 

JAMES CAVANAUGH, ATF SPECIAL AGENT, NASHVILLE FIELD DIVISION:  Chris, I think it's possible one person could have done this spree of burnings in Alabama, but we haven't been able to determine if it's multiple actors yet.  It could be one, but we haven't closed the door on it's multiple also.

MATTHEWS:  I don't know if you were hearing earlier, but I was trying to play policeman, a little Dick Tracy, the fact that they were done in the middle of the night, they were all done in close proximity, a very organized plan, he had a map, he had it all figured out—he or she I guess—also the fact that they were set up, they set these fires at a time when no one would get hurt, at least no one in the church, someone could have gotten hurt trying to put out the fire.  Some decency shown at least in trying to avoid killing anybody.  Does that tell you anything? 

CAVANAUGH:  It does because we've worked so many church fires in the past.  You and Jon Meacham had a very good discussion about it, I think you're both doing a good job as investigative journalists to assess, you know, what could be the motives behind these fires.  And he's right, Jon was, when talking about Birmingham's history.  You know, we used to call it “Bombingham.”  Lots of bombings and arsons and (INAUDIBLE) and so forth—the infamous bombing of the 16th Street Church.  And then in the mid-'90s, we had a spate of church fires.  We had 55 church fires in my ATF division in the mid-'90s, and all kinds of motives:  hate crimes, isolated bigots, arson to cover burglary, embezzlement cases—we even had a devil worshiper who had burned 26 churches from Indiana to Alabama, and would break in and set fires in the churches.

So in this case, in this case in Bibb County, Alabama, we're looking real hard at some motives and you guys were assessing it correctly.  First of all, we've got a forced entry in the dead of night.  And we have to look first, do we have a possibility of arson to cover burglary?  In other words, is there anything missing from these churches and is the arson to cover forensic evidence?  In this day and time of forensic television, everybody is conscious of that. 

Secondly, we could have thrill seekers, persons who just want to see fire.  And I think you mentioned, Chris, about barn burnings.  Churches are isolated, they're unoccupied, they're available in a rural community, so if you're looking for the thrill of fire, it can easily be a target. 

The other is, religious bias and hatred against religion.  Like I say, we convicted this devil worshiper, who got 45 years in federal prison for burning 26 churches, so you could have a motive like that. 

We don't rule out racial hatred either, because you know, don't necessarily give Klansmen or bigots or haters the wherewithal to always know the racial makeup of any rural church.  If they in their distorted view think that that community is of a certain racial makeup that they hate, they may burn every church in site.  And I've been arresting Klansmen for 30 years in the ATF, and I've seen all kinds of things.

MATTHEWS:  Is there anything in the papers down there where the Baptist Church has taken a position on some social issue:  gay marriage—something that's hot—where that would have aroused somebody? 

CAVANAUGH:  I haven't seen that, Chris, but it's very viable, because, you know, we had an arson of a Unitarian church in rural Virginia back in the summer and it was right after the church, on a national level, had embraced some gay members.  And then there was an attack on this church in Staunton, Virginia, so things like that can happen. 

MATTHEWS:  That's why I'm thinking like that, because the more liberal churches would drive some people on the right crazy and maybe a more liberal person who is gay for example would feel that they've been terrorized by the beliefs of another church too.  We don't know. 

It is fascinating and awful. 

Let me go to James Johnson.  Sir, you've been involved in this in the past.  Was your task force organized particularly around the horror of white guys burning black churches? 

JAMES JOHNSON, FMR. CO-CHAIR, NATIONAL CHURCH ARSON TASK FORCE:  What it was organized was the horror of lots of churches burning.  We were concerned and we wanted to get into the facts of whether or not there were white men and women burning African-American churches.  There had been an outcry, the pattern of a lot of the burnings suggested that black churches were being targeted.  And as has been pointed out throughout this segment, this is a tactic that had been used by the haters for many, many years.

MATTHEWS:  Do you buy the fact that a hater could be so disoriented, or unsmart, that they would go burn a white church to get black people?

JOHNSON:  I wouldn't rule out any motive at this stage.  One motive may seem more likely than another, but investigations have to go there—stay their course.  And I wouldn't discount a motive.  It may be someone who's motivated to hate racially, but it may be someone who hates religious people. 

MATTHEWS:  Apart from the racial thing, which we all grew up with, the horrors of it—people just hated black people, for example—is there a second motive that's been out there in that pattern, in that part of the country, that you could imagine as a usual suspect here? 

JOHNSON:  Well, one of the motives that we saw and in fact, Jim referenced it, was that there was—we had one person, the devil worshiper, who actually burned 26 churches within a four-year period. 

MATTHEWS:  Is he out of jail? 

JOHNSON:  He's not out of jail yet.  He'll be in jail for a long time. 

Jim and his team did a great job.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  So it could be anything you guys agree on.  Let me ask you, how does that—I got to go back to Jim, you're the agent.  What's the next step in the investigation here, as we go over the weekend?

CAVANAUGH:  Well, Chris, the way to solve these cases is we throw men and women material—expertise, technology, forensic technology, at it real heavy.  I've dispatched 40 ATF agents to Bibb County, Alabama.  Two large, you know, bomb investigation vehicles.  Three dogs, the ATF dogs that sniff out arson.  We've got the state bomb and arson, we've got the FBI, we've got the sheriffs, we've got forensic chemists. 

And we're computerizing the leads.  We're putting out, you know, a notice to the community to help us.  So we got to hit it, you know, extremely aggressive, fast on all fronts.  Because these things do impact the people. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the person is watching right now? 

CAVANAUGH:  Well, I don't know.  You know, he may be.  He may be hunkered down somewhere.  Hopefully, he's a little bit scared of the response.  And you know, we're going to get on his heels quick.  You know, people that would do this --- I mean, would burn a church or put the flag near the fire or whatever he might have done in there, they just have no respect for any symbols of good, you know. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think there's an element—I hate to say this—there's an element of decency.  This guy or whoever didn't do this to hurt people, they did it to make some horrific statement, it looks like.  But obviously someone could have been killed putting out one of those fires. 

Anyway, thank you, James Cavanaugh and James Johnson. 

Up next, Scooter Libby's trial is set for next January.  We'll get the latest from the courthouse on the CIA leak case, which I see is neatly going to be after the elections this November.

And later, it's Friday, and what that means is “Hardball Hot Shots” are coming here shot.  You're watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  In the CIA leak investigation, the trial of Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff Scooter Libby will not start until after the midterm congressional elections.  Libby's charged with perjury, making false statements and obstructing the investigation into the leak of a CIA operative's identity. 

There was a status hearing in the case this morning.  HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster was at that event, and he joins us now from the courthouse. 

David, was this clever manipulation of the judicial process to get this trial put over until after this election in November? 

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, it's not clear.  The judge said today he hates to have a case linger so long, but he noted that there are several motions and disputes that need to be resolved.  And he also pointed out that it was Scooter Libby's lawyer who said that he had a conflict with scheduling the trial in the beginning of September.  September was the month the judge wanted this to begin.  But the judge said because of this scheduling conflict and everything else that needs to be resolved, I'm going to go ahead and schedule it for early January of 2007. 

All of this, of course, Chris, as you know, relates to the leak by the White House of CIA operative Valerie Wilson.  Scooter Libby is charged with lying about his conversations to reporters, lying when he went to the grand jury and also talking to investigators. 

There was some information that came out today.  One of the key pre-trial disputes involves the presentation of evidence.  The defense, Libby's defense, argues the prosecutors are not turning over lots of documents, perhaps thousands of documents, that they believe could be helpful to Scooter Libby.  In court today, Prosecutor Fitzgerald said that 99 percent of the documents that Scooter Libby is entitled to, his defense team has now received. 

In the headlines, though, over the last couple of days, Chris, have been related to some of these details that are buried in the motions and buried in some of the correspondence back and forth. 

For example, Patrick Fitzgerald said that one of the reasons that there's some information that he cannot provide to Scooter Libby' defense team is because information such as e-mails involving the president and vice-president—those e-mails, according to Patrick Fitzgerald, were not preserved through what he called the normal archiving process in the White House computer system.  Did somebody in the White House intentionally erase these e-mails?  Well, Fitzgerald doesn't know, but that was sort of a curious detail that was buried in some of these documents.

MATTHEWS:  Maybe the advice to Richard Nixon to burn the tapes has finally gotten through to the big shots.  But I'll tell you one thing, Scooter Libby didn't get his nickname when it came to a speedy trial.  This guy doesn't want a speedy trial, does he? 

SHUSTER:  No, and he was asked in court—the only time he spoke in court today was when he was asked if he waives his right to a speedy trial and he said yes, sir.  And Chris, you have the thing that was sort of on a funny...

MATTHEWS:  Well, isn't that kind of odd?  His nickname is Scooter and he wants to slow the thing down?

SHUSTER:  His nickname should be bad handwriting, because in court today, his own lawyer, Chris, acknowledged that one of the things that is slowing this down is that Scooter Libby has hundreds of pages of notes in his own handwriting that is simply illegible.  The prosecutors can't read it, Scooter Libby's old lawyers can't read.  They actually need him to sit down and type out what these notes say so that people can figure out what to do with them.

But all kidding aside, there is still, Chris, some very serious issues, as you know.  Karl Rove's status in this investigation has not changed, according to lawyers.  The prosecutors still refuse to say that he has been cleared. 

And also there are the questions about Vice President Cheney.  Vice President Cheney spoke with Scooter Libby on two occasions about the Wilsons.  What instructions did he give to Scooter Libby about the Wilsons?  We may not know that until Vice President Cheney takes the witness stand in January.

MATTHEWS:  So at the White House, e-mail stands for erased mail. 

Anyway, thank you David Shuster. 

Up next, the “Hardball Hot Shots” are coming here.  Why is President Bush really saying we're a nation of oil addicts?  Plus, the politician who's taking a vow of chastity while he's campaigning.  Rita Cosby, Tucker Carlson and Craig Crawford will have it out. 

And this Sunday on “MEET THE PRESS,” Tim interviews newly-elected House Republican leader John Boehner. 

You're watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  It's time for our special Friday feature, “HARDBALL Hot Shots,” with my MSNBC colleagues.  This week it's Tucker Carlson, Rita Cosby and Craig Crawford.  We're going to nail the winners and the losers, the heroes and the villains, the brilliance and the buffoonery from the past week.

What stories have the jolt to rock the country?  Which packed serious punch?  Who is heading up and who is going down?  Let's begin with the president's Oilaholics Anonymous.  At Tuesday's State of the Union Address, George Bush announced a new American ailment. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy and here we have a serious problem.  America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Addicted to oil?  Here's Matt Lauer from “The Today Show” the next morning. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT LAUER, “THE TODAY SHOW”:  I'm Matt and I'm addicted to oil. 

CROWD:  Hi, Matt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  The president's dire warning invoked images of never ending gas lines from the '70s and Jimmy Carter's Declaration of National Malaise.  But the question is, why is the president blaming the country?  Tucker, is this a disease?

TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC HOST, “THE SITUATION:  That's an excellent question.  I mean, look, everyone agrees that we're too dependent on foreign oil and that has global, strategic consequences that are bad for us. 

On the other hand, there's something really arrogant, I think, about blaming the country for this.  It is a class question.  On the one side, you have all the smart kids, all the cool kids—Tom Friedman of the “New York Times,” the environmentalists, the president, you know, and other yuppie environmentalists blaming the rest of the country for driving SUVs. 

Meanwhile, the rest of the country are driving SUVs because they got a lot of kids who want to go to work or soccer practice or school.  I mean, if you're really serious about reducing America's dependence on foreign energy, you'd be serious about nuclear power, right? 

You'd be more serious about clean coal, but environmentalists are against that for emotional reasons that don't really add up.  I don't think it makes good politics to blame people for driving SUVs because we don't need SUVs. 

MATTHEWS:  Rita, I used to think that Dick Cheney was the power behind the throne on a lot of issues, and energy being one of them.  Of course, he had those big secret meetings with all the oil and gas executives.  He wouldn't tell us who was in the clubhouse with them and now Mr. Oil Patch, Dick Cheney, who loves oil and gas, has his partner, the president now, saying get off it. 

RITA COSBY, MSNBC HOST, “LIVE AND DIRECT”:  Well, I think it's because it sounds good.  I think you hit it right on the head, Chris.  It sounded like a good thing to say in the speech.  I think in practicality, in addition to, you know, carrying out his theories, they're good things.

Look, it's a very complicated thing to do.  I'm not necessarily slamming this president.  Carter tried to do it, Clinton tried to do it, but at the same time, he's saying cutting back on our dependence on things like ethanol and other things. 

We were reading today that labs that are working on ethanol and other energy alternatives are cutting back, firing staff.  So it's a very complicated—I think a lot it is rhetoric, and I think practicality is going to be almost impossible. 

MATTHEWS:  Craig, I want you to—we're going to run this tape of this scene of the president and the crown prince of Saudi Arabia strolling very slowly and together over a long walkway.  Have we given up on the Saudis?  Do we think they're about to fall?  Because the president said we can't rely on oil anymore from unstable regions. 

Now, watch this.  This is embracing a leader like I've never seen.  And now he's telling us, we've got to break our deal with these guys because we can't count on them.  What's going on? 

CRAIG CRAWFORD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  We actually get a small percentage of our oil ...

MATTHEWS:  Watch this.  Here we go.  Here we go.  Hand in hand. 

They're solid these guys.  All right, go ahead. 

A small percentage of our oil from the Middle East, but this was quite a conversion for this administration.  I think they've done as much to fuel the consumption of fuel, as anything. 

As a matter of fact, the president's spokesman just a few years ago defended the high consumption of oil, saying that it was the American way of life and the job of policymakers to defend that way of life. 

MATTHEWS:  Who said that, McClellan?

CRAWFORD:  Ari Fleischer when he was ... 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he's gone.

CRAWFORD:  He's gone.

MATTHEWS:  Let's take another one.  Next up, six angry men, maybe more.  On Wednesday, the Joint Chiefs of Staff Sent a livid letter to the “Washington Post” for printing what they called a “beyond tasteless” political cartoon. 

Let's take a look at the cartoon that shows a wounded, limbless soldier who represents the U.S. army, the whole Army.  The doctor is Dr.  Rumsfeld, Donald Rumsfeld, who says to this soldier, “I'm listing your condition as battle-hardened.” 

The joint chiefs wrote, quote, “we believe you and Mr. Toles”—that's the cartoonist—“have done a disservice to your readers and your paper's reputation by using such a callous depiction of those who volunteered to defend this nation and as a result have suffered traumatic and life-altering wounds.”  What do you make of this? 

CRAWFORD:  Well, you know, I defend the “Washington Post” to print this cartoon.  I thought it was inappropriate.  I'm—not even very entertaining as cartoons should be, but also the Pentagon has every right to write a letter complaining, so long as that's all they do. 

You know, one thing that worries me is when they refer to the Abraham Lincoln precedent and the Abu Ghraib Prison because in that precedent, Abraham Lincoln jailed reporters.  He closed newspapers ...

MATTHEWS:  To catch the Copperheads.

CRAWFORD:  When they didn't do anything ...

(CROSSTALK) 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Rita on this.  What's your personal citizen response to a cartoon of an American service person amputated on all four limbs to make some kind of political point? 

COSBY:  You know, this is an easy answer for me, Chris.  I find it downright tasteless.  You know, you've spent a lot of time at Walter Reed, I just came back.  I was in Landstuhl in December, seeing these poor guys who have lost, you know, so much and still say that they want to fight for our country. 

Look, the point is, obviously, I'm all for free speech.  I understand there's a real debate here, how you have feel about Donald Rumsfeld, how you feel about the policies of war, but to—you know, to bring up these young men and women who are fighting so hard, I think certain things should be off limits.  I think it was disgusting. 

MATTHEWS:  Tucker? 

CARLSON:  Well, here's an interesting question.  Why are news organizations plastering this image everywhere and yet many news organizations in print and on television are refusing to run these cartoons that have run in European newspapers that supposedly are, you know, denigrating to the Prophet Mohammed. 

It's just—I don't know.  I'm always and everywhere for a free press.  Yes, of course it's an ugly, stupid cartoon but, I mean, I don't think anybody here is questioning the “Post's” right to run it.  I want to see the same standard applied to those cartoons that are now causing riots around the world and it's not. 

COSBY:  I think that's the point, Tucker, is that those are sparking -

·         and look, I—we can debate whether it's right or not, but those particular ones are sparking.  Look at the tremendous riots we've seen, the protests all over the country.  We're not seeing a riot over this.  We're just seeing a question of taste. 

CRAWFORD:  The points of this cartoon where they were showing Rumsfeld, you know, changing the language, saying I'm going to call him battle-hardened, this wounded soldier, that's an incisive point worth making, the way this administration plays with language to change the names of things so that we see it differently.  I thought that was a worthy editorial point. 

COSBY:  Just maybe a different picture. 

CRAWFORD:  Yes, maybe so.

MATTHEWS:  I think anybody who has given up their limbs and maybe their life for the country deserves a little special protection, OK, from being used for a cartoon. 

Anyway, next up, we won.  Now what?  After two decades of careful planning, conservatives scored a big victory with two new confirmations to the U.S. Supreme Court.  But what now?  What happens next?  What's the next big culture clash in America?  Where can we expect to see the next fire fight from the right?  We're going to get to that in a minute. 

No, we're going to get to Craig right now.  Craig? 

CRAWFORD:  Well, I would say the privacy issues are metastasizing into a cultural issue.  And it's not just the surveillance of Americans we've been talking about lately, but the subpoena, Google search records,, employees being fired for things they put on their personal blogs.  These are all things that are going to bubble up in the courts. 

And Americans are—have been receptive to this, I think, in this terrorist fear.  And it really recalls the old Benjamin Franklin line, you know, those who give up liberty for security deserve neither. 

MATTHEWS:  Rita, what do you think is hot next?  Do you think the conservatives are going to talk about who wins the Academy Awards?  What are we talking about here next?

COSBY:  I think the only thing they care about is Roe v. Wade.  I mean, they can talk about all these other things—prayer in school, obviously gay marriage, all these things are on the boiler plate.  I think they feel they have the best chance yet to at least maybe take a shot at it.  That's going to be the focal point.

MATTHEWS:  You mean like a private moment of prayer?  You think that's next?

COSBY:  Maybe a private moment.  I think they're going to look at that.  They will try for that.  We're also going to see some trickling down in the lower courts, although Bush has done a pretty good job of filling some of those lower courts.  But I think we're going to see it all the way up to Roe v. Wade.  I think they're going to...

MATTHEWS:  What do your antenna tell you, Tucker? 

CARLSON:  Look, you know, as long as the issue is settled in the courts, not in the legislatures, it will still be problematic.  Let me just say one quick thing.  It's still 5-4 liberals to conservatives on the Supreme Court, and that's assuming Alito turn outs to be conservative.  We all think we know he is.  We don't know that.  We'll find out fairly soon.  He could turn out to be a David Souter. 

CRAWFORD:  You know, I think abortion is not resonating with younger women as much as...

MATTHEWS:  We'll be right back.  I think Alito's a conservative. 

Anyway, more “Hardball Hot Shots” coming up. 

Up next, by the way, abstaining from sex to win votes.  That's a new one.  Don't miss it.  You're watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We're back with the “Hardball Hot Shots.”  Next up, just say no.  Isn't it amazing to watch the sacrifices that some politicians make to win votes? 

This week, Premiere Silvio Berlusconi of Italy declared that he would abstain from sex until after his April 9th presidential election.  Now he says he was just kidding.  But apparently his brother didn't think so.  An Italian newspaper owned by Berlusconi's brother was the first to report the grand pledge.  By the way, it was at a campaign rally with a popular TV preacher. 

Tucker, explain this for us. 

CARLSON:  This is the worst campaign slogan ever.  No sex if you vote for me.  Look, nobody—celibacy is wrong, obviously. 

MATTHEWS:  Who cares?

CARLSON:  Nobody is for it.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  But can you imagine coming out on a platform based on celibacy?  That's the most alienating possible thing you could say to the Italian voters, and I respect just for its counterintuition.

COSBY:  And the other thing is, I will bet you—I'll bet you a million bucks Berlusconi probably lost that bet that night.  Because Berlusconi's married twice.  His current wife, I think she's a former actress.  I've met a lot of people—like Italians, you know, love the whole sexual talk, they think it's fun to talk about. But I think Berlusconi himself, based on his reputation, I bet you he broke it.  He was in Sardinia, for gosh's sakes!  Sure he broke it. 

MATTHEWS:  Who wrote “lions make lousy lovers”?  Anyway, let me ask you—you know, everybody saw “Raging Bull” here, right?  Everybody's seen it, right?  Remember how the deal in boxing was the old days, you didn't have any of that sexual activity until the big fight, because it made you more bullish?  Do you think that's what this is about, Tucker? 

CARLSON:  No.  Actually, studies have shown celibacy is bad for you.  It makes it much more difficult to concentrate, it makes you dumber.  This is actually completely true. 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  I'm dead serious.  There is no joy in celibacy.  It's not good for you physically.  There's just nothing good about it.  He should repent.

CRAWFORD:  Just imagine—if Bill Clinton had made this pledge, he'd have never been impeached. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that explains his high I.Q. right there.  Let me go right now. 

We got another one coming up here.  Scaredy cat.  This week, the Homeland Security Department, believe it or not, introduced this brand new security mascot, a big furry mountain lion named Rex.  He'll teach kids how to prepare for natural disasters and terror attacks, just as Smoky the Bear taught kids how to prevent forest fires and McGruff, of course, taught kids how to keep on the look out for criminals.  Call it a modern day duck and cover.  Remember this? 

(SINGING)    

MATTHEWS:  Rita, I can remember hiding under my school desk, one of those balsa wood school desks in Catholic school.  We're told there's 15 minutes for the explosion of the world to end, and get ready. 

COSBY:  You know, it's an interesting concept and I think it's good-intentioned, Chris.  But I will tell you, you know, to say McGruff the crime dog, of course, which was sort of the famous one who said don't go with strangers, don't do that, that was a good idea.  I think kids can understand this. 

But if you're trying to tell a kid, OK, this is Mohammad Atta, this is the world of terrorism, this is a suicide bomber, I think it's way too complicated.  I think it's very silly.  It's a catchy song.  You know, Tucker was tapping his foot here.  But other than that, I think it's not going to go very far. 

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Crawford, what are you supposed today do when you hear there's a terrorist attack and you're five years old?

CRAWFORD:  Well, at least it's a friendlier face than Director Chertoff is.  He looks more like Skeletor, I think.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, come on.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Take that back.  Take it back. 

CRAWFORD:  I take it back. 

(CROSSTALK)

CRAWFORD:  As a hotshot understudy, I take that back but, you know, to be more accurate, they ought to give him a microphone and a satellite dish on his head to show the stupideness ... 

MATTHEWS:  But you now what?  Isn't it true, Tucker, that this weird thing about terrorism, the president gives wonderful speeches on the subject and you're left with well, what am I supposed to do? 

Look out for suspicious characters—then you have the problem with people with Mideast features, and they end up getting stared at.  So what are you supposed to do, look for somebody who leaves their lunch bucket on the subway platform?  What are you supposed to do? 

TUCKER:  I don't know.  You should pray, I guess, in the end.  And look, the point is it's my job to scare my children.  It's not the government's job to scare my children.  I'm starting to be a Libertarian whacko, but I am.  I can't help it.  I don't care for propaganda aimed at kids, I just don't like it at all. 

Take all those service announcements off the air if they're paid for with tax dollars.  They're annoying.  Everyone one of them has an agenda.  Even if I agree with the agenda, as I do in this case, I'm still opposed to it.  It's not for kids. 

MATTHEWS:  Rita?  You're not against scaring people, are you?

COSBY:  You know, once in a while I'll scare people.  I'm known to do that, but in this particular case I really agree with Tucker.  I think it's over their heads, and I think it's—and I think money could be better spent. 

MATTHEWS:  You know what's worse here than ad hominems?  Craig?  CRAWFORD:  What's that?

MATTHEWS:  Unanimity.  You don't like agreement.  Anyway, thank you guys.  Thank you very much.  It's Friday night.  I'm already ready for the weekend now because of you guys.  You gave me that adrenaline rush. 

COSBY:  You're going to watching the Super Bowl right?  Who are you

...

MATTHEWS:  I'm think it's Pittsburgh. 

COSBY:  I knew you'd say that.

MATTHEWS:  My executive producer, she's in my ear an she's a Pittsburgh nut.  Howard Fineman is a Pittsburgh nut.  Everybody I know is for Pittsburgh and I'm from Pennsylvania.  Anyway, Rita Cosby, Tucker Carlson, Craig Crawford.  More “HARDBALL Hotshots” a week from now. 

Up next, the real reason why British Prime Minister Tony Blair stood by President Bush so strongly in the war on Iraq.  The inside story from journalist Con Coughlin when HARDBALL returns.  And on hardblogger.com, our blog Web site, read Rick Francona's blog about the secret, NSA wiretapping program.  Just go to hardblogger.msnbc.com.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  After the attacks of September 11th, of course, President Bush said America had no truer friend in the world then Great Britain. 

And author Con Coughlin takes a look at Prime Minister Tony Blair's leadership in the war against terrorism and his relationship with President Bush in his new book “American Ally.”  He is, without a doubt, the most popular non-American in America.  Why do we Americans, yanks, love Tony Blair?  I've seen numbers like 75, 76 percent approval. 

CON COUGHLIN, AUTHOR, “AMERICAN ALLY”:  Well, I think the key thing about Tony Blair is that he not only says that he'll stand by America in America's hour of need.  He actually goes in where it hurts.  I mean, British troops are in Iraq.  British troops are in Afghanistan.  Ever since 9/11, he's been there on the frontline.  It's not just empty rhetoric. 

MATTHEWS:  And he was friends with Clinton, and he's managed to be friends with Clinton's rival, of course.  There he is with the president today.  How does he manage to be so ambidextrous, to go with the right and the left in American politics? 

COUGHLIN:  Well, of course, he is a British prime minister.  And British prime ministers are basically taught from kindergarten that they must stick close to the American president, whoever it may be.  I saw Blair last week on Downing Street.  I put this to him.  How did he make this great change?  He said, look, it's my job to my close the American president.  There could be a Muppet in the White House.  I would close to be him. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, there's a tribute to George Bush and Bill Clinton.  Let me ask you about his drive.  You know, there are very few socialists in America.  I mean, I guess in this country a social Democrat would be a very liberal Democrat, but he is. 

(CROSSTALK) 

MATTHEWS:  What drives Tony Blair's belief in the role of the government and state institutions to replace private sector institutions?  Why does he believe in that? 

COUGHLIN:  Well, a lot of people in Britain do not see him as a socialist.  In fact, his own Labor Party is at war with him at his attempts to reform health care and education and all these sort of things.  That's one of the reasons he's in trouble in the U.K., because he's not seen as a socialist.  But I think the reason he was friendly with ...

MATTHEWS:  But you report in the book that he was inspired to be a true socialist because of his Methodism. 

COUGHLIN:  Well, quite.  I think his Christian beliefs are quite important.  I think also important enough to understand why he takes this leadership role on the world stage—he believes that the prime minister has a moral obligation to stand up to evil tyrants and try and do something good in the world, rather than just sit back and be a politician. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you see the very popular movie “Love, actually”?

COUGHLIN:  I did, yes.

MATTHEWS:  You know, every American cries they love him so much, the character.  Hugh Grant plays him.  And they hate the Billy Bob character who is like worst aspects of Clinton and Bush put together in one guy.  Skirt chaser and arrogant and all the worst things both those guys have—if they were the worst person in the world they'd have both those elements.  Let me say it carefully.  Why do you think we Americans really like the underdog Brit in the stand up to our own president? 

COUGHLIN:  Well, I think the thing about Blair, is, you know, he's very good as publicity.  I mean, he learned a lot from Clinton in terms of the way he projects himself.  He does come across as, you know, a very warm kind of guy. 

MATTHEWS:  We love him. 

COUGHLIN:  You know, a friendly kind of guy.   

MATTHEWS:  We love him.  I think even conservatives in this country love him because of the war ...

COUGHLIN:  But you go to ..

MATTHEWS:  ... and liberals like him because he's a liberal. 

COUGHLIN:  But you go—well, John Kerry was wary of him in the run-up to the election and some of the other ... 

MATTHEWS:  Where was he being caught—being pictured with his, being photographed with him or what? 

COUGHLIN:  Well, I just think—I think they were wary of the close alliance he had with George Bush.

MATTHEWS:  Oh really.

COUGHLIN:  And I think, frankly, if Kerry had won the election, I think Blair would have been rather worried because, you know, given Kerry's position on the war and Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, speaking as an American, I think there's very few foreign leaders we really go for—Rabin of course, Anwar Sadat, Churchill, a very small number.  You know, maybe Mulroney up in Canada who backed us so strongly, maybe because very few Canadian guys really do.  Are you watching?

Anyway, let me ask you this.  Tony Blair—has he got a big future or is he going to turn over to Gordon Brown? 

COUGHLIN:  Tony Blair wants to stay for another three years.  That would mean he would stand down when the president's second term expires but, as I said, he's got a lot of problems with own party.  They don't like him and they would like to see the back of him.  They'd like to bring in Gordon Brown ... 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we like the front of him.  We're for Blair, against Brown. 

COUGHLIN:  All right, well ...

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you, Con Coughlin.  A great book.  You're a wonderful writer.  If you like Tony Blair, read this book and you'll like him more if you do.  Anyway, thank you.

On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee holds hearings on the NSA spying, and join us Monday night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern with “New York Times” reporter James Risen, who broke this story of the secret wiretapping program.  Right now it's time for the “ABRAMS REPORT” with Dan Abrams.  The book is called “American Ally.”  It's about Tony Blair.

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

END   

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