updated 2/13/2006 11:13:46 AM ET 2006-02-13T16:13:46

Guests: Andy Lester, Dick Sauber, Bob Shrum, James Gilmore

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Back again to blast through the week‘s big stories.  Scooter blames Cheney, Brownie blames Bush, Bill upstages Hill.  They‘re all playing hardball.

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Could 2006 turn out to be the year of the rebel in Washington?  A political storm hit Congress today when former FEMA director Michael Brown broke bad on the Bush administration, testifying that his bosses at the White House were told about imminent levee failures the day Hurricane Katrina came ashore.

And Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff has confirmed to a reporter he‘s met with the president almost a dozen times, and he‘s got the pictures to prove it. 

Plus reports that Vice President Cheney‘s former chief of staff, Scooter Libby, told the grand jury he was just following orders when he leaked classified information to reporters.  Are these mutineers escaping from a sinking ship of state?  More on these stories in a moment.

And the Friday night HARDBALL hotshots, MSNBC anchors Rita Cosby, Joe Scarborough and Tucker Carlson, are here with a last call on the stories that caught our attention this week. 

But first, former FEMA director Michael Brown testified before the Senate today, saying he warned top White House and Homeland Security officials the day Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL BROWN, FORMER FEMA DIRECTOR:  I think I told him that we were realizing our worst nightmare, that everything that we have planned about, worried about—that FEMA, frankly, had worried about for 10 years was coming true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Joining us right now is Andy Lester, who is Michael Brown‘s attorney.  Thank you, sir, for joining us.  You know, the whole problem of Katrina has been this perception that a lot of people, most of them African-Americans, were allowed to sit down there at that convention hall for days without getting water, food, any help at all.

And the other perception is that the president was so out of it, in terms of being attentive to this crisis, that he had to be given a DVD to update him on all the television coverage up until, like, Thursday of that week.  Is that Michael Brown‘s fault? 

ANDY LESTER, MICHAEL BROWN‘S ATTORNEY:  Well Mr. Brown, my client and my longtime friend, was in touch with the White House on a regular basis, and he testified about that today.  He was regularly in contact with chief of staff, Andy Card, Joe Hagin, and also sometimes with the president himself. 

MATTHEWS:  So the president was giving—was given an adequate heads up ... 

LESTER:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... that weekend before the levees broke on a Monday night? 

LESTER:  Certainly beforehand, there‘s no question about that.  And as Mr. Brown testified to today, he was talking with primarily Joe Hagin or Andy Card after landfall of the hurricane, so those updates were being given on a regular basis, and of course, obvious assumption would be that those were being passed on to the president.

MATTHEWS:  So even before the levees broke on that Monday night, that horrible Monday night, the president was aware that you were approaching what your client believed to be a real crisis, that they were going to break, there was going to be hell breaking loose down there in New Orleans? 

LESTER:  That‘s correct.  He—Michael Brown thought this would be the big one that they were concerned about. 

MATTHEWS:  Well why has he been spanked for this, kicked out of office, and humiliated? 

LESTER:  That‘s, I think, an awfully good question.  I believe he‘s been the poster boy for everything that went wrong.  This was a huge natural disaster.  It was a catastrophic disaster, putting those two words together, unlike any other that we‘ve had in our history. 

It was overwhelming, no matter who was going to be dealing with it.  I think it‘s been a terrible misjustice to Mr. Brown, to make him into the poster boy of everything that went wrong.  Now he said that he made some mistakes, and certainly he did. 

MATTHEWS:  When he called the White House on the weekend before the levees broke in New Orleans, what did he ask for and did he get it? 

LESTER:  He—on a regular basis, when they would have these calls, the White House would ask him, do you have everything you need?  And generally, the answer would be yes, or here‘s what I need, and sometimes there would be logistical help, things like that.  He tried to get the military in.  I think he testified that that was something he wished that he had done earlier with 20/20 hindsight. 

MATTHEWS:  Why did it take the military from Sunday when he gave the president the heads up through Joe Hagin, the deputy chief of staff, all the way to late in that week to get any help—water, food, et cetera—to those people who were standing there in the heat with babies that were dehydrating? 

LESTER:  Well, again, I think we need to look at there are two different issues.  There is certainly the Superdome.  That was the planned-for shelter of last resort.  Then later in the week, we found out about the Convention Center.  And that was something that was not planned for.  It wasn‘t part of anybody‘s plans that that would be a shelter of last resort.  So that took awhile to get there.

MATTHEWS:  Wasn‘t anyone watching television? 

LESTER:  Well, I‘m sure some—a lot of people were watching television, but I know down in ...

MATTHEWS:  But not Michael Brown. 

LESTER:  ... in Louisiana, they were on the ground working. 

MATTHEWS:  Was your client attuned to what was being presented to the average American during the course of this crisis? 

LESTER:  Yes, he was and I think he even talked about that today and I know he talked about it when he testified in front of the House.  He misspoke when he said on Thursday that we‘ve just learned about it today.  Now I‘ll say this.  He‘s been up 24, 48 hours, and perhaps it seemed like today, but he had found out about that on Wednesday. 

MATTHEWS:  The president mustered him out, dumped him, right, or was it the vice president?  Who fired your client, Michael Brown? 

LESTER:  Well, presumably it‘s the president. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think the Vice President was sent down to inspect his operation, then the very next day he gets bounced?  What‘s the connection? 

LESTER:  Honestly, I don‘t know.  I don‘t know.  What I do know is the word came from Secretary Chertoff to him that he was to go back to Washington. 

MATTHEWS:  The president‘s first review of Michael Brown, your client‘s work, was “you‘re doing a hell of a job, Brownie.”  Why did he say that if he didn‘t mean it? 

LESTER:  I assume he did mean it.  I assume he did and, frankly, I think he was doing a heck of a job. 

MATTHEWS:  And then what happened to change the president‘s assessment? 

LESTER:  I would tell you there was this whole series of stories in the media, first it was about my client‘s resume.  I can tell you from having known him for almost a quarter of a century that virtually all those stories were false. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, wasn‘t he in fact the—an official with the Arabian Horseracing Association? 

LESTER:  He had been, yes.  That‘s correct. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, wasn‘t that his primary occupation before he got this job? 

LESTER:  That was his previous occupation. 

MATTHEWS:  Was that an appropriate preparation for the job of being federal emergency management administrator? 

LESTER:  He—let‘s recall how he got to be the head of the agency.  He started off as the general counsel.  He‘s been a lawyer since 1981 and 1982.  His job at the Arabian Horse Association, while it was not technically a real job, what he really was was a prosecutor, an investigator and prosecutor.  He‘s been doing legal practice for a long time.  He‘s been involved in government for a long time and he was involved in emergency management. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re in the interesting area right now, law.  You‘re a lawyer, you‘re an attorney, you‘re his attorney, he‘s an attorney, right? 

LESTER:  That‘s correct. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s your combined judgment about the legality of the White House holding back e-mail traffic between he and the president‘s office? 

LESTER:  Well, I wanted to get clarification.  I think that the White House certainly has the right to claim executive privilege.  I sent a letter to the White House on Monday, requesting clarification. 

I did not want my client to be caught between these two co-equal branches of government.  He was between a rock and a hard place.  He—on the one hand, the president does have a right to claim executive privilege. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s your position? 

LESTER:  The Supreme Court said that that‘s his prerogative.

MATTHEWS:  You want these e-mails out to the public?  Will they improve the image of your client or not? 

LESTER:  Obviously, I think they will, but that‘s not his concern. 

MATTHEWS:  Are they in the interest of your client to get these e-mails out? 

LESTER:  I think it‘s in the interest of the public and that does include my client, to have all the information out.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Who‘s saying no? 

LESTER:  Well, at this point nobody is saying no. 

MATTHEWS:  Harriet Miers? 

LESTER:  At this point nobody is.

MATTHEWS:  What is your best professional estimate?  Are we going to see this communication between Michael Brown during these crisis hours with the White House or not? 

LESTER:  I—at this point, I would say yes.  He testified at length today about several of these conversations that previously he had ... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s what I don‘t get, and this is political.  It‘s not just legal.  Your client testified today that he talked to Joe Hagin, the deputy chief of staff, early on before the dikes or the levees broke, right? 

LESTER:  He was talking with those folks for days before.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  And yet the president, his chief of staff, felt he needed to present the president with a professionally produced DVD of all the television news coverage of what had been happening when the president wasn‘t watching.  If the president—the president is either on top of this thing or he‘s not.  Was it your sense he was on top of it and if so, why did he need a TV update? 

LESTER:  I can‘t speak to why he need a TV update or whether that was an aide.  Is it my perception?  Yes.  My perception is that he was on top of it, that‘s my understanding, that is my perception. 

MATTHEWS:  So he did a heck of a job? 

LESTER:  I think that he was well on top of it.  Yes, sir. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, so the president did a heck of a job.  Michael Brown did a heck of a job.  How about Michael Chertoff then at Homeland Security? 

LESTER:  I‘m not sure I could speak to that one. 

MATTHEWS:  In other words, he didn‘t do a heck of a job? 

LESTER:  No, I‘m just not sure that I‘m the right person to speak to that. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, great.

LESTER:  I‘ve never met Secretary Chertoff.  I would have a hard time doing that.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much.  Thanks for coming on.  Andy Lester, attorney for Michael Brown. 

Coming up, Vice President Dick Cheney‘s former chief of staff, Scooter Libby, says he was authorized by his superiors to leak classified information to reporters.  We‘ll talk to the attorney to one of those reporters in the CIA leak case.

And later on in the program, the HARDBALL hotshots, Rita Cosby, Tucker Carlson, Joe Scarborough, tee off on the big stories of the week.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Vice President Cheney‘s former Chief of Staff Scooter Libby told the grand jury that his superiors authorized him to leak information from an intelligence report on Iraq to the press.

Did the vice president instruct Libby to leak classified information to reporters?  And what does this latest revelation mean for Libby‘s case?

Dick Sauber is an attorney for “Time Magazine‘s” Matt Cooper, who is one of the journalists at the center of this case.

Dick, sometimes I think I will never be surprised by anything I read as a development in this story.  The vice president of the United States, we know previous to this disclosure yesterday, had told his chief of staff about the identity of Joe Wilson‘s wife, as an undercover agent for the CIA.

We know that he told his chief of staff how to deal with that very matter with the press.  Now, we know he has a habit apparently of telling his chief of staff to leak classified information.  Is this closing in as a definition of what happened here?

DICK SAUBER, MATT COOPER‘S ATTORNEY:  Well, I think the circle is coming round.  My client, Matt Cooper‘s, story at the beginning of this was war on Wilson.  And now as more and more comes out about what was really going on behind the scenes it does seem as if there was a fairly concerted effort to leak this information and address a White House critic.

MATTHEWS:  And it looks to be, based upon what we found out yesterday, that the vice president was playing hardball.  He was telling Scooter to put out this information, and we also know that one of the people he put out the information about Joe Wilson‘s wife was your client because that is on the record now.

SAUBER:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  So we know that Scooter was putting out the name of Joe Wilson‘s wife to at least two reporters.  We know that his boss had told him about the identity of that woman, right, and had advised him on how to deal with the press. 

And now we know on top of it all he told the leaked classified information.  What more does a jury need to know?  And why is the vice president still cool on this thing?  Why hasn‘t he been targeted by the prosecutor?

SAUBER:  I don‘t think that you could say that the vice president at this point is a target of the investigation.  I don‘t think that Fitzgerald is going there at all.

MATTHEWS:  Why not?  Is it political or is it legal? 

SAUBER:  There is a few things.

One, I think it is probably lawful for the president or the vice president to use classified information.

MATTHEWS:  The vice president has no executive authority.  He works for the president.  He might as well be a staffer.  The only thing the constitution gives him is the power to preside over the Senate and replace the president if that is necessary. 

What authority are you talking about?  I had never read the vice president having authority anywhere.

SAUBER:  The president clearly has the authority.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  But why did he?

SAUBER:  To the extent that the president has designated the vice president to act in these situations for him.  I think it would be a tough thing to argue.

MATTHEWS:  You mean he can tell people you can decide what to release?

SAUBER:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  He can do that?

SAUBER:  I think there is a question about whether the vice president violates the regulations when he intentionally releases.

MATTHEWS:  Can he give blanket authority to the V.P. to decide what classified information to put out?

SAUBER:  I don‘t know that you need to define it that way whether it is blanket authority.  But I think the president and the vice president are in a different situation.

What is happening though in this city is that there are several cases all dealing with whether people in the federal government have the right or the authority to release classified information if they think it is in the government‘s interest.

MATTHEWS:  Who doesn‘t have the authority to release classified information?

SAUBER:  Well, in the APEC Case there are two fellows from APEC who are now indicted.  The government officials who apparently gave them the information haven‘t been indicted.

MATTHEWS:  APEC, right?

SAUBER:  Yes, APEC.

And the question is if they are indicted for receiving the information what happened to the people who released the information?  Well, apparently they have not crossed the line.

MATTHEWS:  Could Scooter Libby use as his defense the fact that he was only obeying orders?

SAUBER:  I think that would be a mistake.  For one thing Fitzgerald will try to keep that out of the trial setting because the charge, the narrow charge, is that Scooter Libby lied in the grand jury. 

I think with a D.C. jury in federal court in this city for someone at that level to come in and say, I was only following orders, I am a little guy, I am the fall guy in the way that Oliver North tried to do.  I think that would be a mistake and would backfire.

And I think at the end of the day all we are seeing now are test drives of defense themes, and we will not see it at the trial.

MATTHEWS:  Maybe they are beginning to contradict each other.  Because until now the defense has been Scooter Libby heard about the identity of Valerie Plame, the wife of Joe Wilson, her undercover identity, from reporters.  That‘s the defendant‘s defense.

Now, we are told look at this line of information we are getting.  The vice president we know told him about her identity.  The vice president advised him how to use that information.  The vice president told him it is OK to leak.  In fact, he authorized him to leak classified information.  Either he got it from the V.P. or he got it from reporters. 

It sounds like the latest flow suggests from the V.P.

SAUBER:  The story that he got from reporters is totally inconsistent with the way these people act.  When Nick Kristoff criticized them, you know, they went out and found out where it is from.

MATTHEWS:  For a while there it looks like he was defending the V.P. 

Now it looks like he is blaming him.  Why that change?

SAUBER:  I think he is going to back off from blaming the vice president. 

MATTHEWS:  God.  This is interesting stuff here.  It is getting to the top.

Dick Sauber thank as always.

Up next, disgraced super lobbyist Jack Abramoff says he met with President Bush many times and was on a list of big-time campaign contributors invited to the Bush ranch down in Texas. 

And later the HARDBALL hot shots look at Michael Brown‘s testimony. 

Plus, if Hillary Clinton wins the White House is it two for the price of one?  Will Bill Clinton be king of the East Wing?

You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  In Washington, President Bush maintains he didn‘t know lobbyist Jack Abramoff and couldn‘t remember having pictures taken with him, and White House officials have added that photos of the men together all come from holiday parties.  But the White House still won‘t release the photos. 

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster reports. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)       

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice over):  It was two weeks ago when President Bush publicly tried to distance himself from Jack Abramoff, the Republican lobbyist who has pled guilty to conspiracy and corruption charges. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  You know, I frankly don‘t even remember having my picture taken with the guy.  I don‘t know him. 

SHUSTER:  But according to Abramoff in an email to Kim Eisler of “Washingtonian Magazine” and reported by “The Washington Post” Abramoff said that Bush, quote, “has one of the best memories of any politician I have ever met.  The guy me in almost a dozen settings and joked with me about a bunch of things, including details of my kids.”

Eisler says Abramoff was the source of his exclusive report last month that there are at least five photographs of the president and Abramoff together. 

When the story broke, White House officials said Abramoff and President Bush only interacted at holiday parties. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We acknowledge that he attended some Hanukkah receptions.

SHUSTER:  And President Bush downplayed the significance of any photographs pointing to social interactions with reporters. 

BUSH:  Having my picture taken with someone doesn‘t mean that, you know, I‘m a friend with him or know him very well.  I‘ve had my picture taken with you at holiday parties. 

SHUSTER:  But Eisler has told colleagues that none of the Abramoff-Bush photos he saw at Abramoff‘s house were from holiday parties. 

According to Eisler, one shows the president shaking hands with Abramoff at a fund-raising reception to the Corcoran Gallery of Art.  Another shows Abramoff‘s wife with Laura Bush, and another photograph allegedly shows the president with Abramoff inside the old executive office building. 

Jack Abramoff raised $100,000 for the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign, and Abramoff has told friends he was on the list of fund-raisers invited to a barbecue three years ago at the president‘s Texas ranch. 

The latest “Washington Post” poll shows 76 percent of Americans believe the president should disclose all White House contacts and photographs with Abramoff. 

But administration officials say the president‘s position has not changed. 

BUSH:  I mean, there are thousands of people that 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. 

SHUSTER:  Politics though is why the White House takes these photos to begin with. 

Four years ago the White House gave this picture of the president taken on 9-11 to the Republican National Committee so the photo could be copied and sold in a Republican campaign fund-raiser. 

The tape from Jack Abramoff, however, has also reached a top Democrat.  Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid acknowledges writing letters to help Indian tribes, and Reid‘s staff discussed gambling legislation with Abramoff‘s lobbying firm during a three year period when the firm gave Reid $68,000 in donations.

But Reid‘s office says the actions were to protect the interest of Nevada, and a spokesman said, quote, “Senator Reid never met Jack Abramoff and never has taken contributions from him.”

At the White House where Abramoff did meet President Bush, the sharp exchanges between the press corps and the press secretary continues. 

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  I think as the president also indicated, he‘s taken at least five photos with many people in this room at the annual holiday reception.  And so I think you need to put this in context. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Would he still then be saying that he does not remember meeting Abramoff on a dozen occasions? 

MCCLELLAN:  You heard directly from the president on this matter. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  But we haven‘t.  We heard him say he didn‘t know him.  We haven‘t heard—we didn‘t know there were as many meetings as this at that time. 

MCCLELLAN:  Keep going.  Go ahead. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)       

SHUSTER:  While McClellan would like the subject to change, the questions may keep coming.  A court hearing is coming up for former White House procurement official charged in the Abramoff scandal.

And even Republicans on Capitol Hill say the administration‘s refusal to detail Abramoff‘s access is leaving the impression the White House has something to hide. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David. 

Coming up, much more on the Abramoff case, the CIA leak investigation and vice-president Cheney‘s macho plan for the midterm elections. 

And later, the HARDBALL hot shots Joe Scarborough, Rita Cosby and Tucker Carlson on the hottest stories of the week. 

And this note since we featured the fine work the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund is doing last night on HARDBALL, $250,000 of additional money have been pledged by viewers like you to help build the rehabilitation center for injured veterans at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. 

Let‘s go for it now.  Let‘s do more this weekend.  For more information on the project—it‘s a great one—and how to donate, please get your credit card and numbers out now and go to www.fallenheroesfund.org.  We‘ll update the progress of the center periodically and give you a detailed look at when it it‘s completed in January of 2007.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Later in the show, Rita Cosby, Tucker Carlson and Joe Scarborough will be here for a lively discussion of some of the top topics of the week on “HARDBALL Hotshots.” 

But first, a former senior Mideast intelligence analyst at the CIA says the Bush administration cherry picked select information to bolster its case for the war in Iraq. 

NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell is with us now.  What‘s the news value of this story, Andrea? 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, this is the most senior person to leave the CIA and he is saying that there was a preconceived notion in 2002 to go to war, that it was very clear that even though the CIA did get it wrong on WMD, on chemical and biological weapons, that as Paul Pillar told our producer, Libby Lease (ph), it was very clear that the vice president was deliberately misunderstanding or misleading the intelligence on Saddam Hussein‘s nuclear weapons.  This is what Pillar just told us. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL PILLAR, FMR. SR. CIA INTELLIGENCE ANALYST:  There was a bit of a disconnect with regard to the judgments that the vice president voiced, which he said he reached the conclusion that Saddam was pretty close to getting nuclear weapons or that he would acquire those fairly soon—I think was the word—which wasn‘t really the judgment of the intelligence community, which was that he was probably still several years away. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MITCHELL:  Paul Pillar just retired after 28 years in the CIA.  He‘s been criticized by conservative critics because his postwar assessment in 2004 was leaked out of the CIA, and it was very critical. 

The bottom line here, Chris, is that they warned the White House before the war that there would be a postwar insurgency, that that was ignored, that in fact, people—we‘re not arm twisting them.

There was no politicization to that extent, but that there was subtle politics throughout because every analyst in the intelligence community knew what the White House wanted to hear and that they did shade their interpretations on aluminum tubes, on a lot of things because of that. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s a tough question I want to put you based upon—we couldn‘t hear a lot of what he said there, in fact, any of it ...

MITCHELL:  Sorry about that.

MATTHEWS:  But let me ask you, as I‘ve been reading this story, the Walter Pinkus story this morning in the “Post,” let me ask you this, did—according to Paul Pillar, the senior Near East analyst at the CIA, did the vice president dishonestly present the threat of a nuclear attack from Saddam Hussein? 

MITCHELL:  Can‘t go to his motives.  Certainly there was a disconnect, as Pillar just told us, between what Cheney was saying, what the vice president was saying, and what the intelligence was saying but you can‘t go to his motives, whether it was honest or dishonest.  It was just different. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, then what was the vice president‘s source of information about a possible nuclear threat from Saddam Hussein if it wasn‘t from the CIA? 

MITCHELL:  It did not come from the CIA.  Whether he had independent, different intelligence, no one has ever established that, but certainly what he, what Condi Rice and what others were saying was just wrong.

MATTHEWS:  OK, it‘s great having you.  Thank you for that scoop, Andrea Mitchell.

HARDBALL political analyst Bob Shrum was a Democratic strategist and Jim Gilmore, of course, was governor of nearby Virginia.  He also served as chairman of the Republican National Committee. 

Bob, this story—this Scooter Libby story—let‘s go to that one.  Scooter Libby now says the Vice President Dick Cheney, the aforementioned mentioned Dick Cheney, was the one who told him to put out classified information to the press. 

BOB SHRUM, HARDBALL POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, you know, when you hear Andrea‘s report just now, you think maybe Dick Cheney maybe go the way of Michael Brown and they ought to get rid of him, but then who would run the country? 

Look, Cheney starts off denouncing leaks day after day after day.  Then it turns out he authorized leaks.  It‘s all part of a process and a pattern here of deception.  It‘s the same kind of deception we‘ve heard about Hurricane Katrina, where the president says no one was warned that the levees had been burst or could burst. 

I mean, look, we now know why Michael Brown didn‘t return the compliment and turn to the president and say, you‘re doing a heck of a job, Bushy.  We have to get to the bottom of this, because we have a pattern of deceit here and that pattern of deceit is actually hurting this country from Iraq to Katrina, all across the board. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to a couple of questions of accountability.  We have the most powerful vice president in history, most people would recognize.  And here we have the vice president accused of cherry picking, of building a case for war with Iraq based on the nuclear technology available to Saddam Hussein, and it turns out that the top CIA guy for the whole area, the Near East, says there wasn‘t a case there.  He made it up. 

JAMES GILMORE ®, FMR. VIRGINIA GOVERNOR:  Well, here‘s a guy that comes along we have not heard from before.  We have had intelligence people come forward and explain to exactly what was going on.  Here‘s my point. 

My point is, that if the CIA was not giving good information to the president, to the White House, and to the vice president, that‘s a character problem, and it‘s a professionalism problem and I think you have got to look over at the CIA, which is probably, by the way, why Porter Goss went over there in the first place. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, yes, but you‘re suggesting that they were bent, they were pushed around to the point where they said what the president wanted them to say. 

GILMORE:  Well, you know, their responsibility is to give the president good information.  That‘s why the CIA is there.  That‘s what they were supposed to do, so if this fellow who we never heard of before is coming forward now and pointing the finger elsewhere, maybe he ought to be looking in the mirror. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, one guy we have heard from before is Scooter Libby, the chief of staff to the vice president.  He‘s pointing the finger at the vice president, according to the papers coming out of the prosecutors office, and saying it was the veep who told him to leak classified information.  What do you make of that?

GILMORE:  Well, you know, I don‘t know about the classified information piece of it because I just don‘t have those fact, but I know this.  The story that‘s been out there all along has been that they believe that, in fact, there had been an attack on the credibility of the decision making process, that they believed in good faith that there was a problem in Iraq that had to be addressed with weapons of mass destruction.

The attack was on that credibility of that and they felt like they had to defend themselves and try to square the record and that‘s what they were about the business of doing. 

MATTHEWS:  Bob? 

SHRUM:  Well, look, first of all, this is a very well-known person inside the intelligence community, a longtime veteran, as Andrea said, of the CIA.  Secondly, he says that there was a report—and we now know publicly there was a report—warning of an insurgency after the war, which the White House chose to ignore.

And Andrea Mitchell is very polite and she says we don‘t know where the vice president got this information, he didn‘t get it from the CIA.  I think what we had here was a Cheney intelligence agency. 

And it had predetermined that we were going to go to war with Iraq, that we were going to find a rationale to go to war with Iraq and I think that has done enormous harm to this country and to the credibility of this administration.  This administration doesn‘t have a credibility gap now.  Whatever the issue, it has a credibility chasm. 

MATTHEWS:  Governor? 

GILMORE:  They had a responsibility to make the decision based upon the best evidence that they had, the information that they had, and then they had to assess that and they had to make a decision, and you got that information ...

SHRUM:  But, Governor, they were manipulating it, they were pushing

GILMORE:  Wait a minute, Bob.  Wait a minute.  Whoa.  Whoa.

SHRUM:  But they were pushing these guys to give them that information. 

MATTHEWS:  Just a minute.  Let‘s let the governor speak. 

GILMORE:  Yes, I don‘t know if they were pushing them or not, but I know this.  I know that the CIA had an obligation to not get pushed.  That‘s the whole point of the CIA and that‘s the whole objective of DIA and the other intelligence gathering information as well.

And the point, Bob, is, as I think we know, is that executive people have got to take all that information and then make the best policy judgment that they can make based upon the facts and the information.  Now, you know, I don‘t know ...

SHRUM:  Governor ...

GILMORE:  ... if it was a good decision to go into Iraq or not, but I know this, that they were trying to make decisions based upon the best information that the people who were being paid to do this was giving them. 

MATTHEWS:  Bob, isn‘t one of the problems that the Democratic Party led by John Kerry accepted the same intel that Cheney seems to have accepted? 

SHRUM:  Well, but they didn‘t see the intel.  What they heard—no, what they saw were conclusions, summarized in two or three pages.  They saw none of the raw data.  They didn‘t know that some of these sources, for example, went right back to Ahmad Chalabi, who was entirely unreliable.

And I‘m hoping that Jim or the Republicans will come up for a better defense for this administration then while the vice president did pressure them, did manipulate them, they should have stood their ground anyway.  That doesn‘t speak very well for the vice president of the United States. 

GILMORE:  No, I‘m assuming that.  I don‘t know that that‘s what the president was doing.  You have got one guy here who has come out and he said something like I don‘t know whether the vice president was doing that or not, but I know this.  I know if I‘m vice president or I‘m president of the United States, I expect the people that are responsible and sworn to do the job to do the job.

MATTHEWS:  By the way, the big story developing here, and that CIA person, Paul Pillar, who reported—we just heard from Andrea Mitchell‘s piece.  The big story I think is not just that the intel was cherry picked but, quote, “The Iraq-al Qaeda connection was manufactured by the administration.”  That‘s his charge.  We‘ll see how well it holds up. 

Thank you Bob Shrum. 

Thank you Governor Gilmore.

When we return it‘s the “HARDBALL Hot Shots.”  Left wing groups or rather center left groups launch a brutal new campaign against the president. 

Plus, if Hillary Clinton wins the White House, are we once again getting two for the price of one?  Don‘t miss it.  You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

It‘s time for our special Friday feature.  “HARDBALL Hot Shots” with my MSNBC colleagues, Joe Scarborough, Rita Cosby, Tucker Carlson get ready to nail the winners and the losers, the heroes and the villains, the brilliants and the buffoonery from the past week.  Let‘s do it.

Brownie storms Washington in a week rife with rebellion with Scooter Libby blaming Cheney in the CIA leak case and Jack Abramoff publicly disputing the president comes another Washington episode of blame the boss. 

Former FEMA head Michael Brown undercut his bosses today for saying they didn‘t know the severity of Katrina. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)     

MICHAEL BROWN, FMR. FEMA DIRECTOR:  So for them to now claim that we didn‘t have awareness of it I think is just bologna. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)     

MATTHEWS:  Rita, Rita Cosby, Joe Lieberman, the Senator for Connecticut, cited you, Rita Cosby, when he grilled Michael Brown today.  What do you think is going to come out of this?  Is the president going to take some of this blame now?  Or is it still all Brownie, you‘re not doing a heck of a job? 

RITA COSBY, HOST, “LIVE AND DIRECT”:  Well, I think there‘s a lot of blame to go all the way around, and I think when people look at Michael Brown they say look at the mirror. 

I mean all of us covered Hurricane Katrina in some shape or form.  I didn‘t see a FEMA helicopter or a FEMA car or anything until I think it was like the last day I was there that was after like two or three weeks.

So I think a lot of people take a lot of his criticism with a grain of salt.  I do think it is exposing one of the things that early on we talked about this creation of the Department of Homeland Security.  Is it creating a bigger bureaucracy or is it streamlining the process?

It does bring up that issue.  But to point the finger at Michael Chertoff when there‘s a lot of blame that can go within himself I think that is just foolish. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask Tucker.  Is Michael Brown going to remain the Mrs. O‘Leary‘s cow of this episode? 

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “THE SITUATION”:  The second he was blown off by the Bush...

MATTHEWS:  Tucker? 

CARLSON:  Yes, can you hear me. 

The second Michael Brown was blown off by the Bush administration after Katrina and essentially fired, made to leave, this occurred to me, do you really...

MATTHEWS: Let me go right now to Joe Scarborough.  We‘re having problems with Tucker. 

Joe, is Michael Brown still going to be the real Mrs. O‘Leary‘s cow in this affair, the one blamed for the mistakes? 

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, “SCARBOROUGH COUNTY”:  Not if you agree with Harry Truman that the buck stops in the Oval Office.  Rita was talking about going over the storm zone, as I think you know, Chris, I was over there the morning after it hit.  And I went over there every day for the next three weeks. 

And, you know, I never saw a National Guardsman there for two weeks.  You had FEMA failing, but you also had the local authorities in New Orleans and Mississippi failing.  You had, you know, the federal government failing. 

And in the end, it all goes to the president of the United States.  The president was responsible for the federal response just like Haley Barber was responsible for the state response in Mississippi and Blanco in Louisiana. 

There is no way ten years from now people are going to remember Michael Brown.  He will be a footnote.  It will be the governor‘s fault and the president‘s fault. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree with you.  And the only winner coming out of it probably is Haley Barber. 

Anyway, next up two for the price of one, again.  It‘s rare to see a Hollywood movie star with an unscripted line.  It‘s even rarer to see a politician in an unplanned moment. 

This week‘s funeral for Coretta Scott King featured not one but two Clintons at the same lectern at the same time.  Bill Clinton said he was honored to be there with his current and former presidents putting the spotlight on a possible future president, Hillary Rodham Clinton. 

Could it be that a Hillary presidency might also be another Bill presidency?  Remember this from the ‘92 campaign? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)     

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It sound like we will be getting two presidents for the price of one if you‘re elected. 

BILL CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Well, you can‘t say that now because it makes people nervous, but at home voters often say to me we got two for the price of one.  And they like it.  I mean, the people that know my wife always thought that, you know, one of the best things about me was that we were there together. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)     

MATTHEWS:  Tucker, that was interesting staging this week at the funeral where they stood side by side and in a kind of an equal pose.  Is it working? 

CARLSON:  It was a clever remark by the former president.  I mean, it was so non-explicit, and yet it was explicit.  I mean, you know, you have to give him credit for perfect phrasing. 

There are two problems.  One, nobody I‘m aware of Bill Clinton has endorsed since leaving the White House has ever won anything.  You know, that may not be his fault.  He‘s obviously this brilliant politician, but his endorsement has been the kiss of death.  I mean, I won‘t bother with the list.  You‘re familiar with it.  Every one of them has lost. 

Second, does she look better by his side or worse?  It‘s an interesting question.  He is this—she‘s charming, absolutely more charming in person than she appears on TV.  But she‘s no Bill Clinton, and I think that becomes more obvious when she‘s standing next to him. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you agree with that, Rita, that Bill Clinton I think was at his best at that funeral?  He was wonderful talking about Coretta Scott King being a real woman not just a symbol.  And he was just great talking about the kids and what they were thinking, how he was thinking when his mother died.  It was so human.

And then Hillary came on like she was reading lines even though she did not have a script.

COSBY:  You know, I think you hit it right on the head.  I think that there is a plus and a minus to this double Clinton.  The plus is I think he softens her.  I mean, even, you know, the adversaries—Trent Lott used to tell me that he would hate Bill Clinton, and then he would go up and meet him at the White House.  And then suddenly he liked this guy.

There is something very affable about Bill Clinton.  So I think he puts the human touch and definitely softens here.

On the flip side, when Bill Clinton got up, as you point out, Chris, he does this beautiful eloquent speech never really looked at this notes.  And then she got up and looked like she was glued to her notes.  So I think it is a plus and a minus. 

The one thing is, if it is a future White House, you know he‘s not going to be decorating the White House like Jackie O.  This is not going to be like a backup—a backup number two.

MATTHEWS:  Joe, is two for the price of one a good deal? 

SCARBOROUGH:  I don‘t know.  You know, the thing is about Hillary Clinton, she is—and just to follow up on what Rita said, she‘s a very interesting person.  You know, conservatives love to hate her from a distance.  I can tell you when I met her, she was a very charming person.  Her husband, of course, extraordinarily charming, but there is a shrillness in Hillary that comes out on TV whenever she gets excited about something.  We saw it this week when she was talking about the war on terror.  We saw it of course when she was talking at the MLK rally at the church on Martin Luther King Day, and I remember that speech in Iowa she gave about a year ago at the Jackson Jefferson dinner, where she was marching around, and every time her voice goes up, she gets very shrill, very un-Clinton-like, if you‘re talking about Bill Clinton, and she just doesn‘t translate the way her husband does. 

She doesn‘t compare favorably when she‘s standing next to him, and I think that will hurt her in the long run. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be back with more of the HARDBALL hotshots.  “Dateline” sets up a new sting to nab sex predators.  You‘re watching HARDBALL hotshots.  Joe is going to talk about that, only on HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL hotshots.  Next up, deja vu all over again.  While Democrats scramble to put together a unified message, one group is going for Bush‘s jugular.  Let‘s take a look at a brutal new ad from the liberal left group moveon.org. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Clinging to national security, Richard Nixon illegally wiretapped innocent Americans. 

RICHARD NIXON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We put a law in place to protect innocent Americans, allowing the president to wiretap for national security, but requiring court approval within days. 

George Bush is breaking that law. 

Are you having trouble telling these men apart?  We had a special prosecutor then.  We need a special prosecutor now. 

Moveon.org Political Action is responsible for the content of this advertisement. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  The Republican National Committee has not issued a response to this ad.  Joe, what‘s yours? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, I mean, you know, Moveon.org is a far left organization.  They usually hurt mainstream Democrats, certainly usually hurt them in middle America.  However, I don‘t think it is a bad political idea to try to morph George W. Bush with Richard Nixon.  There are a lot of younger voters, a lot of independent voters, a lot of moderate Republicans, that if you can get that picture of those two presidents in their minds when they go to vote in 2006, they may pull the lever for the Democratic Party.  I don‘t think it‘s fair, but then again, a lot of things in politics aren‘t. 

MATTHEWS:  Rita, it‘s interesting, both sides think they‘re winning on this.  The Republicans I think do have a view, I think the president and Karl Rove do, that this is a winner.  It shows they are tough on defending the country.  Meanwhile, the liberals, the liberal left keeps pushing this baby.  How can they both be right? 

COSBY:  Well, I think they‘re preaching to the choir.  I mean, if you look at this ad, what it‘s doing is those folks on the far left, i.e. the Mike Moore types, this is fueling them, but I think it is also creating a backlash, and people are saying look how extreme this is. 

I don‘t think it is going to change anybody‘s mind.  I sort of disagree with Joe.  I think people in the mainstream are sort of going to look at this and go, you know, that‘s a little ultra extreme, that‘s a little awkward, that‘s a little bit of a stretch.  I think those people who hate Bush and feel like he‘s a crook, it just enforces their view.  Those people who feel (INAUDIBLE) kind of blow it of. 

MATTHEWS:  I guess they (INAUDIBLE) Richard Nixon to kick around.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go right now, up next, busted.  “Dateline NBC” launched another successful investigation to expose sexual predators.  Here‘s “Dateline‘s” Chris Hansen with one of their sting operations. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS HANSEN, NBC (voice-over):  And here he is, KinkyManinCorona walking up our driveway, looking to meet BubbleBath face to face. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  (INAUDIBLE), I‘ll be right out, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  OK.

HANSEN:  We did background research on him, and learned he‘s really 43-year-old Walter Edward Bapst (ph), a married man with children.  Remember, he has no idea he‘s being recorded by our hidden cameras. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What are you doing here? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Getting my ass kicked. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Getting your ass kicked?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yeah.  I knew it.  I knew it was a setup. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I need you to sit down. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I need you to just arrest me, take me to jail and execute me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I need to talk to you first. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Because you know what?  I didn‘t bring anything. 

I didn‘t want to do anything. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, why did you come here?  Help me understand. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m a sick son of a bitch.  I‘ve never done this before.  I talked about it online all the time, but I have never done anything with anybody except my wife.  Ever. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What are you doing here on a Saturday morning coming into a house where you believe a 12- or 13-year-old kid is home alone with no parents here?  Do you have kids? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.  Yes.  

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How would you feel if some guy...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I would...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... walked into your house trying to hook up with your kids?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘d feel pissed. 

HANSEN:  And you‘ll never guess what this man does for a living. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m in education. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You‘re in education. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A teacher? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Uh-huh. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What grade do you teach? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  High school. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  High school.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Tucker, this is pretty graphic stuff.  I‘m amazed it‘s legal to sting these people like this. 

CARLSON:  It‘s the most compelling television ever made.  Chris Hansen is like the greatest inquisitor ever.

Two things that blow me away.  Why are they answering his questions? 

Why do they, you know, indict themselves in this interview?  It‘s

unbelievable.  And second, there was a guy in the second “Dateline” sting,

who walked by the house, saw the cops out front, and went in anyway.  It‘s

a measure, as if we needed one, of the compulsion behind this.  This is not

these are not people who are sort of, you know, oh, yes, I‘ll have sex with a child.  These are people whose lives are organized around the idea of having sex with children.  I mean, they are really—they are just addicts. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s funny, because you‘re told by your parents, don‘t admit any blame in a car accident, just keep quiet, and here are these guys are admitting they are there for the kid.  It‘s unbelievable.  Great, graphic TV.  It is not happy news, but it is news. 

Anyway, thank you, Joe Scarborough, Rita Cosby, Tucker Carlson, the hot shots.

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   

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