updated 2/15/2006 11:47:25 AM ET 2006-02-15T16:47:25

Guest: Jim VandeHei, Bernadine Healy, Dee Dee Myers, David Gergen, Bob Shrum, Ron Christie, Bill Maher

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Tonight, who‘s the boss?  The vice president shot a man in a hunting incidents on Saturday, Cheney‘s shotgun pellet remains lodged in the man‘s heart.  Three days later does the vice president owe a word of explanation to the American people?  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  A very serious development in the vice president‘s shooting case.  Doctors in Texas say the man Cheney shot sustained an injury to his heart from the birdshot blast. 

Harry Whittington is listed in stable condition.  We‘ll have more on his medical situation in a moment.  Meanwhile, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said nothing about the heart injury at today‘s briefing.  He now says he knew the injury was more serious, but it was not his place to report it. 

McClellan faced a tough day from a fired up press corps.  The big questions still linger, why wasn‘t the country informed immediately after the shooting, why did it take Katherine Armstrong, a private citizen and lobbyist, to tell the local press that the vice-president of the United States had shot someone, and why didn‘t Cheney phone the president and tell him what had happened?  What does this stay about Cheney‘s respect for his office and his boss, the president.  Who holds the vice-president accountable?  Who is that person?  More on this is in a moment. 

Later, we‘ll talk to Bill Maher, host of HBO‘s “Real Time With Bill Maher.”  But first, does Vice President Cheney owe the public an explanation about what happened in his hunting accident.  HARDBALL‘s David Shuster with this report. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  On a day when his victim took a turn for the worse, Vice-President Cheney arrived at the White House and stayed away from the cameras.  In Texas, doctors stepped up to the cameras and microphones and disclosed that Harry Whittington, peppered with birdshot pellets, has now developed serious complications. 

PETER BANKO, CHRISTUS SPOHN HOSPITAL:  Some of the birdshot appears to have moved and lodged into a part of his heart, causing atrial fib and what we would say is a minor heart attack. 

SHUSTER:  It‘s been more than 72 hours since the shooting and other than a Cheney press release updating Whittington‘s condition and offering prayers and this earlier press release saying “The vice president has sent a $7 check to cover the cost of the missing bird hunting stamp,” the vice-president and his staff have publicly said nothing. 

But the president‘s spokesman seems to think the vice-president‘s office has done enough. 

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Well I think what happened has been explained.  The vice-president‘s office has talked about it, I‘ve talked about it, and I represent the president, speak for him.  The vice-president‘s spokeswoman speaks for him as well, so that information has been provided. 

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  But don‘t tell me that you‘re giving us complete answers when you‘re not actually answering the questions, because everybody knows what is an answer and what is not an answer.  Is it appropriate for the vice-president to have waited 14 hours after the incidents before he spoke with local law enforcement officials and do you think that an average citizen would have been accorded that same amount of time before having to answer questions about a shooting incident? 

MCCLELLAN:  That was what was arranged with the local law enforcement authorities.  You ought to ask them that question. 

SHUSTER:  Throughout his term in office, Mr. Cheney has often resisted the release of information.  There was his refusal to release documents from a secret energy task force comprised only of industry representatives and there was Cheney‘s reluctance to share prewar intelligence information  about Iraq. 

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Some of this clearly comes from very sensitive sources and we have to be very careful to try to protect those sources. 

SHUSTER:  Cheney has also taken direct shots at the media. 

CHENEY:  The press is with all due respect, there are exceptions, oftentimes lazy, oftentimes simply reports what somebody else in the press without doing their homework. 

SHUSTER:  In the 2000 presidential campaign with a microphone still on, Cheney wholeheartedly agreed with then-Governor Bush‘s assessments of one reporter. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  He‘s a major league asshole.

CHENEY:  Big time.

SHUSTER:  “Big Time” became Cheney‘s nickname on the campaign and it suited him just fine, but Cheney‘s relationship with the press has become even more contentious since the lead up to the Iraq war.  For example, the vice-president claimed a link between Iraq and a 9/11 hijacker and then went back on his public record after the war started and The 9/11 Commission refuted the claim. 

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN:  You have said in the past that it was pretty well confirmed. 

CHENEY:  No, I never said that. 

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN:  OK.  I think that is—

CHENEY:  That is absolutely not right. 

(on Meet the Press):  It‘s been pretty well confirmed that he did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior official of the Iraqi intelligence service. 

SHUSTER:  The biggest controversy surrounding Vice-President Cheney and the one with the most unanswered questions involves the indictment of Cheney‘s chief of staff, Scooter Libby.  Libby stands accused of lying to investigators probing the White House leak of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Wilson, wife of Cheney critic, Joe Wilson. 

In September, 2003, on Meet the Press—

CHENEY:  I don‘t know Joe Wilson.  I‘ve never met Joe Wilson. 

SHUSTER:  The vice-president left the impression he knew nothing about Wilson or his trip to Africa. 

CHENEY:  And Joe Wilson, I don‘t know who sent Joe Wilson. 

SHUSTER:  But the Libby indictment says it was Vice President Cheney who told Libby that Wilson‘s wife worked at the CIA.  A month later, according to the indictment, the vice president advised Libby what to say about Wilson to reporters.

(on camera):  All of this has made Vice President Cheney a target for those who see a lack of accountability.  In any case, the silence from Mr.  Cheney‘s office continues and the vice-president‘s reputation is now being damaged not by a policy decision, speech, or interview, but by a hunting accident the vice-president still refuses to discuss. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.  We‘re joined right now by The Washington Post‘s Jim VandeHei who has attended these White House press briefings and they‘ve been getting pretty hot. 

Let me ask you, Jim, about the reporting relationship between the president and the vice-president.  The president spent now three months trying to restore his popularity in the country, back when he was at the bottom, back in November, he was at 39 percent approval.  He‘s back down there now, back in the basement again of public opinion. 

Does he need this carry-on vice-president story to go on another week or so?  He‘ll be down to 20 percent, won‘t he? 

JIM VANDEHEI, THE WASHINGTON POST:  Yes, he would be, and I think it‘s not good and there‘s a lot of people in the White House that are really shaking their head, wondering why Dick Cheney has handled this whole episode the way he has.  But I think that‘s what‘s most amazing about this entire episode is that you don‘t have the White House basically going over and telling Cheney, listen, you‘ve got to apologize, you‘ve got to get the details out there and get this thing behind us, it‘s a distraction, we want to talk about health care today and tomorrow and all anybody in the media is talking about is your hunting accident. 

MATTHEWS:  But the thing is they‘re so different in the way they behave.  Just watching this, everybody knows what I‘m talking about right now, this is a fair assessment.  If the president accidentally shot somebody in some shooting incident, we know by Sunday morning, he would have been on television explaining it, embarrassed, probably feeling very bad, worried about the person he shot, but it would have been a very human reaction, right? 

VANDEHEI:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  If he‘s the boss, why can‘t he make the vice-president behave like he would behave? 

VANDEHEI:  My understanding is because the vice-president is so set in his ways and for the president to impose sort of his view of being more image conscious on the vice-president really isn‘t worth his time, because the vice-president has made it clear how he wants to handle the press and how he wants to handle his image. 

The president took Cheney on in the first place because he‘s so secretive and because he doesn‘t have any political ambitions and he‘s not worried about how you and I view him.  He‘s worried about doing what he can for the president.  You‘re right, the president is more image conscious than the vice president.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s not just about PR and cosmetics, it‘s about whether he can lead the country when you have this strange behavior going on.  It‘s now Tuesday, the vice-president has yet—forget the press room—he has get to speak to the American people and explain this incident.  Why doesn‘t he tell the American people?  They‘re the ones I would worry about if I was him.  They are elected officials.

VANDEHEI:  He doesn‘t felt like he has to.  He‘s never going to come out publicly and talk about this.  In your clip before, you‘ve shown, he shows he has absolute disdain for the media, particularly the national media, he doesn‘t give a hill of beans what you and I think about him, so he‘s going to handle this the way he wants to handle it. 

He feels like listen, I didn‘t do anything wrong, I‘ve accidentally shot this guy, I called him, I‘ve apologized to him and the rest of you  it‘s none of your business. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you what you have been able to figure out about the White House mechanics.  Scott McClellan, I met him at one of those Christmas parties, but he seems like more a victim of this thing than a perpetrator.  Does he any control over the vice-president‘s press relations? 

VANDEHEI:  None.  I think they kept him out of the loop on this, at least until Sunday morning which is not unusual.  This White House operates as a virtual oligarchy, there‘s a few people at the top, Rove, Card, Bush, and then Cheney, whoever his right hand man at the time it is, it used to be Libby, and they‘re the ones making the decision.  They don‘t bring the press into the loop and that‘s why you saw yesterday it was subtle but it was pretty clear to me that McClellan is very frustrated because he doesn‘t think they handled it the right way. 

MATTHEWS:  Karl Rove as I understand it, according to the reporting we‘ve all put together here, Karl Rove had to call down to Katherine Armstrong, the host of—hostess of this affair down in Texas, this hunting party, to find out from her what had happened and that was after the White House had gotten it mixed up, some accident, somebody was shot, we don‘t know who did it kind of reporting. 

VANDEHEI:  That was at 8:00 p.m. on Saturday.  When Rove knew about it why didn‘t he put McClellan in the loop, or why didn‘t he bring the rest of the communication team into the loop?  They didn‘t feel like they had to disclose this information, they felt comfortable letting Cheney take charge and wait until the next day.  Remember, it wasn‘t that Cheney made the decision that we‘re going to release this on Sunday morning.  It was the ranch owner who was sitting there with her family thinking, OK we‘d better get this out there. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s interesting today that we find out that the man who was shot, Mr. Whittington, has one of the pellets lodged in his heart and that‘s serious business, everybody knows that.  And the fact that his press secretary, Scott McClellan never mentioned that at the press conference today. 

VANDEHEI:  It was kind of amazing, because it‘s clear that the White House did know about it a couple hours before McClellan went on camera.  I have not been able to talk to Scott yet to figure out why, if they felt that this was a privacy issue that they wanted announced publicly before they started talking about it, but there was a different tone from the White House today. 

They weren‘t answering my questions.  They‘re saying, very reminiscent of the Lewinsky scandal, they‘re saying the public doesn‘t care about this so we‘re not going to deal with it anymore.  You guys can obsess.  We‘re not going to. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m looking at the polls and the people are paying attention to this story.  Thank you very much, Jim VandeHei.  Great reporter from “The Washington Post.”

As we heard, the hunter accidentally shot by the vice president sustained a heart injury from the shotgun pellets.  Dr. David Blanchard, medical director of the hospital emergency room where Whittington, that‘s the gentleman who was shot, is being treated described it this way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. DAVID BLANCHARD, CHRISTUS SPOHN HOSPITAL:  The B.B. basically has lodged in a certain area causing inflammatory changes.  When that occurs, there is irritability to the heart muscle, because the heart is a muscle and it recognizes that there‘s a foreign body there and as a result, the chambers of the heart, the two top chambers, not the bottom, were beating irregularly.  It‘s basically like an electrical short circuit called atrial fibrillation.  It is easily treated with medications.  It‘s a non-surgical type of a condition.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s bring in MSNBC analyst and former director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Bernadine Healy.  Describe the medical condition of this fellow.

DR. BERNADINE HEALY, FORMER DIRECTOR, NIH:  Well, I think it‘s quite serious.  I think one of my concerns, speaking strictly as a physician and thinking about a patient here, is that there‘s no attempt to make this trivial, because we don‘t want to think that a bad thing happened.

This is not trivial, to have shrapnel, to have a B.B. in your heart and they don‘t know exactly where it is, but it‘s lodged in the heart and it is causing arrhythmias is a serious matter.  And the story is not fully told on that. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the treatment?

HEALY:  Well I mean, I think there is a consideration and I suspect it should be looked at over the next several weeks as to whether or not they need to extract it from the heart, which means they might have to do a minor cardiac surgical procedure to pull that pellet out if it‘s on the surface of the heart. 

Now if it‘s deeply embedded in the heart, they probably wouldn‘t want to do that.  They‘d have to probably do too much major surgery, but these are all considerations they are going to have to evolve as they follow this patient.  But it is a serious condition, Chris, I guess my concern is that it‘s not being portrayed as that.

MATTHEWS:  We‘re getting a lot of reports from the hospital that the guy‘s hale and hearty and telling jokes and sort of towel snapping and all these images.  Are they consistent with what you‘re looking at here?

HEALY:  Well I think that someone is hale and hearty and feels well.  He‘s 78 however and people say he has a perfectly normal heart.  Well you don‘t have a normal heart when you have a piece of—a B.B. in it, when you have a shotgun pellet in it. 

And I think one of the concerns there and this has been mentioned repeatedly is that these things can migrate, so it may be in a benign position but it could move close to a coronary artery, it could perforate the heart.  There are a number of considerations and what is particularly difficult is that it‘s not easy to pinpoint the precise place it is in the heart, Chris.  And that‘s important.

MATTHEWS:  Is this trickier than a clot?

HEALY:  Oh, yes.  And actually we know how to treat heart attacks.  This is not a heart attack.  This is an unusual kind of penetrating cardiac trauma.  We don‘t exactly know where it is, we don‘t know where it‘s lodged.  We don‘t know what‘s ahead for this patient, so this is much more challenging a case.

MATTHEWS:  Why do the people down there in Texas keep calling it a heart attack as if it was something induced by a psychological or physiological trauma, when it was caused particularly by this gunshot?

HEALY:  Well they‘re calling it a heart attack probably because there‘s been myocardial injury.  But this is not the heart attack that the public thinks about, the coronary occlusion.  This is cardiac trauma and it‘s serious.

MATTHEWS:  And you think that‘s bad advertising to call it a heart attack? 

HEALY:  I think it‘s not precise.  It could be misleading.

MATTHEWS:  I think it‘s misleading.  It suggests he‘s a fragile man and this shock him up and there was shock led to this.  Instead the bullet led to this.

Anyway, thank you Dr. Bernadine Healy.  Coming up, much more on Dick Cheney‘s hunting incident with former Clinton White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers and former presidential adviser David Gergen.  The big question is why the lid on this story?  Just how close were disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and President Bush?  That‘s another question looming out there.  And later, one of the sharpest political comedians in the country, HBO‘s Bill Maher is going to be with us.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCLELLAN:  I think that if you have additional questions relating to this matter, that you should direct them to the vice president‘s office—the vice president‘s office has talked about it—with his office for specifics—check with his office.  Again, this was handled by the vice president‘s office—I‘d check with his office.  I think if you‘ve got specifics about this, probably direct them to the vice president‘s office.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan faced more tough questions at the podium today about why he won‘t answer questions about the vice president‘s accidental shooting of his hunting companion.

Dee Dee Myers was the White House press secretary in the Clinton administration, David Gergen was an adviser to four presidents, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Clinton.  Thank you both for joining us.

This is a press secretary‘s conundrum, Dee Dee, and also for David.  Let me ask you how you would have handled this, Dee Dee. The vice president of the United States, in your case, Al Gore, shoots somebody in a hunting accident on a Saturday evening, what would—how would you have handled this so it wouldn‘t be a four-day story or maybe a 10-day story, for all we know?

DEE DEE MYERS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Well, with the wisdom of hindsight and the fallacy of a perfect world, what you would do hopefully is spring into action very quickly.  You would get the vice president—hopefully someone from either the vice president himself or someone very high up in his staff would call the press secretary and begin the process of ascertaining the facts.

That would take a series of calls to the hospital, to the woman, Mrs.  Armstrong, who owns the ranch, to anybody else that was there on the ground and then quickly as possible, put out a statement to the press with a blow by blow of what happened, how it happened, what exactly happened on the ground, what did the vice president do?

And then have somebody prepared to answer questions, probably on Sunday, to put this thing to rest.  It was very clear from the minute this happened, it was going to become public.  There were just too many people who were going to come in contact with it, both on the ranch, at the hospital, through the police department.  It‘s insane that they allowed Mrs. Armstrong, the ranch owner, to be the person that put it out to the public. 

MATTHEWS:  And that‘s what they did.  David Gergen, when it doubt, put it out?

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ADVISER:  Absolutely.  You know, I think this is a very, very unfortunate episode, because it‘s so clear that the underlying facts appear to be total accident, accidents happen in hunting.  But nonetheless, the White House including the vice president‘s office made a hash of the aftermath.  They flunked damage control 101.  If you have a problem, get it out and get it out quickly, because otherwise suspicions grow about the underlying issues.

MATTHEWS:  Why did the vice president behave the way he did?  He knows everything we know, he could have heard this speech in his head 20, 30 years ago.  He knows the rules, David, he knows the business, as well as you or I or Dee Dee or anyone else knows the business.  It‘s about public relations, it‘s about public responsibility.  Why do you believe he chose not to follow the rules?

GERGEN:  I don‘t know, and I think the next step in this drama is that he‘s going to have to answer questions himself.  This is not going to go away until two things happen.  One, the vice president sits down or stands up with reporters, answers the questions, says what he has to say about it.  And secondly, Mr. Whittington comes out of the hospital.  Now he had this setback today, so we‘ll have to see, but I think both of those things have to happen before this story‘s going to die out now.

MATTHEWS:  Dee Dee?

MYERS:  I agree with David on that.  I think one of the reasons that you want to put this out is to avoid exactly what‘s happened, which is this went from being a story about an unfortunate accident on the vice president‘s personal time to being a story about who‘s in charge at the White House.  Why is it that Karl Rove and others at the White House knew, 8:00 Saturday night that this had happened and nobody could call the vice president and say look, Mr. Vice President, we understand you really hate the media and don‘t think you have any obligation to talk to them, we disagree and you need to put the larger concerns of this administration and this White House and your president ahead. 

MATTHEWS:  Does he hate the president too?  I mean that dead seriously.  Here‘s the question.  You can answer this first, David.  Here‘s the question. 

The vice-president of the United States does in this administration, this form of government, even though it‘s all sort of extra-Constitutional, report to the president.  The president had to wait until Monday to hear from the vice-president.  Why didn‘t the vice-president get on the phone and tell President Bush, the man who put him in this position, tell him what happened?  It seems to be reasonable protocol for the boss to know from the employee what happened. 

GERGEN:  Listen, I couldn‘t agree more with that.  You don‘t—you don‘t embarrass your boss.  And in this situation, I would think there would be a few people, including the president, who might be annoyed.  But Karl Rove was on top of this.  He could have—there may have been legitimate.  Let‘s give the vice-president the benefit of the doubt.  There may have been legitimate concerns about the privacy of the Armstrong family and the privacy of the Whittington family, but this is also the vice-president of the United States.

The White House has to say, dear families, we have an overriding concern, I‘m sure you will agree with this, we‘re going tonight to get this out. 

MYERS:  David, I think the fact that Mrs. Armstrong was the one who wanted to put it out and felt an obligation to put it out suggests she didn‘t feel that her privacy was being violated. 

GERGEN:  That‘s a good point. 

MATTHEWS:  She took the initiative.  I tried that formulation by everybody to get this clear and everybody at home has to think about this.  If the vice-president had been the victim, the circumstances just been reversed, he was shot accidentally by another fellow, we would have known about it in this country. 

It would have been breaking news around the country within a couple of minutes, the president would have been on the phone with Dick Cheney, talking to him on the hospital.  The public would have been known immediately, the police would have been rounding up witnesses and talking to them immediately.  Why wasn‘t this treated like that?  Why does the vice-president get this special treatment when he‘s the shooter? 

MYERS:  I think it‘s a good question, Chris.  I don‘t think there‘s a good answer to that and I think that‘s one of the reasons that this story has the intensity that it does.  There‘s no good explanation for why the vice-president behaved the way he did and again, the question that it brings up is who is in charge of this administration, is there nobody that can bring the vice-president to heel?  I know—

MYERS:  I don‘t understand—I agree Dee Dee.  Why didn‘t they say to the vice-president, get Dicky on the phone?  Why doesn‘t the president say get Dick on the phone, I want to talk to him?  Why doesn‘t the president talk like that.  Every boss I‘ve known—remember “The Godfather,” the boss wants bad news immediately. 

GERGEN:  Look, they all tip toe around this vice-president, we know that.  Why the president didn‘t jump on it, I don‘t know.  I mean, after all, that‘s also an additional mystery, but you know what‘s happened to this administration is so often is their competence is being called into question.  It‘s not their goodwill necessarily it‘s their competence and that‘s raising questions—

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  By the way, it‘s not just the people around the president who are tiptoeing.  I don‘t know about you David and Dee Dee, but you‘re press experts and I don‘t know if you were shocked like I was, this was bottom of the fold in The New York Times and The Washington Post yesterday.  I talked to experts, they can‘t believe the papers treated this as such a light issue. 

It only moved up to the top of the fold, front page in both of those journals today.  I find that interesting, I want to talk to you about it when we come back.  Has the press been playing this down? 

We‘ll be back with Dee Dee and David.  Later in the show, the host of HBO‘s “Realtime,” Bill Maher.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with former Clinton White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers and former presidential adviser David Gergen, talking about the political ramifications of Vice President Dick Cheney‘s shooting incidents and his delay in reporting it to the country. 

Dee Dee, I guess this is a question of news judgment, but I was kind of surprised to put it lightly, to see that the major newspapers on the East Coast had buried this story below the fold and it was only today that they brought it up above the fold. 

MYERS:  I don‘t think putting it on the front page is burying it, Chris, I think that was an appropriate place for the story, but I think what‘s made this a bigger story was the incredibly poor handling. 

Yesterday there was still hope that the White House was going to come forward with all the facts that we would understand the chain of events by today and that didn‘t happen hand think that‘s made it a bigger story.  This is one of those stories that‘s really easy to explain and the public is totally paying attention to it and I think it‘s doing a lot to erode the vice president‘s credibility. 

He‘s a guy whose reputation has been of a man of solid judgment from the time he was 35 years old, David, and you were working with him in the Ford White House as the chief of staff, people said this guy has extraordinary judgment.  It sure doesn‘t look that way today. 

MATTHEWS:  David? 

GERGEN:  Let‘s go to the press question first.  I thought, Chris, in the beginning it sounded like a very minor accident.  The description that came from Ms. Armstrong was that he was peppered and it wasn‘t much of personal body damage but today with his health taking a turn for the worse and soundly potentially much more serious, I think it‘s gotten to be a bigger story, plus what Dee Dee has talked about on the mishandling of it. 

I think the vice-president‘s judgment as a policy matter generally has been sound over a long period of time.  I disagree with some of his judgments on the Iraq war and some of the things we‘ve been facing, but I‘ve always found him to be an honest person. 

I don‘t think there‘s been any evidence that he‘s been dishonest and I‘ve always found him on the question of hunting, Dick Cheney has been going hunting for 30 years, first time I‘ve ever heard of an accident, so I think he‘s a sober hunter.  Accidents can happen when people have guns and they‘re loaded.  These things do happen.  I personally wish this would go away because I think we have much bigger stories to worry about in this country. 

MATTHEWS:  That would be the president‘s view, but here‘s the question, why did the White House press secretary get told today not to put out the word about the heart situation of this victim? 

GERGEN:  I think that was a terrible mistake.  I don‘t know what these people are thinking about.  They do have a responsibility in this case to the public.  And they have a responsibility for accountability and clearly there is a disdain for the press that‘s shared at the highest levels of this government that I think has served them very badly in their governance. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re not talking to the press right now, you‘re talking to people watching television and I think when Scott McClellan talks to the press in the room, he‘s rally talking to the country. 

Dee Dee, the difference between talking to the public and talking to the press is to me a confusion.  The press is the way you talk to the public on commercial television, radio and newspapers. 

MYERS:  I think that‘s right and what we saw Scott McClellan trying to do today was to turn it from a story about the White House‘s handling to a story about overzealousness on behalf of the press.  But I don‘t think that many people tune in and watch the actual press briefings.  People are a lot more likely to get their news by watching, you know, MSNBC or any other cable or network outlet or reading their paper tomorrow, which means it has to go through the filter of the press. 

Of course, there‘s the blogosphere which isn‘t treating the White House any better in this story.  They don‘t really have any friends in this story right now.  And I think it‘s—again, I don‘t think they‘ve learned any lessons in the last 36 hours that are going to help them get out of this.

And I think David is absolutely right, that as long as Mr. Whittington remains hospitalized and his health is uncertain, this story is not going to go away. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  It‘s always been my experience that when the story is better than it looks, the politicians tell you about it.  When it‘s worse then it looks, they keep it to themselves.  There‘s some problem here in why they didn‘t make all these announcements, as we all said they should have. 

Anyway, thank you Dee Dee Myers, and thank you David Gergen. 

When we return, former Cheney aide Ron Christie and former Democratic strategist Bob Shrum will face off on why it took so long for the word of the vice president‘s hunting incident to get to us. 

And later on in the show, Bill Maher, who‘s host of HBO‘s “Real Time,” will be here with his take on this story we‘ve been talking about.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCCLELLAN:  ... questions.

GREGORY:  I have one final question since that one wasn‘t answered.  Is it appropriate for the vice president to have waited 14 hours after the incident before he spoke with local law enforcement officials and do you think that an average citizen would have been accorded that same amount of time before having to answer questions about a shooting incident? 

MCCLELLAN:  That was what was arranged with the local law enforcement authorities.  You ought to ask them that question. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was the White House press secretary fielding tough Cheney questions from a fired up press corps.  Here to dig into it deeper are HARDBALL political analyst Bob Shrum, who‘s up in Boston—or up in New York, I guess—and former Cheney aide Ron Christie. 

Well, I have to say, I‘m very proud of working with David Gregory because he reminds me of the old White House Press Corps that were tough. 

Ron, do you think he‘s asking the right questions? 

RON CHRISTIE, FMR. CHENEY W.H. ADVISER:  No, actually I don‘t.  I think Scott McClellan—he‘s a good friend of mine, he‘s been under the fire and under the gun for the last couple of days, no metaphors intended otherwise. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

CHRISTIE:  Look, I think David Gregory has a very good question to ask of what did the vice president release, what did the vice president‘s office release, but it seems to me that they‘re trying to make more of a big deal out of this situation.  The vice president is not stonewalling, Chris.  He‘s not hiding. 

MATTHEWS:  Then why do you believe, Ron, that the White House press secretary, armed with the information that the victim of this incident has a pellet in his heart and they have got a serious problem with how to deal with it as part of this accident, and didn‘t tell the press corps today, because apparently he was told by the vice president‘s office, this is our business. 

CHRISTIE:  I heard that earlier today.  I‘m not ...

MATTHEWS:  How can you explain that? 

CHRISTIE:  Well, the only thing I can explain to you is that I heard that Scott McClellan, again, had been told that there had been some sort of a complication.  I‘m not sure what time Scott knew that ...

MATTHEWS:  Before the press briefing.

CHRISTIE:  But, again, the press seems to say, oh my goodness, you know, he‘s hiding ...

MATTHEWS:  Well, wait a minute.  If you were the press secretary, wouldn‘t you let the—why hold a press briefing if it‘s not to tell the press what‘s going on?  Why hold it?

CHRISTIE:  Wait a second, I think that Scott McClellan, his job is to speak for the president of the United States and the president‘s policies.  This was a hunting accident.  This was a private matter.  The individual in question—this is a private individual.  Those doctors were giving his press conferences.  So why should Scott McClellan ...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Bob, that‘s the White House position.  Ron has laid it out. 

What do you think?

BOB SHRUM, HARDBALL POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think it‘s ridiculous.  You know, my friend Dorothy Morton says that you would have thought that the administration would want the word out that they finally has someone at the top with combat experience.  This story was going to come out. 

DeLay was a disaster.  The excuse that was given was ridiculous, that they were worried about Mr. Whittington‘s health.  They were all back at the ranch sitting around the table of this lobbyist who represents a company that has contracts in Iraq.  This should have been put out right away.  The reason ...

MATTHEWS:  Well, what‘s the relevance to that, Bob? 

SHRUM:  What‘s the relevance of what? 

MATTHEWS:  The fact that this company, the Armstrongs, have a lobbying business that‘s related to the war in Iraq? 

SHRUM:  Well, I think the other real story here is that Dick Cheney once again was off with his special interest friends, who he seems—well, I‘m sorry, I know you may not like it.  You can go oh, but that is the reality.  But I think the story has legs for reasons that go beyond that. 

The first is the president looks powerless right now.  If this were any other president, Chris, that you and I have ever been familiar with, they would have called the vice president in and said that we want this handled differently. 

Secondly, it‘s a metaphor for an administration that can‘t shoot straight, whether or not it‘s Iraq, or Katrina, or Social Security privatization.  What‘s happening here is that people are beginning to have basic questions about the competence of this government. 

CHRISTIE:  Can‘t shoot straight?  I mean, Chris, look, that is absolutely ridiculous.  First of all, the vice president is allowed to have friends the last time I checked.  Bob is talking about his special interest friends.  First of all, that‘s ridiculous. 

Secondly, that the administration is not shooting straight.  Give it up.  The fact of the matter is the vice president was in a private hunting incident.  There was an accident there.  There‘s a poor man who is in the hospital.  That‘s the real issue rather than all of this other nonsense. 

MATTHEWS:  If the vice president had been the one shot, how do you think it should have been handled? 

CHRISTIE:  I think if the vice president were the one who were shot, I think there would be an entirely different story. 

MATTHEWS:  How would it be—why would it be different?

CHRISTIE:  Well, the difference here, again, the vice president was at the ranch.  It was a private event.  He was participating in a hunting event ...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  If he had been the one shot, everything you say is true.

CHRISTIE:  If the vice president had been shot, he‘s a constitutional officer, he‘s the next in line to be the president of the United States.  I think it would be handled entirely differently. 

MATTHEWS:  Why? 

CHRISTIE:  We‘re talking about it—rMD+IN_rMDNM_because he‘s the next in line to be the president of the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  But he‘s the shooter. 

SHRUM:  And he‘s next in line to be president.

CHRISTIE:  Chris, this is what gets me.  He‘s the shooter.  Cheney was involved in an accident.  Cheney was not the one who was hit.  If he had been hit by that bird shot, I think it would be an entirely different issue.  It was a private matter.  It was a private accident, I don‘t think the vice president‘s office ...

MATTHEWS:  Do you—I mean, let me just try to get to this very point of protocol.  Does the vice president of the United States, who‘s the number two executive position in the United States ...

CHRISTIE:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... and he is number two in line to the president—one in line, actually.

CHRISTIE:  Number one.

MATTHEWS:  Does he owe any special responsibility to the public to let them know when he‘s involved if a critical matter like this or not?

CHRISTIE:  I think the vice president has an obligation to the American people, if he‘s involved in an official act or...

MATTHEWS:  ... No a critical matter like this, involving life or death. 

CHRISTIE:  If it‘s something in his official capacity.

MATTHEWS:  He shot somebody.

CHRISTIE:  If it‘s involved in his official capacity, Chris.  This was an accident.  I think the press is trying to make something out of this incident.

MATTHEWS:  For example if he were in a car accident, you would say he wouldn‘t have to report that to the public?

CHRISTIE:  No.  If the vice president were in a car accident being the person who‘s next in line to be the president, that would be an entirely different matter. 

MATTHEWS:  But if he hurt somebody.

CHRISTIE:  Chris, again, I know where you‘re trying to get with this.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m just trying to find the special perks of the vice president.

CHRISTIE:  We‘re not talking about perks.  We‘re talking about the fact that there was a private matter, there was an accident.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m just trying to get your point of view.  Your point of view, Ron, is that the vice president handled this properly?

CHRISTIE:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  So he has nothing to complain about, nothing to explain, nothing to apologize for?  It was handled well?

CHRISTIE:  I don‘t think he has anything to apologize for.

MATTHEWS:  He handled it well?

CHRISTIE:  Well of course he did.  His office issued a statement.

MATTHEWS:  Bob, let‘s just talk about this in non-partisan terms.  Suppose it was a Democrat who was in the White House who had a vice president who was involved in this.  What is the proper way to handle it and can you think of any extenuating circumstances which would lead that Democrat not to do it the way you‘re supposed to do it, like something happened they didn‘t want to talk about?

SHRUM:  Well we don‘t know if there‘s something here they don‘t want to talk about.  I have no reason to believe that there is.

MATTHEWS:  But the list of guests at the ranch, the list of guests maybe they didn‘t want to talk about, who knows.

SHRUM:  But look, a man has been shot, he‘s in the hospital.  It turns out we haven‘t been told the truth about that either.  We were told it was all minor, don‘t worry about it, just a little bit of buckshot.  And it‘s a much more serious problem than that.

MATTHEWS:  Bird shot.

SHRUM:  A little bit of bird shot.

MATTHEWS:  I was corrected myself by Andrea Mitchell.

SHRUM:  Any president, Republican or Democratic that we‘ve experienced in our lifetime I think, would call the vice president in, would call his staff in and would say “Look, we‘ve got to handle this differently.”

And I don‘t think Ron is giving this defense, does any favors for Dick Cheney.  I think Dick Cheney needs to come out as David Gergen said and he‘s pretty non-partisan and he needs to answer questions about this and explain it and tell us why there was this delay. 

The notion that this is purely private is ridiculous.  There were Secret Service people along on this hunt, the people who treated this man initially were federal employees and doctors who were there because of the vice president.  This isn‘t a purely private matter.

CHRISTIE:  Bob, look, I‘m not here to do the vice president any favors.  I‘m here to offer my opinion the same as you are and my opinion to the matter is he was in a private incident, Chris already discussed this.  My opinion is for goodness sakes, thank God there was a doctor there, thank goodness there were medical person there to take care of him.  The fact of the matter is, there are those right now who are trying to make this a political issue.  It was a private accident, hunting accident, it‘s unfortunate.  We should hope that this poor individual recovers safely.  But to suggest the White House is lying or not being forthcoming.

MATTHEWS:  Ron, I‘m glad we live in a country where we care if the vice president shoots somebody.  I think it‘s important to care.  We‘ll be right back.  Thank you by the way, these guys are leaving.  Bob Shrum, you‘re always Shrummy.  Ron Christie, what a steadfast fellow you are.  And when we return, get ready for another season of “Real Time” with Bill Maher.  Bill‘s coming here—Bill Maher, to talk about what he thinks of this stuff.  This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Senator Joe Biden calls Bill Maher an equal-opportunity offender.  True to form, Bill is back with a new season of telling everyone exactly what he thinks on his HBO show “Real Time with Bill Maher.”  In case you‘ve forgotten what he‘s all about, let‘s a take a look at him.  This is Bill Maher in action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL MAHER, T.V. HOST:  George Bush does have a diverse cabinet when it comes to race.  They‘ve done a pretty good job, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, so forth.  But you know, I don‘t think race makes someone as diverse nowadays as how you think about religion.  And there‘s no secular voice.  There‘s no voice of me in this cabinet.  Everyone who gets appointed has to be not just Christ-y, but super Christ-y, double-dogged Christ-y, twice-born Christ-y.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well we don‘t normally have that on this show.  “Real Time with Bill Maher” premieres this Friday on HBO.  He‘s with us this evening from L.A.  Bill Maher, it‘s a hell of a good week for you to come back.

MAHER:  I think the comedy gods are smiling on me, Chris.  It just says to me, they want you back on the air when the week I come back, the vice president caps a man.

MATTHEWS:  Well what do you make of Dick Cheney?  If this hadn‘t happened this week, what would you have thought of Dick Cheney absent this latest episode of Cheney?

MAHER:  I think it‘s interesting that this is only the third-worst thing that happened to Dick Cheney this week, with the Valerie Plame thing and the Paul Pillar revelation.

And I think what historians in the future will note from this is that it is so emblematic of the whole administration, the way they handle everything, which of course is to immediately screw something up, then lie about it, blame the victim. 

You notice that story keeps changing?  At first he was just peppered. 

He was sprayed, just something between friends.  It brought them closer.  And then we found out no, actually he got shot in the face.  And then today the thing went to his heart.  I heard by tomorrow it‘s going to be that Dick Cheney blew his head off at the dinner table.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about those two things you eluded to, because this is serious business and it‘s more macro than just personal level behavior.  You talked about the Cheney incidents, the two others of the big three this week.  The first one, his chief-of-staff said that his superiors told him to put out classified information.  Who do you think he‘s talking about?

MAHER:  Well, it‘s obvious.  Who did Scooter Libby get his marching orders from?  Who did he drive to work with every day?  Dick Cheney.  It‘s obvious that this came from the Dick Cheney team, and Scooter Libby was his No. 2 man.  I don‘t know what the debate is about that.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Pillar, the CIA chief for the near east, said that Cheney—the administration was mainly Cheney—manufactured this whole connection between 9/11 and Iraq.  That would be a bigger story than a hunting accident, but it‘s getting blown over by this thing.

MAHER:  Right.  Right.  It makes you think that Cheney shot this guy on purpose, just to divert attention.  I‘m kidding about that. 

MATTHEWS:  Yeah, but I think—let me ask you about Cheney.  What do you think—I really want to get in to you on this, because I find it fascinating.  I want to know—and you think about this all the time. 

Dick Cheney is unlike any VP we‘ve ever heard of.  He picked himself in that selection process.  He seems like he doesn‘t have to report—he didn‘t make a phone call.  Did you know that he hasn‘t talked to the president until Monday, and the incident happened on Saturday?

MAHER:  Yes.  You‘d think it was a hurricane. 

Look, you know, Chris, you don‘t have to sell me on Dick Cheney being a bad guy, and just to go back to what you mentioned before, about the connection between Iraq and 9-11 -- to me, that was always a much bigger lie than the one that most people focused on, which is weapons of mass destruction.  Weapons of mass destruction, we know they cherry-picked the intelligence, yada-yada-yada.  But we also know that the Clintons and a lot of other Democrats, a lot of people on the other side of the aisle always thought that maybe Saddam had weapons. 

To me, that was not the most egregious lie.  But a connection between Iraq and the people who did that to us?  That was the bigger lie, and that‘s the one that Cheney kept pushing.  I don‘t have the quotes before me, but I remember they were very carefully crafted, so the beginning of the sentence started out talking about 9-11 and the terrorists, and the end of the sentence was always, and if we could strike them at the very geographical base where they come from.  So he conflated the two (INAUDIBLE), and the truth is, that if Saddam Hussein, as bad as he is, was in power right now, he would be a bulwark against terrorism, just the way we put rotten dictators in the communist era on the throne, so that they would be bulwarks against communism.  Saddam would never have allowed a rival power base like Zarqawi in his country.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘ll be right back with Bill Maher on that very point, the 9/11 connection to Iraq, because Dick Cheney said something more along those lines again last week.  And we showed you the tape of him denying the tape itself with Gloria Borger.  This is HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Bill Maher.  His show, “Real Time With Bill Maher,” premiers this Friday on HBO at 11:00 Eastern time.  It is a great show, and you get to say—you‘re pretty much uncensored, aren‘t you, Bill? 

MAHER:  Actually, I was always uncensored.  It‘s just that on the other network, I got fired for it.

MATTHEWS:  So that‘s—in other words, they let you know you were censored afterwards. 

MAHER:  Yes.  Exactly.  It‘s sort of a (INAUDIBLE) censoring.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about—let‘s change to a brighter, less—less important topic, maybe.  It‘s about the future of the country... 

MAHER:  Valentine‘s Day? 

MATTHEWS:  No, OK...

MAHER:  Come on, it‘s Valentine‘s Day, Chris.  I thought you had me—

I thought you had me on because you wanted to tell me something. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re my Valentine.

Let‘s take a look at something I find fascinating, and I think you might, too.  Here‘s Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton at the funeral for Coretta King. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I don‘t want us to forget that there‘s a woman in there.  Not a symbol.  Not a symbol, a real woman, who lived and breathed and got angry and got hurt and had dreams and disappointments. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that? 

MAHER:  He‘s good.  Oh, he‘s good.  Come on, isn‘t he? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s good and it‘s good—it‘s good and it‘s real to me.  It‘s both real and political and theatrical and everything.  And human.  I got a chill watching that.  This guy connects like no pol today, I don‘t think. 

MAHER:  I think he connects with black people, which is not easy to do in the polarized world we live in in this country.  There‘s not a lot of white politicians who get that kind of from-the-heart ovation, just like there is not a lot of white comedians who can play the Apollo, which I will be doing on May 25th of this year.  Sorry, I had to get that plug in.

MATTHEWS:  Really?  No, I think it‘s good.  I think it might work.

MAHER:  I‘m so proud of that.

MATTHEWS:  I saw you...

MAHER:  I‘m very proud of that.

MATTHEWS:  I saw your act at—I think it was the Virginian (ph) on Broadway, and it was great.  I mean, it was unbelievable.  Almost two hours of comedy, just you up there.  I‘d like to see that.  I think I‘ll come up and watch that.  I‘ll be the other white guy in the audience, OK?  I‘ll watch that.

MAHER:  Chris, we‘d love...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I want to change the subject to something positive.  The relationship between Bill and Hillary.  I just saw a poll that showed that three out of five people don‘t care if they get divorced or anything; they‘re going to vote for Hillary.  And the other two out of five say, hey, look, it‘s kind of a split, whether it helps or hurts her if they get divorced.  In other words, it‘s not about Bill anymore, according to the way people respond to polls.  It‘s up to her now to be the next president, to the people who like her or don‘t like her.

Do you think she can win the presidency and govern without him around? 

Just period, without his help at all, just run the country by herself? 

MAHER:  Could she?  Of course.  George Bush is doing it, and how many lower IQ points than her is he?  But you know, first of all, she will never win the presidency, so the people who are worried about that can stop worrying.  She will never be elected president of this country.  The Democrats should buddy up to that concept before they walk over a cliff with her in 2008. 

But the other thing that disturbs me about those kind of questions is that it‘s always assumed that Bill and Hillary Clinton have some sort of arranged marriage.  First of all, no one knows what goes inside—goes on inside a marriage. 

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘ve never assumed that, Bill.  I‘m not assuming that.  I‘m just looking at the public‘s perception that she can stand alone, completely alone, without him. 

MAHER:  Well, why couldn‘t—well, of course she could stand alone.  What do you think?  She comes home from the Senate every night and says, oh my God, honey, thank God you‘re in the kitchen because I have a thousand questions to ask you?  Can you help me with my homework?  

MATTHEWS:  No, it‘s because—they always say two for the price of one.  They come as a unit.  That‘s why I‘m asking.  I found it fascinating people—obviously, you don‘t.  You think she‘s going to be a stand-alone loser.

MAHER:  Look, she is the worst of both words—and I like her a lot -

for the Democratic Party, because she keeps trying to move to the center. 

And she‘s never going to win over those right-wingers or those middle Americans, the kind of people John Kerry was going after when he got in a goose-hunting outfit the week of the election.  She will never, ever win them over.

MATTHEWS:  OK, Bill...

MAHER:  She‘s—yes?

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.

MAHER:  She‘s Mrs. Fellatio (ph) to them.  OK.

MATTHEWS:  OK, we are censored.  Thank you, Bill Maher.  You‘re on Friday night at 11:00.  Right now, it‘s time for “THE ABRAMS REPORT” with Dan Abrams.

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

END   

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