updated 2/20/2006 9:18:08 AM ET 2006-02-20T14:18:08

Guests: Mike Allen, Margaret Carlson, Alan Simpson

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Dick Cheney wings home.  Whittington on the mend, but what about things at the White House?  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.

Cheney goes home to the range after one of the most grueling weeks of his political career.  Vice President Dick Cheney went home to Wyoming today and got a standing O from lawmakers. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)                     

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It‘s a wonderful experience to be greeted with such warmth by the great leaders of our great state.  It‘s especially true when you‘ve had a very long week.

(END VIDEO CLIP)     

MATTHEWS:  Shortly before Cheney‘s speech on Wyoming, America got its first look at the 78-year-old man Cheney shot when Harry Whittington spoke to the press about the incident. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)     

HARRY WHITTINGTON, ACCIDENTALLY SHOT BY VP CHENEY:  Accidents do and will happen, and that‘s what happened last Friday.  My family and I are deeply sorry for all that Vice President Cheney and his family have had to go through this past week. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)     

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Whittington was released today, but the Cheney shooting story promises to carry on through the weekend on the Sunday political talk shows and its affect on the Bush agenda.  More on this in a moment.

It‘s Friday and what better way to kickoff your weekend.  I‘m with MSNBC‘s Joe Scarborough, Tucker Carlson and Ron Reagan and a special super size HARDBALL “Hotshots” tonight. 

But first NBC‘s chief White House correspondent David Gregory with today‘s developments on the Bush administration and the Cheney shooting. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)       

DAVID GREGORY, NBC CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): 

Harry Whittington left the hospital in Texas today and ironically, began his remarks by thanking the news media for its coverage of this incident. 

WHITTINGTON:  I know your role is to get the news out to the public. 

I compliment you on what you‘ve done. 

GREGORY:  Criticism of the coverage of last weekend‘s hunting accident quickly emerged as a subplot to the story.  Whittington sounded philosophical today about being shot by his friend, the vice president.  The bird shot leaving its mark on Whittington‘s face and neck. 

WHITTINGTON:  Regardless of how experienced, careful and dedicated we are, accidents do and will happen. 

GREGORY:  Meanwhile, in the vice president‘s home state of Wyoming, Mr. Cheney appeared to see light at the end of this story. 

CHENEY:  It‘s a wonderful experience to be greeted with such warmth by the leaders of our great state.  That‘s especially true when you‘ve had a very long week. 

GREGORY:  For his part, the president was in Florida today dismissive of the ways of Washington when asked what he thought of the Cheney hunting accident topping the news this week.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There‘s a lot of noise in Washington.  There‘s a lot of flattery.  There‘s a lot of criticism.  There‘s just a lot of noise. 

GREGORY:  But Republicans are now faced with the question of whether that noise is something more, whether the vice president has become a political liability, the hunting accident, being just the latest example. 

Conservative Peggy Noonan suggested in “The Wall Street Journal,” the president might consider pushing the vice president to step down.  Dick Cheney has been the administration‘s hate magnet for five years now, Noonan wrote. 

But many Republicans say Mr. Cheney serves an important function. 

VIN WEBER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  The vice president is a point-man for the administration often on ideological issues.  He‘s the point-man within the base of his own party. 

GREGORY (on-camera):  But this episode has raised new questions about the relationship between the president and Mr. Cheney, who this week was a distraction. 

David Gregory, NBC News, the White House. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)       

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David. 

Mike Allen is a reporter for “Time” magazine and Margaret Carlson is with Bloomberg. 

Mike, we now know the Cheney-energy policy.  Fly Air Force 2 all the way to Cheyenne, Wyoming, do a photo-op and head back to Washington.  That‘s an expensive way, isn‘t it, to make your point.  Just to give a little speech. 

MIKE ALLEN, TIME:  Yes, well, the vice president is staying there through the holiday, so he will be coming back to Washington on Tuesday. 

But David Gregory made the point, that he was in front of a friendly crowd and this part of the administration trying to say, the story has run its course.  You guys are the only ones that still talk about this. 

As you pointed out, they will be all over the Sunday talk shows, but they hope that on Monday, when the president goes out, it‘s like it‘s a campaign again.  The president is going to be in Wisconsin, Michigan, Colorado.  They hope that he can talk about energy.  Good luck. 

MATTHEWS:  They dressed up Mr. Whittington rather well with a lot of makeup.  He looked great.  I am glad he‘s back.  But he walked right back into the hospital again.  I mean, what was that? 

MARGARET CARLSON, BLOOMBERG NEWS COLUMNIST:  I think he had his P.J.‘s on underneath. 

MATTHEWS:  It reminded me of the voting a couple of years ago in Russia where the guy goes into the room next door.  They make it look like a voting station and he goes right back to bed. 

CARLSON:  He was so gracious.  Can you imagine getting out of the hospital bed for that?  He really took a pellet for the president, and it was a very good thing for him to do. 

But how sincere was it when he also thanked the media?  I don‘t think he meant that part of it.  He‘s a friend of Dick Cheney‘s. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he said you were kind of enough to mention my age at every opportunity.  I think that was pretty witty actually of the guy.  What do you think Mike? 

ALLEN:  Well, that closeup we saw on David Gregory‘s piece, Mrs.  Armstrong was right, they did pepper him pretty good.  That was amazing how hurt he was.  But the vice president certainly did pick an auspicious victim because this is somebody who is friendly with the family and for a 78-year-old, he bounced back very well. 

But he said, you know, when you‘re 78, no heart attack is going to be mild.  But he‘s looking good there, and that also helps take the air out of some of the criticism of the vice president. 

Because on Tuesday, and Margaret, you were hearing the same thing, people were beginning to have like very great thoughts about the consequences for the vice president if Mr. Whittington didn‘t improve fast. 

MATTHEWS:  Of course. 

Let‘s talk about the consequences to the American people, right.  The economy‘s doing OK.  OK.  If you‘re in the stock market, it‘s doing a little better than OK.  But the question is with the president going down and job approval down below 40 again, all the P.R. stunts of the last four weeks, the successful ones including the State of the Union pumped him up.  That‘s all deflate now. 

The president says he wants to lead the world.  He wants to be the world leader on anti-terrorism, on the economy.  But this week of looking, I think, weak compared to his own V.P. help him in that regard? 

ALLEN:  Well, Chris, you‘re right.  In addition, to looking weak, he looked reactive.  He wasn‘t in charge.  And as you‘re heading towards lame duck status and they‘re trying to stave it off as far as they can, push it back past the mid-turf, every week is precious for all of us, and especially when you‘re president. 

And this week, they‘d hope to be talking about health care.  They were off at the Wendy‘s Headquarters in Ohio the other day. Next week, energy.  Then after that the president is in India.  So that puts him into March. 

The years of 6th, over. 

And what have you heard about momentum for a Bush agenda?  Midterms come and then you are talking about...

MATTHEWS:  So this is going to lengthen the slump? 

ALLEN:  Yes, this wasn‘t a week the president could afford to lose. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about a couple of things.  We have a lot of decisions in leadership for this country right now.  The Iraq war is not doing well.  We have got that Muqtada Sadr taking over right now, who is the guy that was leading the militia against us.  And now he‘s basically holding control of the whole government except to keep, you know, Ahmed Chalabi, every neo-cons hero, in there.

I always said this government would look like a lot of guys in Britain.  There‘s one guy in a gold suit with gold pants, our guy, the oil minister.  But it has turned out in a more lethal way in the fact that we have got Muqtada Sadr, the militia man, now controlling the Shiite majority and he‘s now visiting Iran regularly.  So instead of facing one Iran now, we‘re facing two Irans, right? 

CARLSON:  We have two theocracies, not one.  No Sunnis have been found acceptable to the Shias to operate in the government.  And until you bring some in, you have got to find some reasonable ones. 

The one good thing this did was keep Iraq out the news for a week.  But it reinforced a sensation that we all have, which is that Dick Cheney‘s influence in the administration is too great.  We know from this incident that Andy Card‘s afraid of him.  Karl Rove may be. 

MATTHEWS:  Dictate how that works. 

CARLSON:  Well, because when word finally got to the White House, Andy Card accepted that there was an incident not that Dick Cheney was involved.  It wasn‘t until Karl Rove called back that he even found out what was going on.  And then the president was told later.

Nobody told Dick Cheney what to do.  There‘s great deference to Dick Cheney.  George Bush doesn‘t handle events like this.  In fact, in his book he wrote about something similar.  And he said, you know, it‘s not the event itself, it‘s how people think you handle them.  We have to get this out right away. 

MATTHEWS:  What did you make of the fact that the CBS reported this week that Karl Rove had to push Dick Cheney to go meet with the press even to meet with Fox on Wednesday? 

ALLEN:  Well, the White House specifically disputed that.  But the president early in the week was clear he wanted the vice president to do more.  It was clear that he was dissatisfied with it. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m just going to play news critic here.  How do you know that? 

ALLEN:  It was clear to the people who are in that bubble. 

MATTHEWS:  They are the reporters covering it? 

ALLEN:  Right.  And the president does not want to hide his feelings of any sort, especially displeasure.  And when the president said yesterday that he was satisfied with how the vice president handled it, didn‘t it remind you Margaret of when the president says that he appreciates that question when you have asked him something impertinent?  

CARLSON:  Yes, the word satisfied. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you imagine if your spouse cooked you a big meal for dinner.  And you said how did you like it dear?  You go, it was fine.

CARLSON:  I‘m satisfied.

MATTHEWS:  It wasn‘t exactly a cheerful well done, keep it up, I love the way you work.

CARLSON:  But you notice that it takes four days or five days for Dick Cheney to get that message.  It‘s not as if he reacts to...

MATTHEWS:  I want to go back to your point because six years into the Bush presidency, this is the problem area for all second-term presidents going back to the packing of the court by FDR, going back to the Bernard Goldfine problem with Sherman Adams back in Eisenhower, going back of course to Watergate, going back to Monica.

This six year is the real six year problem.  And here we have it being kicked off with gunfire.  The vice president shoots somebody by accident.  There are lots of questions lingering about it.  Is this the beginning of the big bad year for Bush?

ALLEN:  Well, not necessarily.

MATTHEWS:  Well, don‘t say that.  Help me out here.  Is this going somewhere or isn‘t it?  You‘re saying it‘s just an incident.  It isn‘t necessarily connected—any downward in this presidency? 

ALLEN:  No, Chris, I already pointed out why this is—this was a crucial week, and even though the White House can say that this story is changing, to me, reminds me of a tide that moves out and leaves its dreck and stench behind, because it did raise these questions...

MATTHEWS:  The tide speaking Yiddish?  I‘m just kidding.

ALLEN:  It did raise these questions about the operation of the White House and, you know, (INAUDIBLE).  Are you...

MATTHEWS:  So it was like lifting up the rock and looking at the life underneath.  We saw a picture of how the White House behaves.  The vice president is autonomous.  He does what he wants to do when he wants to do it. 

ALLEN:  Chris, that‘s very astute.  Because as I talk to people about this, he said the people inside were not surprised by this.  They say this fits into the narrative of the vice president.  It was like opening the hood of the car and you see the smoke and the wires.  That the vice president is secretive, the vice president is autonomous, and we got to see it firsthand. 

MATTHEWS:  There‘s some people like me who argue it‘s a guy thing. 

Maybe Mike is in (ph) on this.  Everything has to have a “Godfather”

reference, OK?  “Godfather II” opens up with Fredo, the weak brother.  His

wife‘s drunk on the dance floor trying to dance with everybody, make out with everybody else, right?  And somebody goes up to Fredo and says, Fredo, if you don‘t take care of your wife, we will. 

I got the feeling this week that George Bush was made to look, the president of the United States, like Fredo.  He couldn‘t control his partner. 

CARLSON:  Right, well, exactly.  Each day as it passed by, it made that more obvious, and every factor got played into that.  And then the vice president goes out and he goes to FOX.  The only sweeter place to go is the Wyoming state legislature.  And in fact, I thought he was very good on FOX. 

And imagine having just done that, because nobody thought he killed—

I mean, he shot...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  ... Whittington on purpose. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m going to play nice here.  I thought Brit did a good job. 

CARLSON:  I thought he did a fine job, and I thought Cheney did...

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with Mike Allen and Margaret Carlson. 

Plus, Cheney friend Alan Simpson is coming here.  And later, a special

edition of the HARDBALL.  What a show tonight.  We just taped it.  It‘s

unbelievable tonight.  It‘s all about Vice President Dick Cheney.  That‘s

how we pronounce it.  You don‘t want to miss it.  You‘re watching HARDBALL

on MSNBC

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with “Time” magazine‘s Mike Allen and Bloomberg‘s Margaret Carlson.  Margaret, I‘m going to set up this question, because I think it answers a lot of questions.  Would George Bush at this point, knowing all that he knows, go hunting with his vice president? 

CARLSON:  Is this a trick question?  Is this your humor? 

MATTHEWS:  Hey, Mr. President, (INAUDIBLE), you‘re there.  Would you

go hunting with me?  Do you think that‘s possible?  (INAUDIBLE)

relationship.  Constant change after this week of possible dissing of one

by the other.

CARLSON:  Well, you know, Bush can definitely get along on his own now.  He needed the training wheels for a long time.  He doesn‘t need Dick Cheney anymore.  And you know, at 3:00 in the morning when he wakes up, he must say, hmm, you know, did I really need to go into Iraq with, you know, Dick...

MATTHEWS:  Do you really think he thinks like that? 

CARLSON:  I think he must.  Any sane person would look at the situation in Iraq, a gratuitous one, one he didn‘t have to bring on himself, and say, oh, my God, look what happens.  Iran is getting nuclear weapons.  It‘s run by a maniac.  They‘re going to be allies with a theocracy in Iraq.  This was not the situation before.  This is what‘s been created, and we have over 100,000 troops there.   

MATTHEWS:  Well, what happens if Dick Cheney comes back again, Mr.  President, last time we had to exercise a regime change, in that sober kind of voice of his, I think we may have to do it again, Mr. President.  Will he buy it this time?  Will he go into Iran because Cheney says so, like he did to say—like he said to go into Iraq? 

ALLEN:  Well, what you hear again and again is that the president is in charge.  And I asked somebody today how it squares with the point that Margaret was making about how earlier, it didn‘t seem like the president could tell the vice president what to do, and people talked about this mutual deference between them.  But I can tell you, the people around the White House are saying the one thing that brought them back together, that healed the schism this week was the press corps bloviations.  If you give the president the chance to choose between the vice president and the White House press corps, that‘s an easy... 

MATTHEWS:  So David Gregory brought Bush back to Cheney?  That‘s a powerful move.

ALLEN:  Matchmaker.  But you know, they believe strongly that the real America is out of town, not in that briefing room, and that helped—that helped... 

CARLSON:  Anybody against the press is going to win. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know what, could that be simply because they‘re broadcasting and putting on cable, the press briefings?  I mean, the press brief get information, gradually and painfully and obnoxiously at times, but the bottom line is, the front page has more information the next day than the day before, and the nightly news, right?

ALLEN:  What briefings are you going to?  Not—you know, you‘re not necessarily going to get facts out of these briefings.  But today—but this week showed that there can be value in simply asking the questions. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the (INAUDIBLE) McClellan led the vice president probably to come out of his office, didn‘t it? 

ALLEN:  Yes.  It was part of it.  And it was part of why—it was part of why the president made the case when he needed to do this, it was constraining the president.  The president couldn‘t go talk to the press, make his own points while this story was lingering out there. 

MATTHEWS:  I think that (INAUDIBLE) McClellan had to be the iconic picture of the week.  The poor guy.  You‘ve got to like McClellan.  He‘s standing in there, didn‘t know anything, wasn‘t told anything.  All he could tell them was, I wasn‘t told until the next day.  They openly dissed the guy. 

ALLEN:  Well, he made it clear, he gave different advice.  He did keep his sense of humor. 

MATTHEWS:  I think he did a great job.  I think McClellan really worked hard, and I think Gregory did too.  I think they did what they had to do. 

ALLEN:  And you saw the vice president on “Brit Hume” said, he mentioned Scott and said that he and the counselor Dan Bartlett had given different advice. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s good for him, for Cheney to get these guys off the hook.  Because they have got to deal with the press, and they always look better when they‘re saying, open it up and show it.  Transparency.  No one has ever accused the vice presidency of transparency.

Anyway, thank you, Margaret Carlson.  Thank you, Mike Allen.

ALLEN:  Have a good weekend.

MATTHEWS:  Up next, one of Vice President‘s Cheney‘s closest friends for years, former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson of Wyoming joins us.  And later, it‘s the HARDBALL “Hotshots.”  All about the vice president.  It is fun tonight.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Alan Simpson of Wyoming is a close friend of Dick Cheney‘s for 45 years.  He watched the vice president‘s remarks today before the Wyoming Legislature and says the glint is back in Dick Cheney‘s eyes. 

Senator Simpson joins us now from Cody, Wyoming, this evening.  Thank you.  You‘re going to get to see the vice president fairly soon this weekend.  What are you going to talk to him about? 

FMR. SEN. ALAN SIMPSON ®, WYOMING (on phone):  Well, not much about this.  I think he‘s had enough.  But I‘m sitting here with my eyeball frozen to my head.  It‘s five below and the poor, old truck couldn‘t so you missed seeing my cheerful face live, in living pale color.   

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s get back to the days of radio.  What do you think—will Dick Cheney be any different?  I know the country may see him differently after this week.  Will he be any different after this week? 

SIMPSON:  What I see in watching him today from the Wyoming Legislature, you know, enclosed with affection, people on both sides of the aisle—the governor, the Democrat governor there, the Republican delegation.  Remember, we‘ve only have two Republican governors in 40 years. 

People, this is not some bastion of Republicanism.  It‘s—Gale McGee for 18 -- anyway, but Dick didn‘t talk about the incident at all.  He talked about the university where he said he gained his knowledge and his savvy and started his work on Churchill and Lincoln. 

He needs that because he‘s a student of history.  He really is.  He writes it, he studies it.  I think he‘s getting a lot of inspiration out of Churchill and Lincoln who just got blasted from end to end and I think that he‘s getting rather impervious to it.  He looked pretty good and he had that rye, which to me is a smile, to others is a sneer.  If you don‘t like the guy ...

MATTHEWS:  You are amazing, Senator.  You are so open-minded about possible interpretations. 

SIMPSON:  Well, I don‘t know.  I‘ve been called everything.  But I think he‘s back.  I look at him and he‘s in Wyoming.  I don‘t know that I‘ll see him but I‘ll surely be talking to him this week.

And I think the thing that set the better tone was when the attorney came forward, a very sincere looking gentleman, and said sorry for the sorrow that he caused the vice president and his family this week. 

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  Something else.  Let me ask you, Brent Scowcroft, the general who was national security advisor to the former President Bush, says that the Dick Cheney of today is different than the one he used to know.  Your comment on that? 

SIMPSON:  Well, I think that that may be with regard to Brent, but especially with regard to military.  And I think that a lot of that is shaded a bit into Rumsfeld.  And I think that Scowcroft, Brent, is a wonderful man, a great advisor to George the First. 

I think his burr under the saddle might be Rumsfeld, rather than Cheney.  And I think he doesn‘t understand him anymore with regard to the role of the military or perhaps—I don‘t know how deep that goes, but I have no idea.  You‘d have to ask Brent. 

MATTHEWS:  Were you surprised to the degree in which—in seeing that your friend, Dick Cheney, was really hawkish about the war in Iraq.  He wasn‘t a traditional conservative who said let‘s be careful about foreign entanglements, or these ethnic feuds in other countries, or nation building.  He became much more of what‘s called a neoconservative.  Were you surprised at that? 

SIMPSON:  Well, he always was a very conservative person, but nobody realized the depth of it.  When he was second—he was third in command of the leadership of the U.S. House and he was perceived as a moderate.  And then they began to score him up, you know, and they find that he votes, you know, very conservative. 

So there‘s nothing in there that surprises me and he has a deep view about communism and democracy and it may be a little clear cut.  To others, it seems like zealotry. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you share his zealotry about this war?

SIMPSON:  About that?

MATTHEWS:  Do you share his modern view, his 21st century view of American foreign policy?  Do you share it?

SIMPSON:  Well, I‘ll tell you, with regard to terrorism and living in Wyoming and a little of the old John Wayne theory, I think—and these people have given a new definition to the word evil, we have a little phrase out here.  Just string them up in an old cottonwood tree down by Gooseberry Creek. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much.  It‘s great to have you on by radio, Senator Alan Simpson. 

SIMPSON:  Great.  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Next time by TV.  When we come back, the HARDBALL “Hotshots,” Joe Scarborough, Ron Reagan, Tucker Carlson, and tonight it‘s all about Dick Cheney, you might be not surprised to know.  You won‘t want to miss it.  It‘s going to be fun tonight.  You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

It is time for our special Friday feature HARDBALL “Hotshots” with my MSNBC colleagues, Joe Scarborough, Tucker Carlson and this week Ron Reagan is in for Rita Cosby.  Get set for the brilliance and buffoonery from the past week.

This week Dick Cheney‘s shooting pushed all other stories off the cliff.  So tonight it is a special Cheney edition of HARDBALL “Hotshots.”  It‘s Cheney time.

Who are you going to call?  This week “The New York Times” exposed what it called the growing White House warfare between the Bush camp and the Cheney camp.  The vice president, the most powerful man to ever hold the office, exercises firm control in the administration from leading the charge into Iraq to pushing his own energy policies.

When asked this week if he had called the president about his shooting incident, the vice president replied, I did not.  The White House was notified, but I did not discuss directly myself.

But why didn‘t he?  Most of us would be fired if we left our bosses out of the loop.

Here is NBC‘s David Gregory getting at it this past Tuesday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Let me this.  Is the president concerned that the vice president made decisions about public disclosure of this incident that are clearly at odds of how you and others advising the president disclose personal information about the president‘s activities?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  It all begs the question, is there a problem between George Bush and Dick Cheney, Joe Scarborough?      

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, “SCARBOROUGH COUNTY”:  Well, you know, I don‘t think there is a problem between George Bush and Dick Cheney, but I do think it does prove what you said once and for all that Dick Cheney is the most powerful vice president to ever hold that position.

Imagine if George Bush Sr. had shot a man in the face and decided he wasn‘t going to tell Ronald Reagan.  Or imagine if Walter Mondale shot a man in the face and then just decided he wouldn‘t tell Jimmy Carter.  I‘ve never heard anything like this before. 

And, you know, I keep going back and forth with this, Chris.  Part of me says hey, no big deal.  People in middle America are thinking why is the Washington press corps making such a federal case about it. 

But then you look at something like this.  You look at the fact that it took them so long to notify the press.  You look at the way they allowed a local woman to dictate a huge story like this.  And all of a sudden, it just doesn‘t seem to add up. 

And this is one of the most disturbing parts of the story.  That this vice president has so much power that he doesn‘t feel like he needs to tell the president of the United States, again, that he blasted a man in the face with a shotgun. 

MATTHEWS:  I love your graphic language there. 

Let me go to Ron Reagan.  You know, when you go to a party and a couple aren‘t talking to each other for the whole party, and you go, what‘s wrong there?  You know, is that like this? 

RON REAGAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, there should be a problem between George Bush and Dick Cheney.  Joe is absolutely right.  And it‘s not just that Dick Cheney didn‘t call up the president after this happened and say, you know, FYI, George, I just shot a guy in the face.  Thought you would like to know.  

It‘s that George Bush, when it became apparent that Dick Cheney wasn‘t going to behave like a responsible adult in this matter, didn‘t call up Dick Cheney and say Dick, get your butt on the T.V., take responsibility for this and stand up like a man right now.  But apparently he can‘t because Dick Cheney out ranks him. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to Tucker.  Tucker, your assessment.  I guess it‘s right now a synthesis of what we have heard already, but let‘s hear it. 

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “THE SITUATION”:  Yes, I mean, you know, I don‘t think Cheney has anything to be ashamed of in his response.  I don‘t think the press or the public has the right to know the details of a private incident immediately. 

I don‘t think it‘s a big deal.  Bush knew.  Bush is not a detailed guy.  We know that, right?  So I don‘t think he needs a call from Dick Cheney.  I think there are tensions though between the staffs of the two, Bush and Cheney and they are ideological.  The Bush staff is much more liberal than the Cheney staff. 

With the loss of Scooter Libby, who was in some ways a liaison, he was in a lot of the West wing meetings, I think Cheney is more isolated.  And I have no way to absolutely know this, but you‘ve got to believe that there is tension over Iraq. 

The president never would have, I don‘t believe, gone to Iraq without the influence of the vice president and his advisers.  And there‘s got to be some resentment over this.  I mean do you think there isn‘t?  Of course there is. 

MATTHEWS:  Is the president wise to Cheney now? 

CARSON:  The truth is—and I made a bunch of calls about this week -

I don‘t think anybody knows.  They actually do have time alone every week.  Virtually, every week, they have this lunch and nobody else is in the room. 

So it‘s clear that Cheney is still, you know, a powerful force in the executive branch of government, but we don‘t exactly know, you know, what they talked about. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Joe.

Yes, go ahead Ron.

SCARBOROUGH:  No, it‘s Joe here.

I hear Tucker say that George Bush was more liberal than Dick Cheney. 

I think George Bush is just as conservative as anybody in Washington. 

(CROSSTALK)    

MATTHEWS:  Let me throw out a couple of hockey pucks in your direction, Joe, and you decide how to play them. 

When Colin Powell was meeting with Sharon, Cheney was meeting with Bibi Netanyahu.  When the president says we are going to try to cut our reliance on fossil fuel, Cheney says we‘re going up to the Arctic circle. 

I mean, you can go point after point and find Cheney to the right of the president. 

SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s good cop, bad cop.  I mean, do you really think that the president of the United States wants to move to alternative fuel sources in the future?  Do you really think that this guy from west Texas believes that hybrid cars are the way to go in the future?  Hell no. 

I mean, he‘s saying what has to be said at the State of the Union Address, just like Bill Clinton did the same thing, trying to work through the middle.  But Cheney has got his back.

MATTHEWS:  Ron, we have got to go. 

I guess I committed a Washington sin of believing somebody, Joe.

SCARBOROUGH:  I guess.

MATTHEWS:  Next up, the seven habits of highly effective veeps.  The vice president gave the country a lesson in news management this week.  He carefully and cleverly decided who would know what, when they would know it, how they would get it and who would be giving it to them.

Dick Cheney picked Fox News to deliver his message.  He decided it would happen four days after the shooting.  He decided what questions he would put to rest and what questions he would avoid.

Today Harry Whittington walked to a podium and spoke, which helps Cheney end his story.  But he very deliberately did not take any questions.

Cheney also created the headline that he took full responsibility for the shooting, but who else would have taken responsibility?  Was there ever a question who was to blame?  Was Cheney‘s management of this story, by the way, Reagan-esque in its mastery or in its clumsiness? 

Here‘s Cheney‘s victory lap today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It‘s a wonderful experience to be greeted with such warmth by the leaders of our great state.  That‘s especially true when you have had a very long week.  Thankfully, Harry Whittington is on the mend and doing very well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Tucker, how did he do this week?  Was this a great case of news management or was it a performance of hitting people with pellets instead of golf balls?

CARLSON:  No, actually I think he did pretty well.  I mean, Cheney has pure contempt for the press obviously.  I mean, I think in some cases contempt for the public‘s right to know.  He loves Fox, watches it every day, loves Brit Hume‘s show.  Fox is obviously more conservative.  That‘s one of the reasons he likes it.

I thought Brit did a real interview with him though.  I mean, it wasn‘t a sappy interview.  He has endured sappy interviews before on Fox, but this was not one of them.  I don‘t know.  I mean, they got the facts out.  I am down on Cheney for a number of different things, but I don‘t really see what there is to criticize here.

MATTHEWS:  Tucker, you touched all the bases. 

Ron, was it Reagan-esque?

REAGAN:  No, absolutely not.  There are plenty of things to criticize here.  If you shoot a guy in the face, you stand up the next day and you take responsibility for it.  You say I did it.

Listen, they blamed Whitaker (ph) for several days here.  The man is lying in a hospital...

SCARBOROUGH:  Who is Whitaker?

REAGAN:  I‘m sorry, you know.  The victim.  They blamed the victim for several days laying in the hospital with bird shot in his heart muscle, and they are pretending it is his fault he got shot.  Is that the way you treat your good friend?

MATTHEWS:  Joe, in this business as you know in politics, when you lose an election to a guy, you give him a call.  When you get shot in the face—I mean, you shoot some guy in the face, don‘t you owe a little pick up the phone and say hi?

SCARBOROUGH:  I‘ve got to make myself perfectly clear here.  I like Dick Cheney personally.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  I support most of the politics he supports.  I like this guy, but I have got to tell you I think he handled it terribly, as far as being a stand up guy.  I think politically, it helps him.  It helps him with his base.  Just the utter contempt for the press, the utter contempt for the Washington establishment helps him.

rMD+IT_                rMDNM_I was disappointed in the way that he handled it though.  Maybe that is because maybe I am insider now, but I thought the most ridiculous part of the week was when he sat there and he said, well, I guess ultimately, I‘m responsible. 

I thought that was pure garbage.  Of course he‘s responsible.  Who else?  He shot the guy in the face.  But if you like at that interview with Brit Hume, he made it seem like, well, listen, I am going to be the big man here, and I know he may have stepped in front of my gun, but hey, ultimately, I pulled the trigger.  Wasn‘t a profile in courage.  But again, I think, politically, it helps him with his base. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with more HARDBALL “Hotshots.”  Will we ever know the answers to Cheney‘s unsolved mysteries, and how much danger is the vice president facing in this CIA leak trial coming up next January?  You‘re watching HARDBALL “Hotshots,” only on HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  “Hotshots” with Joe Scarborough, Tucker Carlson and this week, Ron Reagan is in for Rita Cosby. 

Up next, unsolved mysteries.  Six days after Dick Cheney shot a man, big questions still loom large.  Why did he wait four days to tell the country what happened?  Why didn‘t he call the president himself?  Will we ever know the answers to these questions?  Dick Cheney‘s answers to these questions boil down to this.  He says quote, “My first reaction was not to think I need to call the press.  My first reaction is, my friend Harry has been shot, and we‘ve got to take care of him.  It was also important, I thought, to get the story out as accurately as possible, and this is a complicated story that frankly, most reporters would never have dealt with before.”

Does concern for the victim exonerate Dick Cheney?  Tucker? 

CARLSON:  Yeah, I mean, well, it‘s not a very complicated story.  I think most reporters could probably handle it.  You know, man on quail hunting trip shoots pal.  I mean, it‘s not Watergate. 

The only enduring mystery, as far as I‘m concerned, none of it is very confusing from where I sit.  But why did he have a beer before he shot?  I know it sounds uptight.  I‘m not a charter member of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers or anything, but I do know that it‘s completely against the rules, and I think it‘s a bad idea, because in an aftermath of an event like this, it makes you look bad and it makes people raise questions.  I don‘t think he was drunk, but I do wonder, why would you be drinking a beer before you‘re shooting? 

MATTHEWS:  Ron?

REAGAN:  Yeah, well, that‘s a good question.  The quote that you just read is actually priceless.  And let‘s review this.  “I didn‘t think that he needed to tell the press.”  Well, actually, the White House press office would take care of that for him. 

“My first reaction is, my friend Harry has been shot.”  Hey, everybody, somebody shot Harry.  Oh, yeah, it was me.  You know?  We‘ve got to take care of it.  Yes, let‘s rush him to the hospital...

MATTHEWS:  Mistakes were made.

REAGAN:  ... and let‘s blame him for the accident.  “It was also important to get the story out as accurate as possible.”  So I, as the guy who actually shot him, would want no part of that, apparently.  And “this is a complicated story.”  Well, as Tucker says, it‘s not complicated.  He exercised poor judgment in discharging his firearm.  He shot a friend of his.  And you know what, reporters cover all sorts of shootings.  Give them the facts in a timely matter, they‘ll muddle through.  This was a lot of mea and not enough culpa. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the question, Joe, is if it‘s such a complicated story, why did they dump it on one reporter down in Corpus Christi instead of, you know, letting three or four people sift through and try to figure out what happened? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, again...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the way most of these stories come out.

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.  I mean, here‘s another thing that just doesn‘t make any sense to me.  If it is such a complicated story, why does the vice president of the United States turn it over to a private citizen on a Texas ranch to go out and talk to a reporter at a Corpus Christi newspaper?  It‘s just—again, so much of this story just doesn‘t line up.  Again, in the big picture, I don‘t think it‘s a big deal, but there‘s just so many things that don‘t seem to add up.

And also, when the vice president of the United States says that his concerns were personal—well, I believe that.  I don‘t think he‘s lying about it.  But Dick Cheney has been in the White House since 1974, 1975.  He knows that when you live in the White House, when you work in the White House, nothing is personal anymore.  Your personal life is really, it‘s all fair game. 

So for him to say, well, yes, I shot a guy in the face, but listen, it‘s just a personal matter and it‘s nobody else‘s business—I just don‘t buy that at all. 

I know Tucker and I disagree on that one.  But even the personal becomes very public when you‘re vice president of the United States. 

CARLSON:  If I can just suggest the obvious here, the reason that Cheney didn‘t want to call the press is because he hates the press.  And I know—I‘m not even criticizing.  It‘s just...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  ... he‘s in the wrong profession, Tucker.  That‘s no excuse. 

CARLSON:  I‘m not saying it is an excuse. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And if you‘re vice president of the United States or president of the United States—listen, I don‘t think Ronald Reagan loved the press.  I don‘t think George Bush Sr. loved the press, but you‘ve got to deal with them if you‘re president or vice president of the United States. 

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN:  Tucker, you‘re a hunter, right? 

CARLSON:  I beg your pardon?

(CROSSTALK)

REAGAN:  Tucker, you‘re a hunter, right?

CARLSON:  Yes, I am. 

REAGAN:  Let me run a couple of things by you here.  It was 5:30 at night or after 5:30 when this happened.  There was dying light out there.  Cheney, by his own account, says he wheeled around into a setting sun that was setting right behind the victim here, Harry, you know, so he was shooting into a setting sun, which seems a little silly to me. 

CARLSON:  Right.

REAGAN:  Apparently, also shooting downhill at the victim.  Which is also a no-no, as far as I...

CARLSON:  Well, actually, shooting...

REAGAN:  This seems like terrible judgment here. 

CARLSON:  Well, maybe.  I mean, shooting into the setting sun is actually preferable because the bird of course is silhouetted against the sun.  But (INAUDIBLE)...

REAGAN:  But if you can‘t see a human being in the sun, are you going to see a tiny little helpless bird?

CARLSON:  It‘s dangerous under any circumstances.  You have got all these dogs running around for one thing, running through your legs, often, you know, you‘re not exactly sure what‘s a dog, what‘s a bird, what‘s a human being.  Yes, I mean, it‘s a risky thing to do.  You‘ve got to be really careful.  That‘s why people don‘t drink beer before they do it. 

MATTHEWS:  Good point.  By the way, do you think he should have submitted himself to a police interview so that this booze question wouldn‘t keep popping up, Tucker? 

CARLSON:  No, I mean, I actually don‘t think he was loaded.  I don‘t think there‘s any evidence.  I‘ve never heard in asking a lot of questions about Cheney over the years any evidence that he‘s a boozer.  I think, you know, I think he has a little scotch at night.  I‘m sure he wasn‘t loaded.  I just think, as a matter of protocol—and I‘m sure people watching are saying, well, that‘s stupid, it‘s only one beer—and maybe they‘re right.  But I can just tell you, as a matter of protocol, people just typically don‘t do it.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘ll be right back with even more HARDBALL “Hotshots.  The CIA leak case still drips.  Can Dick Cheney cite his right to release classified information? 

Plus, which 2008 presidential prospects made big news this week? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL “Hotshots,” only on HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL “Hotshots” with Joe Scarborough, Tucker Carlson and this week, Ron Reagan is in for Rita Cosby. 

Next up, still leaking.  Scooter Libby, the vice president‘s former chief of staff, is under indictment for perjury and obstruction of justice.  Last week, special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald wrote this to Libby‘s lawyers:  quote, “we also note that it is our understanding that Mr. Libby testified that he was authorized to disclose classified information to the press by his superiors.”

When asked if he the vice president has the authority to declassify information, Dick Cheney responded, “there‘s an executive order that specified who has classification authority, and obviously, focuses first and foremost on the president, but also includes the vice president.”

Tucker, does this relieve responsibility on the part of perhaps Scooter Libby, who‘s up for maybe 30 years of felony charges, that he‘s just obeying orders? 

CARLSON:  Well, if Scooter Libby had been charged with leaking this information, it might help his case quite a bit.  Nobody has been charged with leaking that information.  Turns out it‘s not a crime, and this is more evidence it‘s not a crime. 

It‘s not, you know—the information in question may not even have been classified so, you know, there‘s really nothing directly to do with the perjury charges and obstruction of justice charges Scooter Libby faces. 

It‘s a pretty interesting fact though.  How many people knew that the vice president has the authority to waive his wand and make a document, you know, unclassified?  I had no idea.  That says a lot about how much power Cheney has. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it was apparently an amendment to an executive order that was signed by the president right after ... 

CARLSON:  It was not publicly known. 

MATTHEWS:  ... the invasion of—that‘s right.  Right after the invasion of Iraq.  And you‘ve got to believe, Joe Scarborough, that that process of giving him that authority was initiated by the vice president‘s office. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, no doubt about it and, again, there are a lot of things that are very troubling to legal scholars that have been looking at the power that the presidency—I mean, the presidency has gained so much power over the past 20, 30 years anyway, but post-9/11 it‘s just exploded and there are a lot of people very concerned about this. 

I don‘t think though, for whatever reason, people in middle America are so concerned about the Scooter Libby case.  I don‘t think they‘re so concerned about even the NSA spying scandal. 

The general feeling is, if I‘m not doing anything wrong, I have absolutely nothing to worry about.  And, again, I just think these stories from 2006 probably aren‘t going to impact the political landscape too badly for the Republican Party. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, if the top aide to the vice president goes to the can for 30 years, that will be noted by historians, at least. 

Next up, the 2008 presidential prospects.  Our weekly heads up of who made news, who‘s making news, and who‘s not.  This week a new Gallup Poll show Rudy Giuliani leading the pack of Republicans for the presidential nomination.  He‘s followed closely by John McCain.

McCain, who hasn‘t been to Iowa or New Hampshire since 2004, has now planned back to back April stops in Iowa and New Hampshire.  He asked Senator Susan Collins this week of Maine if she would be one of his advisors if he decides to seek the White House.  Hardly a big if, at this point.

Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, the guy who‘s gotten skinny, heads to South Carolina on Monday to give the keynote speech of the big Republican get together.  South Carolina is an early primary, of course.  It matters on the Democratic side. 

The New York—the new Gallup Poll shows Hillary Clinton leading the pack of Democrats for the presidential nomination.  No one else comes close to her.  Yesterday, Hillary held a full day money meeting for her national finance committee.  A hundred mega-donors attended. 

And Indiana Senator Evan Bayh returns to New Hampshire in March.  He just got back to Iowa where he called for more info on Vice President Cheney‘s role in the CIA leak case.  He did not follow Howard Dean‘s lead, however, in calling for Cheney‘s outright resignation. 

Joe, who won the week?

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, we‘ve been talking about Giuliani for a couple weeks.  I think Giuliani is extremely hot.  You look at these polls that keep coming out, one after another.  He‘s leading the Republican pack and he‘s beating Hillary Clinton is a lot of these polls by 15, 20 points. 

I think it‘s very interesting.  You look at Giuliani and McCain and it looks like Republicans finally have two front runners going into 2008 that aren‘t as divisive.  You look down the list.  Who are you going to vote for and then there‘s another list of who would you not vote for under any circumstances. 

It‘s Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Al Gore who had the high numbers there.  You actually have John McCain and Rudy Giuliani who are fairly moderate and appear to reach out to both sides.  So it‘s going to be very interesting.  I give it to Giuliani again. 

MATTHEWS:  Who wins Florida?  Giuliani or Hillary? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, Giuliani, going away.

MATTHEWS:  Ron Reagan.  Big winner this week of the polls, who was it? 

REAGAN:  Well, Giuliani is an interesting story.  The question I have about Rudy though is that the Republican base tends to like their candidates anti-choice and anti-gay.  And I just wonder if Rudy Giuliani is going to need some sort of religious conversion to be able to win the south. 

As far as Hillary goes, I think she might be triangulating herself into trouble here.  She seems to have made the calculation that she can slide over to the right and not alienate her base and maybe even pick up some Republican voters. 

I think she‘s wrongs in both cases.  I think her base is getting annoyed with her about her rightward drift and, listen, Republicans would be more likely to vote for a Streisand/Sean Penn ticket than Hillary Clinton.  That‘s just not going to happen.

MATTHEWS:  OK, Tucker, who won?

CARLSON:  Well, obviously Mike Huckabee won, because he‘s been mentioned—think about it.

MATTHEWS:  We mentioned him.

CARLSON:  In the same time—as John McCain spent five and a half years in a Vietnamese prison camp, he‘s been a senator for 20.  Rudy Giuliani, the most successful mayor in the history of New York City.

Mike Huckabee is what?  Governor of Arkansas, lost a ton of weight, and all of a sudden, he‘s in the same category?  This guy‘s P.R. machine is amazingly effective. 

Hillary Clinton—every liberal I talked to—I talk to a lot, believe it or not, very skeptical about who are her supporters?  That‘s what I keep wondering.  The left doesn‘t seem to like her.  Obviously, as Ron just pointed out, moderates and Republicans, they‘d rather eat dirt than vote for her.  Who is going to vote for her? 

MATTHEWS:  I love the way you guys talk.  Thank you Joe Scarborough, Tucker Carlson, Ron Reagan.  More “Hotshots” next Friday. 

HARDBALL returns Monday at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern.  Our guests, Iraq war veteran Paul Hackett in his first national interview since dropping out of the race for Senate in Ohio.  “COUNTDOWN” with Keith Olbermann starts right now.

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

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