updated 2/27/2006 10:52:47 AM ET 2006-02-27T15:52:47

Guest: Richard Haass, Stephen Hayes, Tom DeFrank, Dick Sauber

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Iraq on the edge—are we building a nation or watching it explode?  Will the bombings of mosques detonate a region? 

Let's play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I'm Chris Matthews, and welcome to HARDBALL.

Tonight, big swirling questions about the U.S. role in the Middle East. 

In Iraq today, gunmen fired two rockets at a holy Shiite tomb, but an extraordinary daytime curfew and stepped-up security seems to have stemmed the widespread violence triggered by Wednesday's bombing of a Shiite shrine.  But will this standoff hold? 

And proof positive the Middle East remains one of the most dangerous places on Earth today:  Saudi security forces thwarted a terrorist attack when suicide bombers tried to blow up the world's most important oil refinery, a plant described as, quote, “the most spectacular target in the Saudi oil system.” Two cars exploded at the gates when security forces exchanged fire with the attackers. 

Meanwhile, in Washington, after days of mounting pressure, the White House welcomed a decision by the United Arab Emirates company, Dubai Ports World, to postpone a few weeks its takeover of six U.S. ports.  But the White House also says that the president would still veto any bill to kill the deal. 

More on the week's political pressure cookers later with our Friday night “Hotshots,” MSNBC's host Joe Scarborough, Rita Cosby and Tucker Carlson.

But first, the latest on Iraq from NBC News correspondent Mike Boettcher in Baghdad. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKE BOETTCHER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (on camera):  Chris, Iraqi authorities fearing that sectarian violence was spiraling out of control ordered the drastic step of a curfew, a daytime curfew in this country and so far it seems to have worked. 

(voice-over):  Never have Baghdad streets been so quiet. 

Iraq's army and police blocked major roads leading to Baghdad and reinforced security around mosques. 

Despite today's enforced calm, tension remains high throughout Iraq. 

“Sectarian strife and war will happen and we are expecting that,” said one man who ventured out. 

At least 120 have died in sectarian violence since Wednesday's attack against one of Shiite Islam's holiest shrines, the Golden Mosque in Samarra.  Among the dead, 47 people, Sunni and Shiite, pulled off a bus and shot to death after attending a peace rally. 

Two days of angry demonstrations and reprisal killings seemed to be pushing Iraq toward civil war. 

Sunnis pulled out of talks to form a government of national unity, and among Shiites, still talk of revenge. 

American commanders blamed al Qaeda in Iraq. 

MAJ. GEN. RICK LYNCH, SPOKESMAN, MULTINATIONAL FORCE:  It's clearly the signature of Zarqawi and terrorists and foreign fighters.  I mean, they want to drive this sectarian wedge. 

BOETTCHER:  The question now:  Will Iraq's streets remain quiet when the curfew is lifted? 

(on camera):  This curfew was ordered for the central part of Iraq, but other parts of the nation could move about freely.  For example, in the south in Najaf and also in Basra, there were demonstrations but they were peaceful. 

As well, one incident of violence reported in Baghdad.  Two rockets were fired at a tomb sacred to Shiites, but there were no injuries and very little damage.

And as well, we have late information from the ministry of interior here that the curfew, the daytime curfew will be reinstated tomorrow—

Chris? 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  That's Mike Boettcher over there in Baghdad. 

Richard Haass is the president of the Council on Foreign Relations.  He was director of policy planning for the State Department and a principal adviser to Colin Powell, when he was secretary of state. 

Richard, thank you for joining us. 

You've studied this situation in Iraq for months and years.  It reminds me of scenes from “Gandhi” when the Muslims went to war with the Hindus at the time of the creation of those two countries, Pakistan and India. 

RICHARD HAASS, PRES., COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS:  Well, you're right, Chris, in the sense that you've got these fault lines, you've got them between, you've got them within the various sects of Iraq.  It's always been there potentially. 

We saw a dark glimpse of what the future could turn out to be—and I emphasize the word could. 

I think the good news, though, is that nothing here is inevitable and one shouldn't assume that we somehow passed the tipping point. 

MATTHEWS:  How do we get these two sides, the majority Shia, about 60 some percent of the country and the 20 percent of the country that's Sunni together at a table where they can create a government of national unity? 

HAASS:  Well, those talks have been going on. 

They've been suspended in the last couple of days, but those talks have been going on for months, and they will presumably resume in a couple of days. 

You've got to follow them up, though, with talks also about changing the constitution to give the Sunnis a little bit more.

But I'd make a more basic point, Chris.  There's no amount of political compromise that will be enough for the people who are doing this violence. 

So at the end of the day, you've still got to try to stop those Sunnis who are doing this, the al Qaeda and other people; that means trying to physically stop them, it means doing a better job at protecting the holy sites and it means continuing to appeal to the majority Shia leaders, Ayatollah Ali Sistani and others, to speak out against retaliation. 

MATTHEWS:  What's the difference between what you just said and taking sides with the Shia? 

HAASS:  Well, I don't think you want to take sides in the sense of attacking mainstream Sunnis. 

Your problem is not the average Sunni in the street.  Your problem is really two groups: the al Qaeda types, the small number of people who have come in from outside of Iraq, and a more significant number of radical Sunni.  It might be 10,000, it might be 15,000.  Those are the people you've got to go after.

But you have no desire to go after the 5 million or so Sunni Iraqis. 

MATTHEWS:  But wouldn't it look like it—if we start shooting at Sunnis or pursuing them, doesn't it look like we're doing the work of the Shia majority, which is to grab control of the country for the majority? 

How do you create simultaneously political coalescing between the two moderate sides and at the same time take sides against the radical sides on the Sunni al Qaeda front? 

HAASS:  Well, in some ways, it's nothing fundamentally different from what we've been doing all along. 

We've been after the al Qaeda types, we've been after the Sunni insurgents.  What it means probably, though, is bringing more American troops into the center, bringing them back from the periphery.  It means concentrating those Iraq troops who have trained up to do that. 

It means also using Iraqi Sunni, in a sense, not simply depending upon Iraq Shia forces who are in the guise of a national army, but also bringing in those Iraqis who are Sunni but who also are part of the national army and police, bringing them into the effort as well. 

Again, what you want to do is delegitimize Sunni violence. 

MATTHEWS:  You're still speaking with at least a measure of optimism that we can put together a country over there.  What would be a sign that we could not—to you? 

HAASS:  The sign to me would be essentially what we've seen in the last few days on a much larger scale, then the breakdown of police and military units. 

When we see people essentially saying, “We're going to go back and fight for our own side; we're no longer Iraqis, but now we're Shia or we're Sunnis or we're Kurds,” when we see that on the part of a majority of Iraqis, particularly those in the police and the military, that's when we'll know we've passed the tipping point. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the big development today in Saudi Arabia. 

I know you've been watching that, where you saw some suicide bombers try to take out the largest refinery.  Where is that heading?  Because they're not going to just quit after trying once. 

HAASS:  No, of course not.  And they're going to try again and again and again. 

It's interesting, Chris, I did recently a simulation, one of these so-called war games, and that was exactly the scenario, where terrorists attacked, among other things, the big refinery in Saudi Arabia. 

All you can do is obviously try to protect it.  That's a measure of physical defense and obviously good intelligence and police work.

But I've got to tell you one other thing.  It's a message to us.  So long as the United States is consuming and importing as much oil as we are, we and the rest of the world are going to be vulnerable and one day it's possible the terrorists will get lucky.  One day it's possible they'll succeed.

We have now in a sense had strategic warning.  We have got to do things to reduce our consumption and our dependence upon oil. 

MATTHEWS:  If they blow up one of these big refineries, does that bring down the royal family? 

HAASS:  No, it doesn't bring down the royal family. 

What it does, though, is perhaps cause a major problem to the international economy.  But I think the royal family can survive it.

It's quite hard, as it turns out, to bring down these refineries.  It is—the oil system, if you will, is relatively robust.  So I don't think we're on the brink of anything that dramatic. 

MATTHEWS:  If you're a Sunni Muslim, if you're from Saudi Arabia or from Egypt or Jordan, and you're watching this thing going on in Iraq right now, what are you rooting for? 

I'm talking about our traditional allies over there.  Do they want to see a Shia-led government?  Do they want to see a country that continues in civil war where the Sunnis have a shot at taking it all over again in a year or two?  What do they want? 

HAASS:  That's a great question.

What they really want are for things to calm down and they want to see essentially a normal Iraq.  They always wanted Iraq to be strong in order to balance Iran.  And they've also wanted an Iraq in which the Sunnis feel that they've at least got enough part of the action, enough skin, that they're not—you don't see the kind of violence in the streets. 

Essentially, they want what we want.  They want our policy to succeed at this point, even though they think we were wrong to begin it in the first place. 

MATTHEWS:  What chance is there that the Sunnis will win this battle over the next couple of years, say a year and a half from now?

I heard this from a general off the record, that there's a good prospect that a year and a half from now the Sunnis will overthrow the existing majority, in effect, rule of the Shia, go back to where they were before.

Where do you see that prospect?  Do you see it?

HAASS:  Virtually nil.  The alternative to success, a national government that's essentially dominated by the Shia, is the breakdown of order, a civil war, possibly a regional war.  There's no chance, I believe, of going back to a Saddam-like, Sunni-dominated Iraq.  That's simply not in the cards. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Richard Haass, head of the Council on Foreign Relations. 

Coming up, as Dubai Ports World promises to wait awhile before taking control of our six key ports, does President Bush now have the cover he needs with his critics?  I doubt it.

Plus, Scooter Libby is back in court and he says Patrick Fitzgerald violated the Constitution by indicting him. 

And later, it's the HARDBALL “Hotshots.”  Joe Scarborough, Tucker Carlson, and Rita Cosby—they sound off on the week's hottest stories.  Always a hit on Friday here, the HARDBALL “Hotshots.”  You're watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  It's been a tough political week for President Bush, between civil unrest in Iraq and uproar here at home, over a deal allow the United Arab Emirates-owned company to manage some ports on the East Coast.  How could the president now be under fire for what is widely considered his strength, national security? 

Stephen Hayes is an expert on that subject.  He's staff writer with “The Weekly Standard.”  And Tom DeFrank is the Washington bureau chief of the “New York Daily News.” 

If you're President Bush, what's on your pillow tonight when you put your head down?  What are you worried about most? 

TOM DEFRANK, “NEW YORK DAILY NEWS”:  Well, you're worried about the specter of a Republican-dominated Congress, Republican-led Congress, repudiating you, because if that happens, I think his presidency is down the drain and that's why I think in the end, Chris, that some deal is worked out.  Stakes are just too high for the president. 

MATTHEWS:  Steve, there's an old rule on politics on Capitol Hill, when I worked up there.  As you watch and see who pops up when you're weak, because you never know who is your friend or enemy when you're strong.

But when you're having a bad week, these pop up guys like Frist, Peter King—are you now thinking you're president of the United States, you're sitting with Karl Rove in the middle of the night, you're going who the hell is screwing us now up there?  Are you just now—these are not our friends. 

STEPHEN HAYES, “THE WEEKLY STANDARD”:  I don't think you're at that point yet if you're President Bush.  I would differ a little bit with what Tom said.  I think that he's—when he goes to bed tonight, he's going to be thinking first and foremost about Iraq. 

It certainly is a pretty serious time in Iraq.  The number of statements and the quickness with which these statements came out yesterday, with respect to this bombing of the mosque, I think underscores just how serious a point this is. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean for the Sunni side or the Shia side? 

HAYES:  Everybody.  You will Jalal Talabani take—the president of Iraq, take to the airwaves almost immediately.  You had people on all sides of the ethnic and sectarian divisions in Iraq make statements.  You had President Bush make a statement. 

I think it was at about 2:00 yesterday afternoon, e-mailed out a statement to the White House press corps, and that signaled to me that they understand that this is a real crucial point, and potentially a turning point in Iraq.  So that's what I think he's thinking about.

MATTHEWS:  Does that mean that you're saying the same things on different fronts?  Tom, you're pointing out the fact that when there's a crisis, and a weakness on the part of this president, everybody goes to their own interests. 

You know, not just Schumer, not just Hillary in New York, not just Peter King, but guys like Frist, who really have no particular reason to separate themselves from the president at this point, do they? 

DEFRANK:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  Are saying I'm not him.  McCain is doing his usual number which is to let him burn slowly rather than fast or whatever.  I don't know what McCain is up to.  He's with the president as we go in to the weekend but it took him a couple of days to get there.  What's going on? 

DEFRANK:  Well, I think what's happened is that Republicans are nervous about this president as well, but I also think ... 

MATTHEWS:  They don't want to go down with the ship. 

DEFRANK:  Well, yes, but I think that the ship going down is still awfully premature here, Chris, but I do think part of the problem here is that there's five-and-a-half years of accumulated irritation between Capitol Hill and the president. 

Specifically, you can find a lot of Republicans in Congress who say, this White House's idea of consultation is OK, fellows, here's what we're going to do, thanks very much.  And I think there's a little bit of a payback here. 

MATTHEWS:  But Frist is a creation of this president.  The president made Frist leader of the Senate and now he's out there barking at him.

DEFRANK:  Well, Bill Frist wants to be president and he has not used

his leadership position as a springboard to help himself.  He's in a deep

hole with Republican conservatives for his flip-flop on stem cell research

·         on stem cells—so he's looking for a way to distance himself and get some momentum. 

MATTHEWS:  Stephen, is the Republican Party and the Democratic Party -

·         are politicians comfortable with taking what looks to be the tribalist side on this fight, the anti-Arab side?  Are they comfortable that going to bed at night, going back to their smart people back home and saying, OK, I'm going to be the supernationalist, I don't trust Arabs, I'll admit it, when they get back and they talk among themselves.  Because that's what they look like. 

HAYES:  Yes, I don't know if it's that.  What I think actually happened in this case was you had a report that came out initially and people, without looking at the details of this report, were alarmed.  And I think a lot of people had that sort of tribalist reaction, gut reaction. 

And some people, I think, it made sense politically to come out and say wait a second, we are not going to let Arabs run our most sensitive ports. 

MATTHEWS:  And it's a no loss position to take.  You can't really get hurt. 

HAYES:  But the question is if that's still the case. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  In the long run you look like a cheap shot artist. 

HAYES:  Yes, I think some people are beginning to look—as people begin to get into the details of what exactly this means, what kind of an ally the United Arab Emirates is, what kind of an ally has it been, it's a lot more complicated I think than the initial reactions from both politicians and, to a certain extent, the press suggested that it was.  It's not just sort of this us and them.  There are a lot of complicated issues. 

MATTHEWS:  I'll talk politics now.  The old Middle East people who care about Israel, care about peace in the Middle East, have always been smart.  We have to have Arab allies.  You can't just be for Israel.  I'm just talking base American politics here. 

You need Egypt on our side, so we give a big amount of foreign aid to Egypt to keep them comfortable, keep them on our side, right?  You have got to have trading relationships with Jordan, with Egypt.  You've got to have trading relationships with the oil countries over there. 

This new sort of Americanism, tribalism is no, screw the Arabs.  It's a new level, isn't it?  Isn't this something different from smart people who care about the Middle East? 

DEFRANK:  Oh, I think it is new and it's disturbing, but, I mean, I think it's, obviously, got its roots grounded in September 11th.  There is a lot of people who instinctively say these are the people who help kill our colleagues in New York and Washington. 

HAYES:  You know what I think is particularly interesting about this.  If you go back and you remember to Bush's State of the Union, he had this whole passage about not returning to isolationism and not being protectionist.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, that's new this year.

HAYES:  And I thought—yes, and, you know, when I heard the State of the Union, my initial reaction to that was, who the heck is this guy talking about?  It was out of the blue.  It didn't ...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, who are these straw men?

HAYES:  And it now looks as though he might have been right.  I mean, he's got ...

MATTHEWS:  He's talking about Peter King.  He's talking about all these guys.

HAYES:  No, or Sue Myrick from North Carolina who sent this, you know, two sentence letter to the president a couple of days ago saying not only no, Mr. President, but hell no.  You know, maybe he was actually right and sort of in front of the curve on that. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he looks like he's a wise man now and a man of restraint, almost Atticus Finch.  You know, almost the guy against the mob outside this police station. 

DEFRANK:  Well, I think that helps him if the deal goes through.  If the deal finally goes through even if you've got a compromise that's there's clearly going to be a delay here.  If the deal goes through, President Bush looks like he has been standing tall for the greater God. 

MATTHEWS:  But he is weak because he loses.  But he loses if the deal goes through. 

DEFRANK:  I don't know if he loses if the deal goes through.  The damage may have already been done. 

MATTHEWS:  He looks like he's an upright loser rather than a down low bad guy.

We'll be right back with Stephen Hayes to figure this thing out.  It's the hottest story of the week.  These ports, the president says let's the Arabs get control of the ports.  The mob says no.  If he loses to the mob, does he still win?  Some people think so.

And later “The HARDBALL Hot Shots.”  Tonight, Joe Scarborough, Tucker Carlson and Rita Cosby on the biggest stories of the week.  You're watching it.  HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We're back with Stephen Hayes of “The Weekly Standard” and Tom DeFrank of “The New York Daily News.” 

Today a big American conservative, a historic figure, William F.  Buckley, we all grew up with him.  You are too young.  We all grew up with this guy.  He was the leading figure of the new conservative movement.  He says he believes the war in Iraq is now a failure because of this civil war. 

Tom DeFrank, importance of that. 

DEFRANK:  I don't agree with that.  I don't agree it is a failure.  I do agree it hasn't succeeded, and there's a big difference.  But Steve is right, I think we could be at a tipping point here.  It's a little too early to no know, but this is a critical moment. 

MATTHEWS:  What's the U.S. policy here to make sense at this point, Stephen? 

HAYES:  The U.S. policy in Iraq...

MATTHEWS:  To bring together these people over there and try again to create a country.

HAYES:  Well, this is again a delicate balance because on the one hand the U.S. has to have a policy.  It has to be sort of a shaping or a guiding influence. 

On the other hand, the more diplomatically, I'm speaking about here, the more the U.S. is seen as this guiding hand, the more hostility it has the potential to create.  So I think, you know, the first responsibility of the U.S. government is to do everything that we can to provide security.  If that means adding troops at this point, that means adding troops. 

But to the extent that we can let the Iraqis diplomatically work things out and play a role behind the scenes...

MATTHEWS:  Well, what's wrong with saying as our ambassador Khalilzad said the other day, if you guys can't get together, we are getting out of here?  What's wrong with saying that?

HAYES:  Well, I think first of all...

MATTHEWS:  Some people blame him for this stuff.

HAYES:  Yes, I mean I think that's a bit overwrought.  I think you can't make a threat that we're going to up and leave if they don't fix this problem, because I think that has no credibility.  Nobody really believes that we're going to up and leave. 

I think, you know, support could wane if they don't get this right and get it right quickly. 

MATTHEWS:  What tricky times.

Thank you very much Stephen Hayes.

Thank you Tom DeFrank. 

Up next, “The HARDBALL Hot Shots.”  Joe Scarborough, Tucker Carlson, Rita Cosby tee off on the brilliance and buffoonery of the past week, and we have seen both.  You are watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

(MARKET REPORT)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

It's time for our new Friday feature, HARDBALL “Hotshots” with my MSNBC colleagues Joe Scarborough, Tucker Carlson and Rita Cosby. 

There they are. 

Our philosophy here at HARDBALL “Hotshots”:  send you into the weekend, you folks out there, with the best stories and the sharpest players in politics. 

First up, ready to blow—in a week of sound and fury, fear and loathing, America came closer to its worst-case Mideast scenario:  a civil war in Iraq with U.S. troops caught in the crossfire. 

But the bloodshed and rage isn't limited to Iraq.  Just next door, Iran's snarling anti-American leader blames us for the mosque burning the other day that ignited the Iraq fire.  He said, quote, “These heinous acts are committed by a group of Zionists and occupiers that have failed.  They have failed in the face of Islam's logic and justice, but be sure you will not be saved from the wrath and power of the justice-seeking nations by resorting to such acts.”  His audience responded “death to America, death to Israel.” 

Joe, where are we at in Iraq? 

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY”:  We're in a very bad place right now. 

I've supported the Iraq war from the very beginning.  There have been only two times where I've been really concerned that things were getting so bleak that we had to consider other alternatives.  One was during Fallujah when you had the Sunnis and the Shia both uniting together, when al-Sadr started working with the Sunnis.  This is the second time. 

Because the reason I've always believed that Iraq would work is because 90 percent of the population supported this effort—you had 60 percent of the Shia, 20 percent of the Kurds and about half of the Sunnis. 

Now you've got a situation where the Shia are just going to stop being patient.  At some point, they're going to say, “Enough is enough.  We're not holding back anymore and we're going to start killing these Sunnis that continue to blow up our grandmothers and our children at bus stops and blow up our holiest mosques.”

So I fear that a civil war is possible.  But I will say this, for all those politicians in Washington hoping that a civil war will break out so George Bush will fail, they don't need to be anymore excited than the neo-cons are after every election goes well in Iraq, because I still think this is going to be a long road ahead of us. 

MATTHEWS:  Rita Cosby, where are we at in there?

What do our soldiers do?  They're armed to the teeth, we've got ammo, we've got food, we've got places to stay.  But what's our mission now over there with these two sides shooting at each other? 

RITA COSBY, HOST, “LIVE & DIRECT”:  Well, you know, I think it makes it really confusing for us, because what do you do?  Do you just stand back and let them battle it out and have a bit of a bloodbath and then come back in, in a few weeks or a few months?  That's what some people are suggesting.

On the other hand, then it really is for naught if you let that happen. 

I think—you know, as Joe said, I think we're hitting a really difficult part. 

I mean, this mosque that was blown up is basically the equivalent of the Sistine Chapel to these people.  I mean, they valued this place so much. 

You also look at what happened in Saudi Arabia today, the attempted suicide bombing.  I think we're entering a really difficult, you know, plan in the Middle East, really difficult phase.

And I don't really know what you do. 

I think at this point we've got to sort of watch both sides, but we can't let it get out of control. 

MATTHEWS:  Tucker, Bill Buckley, the great old conservative, today said this war is a failure on our side; this whole campaign in Iraq is a failure because of this civil war. 

Your verdict? 

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “THE SITUATION”:  Of course I agree with that.

And Bill Buckley, incidentally, has been saying that for quite sometime, I think just since right after the war began. 

Here are a couple problems in this, as Rita pointed out. 

We are not intervening, we're not taking sides and I think that becomes politically problematic for the president when atrocities that take place in Iraq start getting a lot of publicity. 

Is the public really going to stand there and watch, you know, a mini Rwanda take place in Iraq and not press the U.S. government to do something about it?  No.

The second problem, Kurdistan.  It will—I mean, at a certain point,

the Kurds who kind of have their act together, who are sitting on a lot of

oil in the north of Iraq, are going to say to themselves, obviously, “We

don't need this.  We have a pretty coping little country going on here,

let's make it official, let's make it Kurdistan,” at which point the Turks

·         what do they do?  I mean, that is their nightmare scenario. 

So you have the potential to really destabilize the northern part of the country and I don't know what we're going to do to stop it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, James A. Baker, the secretary of state under Bush I, predicted this entire scenario 10 years ago in a speech—I just dug it up. 

Anyway, next up, forget about it—that just about sums up the Scooter Libby bad memory defense in the CIA leak case.  I bet the president is calling him Scooter Fibby right now. 

Today, Libby's lawyers fought a motion to release hundreds of classified documents they say they need for his case.  Earlier in the week, Libby's lawyers requested that his case be thrown out altogether.  They say Fitzgerald, Patrick Fitzgerald never had the authority to bring the charge because he wasn't appointed by the president.  If that fails, you can expect Libby to argue that his memory failed him when he failed to tell the truth to the grand jury. 

Here's what Scooter Libby said in March of 2004:  “I tend to get between 100 and 200 pages of material a day that I'm supposed to read and understand and I—you know, I start at 6:00 in the morning and I go to 8:00 or 8:30 at night.  I can't possibly recall all the stuff that I think is important, let alone other stuff that I don't think is as important.  I apologize if there's some stuff that I remember and some I don't.” 

Will the grand jury buy this? 

What do you think, Joe? 

SCARBOROUGH:  It worked for the Clintons for eight years. 

I was on Government Reform and Oversight.  You'd have Craig Livingstone, who was hired by Hillary Clinton, but then when you asked him during Travelgate, “Who hired you?” he goes, “I really don't remember.” 

I remember sitting there saying, “OK, well, when you get the call—

'Hey buddy, you can work at the White House' -- who made that call?” 

“I really don't remember.” 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  They all did it for eight years and, Chris, I'm just saying, it works. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me go to Rita, because I have to tell you, I watched this sitting here at this desk all these months and years of the war between the White House, especially the vice president's office, especially that office, especially Libby going to war with Joe Wilson and his wife month after month, day after day after hour.  And now he's saying “It was just one of these small-potato items I didn't notice in my inbox.” 

COSBY:  Yes.  You know, I think that's going to be a hard thing to watch. 

The point is also, Chris, it was many conversations, it wasn't just one conversation.

And anybody who knows Scooter Libby—this guy is incredibly meticulous and I think people are going to come out and say, rMD+BO_rMD-BO_rMDNM_”TrMDNM_his guy remembered this, he remembered this, but boy, he can't remember that conversation he had seven times.” 

I think it's going to be a really hard thing to watch. 

He is trying to pin it on everybody, saying, “Look, Fitzgerald wasn't maybe qualified because he wasn't appointed by the president—can you give me these secret documents?  I was preoccupied by a lot of other things.” 

I think it's going to be a hard thing to watch and I think the grand jury—I think those folks are not going to buy it.  I bet it's going to go to trial. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, here's some of my attitude, Tucker. 

The best and the brightest say, “Trust us, we're smarter than you.” 

Now they say, “Don't blame us, we're dumber than you.”  Which is it?

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  Look, if you want to indict Scooter Libby or Wolfowitz or, for that matter, the vice president for getting into this catastrophic war, you know, I think that's a fair case to make. 

This case is not about the war, it's not about Valerie Wilson or her loud-mouthed husband; it's about whether Scooter Libby lied in his conversations with federal agents and the grand jury and whether he obstructed justice. 

It has nothing directly to do with the leaking of her name to Bob Novak.  That's why this whole case is ludicrous from the beginning, as far as I'm concerned. 

This guy was empaneled, Fitzgerald, to find out whether this was a crime, leaking her name.  It turns out not to be a crime, and yet Scooter Libby is up on these charges that are only tangentially related.

So I just think the whole thing is a huge amount of wasted time, effort and money barking up a tree that's not even in the same forest. 

(CROSSTALK)

COSBY:  ... and that's a lesson that obviously Clinton learned, we all learned.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Standing is the issue Tucker raises. 

Anyway, I'll be right back with much more HARDBALL “Hotshots.” 

South Dakota gets set, by the way, to ban almost all abortions and have ginned up a plan to march straight to the Supreme Court.

Plus, why one man may not want to move to South Carolina. 

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to “HARDBALL Hot Shots” wit Joe Scarborough, Tucker Carlson and Rita Cosby.

Next up, gaming the system.  South Dakota conservatives know how to get their day in court.  The state legislature passed a sweeping unprecedented bill to ban almost all abortions.

But observe the gamesmanship, legislators knew that liberal groups would sue to overturn the bill, kicking it up all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States.  When that happens, the country will find out what it got when it signed up for John Roberts and Samuel Alito. 

Is this clever conservative strategy?  And will abortion be front and center in the 06 midterms? 

Let me go right down to Tucker Carlson.

CARLSON:  Well, look, obviously I think the South Dakota voters have a right to decide whether they want abortion in their state.  However, I think as a political strategy, you know, you have got to do the math.  The Supreme Court has two reliably anti-Roe vs. Wade votes on it, Scalia and Thomas.  It has two people whose votes we don't know, and then it has five members who are for Roe vs. Wade.

So even if the two new Supreme Court justices are adamantly opposed to Roe vs. Wade, Roe vs. Wade moves not an inch.  So in perfect circumstances for the pro-lifers, the court takes up this case and the two new guys vote the way they want them to vote, we're still at the status quo, so I'm not exactly sure what this accomplishes. 

I do know that the NARAL and pro-choice groups like that don't want you to know.  They want you to think that, you know, Alito and Roberts are going to swing Roe vs. Wade, but that's just not true. 

MATTHEWS:  That fills the coffers.

Let me go to Rita.  Does this alert the ears of the pro-choicers out there?  Do their antennae go up and do they begin to worry about this election even and vote Democrat with more enthusiasm than they normally would? 

COSBY:  Absolutely.  I think it's going to rally folks definitely to the polls.  We talked about this a few weeks ago when we heard about, you know, of course Alito and Roberts getting on we said right away this is going to be the issue, as Tucker puts his head up there.  This is going to be the issue.  I had to give Tucker a little cameo.

This is clearly going to be the issue.  So I think for that reason, you know—I mean, this is the rally that they always dreamed about.  But as Tucker points out, you have got five who basically say they support Roe vs. Wade.  But you can see the slowly chipping away, slowly chipping away central issue for the court. 

MATTHEWS:  My bet—let me ask you to respond to my bet, Joe, being a political guy.  I think that Roberts will not vote to overturn Roe vs.  Wade.  I think Alito might. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, I'll take it a step further.  You have got to have four justices voting to allow cert for them to even hear the case.  John Roberts wants Roe vs. Wade to be overturned, but he wants it overturned the way South Dakota is doing it.  He wants it bit by bit. 

I don't think the Supreme Court will see the South Dakota case.  Instead, he's going to chip away with his partial birth abortion ban that they took up last week, and you will see five justices agreeing for the first time with Kennedy being the deciding vote, agreeing for the first time that states and the federal government can outlaw a specific abortion. 

That's going to be the big news front and center.  It will be partial birth abortion.  John Roberts is way too smart to try to knock down Roe vs.  Wade in one fell swoop. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  I agree completely.  I think you are dead right.

Next up, no holds barred.  There is a whole lot of cooking in the Carolinas these days.  Get this, the North Carolina Republican Party has put out words to its members to get their hands on as many—catch this—church registries as possible. 

They are making a list, checking it twice.  Can they get voters from the pews to the polls?

And down in South Carolina, the Christian group is trying to remold the state into a promised land for conservative Christians.  He's recruiting like-minded folks from all around the country to come on down to South Carolina.  It should be noted that Mr. Brunell (ph) has yet to take himself down there up on his own offer.  He still lives outside of South Carolina. 

Seriously though folks, let me go to Tucker again up front.  Do you think that this is going to work, this idea of checking the pews for numbers, for names and recruiting a political party out of that? 

CARLSON:  Oh yes.  Of course it will work.  I mean, it's what the Republicans did in 2004.  Church attendance is one of the single most—possibly the single most reliable indicator in party I.D., in voting patterns.  You go to church more often, you are more likely to vote Republican. 

Not everyone goes to church all the time votes Republican but by the number, yes, that's the most reliable.  Whether the church participates, is another question.  Is it immoral to turn your church registry over to a political party?  In my view, yes it is immoral.  But as a political strategy, yes, of course it's going to be effective, without question. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, Rita, I was looking at my crowd, the Roman Catholics are refusing to participate in this.  I guess then by Tucker's guide they are the good guys here.  They are not playing ball.  They are not kicking into the political movement here. 

COSBY:  Yes, you know what?  I do feel they are the good guys. 

I am offended I think that churches would turn over their rosters.  I think there needs to be this clear separation of church and state.  Look, this is what our country was founded on. 

And I also like what the Democrats are doing.  I mean talk about a wacky thing.  They are going after the, quote, “hoodlum vote.”  I mean, that I think is very racist.  Clearly they are going after the African-American vote, and I think on both sides it's pretty offensive.

MATTHEWS:  Back up a notch.  Going after the hoodlum vote? 

COSBY:  Yes, they're going after the felons.  They are going after the convicted felons.  They are going after these rosters saying that some of these felons should be able to vote. 

So what they are doing in turn in saying OK the conservatives are going after the churches, you know, we'll get those lined.  We'll get those voted of the folks who have had a criminal record.  You know, come on.

MATTHEWS:  What about the South Carolina idea, Joe, of cresting a promised land in South Carolina? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, you know, I just want to talk about how terrified I am by the fact that any political party would organize in churches.  I mean, the Democratic Party would never use African-American churches to draw voters to the polls, and if they ever did that I would be deeply offended.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Are you reminding us of Jimmy Carter?  I think you are. 

SCARBOROUGH:  No, what I'm reminding you of is how blind “The New York Times” and other newspapers are to the fact that when they start talking about the dangerous right-wing religious types, they forget the Democrats have been doing this in African-American churches for a year. 

COSBY:  Yes, it goes both ways.

SCARBOROUGH:  Listen, when I campaigned—you can't campaign, Chris, the way you used to campaign.  People don't—they aren't at home.  They don't organize in neighborhoods.  They don't organize in precincts.  I had to go to clubs.  I had to go to churches.  I had to go to outside groups.  That's the only way you can build these coalitions to get grassroots people out there, so both sides do it and they need to do it. 

MATTHEWS:  Next up, the 2008 presidential prospects, our weekly heads up of who made news, who's looking smart and who's not.  In the news this week, John McCain gets a boost from RNC Chair Ken Mehlman.  The party that usually steers clear of sidling up with any particular candidate this early. 

But Mehlman, the chairman of the party, has already offered to help McCain raise money for his political action committee. 

Senate Majority Bill Frist fought with the president this week.  He gave George Bush just an hour's notice before publicly declaring that he would kill the Bush port policy. 

And Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney made his fourth recent trip to the all important state of Ohio on the Democratic side. 

Hillary Clinton showed up, by the way, her tough presidential national security cred by moving to the right of George Bush on the port deal.  She says only American companies should manage American ports. 

Senator Joe Biden said this week that he thinks he could be competitive in a presidential race.  He says he knows where he wants to take the country, and he's going to lay it out. 

And a father-son item this week.  Former Senator Birch Bayh of Indiana is making the case for a popular vote for president, no more electoral college.  He wants to scrap the college.  And his own son, Indiana Senator Evan Bayh hopes to win in 2008. 

Joe, who won the week? 

SCARBOROUGH:  I tell you it was a good week for Hillary, being able to move to the right of George Bush on national security.  However, you know, I look at these polls that keep coming out and John McCain is not only obliterating his competition on the Republican side, he's beating Hillary Clinton by 15, 20 percentage points. 

I just don't think right now anybody else matters on the Republican side but John McCain, and I don't think anybody else is relevant on the Democratic side except Hillary Clinton.  They are so far ahead of the pack that if they don't make any mistakes, that is who we are going to see.  And Hillary is going to have to figure out how to make up 20 points from John McCain.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Giuliani keeps beating McCain in every single poll I see, Joe.  Every single one it's Giuliani so I don't get that what you just said.

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, I mean if Giuliani decides to jump in.  Obviously, I've been saying for several weeks I think he's a great choice, but the question is again, is he going to jump in and how is he going to do in these Republican primaries? 

MATTHEWS:  Rita, winner in week? 

COSBY:  You know, I think McCain as well.  I think the fact that Ken Mehlman—here is the RNC chairman backing him, say he's going to help with his PAC, that's huge. 

MATTHEWS:  And Gillespie is backing George Allen, so it's a little divided.  Let's go to Tucker. 

CARLSON:  I'll tell you why McCain won.  Because while everybody—virtually everyone on both sides, including me to some extent, and I'll admit it, was demagoguing the port deal, which the more you learn about it is actually much more complicated than it seems at first. 

McCain refused to and said hold on a second.  This actually may not be a threat to American national security.  That took courage, and I think he wins because of it. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much.  Joe Scarborough, Tucker Carlson and Rita Cosby.  What a week.  More HARDBALL “Hotshots” next Friday. 

Up next, Scooter Libby is back in court in the CIA leak case.  We'll get the latest from the courthouse.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Scooter Libby was back in court today in Washington.  HARDBALL's David Shuster has been following it at the courthouse and he's right there now. 

David, what's going on with Scooter Libby's wide-ranging option plays for his defense? 

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT:  Well, that's what's going on, Chris.  Right now, the defense is trying to figure out what their defense is going to be.  They've got a couple of different options.  They're trying to figure out what the judge will and will not allow them to introduce. 

So for example, if Scooter Libby wants to argue that he was so busy with issues of national security that he couldn't possibly something as simple as Valerie Plame, then the judge said today we're going to allow you to introduce your hand-written notes over a period of 10 months, but the judge indicated that he's not likely to grant the defense request that they introduce all the presidential daily briefs.  The 273 PDBs, they're classified.

The 9/11 Commission, the judge pointed out, only was able to get two of them after a fight with the White House.  The judge made it pretty clear he's not going to allow that in. 

But there were a couple of interesting notations about the overall case.  For example, the judge pointed out that this investigation is separate from the Libby Case.  It's ongoing.  It continues.  The judge struck down one request for documents on that basis. 

And the other issue that was pretty interesting, Chris, is that there

·         with this whole issue of the timeline.  Remember, the trial is not supposed to start until January 2007. 

The judge is trying to figure out a way to make sure that Libby can at least have his due process, present the defense that he wants, and at the same time, not eliminate this case completely by sparking a fight with the White House over documents. 

So those are the main issues.  And, again, the headline being the investigation continues separate from Scooter Libby and there was, of course, another reference to Bob Woodruff, to the idea that a government official outside of the White House spoke to two reporters in June of 2003. 

Libby wanted to try to introduce that information as a way of undermining both Tim Russert and Matt Cooper and suggest that their testimony was inaccurate, because perhaps those reporters heard it from other reporters.  The judge wouldn't allow that, at least not today. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much David Shuster.

Let's bring in attorney Dick Sauber, who represents “TIME” magazine reporter Matt Cooper, one of the reporters Libby told about the classified.  material.  I don't get it, this I forgot defense.  This guy was on a rampage for months, the vice president's office was on a rampage against Joe Wilson who tried to undercut the credibility of the vice president and president.  Are we to believe it was small potatoes to this guy?

DICK SAUBER, MATT COOPER'S ATTORNEY:  Well, from the press reports it doesn't seem as if the issue of Wilson and Wilson's wife and who sent him to Niger was small potatoes.  It does seem as if that was on the front burner of the White House, certainly politically.  But I didn't ...

MATTHEWS:  They were out just to make the point that everybody recognized.  They were out there leaking this thing to everybody about Joe Wilson and his wife, his wife having some role in him being sent to Africa.  It was an obsession with these guys.

SAUBER:  It does seem as if it was something that was pretty important to them, and I think that today the judge said we're going to stick to the very narrow issues in this case.  Here's the conversation, here's the testimony.  Was it a lie?  So he's not going to allow all this other stuff. 

MATTHEWS:  I've been told that a defendant, in any case says I forgot, the judge just goes rip.  You can't keep saying I forget.

SAUBER:  There are certain circumstances where I forgot makes sense, but in this case, Mr. Libby had some additional problems.  It's not just that he forgot, he forget and he also made some things up, apparently, according to the indictment, about some of the conversations.  So it's a little bit more than I was busy and I forgot and then it slipped my mind, because he actually filled in the blanks of these conversations with the reporters. 

MATTHEWS:  What's the strategy?  Well, maybe I'll answer the question in the questioning.  It seems like his lawyer, Ted Wells, who's over cooking up these options, is like, throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. 

First of all, the guy's got no standing to prosecute.  They tried that one.  Then my client forgot everything.  They just keep coming up with new stuff, and then the reporter he talked to, he forgot.  I mean, they keep pushing this thing. 

SAUBER:  It's—you keep in mind that when everything else is stripped away, what Pat Fitzgerald is trying to do is put Scooter Libby in jail for a substantial portion of the rest of his life.  So Libby's lawyers, even if it's a one in 500 chance, are going to throw out whatever they can to see if they ...

MATTHEWS:  But doesn't that pollute the credibility of the defense when they're so desperate?  Doesn't that say we can't win on the merits here?

SAUBER:  In the world of public relations, maybe.  In the courtroom, I think the judge expects it and the jury's not going to hear it, anyway. 

MATTHEWS:  I've had a suspicion that their defense is going to be something like what they came up with, they forgot.  They're going—this town is not filled with elite people.  A lot of working class, poor people in this town. 

They're going to go into that jury room with a bunch of people who are regular people, and they're going to say you probably madam—you probably left something on the stove and forgot about it once, and they go and they nod their heads. 

Now, this is a condescending strategy that the jurors are going to buy into this big shot who gets driven to work in the morning forgot his main cause of his life, because it's like something you forgot in the household.  It just seems like a condescending trick. 

SAUBER:  It's a risky strategy and I think that Mr. Libby has terrific lawyers.  They know that at the end of the day, juries—especially juries in this town—are very savvy, have a lot of common sense, and are going to see through some of these defenses that right now don't make a lot of sense. 

MATTHEWS:  Can they portray this guy as just a regular schlub, working guy in a town, and they've got pictures of him driven to work?  That's what I would bring into that courtroom, the driver.  That's what I'd bring in.

SAUBER:  It's going to be a little difficult. 

MATTHEWS:  Hey, thank you.  You're great to come on.  Dick Sauber, thank you.

HARDBALL returns Monday at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern.  Right now, it's time for “THE ABRAMS REPORT” with Dan.

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

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