updated 4/11/2006 12:22:28 PM ET 2006-04-11T16:22:28

Guests: Dave Rodriguez, Tom Tancredo, Seymour Hersh, Hugh Hewitt

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Tonight from Los Angeles, California, as the fight over illegal immigration heats up, will Congress crack down or crack under pressure.  Plus all week long, it‘s HARDBALL‘s ninth anniversary, time to celebrate, to think.  And yes, to argue.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews, reporting tonight from Los Angeles, kicking off our ninth anniversary week celebration.  Today, all across this country, an estimated million people marched against tough immigration control. 

Massive rallies are taking place not just in border cities, but all over.  Events are planned at an estimated 90 cities and towns.  Here‘s what New York looks like today, where thousands of immigrants, legal and illegal, are demonstrating outside City Hall.

And while lawmakers have left town, unable to come to an agreement on an immigration bill, protesters have flooded the Capitol opposing tighter control on immigration.  We‘ll have a report later direct from The Mall. 

It was just two weeks ago that half a million protesters took to the streets here in Los Angeles, putting the country on notice that they will resent anyone who tries tightening up on immigration.  Today, we‘re where it all started.

Also tonight for the first time since it was exposed that the president himself authorized Scooter Libby to cherry pick intelligence on Iraq, the president is now talking about his action.  More on that later in the show. 

Is the U.S. ramping up for plans on a nuclear attack on Iran?  Seymour Hersh of “The New Yorker” magazine writes that the Bush administration has secretly started planning for a possible nuclear attack if Iran keeps trying to go nuclear itself. 

We begin with illegal immigration in this country.  I‘m joined by David Rodriguez, vice-president of The League of United Latin American Citizens, the group that helped organize today‘s huge rallies.  The group is also known widely as LULAC.  Sir, thank you for joining us. 

I want you to try, this is a very emotional issue and I have learned in this debate with people, it‘s all about point of view.  What is the point of view of the people out there demonstrating today? 

DAVE RODRIGUEZ, LEAGUE OF UNITED LATIN-AMERICAN CITIZENS:  The point of view of the people out there today is that they have been let down by the system.  They are not only illegal immigrants or undocumented people, but thousands, hundreds of thousands of Americans, taxpayers, American citizens that truly resent the manner in which this debate is being handled and truly resent the fact that Congress hasn‘t been able to come to terms with a good immigration bill. 

MATTHEWS:  What would be a good immigration bill? 

RODRIGUEZ:  Well, we strongly support the Kennedy-McCain.  We think that‘s an excellent piece of legislation.  We want legislation that is fair.  We want to preserve, keep families here together and don‘t forget that we contribute an awful lot to the economy, and so we want a bill that will, over a period of time, have earned immigration status for all these folks. 

MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the—to me, I‘ve studied this issue much less than you have, there‘s about four pieces to this discussion.  One is the border.  One is what do you do with employers who hire people illegally, just break the law.  Number three, what do you do with people who have been here a long time and want to legalize, they want to become fully American.  What do you do about people who want to come here tomorrow night and do so legally. 

So let‘s run through four.  What should we do in each one of those cases, first of all with regard to the border, what should we do? 

RODRIGUEZ:  With regard to the border.  We of course want a strong border, we want increased border security, because that makes for a better nation for everybody.  We‘re very much in support of that. 

As far as folks, you know, that want to come here tomorrow night—

MATTHEWS:  You missed the second one.  What about employers who hire people illegally? 

RODRIGUEZ:  Employers who hire people illegal need to be prosecuted.  We have always felt very strongly that someone that knowingly employs an illegal immigrant needs to be prosecuted, that‘s the way that the system works. 

MATTHEWS:  What about how do we get people legalized who are here? 

RODRIGUEZ:  Well, we think that McCain-Kennedy is the answer to that.  It provides a structure for that to happen.  It provides certain safeguards to our country.  There‘s a criminal background check.  People have to learn English.  There are those kind safeguards that we‘re looking forward to in that legislation. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about tonight.  Right now on the border, I‘m sure if you have camera people out there, people coming across the border from Mexico right now, how do you stop that or regulate that or legalize that or what do you do? 

Guest workers? 

RODRIGUEZ:  That‘s one approach.  There are other approaches.  Enhanced border security is very important, but I think in order to deal with this problem in a strategic way, we really have to look at what Mexico is doing, and we really have to look at possibly bolstering their economy so that these folks aren‘t pouring over the border, seeking a better life for themselves and their families. 

MATTHEWS:  Somebody told me that an eighth of Mexico has moved to the United States. 

RODRIGUEZ:  I find that very, very hard to believe.  I don‘t think that that‘s factual. 

MATTHEWS:  How many Mexican-Americans are here in this country, first generation, just arrived? 

RODRIGUEZ:  First generation? 

MATTHEWS:  People who weren‘t important here, born in Mexico. 

RODRIGUEZ:  Anywhere from five to six million. 

MATTHEWS:  How big is Mexico? 

RODRIGUEZ:  Well, Mexico is pretty big.  It‘s not that big.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go through some of the trickier things here.  What happens if you have a guest worker program which is prescribed in a lot of the more liberal bills, Kennedy Bill, if a guy comes here to work, does he bring his wife? 

RODRIGUEZ:  No, not under that legislation. 

MATTHEWS:  So, he doesn‘t have any kids here then.   

RODRIGUEZ:  Kids do come.  That child becomes an American citizen.

MATTHEWS:  So what‘s a guest worker mean if the person is having kids here, because that kid is staying, does the old man have to go home then? 

RODRIGUEZ:  Yes.  Sometimes the—and that‘s the very reason for our support of Kennedy-McCain.  The way it is now, families are divided, and you know—

MATTHEWS:  But under the ideal, you said you like Kennedy-McCain. 

What does that do to guest workers when they have a kid here? 

RODRIGUEZ:  What does that do to them? 

MATTHEWS:  They‘re guest workers, by definition, they can‘t stay. 

RODRIGUEZ:  But under the legislation, they would in fact be able to stay and the families would stay home. 

MATTHEWS:  They would what? 

RODRIGUEZ:  The families who stay whole.  They would stay together. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, then, in other words, the guy is not a guest worker? 

He comes here to work, he has a kid here and he stays? 

RODRIGUEZ:  If you‘re talking about that currently, you‘re correct. 

MATTHEWS:  What about under the Kennedy-McCain bill? 

RODRIGUEZ:  Under the Kennedy-McCain bill, they‘ll be able to apply for citizenship and go through all the steps which will protect the country and there are children already born here already. 

MATTHEWS:  Where is the restraint on immigration.  If you have legalized everyone who is here, over 10 million people who are here illegally.  Everybody finds a way to become legal, learning the language, obeying the law, work hard and play by the rules.  Then everybody who comes in is a guest worker in the future, legally or illegally, they end up being legalized too, right?  Eventually? 

RODRIGUEZ:  Well, under the legislation, that would occur.  At some point in time. 

MATTHEWS:  In other words, there‘s no border?  It sounds like there is no border, if you were here before illegally, you stay.  If you come in illegally, you stay. 

RODRIGUEZ:  Under the legislation, you‘ll be able to do that.  Let me point out, there are safeguards, there is a background check.  You have to pay your taxes, back taxes, you have to learn English, you have to assimilate into society. 

MATTHEWS:  Who wouldn‘t do that?

RODRIGUEZ:  A lot of folks won‘t. 

MATTHEWS:  Why not? 

RODRIGUEZ:  Because. 

MATTHEWS:  Why would they choose the alternative, they never get any social security for their money, they pay into it in some cases and don‘t get a nickel back. 

RODRIGUEZ:  They would choose the alternative, because very frankly, Chris, a lot of our folks want to become United States citizens. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re saying that some wouldn‘t accept this deal. 

RODRIGUEZ:  Some may not accept that the they may not be comfortable. 

MATTHEWS:  The thing is when you add it all up, you can become legal if you‘ve been illegal.  What does the border mean then? 

RODRIGUEZ:  Not necessarily.  You can‘t come in tomorrow and become legal.  If this legislation passes, basically, if you come in this country legally tomorrow night, say that it passes today, you‘re outside the bounds of the legislation.  The legislation only applies to those folks that are here now. 

MATTHEWS:  So we‘ll have to pass another bill in 10 years to legalize the new people?  See we have been down this road before and you know David, we‘ve been down this road before 20 years ago.  They passed a big bill, it was going to legalize everybody here and provide for employer sanctions for those that get hired subsequently illegally.  It was a bill that looks like the bill you‘re endorsing now.

RODRIGUEZ:  The way that legislation works, it is renewed, it is visited again, and we haven‘t touched this issue in 20 years and it‘s about time that the Congress starts to take a real serious interest in this.  After all, this is not a movement that‘s totally propelled—

MATTHEWS:  Look at Indianapolis. 

RODRIGUEZ:  It‘s not a movement that‘s totally propelled by what‘s going on. Hispanic Americans that are already here, are already citizens, are concerned about what‘s going on. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s bring in Tom Tancredo, stay with us David Rodriguez of LULAC.  We‘re joined right now by Congressman Tom Tancredo, Republican of Colorado.  Congressman, have you been listening to Mr. Rodriguez and do you have a response generally to what he‘s been saying? 

REP. TOM TANCREDO ®, COLORADO:  I just heard the last few seconds and I totally agree there are millions of Mexican-American citizens who are concerned about this, and I will tell you that millions of them are on our side.  I hear from them all the time. 

Just because people are Mexican by origin, by ethnicity, does not mean that they are opposed to trying to secure our borders.  It does not mean that they want massive illegal immigration in this country.  They know that many of their own people are hurt because of what happens to wages, when millions of people come into this country illegally.  They want the rule of law also.

We should not be frightened by these massive demonstrations, millions of the people who are out there and demonstrating, of course, aren‘t here legally.  Don‘t be afraid America.  Do what‘s right.  Live by the rule of low.  Don‘t live by the rule of the mob in the street.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think—Congressman, you‘re saying that people shouldn‘t be afraid.  Do you think they are?

TANCREDO:  Oh, absolutely.  Many of my colleagues, I‘m sure, look out at this and think, “Uh oh, you know, I see that translating into votes and they won‘t vote for me unless I succumb to them and pander to them.”

I don‘t believe it‘s that way.  I do not believe that Hispanics vote if a monolithic pattern.  I believe that we can make a case to Hispanic Americans for the rule of law, for the control of our own borders.  And I guarantee you, I think this is a winning issue for us and I just would tell my colleagues not to run from it.

RODRIGUEZ:  You know, Congressman Tancredo, I‘m sitting here listening to you and I really beg to differ.  You know, I work in the Hispanic community throughout this country on a daily basis and I doubt very much of the percentages that you‘re quoting or the number of Hispanic Americans that support your positions.

I doubt very much if that‘s correct.  I just want to say that—I just want to say one last thing here and that‘s that, you know, just getting back to our loyalty in this country, the 9/11 terrorists were not named Lopez, Rodriguez, or Duarte.

TANCREDO:  So what? 

RODRIGUEZ:  Let me finish, please.  They were not named that.

TANCREDO:  What‘s that got to do with anything?

RODRIGUEZ:  The folks that are over there in Iraq right now coming back, those folks are named Rodriguez, Duarte and Lopez. 

TANCREDO:  Nobody questions...

RODRIGUEZ:  ... I really resent you vilifying our community.

TANCREDO:  I don‘t care what you resent.  I couldn‘t care less what you resent.  Nobody questions the loyalty of people who are in this country and serving in the armed forces. 

RODRIGUEZ:  Well not unless they‘re in your congressional district.

TANCREDO:  Just a moment, just a moment.  Nobody is suggesting for a moment that the people who came in and committed 9/11 were Hispanic.  It is totally irrelevant.  When you have porous borders, people come across them, and they come across them sometimes, not just for the job that no American wants, but actually to do very bad things.  So don‘t be ridiculous when you try to make a statement about all Hispanics.

RODRIGUEZ:  Well I resent you bolstering your political position in your congressional district using our folks, I truly resent that and the Hispanic community does, too.

TANCREDO:  Our folks?  Our folks?  Who are our folks?

RODRIGUEZ:  That‘s correct.

TANCREDO:  Are you not Americans?

RODRIGUEZ:  I am an American.

TANCREDO:  Are you an American?

RODRIGUEZ:  Absolutely.  My father served in World War II.

TANCREDO:  Then that‘s who you should be talking about.  That‘s who you should be referring to.  Our folks?  When I talk about it, I‘m talking about all Americans, Hispanic Americans included.

MATTHEWS:  Let me get back to this.  I‘ve always—let‘s get away from the terrorism question for a minute.  That‘s a part of this I suppose because it has to do with the border.

But we‘re really talking about a lot of people coming to America to get jobs and trying to get opportunities -- 99 percent of people.  What is it, 95 percent have a job pretty soon, legally or not.

They come to work, to go from $2 an hour to $10 an hour, something like that, right?  So let‘s talk about that.  It seems to me that this is really about a massive influx of people from another country.

Now American history is filled with immigration, but it‘s always been a cyclical thing.  You know, 20 million Irish come in and that‘s the end of it.  Another 20 million Jewish people come in, that‘s the end of it.  But this is a unique situation because it‘s our neighbor.  Isn‘t it a legitimate concern of a country that people are coming from the next door and they‘re just coming in—and it‘s not going to stop?  It‘s just not going to stop?

RODRIGUEZ:  It‘s a legitimate concern, Chris, but you have to remember that this country was—I don‘t want to go back to the same old thing, we were founded by immigrants.

MATTHEWS:  But isn‘t it a legitimate argument about the flow?  It‘s a rate of flow?  You‘re talking about a million people a year that just keeps growing and growing and growing.  Isn‘t that a reasonable concern from people like Tancredo?

RODRIGUEZ:  I think it is.  I think that he has other—another agenda here.

TANCREDO:  What is that agenda?  Wait a minute, what is that agenda?

RODRIGUEZ:  I think—well let me answer Chris‘s question.

MATTHEWS:  How is his agenda any different than Ted Kennedy‘s or anybody else involved in this debate.  It‘s politics, but what‘s wrong with that?

RODRIGUEZ:  Well it is a politics.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s what they think is right.

RODRIGUEZ:  But it‘s for specific reasons in his own congressional district.  He‘s led this fight on immigration, vilifying the Hispanic community and we don‘t appreciate it and I have an opportunity to tell him so right now.

TANCREDO:  How dare you say I have vilified the Hispanic community.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with both Congressman Tom Tancredo and...

TANCREDO:  Those are words that you‘re trying to put in my mouth and I absolutely will not accept it.

MATTHEWS:  ... I‘m going to let you respond to more to that, Congressman. 

TANCREDO:  Do not start saying things like that.

MATTHEWS:  Both of you, come back, please.  We‘ll continue this.  And later, President Bush explains why he authorized a leak about Iraq, a selective leak.  And later, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh with his report on the Bush administration‘s plans, which he‘s reported on a possible, catch this, nuclear attack on Iran. 

And all this week, go to our Web site to catch the latest and catch, by the way, the nine best HARDBALL interviews of the past nine years.  I think so.  You say what you think, starting tonight with my interview with John F. Kennedy Jr. from 1996.  Just go to our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), DELAWARE:  Hey, Chris.  Nine years, man, I never thought it would happen.  But I knew a North Philly boy could do it.  Happy anniversary and I hope you have another 99, bud.

BILL MAHER, TALK SHOW HOST:  Happy 9th anniversary, HARDBALL.  I can‘t believe it‘s been nine years.  You‘ve made yourself an American institution.  Chris, you‘re an icon and please keep doing it for another, however many you can.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re out here in Los Angeles where a lot of the activity on behalf of—or actually opposed to some of the immigration push right now is beginning.  We‘re speaking with David Rodriguez, he‘s with LULAC—I get the name of your group, is in English, the League of United Latin America Citizens.  And of course we‘ve got with us Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado.

Gentlemen, let me just throw one out—it‘s heated enough without me throwing this out.  There are three countries in North America: Mexico, United States of America, and Canada.  Canada has had one hell of a problem over language.  It‘s nobody‘s fault, the French were there first, the British came in, the French kept their language and their culture.  But that has kept that country fractured for hundreds of years.  Is that a risk here?  Congressman, do you think it is?  Do you think we have a risk over a bicultural country that comes apart at some point?

TANCREDO:  I do.  I believe that the balkanization of America is a distinct possibility.  I believe that in order for people to actually communicate as we are trying to do on this program, we‘ve got major differences here, as evidenced by our last segment.

But at least we can communicate with each other, at least we can use a common language to do so.  I think that is imperative for this country in the future to be able, for the people in it, to be able to communicate our concerns and the issues that we want developed.  And I think that becomes very difficult in a bilingual society.

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Rodriguez, what is the feeling in your community, a large community of people, some recently arrived, some here for generations, hundreds of years?  Is there a sense that English is a unifier or is it just a business language?

RODRIGUEZ:  No, English is a unifier and we encourage the use of the English language.  And again, I‘ll go back to this country‘s roots.  You wouldn‘t go into New York‘s Chinatown and expect everything to be communicated in English.  Those are cultures that enrich the country, and you know, I really resent the word Balkanization, but he‘ll use it, and we encourage the English language to be used and we‘re hopeful that that will happen. 

TANCREDO:  Good.  Will you discourage the use of Spanish for let‘s say for ballots? 

RODRIGUEZ:  Absolutely not.  I‘m sure that you would. 

TANCREDO:  Here with go.  Now, you just heard him just a minute ago say they encourage this homogination of the society and especially language.  Of course they want separate ballots, printed in separate languages.  I just don‘t buy their argument. 

RODRIGUEZ:  Well, you need to read the Voting Rights Act.  After all, it is law. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I want to move on to another question.  Are we going to get a bill out of Congress?  You first, you‘re in Congress.  Congressman, will there be a bill that has some teeth in it, some heart in it, some reality in it, or nothing out this or just one of the bills that papers over a problem? 

TANCREDO:  Of course that is a great question, I wish I could answer it.  I think that the enforcement bill that the House passed is the best way to approach that subject.  Whether or not we will actually get something like that out of the Senate, I really can‘t say. 

MATTHEWS:  How about a compromise that has some of the tough stuff that you guys have adopted in the House, also legalization and—

TANCREDO:  No, no amnesty. 

MATTHEWS:  How about guest workers? 

TANCREDO:  Worst policy in the world is to tell people who are here illegally that they are going to be rewarded for that activity because it only encourages many more like it. 

MATTHEWS:  You want the 11 million people in this country, perhaps, people in this country illegally to be taken out of this country? 

TANCREDO:  No.  I want the law to be enforced.  I know this is a radical thing to a lot of people, but enforcing the law would work.  Enforcing the law against employers who are hiring them especially. 

RODRIGUEZ:  There isn‘t any such thing as amnesty in this law.  I don‘t understand what this debate is.  That‘s your own terminology on it, but if you read the law, well, if you read the law—

TANCREDO:  Read the dictionary. 

RODRIGUEZ:  You‘ll find that people have to undergo criminal record checks, they have to learn all English, they have do all these things that are expected of American citizens, so you need to read it. 

TANCREDO:  Look up amnesty and you‘ll see why it is amnesty. 

RODRIGUEZ:  I‘m not the member of Congress here.  You ought to know that. 

TANCREDO:  Look in the dictionary.  Anybody can do that. 

MATTHEWS:  Is the biggest problem for you Congressman the people who are here illegally or the people coming here illegally? 

TANCREDO:  Both.  The massive number of people who are here illegally.  The fact that we don‘t do much about it and the fact that we do actually encourage it by offering amnesty, means millions more will come for that same purpose. 

MATTHEWS:  We have to break.  Please come back.  Thank you very much, Congressman Tom Tancredo, thank you very much David Rodriguez.  Up next, MSNBC‘S Tucker Carlson joins us from another big immigration rally in Washington, D.C.  You‘re watching the 9th anniversary of HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  More now on the immigration debate and today‘s protests with MSNBC‘s Tucker Carlson, host of “THE SITUATION WITH TUCKER CARLSON,” weeknights at 11:00.  He‘s right now down on the Washington Mall in Washington, D.C., where protesters have been marching for about an hour.  Tucker, what‘s happening? 

TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC HOST:  Chris, I‘ve been to a lot of these.  This has got to be the most polite demonstration I‘ve ever seen on the mall, very restrained.  A lot of young men, a lot look like they just came from work, guys still wearing landscaping shirts and work boots with paint on them, very polite overall.  Had some trouble people to interview, both because I think some people are not here legally, probably a fair guess, and some don‘t speak English.

But some of those did speak to questioned not only U.S. immigration policy, but also the rationales of international borders, whether we should have those in the first place.  Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  You have a Mexican flag, an American flag, why are they together? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They‘re together.  There‘s no difference, man, they‘re the same as one nation from Argentina to Canada, it‘s Americas, man.  There is no boundaries, man.  This is one whole nation.

CARLSON:  So I should be able to go to Mexico and just show up?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s no problem.  You should be everywhere.

CARLSON:  What does that mean, there‘s only one America. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There is only one America, the continent.  We‘re born in America. 

CARLSON:  So what do you think of all the borders?  I mean, there‘s a border with Mexico, a border with El Salvador and Guatemala and Nicaragua. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This country, we make it for America.  Only immigrants. 

CARLSON:  Wait.  Wait.  Wait.  Should I be able to go to any other country in the continent of America and say I live here now? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.  No problem.  No problem.  Who make this U.S.A.?  All immigrants. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARLSON:  It‘s interesting, Chris, those two guys I interviewed are pretty radical, pretty articulate.  But on the podium, the most on the stage, the most radical speakers I‘ve seen, and my Spanish isn‘t great, have been native born Americans. 

You saw Senator Kennedy up there, si se puede, really power to the people kind of speech.  Catholic clergymen give similar speeches.  Jim Moran, Democrat from Northern Virginia, a congressman, gave the most radical speech of all that I have seen, so the Spanish speaking speakers anyway have been pretty subdued. 

MATTHEWS:  Tucker, I see a lot of American flags behind you. 

CARLSON:  Yes.  There are a lot of American flags, also a lot of Mexican flags.  As you wander through the crowd, as we have been for the last couple of hours, there are a lot of people with shirts that say Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua.  Clearly somebody passed out thousands of American flags today. 

I have to say, again, it is a pretty restrained atmosphere, a lot of families, a lot of young people and again, a lot of young men.  I‘ve been to a lot of these rallies and you almost never see 25-year-old men just standing there, not drinking, just listening.  There are a lot of them here.  I‘m not sure what it means, but it‘s definitely different than anything I‘ve seen in a while. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you fitting in, Tucker? 

CARLSON:  I always fit in.  I‘m like a universal donor.  People love me.

MATTHEWS:  Tucker Carlson of THE SITUATION, thanks for doing our reporting today.  Up next a full report on the latest in the CIA leak case.  That‘s getting hotter.  And is the Bush administration planning to attack Iran with tactical nuclear weapons. 

Veteran journalist Seymour Hersh writes about it, the administration‘s plans in the new issue of “The New Yorker.”  He‘ll join us here.  This is the ninth anniversary of HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(STOCK MARKET REPORT)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  The “New Yorker” magazine reports that the Bush administration has stepped up plans for a possible nuclear attack on Iran, including use of tactical nuclear weapons on their underground facilities.  More on this in a moment with the reporter who broke the story, Seymour Hersh. 

But first, just days after it was revealed that President Bush authorized the selective leak of classified intelligence about Iraq, the president is now speaking out about it.  But are his broad remarks enough to stop the bleeding over the CIA leak scandal?  The president is facing a credibility crisis right now in this country that threatens to unravel his whole second term.  HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster has the latest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Under growing pressure to explain why he authorized the top White House officials to leak intelligence about Iraq, President Bush today for the first time offered an explanation.  The president suggested that in July 2003, he wanted to respond to the mounting criticism over his pre-war claims and wanted to give weight to his case for war.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I thought it was important for people to get a better sense for why I was saying what I was saying in my speeches.  And I felt I could do so without jeopardizing, you know, ongoing intelligence matters, and so I did.

The president‘s comments amounted to a confirmation of the news in court documents last week about Scooter Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney‘s indicted former chief-of-staff.  According to the documents, Libby testified he was authorized to leak part of a classified national intelligence estimate, in order to try to undercut administration critic Joe Wilson.  Libby said he had received approval from President Bush through Vice President Cheney.  The president today spoke broadly.

BUSH:  I wanted people to see the truth.  And thought it made sense for people to see the truth.  And that‘s why I declassified the document.

SHUSTER:  But based on Libby‘s grand jury testimony, much of what Libby told “New York Times” reporter Judith Miller about the intelligence document, was wrong. 

In their crucial July 8, 2003 meeting, Libby told her, quote, “one key judgment of the NIE held that Iraq was vigorously trying to procure uranium.” 

But that was not a judgment at all, much less a key judgment, according to CIA officials who wrote the document.  And they said the “vigorously trying to pursue” language was not in the document at all. 

In other words, it may have been the same selective use of intelligence to justify the war that was used to sell the war.  Ignoring the views of several government agencies, while accepting the views of one. 

In addition, its still not clear why President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Scooter Libby, were the only administration officials who knew about the decision to declassify any part of the NIE.  Everybody else at the time, including CIA director George Tenet, who was responsible for the document, were kept in the dark. 

It‘s also not clear why Scooter Libby sought to conceal his identity by demanding that reporter Judy Miller identify him as a former Hill staffer and President Bush today gave no indication what Vice President Cheney told him or what he told the vice president, if anything, about the specific effort to counter critic Joe Wilson, an effort that led to the disclosure of the identity of CIA operative, Valerie Plame.

BUSH:  There‘s an ongoing legal proceeding, which precludes me from talking a lot about the case.

SHUSTER:  White House officials have often cited Patrick Fitzgerald‘s investigation as a reason not to address the unanswered questions.  Legal experts point out, however, there is nothing that stops the president or any other official from publicly answering every question if they wanted to.

SOL WISENBERG, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR:  A witness in a criminal investigation, whether or not that witness has gone before the grand jury can talk any time they want about it.

SHUSTER:  It‘s an analysis shared by the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter, who is now calling on President Bush to state publicly and specifically what he knows about the CIA leak case. 

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER ®, PENNSYLVANIA:  I do say that there‘s been enough of a showing here with what‘s been filed of record of court, that the president of the United States owes a specific explanation to the American people.

SHUSTER:  Three years ago when the president was specifically asked about the CIA leak case, he said...

BUSH:  I don‘t know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information.  I would like to know if somebody in my White House did leak sensitive information.

BOB BENNETT, ATTORNEY FOR JUDY MILLER:  But I think to the man and woman in the street, they say, “Well, is this is how classified information is declassified? You talk to a reporter, you don‘t discuss it it appears with any of your intelligence chieftains.”  I think people are going to have a lot of trouble with this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER:  White House officials are leaving open the possibility that President Bush may take another stab at the CIA leak case in the days ahead. 

As one Republican outside the administration noted today, the president‘s credibility problems may only get worse if the image hardens that this White House cherry picks intelligence and plays by its own set of rules.  I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

MATTHEWS:  Thanks, David, for that great report. 

As the Bush administration continues to come under fire for its reasons for going into Iraq, the drum beats may be getting louder for a war with Iran.  Sy Hersh reports in this week‘s “New Yorker” magazine, that U.S. troops are operating covertly in Iran and that military planners have drawn up plans using tactical, nuclear weaponry to destroy Iran‘s underground nuclear facilities.  Sy Hersh, thank you.

Are bunker busters really in our future?

SEYMOUR HERSH, NEW YORKER:  No, I don‘t think so.  But they sure are in the military‘s future and there‘s a great dispute between the military and the White House about it.  And by that, I mean that the story I wrote, Chris, simply said that the JCS preferred this idea to Bush, if you want to destroy the bunkers where the Iranians, we think, have most their nuclear materials or there research is 75 feet underground, as part of an option plan, the military, joint chiefs would say to the president, which is appropriate, the sure way of getting it is with nukes but they don‘t want that project.

They tried to walk it back about a month ago and the White House said no, keep it in the game plan and there‘s a lot of unhappiness about it because the American military does not think nuclear weapons are appropriate.  They think they can do it without it, but this White House so far is insisting on keeping that option in the plan. 

MATTHEWS:  The world has only seen the use of nuclear weapons in World War II to end the war with Japan and we used them.  Are there really people in this administration who would use nuclear weapons in this kind of limited purpose that would break open the whole use of weapons in the world, the fact that we start using them, other people are going to start thinking about using them? 

HERSH:  I can‘t answer that question.  All I can tell you is what I know, which is from the military that they are concerned enough so that, as I wrote in the magazine, that in a few weeks, a senior member of the military will go to the White House and say once and for all in writing, we want to take the nuclear option out of this, and if the president does not and listen carefully, there are some senior officers who are going to resign.  I don‘t think they‘ll necessarily do it publicly, but they will resign. 

This is an ethical issue inside the military.  They do not want nuclear weapons to be in the plans.  However, we have a president and a vice president that have both said many times recently, they will not rule out any options when it comes to Iran. 

MATTHEWS:  Where is the heart of the zealotry here?  Do you have a name of a person who is really saying, we will do anything it takes to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon? 

HERSH:  The one that‘s on the record is George Bush, and so is Mr.  Cheney.  Bush has said repeatedly, again, people talk to me and they use the word messianic.  He has had two red lines that the Iranians cannot cross.  One is Iran is planning to run a small pilot program for enriching uranium, probably in the next month or two, maybe six week.  If they do that, that‘s it for Bush.  That‘s a line they can‘t cross. 

He‘s also said a couple of times in the last few weeks that Iran getting the knowledge of how to make a weapon is a line they can‘t cross.  So meanwhile, Iran is not backing down, Cyrus the Great, the Persians, and I quote somebody as saying, Bush has set a hard line, the Iranians aren‘t backing down something bad is going to happen.

MATTHEWS:  You know, in the last war that was started by this administration for right or wrong reasons, the argument was made which was telling with most people was they have a nuclear weapon they‘re developing and they‘re going to develop a vehicle for delivering it here to the United States.

But at least in that case, they said they were going to hit us.  Does anyone in this administration believe that Iran would ever drop a nuclear weapon on the United States?  Why would they want to do something as suicidal as that? 

HERSH:  That‘s the point.  If you want to make the analogy that Saddam Hussein and the leadership of Iran are one and the same, that‘s a big mistake.  The Iranians are much more pragmatic, their Persian.  The country has been around a long time, the leadership, they‘re religious mullahs, the we don‘t like this mouthy kid who is the president, he is a big mouth. 

The ayatollah who runs the country, Khamenei, is considered to be not only more powerful, but much more pragmatic.  Are they going to commit suicide?  No.  Are they close to a bomb?  Here‘s the other issue, Chris. 

Even the Israelis will say that Iran is any from one to two or slightly more years away from making a bomb.  The American estimate is eight to 10 years.  What is the rush is what I‘m hearing.  And I‘ll give you an answer.  And one of the answers I‘m getting not only from the military, but from the people in Vienna at the International Atomic Energy Agency, but also from our allies, British, French and Germans, our allies in this whole game to convince the Iranians to back down.

Our allies all say the same thing.  They believe that this president is not really that interested in stopping the weapons, the small little amount of weapons that they‘re going to do, enrichment that‘s going to happen in a couple of weeks, but the real American game is regime change.

They want to get rid of the mullahs, and they think by bombing they can, I quote somebody as saying, humiliate the religious leadership to the point where the people will rise up and overthrow them. 

MATTHEWS:  Same thing as last time? 

HERSH:  Da (ph). 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  Seymour Hersh of “The New Yorker” magazine. 

Another breakthrough article by Seymour. 

With millions marching here in Los Angeles and across the country, will Washington feel the heat on illegal immigration.  And coming up at 8:00 p.m. eastern, Ambassador Joe Wilson is Keith‘s guest.  This is the ninth anniversary of HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Thousands of people took to the streets today and yesterday across the country to protest for the rights of immigrants and against legislation that would send some illegal immigrants back to their home countries. 

Will this public outcry force Congress to get something done one way or the other, or nothing actually?  Ron Reagan is an MSNBC political analyst and Hugh Hewitt, always had problems dropping h‘s everywhere is a radio talk show host, executive editor or townhall.com and the author of a brand new book, “Painting the Map Red.”  He even mentioned me in there, positively, a couple of times.

Let‘s go to Ron Reagan.  There‘s three options here, a tough bill on immigration, a softer more compassionate bill toward the illegal immigrants primarily, exclusively, and a bill that‘s tough on immigrants.

What‘s most likely to be the result of the protest?

RON REAGAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  What‘s most likely is there‘s not going to be any bill at all, I think.  I think the two sides are just too far apart to come together.  There‘s a lot of irrationality on either side, too.

On the one hand, you have that young man on the Mall that Tucker spoke to, who doesn‘t want any international borders at all.  It‘s a nice utopian vision, but I don‘t think that‘s going to happen.  And on the other hand, you have people who basically want to deport 12 million people.  Well that‘s not going to happen either.  You asked Congressman Tancredo about that.  He didn‘t have an answer for it.  He said, “Oh, we ought to enforce the law.”  Well enforcing the law is deporting illegal aliens.  Are we really going to do that?  No.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, they were pretty far apart, those two.  But I think maybe there‘s some people closer to the center, but I‘m not sure our other guest is one of those.

HUGH HEWITT, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  No, I am.  I actually think the deal is regularization for the 11 million people who are here.

MATTHEWS:  Legalization?

HEWITT:  Regularization meaning yes, guest workers, permanent resident status, perhaps citizenship down the road.  But the key is the next 11 million, and that‘s the border, and that means a fence that is effective.  Tom Friedman said a very high fence with a very wide gate, and I think that‘s the middle ground.  I think most Republicans would go for that.

MATTHEWS:  You think that would work?

HEWITT:  Oh yes.  The Senate bill failed because there was no fence.

MATTHEWS:  You believe a fence could keep people out of America who want to get in?

HEWITT:  Absolutely.  It worked—you know, the guy went over the White House fence yesterday, that wasn‘t a virtual fence he had to go over.  He went over a real fence and they caught him.  The border people in San Diego will tell you, the 17 miles of fence in San Diego work and it will work across the southern border.

MATTHEWS:  Well it works because it forces people to go somewhere else to cross the border.  But suppose you had an a fence with the idea of absolutely keeping all people out?

HEWITT:  It will work for 90 percent of those who want to come in.  It will work for the worst of the 90 percent, the Beslan wannabes.  The folks who want to come here to blow up Phoenix or Albuquerque.  And it will keep -- it will deter people...

MATTHEWS:  You mean the professional criminals won‘t be able to get through, but the regular bees will?

HEWITT:  Ninety percent of both groups will not be able to get through.  And that‘s what the customs people tell us and the border patrol people.

MATTHEWS:  Ron Reagan, where are you on a beefed up border?

REAGAN:  Well Hugh and I agree, that we certainly have the right to secure our borders.  We disagree about that fence.  Somebody said that 10-foot fences make for a big market for 11-foot ladders.  These are people who are desperate to feed their families, who are willing to brave the Sonoran desert and death by, you know, dehydration.  Now a fence is not going to stop them.  They‘ve got shovels, they‘ve got ladders, they‘re coming over.

HEWITT:  Hey Ron, did you ever carry an 11-foot fence?

REAGAN:  Eleven-foot ladder you mean?

HEWITT:  Eleven-foot ladder?  You ever carry one of those?

REAGAN:  Yes, as a matter of fact, I was up on my roof just the other day.

HEWITT:  Across the Sonoran desert?

REAGAN:  You don‘t have to do it across the Sonoran desert.  All you have to do is get to the border of the U.S.

HEWITT:  Why does Israel build 400 miles of fence that effectively keeps out...

REAGAN:  ... That‘s a much, much smaller area.

HEWITT:  It‘s 400 miles, Ron.

REAGAN:  We‘re talking about thousand miles of border.

HEWITT:  No, we‘re talking about 700 miles of easily accessible.

REAGAN:  Seven hundred miles in a very remote country.

MATTHEWS:  Well let‘s face it.  If the Mexicans were coming across the border strapped—with dynamite strapped around their stomachs, we wouldn‘t be arguing about whether to put a fence up.

HEWITT:  You‘re right.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with Hugh Hewitt and Ron Reagan.  This is the 9th anniversary of HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with MSNBC‘s Ron Reagan and radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt.  Hugh, Senator Specter, chairman of the Judiciary Committee today, called for the president to explain his role in the CIA leak case.  What do you think of that?

HEWITT:  Well I think the president ought to call on Senator Specter to get the judges confirmed like Bret Cavanaugh (ph) and others before he explains—no, he doesn‘t need to explain a thing. 

The president has the authority inherent in Article II to use any information that he deems in the best interest of the and United States and to release it to whomever he wants.  I think Senator Specter should go back to getting the Judiciary Committee on track.

MATTHEWS:  Ron Reagan, your view about the way in which the president released the information.  He had—the chief of staff, the Scooter Libby apparently put it out on background under the cover of former Hill staffer and it was a selective leak, by the way.  It wasn‘t a general leak of all documents pertaining to the war in Iraq.

REAGAN:  That‘s right.  It was very selective.  It was the yellow cake and the aluminum tubes.  Most of the agencies that have been looking at that had already discounted those rumors and they were presented as key judgments of this NIE, this National Intelligence Estimate, when they weren‘t, of course.

It‘s an odd thing that Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney and Mr. Libby were the only people who knew this was being declassified and then leaked.  And it is a little unclear whether Mr. Bush knew that it was actually being leaked.  He knew it was being declassified, but it may be that only Mr.  Cheney and Libby knew that it was being leaked.  And in that case, you have other sets of questions you need to ask about Mr. Cheney‘s relationship with Mr. Bush.  Was it a case of plausible deniability?

MATTHEWS:  Well that is strong with potential, that question.  I find that a fascinating question.  We can‘t do it tonight.  It will take a hundred years to find out that relationship.

REAGAN:  Probably.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the far more troubling question about Sy Hersh‘s piece in “The New Yorker,” somewhat parallel to the piece in—

I think it was in “The Washington Post” yesterday that we‘re developing a strike option for Iran, including the nuclear.

HEWITT:  It was very interesting.  Seymour Hersh gets it right about 50 percent of the time.  I did not hear a single name.  He could have completely fabricated that.

MATTHEWS:  Why did he make it up?

HEWITT:  Because it‘s a heck of a story.  It sells a lot of magazines.

MATTHEWS:  Sy Hersh is a credible reporter.

HEWITT:  Half the time he gets it right.  Half the time he goes on to stuff that will never see the light of day.  And when you asked him—you pressed him, who is the name here?  And he said, “Well, George W. Bush.”  Give me one name and I‘ll believe it, Chris.  And until I get one name in the Pentagon, I‘m not going to.

MATTHEWS:  So you don‘t believe the Pentagon is—well, we wouldn‘t know.  We only go by what gets reported, so that‘s a stupid question, right?  How would we know?

HEWITT:  I think they look at tactical nukes.  I don‘t think this whole stuff about throwing down on the president, the president insisting on tactical nukes.  That‘s just nonsense.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it should be on the table?

HEWITT:  No.  I‘m not a Pentagon guy.  I don‘t think that‘s necessary.

MATTHEWS:  Well as an American, do you think we should use nuclear weapons in this situation?

HEWITT:  What you didn‘t cover with Sy Hersh was that the 12th imam theory does have a believer in Ahmadinejad.  And if in fact we believe that he was going to go after Israel, I‘ll put the question back to you.  If you thought he was going to strike Israel, would you use it?

MATTHEWS:  That is one of the great questions and I don‘t have an answer. 

HEWITT:  Neither do I.

MATTHEWS:  Because I think there‘s a real problem with Israel, where MAD, mutually assured destruction won‘t work with Iran because Israel really can‘t—it can threaten to level Iran, but does that do for Israel?  You know, it‘s only good before the fact, we know that.

Ron, your thought on this, about using nuclear weapons in the Middle East?  And how do you prevent the bad guys from using it to the good guys?

REAGAN:  Well personally, I don‘t think that we‘re seriously considering using nukes in Iran.  Whether we‘re considering some sort of military action against them, though, that‘s another question.  And it wouldn‘t be about their nuclear program, as Sy Hersh said.  It would be about regime change.  It would be Iraq redux.

MATTHEWS:  OK, I think that could well be the case too.  Which you mean, is in other words, we use an argument that we‘re not sure of ourselves.

REAGAN:  Exactly, a pre text.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, a pre text for preemptive striking.  Anyway, thank you Hugh Hewitt and Ron Reagan.  I love this, Hugh Hewitt and Ron Reagan.  Tomorrow, I‘ll be at the campus of University of Southern California.  Our 9th anniversary continues this week and tonight, catch me on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno.  I‘m out here for that, “ABRAMS” is coming up right now.

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

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2006 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2006 Voxant, Inc. (www.voxant.com) ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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