updated 4/13/2006 10:40:37 AM ET 2006-04-13T14:40:37

Guests: Bernard Trainor, Governor Mitt Romney, Christopher Hitchens, Evan Thomas

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, “HARDBALL”:  Tonight, is someone in the Bush administration pushing for war with Iran?  Has America learned the right lessons from Iraq? 

Plus, a top Republican contender sits down to tell us why he should be president.  Let’s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I’m Chris Matthews.  And welcome to night three of our ninth anniversary. 

Iran declared yesterday it will be joining the nuclear nations club, but today the world superpowers, including Russia and China, condemned the country for advancing its atomic program.  Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took a hard line, saying the U.N. Security Council must consider, quote, “strong steps against Iran.”

Meanwhile, Russia said force would not resolve this issue.  Will the Bush administration take every step to resolve this situation diplomatically or could we see another preemptive strike?  Would Americans tolerate another war of choice? 

And with a quartet of retired generals calling for the defense secretary’s ouster this week over the war in Iraq, will the military salute another Mideast war? 

NBC News chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell has been following this story. 

Andrea, give us the parties involved in this administration on the issue of Iran and how military we should get and how soon. 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Condoleezza Rice is definitely committed to a diplomatic solution, some tough measures, economic sanctions, but measures that are all in the realm of diplomacy.  Interestingly, so is the Pentagon.  The Pentagon does not want to be stretched even thinner than it is, with it already so committed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

So the only push for military action or something that at least threatens military action seems to be coming from some hard liners.  The hardest line seems to be coming from John Bolton at the U.N. and some of the other so-called neo-conservatives...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MITCHELL:  ...who have always been taking a harder line. 

MATTHEWS:  How is the V.P.?  What about the Vice President Cheney who has been hawkish in the past? 

MITCHELL:  The vice president’s office strongly denies that he is on a different page from anyone else in the administration, but certainly people in the vice president’s office have been much more hawkish on Iran in the past.  And there is a certain feeling, certainly in the White House, that they have to at least threaten military action, preserve that military option, and in fact, speak more hawkishly than some in the state department might like to scare Iran. 

The real question though is do we know Iran, do we know these new leaders well enough to know how they will react?  Will this only accelerate their progress toward nuclear weaponry, if that is what in fact they are doing?  Will this only inspire the Iranian people to be even more egoistic about this, to say as they have been saying at all levels of Iranian society, look, if others in the neighborhood, including Israel, most notably Israel, have nuclear weapons by all reports, then why shouldn’t we? 

MATTHEWS:  Why don’t we just salute them for their technological prowess?  Welcome to the club of nuclear energy countries and try to end this issue of how much prestige and how much macho do they have.  Why do we keep pushing the show more macho by daring them to do something that will really hurt us or scare us? 

MITCHELL:  Well, it’s not at all clear what tact to take with the Iranians.  As you know, we have not had real negotiations with them ever since the Axis of Evil Speech.  There has been a real freezing of any conversations even back channel conversations.  We need to talk to Iran about Iraq, where they have certainly been meddling. 

Iran clearly feels threatened by American military forces in Afghanistan and in Iraq on its borders, and so there are a lot of issues there.  But we have been in a deep freeze with them, and now the question is, which way to go?  Is it the carrot or the stick? 

MATTHEWS:  Well the stick...

MITCHELL:  We definitely have to be concerned about Iran though.  There’s no question that they support terror and that this is a very dangerous country to have a nuclear weapon. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you surprised, having covered this for all these years now, that Colin Powell is now telling “The San Francisco Chronicle,” my old paper, that it was Cheney who pushed the nuclear piece in getting us into Iraq, to come right out like that and say—and to break ranks with Cheney? 

MITCHELL:  No.  Not surprised. 

MATTHEWS:  I mean, to do it so publicly.  I mean, this was kind of a murky thing there for all these months. 

MITCHELL:  Well, I think certainly as history has proved that the—those who are more skeptical about going to war were correct, at least that is what they would say, that they now feel empowered, but some would question why they didn’t say it sooner.  And certainly Colin Powell went along and was the most articulate proponent in front of the United Nations, as we all remember, of the argument that there were weapons of mass destruction.

So he certainly was not a skeptic when it came to whether or not Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.  It’s interesting that they are refining this, but I’m certain—certainly he must feel now a little bit more emboldened because public opinion has moved in that direction. 

MATTHEWS:  The toughest question of the night for you, the expert of the country on this issue, I mean it Andrea, is Condi Rice in a stronger position to operate as a break on further military action in that region than Colin Powell was? 

MITCHELL:  Absolutely.  She has a close relationship with this president.  She has a greater influence on him.  She’s not as marginalized and now that she’s out of the White House, she seems to feel empowered to go up against the vice president.  I think she has got a much stronger brief and a much greater persuasion with the president of the United States on this. 

MATTHEWS:  So now it’s an equal playing field between her and the hawks, where before it was all the hawks, including the president, outnumbering Colin Powell? 

MITCHELL:  And partly because the situation on the ground is changed, because we are stretched so thin, because the military is feeling—the Pentagon civilian leaders at least are feeling a little bit under pressure because of what’s happened in Iraq, and they are obviously preoccupied with Iraq and Afghanistan and really can’t take on Iran.  And Iran is a much more complex military situation. 

MATTHEWS:  Much bigger country, more powerful. 

Thank you very much Andrea Mitchell.

Retired Marine Corps Lieutenant General Bernard Trainor is the author of the big new book on the Iraq war called “Cobra 2” and retired General Barry McCaffrey commanded the 24th Infantry Division during Desert Storm.  He is now a MSNBC military analyst. 

General McCaffrey you first.  This issue of Iran, are you surprised that someone at the Pentagon is leaking the worst case scenario that we will hit them hard and hit them with nuclear? 

GEN. BARRY MCCAFFREY, U.S. ARMY (RET.):  Well I am not sure.  I think what they’re trying to do is provide a lot of background sort of pugnacious talk to lend some credibility to Secretary Rice’s attempt to get the Chinese, the Russians, the Europeans...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it was the administration insiders who leaked this or the critics inside who leaked this idea we might use nuclear weaponry against Iran? 

MCCAFFREY:  I think they’re personally trying to provide backdrop to Secretary Rice’s diplomatic maneuvers.  They are trying to add some credibility, some leverage.  They don’t have much leverage. 

MATTHEWS:  So this was a friendly—this was an administration friendly leak to “The New Yorker?” 

MCCAFFREY:  Oh, sure.  Yes, first of all, we’re not going to do it. 

There is zero possibility of us using nuclear weapons against the Iranians.  That’s the only way to be sure we’d knock out their capability.  If we gave the U.S. Air Force and Naval Air 90 days, they’d go get half of it.  They’d wreck the air defense system.  They would dominate the skies.

But the consequences would be of course cataclysmic in terms of diplomatic reaction, so I think this is backdrop.  Secretary Rice got a huge responsibility. 

MATTHEWS:  All right. 

General Trainor, do you believe this big leak over the weekend suggesting the United States was readying the option to use tactical nuclear weapons against Iran was fed to the press by the people who don’t want it to happen or the people who want to use it as a stick on behalf of the administration? 

LT. GEN. BERNARD TRAINOR, U.S. MARINES (RET.):  Chris, I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t a little bit of both.  Frankly, I don’t understand why we’re going to general quarters on this particular issue at this time.  I mean, they’ve taken—gone over a threshold, but it’s a minor threshold, come to think of it. 

The enrichment of the uranium is only about a 3.5 percent of what is needed to turn out nuclear weapons.  They only have about 164 centrifuges.  I mean, it would be a long time before they get up to the 99 percent enriched uranium that gives them the U-2-35 for efficient nuclear weapon.  It’s a long way away.  So I think there’s plenty of room for diplomacy. 

MATTHEWS:  You are using a Socratic method here.  Let me respond, general.  Ask you the question again.  There are two suspects out there, one are the hawks in the administration, the other, I guess, are Israelis, officially are not pushing for somebody to do something, so they don’t have to do it. 

I guess the other one is that people in the administration like they did with regard to Iraq, had a primary mission of regime change and used weapons of mass destruction as a pretext.  Could that be what’s going on here? 

TRAINOR:  That’s what we did with Iraq, but in this instance, I don’t think we’re serious about attacking Iran as we were about Iraq.  And looking for (INAUDIBLE).  In this instance, I think it’s being used as diplomatic leverage rather than actual operational planning. 

MATTHEWS:  So both you generals think that it may well be the well-meaning people within the administration that say look, we have got to warn these guys to know we’re serious enough to attack with a nuclear weapon, so slow down? 

MCCAFFREY:  Yes, and I think the legitimate question is, this actually going to give more leverage to diplomatic effort or decrease it?  Is it going to enrage the Iranians?  I think there’s widespread support among the Iranian population to go nuclear .  That’s one of the problems.

MATTHEWS:  Even the secular people. 

MCCAFFREY:  Yes, sure.  I think the young people, they think Persian nationalism.  It’s a proud country.  They want to be a regional power. 

MATTHEWS:  It’s like having the tallest building. 

MCCAFFREY:  Yes, sure.  And they also think they’re going to benefit from it.  You can either trade nukes away or you can get respect or you can deter conventional military action with them, so these guys are going nukes.  I don’t think it’s 20 years, Chris.  I would be astonished if they don’t have a nuclear device in five years.  These are smart people.  They have been working at it. 

MATTHEWS:  They’re as smart as the Russians were back in the early 1950’s. 

MCCAFFREY:  Yes, sure.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to General Trainor on this.  Let’s look at the options here.  Everybody thinks—I mean, I think all the time talking to my friends, the worst case scenario is they get a weapon.  They just ram it right into Tel Aviv.  That’s what they will do first.  It is their worst enemy.  They will try to find a target, which is not crowded with too many Arabs.

They can’t obviously attack Jerusalem.  It is one of the holiest cities in Islam.  They can’t bomb that.  So what are their potential uses?  Let me ask you experts, generals.  Could Iran find an actual use for a nuclear weapon.

TRAINOR:  I find it hard to believe, knowing that there would be retaliation which would be devastating, if not from Israel, which has its own capability, possibly from the United States, but I would like to think that would come in conventional terms. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

TRAINOR:  Sure, they could get this weapon, but I think they are using it, as General McCaffrey indicated, for prestige and also diplomatic leverage within the region. 

MATTHEWS:  Israel has the Arrow Missile System.  It’s a point defense.  I guess it hasn’t been fully tested, but could it defend Israel against an attack by a bomber or by a missile?  General McCaffrey?

MCCAFFREY:  Well, I think the quick answer is the Iranians have a very poor capability to deliver these weapons at that range.  They would be a huge threat to the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf, a huge threat to the Saudis and people close to them, but I think the actual threat to Israel—you know, as McTrainor (ph) says, first of all, the Israelis would retaliate in a flash. 

MATTHEWS:  But could they counter it? 

MCCAFFERTY:  Well ...

MATTHEWS:  Is there any missile system that Israel has which is unique because they have a very small country ...

MCCAFFERTY:  I don’t think the Iranians right now ...

MATTHEWS:  ... that they could point defense for—they just put their anti-missiles in place to defend Tel Aviv, which is one target, obviously, and everybody fears it, but if they did that, would that stop an incoming? 

MCCAFFERTY:  Well, between Arrow, Patriot and Israeli Air Defense, they have got a good chance to defend against an Iranian attack for the foreseeable future. 

MATTHEWS:  And that put Israel in the weirdest, strangest position in the world.  If you know another country has lobed a nuclear weapon at you, what do you do then? 

MCCAFFERTY:  I think the Israelis absolutely would retaliate.  That’s the thing that bothers me. 

MATTHEWS:  At that point?   

MCCAFFERTY:  Yes, at that point.

MATTHEWS:  With that? 

MCCAFFERTY:  Well, with nuclear weapons. 

MATTHEWS:  Then they would be blamed by the entire world as the first country because no one would believe that Iran had attacked them. 

MCCAFFERTY:  Well, I think if the Iranians clearly have a nuclear

capability, 30 weapons, 10 years from now and threaten the United States

Navy, somebody will go on to the president of the United States and say

preemptive strike is one of your options.  That’s the danger.  That’s where

we don’t want to be, so hopefully Secretary Rice will deliver some credible

...

MATTHEWS:  It would be nice if—we wouldn’t be thinking like this, McTrainor, if we had a reasonable government like over there like Econsamie (ph) over there, certainly we wouldn’t be attacking them if the Shah had a weapon like this, we’d probably be helping them.

So it really is who is leading the country.  We have Musharraf who is on our side right now, he has got nuclear weapons.  Indians do.  Of course, Israel does.  Isn’t it really about the political leadership of the country at the time they have the weaponry? 

TRAINOR:  Of course it is.  Of course it is.  And Iraq was a danger and they perceive Iran as a danger, as part of the axis of evil in the eyes of the president, so it certainly is political. 

The Iranians have signed on to the Non-Nuclear Proliferation Treaty, and what they have at this particular point is perfectly legal for industrial use.  But it’s the potential that we see and in terms of stopping an attack on Israel, they’re not going to wait for the Arrow to be in the air heading towards Israel. 

They will strike or we will strike before that, when—as soon as we get the indicators that the Iraqis are about to do something like that.  We won’t allow any sort of weapon to ever leave Iraqi—or rather, Iranian territory. 

MATTHEWS:  Fair enough.  By the way, that’s true preemption.  That would be preemption.

MCCAFFERTY:  That’s of the danger. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But preemption is a hell of a lot better than the word the president used the other day which is preventive, which is you attack just because you think they might someday do it, which is—I think it’s a scarier term, because it’s much more unstable. 

Thank you, gentlemen.  General Bernard Trainor and General Barry McCaffrey.  “Cobra II” by the way, by Bernard Trainor, is one hell of a book, maybe—in fact, not maybe—most people think that best book that’s written about the Iraq war.

Coming up, what lessons can be learned from the Cuban Missile Crisis for our dealings with Iran?

And all this week, go to our Web site to watch the nine most memorable HARDBALL interviews in the past nine years, from Zell Miller to Clint Eastwood to George W. Bush.  You can vote for your favorite, just go to our Web site at hardblogger.MSNBC.com. 

By the way, no guessing here, Zell Miller is killing everybody. 

Anyway, you’re watching the ninth anniversary of HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON STEWART, COMEDIAN:  Happy anniversary Chris Matthews. 

JON VOIGHT, ACTOR:  Happy ninth anniversary HARDBALL.  God bless, Chris. 

FMR. SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D), NORTH CAROLINA:  I want to congratulate HARDBALL on its ninth anniversary, and to Chris Matthews, the show does an incredible job and a great service for the country. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

“Washington Post” columnist David Ignatius says to look at the Cuban Missile Crisis as we look at the Iran situation.  He goes on to write that the Bush administration can learn something from how President Kennedy defused that threat.  David Ignatius joins us now from the “Washington Post” news room.

You know, David, you and I and a lot of other people watching right now—in fact, based on my audience information, almost everybody watching right now—experienced the Cuban Missile Crisis.  What’s its relevance today to our dealings with Iran? 

DAVID IGNATIUS, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  I quoted this morning in my column, Chris, Graham Allison, who’s probably the leading student of the Cuban Missile Crisis, saying that our confrontation with Iran is the Cuban Missile Crisis in slow motion. 

You know, we don’t see it as that kind of urgent, sudden confrontation like back in 1962, but his point is that, at some point, President Bush’s advisers or maybe those of his successor will say, Mr. President, either you acquiesce in Iran having a nuclear bomb or you go to war to stop it, and so the stakes couldn’t be larger. 

What I was saying this morning was that unless something is done, unless something like what Jack Kennedy did in that crisis is done to get out of the box options, we really are on a course—I think a collision course—toward eventual conflict. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, the key to the Cuban Missile Crisis was a combination of our regional strength in the Caribbean—of course, we were doing it in our own backyard against the Soviets, who had nowhere near the strategic potential we had then. 

And it was also a skilled use of diplomacy, not military action so much as diplomacy, finding out what we could give to the Soviets to get them off our case.  Why do we not negotiate with Ahmadinejad if we could negotiate with a killer like Khrushchev? 

IGNATIUS:  I would amend your description slightly, Chris.  What led to success in the Cuban Missile Crisis—that is to say what led to their not being war—was the Soviet perception that President Kennedy really was ready to risk war to prevent the missiles from coming.  It’s clear that they thought he was ready to go, so that’s the first thing. 

The second thing is, against that backdrop of very credible military threats, Kennedy resisted the advice of his advisers, almost all of whom wanted an invasion of Cuba, and said I’ve got to find some alternative.  And eventually, he came up with this sort of goofy collection of starts and stops.  He responded to a first message but then ignored a second one, he said he’d never take U.S. missiles out of Turkey but then did so secretly.  He put together a package that somehow broke the mold of limited options and found new ones and I think that’s what President Bush needs to be doing now, as he thinks about Iran.

MATTHEWS:  How can we give Iran, which is a sovereign country, that had an election, we don’t like who won but he’s there.  How can we give them what the guy wants, does he want prestige of being in the nuclear club?  Does he want to have a nuclear system he can use in war?  Does he wasn’t to have a defensive threat?  What does he want that we would have room to negotiate with him on?

IGNATIUS:  The problem is that we really don’t know what Ahmadinejad wants.  He’s still a mystery.  When I talk to senior policymakers in the U.S. about Iran, the first thing they say is we really don’t know what’s going on there.  We don’t even know if he’s really fully in charge. 

But I think the point would be now that we need to explore the answer to precisely the question that you raise.  What does he want?  What would bring Iran out of this isolation, this revolutionary threat to its neighbors into some kind of framework for security in the region?

I think a good first start is the conversations that are planned between our ambassador in Baghdad and an Iranian representative to talk about security in Iraq.  Both countries have a strong interest in that and if they succeed in that, maybe there are next steps after that.

MATTHEWS:  What are Israel’s options?  They’ve got a new government.  Kadima’s a peace-oriented government, they want to cut a deal on land to develop a permanent border, the green line has to be adjusted, very tricky things have to be done over land and dealing with Hamas.  Are they willing to make a move here at this point or are they going to wait a number of years on Iran?

IGNATIUS:  You mean in terms of Iran?  Well, I think Israel would love to see, you know, a different kind of Iran emerge, Iran that was more stable once upon a time, under the Shah, Iran was Israel’s most important strategic partner.

And the Israelis have long thought that at some point the Persians, the Shiites of Iran might again be their partner.  But for the moment, the problem with Ahmadinejad is he has decided to plant his flag on the issue of the Palestinians as loudly, as obnoxiously as he can.

And unfortunately, I think a lot of Arabs and Muslims have rallied behind him.  I hate to say that, but when he called for this dreadful, wipe Israel off the face of the earth, unfortunately, that may have given him greater popularity.

So I think right now, there’s not a lot that Israel can do.  What the U.S. needs to explore is whether Iran’s aspiration to be a significant power, to be the dominant power in the region, can be met in a way that doesn’t destabilize things.  Can the U.S. draw them into economic relations, security relations, a whole realm of things and if that’s possible, then it’s a different situation.

MATTHEWS:  Very interesting.  Thank you very much, David Ignatius, of “The Washington Post.”  Up next, the CIA leak case.  Will a misstep by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald damage the case against Scooter Libby?  You’re watching HARDBALL’s anniversary on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Former Secretary of State Colin Powell is now beginning to speak out about the case for war, the war we fought against Iraq.

And he has told a reporter in San Francisco that President Bush focused on the false claims Iraq sought nuclear weapons because of what Vice President Cheney was saying.  More on that in a moment. 

But first in the Scooter Libby case, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has filed a correction in a paper he filed last week.  HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster joins us for the latest.  David, what’s this about?  It seems to me it’s about the language he used in describing the case that Cheney and the others were making after the war.

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT:  That’s right.  Last week, Patrick Fitzgerald fingered Vice President Dick Cheney and said that Cheney’s chief-of-staff Scooter Libby was authorized to leak certain intelligence documents to try to undermine critic Joe Wilson. 

What was put out last week was a clear indication that this intelligence was mischaracterized by Libby and that Cheney knew it.  What Patrick Fitzgerald is doing now however is that he is saying that when Fitzgerald said that Libby talked about the national intelligence estimate and that a key judgment of the intelligence community with Iraq was vigorously trying to procure uranium, Fitzgerald is now saying that “I got that citation to Libby’s grand jury testimony incorrect.”

It’s all very complex.  It does not change anything about the case against Scooter Libby and whether he testified truthfully or not to the grand jury.

MATTHEWS:  And nor does it change the fact that according to the testimony we’ve gotten from the special prosecutor now, Mr. Fitzgerald, that what happened here—and it’s so clear to people who have followed this program, and this issue on this program, is before the war with Iraq, a case was made that we faced a nuclear threat from Iraq. 

It turns out that the CIA, the Defense Department, in fact, many of the interagency groups that handle intelligence, including the U.N., did not see a nuclear threat from Iraq.  And that case that there was a nuclear threat from Iraq continued to be made by Cheney and his office after we went into the war.

SHUSTER:  Right, and they key language here, Chris, which is referred to in these documents is these agencies said those claims were highly dubious.  Well when Scooter Libby had his conversation with Judy Miller, he didn’t say, “Hey, these claims are highly dubious.”

MATTHEWS:  He said there are claims.

SHUSTER:  He just said there are claims and left out that other part, which gets to the idea that he was cherry picking intelligence.

MATTHEWS:  What stuns me, having watched this case, almost as well as you have, David—you’ve been great—is the fact that Secretary Powell, Colin Powell, who was such a good soldier during the war, the build-up to war, who didn’t believe in the war apparently, didn’t buy the WMD arguments, but was loyal to the boss, because he basically said, “Are you with me on this?”  Remember that great phrase, “Are you with me?”  Well, he’s not with him anymore, because now Colin Powell told the “San Francisco Chronicle,” my old paper, guess what?  He says Cheney pushed that argument.  He didn’t believe in it.

SHUSTER:  Yes, and Powell was explaining that the State Department had incredible doubts about the case for nuclear weapons that Iraq was seeking nuclear weapons.  But he said the reason the president went along with it was because of Vice President Cheney.

Powell talked about the aluminum tubes, remember the State Department and the Energy Department said that when Saddam was trying to procure aluminum tubes, they were for conventional weapons.

But there were some analysts at the CIA who said, well, maybe these are four nuclear centrifuges and Powell is making the point that that is what Cheney decided to go with, ignoring the State Department, ignoring the Energy Department and going with the CIA analysts who are claiming these must have been for nuclear centrifuges.

MATTHEWS:  So in every month of the year going into the war with Iraq and all the months afterwards in putting down the whistleblower Wilson, the vice president’s thumb was on the scale, pushing the case for nuclear all along. 

SHUSTER:  Yes, pushing it beforehand, pushing it afterwards when they were defending their case for war and using intelligence.  But by that point, July 2003, was clearly wrong and they were still pushing it.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, David Shuster.  When we return, one of the Republican presidential candidates for 2008, a real calmer here, maybe the sleeper candidate for 2008, Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  He’s going to be joining us.  You’re watching the ninth anniversary of HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TERRY MCAULIFFE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Happy anniversary to HARDBALL, the greatest show on television.  Beats FOX, that right-wing nut case and CNN.  HARDBALL’s No. 1.  You want to get the facts straight, you want to get them right, watch Chris Matthews and HARDBALL.  Happy ninth anniversary.

HALEY BARBER, GOVERNOR, MISSISSIPPI:  Hey Chris.  This is Haley Barber, governor of Mississippi.  Happy ninth birthday from playing HARDBALL.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)         

GOV. MITT ROMNEY ®, MASSACHUSETTS:  What is remarkable to me is that such a disparate group of people could come together on a workable consensus.  My son said that having Senator Kennedy and me together like this on this stage behind the same piece of landmark legislation will help slow global warming.  That is because hell has frozen over. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

That was Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney having a little fun this morning at a big ceremony to sign into law a bill that would bring health care coverage to everyone in his state.  Will it work?  Will it work in 49 other states?  It’s a tall order and just the kind of accomplishment that could turn heads if the governor decides to run for president in 2008.  He’s halfway there already after he decided not to run for a second term as governor of Massachusetts.

He is with us now live from Boston, Governor Mitt Romney. 

Thank you sir.  It’s great to have you here.  You were quite a hit down at that Memphis Republican get together.  You amazed me at how tough you were on the marriage issue. 

ROMNEY:  Well, I made it real clear from the very beginning that I favor marriage between one man and a woman, and I’m not in favor of same-sex marriage.  I’m not in favor of civil union, and there’s no question that people who attend those events agree with me. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you mention one man?  Is the numerical issue an issue now, how many people are partners in these marriages? 

ROMNEY:  No, I think the issue is whether...

MATTHEWS:  Well, you said one man.  Why did you say one man?  Why didn’t you just say a man and a woman? 

ROMNEY:  No particular reason.  Just a man and a woman. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, what I’m getting at don’t you?  The issue of multiple wives and polygamy.  That’s obviously a question that comes because this new TV show about a Mormon family and how many wives, three of them I think in the movie. 

ROMNEY:  Actually it’s not a Mormon family.  My church has long ago given up that practice in the 1800s, but putting that aside for a moment.  It’s real clear that Americans, myself included, believe that marriage is a relationship between a man and a woman and not more than that and also not same sex couples. 

And that is something which I think is important to my party and I think people of both parties.  And I think the Democratic Party, particularly in my state, has made an error by adopting a platform that supports gay marriage. 

MATTHEWS:  Could that be a deal breaker for the Democrats who seem to be doing so well in the polling right now, their support for civil unions or some form of same sex partnership? 

ROMNEY:  Well, I think it’s hard for the Democrats.  I think they’re making a mistake because I think they fundamentally misunderstand the fact that in America people recognize that the primary purpose of marriage is the creation and the development of the next generation.  And the ideal way to create and develop the next generation is to have homes with moms and dads.  And that’s something where traditional marriage is going to play such a key role. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about something I’m very impressed with, and everybody else will be, I think.  And that’s what you have been able to accomplish up there with health care.  Everybody wants health care for people who are working and playing by the rules and trying to raise families and not having enough money to pay for expensive health care.  Will the Massachusetts effort that you’ve just signed now, will it work for the country? 

ROMNEY:  Well, it will work for Massachusetts, and that’s of course the thing that I had to focus on.  There are certain aspects of it that I think would work across the country, perhaps better in some states than others.  Of course the great thing about federalism is you let a state try it and see how it works before you spread it out.

But there’s some key features and I think this is one of them, which is that we are already spending billions of dollars in our country and in my state, about a billion dollars, giving free care to people who don’t have insurance.  And the question was, if we took that money and helped them buy insurance, could we have everybody insured and the answer is yes. 

We don’t need new money.  We don’t need new taxes.  We could use the money we’re currently spending and get people better health care without having the burden and the cost of the uninsured being borne by everybody else. 

MATTHEWS:  So people below the poverty line are covered by Medicaid. 

People who have good jobs and good employment contracts have health care.  The people in the middle, the people who are freelance, in the business I’m in right now, television, freelance people don’t get health insurance.  People that are above the poverty line don’t get the advantage of Medicaid unless they impoverish themselves. 

Is there enough money in saving from emergency rooms and other costs to cover the cost of that middle of the road person who is somewhere between the poverty level and well off? 

ROMNEY:  Well, that’s what we found.  We studied at some length the people who didn’t have insurance, and we found, first of all, that about 40 percent of those that don’t have insurance had plenty of income to buy their own private policy if it were reasonably priced.  So we stripped out some mandates.  We allowed co-pays and deductibles that are larger.  And those people can buy insurance. 

Then those that are lower income, we found that we’re already spending more than enough money to help subsidize the purchase of private...

MATTHEWS:  Got you.  God, it sounds wonderful.  I’m not supposed to cheer here, but I mean, I think it’s wonderful.  I mean, if you can—if it works fiscally—now, how long will it take you governor in the commonwealth to know if the numbers add up? 

ROMNEY:  Well, we’ll probably know what kind of a financial experience we’re seeing within the next probably year.  It’s going to take us about three years to get all of our citizens insured, but we’re going to see the kind of effect that this change has on our individual citizens’ lives, really very, very quickly.  And there’s not much question here, it works.  As long as we politicians don’t get back into the soup and muddy things up, it will work because we are basically helping people get private policies.

MATTHEWS:  Well why are the Democrats fighting you?  Why are the Dems fighting you on this?

ROMNEY:  They are not.  The Democrats and the Republicans have come together on this.

MATTHEWS:  Well, who is this guy out there complaining right now about the fact that you deleted this penalty box of 295 if you don’t join up?

ROMNEY:  Oh, well that is not a big matter.  My Democratic friends added basically about a $20 a month charge to companies that don’t provide insurance to their employees, but $20 is not a big figure.  I just don’t think we need to add any kind of fees at this point, so I vetoed that, but most likely the legislature will put that back in, but that’s not the key feature. 

The key feature here is we’re letting people get their own private health insurance, not a government plan, not a government insurance plan, not a government takeover in any way, shape or form, no new taxes being applied.  And as a result of doing that, we’re getting everybody insured.  It’s a—with portable insurance purchased from the private companies. 

MATTHEWS:  So if you can afford it, you buy the insurance under this new plan.  If you can’t afford it, your co-pay is still there?  You still have to pay a part of it, right?

ROMNEY:  Well, if you can’t afford insurance ...

MATTHEWS:  If you can’t afford anything then the government pays for it?  How does ...

ROMNEY:  If you can’t afford—yes, if you can’t afford anything, then we help subsidize the purchase of your insurance plan.  So let’s say you’re earning two times federal poverty which, in my state, would be roughly $35,000 a year.  In that case, you’re going to be paying about $15 a week for your insurance.  We’ll pick up the remainder.

And so the state picks up some portion of the insurance premium to make sure that everybody has a plan they can afford and it’s not a government plan.  Again, it’s a private plan offered by the many insurance companies that compete here. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Sounds like great news, governor.  Congratulations. 

ROMNEY:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  I hope the numbers add up because it sounds like something we really need in this country. 

Up next, who inside the Bush administration is pushing for war with Iran?  “Newsweek’s” Evan Thomas and “Vanity Fair’s” Christopher Hitchens will join us when we return.  This is HARDBALL’s ninth anniversary, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We do not want the Iranians to have a nuclear weapon, the capacity to make a nuclear weapon, or the knowledge as to how to make a nuclear weapon.  That’s our stated goal.  It is also the goal fortunately of other—of friends and allies, starting with Great Britain, Germany, and France. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was President Bush this week, zeroing in on Iran. 

Here to talk about what he was saying there, and other hot topics, is “Newsweek’s” Evan Thomas and “Vanity Fair’s” Christopher Hitchens. 

Christopher, who in the administration is pushing for some kind of military attack on Iran to deal with its nuclear potential? 

CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS, “VANITY FAIR”:  Well, I wish it was easy just to find that person.  You can’t tell if there’s anyone in the administration who is in charge of Iran policy at all. 

MATTHEWS:  What about the veep? 

HITCHENS:  He’s not in charge of the policy.  Some people say that his daughter is interested in it.  And apparently is she.  I’ve talked to a lot of people who want to know is ...

MATTHEWS:  There’s a daughter of the vice president who has a foreign policy? 

HITCHENS:  Well ...

MATTHEWS:  That’s relevant? 

(CROSSTALK)

HITCHENS:  ... shall I say that that’s where we are now?  You try and find—it’s as hard to find someone who can pronounce the word nuclear, which has to do the with the nucleus. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me get to the heart.  I’m going to bottom line you.

HITCHENS:  They can’t do it.  There’s no one in charge of this clattering train. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, is the president ...

HITCHENS:  No one’s done any thinking about it and now they are stuck with two options. 

MATTHEWS:  Is the president going to attack Iran? 

HITCHENS:  Or he can either do that or make nice and do a Nixon in China.  He’s down to a kind of capitulation, where he says all right, as he’s instructed his ambassador in Iraq already to do, talk to them, treat them as an ally and a friend, a possible negotiated partner, but keep it limited. 

He has to either extend that across the board from Afghanistan toward the other areas of mutuality, where we have common possible interests—or he has to the mattress and say you cheated, you lied, you flouted international law, we can’t pass this on to the next administration, which is now the mantra.  So they’ve—the Bush administration keeps saying, we won’t push this into the next ...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He will leave that for his successors to deal with, Evan

...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But this one he will move on? 

HITCHENS:  Well, he did inherit it from them, after all. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, here’s the question.  We salute democracy in the Middle East, we promote it.  In the cases where there have been elections, they have not been helpful to our position, like Ahmadinejad was elected.  He was elected after we beat the drum against his predecessor, and they went further in the zealous direction. 

Is our influence on him negative?  Every time the president says something tough about Iran, does that encourage them more to say we can do what we wasn’t to do, Mr. President? 

EVAN THOMAS, “NEWSWEEK”:  Sure, I mean, despots have always rallied their people by having enemies outside.  I mean, Stalin did it.  We’re surrounded by terrible enemies and you can only come to me, the despot, for salvation and solace.  And that’s what he’s doing. 

MATTHEWS:  Is he a despot? 

THOMAS:  The Iranian guy? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

THOMAS:  Sure. 

HITCHENS:  He wasn’t elected there.  It’s quite false to say that.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what was he?  How did he get there?  I thought he was elected?

HITCHENS:  Well, surely you remember.  I mean, the Iranian mullahs reserve the right to decide who can run first, they combed out the first dozen candidates.  They excluded all the reformists.  They were left with two or three guys, including the most compromising one, Rafsanjani.  They thought that wouldn’t quite work.

They put in this (INAUDIBLE) character, former of Tehran, at the last minute and said vote for him in the second round.  It’s quite false to say he was elected.  It’s an insult to the Iranian people to say he was elected. 

(CROSSTALK)

HITCHENS:  The great hope we have is that Iranians having been subjected to so many fake elections would like the idea of a real one for a change.  That would be nice. 

MATTHEWS:  Evan, it seems to me we have a number of options, not just the two.  You have to figure out what he’s up to.  Is he trying to establish prestige by being a member of the nuclear club in that region, even to claim to be?  Is he trying to offset the Israeli nuclear capability?  Is he attempting to actually use a nuclear weapon?  I don’t know how you use a nuclear weapon in the Middle East.

THOMAS:  I don’t think it’s all that complicated.  He’s seen that a good way to avoid being attacked and overthrown is to have a nuke, to have a nuclear weapon.  I mean, it’s working pretty well for North Korea. 

MATTHEWS:  To be safer from us?

THOMAS:  If you don’t have a nuclear weapon, you are—his goal is survival, is staying in power.  He has a better chance of staying in power if he has a nuclear weapon than if he doesn’t. 

MATTHEWS:  We’ll be right back with Evan Thomas and Christopher Hitchens. 

Up next, on Monday, I’ll be a moderator of the mayoral debate down in New Orleans.  Hurricane Katrina nearly destroyed that city, and the mayor’s race is one the biggest steps toward rebuilding New Orleans.  It’s exclusive live coverage you’ll see right here on MSNBC next Monday night and on MSNBC.com.               

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GAVIN NEWSOM, MAYOR, SAN FRANCISCO:  Mayor Gavin Newsom out here in San Francisco.  You’re watching HARDBALL.  Chris Matthews, congratulations on nine years.  Let’s play HARDBALL.

JOHN BOEHNER ®, OHIO:  I’m Congressman John Boehner from Ohio.  Happy ninth anniversary HARDBALL, and maybe Chris will give somebody a chance to say something on the show.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

MATTHEWS:  We are back with Evan Thomas of “Newsweek” and Christopher Hitchens of “Vanity Fair.” 

Evan, I don’t know about you but I was struck that Colin Powell, who

has always been the good soldier, came out with “THE SAN FRANCISCO

CHRONICLE” this week and just said right off the bat—he said, you know,

that nuclear piece that we used to fight the war with Iraq, why we got in

it—for many people it was the reason they said yes go to war, we have to

was basically pushed by Vice President Cheney. 

It wasn’t there, but it was pushed by the most powerful man in the administration.  And he made a point that he didn’t agree with it.   

THOMAS:  Powell is sore.  I mean, Powell feels badly that he was badly used by being—having to be the front man at the U.N. and selling people...

MATTHEWS:  Why didn’t he just resign like Sy Vance back during the other fright with Iran?  Why didn’t he just say I’m getting out of here, I’m not part of this? 

THOMAS:  Well, Sy Vance is a singular example.  People generally don’t do that.  People generally stay in government on the reasonable theory that they do more good on the inside than they would do on the outside, that he was a restraining force. 

MATTHEWS:  But the president called him in and said are you going to back this war, Colin?  Are you with me on this?  And he said yes.  At that point he could have said, Mr. President, in all honesty, I am not with you.

THOMAS:  Yes, but one of the problems, he wasn’t against the war.  He was against doing the war right then.  If you talk Richard Armitage’s aide, they were ready to go war, they just didn’t want to do it that year. 

HITCHENS:  Their aides?  Their bitch, you mean. 

MATTHEWS:  His what?

HITCHENS:  His bitch.  Why are you calling Colin Powell a good soldier? 

(CROSSTALK)

HITCHENS:  Excuse me.  Colin Powell, if it would have been up to him, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, there wouldn’t have been a carrier moved into the Gulf.  He was opposed to doing anything then.  If it was up to Colin Powell, who is a mutinous over mighty servant as head of the joint chiefs during the Clinton administration, nothing would have been done.

MATTHEWS:  So you disagree?

HITCHENS:  Nothing would have been done about Kosovo or Bosnia.  He’s always been opposed to any fight against any dictator.  He always been opposed to any struggle of any kind at all.  And just because he loves to be in power so much that he’ll tell any old thing that’s put in front of him, he’s considered to be a hero. 

This is the week where we have just found that Joseph Wilson was dead wrong, that the man who the Iraqis sent to Niger was their main man of the IAEA, their main nuclear employ, their main nuclear ambassador, who went to Niger to discuss, what, the price of corn?  Well, the Joe Wilson story has totally fallen apart.

And where everyone is still deciding is that the clever thing to do is to say Bush made all of this up.  It’s absolute nonsense from beginning to end. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go through this whole question.  As this leak story has developed this week again, the fact that “The Washington Post” and others have written this story, that before we went to war it was clear that the CIA, the State Department, the International Atomic Energy Agency, as well as that 15 member intelligence group, the International Intelligence Council, all said there wasn’t a case for the nuclear piece. 

But we went to war.  And then they persevered in saying there was a nuclear piece, a reason to go war because of a nuclear threat.  Where is that going to stand us, take us? 

HITCHENS:  World peace.

THOMAS:  You know, I don’t think the WMD...

MATTHEWS:  Niger deal, etc.

THOMAS:  I have never thought...

HITCHENS:  The Niger deal is slam dunk. 

THOMAS:  I have never thought the WMD was the reason we went to war.  They went to war for other reasons.  It was an excuse to go to war.  It was a convenient excuse.  They sort of believed it, but it really wasn’t the reason that they did it. 

MATTHEWS:  Have you ever figured out what it was?  Was it regime change? 

(CROSSTALK)    

THOMAS:  After 9/11 they felt they had to teach the Arabs a lesson.  It was a demonstration of American force.  We wanted to show the world, particularly the Arabs, how tough we were.  I think that’s why we went to war. 

MATTHEWS:  It had to be a big bang in response for 9/11. 

THOMAS:  And Afghanistan was not a big enough bang.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much Evan Thomas.  Thank you Christopher Hitchens. 

Sorry we are out of it.

HITCHENS:  ...the Senate in 1998, the Iraq liberation act, 1998.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I was a guest last night on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” 

Let’s take a look at last night. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)         

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE:  A guy named Zell, you have got to watch out for in the first place because it is like zeal and hell have come together to have a child...

MATTHEWS:  It does seem like one of those Gothic kind of bad guys, doesn’t it? 

KIMMEL:  And, well, he is.  He’s a real character.  A still photograph of him is all you need to know.  He’s the guy who is a Democrat who supported President Bush. 

MATTHEWS:  In the worst way. 

KIMMEL:  Yes.  You had a little encounter—well, actually we have a clip. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, you got it.

KIMMEL:  Let’s take a look at Chris and Zell Miller working together.

MATTHEWS:  This is a magic night.              

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)         

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ...switched parties...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If you are going to ask a question...

MATTHEWS:  It takes a few words.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Get out of my face.  If you are going to ask me a question, step back and let me answer.  I wish we lived in the day where you could challenge a person to a duel.  Now, that would be pretty good.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I tell you, I tell you, when that happened I was a little shook.  I said to my producers, now don’t say nothing to the press for two or three days, let it cool down.  Because for all I know, I’ll be getting the word from him meet me at some strange meadow somewhere.

KIMMEL:  Yes, right.

MATTHEWS:  At 6:00 in the morning for a confederate dueling festival.  This thing could escalate.  I said you don’t know the state of mind of this guy.  Take a close look, this isn’t a show.  This is the real thing here.  This is the raw seed of the hurricane.  This is strange.

KIMMEL:  You guys don’t want to wind up being the Tupac and Biggie of cable news.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  It’s all true. 

Anyway, HARDBALL’s ninth anniversary continues tomorrow at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern.  Right now it is time for “THE ABRAM’S REPORT” with Dan.

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.

Watch Hardball with Chris Matthews each weeknight at 5 & 7 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,