updated 4/17/2006 11:42:52 AM ET 2006-04-17T15:42:52

Guest: Tommy Franks, Richard Ben-Veniste

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Bring me the head of Donald Rumsfeld.  It's the night of the generals.  A half dozen of them are now out front demanding the dismissal of the secretary of defense, who they say blundered in Iraq a war some of them say we should not have fought. 

Let's play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I'm Chris Matthews. 

And welcome to the final night in our week-long celebration of HARDBALL's ninth anniversary. 

There is a growing revolt against Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld tonight.  Six retired generals, some of whom commanded forces in the Iraq war, have broken rank with the way the defense secretary has waged the war in Iraq and now they're calling for him to be fired.  The growing chorus of critics forced the president to issue a statement today saying that Rumsfeld has his, quote, “full support and deepest appreciation,” closed quote. 

But is momentum now building against Rumsfeld and do these calls for resignation weaken the defense secretary in a time of war? 

In a moment, we'll talk with the man who commanded U.S. forces in Iraq, retired General Tommy Franks. 

Plus, for the latest in the CIA leak probe and the Moussaoui trial, we'll talk with Richard Ben-Veniste, the former 9/11 commissioner and Watergate prosecutor. 

And it's Friday night and time for another edition of the HARDBALL “Hot Shots.”  My MSNBC colleagues Rita Cosby, Joe Scarborough and Tucker Carlson will be here to argue the big stories of the week.

But first, should Rumsfeld be relieved of command? 

We welcome with honors, former CENTCOM commander, General Tommy Franks. 

General, times are—hell is a popping all of a sudden in Washington.  The front page of “The New York Times” has pictures of at least a half dozen generals who are calling for the resignation of the secretary of defense.  What's your reaction? 

GENERAL TOMMY FRANKS (RET.), FMR. CENTCOM COMMANDER:  Well, let's play HARDBALL, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

FRANKS:  I think any time that you have as much going on during wartime as we have right now in Iraq, you're going to find people who are going to be calling for shuffling cabinet.  I think we've seen that in places other than Rumsfeld and I think that's what we're looking at. 

I think there are some strong opinions out there.  These are competent, credible, military officers, I know most of them.  And they have an opinion, and so let's play hardball.

MATTHEWS:  What is the hardball fight about here, General, if you can help us, without taking sides if you don't wish to?  What is the issue here?  Is it the handling of the war, whether we should have gone to war, the number of troops, the strategy up front in the beginning in the early days when you were running things?  What's the fight about? 

FRANKS:  Yes, Chris, it's all of the above. 

It's—I said in my book that Don Rumsfeld has a very interesting management style.  He holds everything very close to himself, he's a contrarian. 

I know very few military officers who have ever given him a briefing or given him information and had him immediately say, oh, gosh, that's a great idea, I really love that. 

That's not the way Don Rumsfeld does business.  And so from that point of view, the point of view of a guy who is a pretty successful civilian CEO, a pretty successful secretary of defense, at a time when our country is at war, he steps up and he puts people through their paces. 

Now, it is not a thing that very many people who have spent the last 30 years of their life having people listen to them—I'm talking about the generals—it's a pretty hard thing to sit there and find yourself in a pretty serious hardball dialogue with a senior civilian. 

And so I think that there are some...

(CROSSTALK)

FRANKS:  Yes, go ahead. 

MATTHEWS:  Isn't it like you'd like to buy a house because you've got a lot of money and you think I want to build a big mega mansion and you call in the architects, the best in the business; you say, I want to build out of mud, or I want to build out of whatever, and the guys all say—they look at you and say, I know you're rich, sir, I know you have a lot of power, but you can't build a house like that? 

Isn't it the job of the architects of this war, the generals, to tell the boss, or the client, you can't do it that way, it won't work? 

FRANKS:  Absolutely. 

And I think one thing that's missing in a lot of the reporting is that a great many generals, in fact, did that with Don Rumsfeld.  I mean, ask him about our dialogue.  Ask him as we spent 14 months planning this thing, Chris, the number of times that I'd look at him or he'd look at me and say absolutely not. 

The discussions that we had, and a great many people were privy to those discussions, and interestingly, none of them happened to be the ones the generals who have spoken out.  I mean, that's the sort of thing that you find with Don Rumsfeld. 

Look, we live in a great country, Chris.  Where else can we be so proud of military, seasoned military professionals, who are able to have frank, no kidding, not yes, sir, yes, sir type dialogue with a secretary of defense and still have civilians control the Office of the Secretary of Defense and our national security, as is called for in our Constitution. 

I think it's a great blessing. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you remember—I'm sure you do, you're the fighting man and the general who won the big war when we went in there—do you remember how Shinseki was treated? 

I keep reminding myself of generals who have spoken out, gotten picked up in the press, they haven't been treated so well. 

FRANKS:  I think that's fair comment. 

I think, Chris, you will find personalities that get along and you find personalities that do not get along. 

My personal appreciation was that the personalities of Rick Shinseki, a friend of mine, and Don Rumsfeld, a friend of mine, were not exactly—well, I'll describe it this way. 

It was sort of like oil and water, and this was not something that, as many in the mainstream media presented, well, Rick Shinseki spoke out against the war and Don Rumsfeld canned him. 

Come on, Chris.  You know better than that. 

How long was Rick Shinseki the chief of staff of the Army? 

Rick Shinseki retired on time.  That part of this discussion has been blown out of proportion. 

Now, the fact of the matter is that there was friction, and the fact of the matter is that Rick Shinseki had concerns about this effort.  From my memory, the concerns had to do with logistics support.

But be that as it may, there certainly was friction there, and I think you're going to find that.  That does not imply that from time to time there was not friction between Don Rumsfeld and myself, because there certainly was. 

MATTHEWS:  Let's take a quote, General Franks, of somebody who's spoken out, retired Marine General Greg Newbold.  He said—he served, by the way, as director of operations, as you know, with the Joint Chiefs from 2000 to 2002. 

And he wrote in this week's “Time” magazine, quote—these are his words, he wrote them—“My sincere view is that the commitment of our forces to this fight”—that's in Iraq—“was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions, or bury the results.  I now regret that I did not more openly challenge those who were determined to invade a country peripheral to the real threat.”

Now, I know who those people are who were pushing this war, it was the civilians in the Defense Department.  It's quite clear they had an ideological mission there. 

Isn't the business of a general of your rank, and these other generals, to speak to the civilian leadership and say we don't buy this ideology of yours that we go into another country, take it over and convert it to democracy in the interest of some geopolitical objective? 

Can a general say that to a secretary of defense?  Because they're saying it now.

(CROSSTALK) 

FRANKS:  Chris, absolutely.

Well, my memory—and of course, I mean, I'm an older fellow, but my memory does not embrace a single event wherein Greg Newbold told the secretary of defense anything like that.  I was in a number of sessions. 

MATTHEWS:  He's saying it now. 

FRANKS:  Yes.  And the fact of the matter is that I said a great many things to Secretary Rumsfeld over the course of our professional relationship, as I think military people and secretaries of defense will. 

There was friction.  In fact, I think if you look at some of the reporting of that time, there is mention of the fact that—or the suggestion that Franks was thrown out of his office and this and that, and that's all foolish, that absolutely did not take place.

But one-on-one, face-to-face dialogue, wherein we discussed the puts and the calls associated with Iraq planning, certainly did take place.  And I must tell you that I don't recall Greg Newbold having been involved in many of those sessions. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me try to get back to something you said which was fascinating, General Franks, a couple minutes ago.  You talked about how the secretary of defense would come and meet with the Joint Chiefs and other top commanders and tell them what his strategy was going to be and asked for their—them to carry it out.  And he seemed to have a fixed plan, he wasn't open to amendment, as you point out.  He wasn't sitting there fielding suggestions, he wasn't a suggestion box.  He came with a strategy. 

Where did that strategy come from?  Was he coming in there with advice from his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, from another undersecretary, Undersecretary Doug Feith? 

Was he coming in with sort of a civilian's idea of how to win a war based on ideology and confronting you generals with, OK, do this, I want this done? 

FRANKS:  Chris, not one time ever did I see Don Rumsfeld brief or present a plan to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, whereas I on multiple occasions presented a plan to the Joint Chiefs of Staff and on several occasions in the presence of Don Rumsfeld.

And so the suggestion that the secretary of defense had a notion and took it forth to the members of the military and said, here's what we're going to do, well, that simply didn't happen.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But what did you just say?  I thought you...

FRANKS:  The plan was generated by me and my staff.

MATTHEWS:  But I thought you said that he wasn't open to suggestions, he came with a fixed purpose, a mission in mind.

FRANKS:  Oh, sure.  Let me give you a vignette, Chris, of how that happens.  I remember as we—the word that I use is iterated, as we talked about this plan for more than a year, on many occasions, I would walk in and say, oh, Mr. Secretary, I have a great idea today.  In his contrarian way, he would listen to the idea, and he would say, I don't know, general.  I don't know if I buy that. 

And then I would take a different point of view, and I would say well, if you don't like that one, Mr. Secretary, how about this one?  And we would talk, and over the course of time, we would iterate.  We went back and forth on this plan, and at no time do I recall Don Rumsfeld having said, general, I heard what you said, now this is what I want you to do. 

And candidly, I'm not sure that anyone who is now on the stand in front of mainstream media saying what they're saying could say that he ever did that. 

MATTHEWS:  So he was open to a give and take between the experts and the civilians? 

FRANKS:  Yes, indeed. 

MATTHEWS:  And it was an...

FRANKS:  Yes, indeed, but he would make those—Chris, he would make those discussions very hard and very unpleasant.  For anyone who knows Donald Rumsfeld well, I think they would agree with this statement and I mean, you can ask Peter Pace.  When you—you actually never know which side of an argument Don Rumsfeld is on. 

Because I—I mean, I used to run tests with him.  I would take a presentation in, just to have an off-line discussion and present a hypothesis just to try to determine which side Rumsfeld would fall on, on a given issue.  He would fall on the side most contrary, and the result of that was to force people around him to do good work.  I never said it was a pleasant process, but very effective. 

MATTHEWS:  I understand.  It sounds like Henry Kissinger, who would tell you this first speech draft was terrible because he didn't bother reading it but the second one would be better.  What did you think on a scale of one to 10 of the military expertise, of the civilians surrounding Secretary Rumsfeld, the people like Wolfowitz and Feith and the others and the rest of them?  How would you on a scale of 1 to 10, where would you put their military savvy? 

FRANKS:  I would put the dipstick at oh—with a reasonable degree of understanding, I would put Doug Feith in a category as a brilliant man with some military understanding, but both of these gentlemen were apt to think out of the box.  And candidly, Chris, for all I know, maybe that's what Don Rumsfeld wanted them to do.  Of course, as a military guy...

MATTHEWS:  Were they ideologues or were they analysts?  

FRANKS:  In my personal, they were analysts.  Now, that does not imply that I'm making some statement that they were not ideologues, maybe so, but that's not the way that I saw them. 

Here's how a session would go.  I would come in, sit down with the secretary and there would be six or eight people in the room, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the vice chairman, the deputy secretary and on many occasions, Doug Feith.  I'd begin.  The secretary would say, OK, Franks, what do you have for us today?

I'd begin to describe some piece of the planning that had been undertaken over the previous week or month, and the secretary would make a challenging comment.  We'd begin to discuss the challenging comment, and then the deputy secretary or perhaps Doug Feith would ask a question that in my view was not directly related to the issue at hand. 

Now, in their minds from an analytical perspective, I'm sure it was, but I found it to be distracting.  And from time to time, I would look at the secretary and say, Mr. Secretary, would you like me to answer you or them?  And so we had these kinds of discussions,, and I think had any outsider watched this dialogue, he would have said, oh, this general is going to be thrown out of the room any minute.  But in fact, it was a rather professional relationship. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  That sounds like the conversation between the president and Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld at Camp David right after 9-11 when the president jumped on Wolfowitz for speaking out of turn and said would we please have the Defense Department speak with one voice here.  I'll be right back with General Tommy Franks. 

And later the “HARDBALL HOT SHOTS” with Joe Scarborough, Rita Cosby and Tucker Carlson without his bow tie.

And on Monday at 9:00 eastern, I will be co-moderating the New Orleans mayors debate.  As New Orleans looks to rebuild from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, voters are looking for new leadership perhaps.  And along with Norma Robinson of NBC station DSU, I will be asking tough questions of the candidates, including the mayor.  It is live coverage you'll see here on MSNBC and MSNBC.com Monday night at 9:00 eastern, 8:00 central.  You're watching the ninth anniversary of HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) 

MATTHEWS:  We're back with HARDBALL with General Tommy Franks.  General Bernard Trainor had some critical words for you, general, in his new book about the Iraq war called “Cobra II.” 

General Trainor and his co-partner, his co-author, Michael Gordon said, quote, “Tommy Franks never acknowledged the enemy he faced nor did he comprehend the nature of the war he was directing.  He denigrated the Fedayeen as little more than a speed bump on the Baghdad and never appreciated the resilience and determination.  In his book, “American Soldier,” Franks claims credit for a winning strategy.  At best, he had won the first round of the war thanks largely to his subordinate commanders but neither he nor they had won the war.” 

Your response, general?

FRANKS:  Well, I don't know that I would hold myself to a standard to try to help the retired admiral, you know, sell his book.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, let me ask you some independent questions, general, if you don't want to respond to that.

FRANKS:  OK, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about this.  An open-ended question.  When you went into Iraq and you discussed it, put together over 14 months the plan for liberating that country, were you briefed by the civilians or anyone else as to the potential, the live potential, for a real insurgency made up of the people who lost the war?  The first round of the war? 

FRANKS:  There was no discussion anywhere of a two-step process.  You know, lose the war and then an insurgency and it's ridiculous to even suspicion that there would be any discussion of that. 

The fact of the matter is that I think it's out on Web site right now, if someone is really interested in what the planning looked like and what credence was given to the Saddam Fedayeen, they should take advantage of the fact that Joint Forces Command has, I think, just within the past couple of weeks, published a reasonably exhaustive story wherein they discussed what the Fedayeen looked like, what was suspected to be the case with the Fedayeen.

And they provide an opinion that there was never a linkage between what we see inside Iraq right now and the Saddam Fedayeen, and that is the position that I held then and the position that I hold now, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  So the people that are fighting over there now, it's a civil war.  Were you informed or briefed or did you give much study to the problem that we have sort of a tripartheid Iraq, which may not even be a real country, because you have the Shia—we're learning a lot.  I never even thought of the Shia before this.  I never really heard of them except I heard of the Shiites in Iran.

The Shia who are the dominant force numerically, but are the weaker force in terms of the political history of the country, against the Sunni who lost the battle to your forces basically—did you know that they were going to go to war, basically, after you had liberated the country? 

FRANKS:  Sunni, Shia, and Kurd, as we took a look at what we might find when we entered Iraq, we looked at a continuum.  On one end of the continuum, peace breaks out all over, the Iraqis step up and they reform a government very quickly. 

On the other end of the continuum, Chris, you see civil war.  In fact, we do not see civil war in Iraq right now.  We see a lot of people who discuss civil war and some have an opinion about that, but I think that there have been throughout history many, many civil wars and one should look at scope and scale in order to determine whether we're witnessing a civil war develop inside Iraq, and I don't believe we are. 

That does not say it cannot happen.  I believe it can happen.  But I don't believe we're there yet and the issues are scope and scale. 

MATTHEWS:  Let's talk about something that may be more frightening to

us not just politically but militarily.  That's Iran right now.  I'm sure

you have given some thought to it over the years, General.  They're trying

to develop a nuclear capacity.  Could we live with it, if we said to them -

·         I'm just going to try something here. 

If we made clear to that country, you're as vulnerable to destruction as any country in history, if you even get near that trigger and ever use a nuclear weapon against Israel, or against any of your neighbors, we're going to destroy you and help destroy you, because we don't want nuclear weapons used in that region.  Is that a way to police that or do you have to get rid of their nuclear potential before it exists? 

FRANKS:  Chris, it's tough for someone outside government, such as I am, to really have a firm opinion on that.  I respect your opinion and certainly we saw a trip wire sort of an approach during the time of the Cold War when we squared off with the Soviet Union. 

So I'm not really sure, but I am pretty sure that the way we need to handle this right now is sort of a twofold operation:  one, stay tuned in and try to solve this diplomatically; and two, never take the possibility of military option off the table. 

MATTHEWS:  And you think there is a potential use of force that would neutralize their nuclear program?  It could be done? 

FRANKS:  Chris, the fact is that that would be a tough decision that

would have to be made by the president of the United States, whomever he

might be.  But I believe that in previous times, we have always made a bad

mistake when we took the military option off the table.  I just don't think

·         I don't think a prudent leader ever takes that option off the table. 

MATTHEWS:  Once again, General, I thank you for your service to the country and I really appreciate you coming on HARDBALL.  You're a great guy.  Thanks for coming up here.  Take it easy.

FRANKS:  My pleasure, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  And playing HARDBALL, as you said three times.  Thank you very much, playing HARDBALL.

Up next, is the CIA leak case turning into a case against the reasons the Bush administration went to war in Iraq?  Could we be ripping off the scab of the old question again, what's with this WMD?  Was it the real reason for the war? 

And later, the “HARDBALL Hotshots” will be here, Joe Scarborough, Rita Cosby, and Tucker Carlson.  You're watching HARDBALL's ninth anniversary, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

For an assessment of the latest developments in the CIA leak case, we turn to former Watergate prosecute and 9/11 commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste.  Good evening, Richard.

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, FMR. CHIEF OF WATERGATE TASK FORCE:  Hey, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  You're looking at this as an attorney and as a man who knows politics from a number of dimensions as we are here, so it's good to have you here on Friday.  First of all, what are we learning about the conspiracy, collaboration—whatever you're going to call it—the mission of this White House with regard to WMD and making the case for war out of all of this?

BEN-VENISTE:  Well, it's a huge step forward in learning more information.  Each shoe that drops from the centipede of revelations coming out of the leak investigation is more and more interesting.  It casts more and more doubt on the reasons initially put forth for the invasion of Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  So the president goes out and says to—according to the court filing this week in the Scooter Libby case, the filing was apparently done by the defense team, that it was the president of the United States who, through the vice president, leaked a particular piece of the national intelligence estimates from the fall of 2002, which made the case for a nuclear threat from Iraq, when we now know that was an isolated discernment, that many of the other agencies, including CIA and State did not share it, but yet it was portrayed to the reporter Judy Miller and Matt Cooper and the others apparently as the consensus belief. 

BEN-VENISTE:  Consensus and a vigorous opinion being held and, again, once again, it's shown when the true facts come out—and they will come out over time—that this was an exaggeration and misleading.  So—my favorite being the conflation of Iraq with the 9/11 attack, the aluminum tubes, the yellow cake uranium in Niger—all of this is now crumbling, so the president is right down there with the boy who cried wolf in terms of his credibility.  And we've got the leader of the free world—and perhaps it's appropriate now to use President Reagan's admonition in dealing with the Russians, trust but verify. 

MATTHEWS:  Treat this administration that way?

BEN-VENISTE:  I am sorry to say that is the case.  And it's a sad state of affairs.  On important critical matters, the president has now been shown to not be accurate and now hypocritical in terms of this leak investigation.  The political fallout from this is huge in my view. 

The president says back in February of 2004, he said, I am very upset over this leak of this kind of sensitive information, classified information, I want to get to the bottom it, we are going to take steps if we find out who did it.  And now we find it was authorized by the president and the vice president to and through Scooter Libby. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that there's evidence that now that the president, the vice president and whoever else was involved in this, were scampering around after this revelation by Joe Wilson, the ambassador, took this trip to Africa, to try to beat him down in the media in order to cover their own weak case for the war? 

BEN-VENISTE:  I think that's clear, Chris.  And in fact, this is the conclusion that was put forward by the independent counsel in response to the discovery request by the defense.  This is a prosecutor who is apolitical, who speaks only in court and quite appropriately does not leak, but when he says something, I think you can take it to the bank. 

MATTHEWS:  Why are the defense team widening the issue beyond the question of perjury and obstruction? 

BEN-VENISTE:  Well, it helps them. 

MATTHEWS:  How?  Confuses the jury? 

BEN-VENISTE:  Well, it helps them to broaden the issue from perjury.  Perjury is very tough for them here, and what they're trying to do is to broaden it out and to distract from the central focus of the charges that were here, perjury. 

MATTHEWS:  I see.  I see the same way. 

Richard, thank you very much. 

Up next, the “HARDBALL Hot Shots,” Joe Scarborough, Rita Cosby, Tucker Carlson on who is beating the drums for war in Iran right now.  Plus, why more college kids prefer—well this is the argument at least—the Bible to beer.  We will talk about whether that is true or not. 

And this Sunday on NBC, join Tim Russert for a special Easter edition on “Meet the Press,” “Faith in America.”         

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

It's time for our special Friday feature on the final day of our ninth anniversary week, “HARDBALL Hot Shots” with my MSNBC colleagues, Joe Scarborough, Rita Cosby and Tucker Carlson sans bow tie, by the way. 

Are you giving up—can we make some news here?  Are you giving up that little affectation, if you will?

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “THE SITUATION”:  Not an affectation, it was a lifelong tick, and, yes, I gave it up on Monday. 

MATTHEWS:  Forever? 

CARLSON:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  You bid adieu?

CARLSON:  I bid adieu. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you going to wear a tie or are you going to be like a labor party guy in Israel?

CARLSON:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Is that what you are going to be?  Is this the look?  What are you doing it for? 

(CROSSTALK)   

CARLSON:  That's exactly right.  No, I am now an Israeli politician. 

No, no, that is me. 

MATTHEWS:  OK this is it.  (INAUDIBLE)

First up, gunning for Iran. Iran wants to go nuclear.  George Bush says no.  What happens next?  Who among the Bush crowd is pushing for a third Mideast war?  Have we learned the right lessons from Iraq?  Is it reasonable to think that in five years, 10 years, 20 years, countries from all around the world won't learn how to put together nuclear weapons?

Americans invented the car, but lo and behold, you can buy one in Iran.  And if Americans can cut deals with Joseph Stalin and of course Khrushchev, why not with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—Joe? 

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY”:  I thought that was impressive how you could actually say his name.  I always just say the president of Iran.  He's one of the most dangerous characters on the world stage.  There's no way that you can sit down and negotiate with a man who says he wants to see Israel obliterated, who believes that the Armageddon - - an approaching Armageddon is a good thing because of Iran and the prophecies put forward. 

Listen, there are a lot of people that are going to try to tie this to Iraq.  This has nothing to do with Iraq.  We simply cannot allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon.  They have been the epicenter of terrorism since 1979.  A general told me back in 1994 when I was running for Congress that Iran would be the most dangerous nation that America faced over the next 20 years. 

And if we want to all kick George Bush around for not invading them first, I'll be the first one to kick him for that.  I'm just saying whatever it takes, we have to stop Iran from getting a nuclear weapon.  And we cannot sit down and talk to this leadership.  There are no moderates in Iran.  There weren't in 1986 when they gave the leaders a Bible and a cake.  They still aren't there. 

MATTHEWS:  So do you go along with that, Rita, no talk, just fight, just kill them if we have to? 

SCARBOROUGH:  I didn't say that, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  What did you say?  Paraphrase it.

RITA COSBY, HOST, “LIVE & DIRECT”:  Go ahead Joe and then I'll respond. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  What I said was backing down and allowing them to get a nuclear weapon is not an option.  We can't sit back and say force isn't an option.  Force is an option here. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  But you're saying, let me clarify.  You clarified.  in other words, if we have to go in there and attack Iran to stop them from getting a nuclear weapon, you support that?

SCARBOROUGH:  Whatever it takes.  But, yes, of course we want to talk first.  We want Russia leading the way in those talks.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You want Russia to talk to them?  Rita, where are you?

COSBY:  You know what?  I agree with Jose in this case because I feel that—look, I am also all for talking because if it can prevent a nuclear war, any sort of war at all, I am absolutely all for diplomacy first.  But, look, how far they have advanced.  I mean, they have been parading it in front of us.  And if it does come down to it, I do think we have to hold that option with these kind of rogue states, you have to dangle that in front of them that you're willing to pull the trigger. 

On the other hand, I think we have to—I disagree with Joe, that I think you do need to look at this in the same sphere as Iraq.  Everybody said that—in fact, I was hearing all the buzz in Washington, too, that maybe we should go for Iran before Iraq. 

Iran is so much more complicated than Iraq.  And if there is a lesson to be learned from Iraq, that if you go into war, it is very complicated, it could be prolonged and you have to think twice before you cover a nation, particularly something as difficult as Iran.

MATTHEWS:  Tucker?

CARLSON:  Well, you got to ask yourself three quick questions.

First, is the threat real?

Yes, it's real.  They're going to have a nuclear weapon if we don't stop them. 

Two, is the international community going to do anything about it if we don't?  Will Europe act?  No. 

And three, if we don't do anything about it, will Israel act? 

Possibly. 

I think...

MATTHEWS:  Is that better that they do it than we do it, if somebody has to do it? 

CARLSON:  I'm not sure.

I think—look, bottom line, of course we're weakened because of Iraq, but we have to have a credible threat in order to negotiate successfully. 

You can't negotiate from a position of weakness, real or perceived.  Iran has to believe we're willing to do something extreme, use bunker-busting nuclear weapons as Sy Hersh said in “The New Yorker” this week. 

I think if they believe we're willing to do that, they're much more likely to listen to us when we do talk to them. 

MATTHEWS:  Next up, how low can they go? 

This week, six retired generals called for Rummy's resignation.  Democrats are still toying with a censure of the president.  And if they win the subpoena power in November, they can start digging into everything from NSA spying, to the CIA leak, to the Katrina failure.

With George Bush's polls hitting rock bottom, George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld must be asking the question of the marathon man, is it safe? 

Tucker?

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  No, it's not safe. 

He's safe now because his party controls the Congress.  But, I mean...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  The subpoena power—if the House changes to the Democrats, they get the power to subpoena. 

CARLSON:  No, he's not safe at all because, look, you have to ask yourself this question:  Does it help the Democrats going into the 2008 election if the president has been censured or if they're all—if there are nine investigations under way? 

Of course it does.  It doesn't help them, I don't think, to impeach him—it hurt the Republicans when they did that to Clinton.  But I think if there's the perception and it's backed up by actual investigations that they're corrupt, yes, it helps the Democrats. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Joe, do you expect the Democrats, if they manage to squeak back into the House leadership, to use the subpoena power to go heavy against the president, not just investigate, but to somehow find a way to punish him? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Every single day, sure. 

I mean, I was on the Judiciary Committee, was on the Government Reform and Oversight Committee.  I saw how Democrats work just like Republicans. 

Henry Waxman, if you give him the power of the subpoena, will use it every single day in the Government Reform and Oversight Committee.  They will tear apart the administration.  They'll basically unearth all the documents that Republicans have stopped them from getting their hands on over the first six years. 

It will be a devastating final two years for the Bush administration -

·         you've got WMDs, you've got the Downing Street memos, you've got all of these other issues related to Iraq.

And, Chris, as you and I both know, if you dig deep enough, you're always going to find something that looks very, very bad on the front page of “The Washington Post” or “The New York Times.”

It is a worst-case scenario for the Bush administration and the Republican Party in '08 if the Democrats just take over the House, or the Senate.  They don't need both chambers. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... just one subpoena.  Thank you.

Rita, your thoughts on the subpoena power if the House goes Dem? 

COSBY:  They're going to go for it, no question.

I agree with Joe.  I mean, they're going to go full force.  This is sort of payback time after what they went through with Clinton.  This is the reverse.

And I think if they get even an inch, they're going to go for it and I think it will politically damage the president, even just the talk of it, even just moving forward a few steps.

It is going to be a rough few years regardless. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I'll be right back with much more. 

You're watching HARDBALL, the “Hot Shots,” only on HARDBALL's—well, not only on our ninth anniversary—every Friday, but only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Up next, Bible over beer? 

A new Harvard study shows that college kids are swapping chugging for

churching.  A whopping 70 percent say that religion now plays an important

role in their lives, 60 percent are concerned about the moral direction of

the country right now.  The study concludes that most of these kids are so-

called religious centrists, not extreme hardliners, not sterile logicians -

·         they want God and they want universal health care. 

Rita, is this Hillary Clinton at work, the Methodist trying to do good? 

COSBY:  You know what I think what it is, Chris? 

I think this is our post 9/11 world.  I think what's happened is since 9/11 -- I mean, 9/11 just shook us so much to a core, I think so many people in America have started focusing back on what matters, you know, to them—faith, family, values.  And I think it started with the older population, has trickled down.

And I was just going to say, when I saw 70 percent, say they're, you know, switching religion for beer—doesn't sound like my college days, unfortunately. 

(LAUGHTER)

I have a confession. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You know, Rita, knowing you as well as I do, I don't think so either. 

(LAUGHTER)

COSBY:  Now I'm in big trouble. 

MATTHEWS:  Joe Scarborough. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yeah, you know, there's been a change coming for a long time. 

Remember that old Michael J. Fox sitcom, where he was a big Reagan fan, he had the two aging liberal...

MATTHEWS:  Hippies, yes.

SCARBOROUGH:  ... hippie parents. 

It's been going that way since the 1980s, but I think 9/11 did move it forward. 

Also, you know, you've got all these kids that have been growing up in a very hard-core culture, pornography on the Internet, MTV society, and you know what?  Just the excess is not rebelling and a lot of these kids are trying to find meaning in something else and something deeper. 

And I think—you're right, they're not extremists.  These are people that believe we should be concerned about what's happening in Sudan, we should be concerned about what's happening in our inner cities.

It's a different type of evangelicalism—if I can say that word.  Nick Kristof has been writing about it for a couple years and I think he's dead on.  It's a new movement.

MATTHEWS:  Tucker?

CARLSON:  I think 9/11 probably plays a role.

I think probably affluence plays a larger role.  It's an incredibly rich country.  We lose sight of that.  And I think that rich countries search for meaning.

I don't think that main-line Protestant churches are going to be the beneficiaries to this.  They've been losing—and I am a member of one, which is true.  They have been losing membership since the late 1950s, and that trend does not seem to have abated.  I don't think they are becoming Methodists. 

MATTHEWS:  The more demanding religions tend to do better. 

CARLSON:  That's right.  That's exactly right.

MATTHEWS:  I'll be right back with much more.  You're watching “HARDBALL Hot Shots” only on HARDBALL'S ninth anniversary.  It's still going on, on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Up next, a leak makes a splash.  Last week George Bush found himself smack in the middle of the CIA leak scandal.  This week Scooter Libby tried to save himself in the court of public opinion.  The judge in the case threatened a gag order after Libby clogged up court documents with finger-pointing at Karl Rove and Ari Fleischer over nothing new and lots of whining over unimportant wording. 

None of it has anything to do with the simple charge now against Libby that he perjured himself, that lied under oath.  Will this steady drip, drip of the leak problem, however, drown the president and the vice president for the next two years—Tucker?

CARLSON:  And none of this has anything to do, as I point out week after week, with the central charge that began this whole investigation, which is this woman, Valerie Plame's, name was leaked to the detriment of American national security.  Turns out not to be true.  I think we learned this week though that there is not a rift between Scooter Libby and the White House.  At least I believe there is not now. 

MATTHEWS:  Why is he pointing to the president? 

CARLSON:  Well because I think he thinks he has to.  But if his defense... 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the president likes to be brought into court on something like this? 

CARLSON:  Of course he doesn't.  Of course he doesn't.  But if his defense was that—if he wanted to turn on the White House, it would be a lot louder than this. 

MATTHEWS:  Rita, you're watching this as a drama, like we all are.  You have got players here as in a drama, a real life drama, the president, the vice president, the chief of staff to the vice president, who is now under indictment for 30 years of imprisonment he faces.  Is this one of these I'll get out of this if I share the blame a little? 

COSBY:  I think so.  I mean, I think that you sort of throw enough things out there maybe something else will stick.  I think it is a good deflection technique, and, as Tucker pointed out, it doesn't go to the central issue of perjury. 

And to answer your question, Chris.  I do think that we will be hearing a sort of a slow drip of it.  But do I think it's resonating with the American public?  I think at the end of the day the American public doesn't necessarily care who leaked what.  It's whether the intelligence was solid that we went to war. 

MATTHEWS:  You're so right.

COSBY:  It is whether that is legitimate.

MATTHEWS:  That's true.  But, Joe, you notice that this lawyer for Scooter, Ted Wells, has had three different defenses.  One is he didn't do it.  He heard from Tim Russert about the identity of Valerie Plame, the undercover agent.  Number two, he forgot everything.  He was too busy.  This was small potatoes.  He didn't remember it.  And now he's saying the reporters all got it wrong.  This guy does, as Rita says, keep throwing it at the wall to see what sticks. 

SCARBOROUGH:  He does.  But he's going up, as you know, against a great prosecutor.  He better keep throwing things up against the wall and come up with something better than that because, again, I think his client is in trouble.  Politically, I just don't think it is going to have much of an impact at all.  I think going into the elections, Jack Abramoff's name will resonate a lot more with voters in middle America than Scooter Libby's. 

MATTHEWS:  It sure did with Tom DeLay.  How are they doing?  It is time to check in with the HARDBALL's online straw poll of Republican 2008 presidential candidates.  Take a look.  In fourth place with nine percent of the vote, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.  She says she's not running.  But she could sell as a veep, I guess, people think. 

Tied for second and third with 14 percent, Representative Tom Tancredo, who has led the charge to crack down on illegal immigration, and Rudy Giuliani, who testified last week in the trial to execute terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui.  And in first place with 32 percent, the man who is getting cozier these days with President Bush every day, the man who this week courted hardcore conservatives up in Iowa, Senator John McCain. 

Tucker, can this marriage work, the president and John McCain? 

CARLSON:  It is interesting.  I mean, I've been having arguments with my friends about this all week.  McCain, he is more of a maverick even than we realize.  Defending Bush at this point when Bush's numbers are...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  I'm serious.  They are at Nixon's levels.  And he stands up...       

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Remember that guy came in and he was the only guy to defend Nixon?

CARLSON:  Of course, you looked at Rabbi Korff, you thought oh that is pathetic, you sold out.  You look at McCain and you think, he secretly hates Bush.  He's just such a contrarian, that he is defending him when everyone else is beating up on him.

MATTHEWS:  Rita, do you see it that way?  This is all clever.

COSBY:  Go ahead.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it is clever something.  I am trying to figure out what the noun is.  What do you think? 

COSBY:  You know, it is clever strategy.  And, look, he goes to—I agree with Tucker, he goes right this sort of straight talk express.  He is going to go against the grain.  He is going to be his own guy.  I think it fits where he is.  And I think right now he is the guy to beat. 

MATTHEWS:  Joe, I think he likes to stretch out these attacks on Bush by defending him.  Let's talk about Dubai three more days, five more days to talk about Dubai. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I love John McCain, and there aren't a lot of conservatives out there that do.  I mean, you go to conservative events and they still are upset with him about 2000.  John McCain is doing what exactly what he has to do to reach out to the hardcore Republican base, who he offended in 2000.   He is making all the right moves.  And he knows “The New York Times” editorial page will still love him in 2008.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I think our right.  That is what they think, I head.

Anyway, thank you, Joe Scarborough.  Thank you, Rita.  Thank everybody.  

Before we go—thank you, Tucker.  As we wind down our week-long celebration of our HARDBALL's ninth anniversary, I just wanted to take this opportunity to say—and I mean it—thank you.  Because every time I meet somebody who watches this show, I thank them in person.  I probably won't meet everybody, but I do thank you for watching us.  I mean it. 

HARDBALL'S all about questioning authority, as you know, pressing the powerful.  It's heat seeking political coverage.  It can get rough.  But it's always aimed at finding out what's going on.  So on our ninth anniversary, let me just say this, whether politicians are selling a war or selling themselves, we are going to keep holding their feet to the fire.  And we are going to have some fun, I hope. 

With that for the last time this week, I give himself Senator Zell Miller of Georgia. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. ZELL MILLER (D), GEORGIA:  If you are going to ask a question...

MATTHEWS:  Well, it is a tough—it takes a few words.

MILLER:  Get out of my face.  If you are going to ask me a question, step back and let me answer.

MATTHEWS:  Senator, please.

MILLER:  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:  Join us again Monday night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL direct from New Orleans and then the New Orleans mayoral debate at 9:00 eastern.

Right now it is time for “THE ABRAM'S REPORT” with Dan.

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

END   

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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