updated 4/21/2006 10:50:30 AM ET 2006-04-21T14:50:30

Guests: Michael Smerconish, Al Sharpton, Mary Ann Akers

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Spring is in the air and so is the future the Bush administration.  President Bush is banking on Karl Rove to hold on to Congress in 2006, but is Congress banking on the president anymore?  Let‘s play HARDBALL.  

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

Tonight, anger management.  Yesterday, the president‘s new chief of staff started his spring cleaning by getting rid of press secretary Scott McClellan and appeasing Congress by taking Karl Rove off policy and putting him on politics.  The message to Republicans in Congress is, I care. 

But can the man called “Bush‘s brain” save the Republican Congress?  Polls now show American anger toward the president is growing.  Americans disapprove of his performance on every issue that seems to matter to people.  The question tonight, could voter anger turn into a Republican rout at election time? 

Republicans are putting out the warning to the party faithful right now.  A vote for Democrats is a vote for censuring and impeaching the president, but could this strategy backfire on the GOP and motivate Democrats and Independents to get out and vote this year? 

Also tonight, can the new manager, Chief of Staff Bolten, control a White House where the president is still surrounded by his trusted inner circle.  And what about the leaky vice-president‘s office?  Is Cheney manageable? 

Plus tonight, HARDBALL takes to the streets to find out what the people think about the big issues of the day.  Later in the show, I‘ll be out there where you‘re seeing the people right now for the debut of “HARDBALL Plaza.”  From road trips to election year debates, I promise you this:  HARDBALL is going to do politics this summer and you‘re going to be part of it. 

We begin with HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster who is out on “HARDBALL Plaza” right now with the latest developments in the CIA leak case—David. 

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, that‘s right.  We will be talking with people here on the plaza about the big developments here in Washington, and today that‘s suddenly become a very important day to talk about the CIA leak investigation and here‘s why. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER (voice-over):  In the midst of the pretrial battles and Scooter Libby‘s perjury case, lawyers say that Patrick Fitzgerald‘s overall investigation appears, again, to be gaining steam.  Legal sources familiar with the CIA leak case say Fitzgerald‘s grand jury, dormant for several months, has started meeting again.

And for presidential adviser Karl Rove, there are new signs of potential problems.  Prosecutors recently declared they will not be calling Rove as a witness in the Libby trial, even though he is part of the prosecution narrative in the case, and the latest court documents now refer to Rove as a “subject” of the ongoing investigation.  What does that mean? 

SOLOMON WISENBERG, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY:  He‘s a target of somebody who is probably going to be indicted.  A witness is just somebody who has information for the grand jury, and a subject is somewhere in between.  They haven‘t decided whether or not they‘re going to indict. 

SHUSTER:  Karl Rove‘s attorney believes prosecutors are still examining Rove‘s testimony about a July 2003 conversation with “Time” magazine reporter Matt Cooper.  Early in the investigation, and under oath, Rove denied giving Cooper information about the CIA‘s Valerie Plame, the wife of administration critic Joe Wilson. 

Later, when Cooper was subpoenaed to testify and was fighting the order in the courts, Rove began a series of rolling disclosures, and in one grand jury appearance, according to legal sources, Rove testified he had briefly discussed the Wilsons with Matt Cooper while talking about welfare reform.  But last summer, Cooper testified the entire conversation was about the Wilsons, and that Rove ended the call by saying, “I‘ve already said too much.” 

MATT COOPER, “TIME” MAGAZINE REPORTER:  I thought maybe he meant, I‘ve been indiscrete and then as I thought about it, I thought it might be just more benign like I‘ve said too much, I have got to get to a meeting.  I don‘t know exactly what he meant, but I do know the memory of that line has stayed in my head for two years. 

SHUSTER:  Cooper‘s testimony prompted Rove to volunteer to go back to the grand jury yet again, and last fall, Rove testified for a fourth time, answering questions about a self-described memory problem and about the lingering conflicts with Cooper. 

Rove is part of a crucial timeline in the Scooter Libby case, alleging Libby heard about Valerie Plame from Vice President Cheney, not NBC‘s Tim Russert, as Libby contended under oath.  And prosecutors refer to Rove in the Libby indictment as “official A.” 

WISENBERG:  Because you‘re not supposed to identify somebody by name in an indictment in a negative way, unless you‘ve charged them and they have a chance to defend themselves.  And probably most people who are identified as “official A” and “official B” around the country ultimately do get indicted. 

SHUSTER:  In the meantime, prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald continues to argue against giving Libby certain evidence because the materials are sensitive and part of an ongoing investigation. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER:  For several months, Karl Rove‘s lawyers maintain he does not expect that Rove will be indicted and supporters of Rove say they don‘t believe the presidential adviser has done anything wrong, but there is every indication today that the grand jury in the CIA leak case is now taking a closer look. 

We‘ll talk with our audience here on the plaza later in the show about all the big developments tonight here in Washington, but for now, Chris, we‘ll send it back to you. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster. 

For more on the state of Karl Rove and the rest of the White House staff, let‘s bring in the Reverend Al Sharpton, and radio talk show host Michael Smerconish, who‘s also the author of a new book, “Muzzled.”

Let me go to Michael Smerconish first.  Thanks for joining us tonight from Philadelphia, Michael.

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, WPHT TALK RADIO - PHILADELPHIA:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  It seems to me that the president could have ended this whole question about who leaked what about Valerie Plame and what role that played in the argument that there was, in fact, a nuclear threat from Iraq before the war and attempt to continue to make that case after it, if he had simply come out and faced the press and answered all the questions. 

He told us that nobody in the White House had leaked through his press secretary, Scott McClellan.  Why doesn‘t he just come out and say all right, I‘ll tell you what happened?  I talked to my staff people, I‘ve inquired among them, I know what the facts are.  Let‘s kill it. 

SMERCONISH:  All right.  I wish that he had, and I—you know, I think you bring me in here every once in awhile because you need a sanity check from outside the Beltway, from your old hometown, so let me give you one. 

This is a total Beltway story.  It is so damn confusing, I don‘t think it‘s going to have any net effect with voters whatsoever unless we learn that the president himself decided to out Valerie Plame in order to embarrass Joe Wilson. 

This is in the category of Whitewater, which was some confusing land transaction, and not in the category of Watergate which was a burglary that we Americans out here beyond the Beltway can all appreciate and understand. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me help you as you speak for the entire world beyond this city. 

SMERCONISH:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Let me tell you what I know and I know audiences are damn interested in this because I do check on occasion how many people are watching and ever since we began covering this story, there‘s been increased interest because of this reason, Michael. 

It doesn‘t have a damn thing to do with what you just talked about.  It has to do with why we went to war with Iraq and the case made was we faced a nuclear threat from Iraq, not only a nuclear weapon that was going to be in the hands of this guy Saddam Hussein, but he had a weapon to deliver that vehicle.  That was a real threat.

It wasn‘t going to be a smoking gun, it was going to be a mushroom cloud.  We heard that from the president, the secretary of state, we heard it from the secretary—we heard it from the National Security Council and everybody.  We heard it from all the people at the Defense Department.  That was the case that won with the middle of the road voter in this country, beyond the Beltway, and those were the people that went along with the war. 

We subsequently found out that there wasn‘t a real case for nuclear weapons in the hands of Saddam Hussein, that, in fact, one guy, Joe Wilson, went over there and was asked to check out this story and found out it wasn‘t there.  He reported back, and somehow the president continued to make the argument that there was a nuclear threat in his State of the Union Address and elsewhere, continued to make the threat against the evidence that had been accumulated by the CIA.

When I talked to George Tenet, he says to me—I asked him why didn‘t the vice president get a report back on a trip that his question had triggered about whether it was a nuclear deal with Africa.  And he said “ask the vice president.”  Ask him. 

So there is a big mystery here, how we got into that war and whether the case being made for that war was continued after the war and as part of that was to try to destroy the whistleblower, Joe Wilson. 

This is serious damn stuff, Michael, and if people don‘t get all the facts, you ought to help them get it, instead of just laughing at the story.

SMERCONISH:  Wait a minute.  I‘m not laughing at the story.

MATTHEWS:  This is serious business.   

SMERCONISH:  No, no, no.  I‘ve pushed away from the punchbowl.  I‘m not sitting here sucking down the administration Kool-Aid.  The administration‘s position, vis-a-vis the predicate for going to war, is at this stage, indefensible. 

The predicate for going to war were weapons of mass destruction that we all know today, Saddam Hussein did not have.  And I can sit here and I can make the case that the administration believed in good faith, as a variety of other administrations believed, that this guy was a dangerous son of a gun and was himself a weapon on mass destruction.

But the whole Valerie Plame, Joe Wilson, Karl Rove angle is too convoluted for voters.  You can make the case there were no WMD, we were sold a bill of goods, we shouldn‘t have gone to war, but to go beyond that, Chris, it gets too esoteric. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me tell you what.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me tell you what.  I need to bringing in the Reverend Al Sharpton.  The reason it‘s important, Michael, is because for awhile now, there‘s been a perception out there advanced by this administration, OK, we were wrong about WMD, we‘ll give you five other reasons for attacking Iraq, but it was just an honest mistake. 

And now it turns out that it wasn‘t so much an honest mistake as a cherry-picking operation, a very selective use of selective arguments by certain agencies like the Defense Intelligence Agency against the arguments made by the State Department and the CIA to build this case of weapons of mass destruction.  It wasn‘t just an accident on their part.  It was a deliberate effort to build a case. 

Now that‘s what we‘re talking about here.  Was it a fair and honest representation of the facts we knew before the war or was it simply a sales pitch to get us in this war for other reasons?  That‘s serious business—

Reverend Sharpton. 

REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK:  I think that clearly I‘m way outside of the Beltway and travel three or four days a week outside of the Beltway, and it is a very important story for the reasons you said, Chris. 

I agree with you, in terms of the fact that the premise of going to war in the first place has been totally undermined, and voters are clearly watching that because they want to see and they were made to believe that people that questioned it from the beginning, like me, were wrong and now they‘re finding out we were right to question.

But in this particular case, you‘re talking about someone methodically and criminally tried to go and cover that up by punishing those that would dare raise the question.  This is exactly like Watergate.  Watergate was about finding out how you can in some way use the opposition‘s information to undermine them or to undermine an argument. 

This is clearly not some simple laughable situation and I think a lot of voters want to say “Wait a minute.  Even if I think you made an honest mistake, how do you honestly leak information like a CIA agent and it happens to be married to someone who discredited your premise for war?” 

I hope that all of the Republicans are like Michael and laugh because they‘ll be whistling through the cemetery in November.

SMERCONISH:  Hey Reverend, I‘m not laughing about this story.  I‘m just saying that as compared to incidents in the past like Watergate or Whitewater, it‘s more in the Whitewater category.

And gentlemen, I think you need to remind viewers that Scooter Libby has been indicted for lying to a grand jury and not for outing Valerie Plame.  No one has been indicted in connection with that outing at this stage.

SHARPTON:  But why would he lie?  Why would he lie and what happens, Michael, if in fact we find Karl Rove indicted?  And others indicted?  This story may not be over. 

And I think that it is very hard to act like one, the story has ended with the indictment, and that his indictment of lying to the grand jury isn‘t because he was trying to hide other possible criminal acts.

SMERCONISH:  If Fitzgerald could have indicted him for more than lying to a grand jury, believe me he would have done so by now.

SHARPTON:  And if he could have protected himself without lying, he probably wouldn‘t have lied.  People lie because they feel the truth might hurt them.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s look at the casualties, gentlemen, so far.  Of course we know, as you mentioned, Scooter Libby now lies as a defendant facing possibly 30 years for obstruction of justice, perjury and lying to federal officials. 

Because you‘re right, Michael, he is accused not of outing Valerie Plame‘s undercover identity, but in the indictment, it does point out that he was informed of her undercover identity by the vice president in mid- June, not by Tim Russert in mid-July. 

It also points out that he was the one who talked to two reporters, Judy Miller and also Bob Novak.  It‘s also pointed out in that indictment that Karl Rove talked to Matt Cooper and to Karl Rove.  And so, you know, there are a couple of people that are identified here and the fact is that we do know now that there was a leak from top people at the White House as was initially the basis for this investigation. 

We now know that Scott McClellan has been relieved of duty, largely because he lost credibility because it was his job assigned to him to go out and say that the president thought it was ridiculous to suspect anybody in the White House of leaking. 

Can‘t you—well Michael, you‘re the commentator, do you think there‘s been damage here by the way they‘ve handled this?

SMERCONISH:  Absolutely there‘s been damage by the way that they‘ve handled it.  And I don‘t think that the reshuffling of the chairs in the West Wing is the solution to the problems that they face. 

I think what this administration desperately needs is for someone outside the Beltway to come in and get a seat at the table, somebody who is willing to say when there‘s an idea expressed in the room that management of the ports be given to the United Arab Emirates, somebody needs to say, “Mr. President, are you blanking me?  We‘re going to give the Arabs control of our ports, at this point, five years post 9/11?” 

Somebody who‘s going to say, “Mr. President, are you kidding me?  You‘re going to give a get out of jail free card to 11 or 12 million illegal.”  Forget that undocumented word—illegal immigrants?  Who is that person?  I don‘t see him.

MATTHEWS:  Well where is Karl Rove?  Isn‘t he supposed to be the Machiavelli—Mayberry Machiavelli?  Hasn‘t he been playing that part?

SMERCONISH:  He should have been playing that part because he‘s the guying given credit for all these wonderful political instincts.  Where was hell was he when this United Arab Emirates transaction was proposed?  I think by neglect of that issue, he did great harm to the president. 

SHARPTON:  And that is why I think it will backfire that they sent Karl Rove out to become the political guy out here in ‘06.  I think that clearly sending him out is something that is going to really play to the advantage of the Democrats and I think clearly any way we can identify that Karl Rove is the puppeteer, behind the puppets they‘re running for Senate and Congress, you will star to see a real momentum for the Democrats.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with Reverend Al Sharpton and Michael Smerconish.  And later, we‘ll take HARDBALL outside here to the people.  It‘s the debut of HARDBALL plaza.  We‘re going to find out what our crowd outside thinks about the big issue today.  That‘s Union Station, the famous Union Station right behind them.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back on HARDBALL, we‘re back with the Reverend Al Sharpton and radio talk show‘s Michael Smerconish, author of the new book “Muzzled: From T-Ball to Terrorism: True Stories That Should Be Fiction.” 

Michael, thank you for coming.  Reverend Sharpton, thank for you coming back.  Just to straighten out the who‘s on first base, it was Rove who talked to Matt Cooper and Bob Novak.  It was Scooter Libby who talked to Matt Cooper and Judy Miller of “The New York Times.”  I was freshening up my memory on that as we were breaking there. 

Let me ask you about some other political developments here.  Reverend Sharpton, you said that anywhere Karl Rove goes between now and November, the Democrats are going to nail him for his very presence.  How are you going to do that?

SHARPTON:  I think that we can raise the fact that here‘s a guy that clearly is still part of this ongoing investigation, now called the subject, could become a target.

I think that he‘s also considered the face of the politics of ‘04.  The politics of ‘04 told this country there were weapons of mass destruction, that this president still was right about Iraq because those weapons were still there and that Hussein was such a threat.  And that the tax cuts was going to help the average working class American.  Rove will become the poster boy of the deception of the 2004 race, which has got to help us in 2006.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Michael, about the role of Rudy Giuliani.  I‘m fascinated by him, because I think he may well be the dark horse, if you will, in this coming election, who could beat everybody if he were to find a political party that believed in him, which is his biggest problem as you know. 

What role is he playing?  He‘s up there with Rick Santorum, the senator you‘ve been supporting.  He‘s down there with Ralph Reed, he seems like he‘s willing to go anywhere, especially to people in trouble to build his reputation as a party builder.

SMERCONISH:  Hey Chris, two days ago, you‘re right, I introduced Rudy at a rally for Rick Santorum.  And you know, I acknowledged the Republicans have great problems coming up in this ‘06 cycle and the issue for ‘06 and for ‘08 as far, as I‘m concerned, is practicality versus ideology.  These are not going to be cycles where the Republicans can afford to be perceived as doctrinaire.  And I found it significant that pro-gay rights, pro-choice, Rudy Giuliani was coming to town in the most controversial of all races.  You know, to stand with Rick Santorum a couple of days after Tony Soprano felt the need to use the name of Rick Santorum.

MATTHEWS:  I know, I couldn‘t believe when he said, “Senator Sanatorium, Sanitarium, who says if we have homosexuality now, we‘ll end up doing it with dogs,” as he put it.  When he said that, I said, “I can‘t believe.”  Because a friend of mine, who‘s a big Democrat, always calls him Sanatorium, you know, as his joke.  I don‘t know how he got into this “Sopranos” writers.  What did you think of that show?  Do you think that hurt Rick?

SMERCONISH:  I used it had in my introduction of Rick and I said, “I knew Senator Santorum was a friend of the president, was the No. 3 Republican in the Senate.  And I knew that he was a friend of Rudy Giuliani, but I never knew that he was on the mind of Tony Soprano.”  I have to tell you, it brought the house down and even Rick Santorum laughed when I said it.

MATTHEWS:  Well what do you think, Reverend Sharpton?  These guys are out there.  You‘ve got John McCain out there with Liberty University, and Jerry Falwell, who once accused Bill Clinton of being a murderer.  And now you‘ve got pro-choice, pro-gay rights Rudy Giuliani hanging around and endorsing the most culturally conservative candidates in the country, Rick Santorum. 

Are the Republicans willing to circle the wagons?  Does this mean they mean business? 

SHARPTON:  I don‘t know if it‘s circling the wagons or just some raw political opportunism where you see people who don‘t believe in anything, and they‘re running around with people, in McCain‘s case, that he used to attack.

In Giuliani‘s case, how do you take a position that you were the man that stood up to everybody for what you believed in and now you don‘t believe in anything?  You‘re running with everybody that you used to say represent the things you don‘t believe in.  But the one thing Michael and I agree with tonight, I‘m glad you brought down the house, that‘s exactly what the Democrats need to do in November, bring the house down and turn to Democratic Michael.

SMERCONISH:  I was talking about my one liner about “The Sopranos.”

SHARPTON:  I was talking about my one election in November.

SMERCONISH:  I hear you.

MATTHEWS:  What did you just say, Reverend Sharpton, about raw political opportunism?  Is that bad?  I never thought you would dis-own such a phrase.

SHARPTON:  No, they‘re the ones that have used that phrase against Democrats.  They‘re the ones...

MATTHEWS:  ... Against you, sir.

SHARPTON:  Can you imagine Rudy Giuliani, who‘s always called me an opportunist, is running between all of these—it is the most ironic thing that I have ever—I‘m enjoying it because at least they have never accused me of running around with people that stood for things I don‘t believe in.  You never seen me introducing Giuliani.

MATTHEWS:  No, I have not, sir.  I have never seen any in a cross-dressing political situation.  But Rick—rather Michael, this reminds me of that old song, change partners and dance.

SMERCONISH:  But, Chris, I think one of the problems that we Republicans have had in the past is we have been too much a party of ideology.  And by the way, I think that it was completely compatible, the reason that Giuliani was in town.  He was supporting Rick Santorum as being tough in the war on terror.  There‘s no chink in the armor in that regard, between those two individuals.

MATTHEWS:  No, you found the overlap, you‘re right.  Pennsylvania is a purple state.  Pennsylvania is not a red state or a blue state.  It‘s a purple state, you know that Michael.

SHARPTON:  But you can‘t say that about McCain, who outright attacked Falwell.  You can‘t say that when Rudy Giuliani is going to have to answer other things about the senator.  So that might work for a night, but try going through a whole political season.  I have.  Believe me, it will catch up with them.

MATTHEWS:  You are so good, senator.  I mean, I‘m sorry, Reverend Sharpton.  You are the best.  You think so fast.  I have to actually count to five to catch up to you.  Thank you very much, reverend.  I‘m not being sarcastic.  I don‘t know how you put all that together.  Thank you very much, Reverend Al Sharpton and Michael Smerconish.  Michael, Philly.

Up next, we‘ll take you outside to HARDBALL plaza and find out what people think about whether the president‘s changes inside the White House will help him turn a corner.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Tonight on HARDBALL, it‘s the debut of HARDBALL plaza.  We‘re talking to the people.  Actually we‘re taking the show to the people downstairs and right now HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster is standing by from the HARDBALL plaza.  David?

SHUSTER:  Well Chris, we want to start with somebody who‘s from your hometown of Philadelphia.  All right Shawn (ph).  First of all, where in Philadelphia are you from?  What brings you to Washington?  What‘s your big issue here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Living near the University of Pennsylvania, and coming here with my granddaughter, grandson and my daughter, who are from Seattle, Washington.

SHUSTER:  And what‘s the big issue?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The war for me.  I feel like we should not be in the war, but I‘m supporting all the troops and we hope we get them back soon. 

SHUSTER:  OK, this is your daughter.  Where are you from and what‘s your big issue?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Seattle, Washington and I would like to have affordable education for my kids when they get to college.

SHUSTER:  Sir, what‘s your name, where are you from, and what‘s your big issue in Washington?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Gregory Taylor (ph).  I live here in D.C. and my biggest issue is terrorism and what to do about it.

SHUSTER:  OK, thank you.  Sir, what‘s your name, where are you from, and what‘s your big issue?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m Ryan Ferrin (ph) and I‘m from Seattle, Washington.  And I guess my biggest issue is the war, too.

SHUSTER:  Sir, what‘s your name, where are you from, your big issue in Washington?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My name is Wyatt (ph) from Jamestown, New York, and I would say our foreign policy, generally.

SHUSTER:  You‘re from Las Vegas, you came here with your kids.  What‘s the big issue for you and your family?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Pretty much the war and what‘s going on and why it continues to go on, and what we‘re going to do about it.

SHUSTER:  Ma‘am, what‘s your name, where are you from?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  My name is Mandy (ph) and I‘m from Pennsylvania and my big issue is protecting second amendment rights and just securing...

SHUSTER:  Are you a gun owner?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes, I am, but NRA member.

SHUSTER:  All right, I want to ask all of you for a show of hands here, how many of you are Republicans?  Raise your hands.  All right, how many of you are Democrats?  All right. 

Now how many of you think that the changes announced this week in the White House are going to make a difference as far as turning around the president‘s second term?  Raise your hands if you think they‘re going to make a difference. 

OK, you think they‘re going to make a different.  What‘s your name and why will it make a difference?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My name is Ray (ph), I‘m from Laguna Niguel, California.  I think giving Karl Rove focus on politics solely is going to be better for the White House.

SHUSTER:  Do you think he‘s in trouble in the CIA leak case?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, I don‘t know.  I‘m not in the grand jury hearings.

SHUSTER:  Let‘s ask somebody else.  You thought it would make a difference too, right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I think it will.  It seems that with such a tight-knit circle around the Bush administration, maybe bringing in a few new people might do a little bit of good for them.

SHUSTER:  All right, now the other big story this week has been Donald Rumsfeld and a number of generals have suggested that Donald Rumsfeld should be fired. 

So how many of you think that Donald Rumsfeld should be fired?  How many of you think that Donald Rumsfeld should stay and continue doing the job he‘s doing?  You, sir.  What‘s your name, where are you from, and why do you support Donald Rumsfeld?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My name is Nick Strum (ph).  I‘m from Ohio.  Donald Rumsfeld has done a great job in the past and I think he will continue to do a great job and we need him in there.

SHUSTER:  One other.  Ma‘am, what‘s your name, where are you from?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m Virginia Wing (ph), I‘m from Ormond Beach, Florida, and I agree.  I think he‘s done a wonderful job and we just need to support him.

SHUSTER:  Well we‘d like to thank all of you for coming out to HARDBALL plaza.  We‘re going to have Chris Matthews down here to talk to all of you in just a few minutes.  But in the meantime, we‘re sending it back upstairs to you, Chris.  And Chris, we‘ve got them warmed up for you.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, David Shuster, for that warmup act. 

When we return, I‘ll join David Down on the “HARDBALL Plaza,” along with Pat Buchanan.  He‘s coming here in a minute. 

And “Roll Call‘s” Mary Ann Akers.  She knows the inside on what‘s happening up on the Hill.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

MATTHEWS:  Well, we‘re back here on “HARDBALL Plaza” with all this crowd around.  This is the regular traffic around here at night.  You always see me up around the eighth floor up here, that‘s where we do HARDBALL usually. 

By the way, remember “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”?  Remember that great scene over at the Union Station when Jimmy Stewart came in and saw the Capitol for the first time?  We get to see it every day here.  The Capitol is right over there. 

It‘s a very historic spot, as you can see, based upon the interviews that David just did, David Shuster.  These people come from all across America.  We have got what, 100 states here?  I‘m sorry, there‘s only 50 states.  There‘s only 50 states? 

And joining me right now is Mary Ann Akers of “Roll Call” and presidential candidate, future and past, Pat Buchanan joining us.  Thank you. 

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  It‘s my hometown over here, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Every day what he stood for becomes more popular.  I‘m sorry.  I‘m going to get in trouble for saying that. 

Anyway, let me ask you about this, Pat.  You‘re an expert at the White House.  You worked there under a number of administrations.  Is shaking up the staff, getting rid of this press secretary, bringing in a new deputy here and there, is that going to change anything? 

BUCHANAN:  I don‘t think it is in the country, but there‘s to doubt there‘s a new power structure in Washington and at the White House.  When this fellow Bolten publicly basically cuts Karl Rove off at the knees and fires the president‘s press secretary who is a personal friend, what it tells me, Chris, is the president has given this fellow an authority, and a mandate that Andy Card didn‘t have, and it‘s going to be very much—he‘s going to be more of a Jim Baker than he is an Andy Card chief of staff. 

MATTHEWS:  As you know, Mary Ann—you cover it all the time—the Congress has to pass the laws, the Congress has to do this stuff the president wants done.  Are they more likely to work together now because Karl Rove is out of the picture? 

MARY ANN AKERS, ROLL CALL:  Absolutely, not only because he‘s out of the picture but because Rob Portman is now in the picture as OMB director and Rob Portman has close ties John Boehner, a fellow Ohioan, Speaker Hastert where he was an aide, he was a member of Congress, so that‘s going to be a key thing for Congress of rebuilding a really, bumpy road with Congress. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to the belly of the beast, Pat.  Some of the biggest problems in this administration right now are the leak case.  Scooter Libby, the vice president‘s chief of staff—the vice president never spoke up about what his chief of staff was doing whether at his behest or not.  Never spoke up and admitted there was a problem there. 

The vice president in charge of energy, he‘s had the task force on energy.  We have got gas prices now passing $3 a gallon out in California.  It‘s costing regular people an extra $20 to go to work this week. 

OK, wait a minute.  The vice president involved with that shooting, that weird incident where he didn‘t even call the boss.  Why can‘t they deal with that problem?  Why doesn‘t the president make a move on the vice president, squeeze him out?  Isn‘t he the problem? 

BUCHANAN:  Squeeze out the vice president of the United States? 

MATTHEWS:  You can‘t do that?

BUCHANAN:  You would dynamite his whole administration.  Cheney wouldn‘t go.  That‘s a Constitutional office.  You can‘t fire them. 

MATTHEWS:  Ha!  Right, I know that, but that‘s what his position in the White House, the jobs he‘s been given, all the assignments, they‘re up to the president. 

BUCHANAN:  Look, there‘s no question about that.  The president can limit his authority. 

MATTHEWS:  He could end it.  The vice president has no authority.

BUCHANAN:  But look, well, the vice—the truth is that I think Dick Cheney might be down a peg or two in the president‘s esteem, but I think the president still relies upon him, I think he still advises him, I still he‘s the most valuable—not the most valuable but he‘s certainly the most powerful. 

MATTHEWS:  But where are the problems—I‘m just asking you an open question, Mary Ann.  The problems seem to be related to Cheney over and over again and yet Cheney sits there immutable. 

AKERS:  Well, I have to say one of the biggest problems was sending McClellan out to a pack of wolves completely uninformed, and I think that removing him from the situation is going to help tremendously. 

MATTHEWS:  And all it would have taken was one call from the vice president‘s office.

AKERS:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  And they would warned off McClellan and say don‘t deny any involvement in the leaking, we know more than you know. 

BUCHANAN:  Chris, the problem is not the vice president.  The problem is the president of the United States who has listened to counsel of the vice president, and the counsel of Rumsfeld and the counsel of others.  He has taken it.  He is the decider, Chris.  He‘s a decision maker and he‘s the one that made the final decision. 

The big problem with this administration is Iraq.  You‘re right about $3 a gallon for gasoline, but the Dow Jones hit a record today also, and the president, what, is at 33 percent on doing well on the economy when the stock market is at an all-time high?

MATTHEWS:  Why do you explain that?  How do you explain that?

BUCHANAN:  Iraq pervades everything.  It‘s on everybody‘s mind.  You get up in the morning, you look at it, four more marines dead, another explosion in a mosque and the president can‘t get away from it.  There‘s no way to get out of it and no way to end it, and I think it‘s just dragging everything down in this administration. 

AKERS:  But the question is, can shuffling the chairs on the deck, you know, save the Titanic? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How many people here have confidence in Secretary Rumsfeld? 

How many don‘t have confidence in him.  Well, that‘s kind of mixed here. 

This is a mixed crowd. 

BUCHANAN:  We‘ve got a Rumsfeld crowd here.

MATTHEWS:  But the polling is interesting, because Rumsfeld has a higher rating than the president.  He‘s 35 percent, the president is 33.  This is a battle for the basement.

BUCHANAN:  And Condi Rice took us into war.  She was the one that oversaw the 16 words you‘ve been talking about, Chris.  And she is extraordinarily popular.  In the conservative magazine, “Human Events,” she is the number one choice for president of the United States.

MATTHEWS:  Why does she get held harmless here?

BUCHANAN:  I think the national press does, she travels abroad, she‘s got a good image.  She presents a more moderate picture.  She‘s trying to deal with the laws.  Everything she‘s done, I think since she‘s gotten in there, has gotten her positive press.  She‘s away from it all now.

MATTHEWS:  What, are you pushing her for something?

BUCHANAN:  No, I‘m not.  I would oppose her strongly for nomination, but I‘m saying she‘s doing very well.  There‘s no doubt about it.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about “The Hill” this year.  You worked up here, Mary Ann, you write for “The Hill,” which is the paper that covers—“Roll Call” or “The Hill?”

AKERS:  “Roll Call.”

MATTHEWS:  “Roll Call,” which is the original paper that covers the Hill.  Is there going to get anything done up here?  Are we going to get an immigration bill?

AKERS:  Probably not. 

MATTHEWS:  So what do they do for a living up here?

AKERS:  Well doubtful that the Senate can pass something and even if they do, when they go to conference, nothing is going to happen.  Immigration is a huge issue.  They‘re not going to be able to do that. 

Obviously Social Security didn‘t happen.  A number of big policy issues...

MATTHEWS:  ... Why don‘t they just go home, I mean stay home. 

AKERS:  They‘re in recess now.

MATTHEWS:  Why do they come back?

AKERS:  Well they‘ve got to try to do something.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m serious.  Because I can‘t think of a thing Congress has done in so long.

AKERS:  One issue they‘re really going to have to try to tackle and do something about is gas prices, which Pat just brought up.

MATTHEWS:  OK, here‘s the problem.  We don‘t drill enough gas in this country, for what we need.  We need to get it from Venezuela, from Nigeria, from the Arab countries, from Iran.  Which one of those countries is going to cut us a break?

BUCHANAN:  Well frankly, we should be drilling off Florida, we should be drilling off California.  We should be drilling in the Anwr as well. 

And frankly, the very fact that the price goes up, price of oil has gone up, that means an awful lot of guys are going out there looking for more of it, Chris.  The market does work in that sense.  And it gets a lot of people frankly out of cars at $3 a gallon.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it‘s working?  Why do we have a triple sales right now of Hummers?  Why are the numbers going through the roof on Hummer sale?

BUCHANAN:  Chris, when I was growing up...

MATTHEWS:  ... What do they get, about three miles to a gallon?

BUCHANAN:  Look, my Navigator gets 13 to the gallon, but I‘ll tell you this.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re part of the problem. 

BUCHANAN:  When I was a kid, I got four gallons for $1.

MATTHEWS:  Is that an American car?

BUCHANAN:  Sure it is.  It‘s a Lincoln.  You never heard of a Lincoln Navigator?

MATTHEWS:  Just making sure about it.  You used to have that blue Mercedes, I remember.  Let me ask you about the Hill again.  I want to give you a full chance because you‘re an expert.  I don‘t want to be too glib here.  People right now on television and back here behind you, what can they expect up there on the Hill this year?

AKERS:  In terms of hard-core legislation? 

MATTHEWS:  Doing something relevant to their lives.

AKERS:  Not much.  They can expect a lot of rhetoric because right now it‘s an election year and it‘s all about Republicans trying to desperately maintain control of both houses.  Democrats thinking that they have their best shot ever of winning at least one house, if not both.  So you‘re really going to see a battle for control of Congress, a lot more so than you will see a battle over legislation.

MATTHEWS:  Are they going to bring in some nice people to work at the White House or more mad dogs?  The next press secretary, will it be a good, nice fellow to deal with like Tony Snow or Tony Blankley or will it be one of these vicious, almost canine people they have working for them right now, who will do anything to advance their cause?

BUCHANAN:  Look, what you‘ve got to realize is the press secretary is more beaten up than he beats anybody up.  I don‘t care, you put a nice guy in there, Chris and he comes down stairs and he finds out something he said is wrong, those guys are going to tear him to pieces.  I don‘t care who he is. 

MATTHEWS:  The people in the White House or the people in...

BUCHANAN:  ... People in that press room.  It‘s a very tough job.

AKERS:  You saw it happen to McClellan.

MATTHEWS:  OK, should they bring if a heavyweight or a lightweight, as just a spokesman?

BUCHANAN:  I think they ought to bring in heavyweights at every single position, including congressional liaison.  They need a heavier guy there.  And you need a really heavy respected tough customer with a thick hide in that press room.

MATTHEWS:  Like you?

BUCHANAN:  If somebody that can make the case for the president as well as take hits. 

MATTHEWS:  A grown up.

BUCHANAN:  I like McClellan, he‘s a nice fellow.  But he was not a guy who was out there articulating, using them as a foil and speaking to the country over their heads.

MATTHEWS:  I think they need somebody that doesn‘t obviously sweat every time he stands behind that lectern.  Those guys look like they‘re nervous.  Anyway, they wouldn‘t pass lie detector tests, they‘ve got such a sweat problem. 

We‘ll be right back for a place that‘s not sweaty, a beautiful afternoon here in Washington.  Union Station right behind us, the Capitol right there, HARDBALL up there.  We‘re on the plaza, HARDBALL Plaza.  Back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back here with our friends.  Look at all these people joining us here on HARDBALL Plaza.  As I said, we‘re right between Union Station and the Capitol building.  And we always work upstairs here, but it‘s just the weather is so great, we‘re introducing you to HARDBALL Plaza.  Why don‘t you ask a question of Pat or Mary Ann?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. Buchanan, I was wondering what your thoughts on the change in House leadership were and how you think it will affect the relationship between the White House?  There seems to be a stronger relationship between majority leader Boehner and how you think that will help as the president tries to resurrect during his last 1,000 days as the leader of our nation.

BUCHANAN:  Well let me say that apparently this fellow Portman has got excellent relations with Congress.  He‘s a former congressman.  Apparently the chief-of-staff has talked more times to Bill Frist today or this last week, than he said he has in the last six months.  I think the White House knows that lack of communication with Congress, one of its big problems, I think they‘re going to go all out to do it.  I think you‘re going to get a new congressional liaison as well.

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead.  What are you a Democrat?  I think you‘re a Democrat.  You seem like a Republican.  Are you a Republican?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, sir, I am.

MATTHEWS:  I can tell.  I can tell who it is.  You‘re a Democrat, I can tell.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Very proudly.  With 200 days left until the election in November, Bush is trying to make all of these changes in the White House.  But it seems like the country is really disappointed with all of the things the Republicans have been doing in Congress.  Do you think that the changes in the White House and the way that they‘re trying to lead the country is going to affect the elections?

MATTHEWS:  Mary Ann?

AKERS:  Do I think the way the president is going to—say that last part again?

MATTHEWS:  All these changes in the White House, are they going to move the politics on the Hill.  You were talking about before.

AKERS:  Oh these changes in the White House—well, a little bit, yes.  Because right now it‘s about rebuilding bridges.  And there‘s a little bit of a rift between Congress and the White House.  Bush has largely ignored Congress and Republicans are not one bit happy about it.  So having somebody like Rob Portman, for example, move from the U.S. trade rep‘s office to OMB director is a great move in trying to heal those relations, because Bush, he‘s really got to reach out to them, and that‘s a big part of this. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, we‘re down at HARDBALL plaza.  I‘m going to the next person, and I actually can‘t tell your political affiliation.  I‘m going to guess elite Democrat. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I am a Republican, through and through. 

MATTHEWS:  Boy, I—go ahead.  I got the elite part, but go ahead. 

What‘s your question?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I have a question.  Today, the president met with the president of China, and recently there were members of the technology leaders here in the United States...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  ... who appeared before Congress, and I was just wondering what you all‘s opinion was on our relations with China, both as a government and our relations with China in the private sector? 

MATTHEWS:  Pat. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, it‘s a very big question, but my view is this: The United States gave China a $203 billion trade surplus last year.  It is using that to build up its military, to buy friends.  It is making friends out of all of our adversaries like Iran and Sudan, and so we‘ve got to ask ourselves a big question: We‘re feeding this tiger; when it grows up, will it be friendly or not?  If you read “The Washington Times” this morning, you can see the Pentagon is getting very, very nervous about a military buildup in China, which is more than 10 percent every year. 

I think it‘s a far greater danger in the long run, frankly, than international terrorism. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We‘ve got some other people here.  Are you a Democrat or Republican, young man? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you a Democrat or Republican, young lady? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  What are you? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t know.  I think that‘s good.  You‘re all open-minded.  What are you? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  I love it!  We got some open-minded voters here.  Karl Rove will be over here—Karl Rove will be here in five minutes to try to encourage these people to vote in his direction. 

We‘ll be right back with HARDBALL on the HARDBALL plaza.  It‘s a beautiful night in Washington.  Come back and join us (inaudible).

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.  We‘re back at HARDBALL plaza.  You know, this is the way—the great thing about visiting Washington is you can wear shorts, flip-flops, and the weather here is perfect this time of year. 

Let‘s go to some of these people.  First of all, a question we ask implicitly every night, and everybody, really take this seriously.  The first thing I want you to do is if you think this war was a smart war to fight, smart for America‘s interest—smart, that‘s the word I want you to think about—the war with Iraq, raise your hands if you think this was a smart move for the United States?  Put your hands up.

I am going to count you.  One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10.  Anybody else up here?  Eleven. 

How many think it was a mistake for us to go into Iraq? 

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24 -- you‘re too young to vote.  I‘m sorry, you are -- 24 -- I feel like I‘m carding people here.  Anyway, 24 to 11, that‘s about it.  And I think that corresponds to the national polling rate now, which is about 2:1. 

And I want to—I think smart is the right word, by the way.  It bothers some people.  But let me ask you, what do you think about the leadership of this country right now? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, I‘d like to say I‘m Margaret Gross (ph) and I‘m a medical student at Case Western Reserve University...

MATTHEWS:  We were—HARDBALL was out there.  We were out there with HARDBALL—we covered the debates out there. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I know you did. 

MATTHEWS:  I gave the commencement address last year. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Anyway...

MATTHEWS:  Enough about me.  What do you think? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Ask me your question again. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think about the leadership of this country?  We have the Congress up here, we have the White House down the street? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, one of the issues that I was going to ask you about was prescription drug benefits.  And I think the leadership is very poor on that and didn‘t do very well at all.  So I just wanted to know what‘s going to go on with that the rest of this presidency? 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t like what they did with prescription drugs? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I do not. 

MATTHEWS:  Why? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Well, I think it was too confusing.  A lot of people didn‘t know how they could get the best benefits.  I think that we should need a plan that‘s simple, that confuse everyone, doesn‘t put pharmacists in a terrible position that they don‘t know what to do... 

MATTHEWS:  What kind of a doctor are you going to be? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  A neurologist. 

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  I‘m so impressed.  Thank you.  That‘s great.

Yes, sir, what do you think about this country‘s leadership? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think it‘s heading in the wrong direction.  I think given the way how, like, the Congress...

MATTHEWS:  OK, I want to put you down in the Oval Office right now, in your mind, in a virtual reality.  Transmit yourself down to the Oval Office, sit behind the president‘s desk.  You have got a phone, you‘ve got staff people.  What are you going to tell them to do? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘d tell them to just...

MATTHEWS:  No, give orders.  I want you to give orders right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Give orders right now?

MATTHEWS:  You‘re commander in chief? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Start giving myself the impeachment papers. 

MATTHEWS:  Next. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Come on now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I think the leadership of this country is divided right now, because we have got President Bush sticking to his guns and staying the course, and we‘ve got Congress just up the street trying to get reelected.  So right now it‘s a—you know, leadership is divided against itself. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think people in politics care about issues enough to lose an election, or it‘s all about just getting elected? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s definitely both.  I mean, the issues are part of it.  If you don‘t have—if the policymakers don‘t create good issues, then you don‘t have anything to campaign on. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I‘m going to ask everybody here to get positive.  After you have brought us all down.  You have made us feel very bad that you want the man to impeach himself, which sounds perverted to me.  Let me ask everybody here, I want you to name a hero in American politics.  I don‘t care if the person is alive now or has been dead for 100 years.  I want you to start here.  Name a hero. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Edward M. Kennedy. 

MATTHEWS:  Ted Kennedy. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Robert Kennedy.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s on—I shouldn‘t say—he‘s on another network today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Robert Kennedy.

MATTHEWS:  Robert Kennedy, hero.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I think Barack Obama is really starting to unite the nation.  So...

MATTHEWS:  Hero.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Kennedy.

MATTHEWS:  Which Kennedy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, John F. Kennedy.

MATTHEWS:  John F. Kennedy.  Three Kennedys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mitt Romney. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Franklin Roosevelt. 

MATTHEWS:  Good call.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘ll go way back to Lincoln. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘ve got two, Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mark Warner.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Ronald Reagan!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Ben Franklin. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Jefferson. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  George Washington. 

MATTHEWS:  I love it! 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Abe Lincoln.

MATTHEWS:  I love it!  We‘re getting the biggies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  FDR. 

MATTHEWS:  Who?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  FDR.

MATTHEWS:  FDR. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Same as hers. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ve got FDR, Lincoln, Washington.  We got them all.  And Barack Obama!  Anyway, it‘s been great being here at the HARDBALL plaza.  We‘re going to do a lot more work down here because the weather is great, and this is an historic spot.  HARDBALL comes back on Monday night at 5:00 and 7:00.  Dan Abrams is coming up right now.

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

END   

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

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