updated 5/1/2006 11:53:07 AM ET 2006-05-01T15:53:07

Guests: Howard Dean, Robert Wuhl, Joe Pantoliano

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Tonight, Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic Party on soaring gas prices, sinking poll numbers and voices being raised over the national anthem and a double shot of “HARDBALL Hot shots.”  It‘s a special star spangled show.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Norah O‘Donnell in tonight for Chris Matthews. 

Welcome to HARDBALL.

The gas wars are fueling up in Washington with President Bush rejecting calls for attacks on oil company profits.  Plus, the president said the national anthem should be sung in English, not in Spanish, in response to news that a Spanish version is being played on radio stations today. 

In a moment, Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, will give us his take on these stories and more. 

And we have a star studded show for you tonight with a double shot of our Friday night “HARDBALL Hot Shots.”  MSNBC hosts Joe Scarborough, Rita Cosby and Tucker Carlson will be here, plus celebrity hot shots, actor Joey Pants and Robert Wuhl will be here to talk about political pop culture and to preview the paparazzi atmosphere of tomorrow night‘s big White House correspondents dinner. 

But first, I spoke with Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean early today and began by asking him what is it that the Democrats can do about high gas prices that the Republicans can‘t? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)         

HOWARD DEAN, DEMOCRATIC CHAIRMAN:  We can do a lot.  The first thing we would do is give back the $16 billion give always that the Republicans gave to the oil companies.  Here you have the spectacle of them giving away in the middle of the night $16 billion worth of tax breaks, which are paid for by us and then we have got to pay $3 a gal on top of that.  That‘s not right.  If the Democrats had been if power, those kind of tax breaks never would have been given away. 

O‘DONNELL:  President Bush said today that he would reject calls in Congress for attacks on oil company profits.  He said the temptation in Washington is to tax everything.  Do you disagree? 

DEAN:  Well, I think the president is an oil guy.  What do you expect?  You know, the vice president came from Halliburton, the big drilling company.  The president has had an oil background.  Of course, he doesn‘t want to tax the oil companies, but he doesn‘t have to give away our tax money to do that.  I can‘t believe that we are now giving $16 billion in tax breaks to oil companies as a result of this Republican administration. 

O‘DONNELL:  But with all due respect, Mr. Chairman, ending that subsidy if you will is not going to lower the price of gas at the pump. 

DEAN:  It may actually, however, have an effect on oil company profits, which don‘t have to come out of our pockets, and it could lower our taxes or lower the amount of deficit.  That would be something that would be a good thing. 

O‘DONNELL:  OK. That‘s one part of the problem.

DEAN:  That‘s a huge part of the problem.

O‘DONNELL:  But the issue that Americans care about is that when I go and fill up, that, you know, last month it was $30 and now it‘s $45 all of a sudden.  What can anybody in Congress do?  Tom Friedman wrote about this today in “The New York Times.”  It doesn‘t appear that either party could do anything that would result in a quick fix? 

DEAN:  Well, I have talked about getting rid of the big tax breaks that the Republicans are giving to the oil companies.  The next thing is Iraq.  There‘s not anybody on the planet who believes that the situation in Iraq is not tied to high oil prices.  It has destabilized the world oil market, decreased the output from Iraq dramatically. 

Perhaps if we had different kind management in Iraq or perhaps if we hadn‘t gone in the first place, we wouldn‘t be seeing these problems either.  So I think it‘s much more likely that the Democrats, because we have better expertise in foreign policy and security than the Republicans do, would do a better job, keeping gas prices down. 

O‘DONNELL:  But most experts who look at this and who study high gas prices and the oil industry say this is an issue about supply and demand and the United States is dependent on foreign oil, period.  And China needs more oil.  India needs more, and that‘s causing the prices of gas, oil, crude oil and then of course gas, to go up.  What is the Democratic plan for the future to reduce our dependence on foreign oil? 

DEAN:  Well, I just mentioned two things.  First of all, we‘ll be getting rid of those big subsidies that the Republicans are giving to the oil companies. 

Secondly, we will stabilize the situation in Iraq and bring our troops home eventually and quickly, much more quickly than the Republicans will and stabilize the world oil situation. 

Thirdly, I think you will find a much more friendly environmental approach in terms of using alternative sources of energy.  Let‘s not forget, the president and his party have done nothing about alternative sources of energy, such as wind, such as solar, such as getting better mileage out of our cars.  Nothing has been done by this oil thirsty addicted Republican administration.

And I think if you really want environmental protection, which goes hand in hand with reducing our oil use, then you have got to have Democrats if office, as plain as that.  And the American people know it. 

O‘DONNELL:  So you‘re telling me that if in these midterm elections that if Democrats win, that Americans will see an immediate drop in the price of gas at the pump? 

DEAN:  What I‘m telling you is that if Democrats win, we‘ll be able to stop the president from doing the kinds of things that he‘s done that have increased oil prices dramatically.  If Democrats win in these midterm elections, we still won‘t control White House, so it‘s hard to set the policy, for example, for the Department of Interior.

But we‘ll stop the president‘s giving away our tax money to oil companies, and we will change the course of the war in Iraq.  And we will pass and ask the president to sign the kind environmental legislation that will result in reduced oil use. 

O‘DONNELL:  Let‘s turn to the issue of the shakeup that‘s going on in the White House as the president reorganizes in his second term of course.  Also, we have learned that Karl Rove testified for the fifth time before the grand jury this week.  His lawyers say, however, not to expect any indictment any time soon, that he may in fact get the all clear from the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald. 

If Rove get the all clear, will you have been wrong all this time saying that he was involved? 

DEAN:  There‘s no question that Rove was the one that leaked the information about the CIA agent‘s name, and he still has security clearance.  So the presence of Karl Rove in the White House continually reminds the American people that the president wasn‘t truthful about firing leakers, in addition to not being truthful about a number of other things, so I think he‘s a big liability for the administration, as long as he‘s in the White House. 

O‘DONNELL:  If Democrats win in the midterm elections in November, will the Democrats in Congress move to impeach this president? 

DEAN:  I doubt it.  It‘s possible.  I mean, no doubt, there will be investigations because there‘s been so much corruption in the White House and the vice president‘s office, even the Senate president—the Republican Senate president is under investigation for insider trading.  The Republican House leader had to resign.  The new Republican House leader just killed all the ethics legislation.

So it‘s pretty much of a culture of corruption on the Republican side in Washington now, and I think you‘re certainly going to see some investigations. 

But look, the Democrats believe that we need to do something about jobs, we need to fix our security or especially our port security.  We want honesty and openness back in our government, so we want to have real ethics reform.  That‘s a big list of important things. 

You know, unless there‘s a terrible smoking gun, I think impeachment is going to come pretty low on the list, because we have got to really turn this country around.  And that is a big job. 

O‘DONNELL:  But let‘s be honest, I mean, we just had of course the NBC News-“Wall Street Journal” poll come out.  And I know you probably took a look at that, and it shows that Congress‘s approval ratings are lower than the Republicans in Congress, lower than what the Democrats were in 1994.  And of course they lost control, so that might signal of course that Democrats might do well if the midterm elections.

But we also found in our polling that Americans out there don‘t think that the Democratic Party is much better.  Why can‘t you come up with—and I know you get this question, you‘ve been getting it for months—why can‘t you come up with a 10-point plan, put it on a web site, advertise it here on this program here today that shows the American people how you would do something differently? 

DEAN:  Well, other than advertising on this program here today, we actually have a six-point plan.  It is on our web site, and we have one million households that are going to have their doors knocked on, on Saturday.  We have a million doors going to be knocked on with a million flyers and the agenda is very clear. 

O‘DONNELL:  And what‘s that knocking on doors supposed to do? 

DEAN:  It‘s supposed to show people what our message is, since we seem to have trouble getting it out.  And it is very clear.  We want honesty and openness back in our government.  We want real security and a real strong defense based on telling the truth to our soldiers and our citizens. 

We want American jobs that will stay in America.  We want a health care system that includes everybody, like 36 other countries have.  We want a public education system that allows optimism and opportunity back in America again, and we want real retirement security. 

I think that‘s a great agenda for the Democratic Party.  We‘re all united from the Senate to the House, to the governors to the mayors in that agenda, and a million people are going to have that agenda in their hand by the end of this weekend. 

O‘DONNELL:  Let me ask you about big controversy brewing today over whether or not the national anthem should be sung in Spanish.  President Bush today commented on this, and he said no, that the national anthem should be sung in English.  Do you agree? 

DEAN:  This is the kind of thing that‘s a bit of distraction.  In Canada, they sing the anthem in—the Canadian anthem in French and English.  You know, I‘m a patriot.  I‘m proud to have our anthem sung in any language possible.  I don‘t care if you translate it into German.  As long as people are singing the national anthem in the United States of America and being patriotic, I think, we ought to be pleased with that. 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, you know, critics of this are calling it the illegal alien anthem and asking the question, it is the national anthem, why can‘t those who come to this country learn English and sing it in English. 

DEAN:  I think they will both learn it in English and do it in Spanish.  And I‘m kind of tired of the right wing picking out different groups every two years to win elections on.  We have an immigration problem in this country. 

The president has been president for five years.  The Republicans have been in charge for five years.  They did nothing about it.  I tell you, that‘s another thing the Democrats are going to do differently.  We‘ll pass a real immigration controlled bill.  We‘ll secure our borders.  We‘ll put the money in. 

Just the other day, a group of Democrats asked the Republican Congress for money, to—for border security, they wouldn‘t pass it.  Finally they passed it a couple of days ago.  It is—this is ridiculous, and, you know, this—immigration should not be used as a scapegoating issue.  I don‘t think we need a guest worker program like the president does.  I do think we need to take into account the 12 million people who are here working hard.

O‘DONNELL:  But Ted Kennedy supports a guest worker program.

DEAN:  The president‘s guest worker program is indentured servitude for immigrants, but we ought not to have it.  It does not help the immigrants.  And it doesn‘t help our workers.  What we should do, however, is not this ridiculous right-wing bill in the Congress, where they are going to take, you know, 1,200 million people and kick them all out of the country.  Americans know that is not realistic.  Let‘s have a real immigration law, and let‘s start with securing our borders. 

Now, the Congress did do something—the Senate did something the other day which I think is sensible.  They‘re going to hire up to 15,000 new workers, and I think that makes a lot of sense.  But we have been fighting for that for five years, and the Republicans have been stonewalling it.  Now, they want to do something about immigration in an election year.  That‘s not going to pass muster.

O‘DONNELL:  All right, Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic Party.  Thank you.

DEAN:  Thank you.

O‘DONNELL:  And coming up, is President Bush‘s political guru, Karl Rove, facing indictment?  We‘ll get the latest on the CIA leak case and later, a special double shot of the “HARDBALL Hotshots”—Joe Scarborough, Tucker Carlson and Rita Cosby will be here, plus a celebrity edition of the Hotshots, with actor Joey Pants and Robert Wolff.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

In the CIA leak case today, two days after Karl Rove‘s fifth appearance before the grand jury, the panel has not indicted him.  They have not cleared him either.  HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster has the latest on the investigation. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Good morning, Mr. Rove. 

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  For Karl Rove, the drama is going to continue for a while. 

KARL ROVE, PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER:  Sorry you had to get up so early. 

SHUSTER:  Sources close to Rove say his legal team has been told by prosecutors that no indictment decision will be made for at least another week.  That means that even though Rove on Wednesday answered questions for three-and-a-half hours, prosecutors are still unwilling to clear him or signal that his answers satisfied the grand jury. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT FREDERICKSEN, FORMER IND. COUNSEL:  This is high risk strategy, but if Mr. Rove had said, “I‘m not going in there for a fifth time,” I think that would have been a guarantee of an indictment. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Rove‘s own lawyers say the key issue is Rove‘s failure for the first 10 months of the investigation to acknowledge that he spoke with “Time” magazine‘s Matt Cooper about former CIA operative Valerie Wilson.  Rove sources tell MSNBC the presidential adviser testified again this week he has little memory of the Cooper conversation and argued that any misstatements the last two years were not intentional. 

Last summer, following one appearance where Rove testified most of their conversation was about welfare reform, Matt Cooper testified the entire discussion was about the Wilsons, and that Rove ended the call by saying, “I‘ve already said too much.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Last fall when prosecutors indicted Vice President Cheney‘s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, they held off indicting Rove, because his attorney said there was evidence that would prove Rove did not intend to mislead investigators. 

But based on the apparent scope of Wednesday‘s grand jury session, there are still questions about what prompted Rove to update his testimony.  That testimony came more than seven months after Rove‘s lawyer got a tip from “Time” magazine‘s Viveca Novak about what Matt Cooper might say. 

On the other hand, Rove‘s testimony came just three days after prosecutors first ordered Cooper to testify.  Legal experts suggest prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald may be returning to the theory that Rove held off disclosing information until he realized there would be reporter testimony against him under oath. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SOL WISENBERG, FMR. DEP. INDEPENDENT COUNSEL:  Any time your client has been identified as a subject, and has gone to the grand jury five times, and the last time is three-and-a-half hours, you have a lot to worry about. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Another area of potential concern for Karl Rove involves an issue raised by pleadings in the Scooter Libby case.  Prosecutors allege that Libby coordinated some of his actions with other White House officials, including Rove.  Rove is part of the prosecution narrative against Libby and one document alleges Libby tried to mislead or confuse investigators by testifying he had a conversation with a reporter when the evidence shows it was Rove who had the conversation with the reporter. 

Did Libby and Rove coordinate their testimony, and what does it mean for the overall investigation?  In court documents, Fitzgerald says the investigation remains active. 

(On camera):  And legal experts point out the big danger for Karl Rove is that the grand jury may have evidence Rove is not aware of.  The only player in this drama who knows for sure is Fitzgerald, who declined to clear Rove following his testimony and would only tell Rove‘s legal team that a decision on the presidential adviser will take at least 10 days. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL, in Washington. 

O‘DONNELL:  Thank you, David Shuster. 

When we return, it‘s Friday.  It‘s the “HARDBALL Hotshots”—Joe Scarborough, Tucker Carlson and Rita Cosby—they‘ll be here.

And later, a special celebrity edition of the Hotshots with actor Joey Pants and Robert Wolff.

And this Sunday on NBC, a special edition of “MEET THE PRESS” on gas prices. 

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

It‘s time for our special Friday feature, “HARDBALL Hotshots.”  My MSNBC colleagues this week, Joe Scarborough, Rita Cosby and Tucker Carlson, get set to nail the winners and the losers, the heroes and the villains. 

First up, all eyes on Rove.  This week, Karl Rove, who lost his policy job for a purely political one, testified for the fifth time before the grand jury in the CIA leak case. 

In legal terms, Rove is not a target of the investigation, but he is still under investigation.  That means the special prosecutor is still digging.  And three years—after three years, why hasn‘t Rove been cleared of wrongdoing?  Could Bush‘s best weapon end up hurting him? 

Joe, what are we to make of this?  I mean, this investigation has been going on for years.  Why hasn‘t he been cleared?

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY”:  Oh, I know.  If you‘re Karl Rove, you‘ve got to be very nervous.  Everybody is waiting for the other shoe to drop here, and I guess the main thing that we should all take from this is the White House knew exactly what they were doing when they demoted him. 

Again, I wouldn‘t exactly call it a demotion, when really all that matters to the White House right now is that Democrats don‘t take control of the House or the Senate, but there‘s no doubt that they made that move because they didn‘t want somebody that had a senior policy role in the Bush administration actively to be indicted.  So I think they‘re very concerned over at the White House, and they‘ve got a lot of reason to be. 

O‘DONNELL:  Tucker, David Shuster reported this week that they are more worried inside the Karl Rove camp about a possible indictment.  We know that we probably won‘t get a word for over a week.  Do you think he‘ll ultimately get indicted? 

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “THE SITUATION”:  I think they ought to be worried.  I mean, you don‘t testify before the grand jury five times voluntarily if you think you don‘t have to.  He thinks he has to because he‘s worried that Fitzgerald is going to indict him. 

If you step back three steps—this is not a defense of Karl Rove, I‘d say this about anybody—the story itself is looking increasingly ridiculous.  What is this about again?  Isn‘t it about the leak of Valerie Plame‘s name? 

Apparently this prosecutor knows the name of the leaker.  That person hasn‘t been indicted and won‘t be.  The whole is absurd.  The lesson here is for the Bush administration and future administrations, don‘t unleash a special prosecutors, because these investigations invariably go in directions you can‘t anticipate, and invariably wind up getting people for piddling things like this. 

O‘DONNELL:  It‘s so interesting that you point that out and there are serious issues in this case.  However, it‘s been going on for three years and you have to ask the question, even though special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has been called above reproach, does he start looking like Ken Starr in terms of keeping Karl Rove‘s name under this cloud of suspicion, Rita, for so long? 

RITA COSBY, HOST, “LIVE & DIRECT”:  You know, he does.  And as you point out, as we‘re all talking about, five times.  In defense of Karl Rove, clearly he isn‘t quite sure what he has.  He‘s still digging, because why would he keeping bringing him back. 

On the flipside, also, Karl Rove also waived attorney-client privilege and that is interesting because he did provide conversations that he had with his attorney, so he isn‘t totally looking like a guilty man. 

He‘s also trying to look like he‘s being helpful, providing things, but it continuing on and on doesn‘t look good for the White House, but you‘re right.  It could look overzealous by Fitzgerald, if at the end of the day, he brings if Rove five times and still doesn‘t have anything and still isn‘t focused, as Tucker said, at the issue that really is at hand. 

O‘DONNELL:  Joe, you talked about earlier, you know, this demotion maybe or shifting of positions inside the White House for Karl, so the White House could say if he got indicted, no problem to the White House institutionally or the work ahead because he was just involved in politics, but what about if this cloud continues to hang over Karl, he keeps on having to testify, doesn‘t it still hurt the president politically? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh sure, it hurts the president politically.  I mean, when you‘re sitting at 32 percent—I mean, everything hurts the president politically, but again, I think if I were to tell George Bush today that I could guarantee him that Henry Waxman would never have subpoena power and Ted Kennedy would never have subpoena power, but his job approval rating would be five percent, he would say give me the five percent, baby.  I want to keep it in Republican hands.  So that‘s why Karl Rove has the most important job in Washington, D.C. right now for George W. Bush. 

The only thing I‘m going to say is, and I‘m hearing Tucker and Rita saying, well, it‘s not that big of a deal.  I mean, it sounds about the failed land transaction where the Clintons didn‘t make a lot of money.  I had a screaming fight today, Bill Clinton is the only thing that can still get me angry as far as politics go. 

Somebody said, oh it was just sex.  I said yes, he lied under oath.  If you or I had done it, we would be in a federal penitentiary.  I think that‘s what this is about, and I think it is important.  If Karl Rove lied under oath, then that‘s a serious as Bill Clinton lying under oath. 

COSBY:  But that‘s if you can prove it, Joe.  But that‘s if you can prove it.  Right now, what he‘s going at, we‘re not quite sure what he‘s got.  And if at the end of the day, he doesn‘t have anything, it could backfire. 

CARLSON:  Yes, in his defense ...

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, sure, but I‘m saying, though, if he thinks Karl Rove lied under oath about this issue ...

COSBY:  Materially it is. 

SCARBOROUGH:  ... about an investigation this important, that‘s just as serious as Bill Clinton lying about sex in a sexual harassment suit. 

CARLSON:  OK, but wait a second.  I have no question that if you dug deep enough, maybe you could find things for which Karl Rove could be held liable.  I‘m not—you know, I don‘t know.  But this specific charge, he has a pretty good answer to.  He says look, I make, you know, 200 phone calls a day.  I didn‘t remember this phone call with Matt Cooper.  I don‘t know.  I don‘t think you have to be a rogue partisan to find that plausible. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Isn‘t it leaking the name of an undercover—I‘ll tell you what, buddy, if in Congress I had leaked the name of an undercover operative ...

CARLSON:  But he‘s not being charged with that. 

SCARBOROUGH:  ... to Matt Cooper at “Time” magazine, I would have remembered that. 

CARLSON:  But he‘s got ...

SCARBOROUGH:  And I like Karl Rove a lot.  I‘m just saying, I don‘t buy this collective amnesia.  It reminds me, again, of the Clinton administration when they come on the Hill and say I have no recollection. 

COSBY:  Hey look, hey Joe, I agree with you.  I‘ll be in the middle of you guys.  I agree with you.  I don‘t the amnesia either but it‘s yet to be proven whether he did it or not.  That‘s the other issue.

CARLSON:  And also, just to—again, for the fifth time, leaking the name, supposedly classified identity of Valerie Plame, is not something for which Rove will ever be charged or anybody else will ever be charged because it‘s not a crime.  And I just think it‘s important to remember what this is all about originally and to just make the point that, you know, it‘s not a crime.  Like, this whole thing is based on nothing.

SCARBOROUGH:  Just like a failed land transaction could end up in a sexual harassment suit. 

CARLSON:  Maybe you‘re right.  Maybe you‘re right.  And Whitewater was a bit of a crock in the end, let‘s be honest.  It was.

COSBY:  Perceptually, I understand the perception still. 

SCARBOROUGH:  By the way, I voted to impeach Bill Clinton by the way so I‘m not giving that guy ... 

COSBY:  Yes, we know your track record, Joe. 

O‘DONNELL:  All right.  My “HARDBALL Hotshots.”  We‘re going to be back with more. 

SCARBOROUGH:  How hard was that to say without gagging? 

O‘DONNELL:  You know, that‘s why they have done this with me on Friday night, is because they like it when I say “Hotshots.”

SCARBOROUGH:  Hotshot.

O‘DONNELL:  So that‘s why we‘re having the double shot of “Celebrity Hotshots” later on.

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  Anyway, we‘ll be right back in a minute.  More these guys and then the “Celebrity Hotshots” later on.  We‘ll be right back in a minute.

CARLSON:  What, we‘re not celebrities?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

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

Next up, White House remodeling, week two.  How new and improved is the White House?  In week two of the makeover, Fox News personality Tony Snow was named White House press secretary.  He says he has a seat at the table, but can one man help fix the president‘s problems? 

Tucker, do you think Tony Snow is going to end up making the difference? 

CARLSON:  Oh, yes.  I think he will.  I mean, look, he‘s a good guy, which is a lot more than you can say for a lot of other people in the communications office there over the last couple of years.  I am sorry to say, but, you know, a lot of people there hate the press.  The people charged with dealing with the press hate them, so, you know, that‘s a mistake from right off the bat. 

I think Tony Snow is a guy who has criticized the president openly in public, and Bush hired him anyway.  I think it says something good about Bush, who tends to surround himself with sycophants, a bad sign.  This is a good sign, and I think, you know, Snow is likable.  I think he‘s honest. 

O‘DONNELL:  Yes, but this idea, don‘t you think, Joe, that Snow is going to have a seat at the table in policy matters.  I mean, I have covered the White House, Bush says I‘m the decider. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, he is the decider and chief. 

O‘DONNELL:  I mean, the idea that Tony Snow is going to be able to come in there and say, you know, I think we should do it this way, and then Bush will say, you know, Tony, you‘re the new guy, you‘re right.  I mean, I think is a fallacy.

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, it is.  There is no doubt about it.  But if Tony Snow at least knows that when he goes out, he is not lying to the press, just outright lying to the press.  That is a pretty good thing, and we don‘t know whether Scott McClellan was always told the truth about it. 

But, you know, I agree with Tucker.  The best thing that Snow has going for him is he is a likable guy.  I remember when I was in Congress in 1996, all of my friends were getting just the worst articles written about them.  And I had pretty good - even by “The New York Times” articles written, because I would always go out, hang out with the press.  I always liked them.  And my friends would say how do you do that? 

And I said to the guy, I said John, even dogs know when you hate them, and all you guys walk around with scowls on your faces, they know that, and so they beat the hell out of you because of it.  Tony Snow is a likable guy.  He likes the press.  And because of that, he‘s—I think he‘s going to get a lot better break than other Bush administration officials.  And by the way, it hurts him though that people know that George Bush hate the press. 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, I don‘t know that that‘s totally true. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Likes them as people, hates the organization. 

O‘DONNELL:  Yes, Rita, what do you make of—I‘m sure you‘ve seen this, that they‘re calling Tony Snow—he already has the nickname Max Headroom of course.  And he‘s the first, you know, TV personality to have that job since Ron Nessen, and, you know, it‘s almost like they‘re getting ready to put this TV show—this White House TV show with this very telegenic man who has filled in for Rush Limbaugh, who has a great voice out there, and they‘re producing it up, if you will. 

COSBY:  Yes, they are producing it up.  But in defense of Tony Snow—and look, I have known Tony for years.  I have worked with him for almost a decade.  His office was right down the hall for mine for many years when I was at Fox News.  I like Tony a lot, and I‘m going to go one step further than Joe and Tucker. 

I don‘t think that Tony Snow would have taken this job if he thought he was just going to be a mouthpiece for the president.  I really do think that yes, I agree with you, Norah, he‘s not—the president isn‘t going to say, Tony, you guide the whole policy, but I do think he will listen to Tony Snow. 

I do think this president knows that he‘s got some image problems.  Look at the approval ratings.  They are, you know, rock bottom.  There is no question about that.  And I think Tony Snow will have at least some sort of seat at the table, will have some input, more than the prior press secretary. 

And I think we will see a change.  He does have a great relationship with the press.  This guy isn‘t just, you know, a press guy.  This guy was also a speech writer, remember, for Bush.  He has got a history in politics before he became a press guy.  I like Tony.  I think he will have a big impact. 

O‘DONNELL:  That‘s true.  I mean, people are saying that there is going to be a less insular White House. 

All right next up, a ghastly situation.  With Americans feeling pressure at the pump and stress at the station, who is going to pay the ultimate political price?  In the new NBC News-“Wall Street Journal” poll Americans named high gas prices as their No. 1 issue of concern.  Who‘s to blame, President Bush, our longtime dependence on the Mideast, greedy oil companies?  Come November, who is going to get blamed? 

Tucker, you hear, as we just did in that CNBC market update, you know, record profits by Exxon, record profits by Chevron, the old CEO of Exxon had a $400 million compensation package.  Who‘s to blame? 

CARLSON:  Well, I mean, consumers are obviously being gouged by the oil companies.  That‘s the oil companies‘s fault, but to put this in some perspective, oil companies pay twice in taxes what they take in profits.  Which is to say, you pay a gallon of gas, twice as much to the government as you are paying in profits to the oil company that‘s selling you that gasoline.

So if you want to lower prices, lowering taxes is—I mean, mathematically, it is the first place you look.  I do think, you know, that the Republican response out of the Senate, $100 rebate to anyone, you know, in any middle class and below taxpayer, whether or not that person owns a car is ridiculous and will be seen as ridiculous by voters.  I don‘t think that‘s enough. 

O‘DONNELL:  Don‘t you love that story in the paper today that some of the politicians who were racing to the gas stations and they drove the hybrid cars to the gas stations and then drove them like half a block later.  And Denny Hastert then gets out into his big gas guzzling SUV. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Beautiful.

COSBY:  Classic politicians, Norah.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, there is kind of this—you know, Tucker, you brought up a really interesting thing, and I have talked about this with my husband in fact is the issue about taxes on gasoline.  And it‘s this dirty little secret that people don‘t know that at the same time you‘re paying a lot at the pump, our government is making a lot of money, because of the tax on gasoline. 

CARLSON:  Right.  Exxon is not the only one who is gouging you.  I mean, the federal government is.  Now, maybe, you know, there are a lot of people, particularly on the left, who think gas taxes ought to be higher and point approvingly to Belgium and Liechtenstein as models, right?  I‘m serious, for gasoline policy, and they have a position.  I wish they had the courage to articulate that position though right about now as gas is heading towards $4. 

O‘DONNELL:  Rita, how do you think it plays out there with the regular American?  Who do they blame, the president, foreign companies, Congress? 

COSBY:  I think A, B, C and D.  I think they blame everybody, and I think the Democrats, if they want to get a leg up on this—I was fascinated at the beginning, you know, you were talking to Howard Dean.  And I love what he threw out there, Norah.  I mean, he said, you know, we have a softer policy on certain issues, but we have a tougher policy on, you know, foreign policy issues and if the president wasn‘t in Iraq, we wouldn‘t have this dependence on foreign oil. 

Come on, we‘ve had a problem with dependence on foreign governments and foreign oil for so long, prior to Iraq, that‘s ridiculous, and I think for the Democrats to have any sort of leg up, they have got to articulate the mission.  If not, they are going to be blamed just as much as the other guys. 

O‘DONNELL:  Joe, quickly, you‘re a legislator. Isn‘t everybody in Congress just ignoring what is the really big issue here is that we‘re far too dependent on foreign oil? 

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh no doubt about it, and the thing is, you know, liberals don‘t want to drill in, you know, Alaska when people in Alaska want the drilling.  Conservatives don‘t want to move cafe standards up to 35 or 40 miles an hour.  If both sides could come together, they could fix it. 

O‘DONNELL:  And none of us have abandoned our gas—our cars that are probably sort of gas guzzlers, if you will, and we‘re not riding bicycles. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I‘m an environmentalist myself, but I do have two SUVS. 

CARLSON:  That‘s the spirit, Joe. 

O‘DONNELL:  Very well.  Thank you to Joe Scarborough, Rita Cosby and Tucker Carlson.  I appreciate the hot shots. 

When we return, it‘s the celebrity edition of “The HARDBALL Hot Shots,” not that these guys aren‘t celebrities, but we have Hollywood celebrities Joey Pants and Robert Wuhl.  This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Today is a special Friday here at HARDBALL with a double dose of “HARDBALL Hotshots.”  Now for the first time, “Celebrity Hotshots.” 

Here for a look at the political and Hollywood developments this week are actor and star of HBO‘s “Assume the Position,” Robert Wuhl.  And with me here in Washington is actor and co-president of the Creative Coalition, Joey Pants. 

Now, first up, Hollytics, the marriage of Hollywood and Politics, and high-profile celebrity causes.  A very pregnant Angelina Jolie took time out from her vacation in Namibia to talk to NBC‘s Ann Curry about the plight to better educate children—about her fight to better educate women in the third world. 

George Clooney traveled to Darfur and is now giving interviews and taking his message to Washington on the genocide taking place in that region of Sudan. 

Pop star Jessica Simpson paid a highly publicized visit to Capitol Hill as the international youth ambassador for Operation Smile.

And singer/songwriter Neil Young is coming out with a new CD, “Living With War,” a Bush-bashing indictment of the president‘s policies. 

Why do you think it takes the efforts of these stars to bring attention to these important issues and where are the politicians? 

Joey, let me start with you.  Why does it take someone like Angelina Jolie to bring attention to the plight of children in Namibia, George Clooney to bring attention to the region of Darfur? 

JOE PANTOLIANO, ACTOR:  Because people are interested in what they do.  They are also interested in what they had for breakfast and I think that it‘s great that, you know—if everybody gives people free clothes, like we were talking about earlier.

So I think it‘s great that those guys are—have these issues that they really care about, because it does get out there.  We‘re talking about it right now on national television. 

O‘DONNELL:  But why is it that it takes them to talk about these problems, for instance, in Africa and that there aren‘t legislators in Washington or the president of the United States that brings attention?  I mean, in Darfur, that is the worst genocide.  Why? 

PANTOLIANO:  Well, first of all, I didn‘t know what that was until we started talking about it a couple of weeks ago, and I think it‘s because they‘re activists and people—a lot of things we do in the United States are done that are not run by the government. 

It‘s—you know, look at school and education and music in schools, you know, arts and education—the government doesn‘t pay for that.  Hardly, you know?  They don‘t pay for our Olympics.  So I think it‘s great that big stars have big hearts and they take on these causes. 

O‘DONNELL:  Robert, your take on that? 

ROBERT WUHL, HBO DOCUMENTARY PRODUCER:  Well, I think the reason that they‘re going—well, first of all, they don‘t have to be elected, you know?  They don‘t have to gather votes, so they can take a stand.  You know, they don‘t have to worry about their constituency.  They‘re talking about—I like the big stars, big hearts thing that Joey just said.

And I think it takes a little bit of courage, because even though like I said, you don‘t have to get elected, you do risk alienating some of your buying public when you take a stand on anything but, you know, that‘s something between you and your conscience. 

O‘DONNELL:  Isn‘t it also in many ways, too, that there are a lot of people that do care about what‘s going on in the world, but it‘s also true that celebrities cannot only gain the attention of the public at large but they also have a lot of disposable income that allows them to go over and bring attention to these issues and donate money and time of their own? 

PANTOLIANO:  Yes, it‘s philanthropic and they really are passionate about this.  You know, and it‘s such an isolated thing to be a star of that magnitude.  You can‘t go into a restaurant, you have to plan out your every waking moment, because it really is oppressive what happens in restaurants. 

I mean, I‘m a minor celebrity and the new thing now is going into restaurants and people are taking my picture with their cell phones.  And there are all these Web sites.  So, you know, so there‘s a lot of thought. 

There are people like George who grew up with a political background, very activist family on his father‘s side, you know, so this is not new to him.  Even when he was a kid that couldn‘t rub two nickels together, he was well-educated and cared a lot about issues. 

O‘DONNELL:  Robert, you know, it was interesting because we were with George Clooney over at the National Press Club yesterday when he had—of course, he‘s just gotten back from Darfur with his father. 

WUHL:  Name dropper.  Name dropper.

O‘DONNELL:  We were—it was not just me and George Clooney and his dad.  There were lots of other reporters there.

WUHL  So who else was there?  Drop a few more names.  Who else?  Who else?  Drop a few more names. 

PANTOLIANO:  Barack Obama. 

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  Barack Obama.  That‘s right.  There were a couple of senators there as well.  But one of the interesting things that, you know, he was asked is well, what do you do now?  I mean, do you call the president?  What do you do?  And the president yesterday did issue some sanctions.

But what George Clooney said very humbly, he said listen, I‘m going to try and keep the issue on the front burner, He said, I‘m not a politician.  I‘m not a policy maker, he said, but when you‘re a celebrity, you get a credit card and you get to sort of use it several times and that‘s what I‘m sort of trying to do on this issue is bring attention to it.

And I must say the press club is not usually packed for some of the dry speakers and it was packed and it educated a lot of people about the genocide going on in Darfur.  That‘s good, right? 

WUHL:  Right.  But how sad is it that George Clooney—I mean, who I have great respect for and I, you know, commend for his activism—how sad is it that he has to teach the press corps about this?  I mean, shouldn‘t it be the other way around? 

O‘DONNELL:  In what way? 

WUHL:  Hello?  Hello?  Am I still here?  No ...

(LAUGHTER)

O‘DONNELL:  Joey is listening. 

WUHL:  Did we go off the air?  Testing.  Kenneth, I have the wrong frequency.  Can you hear me, KennethrMD+DN_rMDNM_?

O‘DONNELL:  Yes. 

WUHL:  No, I‘m just saying that George—they said the press club was packed learning stuff, and shouldn‘t it be the other way around?  Isn‘t the press supposed to be teaching us about what‘s going on in the world?

O‘DONNELL:  I understand.  You‘re beating up on the media because you think that that‘s going to play well.  I hear you.

WUHL:  I‘m not beating up on anybody.  I‘m not beating up on anybody.

O‘DONNELL:  No, I hear you.  All right.  We‘re going to be back with more “Celebrity Hotshots” in just a minute.  Joey Pants and Robert Wuhl.  This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Welcome back to the HARDBALL celebrity hot shots with Joey Pants and Robert Wuhl. 

Next up, painful premiere.  “United 93,” the first feature film on 9/11, opens today and more movies on the tragedy are coming out this summer, including “World Trade Center” from controversial director Oliver Stone. 

Now “United 93,” a film produced by NBC Universal is getting rave reviews, but are Americans ready relive the horror of 9/11? 

Joe, what do you think?  I mean, is it to soon after for sort of Hollywood to be getting involved and making a movie about 9/11? 

PANTOLIANO:  Hollywood sees an opportunity to make money.  Hollywood used 9/11 directed by Peter Markle in “Flight 93” on A&E.  It got 25 million viewers.  So they tested the water.  They see this as an opportunity as a big, tragic, you know, tent pole movie.  You know, and they made it with all unknown actors. 

I haven‘t seen the movie.  I‘m dying to see it.  But I think America is ready to go to these movies, but I don‘t think the families of the victims of 9/11 are. 

O‘DONNELL:  Although, Robert, the director did reach out to the families of those killed on flight 93 and made sure to get their cooperation on this. 

WUHL:  I mean, I have to disagree with my good buddy Joey for a second on this.  First of all, the TV documentary, which was a couple of months ago, this movie was in the can before that.  So it‘s not based upon that.  Also, I don‘t think there is ever a time when we can‘t see a movie about people who are heroes. 

I mean, we‘re celebrating the heroic act of some people who gave their lives so that a plane may not have hit the Capitol building.  I don‘t think there is anything wrong with it.  I can understand people being sensitive and don‘t want to go see it.  You know, certain people would say it‘s too close to me right now. 

But I think it is a reminder.  From what I hear, it‘s terrific.  You know, to tell stories about heroes, and especially in that genre, which basically is a disaster movie genre, I don‘t see anything wrong in this.  I mean, I can understand people who are sensitive and don‘t want to go see it.  But telling stories about American heroes, I don‘t have a problem with. 

PANTOLIANO:  No, I don‘t think it‘s—I agree with you.  I think it‘s a big Hollywood movie.  I think that if this movie opens, we‘re going to see a slew of them.  Listen, my 14-year-old kid thinks that Richard Nixon talks with a Welch accent because she saw the Oliver Stone movie.  You know, and don‘t forget this isn‘t a documentary.  This is a content.  It‘s a studio movie.  It‘s dramatic. 

You know, they are cooperating with the family members because they probably wanted to know what they were saying on those cell phones.  You know, so, it‘s not real.  So if my kid goes and sees this movie, she is going to say all of this stuff happened on that airplane is factual. 

O‘DONNELL:  Yes, Robert, what about that?  This is a movie produced by NBC Universal.  What about that there are—some have said that they have taken some license with what really happened, and yet for most who see it, becomes of history then.  They imagine that as the way it actually happened.

WUHL:  Yes, well I just did a whole HBO special about this, about how history is pop culture, and I don‘t see anything different with this movie than any biography.  I mean, you want to see the Lou Gehrig story, when goes to the doctor and he says, doc what do I got?  And the doctor says it is a disease I can‘t even pronounce.  This is the doctor you want to go, a guy who can‘t pronounce the disease. 

And he goes it is three strikes, Lou?  It‘s three strikes.  I mean, that‘s every movie ever.  That is any kind of story telling ever.  So I hate to say its not the truth.  Whose truth are we talking about here? 

PANTOLIANO:  Robert, there were 400 souls roughly on that airplane. 

WUHL:  Right. 

PANTOLIANO:  And I‘m talking about the family of those—I mean, the trickle down effect of that event and, you know, I think, you know, this is going to be playing to the audience.  And I‘m for it.  I‘m dying to see this movie.  I want to see it.  I‘m ready for it. 

O‘DONNELL:  All right guys.  Thank you very much. 

And finally, we do want to talk about what Joey is here in town for.  Tomorrow night is the annual White House correspondents dinner here in Washington, D.C., an event where the president, the vice president and sometimes even their wives let their hair down and say things you normally wouldn‘t hear them say. 

So let‘s take a look at two such occasions.  First is a films that President Bill Clinton made in his last year in office. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)         

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK:  I wish I could be here more, but I really think Bill has everything under control. 

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Wait, wait.  You forgot your lunch.

AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Well, I think his legacy is going to be the natural environment, improving the green spaces of our country.  I‘ve urged him to spend more time on that. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The president‘s schedule is just as busy as ever.  He‘s just doing different things. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I feel really bad for him.  I wish there was something that would cheer him up. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  And now some outspoken comments by First Lady Bush made at last year‘s event. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)         

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES:  One night after the George went to bed, Lynne Cheney, Condi Rice, Karen Hughes and I went to Chippendales.  I wouldn‘t even mention it except Ruth Ginsburg and Sandra Day O‘Connor saw us there. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)             

O‘DONNELL:  If only it were true.  Thank you to Robert Wuhl, who will be appearing at the Borgata in Atlantic City on June 3, and Joey Pants, the creative coalition.

Chris Matthews will be back on Monday night at 5 and 7 Eastern for more HARDBALL when he will be joined by Senator Ted Kennedy. 

Right now it is time for “THE ABRAMS REPORT.”

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

END   

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