updated 5/8/2006 11:38:14 AM ET 2006-05-08T15:38:14

Guests: John Harwood, Michael Isikoff, Bill Harlow, Lou Cannon

NORAH O‘DONNELL, GUEST HOST:  Tonight, two political bombshells go off in Washington.  CIA Director Porter Goss takes the town by surprise and resigns.  And Congressman Patrick Kennedy announces he will enter rehab following his Capitol Hill car crash.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

(MUSIC)

O‘DONNELL:  Good evening, I‘m Norah O‘Donnell in tonight for Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.

Washington is a town gone wild, with a surprise shakeup inside the Bush administration, and the curse of the Kennedys strikes again.  This afternoon, President Bush announced his hand-picked CIA director, Porter Goss, was fired.  Senior White House officials say the resignation was a “mutual understanding” between Bush, intelligence czar John Negroponte and former Congressman Goss, but no replacement has been named.  We‘ll talk about the Goss resignation in a moment with NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell.

And the other big story out of Washington tonight:  in a press conference, Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy said he will immediately seek help and enter rehab for his addiction to prescription drugs, after his highly-publicized car crash on Capitol Hill. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. PATRICK KENNEDY (D), RHODE ISLAND:  Of course, in every recovery, each day has its ups and downs.  But I have been strong, focused and productive in my term of office. 

But in all candor, the incident on Wednesday evening concerns me greatly.  I simply do not remember getting out of bed, being pulled over by police or being cited for three driving infractions.  That‘s not how I want to live my life, and it‘s not how I want to represent the people of Rhode Island. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  And later tonight we‘ll celebrate Cinco de Mayo with our HARDBALL Hotshots, my MSNBC compadres, Joe Scarborough, Rita Cosby and Tucker Carlson.  We‘ll be here to talk about these hot stories and more.

But we begin with Porter Goss‘ resignation at the CIA.  NBC‘s chief foreign affairs correspondent, Andrea Mitchell, joins us with more now.

Andrea, why was he fired? 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  First of all, just to set the record straight, of course what the president said, is that Porter Goss has resigned.  Resigning, we should point out, after really less than a full term—he‘s only been there a year and a half, so it is a very precipitous departure.  And there were none of the usual niceties, none of the “I accept his resignation with regret.”  And what we have been reporting, what you have reported, what Tim Russert, my colleague and our bureau chief, has reported, is clearly that he was fired.

We understand that this was John Negroponte, the intelligence czar, coming in with Michael Hayden, his top deputy—General Mike Hayden—coming in to see the president and explain that it just wasn‘t working.  There were turf wars, Norah—we know that in Washington turf wars are nothing new, but at the CIA it was really debilitating.  And not entirely Goss‘ fault, because a year ago April, as we know, the intelligence czar was created, with intelligence reform—so-called reform.  White House and Congress putting together this new bureaucracy. 

Porter Goss had to report to them.  There was a conflict between the Counterterror Center within the CIA and the National Counterterror Center, which didn‘t have operational responsibilities, but which was the umbrella organization reporting to Negroponte.  Goss apparently resisted letting some of his people go over and work for Negroponte and Hayden directly.  He didn‘t feel comfortable reporting directly to them, and finally it just was clear that this was not going to work.  Morale had really sunk.

First problem was that he brought over a lot of his political aides from Capitol Hill, and they proceeded to purge some very respected CIA veterans, including top people.  Not the people who were largely held inside responsible for the screw ups before the war and before 9/11, but people who really were considered doers.  So they were all gone and you had these political types over there, and those two cultures never meshed. 

O‘DONNELL:  Andrea, you have lots of sources in the intelligence community, but you also know a lot about politics too.  I mean, how does this end up playing out, and what does it mean for the larger war on terror that the president‘s CIA director is gone and he doesn‘t have a replacement to name on the same day? 

MITCHELL:  Well, he‘s going to have a replacement.  You can‘t really replace someone on the same day without it being even that more obvious that it‘s a firing.  But we understand that as early as Monday there will be a replacement.  Names that are being speculated about include the top deputy, General Mike Hayden, former head of the National Security Agency.  I think the clear thing is that it has to be someone who could be easily confirmed.  The last thing this president needs right now is a tough confirmation battle in the Senate over director of CIA.

Mike Hayden is very widely admired.  The only potential problem would be that some people hold him directly responsible for the secret warrantless surveillance program, which he certainly has defended and help lead.  And that might be a wrinkle. 

I‘m told that it will not be Fran Townsend, the head of intelligence at the NSC in the White House.  She also has top clearances and could easily be confirmed, not very controversial and very highly-regarded inside the White House, but we‘re told that it will not be she. 

Other people who could have been mentioned but I‘m told are not involved would be the head of the President‘s Intelligence Advisory Board, Steve Friedman, former top economic adviser to the president, Wall Streeter from Goldman Sachs days.  I‘m told that his Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, working through the White House, has been leading an investigation of the CIA, and apparently reported back to the president that things were not going well within the CIA.  So he‘s probably not a candidate, but he was certainly part of coming up with the problem-solving that will lead to this solution.

And you asked about the politics:  I think that if they fix it by nominating somebody who gets easily confirmed, it will be a net plus and this will be just a very sad episode. 

O‘DONNELL:  Thank you, Andrea Mitchell. 

MITCHELL:  Thank you. 

O‘DONNELL:  Let‘s bring in former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow—he is now an NBC News analyst—and Walter Pincus of the “Washington Post.”

Bill, let me start with you.  Has this been in the making for a long time?  How much resentment was there in the CIA toward Porter Goss? 

BILL HARLOW, FMR. CIA SPOKESMAN:  Well, I think it‘s been coming for some period of time.  His entry into the agency was not a smooth one.  But I think it should be said that he had a very difficult job to do.  He was coming in at a difficult time, he was replacing a popular former DCI.  And when they laid in on top of him a new layer of bureaucracy with the DNI, Ambassador‘s Negroponte‘s organization, it was a very difficult job.  But it didn‘t go smoothly. 

O‘DONNELL:  Walter, was Porter Goss fired, and how long has this been going on, this discussion within the administration that he was butting heads, if you want, with Negroponte? 

WALTER PINCUS, WASHINGTON POST:  Well, I think you can probably go back to last summer when we had our first rumors this was going to happen.  But I think Bill is right.  One thing is he got off on the wrong foot and lost a lot of clout within the agency.  In fact, a lot of the seniors left, and the White House wasn‘t happy with that. 

The one other thing is, the president from day one never found the sort of even sense of rapport with Goss, and he was sort of—didn‘t have it that he had with Tenet.  The president wants to be easy-going.

O‘DONNELL:  I mean, Walter, you talk about how much anger there was inside the administration.  I mean, the deputy director of intelligence gone, the chief of Clandestine Service gone, two deputy chiefs of the Clandestine Service gone, the chief of the director of intelligence gone, the director of the counterterrorism center gone, the comptroller.  This is a long list since Porter Goss got there, and there were some who thought that there was a lot of damage done. 

If that damage was done, Bill, why did it take so long for the president to figure out in the middle of the war on terror and after 9/11 that they needed to change something within the CIA? 

HARLOW:  Well, I think administrations are reluctant to change heads of organizations like the CIA in the middle of a war on terror, and there was a general belief in some parts of the administration that there was a need for a shakeup at the agency.  I think in fact though that many of the changes that were made were—the people who left were exactly the kind of people you would want to have there to help reinvigorate the agency.  And there departure was a loss for the agency and for the country.  It takes a while for an administration to change.

O‘DONNELL:  What I don‘t get is, both of you who talk to a lot of people still inside the CIA—and Walter, you of course have been reporting for years on this—that, why then, if there has been this concern about his leadership at the CIA, why today?  And why on a Friday?  And why all of a sudden?  What else—is there something else out there? 

PINCUS:  No.  I think the time had just come.  I think you‘re going to hear, slowly but surely, that he has been talked to several times.  Late last year they asked him to get rid of his chief of staff.  He didn‘t do it.  I think they‘ve even talked to him—both Negroponte and people in the White House. 

I think maybe what‘s done it is that everything came to a head.  I heard this afternoon it may be that the White House was unhappy with the way they got rid of Mary McCarthy, sort of firing her within a week of her retirement, and then sort of letting it be known that she had been talking to reporters, Dana Priest on our staff, and kind of creating the idea she gave away the leak on CIA prisons abroad. 

This is something that they are now worried about because in the current climate, it could be that Ms. McCarthy may take legal action for her firing.

O‘DONNELL:  We‘re also under the understanding that may have been one of the reasons that this happened today on this Friday is that John Negroponte, who is the director of National Intelligence and essentially Porter Goss‘ boss, recently had a conversation with the White House chief of staff, Josh Bolten, where he said, Porter Goss was not a team player and that the internal issues among parts of the intelligence community and with the Pentagon had not been resolved because of his intransigence. 

Bill, is this a sign that Negroponte is taking charge? 

HARLOW:  Well, he was put in to take charge.  The whole idea of having

a director of national intelligence is to have somebody in charge of all of

the components of the intelligence community, so you would expect to him to

O‘DONNELL:  Yes, but arguably, he‘s been there a year.  He‘s been there a year.  He just celebrated a year in office.  We‘re in the middle of a war on terror, there have been lots of intelligence failures.  Why now? 

HARLOW:  Well, I suspect it‘s probably an accumulation of things, not one individual incident that happened, but just an accumulation of things that made them decide that different leadership at the agency is what was called for. 

O‘DONNELL:  All right.  Well, thank you to Walter Pincus, and Bill Harlow is staying with us as we talk more about who might replace Porter Goss and the political fallout.

And later, Congressman Patrick Kennedy announces he‘s headed to rehab after a Capitol Hill car crash early Thursday morning.

Plus, the “HARDBALL Hotshots,”  Joe Scarborough, Tucker Carlson and Rita Cosby on both these huge Washington stories, Porter Goss and the Kennedy crash.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PORTER GOSS, RESIGNED AS CIA DIRECTOR:  I would like to report back to you that I believe the agency is on a very even keel, sailing well.  I honestly believe that we have improved dramatically your goals for our nation‘s intelligence capabilities, which are, in fact, the things that I think are keeping us very safe. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  That was CIA director Porter Goss announcing his resignation from the agency today. 

We‘re back with former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, and we‘re joined now by John Harwood of CNBC and the “Wall Street Journal,” and “Newsweek‘s” Michael Isikoff. 

John, let me start with you.  He made an announcement there with the president.  He also spoke with employees at the CIA and yet missing today was the explanation of why he‘s leaving.  Why was he fired? 

JOHN HARWOOD, CNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  Well, I think, first of all, Norah, we can assume that the first thing that was untrue that was said today was that the agency is on an even keel.  If it was on an even keel, he wouldn‘t be out of his job today.

O‘DONNELL:  Right.

HARWOOD:  The White House, when you talk to them, they say it wasn‘t about the Dusty Foggo situation, the contractor, or the CIA official caught up in the whole Duke Cunningham situation with the military contractor, but they say what they wanted to do was transform the agency.  And now that the pot‘s boiling, they need someone else to take it forward and clearly Porter Goss is not the person. 

O‘DONNELL:  But I was struck by just the politics of the day, and I‘m sorry, but, you know, usually when you leave from a high-profile job, you say I‘m leaving for family reasons or for health reasons, or at least they put there and let you know what it‘s about.  That wasn‘t out there. 

And they didn‘t seem to—you know, we learned, of course, that Negroponte was the one who called the White House and said this guy is not a team player.  How does that play when he was the handpicked guy by the president to reform the CIA after the intelligence failures of 9/11 and it turns out he‘s not doing the job? 

HARWOOD:  Well, in two ways, first of all, it gives Josh Bolten as the White House chief of staff, and the president, another opportunity to turn the page and sort of reload for the last two-and-a-half years of the administration. 

But on the other hand, you can‘t let the White House avoid some blame for a appointment that just didn‘t fit.  They appointed Porter Goss, then, of course, he was undercut when John Negroponte was brought in as director of national intelligence. 

But you also have to say that the cultural fit that the White House anticipated by picking someone who had worked at the CIA, who knew the agency from his work on Capitol Hill, it simply didn‘t work because once he went over there, brought his congressional aides, there was tremendous friction and conflict with the CIA, and it just didn‘t work. 

O‘DONNELL:  Mike, let me ask you, as he said, that the CIA is on an “even keel” and said it‘s “improved dramatically” since he began his tenure at the CIA.  Is that true? 

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, “NEWSWEEK”:  Not at all.  I mean, you know, there‘s been friction and turmoil, but there‘s nothing new about that.  You know, the thing here that strikes—that leaps out is the suddenness of it.  That‘s usually not the way these things work, and if it was simply the sort of mounting frustrations and conflicts over policy or failure to do your job, you would—you know, that could be staggered and handled. 

But the suddenness with which this happened suggests, you know, all the atmospherics are that something came to their attention recently in the last few days even, that prompted this to happen and it happened when it did. 

O‘DONNELL:  That pushed it over the edge.  So, Mike, let me ask you, then, what is that other shoe that you think is about to drop? 

ISIKOFF:  Well, I mean, look, all—we do know there is the Duke Cunningham ongoing criminal investigation, and allegations of all sorts of improprieties. 

O‘DONNELL:  Let‘s explain to everybody what that is so that—just a minute, so we can get this straight.  The CIA admitted just this week—it was reported in the “Wall Street Journal”—that the number three guy at the CIA, a guy named Dusty Foggo, in fact, admitted to going to the Watergate to play in poker games where they smoked cigars and hung out with this defense contractor who is was the one that was bribing Duke Cunningham, the Congressman.  And Duke Cunningham, of course, is now in jail. 

Now, Dusty Foggo at the CIA says, I did nothing wrong, and by the way, I wasn‘t engaged with what they think now were prostitutes that were there at the Watergate.  But it raises this question, because Dusty Foggo was this mid-level bureaucrat at the CIA, and then when Porter Goss came, he all of a sudden got the number three post. 

ISIKOFF:  Right, here this may have actually nothing to do with Porter Goss‘ tenureship at the CIA.  If you look at what the Duke Cunningham investigation was about, it was about targeting Congressional earmarks and bribing or providing things of value to their lawmakers and their staffs in exchange for legislative favors. 

HARWOOD:  Certainly not poker and cigars. 

(LAUGHTER)

ISIKOFF:  Things—right.  You know, but the—so the thing is Goss was the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. 

O‘DONNELL:  Right. 

ISIKOFF:  A lot of the people he brought with him were his top staffers at the House Intelligence Committee, and the contractors who were at the center of this investigation were seeking earmarks in the ...

O‘DONNELL:  Intelligence.

ISIKOFF:  ... or intelligence from the Intelligence Committee, so it may well be that part of this is the ongoing investigation has spilled over into if not Goss himself as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, staffers he brought with him from the Intelligence Committee.

O‘DONNELL:  Bill, you used to work at the CIA for decades.

Is this about politicizing the CIA, what Porter Goss did, or is it bottom line that he just wasn‘t getting the job done at reforming the CIA in a post-9/11 world? 

HARLOW:  Well, going back to what was just said, I don‘t have any reason to believe that today‘s move had anything to do with anything they may have learned about this investigation. 

Seems to me if it were something connected to the Cunningham investigation, White House wouldn‘t have put the president on camera with Porter Goss sitting there saying nice things back and forth to each other. 

So I think it‘s probably more just an accumulation of the misapplication of his talents to that job.  At another time, he may have done well in it. 

I think bringing the aides with him from the Hill did not go down well, particularly at a time when the agency was being looked at for politicization.  To have people coming from Capitol Hill who—rubbed some people the wrong way there, it didn‘t work out well.  And it all added up and it was time to make a change. 

O‘DONNELL:  All right.

We‘ll be back with Bill Harlow, John Harwood and Michael Isikoff in a moment. 

And later, the HARDBALL “Hot Shots,” Joe Scarborough, Rita Cosby and

Tucker Carlson 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  We‘re back with former CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, “The Wall Street Journal”‘s John Harwood, and “Newsweek”‘s Michael Isikoff.

John, let me ask you.  You know, George Tenet, the predecessor, he got the Medal of Freedom and Porter Goss gets the boot. 

We don‘t know who the next sort of replacement is, is going to be the head of the CIA.  But what‘s the political problem for the president now? 

I mean, his main legacy is built on being wartime commander-in-chief, the 9/11 president, and he‘s got an intelligence committee—community that‘s essentially still in turmoil and having turf battles. 

HARWOOD:  Well, one of the interesting things, I talked to a senior Republican national security consultant this afternoon who said the Achilles heel of this administration has been personnel. 

Now, a White House official told me this afternoon the replacement is going to have impeccable credentials.  I think Mike Hayden, who you mentioned earlier, that Andrea Mitchell talked about earlier, could fit that category.

But really the administration has got to get off the dime, get somebody who can be confirmed easily.

And I do think on your point about George Tenet—let‘s not forget, Porter Goss was not the guy in charge when the intelligence community flubbed weapons of mass destruction in Iraq before the war. 

The problems in the intelligence community long predate Porter Goss.  He just happened to be the one who was trying to execute some changes and didn‘t do it very gracefully. 

O‘DONNELL:  Bill, let me ask you this, has there been more damage done to the CIA during Porter Goss‘ tenure that may actually have an impact on our national security? 

HARLOW:  Well, I think the bulk of the people at the agency are focused on their jobs and not worrying too much about who‘s in the leadership position on the seventh floor. 

But whenever you have changeover in the leadership, it does distract somewhat and it‘s not anything that you would want to have. 

And to the extent that the administration can move quickly to get somebody in there to calm things down, I think it will help.  But the majority of the people there...

O‘DONNELL:  And, in fact, we‘re learning...

HARLOW:  ... are focused on the threat, not...

O‘DONNELL:  Right.

In fact, we‘re learning that the president will likely make this announcement on Monday who his new choice is.  I‘ve talked to some sources who do believe that General Michael Hayden is at the top of that list to probably be a replacement to the—to Porter Goss. 

HARWOOD:  And he‘d have bipartisan support. 

O‘DONNELL:  He would have bipartisan support.

However, he was director of the NSA and, of course, has been up on Capitol Hill testifying because of that.  But we will see if the president names him, in fact, on Monday. 

Mike, in your reporting, what‘s happened with the search for Osama bin Laden?  What about al-Zarqawi?  What‘s happened in terms of our intelligence? 

ISIKOFF:  Yes. 

Well, I mean, you know, those are sort of ongoing embarrassments for the U.S. intelligence community that here we are five years after the fact and we still haven‘t found the guy who was the subject of our chief manhunt, or the guy who‘s, you know, been identified as the chief person who‘s responsible for a lot of the attacks in Iraq. 

So...

HARWOOD:  I think the dead or alive poster is still up on the wall. 

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

ISIKOFF:  And also remember that it wasn‘t that long ago that Porter Goss said—you know, gave—was quoted as saying he has a pretty good idea of where Osama bin Laden is, which surprised a lot of people in the intelligence community who don‘t necessarily share that and obviously raised the question, if you did, why haven‘t we got him? 

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  Exactly.

And again, at this time when the president is suffering his lowest approval ratings of his presidency and has problems with gas prices and everything else, this focuses attention on an issue about our national security, our intelligence gathering—not a good time, but the president‘s got to turn that ship around.

Thank you to Bill Harlow, John Harwood and Michael Isikoff.

And up next, Congressman Patrick Kennedy heads back to rehab after an early-morning car crash on Capitol Hill.  Did the congressman with the famous name get a free ride? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

O‘DONNELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Congressman Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island, and son of Senator Ted Kennedy, announced today he will voluntarily enter rehab at the Mayo Clinic for his admitted addiction to prescription drugs.  Now, this comes in the wake of a car accident he had early Thursday morning near the Capitol, which is still under investigation.  Here is Patrick Kennedy‘s statement from this afternoon. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENNEDY:  Over my 15 years in public life, I felt a responsibility to speak honestly and openly about the challenges that I had with addiction and depression.  I‘ve been fighting this chronic disease since I was a young man, and have aggressively and periodically sought treatment so that I can live a full and productive life. 

I struggle every day with this disease, as do millions of Americans.  I‘ve dedicated my public service to raising awareness about the chronic disease of addiction and have fought to increase access to care and recovery supports for the many Americans forced to struggle on their own. 

This past Christmas, I realized I needed to seek help again, so I checked myself into the Mayo Clinic for addiction to prescription pain medication.  I was there over the holidays and during the House recess as well, and I returned to the House of Representatives and to Rhode Island reinvigorated and healthy. 

Of course, in every recovery, each day has its ups and downs, but I have been strong, focused, and productive in my term of office.  But in all candor, the incident on Wednesday evening concerns me greatly.  I simply do not remember getting out of bed, being pulled over by the police, or being cited for three driving infractions. 

That‘s not how I want to live my life, and that‘s not how I want to represent the people of Rhode Island.  The reoccurrence of addiction problem can be triggered by things that happen in everyday life, such as taking the common treatment for a stomach flu. 

That‘s not an excuse for what happened Wednesday evening, but it is a reality of fighting a chronic condition for which I am taking full responsibility.  I am deeply concerned about reaction to the medication, and my lack of knowledge of the accident that evening.  But I do know enough that I know that I need help. 

This afternoon I‘m traveling to Minnesota to seek treatment at the Mayo Clinic to ensure I can continue on my road to recovery.  The greatest honor in my public life is to serve the people of Rhode Island, and I‘m determined to address this issue, so that I can continue to fight for the families of Rhode Island with the same dedication and rigor that I have exemplified over the past decade. 

I hope that my openness today and in the past and my acknowledgement that I need help will give others the courage to get help if they need it.  I am blessed to have a loving family who is in my corner every step of the way, and I‘m grateful to my friends, both here and in Rhode Island, for reaching out to me at this time, and I‘d like to call once again for the passage of mental health parity.  Thank you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O‘DONNELL:  With more on the Kennedy announcement and car accident, we turn to MSNBC Congressional producer Mike Viqueira.  Also with us is Lou Cannon, president of the Washington D.C. Fraternal Order of Police. 

Mike, let me ask you because it took three statements for the Congressman to finally admit this and he—we have sympathy for him.  We have sympathy for him that he has an addiction to drugs and we have sympathy for him that he has suffered from depression.  It‘s in his family.  We know.  But is there an issue here about personal responsibility on the part of a congressman? 

MIKE VIQUEIRA, NBC NEWS:  Well, I think there‘s first and foremost an issue of public safety when you consider what this police report says.  Here the congressman is heading at a rapid rate of speed, hits a curb, almost hits a squad car, and bangs into a security barrier that‘s there to keep Congressmen and everybody in those Congressional offices safe, and it‘s 2:45 in the morning. 

So it‘s certainly an issue of public safety.  As far as Congressmen Kennedy himself is concerned, his constituents are becoming accustomed, I would assume, to him getting in hot water.  There have been controversies in the past.

O‘DONNELL:  In fact, this is not true.  Congressman Kennedy—I mean, not new, I should say.  Congressman Kennedy has admitted that he was addicted to cocaine as a teenager. 

In 2000 he took out a yacht out of Nantucket.  He was alleged to have done $28,000 worth of damage.  His girlfriend was on the yacht with him at he same time, and she had to call the Coast Guard to pick her up because he was worried. 

There was an incident at the L.A. airport where he was alleged to have pushed a security guard.  Could any other congressman stay in Congress with that kind of record? 

VIQUEIRA:  Well, I think it takes a certain talent.  Maybe, perhaps, it even takes a certain name.  There are congressmen who are in and out of hot water, but the flipside of that, Norah, is if this happened to another congressman, we might not be standing here or sitting here talking about this tonight.  So it‘s a double-edged sword.

O‘DONNELL:  And what do you mean by that?  Because he‘s a Kennedy and because he‘s the son of Ted Kennedy?  Yes.

VIQUEIRA:  Absolutely.  Of course, and he‘s had problems in the past, and let‘s face it.  This country is enamored with the Kennedy name, at least a good portion of this country, particularly the people who he represents in New England and specifically in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, of course. 

O‘DONNELL:  Congressman Kennedy was slow to admit the truth about what was really going on here in terms of his initial statements.  He said that there was no alcohol involved and then he later admitted just today on camera that, in fact, he not only has an addiction to prescription drugs, he was just in the Mayo Clinic in December.  You‘ve done some interesting reporting that in fact it was Ted Kennedy, his father who took over damage control. 

VIQUEIRA:  I‘m told, by people who are close to Patrick Kennedy, that the senator did in fact take over this damage control.  If you noticed, yesterday there were three progressive statements, each one longer and more elaborate than the one that preceded it. 

The first statement merely a three sentence statement.  There was an accident.  There was rMD+IN_rMDNM_no alcohol involved.  I will cooperate with any investigation.  And then progressively from the counter indication of the drugs, and now he‘s off to the Mayo Clinic. 

O‘DONNELL:  But as you pointed out to me, he did not say in that third statement today, I didn‘t have anything to drink.  Is it known on Capitol Hill—you‘ve worked up there for a long time, you know a lot of people—does Congressman Kennedy drink? 

VIQUEIRA:  I‘m told anecdotally that he does.  I‘ve never laid eyes on the man drinking.  I‘ve never been present at any Capitol Hill bars where he‘s been drinking.  It‘s been reported and disputed today, I should add, that the congressman was drinking in a very venerable and well-known Capitol Hill tavern called the Hawk and Dove.  We have no independent confirmation of that.

O‘DONNELL:  Let‘s bring in Lou Cannon who is president of the Washington D.C. Fraternal Order or Police, and Lou, thank you very much for joining us.  And you first, in many ways, raised doubt about this very bizarre accident that happened in the middle of the night where Patrick Kennedy essentially almost ran over a cop car and the Capitol Police did not allow what?  The D.C. police to get involved?

LOU CANNON, PRES., D.C. FRATERNAL ORDER OF POLICE:  Well, no, there was never any indication that the D.C. police needed to get involved.  The Capitol Police have the full jurisdiction of authority to handle this.  The problem ...

O‘DONNELL:  But you believe that he got special treatment. 

CANNON:  I think the issue was is that the management of the Capitol Police intervened and then took over and pushed the rank and file aside and said, “Don‘t worry about it, we‘ll take care of it,” which is not the normal procedure in a traffic accident or any type of investigation.

O‘DONNELL:  Well, let me ask you this, because now essentially the congressman has admitted he was driving under the influence—in fact, he was on some cocktail of drugs and which he says, quote, “I simply don‘t even remember getting out of bed.”  He was completely out of it.  He‘s admitted that.

If you are driving under the influence, shouldn‘t you be arrested, booked, sent to jail?  Shouldn‘t there be a report, a sobriety test done?  Does any normal citizen get a ride home? 

CANNON:  Well, Norah, I think if it was either you or I that were involved in this, we would probably get a ride in a squad car, not the same type of ride that Mr. Kennedy got, but essentially a ride and it wouldn‘t be to home. 

O‘DONNELL:  Where would it be? 

CANNON:  Probably to the police station and then to central booking. 

O‘DONNELL:  So he did get special treatment? 

CANNON:  Well, he was certainly given consideration because of his status, without question.  I mean, if they want to interpret that as special treatment, then so be it.  But he was given consideration obviously because of who he is and what he is. 

O‘DONNELL:  Can you talk, then, about what is the larger public safety issue here then, about driving at 2:45 in the morning under the influence, lights out, swerving, he was staggering?

Did the Capitol Police do the right thing? 

CANNON:  The Capitol Police officers, the initial officers on the scene absolutely did the right thing.  They stopped, they...

O‘DONNELL:  But they drove him home. 

CANNON:  Well, you have to remember now, the officers did not do that.  It was done by the officials.  It was made by a determination from somebody of ranking authority. 

It‘s my understanding that they have already launched an investigation into that.  I believe that the watch commander from the midnight section may have already been re-assigned based on the actions that were taken. 

O‘DONNELL:  OK.

And, Mike, let me ask you what happens now with Patrick Kennedy?  I mean, he is going back to seek treatment. 

MIKE VIQUEIRA, NBC NEWS:  Well, I think a lot of that depends on where this investigation leads. 

You know, the Capitol Police are under a lot of pressure here.  There‘s a statement by the National Fraternal Order of Police—Chief Cannon is a part of that, his chapter is—that says that they are sick and tired of political policing on Capitol Hill. 

They say that this has parallels with the Cynthia McKinney case, that members get special treatment, they‘re tired of it.

Think about it.  These young Capitol Police officers get the best law enforcement training—Chief, correct me if I‘m wrong—down at a federal facility in Georgia.  They come up here.  They think they‘re going to be crime fighters and a lot of times they have to look the other way, there‘s winking and nodding going away, and this is the sentiment of the Capitol Police and has been for quite some time. 

O‘DONNELL:  And that‘s interesting.

Are these politicians getting special treatment?

We‘ve just learned that the U.S. Capitol Police say that the watch commander in charge that night has now been re-assigned. 

Thank you to Mike Viqueira and Lou Cannon.

And when we return, the HARDBALL “Hot Shots,” Joe Scarborough, Rita Cosby and Tucker Carlson on the Kennedy accident and Porter Goss‘ resignation at the CIA.

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Up next, the HARDBALL “Hot Shots,” Joe Scarborough, Tucker Carlson and Rita Cosby.

And who will replace Porter Goss at the CIA?

Plus, did Congressman Patrick Kennedy get special treatment after an early-morning car accident? 

HARDBALL returns after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O‘DONNELL:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

It‘s time for our special Friday feature, HARDBALL “Hot Shots” with Joe Scarborough, Rita Cosby and Tucker Carlson. 

Get set to nail the winners and the losers, the heroes and the villains. 

First up, going, going, Goss.

Today, President Bush fired CIA chief Porter Goss who took the job less than two years ago.  It comes at a time of a high-profile turbulence at the agency. 

Earlier this week we learned that the CIA‘s number-three official took part in poker games in Washington hotels where prostitutes may have been present.  The hotel suites were provided by a defense contractor. 

Why is Goss gone?  What does it mean? 

Joe, let me first turn to you because, of course, you‘re a former congressman from Florida, you know Porter Goss.  This was the president‘s hand-picked guy and yet today it looked like a pretty public hanging by this administration. 

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY”:  It really does. 

He seemed at the time of his selection that he would have been perfect for the CIA.  He had the background.  He also—he was great in Congress bringing people together.  He was always telling—always would tell hotheads like me, calm down, go with the flow, we can work these things out together. 

He was just a—he‘s a great man.  He was probably the favorite—my favorite congressman that I worked with.  And I liked him because he kept the courage of his convictions but could work within the system.  That‘s why I was so surprised when he went over to the CIA and there was so much turbulence.

And I think Porter Goss thought he was going to be able to reform that agency.  I think it‘s a hopeless agency. 

You know, George Bush Sr. was supposed to do that in 1975.  He wasn‘t able to do it.  The CIA failed in ‘79 seeing the Ayatollah Khomeini come in Iran.  They failed in the first Gulf War. 

Remember when George Bush said he got more information off of CNN than the CIA?  That happened again before 9/11, happened again lead up to the second Gulf War. 

It is a dysfunctional agency and I think Porter Goss just decided he could not reform it because there was so much political infighting in there. 

O‘DONNELL:  Tucker, we learned today in some of the reporting we did at NBC essentially that this was a turf battle, a power struggle going on with the DNI director, John Negroponte, that he just wasn‘t going along and playing along well in this whole re-organization of the whole intelligence agencies.

But how much connection do you think there could be, or whether any at all, to what we learned this week, which is this number three official at the CIA who was put in that spot by Porter Goss was visiting these hotel party suites at the Watergate and playing poker and that there may have been prostitutes there? 

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “THE SITUATION”:  Well, it‘s just hard to believe that‘s what this could be about.

I mean, I wouldn‘t discount, frankly, some personal reason on Mr.

Goss‘ part. 

I agree with Joe.  Few members of Congress more broadly liked on a bipartisan basis than Porter Goss.  Good guy, seriously good guy.

It looks like he got it from the career people at CIA, as other directors of central intelligence have.

It‘s hard to believe though that...

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  The CIA spies really...

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  And also, you know, keep in mind—and I don‘t think people who cover the CIA are talking about it—keep this in mind enough. 

I mean, these are people who are, you know, devoting their life to not just gathering intelligence but sending out bad intelligence, spinning essentially, and nobody does it better than the career people at CIA.

I think it‘s going to be a while before we find out what really happened. 

O‘DONNELL:  Rita, this is like that—one of those episodes of “Alias.”  I don‘t know if you ever watched that show, but it was pretty good.

But what happens in the larger war on terror and especially after 9/11, when this country has been focused on making sure that finally the CIA reforms itself? 

RITA COSBY, HOST, “LIVE & DIRECT”:  You know, I think it‘s a mess, and I think you hit it on the head at the top of the show. 

In light of what‘s been happening right now, we obviously have to keep focused on intelligence, and the fact that they‘re having these turf wars I just think is disastrous. 

The other thing, too, I‘ve heard something (inaudible) in addition to what you guys have been reporting.

I was told a couple weeks ago that Porter Goss was telling friends that he was so fed up.  I do believe he was pushed out. 

But I also believe he also wanted to resign, because I heard that he was just so fed up with Negroponte that it was a mutual sort of dislike, that he couldn‘t stand him and vice versa, and that there was even—I talked to a couple of people who knew Porter Goss very well and they told me that he was so frustrated with all these turf battles, felt he was ineffective, came in to do a lot of change, wasn‘t able to do it. 

So I think in some ways this was a mutual decision today. 

O‘DONNELL:  I think you‘re right.

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Guys, I‘ll be right back with much more.

We‘re going to talk about more as you‘re watching the HARDBALL “Hot Shots,” only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Next up, did Kennedy get a free ride? 

Representative Patrick Kennedy announced today that he would be heading to rehab for prescription drug addiction.  Earlier, he was charged with three traffic violations just one day after the Capitol Police union protested that a staggering Kennedy should have been given a field sobriety test.  Kennedy says he consumed no alcohol, cooperated with police and never asked for special treatment.

Tucker, let me ask you, this is a congressman who has had a series of troubles while he has been... 

CARLSON:  Yes, I‘d say. 

O‘DONNELL:  He has been accused of doing $28,000 to a yacht.  His girlfriend on that yacht had to call for the Coast Guard to pick her up. 

He pushed a security guard at an L.A. airport.  He just crashed into a security gate up on Capitol Hill, essentially—has admitted today he was driving under the influence.

Could any other congressman survive with this type of record?

CARLSON:  No.

So he gets pulled over, he‘s staggering, for the second time in two weeks. 

There‘s an eyewitness in Rhode Island who says he was loaded when he

got into a traffic accident there two weeks ago outside a pharmacy.  And he

you know, at almost three in the morning, and they let him go?  They drive him home?  Don‘t try that at home.

And the irony here is I bet you couldn‘t find 10 people on Capitol Hill who say they like this congressman personally, and I‘m sorry to say that.  But he is widely regarded—by me especially—as a mediocre member of Congress, as someone who is self-righteous and personally nasty and unpleasant. 

And it‘s hard to believe they cut him a break.  I think there ought to be an investigation that results in discipline against the people who decided to cut him a break.  I mean, it‘s so unfair.  If that happened to you, you‘d be in jail still.  We‘d still be trying to get you out of jail, Norah.

O‘DONNELL:  Joe, is that true? 

I mean, you‘re a former congressman.  He appears to have gotten special treatment.  He admits today he was driving under the influence under this cocktail of drugs where he says, “I simply don‘t even remember getting out of bed,” and then claiming to the officers that he was going to a vote at 2:45 in the morning. 

Did he get special treatment?

SCARBOROUGH:  I mean, a congressman getting special treatment?

(LAUGHTER) 

I look at this a little bit differently. 

I think if the guy‘s last name had been Smith, Jones, or Scarborough, he probably would have gotten the ride home and it wouldn‘t have been news the next morning in “The Boston Herald” and he wouldn‘t be holding press conferences. 

I think because his last name was Kennedy, a congressman who is given special treatment, as they often are, and there was a follow up on it because somebody got upset that he was a Kennedy getting special treatment. 

So congressmen get special treatment all the time.  I‘m not saying I ever had any experiences personally where I ran something—a car into something.

But, you know, I got to say, I came in, in ‘94 with Patrick Kennedy. 

I always liked him. 

You know, I don‘t know what Tucker‘s experiences have been with him, but he was always a very kind, decent person not only to me and other members, but also to staff, and that is not the case with a lot of congressmen. 

So I‘ve got nothing but sympathy for him here. 

(CROSSTALK)

O‘DONNELL:  Rita, isn‘t there—he does struggle with depression, he‘s said that.  And he has said that he is bipolar.

But isn‘t there an issue about personal responsibility here and—not only this is a Kennedy, and the Kennedys with tragedy, the Kennedys with drugs has been a story that has been going on for decades.

But isn‘t there an issue about personal responsibility here? 

COSBY:  Oh, there absolutely is. 

And, look, he very much took that responsibility. 

You know, I agree with Joe.  My experience with Patrick Kennedy has always been a good one.  He‘s always been very kind, very accessible to me.

Again, obviously not with everybody according to Tucker.

But what I will also say, I will give him a lot of credit—how embarrassing, he had to come out today—granted, all of our shows were talking about this last night (inaudible) included where a doctor said it couldn‘t have been just these two things.  There‘s a report he might have been in a bar in Washington. 

But he did say, “I need help and I hope others do the same.”

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  Credit? 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  He lied about it. 

(CROSSTALK)

COSBY:  But he did finally come out, Tucker, at some point.  That‘s embarrassing. 

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON:  Yes, of course it‘s embarrassing. 

How many people do you know who‘ve been embarrassed by DUI charges?  I know a lot.  And all of them took their lumps and none of them stood up and said, I‘m blaming my disease...

(CROSSTALK)

COSBY:  Maybe he should have said it sooner, but he did say it.

O‘DONNELL:  Thank you, Joe, Rita and Tucker.  I appreciate it.

Chris will be back on Monday at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more

HARDBALL.

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