updated 5/12/2006 11:37:37 AM ET 2006-05-12T15:37:37

Guests:  Trent Lott, Dick Durbin, David Brinkley, Tyler Drumheller, Ed Rogers, Harold Ford, Jr.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  With a new poll showing the country never more convinced it‘s heading in the wrong direction and President Bush at his lowest ever, he praises his brother Jeb‘s potential as a future president.  And Hillary Clinton calls the current president “charming, charismatic, and good company.”  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews, welcome to HARDBALL.  Will the Bush political dynasty continue?  Today, President Bush facing his lowest poll numbers ever said he thought his brother Jeb would be a great president.  But will he run in 2008?  And could Americans see another Bush-Clinton presidential campaign?  More on this in a moment. 

And tonight, Washington wonders, with the president‘s second term now in deep water, how long can he go?  How low can his polls go?  A CBS/New York Times poll shows the president‘s approval rating now has hit a new low of 31 percent.  Only 29 percent approve of the president‘s handling of the war in Iraq.  And a solid majority think we never should have gone there.  More on this in a moment. 

And later, historian Douglas Brinkley, gives us his expose on the leaders who he says, abandoned the ship of state as New Orleans went under.  But first HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It‘s an approval rating that is approaching what Richard Nixon had during Watergate.  At this point in his presidency just months before he resigned, Nixon stood at 27 percent. 

President Bush is now just four points higher at 31, that‘s the lowest number aside from Nixon for any second-term president in more than 50 years.  And President Bush is not even within 25 points of where presidents Eisenhower, Reagan and Clinton were at this point in their administrations. 

One veteran Republican strategist predicts that President Bush will not recover.  Ed Rollins, a top political adviser to President Reagan appeared on HARDBALL last night.

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  You‘re now starting to see an erosion among Republicans and I think to a certain extent, that makes it extremely difficult to get back up.  Any president in modern times—and there‘s only been one other two-term president who has ever gone this low and that‘s been Nixon.  You just don‘t get back up.

SHUSTER:  The poll found that 68 percent of those surveyed believed the United States is worse off today than it was before President Bush took office.  Based on the top concerns of those people who have participated in the poll, the grim political environment for the White House is mostly the result of two issues: higher gas prices and the Iraq war. 

Over the last month, President Bush has repeatedly tried to explain why the cost of gasoline has been going up.  And just two weeks ago, he announced a halt in deposits to the nation‘s strategic oil reserve.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  By deferring deposits until the fall, we‘ll leave a little more oil on the market.  Every little bit helps.

SHUSTER:  But the move did not help the president‘s numbers at all.  Over the last month, approval of the president‘s handling of gas prices actually dropped and now stands at just 13 percent. 

On the Iraq war, the president‘s approval rating is down to 29 percent.  Only 30 percent said they have some degree of confidence President Bush will be able to end the war successfully, and the percentage of those who said the Iraq war was the right decision has dropped from 47 percent in January to just 39 percent now.

The only area where President Bush‘s approval rating is not at an all-time low is in fighting terror.  His approval rating on that issue is 46 percent, still below a majority.  President Bush last spoke publicly about his poll numbers a month ago and dismissed them.

BUSH:  And my attitude is, you know, I‘m going to do what I think is right.  I‘ve got to be able to look at myself, by the way after the presidency in the mirror.  I didn‘t come to Washington D.C. to try to chase political opinion.  I came to lead this country in a very historic time.

SHUSTER:  Still, the dismal numbers for President Bush are beginning to have a dramatic impact on the popularity of Republicans in Congress.  If the elections were held today, only 33 percent of registered voters said they would support the GOP candidate; 44 percent said they would support the Democrat; 23 percent of respondents said they approved of the job Congress is doing.  And when asked which party has more new ideas, voters said Democrats by a margin greater than 2-1.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER:  Democrats in Congress are counting on those sentiments to sweep them into power and Republicans are becoming increasingly nervous.  They view President Bush not just as a midterm election drag on the GOP, but as a leader whose poll numbers are so bad that his political standing may be crippled permanently.  I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.  We‘re joined right now by two U.S. senators who met with the president‘s nominee for CIA director today, General Michael Hayden.

Republican Senator Trent Lott and we begin with Democratic Senator Dick Durbin.  General Hayden indicated to you today he could support a congressional debate on modifying the law covering spying on Americans.  Are you satisfied?

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL), MAJORITY WHIP:  Well, I think it‘s a step in the right direction.  We‘ve said from the start, we passed the Patriot Act with a strong bipartisan vote.  We passed the reauthorization with a strong bipartisan vote. 

If the president needs us to change the law so that he can stop terrorists associated with al Qaeda from striking America, he‘ll get bipartisan support.  What we object to is the idea that he doesn‘t have to follow the law.  Every president has to follow the law.

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re liberalizing the law so his behavior is now legal?

DURBIN:  Well, I don‘t know how far we have to go, Chris.  What it boils down to is we don‘t know the program.  I‘ve never been briefed on it, but I want to find out why this administration, the first in history, doesn‘t believe that they can go to this court, which has been very cooperative, and work with them to wiretap those who might threaten the United States.  I just don‘t understand that.

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Senator Lott.  This smacks of FDR packing the court.  I mean, if you don‘t think somebody has obeyed the law, then you change the law so they are obeying it.

SEN. TRENT LOTT ®, MISSISSIPPI:  Well we can always look at the law and see if it needs to be improved.  I think if you‘re talking about more requirements to go to these special courts, I don‘t think that‘s a particularly good idea.

But you can always, you know, ask questions about can we do a better job.  And as far as being briefed about the program, I‘ve been briefed, and I think Senator Durbin is on the intelligence committee.  And I think he got a briefing on it.  Now maybe we don‘t know all the nuances of it, and maybe we need to get more information, and that‘s fine, because that‘s what we‘re supposed to do on the intelligence committee.

MATTHEWS:  Senator Durbin, is that true, you were briefed and knew what the president‘s people were doing in terms of spying on Americans? 

DURBIN:  No, I‘ve not been on the intelligence committee for the last year and a half, but I was never briefed on this program.  But I did serve on it for four years with Senator Lott.

MATTHEWS:  Well did you know about what the president was up to in terms of what Michael Hayden was up to, the general running of the program?  Did you know that they were intercepting electronic communications between Americans and overseas?

DURBIN:  Well I know they do a lot of interception of communications.  But I didn‘t know the particulars.  It was my understanding that whenever it involved an American citizen, that the president was following the clear law, which says there is only one place he can go, and that is to this court for approval.  I was really surprised to learn what the press accounts that he has not been going to the court, he‘s been doing it on his own.

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that the law should be liberalized to allow him not to have to check with the court?

DURBIN:  No, I don‘t.  Here‘s what I think.  If the president believes we need to change the law, let him bring that proposal before us.  When they suggested they wanted to go ahead and wiretap, come in 72 hours later for approval, that‘s reasonable.  I can go along with that and that‘s how we change the law.  But in this situation, they‘re not suggesting changing the law.  They‘re saying they don‘t have to follow any law.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Senator Durbin, the American people for the first time now really have a majority view that we were wrong to go to Iraq.  They don‘t believe in the president‘s decision made sometime in 2001 or 2002 to invade in 2003.

Are you—you are now—are you still where you were back then?  You don‘t think the president should have gone to war in Iraq the way he did?

DURBIN:  There were 23 of us who voted no, one Republican and 22 Democrats and I was in their ranks.  I still feel the same today.

MATTHEWS:  Senator Lott, do you still think you were right, even though 56 percent of the American people now say you were wrong?

LOTT:  Absolutely I think it was the right decision.  It is bipartisan and I think that we‘re going to see a slow but improvements in Iraq.  They are going to move toward democracy, they are going to do a better job of defending themselves and it‘s going to have long-lasting effect in the entire region. 

But let me just make one other comment in this whole area here, Chris.  You know, General Hayden, we mentioned, has been nominated to be the head of the CIA.

I think it‘s very important that we need to get a new head in the CIA that will bring more—a clear leadership there, move toward more human intelligence and do a better job of coordinating with all the intelligence agencies. 

I have been known to oppose nominees when I didn‘t think they were qualified and I‘ve done that even this year.  I think this nominee is eminently qualified.  We need to have this hearing quickly and get him confirmed.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the Republican nomination for the next time to replace this president.  Were you impressed by President Bush‘s comments, so favorably about his brother being a great future president?

LOTT:  Well, certainly you would say that about your own brother. 

Otherwise your mother might discipline you. 

Look, I don‘t think it‘s going to happen in 2008.  Frankly, I don‘t think it‘s a good idea.  I would not be supportive of Jeb Bush running for president.  But I certainly understand why the president would say that about his own brother.

MATTHEWS:  Could Jeb beat Hillary?

LOTT:  I don‘t think so, no.

MATTHEWS:  Hillary would beat Jeb.

LOTT:  You know, I think the Republican nominee will eventually be able to win, will be able to beat Hillary Clinton or any Democrat.

MATTHEWS:  Whoa, you‘re just revising and extending here, Senator. 

You just said that Jeb would lose to Hillary.

LOTT:  I don‘t think he‘d be the best candidate for the nomination. 

You know, I‘ve said that about and I‘m not backing off of that. 

MATTHEWS:  So Jeb would lose to Hillary.  I just won‘t allow you to stand or fall here like a good Southern man.  Are you willing to stand where you food two minutes ago? 

LOTT:  And say—

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Jeb would lose to Hillary?  We got it on tape.

LOTT:  I think he would have a hard time defeating her. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask Senator Durbin, do you think Hillary Clinton would have a problem with Jeb Bush, his brother the president brought his name up. 

DURBIN:  I can understand the Bush family wants to keep this in the family, but this is going a little too far.  Isn‘t there somebody else in the Republican party that can run other than a member of the Bush family? 

MATTHEWS:  A lot Republicans would say the Democrats are trying to keep it in the family by bringing Hillary back in and Bill to live in the Lincoln Bedroom again. 

DURBIN:  You have a point there. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about a serious point.  Hillary Clinton today said, I‘m being a little bit comical but we‘re talking about serious stuff, she said that the president of the United States is charming, charismatic and damn good company.  Do you agree, Senator Durbin? 

DURBIN:  Absolutely.  Any personal and private conversation I‘ve had with President Bush has been a lot of fun.  We‘ve talked about everything from baseball to exercise, yes, I really enjoy his company.  I disagree with his policies by and large but I think he‘s a very charming person. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that‘s superficial affability and underneath he‘s really a tough ruthless Machiavellian, Senator Lott? 

LOTT:  I think he‘s a very affable personality, he‘s typical of that area of West Texas that he‘s from, he can be a tough fighter for the things he believes in.  I don‘t think he‘s a Machiavellian politician though. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you back in the leadership race if you get back in this November, Senator? 

LOTT:  I don‘t have any immediate plans to that effect, but I would like to see us produce more results than we‘ve been producing in the United States Senate.  I don‘t know that any one person or group of people can change that, but Democrats and Republicans need to find ways to work together to produce results for the American people, whether it‘s on pensions or health care, we‘ve been trying to do something in the health area this week.  I think the best politics of both parties is to produce results, and there‘s plenty of credit to go around when you do that. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Senator Frist, the leader right now of your party in the Senate, is too much the agent of the White House to be an effective leader and be bipartisan? 

LOTT:  I don‘t know if I would describe him in that way.  I think that the prospect of being a candidate for president is a distraction and makes his job more difficult, but I don‘t think working with the White House is something that has been a problem for him. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Frist should do what Bob Dole did and sacrifice his Senate seat so he can be a better candidate for president? 

LOTT:  Bob Dole didn‘t ask my advice when he did it and Bill Frist won‘t do that either.  I say once again and it‘s been proven over and over again, majority leaders cannot be majority leader and run for president at the same time.  It‘s an impossible job. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you both, thank you both for coming on, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois and Trent Lott of Mississippi.  Coming up, President Bush‘s poll numbers are freezing right now, well below 32 degrees. HARDBALL analyst Bob Shrum and former Bush 41 advisor, Ed Rogers, will be here to talk about that.  And Senate hopeful Harold Ford Jr. is coming here.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is still weighing whether to indict Karl Rove or clear him in the CIA leak investigation this week.  More on that in a moment.  But first, three words are haunting the Bush administration lately—another new low. 

Those are the words, that‘s the case again in the poll released today by The New York Times and CBS News, which has this president‘s job approval down to 31 percent, heading toward the 20‘s I must say.  Can it get any worse and are the president‘s below freezing approval numbers causing a long shadow over presidential candidates or Republican candidates for 2006. 

Bob Shrum is a HARDBALL political analyst and Ed Rogers is a Republican strategist and former advisor to Bush 41.  Ed, where is the glitter on the side of these clouds. 

ED ROGERS, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL STRATEGIST:  These polls are not good, they‘re not irrelevant, but having said that, it‘s a mistake and everybody in politics knows it, to take today‘s headlines, today‘s polls and extrapolate out to the next election.  Also, I don‘t know what the connection is between the president‘s approval rating and the state and local races that are going to take place in November.  It‘s not irrelevant, but it‘s not dispositive either. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe in trends. 

ROGERS:  Sure, of course.

MATTHEWS:  The president was at 42 percent approval this January, not 100 years ago, four months ago, he‘s now down to 31 percent. 

ROGERS:  It‘s not trending good.  It‘s a long way before anybody goes and votes, so a lot could happen, a lot will happen. 

MATTHEWS:  Bob Shrum, well you got your partisan hat on, it‘s going to stay there I‘m sure.  What do you think about trends?  You know polls.  Polls tend to continue through elections, they don‘t tend to change except if the case of Mike Dukakis back in 1988, from a 17-point spread over Bush, your old boss, to losing by eight.  Most times they don‘t change. 

BOB SHRUM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Unless you have a very close race that‘s see sawing back and forth.  It was only a couple weeks ago that I was on here with Ed and he said oh, these polls go up, these polls go down, they‘re not really relevant.  Bush is about to go up.  Bush hasn‘t gone up and Ed‘s moved back to the next line of defense to say these are state and local races.  My rule is Whatever party starts saying—

ROGERS:  I hope so. 

SHRUM:  I know you hope so because what are party starts saying national trends don‘t matter, these are state and local races gets killed in the midterm elections.  That‘s what happened to us in 1994. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the war in Iraq then we‘ll get to gas prices.  The latest number shows that 56 percent of the country thinks we should never have gone to Iraq.  Not that we‘re handling it badly, not that things aren‘t working out the way we hoped, but it was a wrong strategic decision by the president of the United States in 2002 and 2003. 

ROGERS:  From a political point of view looking forward, if that‘s what the numbers are, I don‘t want to quibble about whether or not that number is right.  Looking forward, it‘s going to be measured by the number of Americans getting killed, it‘s going to be measured by whether or not there is a government that becomes a more visible effective force there. 

So the visuals coming out of Iraq are really bad for us right now, but having said that, we‘re going to see whether or not we‘re putting troops in or taking troops out and how many Americans are getting killed and if more Americans are getting killed, that‘s bad for us. 

MATTHEWS:  Is the president suffering because of all that happy news he promised.  He promised a quick liberation, we‘d be greeted as liberators, it was mission accomplished, it was going to be a cakewalk.  All those words of praise beforehand.

ROGERS:  The answer is yes.  We have not managed expectations.  I‘ve been here with you and if you‘d look at the administration talking points after the invasion, things started off good and have only gotten better.  We need to ratchet that back up.

MATTHEWS:  Why does Cheney, who‘s a smart pall, keep making these pie in the sky promises?  I know he‘s a smart guy.  Why does he say things like we‘re beating the insurgency, they‘re on their last legs?  Why does he keep saying these things?  Churchill, everybody‘s hero, said “never promise what you can‘t deliver.”

ROGERS:  Well, you‘re exactly right, and the fact of the matter is, members of Congress out there at the ground level have got to explain this and they‘ve got to manage expectations, and not go someplace and say some things that the public don‘t feel and observe on their own.  And the thing that we forget about it.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, Bob Shrum the vice president is in an undisclosed location and the Republicans are out there to explain his two hopeful promises. 

SHRUM:  The Republicans would be a lot better off if Cheney stayed at the undisclosed location.  You know, this is not just a P.R. problem.  I feel—I think that the real pain of these visuals is for the families who are seeing their kids shot and killed there. 

We look at what happened in Iraq today.  More American troops are getting killed.  The legislature met and broke down in a huge squabble.  We had more suicide bombings.  As long as we have an open-ended commitment that doesn‘t force the Iraqis to make a political settlement, this is going to go, and as General Casey said ...

ROGERS:  Bob is right.

SHRUM:  ... and I quoted him before, “we are now becoming, our presence is becoming a provocation of the insurgency.”

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

ROGERS:  Bob is right.  Bob is right, but the Democrats don‘t offer an alternative to that for purposes of a mid-term election. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You have got the alternative, Ed Rogers.  You have it, in your head, in your memory.  If this president was advised by the people who advised your president who won the war in Iraq, if Scowcroft was still around, Jimmy Baker were still around, people like that around, would they have advised him to go into Iraq like they did?

ROGERS:  Probably.

MATTHEWS:  They would have?

ROGERS:  Even that is looking backwards. 

MATTHEWS:  Jim Baker?

ROGERS:  Even them.

MATTHEWS:  He would not.  I disagree with that.

ROGERS:  We can debate that in conferences forever. 

MATTHEWS:  Bob—I completely don‘t believe you‘re—are you speaking what you really believe, Ed Rogers?

ROGERS:  I really am.  I believe—I believe ...

MATTHEWS:  You really that believe Jimmy Baker would have taken us into the war in Iraq? 

ROGERS:  I don‘t know what Secretary Baker would have done, but I‘m saying what the president did at the time was right, it was based on information that Clinton believed, that others believed.  It was the right thing to do at the time.

MATTHEWS:  No one else went to war but him.

ROGERS:  But that‘s a historical, debatable point.  Now we‘ve got to look forward.

MATTHEWS:  It is not a debatable point.  The more we find out, the more we find out is they knew a lot more about the problems with the WMD right up until we went to war and they wouldn‘t tell us about those problems.  That‘s what we discovered in all this investigation. 

ROGERS:  Well, here again that‘s a revisionist view of history.

MATTHEWS:  They didn‘t have a solid case.  A what view?

ROGERS:  A revisionist view of history. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS:  If things look worse come November, that‘s going to be ...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, I don‘t want to argue this anymore, I‘m just trying to deal with the facts.

SHRUM:  And there‘s called accountability, he‘s going to be held accountable for this. 

ROGERS:  You‘re right.  Accountability is part of it.  It‘s not the whole piece, but it‘s a part of it and the Democrats have to have an alternative.  And they don‘t.

SHRUM:  Well, the Democrats I know have an alternative.

ROGERS:  Like what, retreat?

MATTHEWS:  Excuse me, Bob—I know I‘m taking your time.  You know who I think is really smart about this war? 

ROGERS:  Who?

MATTHEWS:  James A. Baker III.  I think general Brent Scowcroft has been smart about the war. 

ROGERS:  I think they are smart, wise men.

MATTHEWS:  They have predicted these problems, they saw them coming back in 1991, that‘s why they didn‘t go back into Iraq. 

ROGERS:  Scowcroft wrote a book about it. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, well, you‘re making my point.  I‘m sorry.

ROGERS:  Yes, that‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  Why do I have to make your point so that you could make your point.  I don‘t know.

ROGERS:  But here we are.

MATTHEWS:  Here we are.  I agree.  Let‘s agree.  Let‘s come back again.  We‘ll be here again.  Back in a moment with Bob Shrum and Ed Rogers.  I took your time, Bob.  I‘ll give it back to you, and you‘re going to lose.

SHRUM:  That‘s all right.  I made my point. 

MATTHEWS:  And later the former CIA—I made his point.  He agreed with me on the second one. 

SHRUM:  NO, he made my point.  Scowcroft wouldn‘t have done this.

MATTHEWS:  The former CIA chief in Europe Tyler Drumheller is coming back here to talk about the leadership changes at what they call “The Company.”  We‘re going inside the CIA with this fellow—not politics, just what‘s going on in there and can they do the job of protecting us.  It‘s going to be an interesting discussion with Mr. Drumheller. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

We‘re back with Ed Rogers, Republican strategist and former adviser to the first President Bush, who‘s speaking for him tonight; and HARDBALL political analyst Bob Shrum. 

Bob Shrum, let me ask you about some of these races coming up here.  But first of all, I have to get to something that‘s been on my mind now for several years and that‘s the CIA leak case, which has ramifications. 

It‘s sort of ripping off the scab of why we went to war, and efforts to perhaps defend the case, the WMD case and how Joe Wilson sort of, for whatever it‘s worth, was able to make those people play defense on the question of why we went to war.  Do you have a sense that this could have a big impact if he‘s indicted, Karl Rove? 

SHRUM:  Oh, I think it would have a big impact.  I think it would be a huge news story.  I think he would have to leave the White House, but I want to say that I don‘t want to prejudge what‘s going to happen here.  I think everybody, even Karl Rove, is entitled to the presumption of innocence.  I said this before Scooter Libby got indicted.  I think we ought to just wait and see what this prosecutor, who‘s a straight shooter does. 

MATTHEWS:  So you don‘t want to presume he‘s going to be indicted, but if he‘s indicted, he has been indicted, so that‘s all right to talk about, isn‘t it? 

SHRUM:  Sure.  I mean, listen, if he is indicted ...

MATTHEWS:  I want to know what the rules of engagement are coming down here from New York. 

SHRUM:  My ground rule is—my ground rule is I‘m not going to assume that anybody is going to be indicted. 

MATTHEWS:  Fair enough.

SHRUM:  I think this prosecutor is a fair guy.  I don‘t think he‘ll do it unless he thinks he has the evidence.  If it happens, it hurts the Republican Party badly on two levels.  First of all, it hurts in terms of the news, and secondly it hurts in terms of getting ready for the midterm elections because Rove is talented. 

ROGERS:  As painful as it is, I agree with ...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s how you load the ammo into the gun.  By the way, Bob just did that.

ROGERS:  Yes, I agree.  And there‘s a lot of praise there, but I do agree with everything you said.  Would it be bad?  Yes, it would be bad, we‘re now in a uniquely Washington environment where the special prosecutor is now critiquing how well you perform during the investigation. 

There‘s no question of the underlying crime.  If Karl Rove were on the South Lawn with a bullhorn and the Rockettes shouting that Plame was CIA, that would not have been against the law.  It is now about how well he performed during the investigation. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

ROGERS:  And that‘s unfair.  It‘s unfair.

SHRUM:  No, it‘s about whether he ...

MATTHEWS:  Perjury is not a charge that Patrick Fitzgerald thought up.

SHRUM:  It‘s about whether he purgered himself. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I think that‘s a significant question.  Here‘s what Senator Trent Lott—by the way, we‘re talking about what just happened here, this is new news—about what he said on HARDBALL about President Bush‘s brother‘s chances for president. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Were you impressed by President Bush‘s comments, so favorably, about his brother being a great future president? 

SEN. TRENT LOTT ®, MISSISSIPPI:  Well, certainly you would say that about your own brother.  Otherwise your mother might discipline you.  Look, I don‘t think that‘s going to happen in 2008.  Frankly, I don‘t think it‘s a good idea.  I would not be supportive of Jeb Bush running for president, but I certainly understand why the president would say that about his own brother. 

MATTHEWS:  Could Jeb beat Hillary? 

LOTT:  I don‘t think so, no. 

MATTHEWS:  Hillary beat Jeb? 

LOTT:  You know, I think, you know, the Republican nominee will eventually be able to win, will be able to beat Hillary Clinton ...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Whoa.  You‘re revising and devising here, Senator.  You‘re just said that Jeb would lost to Hillary.

LOTT:  I don‘t think he‘d be—I don‘t think he‘d be the best candidate for the nomination.  You know, I‘ve said that before, and I‘m not backing off of that.  I think the best ...

MATTHEWS:  So Jeb would lose to Hillary.  You just said that a minute ago.  I just want to allow you to stand or fall here like a good southern man.  Are you willing to stand where you stood two minutes ago?

LOTT:  And say that I...

MATTHEWS:  ... You think Jeb would lose to Hillary?  You just said it, we got it on tape.

LOTT:  I think he would have a hard time defeating Hillary.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of that Ed Rogers?

ROGERS:  Hey, I love Senator Lott.  I am a Republican that underestimates Hillary Clinton.  I think Jeb Bush would beat her like a rented mule.  She‘s not going to get elected president.

MATTHEWS:  Rented mule.

ROGERS:  I hope she is ours...

MATTHEWS:  ... Where do you get these southern metaphors?

ROGERS:  From the south.

MATTHEWS:  A rented mule?

ROGERS:  You rent a mule, you don‘t take care of it.

MATTHEWS:  OK, Bob Shrum, do you think Hillary‘s going to be beaten like a rented mule by Jeb Bush?

SHRUM:  I think that‘s a pretty tired metaphor.  You know, and I agree with Trent Lott.  He accidentally committed the truth.  The name Bush is going to be poison in the presidential politics of 2008. 

ROGERS:  He‘s not running, he‘s not running.

SHRUM:  Ed, let me finish, I let you finish.

The last thing this country wants is another four or eight years of a Bush administration.  The only way he‘d have any chance at all is if John McCain did a deal with the president and picked the president‘s brother as his vice presidential running mate.

ROGERS:  Sounds like Bob is afraid of Jeb Bush to me.

MATTHEWS:  OK, I‘m still hanging in there for a McCain-Giuliani ticket.  I think the country may be a little tired of the Bushes and the Clintons, Bob Shrum.

Anyway, thank you Bob Shrum and Ed Rogers.  Up next, the former CIA boss in Europe talks about the president‘s nominee to run the agency.  They call it the agency or the company inside.  Can one make a difference?  We‘re going inside the CIA in the next couple minutes and talk about what‘s going on there.  Are they protecting us?  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(STOCK MARKET REPORT)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  General Michael Hayden continued to make the rounds on Capitol Hill today to help boost his nomination as the new CIA director.  Amid concerns by the way over his involvement in the NSA‘s warrantless eavesdropping program.  How the CIA will receive such a relentless defender of the NSA surveillance program. 

Well Tyler Drumheller was the CIA‘s chief of operations in Europe until he retired just last year.  He says the White House ignored intelligence that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction.  Tyler, thanks for joining us and thank you for letting us know as much as you could about the fact that we really had good evidence to believe by the time we went to war with Iraq we didn‘t have a reason to go to war with Iraq. 

But let me ask you about today and the CIA.  We grew up with the CIA, it was capable of making mistakes like the Bay of Pigs, it underestimated the durability of the Soviet Union‘s economic system.  Its made some mistakes, but we‘ve lived with them.  But we always believed they were the smartest guys around.  Are they still?

TYLER DRUMHELLER, FORMER CIA EUROPEAN OPS. CHIEF:  I think the officers and the staff of the CIA—and this sounds like I‘m saying it because I worked there and they‘re friends of mine—they have still, it is—you would be hard pressed to find a more talented group of people in one place. 

The problem today is not the staffing of the agency.  It‘s the structure of the intel community.  And until they sort that out, where you have all these competing collection units in the Pentagon and in other parts of the government, and make the CIA the central focus of human intelligence again, like it should be, you‘re going of to problems.  Because competing intelligence it sounds good, competing analysis is good. 

Competing collection is not good and that causes a lot of problems.

MATTHEWS:  Is there a bent within the CIA that opposes going to war in the Middle East, generally speaking?  Do you people have more of a conservative, meaning lower case conservative—like we‘re more careful about going to war than the neoconservatives or the hawks are in this administration?

DRUMHELLER:  I think so.  I hope so.  The purpose of having the intelligence service is to prevent war.  I mean, that‘s what I always thought.  That was our purpose during the Cold War and to protect the country from attack, not to prepare to attack people offensively. 

Now, there may be times when they have to do that, but the fact is the real purpose of intelligence service is to stop wars.  It‘s better to talk and to deal with it than to fight.

MATTHEWS:  In the old days, you could knock off a guy in Honduras or the Dominican Republic or Iran, right?  In the old days?  You can‘t say that but you did.  You used to replace people that were closer to us than the enemy, right?

DRUMHELLER:  They had things like that happen.  A lot of times in the past, like the coupe in Iran still causes problems to this day.

MATTHEWS:  Who ordered that, Ike?

DRUMHELLER:  I don‘t know.  I‘m not sure.  It‘s hard to say.  I‘m sure it had to be the president, but it was—something like that has to come from the White House.

But the fact is, that still reverberates down today.  So when one of the things about covert action is whenever you start an operation like that, you‘d better know where you‘re going from the beginning, the middle and the end.

And if you don‘t have all that down at the beginning, you‘re going to have trouble, because there‘s always the law of unintended consequences comes into play and you can always end up in situations that you never planned for and it‘s very tricky. 

It sounds easy to talk about, let‘s go in, let‘s change this, let‘s do that, but to really do it takes a lot of thought.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m impressed with Mossad over the years, the Israeli intelligence because you just ethnically have a lot of Sephardic people in Israel.  You have people that look Arabic—Arab, I guess is the right way to say.  They can pass, they can go undercover in Islamic countries.  Do we have people like that, who have the language skills, the cultural makeup that can go in and spy for us in these very tricky environments, dangerous environments?

DRUMHELLER:  Sure, we have...

MATTHEWS:  ... Officials, not just agents.

DRUMHELLER:  We have people like that, we have officials like that.  But you also have to make the assumption, whether you want an official to do that or you want an agent to do that.  If you have an Arab American who‘s grown up in America even though he speaks Arabic and he goes into the Middle East, he‘s going to have a hard time passing for a real—for a native of that country, even if they‘ve grown up here and they speak Arabic. 

MATTHEWS:  Trying to penetrate al Qaeda.  Somebody was laughing on the show the other day, I thought it was an idiotic argument, they said because there‘s been seven or eight cases of young Americans, idealists who wanted to go join, could actually contact bin Laden, that was proof it would be easy for an agent or an official of the CIA to do and I said no, it‘s two different things.  One guy has his heart joining al Qaeda, that‘s fairly easy to establish, and the other guy is getting in there to screw him.  That‘s harder to do, isn‘t it? 

DRUMHELLER:  It‘s much harder to do.  The kid from California, Lindh, he wasn‘t put into the al Qaeda leadership.  He may have been brought in to meet Osama bin Laden.  He was a soldier in the Taliban army and he was brought in because he was an American, he was a curiosity. 

To get inside these groups, they only trust people from the same village, from the same side of the river, the same valley.  They know the families.  It‘s very, very hard to penetrate them.  You have to do it in different ways.  It can be done, but—

MATTHEWS:  By the way, it‘s hard to penetrate into Boston in the United States and fake it as a Red Sox fan and have the Yanks sit right for the neighborhood.  Imagine trying to do that for the other side of the world.

DRUMHELLER:  It‘s very much like that.  It can be done, it takes time and it takes—and the one thing is the young officers at the end of the line that are doing it, it‘s dangerous, difficult, hard work have to know that the management back here is going to back them up in the decisions they make and they‘re not just out there on their own and that‘s something that we‘ve lost over the last couple of years. 

There‘s a sense of sort of disconnect between the senior headquarters and the field.  I think General Hayden is a good guy.  If Steve Kappes is the deputy, Kappes is a tremendous guy.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Would they back up the troops in the field. 

DRUMHELLER:  Yes.  Kappes is one of the best guys for that. 

MATTHEWS:  Learned a lot.  It‘s better to send an agent out there than an American.  It‘s too hard to get a person inside.  We should talk more about this, not just the politics, but weather we can protect ourselves by this forward leaning, really getting into the enemy nest. 

Thank you Tyler Drumheller, you‘re obviously a patriot.  Thank you for letting us know this stuff.  Next, historian Douglas Brinkley talks about his new book.  It‘s going to make some noise.  The ongoing recovery from Hurricane Katrina and the upcoming mayoral race in New Orleans.  I‘m going to moderate that debate next week.  He‘s got some hot stuff on the mayor.  This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Nine months after Hurricane Katrina destroyed an American city and devastated thousands of lives, New Orleans is still suffering from the storm.  In one week, HARDBALL heads down south to co-moderate a runoff debate between Mayor Ray Nagin and Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu who is challenging him for his job. 

Here to dig in to some big question of accountability is historian Doug Brinkley, his new book is called “The Great Deluge.”  A beautiful cover, haven‘t read it yet, look at this great looking book here.  It reminds us, Doug, of how big a disaster it was with all that water.  We were just down there a couple weeks ago.  We‘re going down again.

I want you as an historian, quoting from your book, to rate the performance of Mayor Ray Nagin in the midst of that catastrophe? 

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, AUTHOR, “THE GREAT DELUGE”:  It was a zero.  There‘s no number you can really give him, Chris.  What happened was of course that weekend before, he was very slow to realize what a serious storm Katrina was.  When he finally did, he called a mandatory evacuation at least 24 hours too late than he should have and he‘s admitted that himself. 

Then you have the drowned buses which are inexcusable.  We left all our city buses in New Orleans, RTA buses and all the school buses.  All of the buses below sea level.  They all get drowned.  Then we use the Superdome as the shelter of last resort.  Don‘t have it properly equipped, certainly not for more than a day or so and we have no way to get these people out, so you would think given all those bungles, the mayor would have gone to the Superdome, stood up on a soap box and tried to address people, let them know buses are coming. 

He never had that kind Giuliani moment.  Instead, he did go in the Superdome, he never gave that kind of speech and never once visited the Convention Center where another 20,000 people are out.  He abandoned the EOC at City Hall and made the he headquarters the top floor of the Hyatt. 

MATTHEWS:  Did he lose his nerve.

BRINKLEY:  Bottom line, he‘s a good man, and you know, many people liked him before, you know, Katrina hit, but I‘m judging leadership in this book and he‘s not the only one, because I‘ve had an excerpt in “Vanity Fair” I‘ve been talking about Nagin more.  But I deal with Chertoff, Brown, Bush.  Failures of leadership, but it‘s impossible in that week to see Nagin doing anything correctly except on Thursday, he finally went public on WWO Radio, saying where are the feds, where are the troops, get your asses down here, when he did that from the top of the Hyatt, on the radio, Honore was already there, the helicopters had already arrived, it was easy to scream and be big when the feds are there. 

MATTHEWS:  What was he doing on Air Force One?  What was that weird thing in the bathroom on Air Force One you write about? 

BRINKLEY:  When he went on Air Force one and I have a journal from a reporter from WWL, a photographer, it was horrific around there.  People‘s feet were bleeding, and people were dying for water and Air Force One is sequestered off, the media can‘t get there.  Nagin arrives on the plane.  Bush is going to be there momentarily.  He goes to use the shower, which is fine, but when he goes into the shower, he won‘t come out.  The president is there and they keep banging for him to come out and he‘s showering and shaving his head so he can come out and look proper for a photo op when the point was to not look good, in a sense, to show—but he was very worried about himself throughout the crisis.  I think a sense of vanity, narcissism and self-protection overtook the instincts you need to step forward and be a leader. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  He‘s being challenged by Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu.  What was Landrieu‘s role?  Did he have any positive role in the horrors of New Orleans? 

BRINKLEY:  In the week—and again, Chris, I have got to reiterate, I‘m writing in this book about the one week, Saturday to Saturday.  In that week Mitch Landrieu, the lieutenant governor, immediately with state troopers went into New Orleans and did what most people would do, he became a first responder. 

He went to the St. Claude Avenue Bridge, which is the Lower Ninth Ward, the worst place, and started going in rescue boats with Wildlife and Fisheries, taking people out of buildings, saving people as much as he could there and then the following day he headed out to Chalmette, performed the same duties on the ground. 

He eventually went up to the Hyatt and went all the way up to the top floor to see Nagin, despondent, staring out, and saying at that point Mitch Landrieu asked him, well, what do you need?  Can I help you with anything?  And the mayor very mournfully said “I need a command and control structure.”  He was kind blown out of the game and shattered. 

The police chief, Eddie Compass—likewise, Eddie Compass became the public face of Katrina because head of Homeland Security Terry Ebert, in New Orleans, asked Eddie Compass to because Nagin wasn‘t reliable, wasn‘t around, and wasn‘t at the emergency operations center. 

And Compass started passing on a lot of rumors that the media picked up because he wanted to show that he was being truthful and not hiding anything but instead he would take rumors and then the rumors would spread to Nagin and the Compass-Nagin team started kind of exaggerating things.  Like, Nagin said there were 10,000 deaths when we know the whole state of Louisiana ...

MATTHEWS:  How did the president do, Doug?  We only have a minute. 

How did the president do by your study?

BRINKLEY:  The president, no better than Mayor Nagin for the week I‘m writing about.  First off, he was at Crawford.  You saw the tapes.  He was not curious about having Max Mayfield talking about levees.  Then he went to San Diego.  He had that weird moment where he kind of played air guitar, then he did the flyover instead of stopping into the Gulf south, went to Washington and he doesn‘t arrive until Friday. 

I mean, the storm was on Monday.  He doesn‘t arrive to Alabama on Friday and that‘s when he says “Brownie, you‘re doing a heck of a job.”  I do talk about in the book President—I dispel notions. 

President Bush was very emotionally hurt by Katrina and when he landed there in Mississippi, he hugged Haley Barbour, started crying, couldn‘t believe what was happening and started meeting people there in Alabama and Mississippi.  He was—so I don‘t think he‘s cold or, you know, cold hearted. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I know.  Who was advising him not to go in there earlier in that week like on Tuesday?  Suppose he had arrived like King Arthur?  Suppose he—we‘re going to have to get to this later.  I wonder what would have happened if he had come in there really early with water bottles for everybody off Marine One.  I don‘t know.  We‘ll have to think about that as a speculation in history. 

But, Doug, congratulations on one of your great books.

BRINKLEY:  Thanks.

MATTHEWS:  “The Great Deluge,” it‘s about what we all went through the last couple months of last year.  Anyway, HARDBALL will be back in a moment with U.S. Congressman Harold Ford, who‘s running for the Senate from Tennessee. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  U.S. Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. of Tennessee is running for the U.S. Senate in that state. 

Congressman Ford, thank you for joining us.  You‘ve only got a little time now.  But I want to run through the voting issues in your state.  Where are you on gas prices? 

REP. HAROLD FORD, JR. (D), TENNESSEE:  They‘re too high.  We need to cut the federal gasoline tax temporarily, raise the CAFE standards right away, then pass a new energy bill that permits new refineries to be built, that makes the investment to develop new biofuels and biodiesel out of my state and many other rural states across this country, and then we‘ve got to make the investment in coal and nuclear to be able to burn it and use it in a safe and clean way. 

MATTHEWS:  Should people drive SUVs? 

FORD:  People have a right to drive what they want to drive.  I think that if we ask for sacrifice from our troops, we should ask for sacrifice from the American people.  And I think with the right leadership, our country would take those steps and give up those automobiles and those trucks and SUVs, and frankly, if given the right incentives, I think Detroit and others could make those cars and make those SUVs more fuel efficient. 

MATTHEWS:  Should we have gay marriage in this country? 

FORD:  I‘m opposed to gay marriage and, you know, I could be wrong on this.  We‘ll let the courts make that determination.  But I voted for the amendment that would ban gay marriage.  And that‘s a decision that a higher power will have to make later—much later and in a much longer time after I‘m gone from this earth. 

MATTHEWS:  What about abortion rights?  Where are you on that one? 

FORD:  We want to limit them, we want as few as possible.  But I‘m like John Roberts, the chief justice of the United States.  I support the law of the land. 

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re not for a Constitutional change that would—a Constitutional amendment which would outlaw abortion?

FORD:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what difference does it make whether you have that position and somebody has a pro-choice position?  What difference does it make? 

FORD:  I‘m running for the U.S. Senate because I think this country is in a difficult bind when it comes to jobs, our future, and national security.  This is why I‘m running and these are issues that we‘re running on.  And I never ...

MATTHEWS:  So the issue of abortion, you don‘t think—it really doesn‘t matter whether and you or the other guy wins on abortion? 

FORD:  Well, I think the majority of the country, if the polling is right, doesn‘t want women to have abortions, but they support the right to choose.  And the law of the land is what it is.  And Republicans can do all of the talking they choose, but remember, we‘ve had about 23 justices from the Supreme Court in the last 50 or so years.  Seventeen have been Republicans. 

They haven‘t outlawed abortion.  Why?  Because the country is not there.  This race for the Senate is going to be about a much different set of issues and, frankly, I think a more important set when you look at where this nation is going and what we can do to ensure that every American enjoys it and benefits from it. 

MATTHEWS:  So putting that together, you are for a woman‘s right to choose then?

FORD:  I have been and my record is clear on that.  But at the same time, I‘m like most Americans.  I don‘t believe that anyone is in support of abortions.  What we believe is that a woman should have the right to choose.  The law of the land states that.  But I vote here in the Congress to do all we can to limit the chances or opportunities or circumstances where a woman may have to make that choice.  This is not an easy issue. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree with you.

FORD:  I wish it was as easy as some would like to paint it to be, but it‘s not.  It‘s a very personal one, and if we ended them today, Chris, do you think they would stop.  I don‘t.

MATTHEWS:  I agree.

FORD:  And we‘ve got to make them safe and rare, and as some people say ...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I understand your position, Congressman.  Sorry we have short time here.  Congressman Harold Ford, Jr., running for the U.S. Senate in Tennessee.

Right now it‘s time for “THE ABRAMS REPORT” with Dan.

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

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