updated 5/12/2006 11:39:14 AM ET 2006-05-12T15:39:14

Guests: Roger Cressey, Ken Salazar, Jim Gilmore, Richard Ben-Veniste, Tom Friedman, John Fund, Margaret Carlson, Tom Wolfe

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Just when you thought it was safe to get on the phone:  suddenly the country‘s largest newspaper reports that the National Security Agency is pulling together, as we speak, a list of all our phone calls.  Want to talk about it?  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

(MUSIC)

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

The National Security Agency has a list of all your phone calls.  How does that make you feel?  Tonight, there‘s a political firestorm going on in Washington ignited by a front page story in USA Today which reports the National Security Agency has been secretly building a massive database of phone records of millions of ordinary Americans, all with the help of AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth.  Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are questioning the legality of the secret program.

And today, President Bush responded to the building political pressure, insisting any domestic intelligence gathering measures he‘s approved are lawful, but didn‘t confirm or deny the USA Today report.  This news all coming on the heels of President Bush nominating the former head of NSA, General Michael Hayden, to run the CIA.  Will this cripple Hayden‘s nomination, or is this a political fight that the president can win?

More on the politics at play here, and later, “New York Times” columnist Tom Friedman and author Tom Wolfe weigh in. 

But first, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has the report. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The uproar began this morning when Americans woke up to this story on the front page of the country‘s largest newspaper.  And within hours, the report was dominating Capitol Hill. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D) VERMONT:  Look at this headline.  It‘s what the chairman referred to.  “NSA has Massive Database of Americans‘ Phone Calls”.  For shame on us, in being so far behind and being so willing to rubber stamp anything this administration does. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  The report said the National Security Agency, an arm of the federal government, has been collecting phone call records on tens of millions of Americans as part of a program that was launched following 9/11.  The story quoted a government official as saying the NSA‘s goal was “to create a database of every call ever made” within the nation‘s borders. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. DIANE FEINSTEIN (D) CALIFORNIA:  I happen to believe we‘re on our way to a major constitutional confrontation on Fourth Amendment guarantees of unreasonable search and seizure.  And I think this is also going to present a growing impediment to the confirmation of General Hayden. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  General Michael Hayden is the president‘s new nominee to be director of the CIA.  He ran the National Security Agency for six years.  And after 9/11, he was the one who created a program, embraced by President Bush, to bypass the courts and eavesdrop on all phone calls made to suspected terrorists operatives.  Hayden has repeatedly described the NSA wiretap program as limited and focused. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. MICHAEL HAYDEN, CIA DIRECTOR NOMINEE:  This is hot pursuit of communications entering or leaving America involving someone we believe is associated with al Qaeda. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  But the story in USA Today said the NSA program is “the largest database ever assembled in the world.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D) NEW YORK:  I for one want to ask General Hayden whether—again, whatever the appropriate forum—about these programs, since he was involved in NSA, before we move forward with his nomination. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  One Republican said critics were missing the point about the war on terror. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JON KYL ® ARIZONA:  Look at some of the stuff in this USA Today article here.  “The NSA‘s domestic program, as described by sources, is far more expansive than what the White House had acknowledged.”  Yes, the White House is not going to acknowledge all of the things that we‘re doing against the enemies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Still, by noon today, President Bush decided he needed to weigh in.  The president stepped before the cameras and said the government is still safeguarding civil liberties. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities.  We‘re not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans.  Our efforts are focused on links to al Qaeda and their known affiliates.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  The president neither confirmed nor denied the USA Today report, but he referred to 9/11, and his pledges in the aftermath of the attacks, to do everything within his power to fight terror. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  Our most important job is to protect the American people from another attack.  And we will do so within the laws of our country. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Back on Capitol Hill, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter vowed to haul in CEOs from the phone companies for an explanation of their role in helping the government monitor Americans.

The three phone companies involved are Verizon, AT&T and BellSouth.  Last month, a whistleblower who used to work at AT&T described equipment installed by the NSA at an AT&T facility in California.  All of the phone companies today denied breaking any laws.  For example, a Verizon spokesman said today “We do not comment on national security matters, we act in full compliance with the law and we are committed to safeguarding our customers‘ privacy.”

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER (on camera):  But one phone company, Qwest, also cited privacy concerns in refusing to participate in the government program. 

As for the companies that were involved, there appears to have been a financial incentive.  According to USA Today, the companies provided access to their customers‘ phone records as part of a government contract. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster. 

Roger Cressey is an NBC News counterterrorism analyst—he served in the National Security Council under both President Bush and President Clinton. 

Roger, thanks for joining us tonight.  What do you make of this program?  Is this what it sounds like, an attempt to get a complete list of every phone call made by every American in the last couple of years? 

ROGER CRESSEY, NBC COUNTER-TERRORISM ANALYST:  That‘s what it sounds like so far, Chris.  We should be careful not to hyperventilate over this single report.  I think if the Agency is trying to assemble a database, which they then can tap into later on, if they have a number, an individual concern or a phone number concern, and they have actionable intelligence, that‘s one thing.  If they use this and then abuse it somehow, of course, it‘s something completely different. 

MATTHEWS:  So if a name like John Smith shows up in some terror alert, they look up John Smith—or a name that‘s obviously more complicated and less familiar—and they check and see all the people by that name and who they have been on the phone with the last couple of years, right? 

CRESSEY:  Yes.  That‘s the obvious use for it.  The president was very careful today.  He said any other additional work would need a warrant.  So if they‘re doing actual wiretapping, phone tapping, then they‘re going to need to go to the next step, either through the FISA court or through another legal authority.  So assembling the database in and of itself is not illegal. 

The problem of course, Chris, is the perception.  Coming on the heels of the revelations about the domestic surveillance program, I think people are developing the perception this is yet another example of the White House exceeding its authority.  I‘m not sure that‘s the case yet, but we‘re going to need to learn more. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m wondering about—you know about this and the cultural sensitivity of Americans—we don‘t have gun registration in this country, we don‘t have national I.D. cards, women have a right to abortion under the grounds of privacy.  It‘s all Fourth and Second Amendment stuff.  Why would this not bother the American people? 

CRESSEY:  Well, the American people are constantly trying to figure out the balance between security and privacy.  You even look at the polling over the domestic surveillance revelation, the American people are pretty much split on it.  So if the American people are assured that this is a development of a datebase—data at rest, it stays where it is, it‘s not used for any other purpose unless there‘s actionable intelligence—my guess is most Americans will say, That makes sense. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you about the question, how do we know there‘s a non-use requirement?  In other words, if they pick up these phone numbers and use them in an emergency situation, that‘s one thing.  How do we know the FBI is not going to ask for these lists?  The FBI, the CIA is not going to use them.  Law enforcement around the country would like to know a lot of thugs or criminals or murderers, who they have been on the phone with two weeks before somebody was killed.  It would be very useful to have all this stuff.  Do they already have it? 

CRESSEY:  Well, they probably have some of it, but nothing in terms of the volume that they‘re getting now.  I think that‘s a key question, Chris.  The fort always shares its information with other federal agencies, if it‘s requested, so there is always a concern of the slippery slope here.  Right?  If you start to tap into this database and then you take phone numbers and you start using them for different purposes, then there‘s a real risk, I think, and most Americans would oppose that. 

So we‘re going to need to learn, over the next few days and months, what type of fire guards are in place to prevent that type of abuse. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m sure there are a lot of people out there, rightly or wrongly, wondering about their last phone call to their girlfriend they shouldn‘t have, or their boyfriend they shouldn‘t have.  There‘s all kinds of things that go on in this country people would like to keep private, it seems to me.  Rightly or wrongly, they‘re going to be worried about this.

Thank you very much, Roger Cressey.

USA Today reports today the three telecommunications companies have been working under contract with the NSA to create a phone record database.  But one company, Qwest, was the lone holdout for legal reasons. 

Colorado Senator Ken Salazar, a Democrat, lauded Qwest Communication‘s decision to not participate in the program today, and he wants the president‘s nominee for CIA director, General Hayden, to answer some questions about the program.

Senator Salazar, why did you praise that telecommunications company headquartered in your state? 

SEN. KEN SALAZAR (D) COLORADO:  Chris, I think the hundreds of millions of Americans whose records have now been assembled in to this most massive database ever assembled in the country have a right to expect some privacy with respect to those telephone records.  I think Qwest acted appropriately in saying, No, we‘re not going to turn over these records because our customers have a right of privacy with respect to these records.

MATTHEWS:  Suppose there‘s a crisis situation in the next couple of months and the government‘s trying to track down a possible terrorist attack, and they don‘t have phone records of somebody operating in your region of the country, particularly in Colorado, would you feel good about that, that your company had denied the government that access? 

SALAZAR:  You know, I think that there‘s lots of ways in which we can get the information on terrorists who are operating within the country.  I think at the end of the day, we all agree that we need to stop the terrorists, we need to go after the bad guys. 

The fact of the matter is that most Americans are good people and our Bill of Rights is very important to protect.  We don‘t require people to register their guns, we don‘t have a national identification system as you were saying, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SALAZAR:  And for us to essentially make a national record of every single telephone call that every American is making I think violates the essential concept of the right of privacy in our Constitution. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s where the tire hits the read, Senator.  Suppose our authorities had broken up 9/11 the day before because they noticed telephone traffic which suggested 19 people were about to grab four planes and take them in to buildings.  Would that have justified the program if that had happened? 

SALAZAR:  You know, it‘s appropriate for us to have effective homeland security to stop terrorism today and there‘s lots of things that are going on, but we shouldn‘t trample on the Bill of Rights as we try to do that. 

The fact of the matter is that 9/11 could have been prevented if the government had been doing its job.  The FBI had information about what was happening in the flight schools, the president was briefed about the terrorist training and pilot programs a month before 9/11, and yet we didn‘t stop them.

And so the fact that we now are going after the private records of hundreds of millions of Americans, I think, is unfathomable in the concept of the right of privacy enshrined in our Constitution. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You‘re with half the American people on this issue who say the end doesn‘t justify the means, is that right? 

SALAZAR:  I think we should honor our Constitution and that means honoring the rights of privacy of innocent Americans. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Senator Ken Salazar of Colorado.  Coming up, is the alleged NSA phone call tracking a threat to terrorists‘ plans or to Americans‘ civil liberties?  Former 9/11 commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste and former Virginia Governor Jim Gilmore are coming here. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Is the NSA‘s alleged gigantic file of millions of phone calls making us safer or threatening our personal freedoms?  Richard Ben-Veniste is a former member of the 9/11 Commission, Jim Gilmore is the former governor of Virginia and Republican National Committee Chairman.  He‘s also the chairman of the National Council on Readiness and Preparedness. 

Welcome to both you gentlemen. 

RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, DEMOCRATIC ATTORNEY:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Is it fair for the United States government to make a list of everybody‘s phone calls for the last couple of years, every phone call ever made and have a list of that? 

JIM GILMORE, FORMER RNC CHAIRMAN:  It‘s fair but it means that we‘re changing our whole concept of what liberty is.  People used to think that they could either make a phone call or dial a phone call and the fact that they were doing that and who it was to would be confidential between themselves. 

And, in fact, there‘s a law on the books that says it‘s supposed to be confidential.  But at the same time, people across the country are saying, oh well, I‘m not talking to al Qaeda, so I don‘t care.  And that, I think, would reflect a change in sort of our values. 

MATTHEWS:  But this—I‘m sorry to interrupt, Governor, but this is not about what the president was defending just yesterday where he was saying I‘m intercepting data transfers, electronic transfers, phone calls between somebody here in the States and some al Qaeda suspect overseas. 

This is a general collection of all Americans‘ phone calls over the last period of time, whatever the period of time they decided on.  That‘s different, isn‘t it? 

GILMORE:  I think it‘s very different, as a matter of fact. 

MATTHEWS:  There‘s no probable cause, there‘s no reasonable cause, it‘s everybody. 

BEN-VENISTE:  It‘s everybody.

MATTHEWS:  Richard, you‘re sort of a liberal, I think that‘s fair to say. 

BEN-VENISTE:  On some things I am. 

MATTHEWS:  Where are the conservatives on this?  Yes, well, no, the NRA guys who are—they don‘t want anybody to know they‘ve got a gun, they don‘t want any gun registered.  There‘s liberal people who don‘t want anybody to know about abortions.  They want freedom of—they want privacy on that.  Americans left and right seem to have this common love of privacy, liberty, and freedom, which they see altogether in one piece. 

BEN-VENISTE:  That‘s because they‘re American.  That‘s what we‘re about.  We‘re about privacy, we‘re about our own personal rights and civil liberties, and this is a big step in the direction of big brother.  There‘s nobody who can disagree with that. 

The question is whether this is a proportionate reaction to a threat or a perceived threat.  And in many people‘s estimation, it‘s not.  It‘s an overreach, and for collecting each and every American‘s records, which might be used later for other purposes. 

MATTHEWS:  By whom?  By whom?  For what? 

BEN-VENISTE:  You know, in the report today, the phone companies were apparently told that other agencies, such as FBI, DEA, CIA might have access to this data so that individuals whose phone calls are now part of this big database could be called up later in any kind of an investigation. 

MATTHEWS:  How about a class action, where everybody who has got a phone with Verizon, AT&T, or the other company, just simply says we‘re going to sue you because our deal with you was you‘re going to keep our phone calls secret, Governor.  It seems to me a great opportunity for a pretty good lawyer here to make a zillion dollars. 

GILMORE:  It might be, because after all, the Federal Communications Act also prohibits people from, in fact, giving out this kind of information.  There‘s a big argument right now about cell phone information going out.  The FCC is pursuing very vigorously people who have been invading that cell phone information.  That‘s going on right now.  So it could be that it‘s going to be very difficult to square that with that kind of proceedings going on at the FCC. 

MATTHEWS:  For years, every time—Richard, every time you give money to a political campaign—I can‘t do it anymore, but in the old days, if you gave $100 to somebody, next thing you know the Southern Liberal Freedom Campaign was asking you for money, the Daffodil Society was asking you for money, everybody because they were selling those lists, right?  Now we find out the phone company is basically selling lists, right? 

BEN-VENISTE:  Well, they were leaning on the phone companies pretty hard too, according to the report today, threatening that they wouldn‘t get the follow-on contracts that they wanted for other kinds of work that the government gives out, so this—there was a lot of pressure applied apparently to this. 

MATTHEWS:  But they got money.  It says in “USA Today” there is a contract that they were benefiting from. 

GILMORE:   Look, Chris, I think the big issue here that Americans got to think about is this.  Everybody wants to get the terrorists.  I‘ve devoted a lot of my life, as a matter of fact, to thinking about homeland security and working on that. 

We have to think about the people in America who will not understand if the president is not giving his lead on being able to go after people with al Qaeda and people who are against us.  But at the same time, simultaneously, we place a high value on people‘s privacy and liberty in this country and this is the debate. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Richard, suppose the day before 9/11 -- I asked this of Senator Salazar.  I still think it‘s a good question.  Suppose that we broke up 9/11 like we broke up an earlier attempt.  Remember, they caught the guy involved in the ‘93 attack.  We broke it up because we had an NSA spying operation. 

We‘d had a list of all the phone calls everybody had made, and we put together Mohamed Atta and the other 18 guys on those plans and we found out they were up to something really big.  Lots of noise out there, and we broke into them in time to give one of them the talk and save the country from the hell of 9/11.  Wouldn‘t everybody be celebrating the fact that NSA had these phone numbers?

GILMORE:  Yes, you would—you would be celebrating it.  But there is a countervailing concern and that is that when you begin to go bluntly into everybody‘s records in order to get everybody‘s information, the question is who is going to safeguard it and how are you going to handle it?

BEN-VENISTE:  And you have to have some oversight.  This is a country that is built on a system of checks and balances.  Here, once again, they specifically avoided the judiciary, FISA, they wouldn‘t go to FISA to get an opinion about what they were doing.  They haven‘t briefed Congress.  We have outcries on both sides of the aisles in terms of briefing the full committees.

MATTHEWS:  Full committee—but once again, the administration says in its defense, gentlemen, that they did brief the leaders of the intelligence committees.  Both sides of the hill.

GILMORE:  Yes, so you need to get them on here, play HARDBALL with them.

MATTHEWS:  I am.  I‘m trying to wonder why these guys waved them on and said good work, we have no complaints.

BEN-VENISTE:  And where is the civil liberties and privacy board that was created to safeguard against incursions—unnecessary incursions on civil liberties.  They‘re out to lunch.  There‘s a big sign there, out to lunch, gone fishing.  Nobody is clueing them in. 

The justice department, which through its OPR, has tried to investigate the warrantless wiretapping—has found that they haven‘t gotten the clearances to do their investigation.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with Governor Gilmore and Richard Ben-Veniste in a moment.  And later, “New York Times” columnist Tom Friedman‘s coming here to talk about the message to President Bush from the president of Iran.  Now that‘s an interesting conversation on paper.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with former 9/11 commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste and former RNC chairman and Virginia governor, Jim Gilmore. 

Richard, is this going to kill the nomination of Michael Hayden, to be head of the CIA, because he ran this program we‘re talking about?

BEN-VENISTE:  Well I think he‘s not going to want to discuss it and that‘s going to be a problem, so I see some rough sledding ahead.  I saw Senator Feinstein today.

MATTHEWS:  Did you see her change her mind?

BEN-VENISTE:  Do a 180 on this.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, 180.  I was impressed.  She‘s always struck me as the mature politician.  And for they are to go from saying this is one of the top three guys you‘d pick.  She said if anybody was picking they, they would probably pick Hayden and now she‘s saying this could be an impediment.  Governor?

GILMORE:  Well I know Hayden and he‘s a very able man.  He is a military man, but I don‘t think he looks like he wants to be subject to the defense department.  So that‘s a separate issue. 

But I want to say one thing while I‘ve got a minute.  We have got to break out of this problem of making a choice between either freedom or security.  That‘s exactly where the terrorists want us to be and I think we can do that.  We can do that by getting this country as ready as we can get, telling the American people and in moving on, instead of constantly being forced into this challenge of making a decision, do we want to be free?

MATTHEWS:  How do we avoid that conundrum?

GILMORE:  I think you avoid it by getting a good homeland security program in place that incorporates in federal, state, local and the private sector, explain what it is, tell the American people, “Look, you‘ve never lived with a risk.  There is some risk you‘re going to have to live with but, you‘ve got to be free people.”  I think you can square the circle up.

MATTHEWS:  Can a government, Richard, stand that has made a decision against using all the material we have, all the electronic capability we have, in the interest of civil rights after a crisis?  Can we say...

BEN-VENISTE:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  ... We could have stopped this but we‘re not going to become a fascist state. 

BEN-VENISTE:  You know, I don‘t believe we could have stopped it.

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m saying, can they make that case?

BEN-VENISTE:  In talking about where we are as Americans, the choice between liberty and security, as we said on the commission, as the governor has just said, is a false choice.  That‘s not what we‘re about.  If we succumb to this politics of fear and overreaction, then the terrorists have won without taking another life. 

And we can‘t allow that to happen.  This has got to be an American enterprise where the administration shares with the Congress, with the judiciary and with the American people what we have to do and what we have to do has to be proportionate to the threat.

MATTHEWS:  I think we have to choose, it should be transparent, the choice we make.  Thank you Governor Jim Gilmore and thank you Richard Ben-Veniste.  Up next, Tom Friedman of “The New York Times” to tell us whether the United States is going to attack Iran.  I am curious about that one.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Gas prices are spiking, the government is spying, Iraq is sinking, the White House is talking tough on Iran.  “USA Today” reported this morning, as we said, that the National Security Agency has been secretly gathering phone records of tens of millions of Americans seeking to get all our records. 

This comes months after big revelations about domestic spying and data mining, it‘s called, of phone calls coming in and out the country.  Is this a fight that President Bush is ready to have all over again? 

Plus Condi Rice talks tough on Iran.  What do the Bush people have in mind for that country?  Here to talk about all of that plus what we talked about, gas prices—let‘s get through it all—is Tom Friedman.  Your book has sold a lot. 

TOM FRIEDMAN, “NEW YORK TIMES” COLUMNIST:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s called “The World is Flat” and everybody is reading it.  Every time I go in an airport bookstore, there it is.  It‘s looking me in the face.  It‘s about the fact that we‘re all becoming one world economically.   

But let‘s talk about some politics.  You and I have disagreed over the war in Iraq in the past.  Are you still with the hawks, that it was a right thing, a smart thing for us to do in 2002 and 2003 to actually invade that country?  Was it a smart move? 

FRIEDMAN:  Well, I think that we‘re going to find out, Chris, in the next year, to six months—probably sooner—whether a decent outcome is possible there, and I think we‘re going to have to just let this play out.

We finally have an Iraqi government, elected on an Iraqi constitution, putting together an Iraqi cabinet and we‘re going to see now whether a decent outcome there is possible.  And if it is, I think that will be a positive contribution to the Middle East at a very, very high cost. 

MATTHEWS:  So all‘s well that ends well? 

FRIEDMAN:  Not necessarily.  It‘s going to come at a—yes, it‘s going to come at a very, very high cost.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m not trying to be sarcastic.  But if you argue—because I‘m trying to set up your dialectic here, your syllogism. 

FRIEDMAN:  Yes, right.

MATTHEWS:  If this country is united, if this country is peaceful in the region, it was worth it? 

FRIEDMAN:  It could be.  I‘ve always, you know, been of the view, this is a long-term project, OK?  That was my position from the very beginning, I was not into this about WMD.  For me, it is about providing a different kind of politics for that part of the world.  I still think that‘s very important.  It‘s not going to be decided this year, next year, or in three years.  I was in this always for the long haul. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe in the domino effect positively here?  In other words, do you believe that a Democratic Arab country right in the middle of Arabia will spread the world to the Arab people that democracy works for us?  We‘re still there.

FRIEDMAN:  I think one good example is worth a thousand theories. 

MATTHEWS:  And it‘s still worth the blood and the ... 

(CROSSTALK)

FRIEDMAN:  Well, you know, we‘ll have to see what the outcome is, yes.

MATTHEWS:  This is something—I call you because you have a great mind and everybody respects you and if you can‘t figure this out, how can the average man or woman out there figure it out. 

FRIEDMAN:  Well, because the story‘s not over.  Yes.  The story is not over. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

FRIEDMAN:  We‘re right at a critical juncture right now. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s talk about something that‘s looking us right in the face. 

FRIEDMAN:  Yes, I‘m not going to make a definitive statement on something before we see whether the Iraqis can produce a decent government and, again, it‘s very important. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, I‘m president of the United States.  I‘m asking you to come in and help me in the Oval Office.  I‘m sitting here alone, just you and me.  

FRIEDMAN:  That ain‘t going to happen ...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And I‘m saying this guy, Ahmadinejad, is he crazy? 

FRIEDMAN:  The president of Iran? 

MATTHEWS:  That guy who‘s president of Iran, is he crazy or can you deal with him? 

FRIEDMAN:  I think he‘s an unstable character. 

MATTHEWS:  You can‘t deal with him? 

FRIEDMAN:  The question is whether he‘s really in charge there and I don‘t know whether it‘s him or the clerical elders above him, but the fact is that I think he‘s a disturbing and unstable character. 

MATTHEWS:  People in the region, Israel especially, a number of people have been over there recently.  This is not naming names of who over there is telling this, but pretty high level people are worried to death.  They think that he could put together some kind an explosive device and somebody could steal it from him.

It may not be, you know, an atom bomb like Hiroshima, but it will be a bad job but it will still kill thousands of people.  We‘re not talking about a dirty bomb.  We‘re talking about an explosive device.  Are you concerned that this could happen, that something like Tel Aviv could get hit?  One day all of a sudden something blows up there and we find out it‘s coming from Iran but we can‘t prove it? 

FRIEDMAN:  Well, rMD+IN_rMDNM_what is disturbing about Iran having a nuclear device is it would be for the first time a country that has endorsed, embraced and deployed suicide bombers, would be in possession of a nuclear weapon.  You have to take that very seriously if you‘re Israel.  If on top of that ...

MATTHEWS:  Or Saudi Arabia. 

FRIEDMAN:  ... the leader of that country has denied the Holocaust, so you have to take that very, very seriously. 

MATTHEWS:  He is still saying that, Ahmadinejad? 

FRIEDMAN:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Is that politics or what he believes? 

FRIEDMAN:  Oh, I think he believes it to his very core.  This is a guy who ...

MATTHEWS:  There wasn‘t a Holocaust?  There weren‘t six million people killed?

FRIEDMAN:  He‘s alluded to that constantly. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, anybody who is wondering about that, we should tell them and every time we bring this up, you can go to Yad Vashem in Israel and the names are there.  They have the six million names. 

FRIEDMAN:  Yes, you can go still to the death camps.  There‘s something really perverse about it, I mean, also disgusting.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... made the Germans walk through the camps before they got their food rations.  He didn‘t want anybody denying it. 

FRIEDMAN:  He‘s a bad guy.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about—so Iran—I haven‘t gotten to the tough part here.  Do you think we‘re going to have to do something or Israel is going to have to do something or can we do this or just lived with the horror that you described, somebody is a little nuts with a trigger, because the other alternatives are worse, which is you go in the country, you blow up the facilities. 

Then they close the Straits of Hormuz or whatever it is, then you have to blow up their Navy, then you‘ve got to—before you do any of this, you have to blow up all their AAA fire, all their aircraft fire.  You have got to do a lot of damage to that country, and they‘re going to do something back to us. 

FRIEDMAN:  Well, you know, the ideal thing, obviously, is some kind of diplomatic solution.  We‘re only going to get a diplomatic solution if we have allies for that.  Right now, Chris, we don‘t have allies for sanctions let alone for a military solution. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do the Chinese and the Russians want to back up this guy? 

FRIEDMAN:  I think it‘s really short-sighted, China because they get a lot of oil and gas from Iran, and Russia because I think they want to negate us right now and they‘re still playing a Cold War game.  And it‘s sort of insane when you think that Iran with a nuclear weapon would be on Russia‘s doorstep.  I don‘t quite get it, but that is the Russians‘ mission.

MATTHEWS:  Because they‘re not aiming at Russia, they‘re aiming at Israel probably. 

FRIEDMAN:  They think that today, but, you know, they could make common cause for the people in Chechnya too.  Who knows? 

MATTHEWS:  Let me get to the rest of the world, because you go around the world a lot.  North Korea—we‘ve done the axis of evil here.  We‘ve done Iran and Iraq.  Iraq you think is still possible because in the next year and a half maybe we‘ll know.  Iran you don‘t have a solution yet, right?

FRIEDMAN:  No.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  North Korea is off that list.  What‘s going on over there? 

FRIEDMAN:  Well, again, I think we have got to basically contain ...

MATTHEWS:  We‘ve still got a weird guy running that country.

FRIEDMAN:  We‘ve got a weird guy running that country, but it‘s

contained, basically.  North Korea has got hard powers around it, South

Korea, China in particular.  The problem with Iran, it‘s got soft powers

around it, really mushy powers—Iraq right now, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan

so it poses I think a more serious threat if it gets a nuclear weapon. 

MATTHEWS:  Why did the president of the United States give such a small bore welcome to the president of China when he came over?  He came over saying he‘s going to be our partner in the world.  Why did the president sort of dis him?  No state dinner.  It seemed like an odd diplomatic message to send to somebody we‘ve got to deal with and who‘s carrying all our paper. 

FRIEDMAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  I mean, he‘s basically banking us, right? 

FRIEDMAN:  If I owed someone a trillion dollars, I‘d give them dinner, I‘d give them lunch, I‘d give them Chinese takeout. 

MATTHEWS:  We all know that, that our deficit has been basically underwritten by the Chinese speculators, and they like our dollar still.  Why would the president give him a little shiv there.  What was that about? 

FRIEDMAN:  Well, I really honestly have no idea whether it‘s something having to do with his own base.  I thought it was a poverty of imagination on both sides.  We have enormous things to talk about with China and they with us.  We are totally intertwined.  Their economy depends on our buying their products.  Our economy and your mortgage depend on them holding our T-bills. 

At the same time, we have a joint project together of energy, finding an alternative to fossil fuels, that‘s hugely important.  And to me it was just the poverty of imagination, two leaders who have so much to talk about spending what, an hour and a half together over lunch? 

MATTHEWS:  Last question.  Why are some good guys, pro-American guys getting elected around the world?  Merkel over in Germany, Harper up in Canada—why are we getting pro-American people?

FRIEDMAN:  I don‘t know that there‘s a trend there particularly, Chris.  I think the thing to watch is this:  They may be personally pro-American, but the question is, are they in a position, given their own domestic politics and the deep anti-Bushism out there in the world, to act in a sustained pro-American way?  That‘s another question.  They may be individually conservative but ...

MATTHEWS:  We live in a world where we‘re not popular.

FRIEDMAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  And that‘s changed from the good old days.  Anyway, thank you Tom Friedman.  I‘ll say good luck with your book, despite all my jealousy.  It‘s an amazing book.  It‘s really one of the earth-shaking books, “The World is Flat.”  Up next, more on the politics of modern spy games with Bloomberg News analyst Margaret Carlson and John Fund of opinionjournal.com.  We‘re going to have a fight here I think.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Will today‘s NSA story hurt the president with his conservative base?  Margaret Carlson is a columnist for Bloomberg News and John Fund is a columnist for opinionjournal.com.

Let me look at a comparison—let‘s all look at this comparison of presidents over the last half century or so.  Let‘s take a look at it right now.  You see Harry Truman, who left office—that was in 1951.  He went down to 23 percent, Richard Nixon of course during Watergate went down to 23.  Jimmy Carter went down to 28 during the hostage crisis. 

And of course there‘s President Bush almost getting down as low as they are.  Let‘s put that in perspective.  Let‘s look at the other presidents of recent history and their low points in the polls. 

George Bush‘s father went down to 33, almost as low as he‘s at right now.  Lyndon Johnson got a little bit better than that at his low point.  Gerald Ford almost got that low.  And Ronald Reagan‘s very low point, which was rare in his presidency, was January of ‘83 during the worst recession of modern times and he never got anywhere in the thirties.

Now look at the good guys, the winners politically.  Their lowest points in their entire eight years in office was Clinton was 43 at his lowest, that includes Monica.  General Eisenhower when he was president went down as low as 48 and that was back in ‘55, I think.  And then we‘ve got Kennedy, his low point was in September of I think ‘62.  Fifty-six percent was the lowest he ever got. 

Now we have a president down to 31 and dropping.  John Fund, what‘s the prospect here?

JOHN FUND, COLUMNIST, OPINIONJOURNAL.COM:  Not good, because the problem is bad news follows more bad news and every time you have this cycle continue, the president can‘t get up off the mat. 

The president needs something to change, and it may well change if he has some major event that happens or if the elections turn out to be a little bit better and he manages to rally his base. 

I think this eavesdropping thing is frankly a little bit overblown because the congressional oversight is going to kick in.  What we‘ll probably find is that there‘s a fundamental difference between eavesdropping and data mining.  Eavesdropping is when you listen into somebody.  Data mining is when you run a bunch of numbers through a computer program looking for patterns and you‘re not keeping information on individuals. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the question, Margaret.  If they have a list of everybody‘s phone numbers and that seems to be the ideal and the ultimate goal here, that is a lot of information if you know if you‘ve been calling.

MARGARET CARLSON, COLUMNIST, BLOOMBERG NEWS:  It‘s a lot of information.  You wonder how they‘re going to process all of it.  But in fact, it‘s illegal to do it even to collect it to that extent, whether or not you‘re listening.  It‘s not eavesdropping, but there‘s a law against it. 

And actually the law seems redundant, because there is a right to privacy, but the law, the FCC law says it‘s illegal and in fact, one phone company refused to turn it over, Qwest.  And you know, I think the president of that company should get a medal of honor, and if there aren‘t enough left, take one back from George Tenet.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go back to John.  John, what do you think of the options for the president to kick this thing in reverse and start his numbers going up rather than down?

FUND:  Well I think the first rule is you have to rally your base.  Clinton went back to his base when he was in trouble, Reagan did.  You have to prove that you care about issues that really affect people in their daily lives.  You have to get Congress to pass some legislation. 

I think the president vetoing his spending bill would be a good idea.  I think the president trying to bring some judges up for votes would be a good idea.  There are things the president can do to reconnect with his base, which clearly is shaky right now.

MATTHEWS:  Margaret, do you agree that the president should hit a couple singles, rather than trying to go for the fences?  You know, what John is saying.  Get some singles, get on base, start to show you can do it again.

CARLSON:  Well it‘s better than striking out.  It‘s hard to do what John is talking about because you can‘t trot out some of these golden oldies.  You know, the gay marriage, a lot of the religious issues.

MATTHEWS:  Why not?

CARLSON:  Well, because they‘re just used up. 

MATTHEWS:  But don‘t they work?

CARLSON:  We‘re going of to a vote next week on a gay marriage amendment.  You know, Bush brings it up, it has a little bit of an effect, but then it goes away because it really doesn‘t get at what people care about.  Spending, and that horse is out the barn, because look at the deficits we‘re running.  He hasn‘t vetoed any of those bills.  John, I don‘t see it coming.  He threatens, but he doesn‘t.

FUND:  Margaret, just remember deficit just fell $125 billion because of all the economic growth we‘re having.  One of the things the president I think needs to communicate better is this economy is doing well.  The problem is people buy gas every day, they don‘t buy a washing machine or a house every day.  But things are doing well in this economy and the president has to keep making that pitch.

MATTHEWS:  John, do you think that the president is going to pull this thing with Karl Rove?  according to the online column in “Newsweek” by Howard Fineman, I read it late last night, he says if these numbers continue to go south on the president, they‘ve got a doomsday plan which is to just scare the heck out of people about the Democrats, about impeachment, investigations, all kinds of left-wing behavior.

FUND:  That‘s not a doomsday plan, it‘s already being implemented.  You see Republican talking points reflecting that.  And by the way, it did work.  You know in 1996, when Bill Clinton was going to beat Bob Dole overwhelmingly, the Republicans ran last minute ads saying “don‘t hand Clinton all of government.”  You might remember those ads.  They worked.  The Republicans narrowly retained both houses of Congress.

MATTHEWS:  I think they had Dole, 41 percent, too.  Thank you very much, Margaret Carlson, John Fund.  Up next, author Tom Wolfe talks about the death of the radical sheikh, remember them?  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Author Tom Wolfe‘s books capture the spirit of their times.  The hippie culture in “Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test,” the ‘80s excess in “Bonfire of the Vanities.”

In his newest, “I am Charlotte Simmons,” he goes inside an elite fictional college that sounds an awful lot like Duke University.  It‘s now in paperback and I talked to him late today. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  What is it about the left in America?  You wrote brilliantly back in ‘60s and ‘70s about this group called the radical chic.  They were people like Leonard Bernstein in New York and all the west side liberals who loved to have the Black Panthers come to dinner.  Is that all gone in America, that sort of crazy left?

TOM WOLFE, AUTHOR:  I was trying to think of one movement that has any of that radical spirit.  Except for the demonstrators against the World Trade Organization, I cannot think of another one.  And that is—I don‘t understand that group because they seem to be out there having fun.

MATTHEWS:  They‘re kind of a goofy left.  They‘re against everything happening now.

WOLFE:  They‘re a little bit Luddite, but they‘re not chic.

MATTHEWS:  What about the rich left?  The limousine liberals?  Where are they?

WOLFE:  They are—they are simply being—they have pulled in those connections with—well there‘s really no radical movements.  Let me tell you something, I was at Stanford working on this book “I am Charlotte Simmons” and it so happened there was a meeting of the Stanford Radicals of the year 1969.  That‘s when they blew up buildings and everything else. 

And here is where it‘s great because they all had on the same clothes, they had the same pony tails, except they‘re gray pony tails.  Anyway they brought in some of the current student leftists and they couldn‘t believe what they were hearing.  Because the major issue was that the employees of the catering service that furnished the food for the dormitories was underpaying its employees.  And I could see these guys and girls from the ‘60s saying, “That‘s all you‘ve got?”

MATTHEWS:  That grabs you?

WOLFE:  That‘s all you‘ve got?

MATTHEWS:  But what happened—you look at the poll numbers, we just saw them here last night.  Fifty-six percent of the country, a solid majority now thinks it was a mistake to go to Iraq.  Not “We did it wrong, we didn‘t have enough troops, you didn‘t have enough body armor.  We shouldn‘t have gone and yet I look at the campuses—I was just in South Carolina, calm.

WOLFE:  That‘s true.  And I‘ll you, at the moment of 9/11 itself, I was still doing research on campuses and so on.  Aside from young people who were from New York City, as in the case of my daughter who knew three people killed in that attack, it was an event on T.V. 

It was interesting.  I mean, it was incredible thing to watch.  I didn‘t see, I didn‘t see any outrage at all.  This is a different—I‘ll tell you when would you see—if you want to see some outrage, you want to see some demonstrations, you want to see some radicalism, institute the draft.

MATTHEWS:  Overnight.

WOLFE:  Boy, I don‘t think there‘s any president who would be foolish enough unless under absolute necessity—would be foolish enough politically to institute the draft.

MATTHEWS:  But you weren‘t drafted back in those days, those were electric, exciting time.  There was a zest in going to college.  There was an electricity.  I was at Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  There was Beatles music was playing all the time, “I am a walrus, coo coo coochoo.”  And I remember that on the bookstore, the record store downtown.  The whole mood was—you went to an anti-war meeting.  No pictures.  J. Edgar Hoover‘s going to get your picture.  There was a sense of excitement about the war.

WOLFE:  But you know, it all evaporated as soon as the draft in effect became null and void.  They instituted first a numbers system.  If your number was...

MATTHEWS:  ... Three hundred plus.

WOLFE:  Yes, you were in no danger.  I remember in the spring of 1970, Kent State occurred.  And when national guards shot a couple of students, and it reached a peak of indignation.  Everyone is saying, “what‘s this going to do to the 1970 off year elections of Congress?”  Well by the time those elections came up, it was all gone.  The movement was not there anymore.

MATTHEWS:  Do young people today, like the people your write about in your book, “I am Charlotte Simmons,” are they living in social bubbles?  All they care about is Friday night?

WOLFE:  I was trying to think of something much more serious that they care about.  I haven‘t come upon it yet.  Now saying that, I have to admit that I can‘t say that in my college days—we‘re now going back to the late ‘40‘s and early ‘50‘s, I can‘t claim that we were public-spirited and on top of all the issues.  But there is certainly—there really just isn‘t. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, here‘s the magic to me.  Young people in their late teens and early twenties don‘t seem to be political, they don‘t seem to read newspapers.  Yet when you watch a show like Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart or even Jay Leno in his opening monologue, they seem to get all the political references.  They seem to get all the jokes about the president not being that well-read, you know what I mean?

WOLFE:  Well I‘ve heard that—I read somewhere that that‘s where they get all the news, is from those three shows, Colbert, Stewart and maybe Jay Leno.  It‘s true.  For one thing, the newspapers are going to be extinct soon.  So they‘re not reading newspapers.  What they get is on the Internet.  And you have to read the Internet, but it‘s bits and pieces.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s like “USA Today” going to extremes.  You‘re a great writer, obviously I‘ve loved all your books.  And “I am Charlotte Simmons,” one of the great men of our times.  You‘re almost as good as Thomas Wolfe.  Anyway, thank you for coming on.

WOLFE:  You‘re a Chapel Hill guy, I can tell. 

MATTHEWS:  I know, that‘s why I like Thomas Wolfe.  Anyway, thank you.  But you can go home again.  Anyway, thank you very much Thomas Wolfe, author of “I am Charlotte Simmons.”

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  The CIA leak grand jury meets tomorrow.  Friday you‘ll hear all about it on HARDBALL tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00.  Right now it‘s time for “THE ABRAMS REPORT” with Dan Abrams.

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

END   

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

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