updated 7/5/2006 12:30:07 PM ET 2006-07-05T16:30:07

Guests: Al Sharpton, Melanie Morgan, Holly Wren, Kim Hazelgrove, Mike Barnicle, A.B. Stoddard, Craig Crawford

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Five U.S. soldiers are under investigation for a rape and murdering an Iraqi family.  They are from the same regiment as the two soldiers whose bodies were found tortured and beheaded. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to our special Friday night edition of HARDBALL.

This was a week that began with the president blasting the “New York Times,” and ended with the Supreme Court curbing his presidential wartime power.

But Superman and Elvis, two American icons, loom over Friday‘s landscape as we head out for this Fourth of July weekend.  Today, President Bush took Elvis‘ biggest fan, I guess, Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi, on a road trip to Graceland to pay homage to The King.   Bush is the first sitting president to visit the mansion, and Prime Minister Koizumi really got into the swing of things. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUNICHIRO KOIZUMI, JAPANESE PRIME MINISTER:  Love me tender.  Wise men say, only fools rush in, but I can‘t help ...

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I thought you were going to do “Blue Suede Shoes”? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  One thing is for sure, Elvis has left the building. 

And later tonight, truth, justice and the American way.  Our “HARDBALL Hotshots” tackle the big issues and take a look at the biggest blow to Bush‘s presidency so far.

rMDNM_              But we begin at the Pentagon, where there are accusations that American troops raped and killed an Iraqi woman and killed her family. 

NBC News correspondent Jim Miklaszewski joins us now.  Mik, when did we first hear of this alleged killing of give Iraqis and the rape of one of them by soldiers? 

JIM MIKLASZEWSKI, NBC NEWS - THE PENTAGON:  Well, we actually heard about it for the first time today when the U.S. military announced that an investigation was underway, and that at least two and then perhaps as many as five, American soldiers are under investigation by the Army‘s Criminal Investigation Division for the alleged rape and murder of a woman, and then the killing of three other members of her family, including a young child and two other adults. 

Now, this incident allegedly occurred in March, in the town of Mahmoudiyah south of Baghdad.  It‘s a particularly dangerous area, heavily infested by al Qaeda.  Now according to U.S. military officials, it appears anyway that the soldiers allegedly involved in this incident may have staked out the house, stalked the woman, and actually planned to rape her.

It‘s not clear, however, whether the killings were part of any premeditated act by any of these soldiers.  I must emphasize here, that none of these soldiers are currently charged, none of them are believed to be in custody at this time, and the investigation continues. 

Now, interestingly enough, these soldiers are from the 502nd Infantry, with the 101st Airborne out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky.  It‘s the same unit where the two soldiers were—that had the two soldiers who were captured and brutally murdered, believed by Iraqis, al Qaeda insurgents a couple of weeks ago.  And it was during a counseling session for the rest of the unit that one of the soldiers stepped forward to report this alleged incident to his superiors. 

MATTHEWS:  And so we have at least someone inside the outfit who is bringing evidence in this CID investigation? 

MIKLASZEWSKI:  Now, originally, the original report was hearsay only.  It was a soldier during that counseling session, hey, guys, you know, we know you‘re traumatized by the brutal deaths of your buddies.  Anything you want to get off your chest? 

One them stepped forward and reported this alleged incident.  Investigators looked into it, found another soldier who found reported something similar, and there are reports that at least one of those directly or indirectly involved may have given a statement of some kind.  That‘s unconfirmed, but it was originally that counseling session where it issue first popped up and came to the attention of superiors. 

And I can tell you that the direction of Lieutenant General Peter Chiarelli, who is now in charge of all ground forces in Iraq since January, that he has put out to his forces if anything is even suspected, he wants it all out in the open, investigated as quickly as possible.  And we‘ve seen a number these alleged atrocities pop up in recent weeks. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, and Happy Fourth of July to Jim Miklaszewski over at the Pentagon.

MIKLASZEWSKI:  OK, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  We turn now to the Reverend Al Sharpton and radio talk show‘s Melanie Morgan. 

Is this more bad news on the war, Reverend Sharpton?  Is this going to deflate even more the public support for this war, this kind of story? 

REV. AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK:  I think it does.  I mean, clearly, we don‘t know what has happened, but even the fact that the government itself, the military, has announced the investigation, has put it out there in terms that would really lead one to believe that something very horrific could happen here, is certainly bad news in terms of those that want to continue to engage in this war without some kind of deadline and with some concrete pullout. 

We are hearing in the last several weeks over and over and over again alleged atrocities.  This does not help their case at all. 

MATTHEWS:  Melanie, does this hurt morale here and over there? 

MELANIE MORGAN, KSFO RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Well, let‘s just remember

the one word we that we heard Jim use in his report, and he emphasized it -

accusations.  These are only accusations, and as we know, the media has often gotten way, way, way out ahead of the story. 

I mean, we have a situation here where two young men were beheaded and there was no outrage expressed by many in the anti-war crowd in this country over that, but now we have allegations that U.S. troops may have been involved in something horrific, let‘s just wait on this.

Because I was also waiting to look—I was looking further into Mr.  Miklaszewski‘s report to see if there were any—if there was anything in there about the 155,000 other troop members who were not involved in any allegations of horrific torture, rape, or beheading of innocent Iraqi civilians.  You know, those people who are doing their jobs.  There‘s many, many of the troops ...

MATTHEWS:  How would he have made that ...

MORGAN:  ... who are doing their jobs every day and doing it honorably. 

MATTHEWS:  How would he given us that report?  Give me that phrasing that you would have used? 

MORGAN:  I would have used, today in other news, or how about this, at the top of your newscast today, 155,000 people were very busy saving the lives of Iraqi citizens, restoring electricity, building bridges, opening schools and treating sick children, but we haven‘t seen those kind of stories, have we? 

SHARPTON:  But I would remind people that the anti-war movement did not release this investigation, the military did.  The press did not go and find this out.  This was not a fresh driven story.  This was released by the military.

And that‘s as crazy as me saying two people were indicted in New York tonight for murder, but eight million people didn‘t.  I mean, I assume that we‘re talking about an investigation of the people that‘s targeting, so I don‘t think you can blame that on the anti-war crowd or the media in this case.  This was released. 

MORGAN:  I can tell you most certainly I do blame the media in this case and I do blame the anti-war crowd, because there are honorable men and women who are fighting overseas every day, people like Joe Johnson, who I write about in my book, “American Morning,” who captured a bunch of terrorists and he, by the way, enlisted at age 46, went to Iraq after his son was murdered in Sadr City in a slum by a bunch of terrorists.

At 46, he goes over there, he catches a bunch of bad guys who have IEDs and explosives and he had an opportunity to blow them all away with his gun, nobody would have said a thing, he put that gun down and he didn‘t do it. 

SHARPTON:  That‘s a good man.  He ought to be saluted.  You ought to cover him, but if these guys did this atrocity, they ought to pay for it.  The commander is right to call for an investigation and people need to deal with it.  And I don‘t hear any outrage at all from the anti-war crowd because we just heard about.  Most of it just heard about it right now. 

MATTHEWS:  The fact is ...

MORGAN:  I agree with you, Reverend Sharpton, that there is no question, that if these men are guilty of outrages and atrocities, that the United States Military Code of Justice will take care of this problem.  They have the best system in the world and those people will and should be brought to trial. 

SHARPTON:  I don‘t think I said that, but I think you agree.

MATTHEWS:  By the way, the reason we are talking about it is, to the credit of the military, it was General James Thurman who released this story if a press release today, dated today, in fact over there in Iraq, coming out of Baghdad, that‘s the dateline. 

“General James Thurman, commanding general, multinational division Baghdad has requested that the Army‘s Civil Investigation Command conduct an investigation into an incident in which soldiers allegedly killed a family of four Iraqi civilians in their home in the area south of Baghdad.  On June 23, two soldiers report an alleged coalition force involved in their deaths,” so it was two soldiers who reported this,  not the press.

“A preliminary inquiry conducted by MND Baghdad found sufficient information existed to recommend a criminal investigation into the incident.”  So this, to the credit of the military, just the people watching right now should know they‘re putting out this information.  It‘s not being investigated by the press any better than they‘re investigating themselves. 

MORGAN:  Yes, but, Chris, you have to admit that the military is under tremendous he political pressure now to get ahead of these kinds of stories.  But the other aspect of ...

MATTHEWS:  That is good, right? 

MORGAN:  That is good, there‘s no question about that.  But the other aspect of that story that Mr. Miklaszewski mentioned in his report was this came from two young men who were in a psychiatric counseling session.  You know, we have no real basis, no real evidence, there‘s no smoking gun here.  These are just two reports.  It‘s just way, way too son.

(CROSSTALK)

SHARPTON:  We don‘t know if there‘s a smoking gun or not.

MATTHEWS:  Let me just get the facts out here.  It was a counselling session for the unit, the outfit, that had had two men taken away and beheaded before they were tortured, or after they were tortured, so it was a counselling operation available to the entire outfit.  These guys aren‘t seeing shrinks because of their personal problems, from what I understand, so I wouldn‘t demean their testimony. 

MORGAN:  I‘m not demeaning them.  I‘m saying that they have probably experienced some horrible things and they were getting professional help, but you have no idea what they saw or didn‘t see, or what kinds of stresses they are reporting or not reporting. 

MATTHEWS:  But they are better witnesses than we are, you‘re right.

SHARPTON:  We don‘t know that; we don‘t know whether there‘s a smoking gun or not.  This we just heard, no one is saying—we‘re responding to what the military released. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s step back and look at what we do know about, and that is of course the Supreme Court decision of just the other day.  Melanie, your view as to the 5-3 decision by the Supreme Court that the president is limited in what he‘s allowed to do to terrorist prisoners. 

MORGAN:  I think it‘s shameful, and this is why conservatives have been so outraged at activist judges.  I‘m sure that Ronald Reagan, former President Ronald Reagan, would be spinning in his grave over his appointment of Justice Kennedy.  This is just—it‘s incomprehensible to me that we could be limiting the powers of the president, when we are at a time of war, our commander-in-chief, when we need every resource and tool available to kill some seriously bad-ass guys. 

MATTHEWS:  Wasn‘t this the same Supreme Court that ratified the president‘s election after the Florida controversy, though?  Is that an over activist judiciary?

SHARPTON:  That wasn‘t activist, though, Chris.  That was the Supreme Court acting responsible.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you think, Melanie?

MORGAN:  Are you guys never—

MATTHEWS:  I‘m asking you—don‘t call me “you guys.”  Melanie, what do you think—you called it activist Supreme Court when you don‘t like the ruling, but what about when it‘s equally aggressive and comes out with a different verdict than you prefer? 

MORGAN:  We are in a different political climate today than we were in the year 2000 and justices, yes, react to politics, just like other politicians do.  The current environment right now is an anti-expansion, or an anti-expansion of executive privilege, a privilege that has been there all along, and I think it‘s shameful.  And I think that we are going to have more and more difficulties with soldiers in Iraq, who get frustrated and just say the hell with capturing any of these terrorists.  Let‘s just kill them right off. 

SHARPTON:  Chris, this is the same court that earlier this week by and large upheld Tom DeLay‘s going for the redistricting in Texas that we disagreed with.  Now all of a sudden, they‘re politicians, they‘re irresponsible.  I think that this court has not shown that it will go against Bush—in this case they did, I think they‘re right.  But a broke clock is right twice a day. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Melanie, about the latest L.A. Times-

Bloomberg—you‘re out there in that part of the country in San Francisco,

but in L.A., the L.A Times-Bloomberg poll has just found that the

Democrats, despite the president‘s success in the last couple of weeks in

terms of a number of issues we know about, including the capture of Zarqawi

in Iraq—look at that number.  Democrats, 54-34, preference coming up in

November for the congressional elections.  Are you surprised—well, I am

by that spread? 

MORGAN:  No, I‘m not surprised at all.  I think the president‘s eroding numbers have had much to do with of course Iraq, the situation in Iraq, but mainly because conservatives have fallen away, conservative support for this president has diminished greatly over the issue of illegal immigration.  And until those conservatives see something from this administration that there is a reversal of his open borders policy, those numbers are going to stay depressed. 

I have no idea what‘s going to really happen when we get closer to election time, because, as you know, we‘ve got an eternity—

MATTHEWS:  Neither do I.

MORGAN:  But I‘m not surprised at the numbers at all.

MATTHEWS:  And by the way, it‘s one thing to date the Democrats, it‘s another thing to marry them. 

Reverend Sharpton, are you confident these numbers are going to hold?  Because you know, the president is still the president, he has a lot of things he can do between now and November to turn the tables on the Dems.

SHARPTON:  No, I think that, unfortunately, no one can guarantee that those numbers will hold.  The president does have the power of the White House.  There are all kinds of things that are going on in these states—

I‘m touring these states—including, in my judgment, some impediments to voter registration and voter participation. 

I think it looks good, but this is only, at best, July tomorrow.  Who know what will happen.  I hope it holds, but the Democrats need to continue to build and make their case aggressively, and then enforce voter rights and voter registration to even think this could hold.

MATTHEWS:  I want you to come back and talk about this side war between the president and the media.  Melanie Morgan and Reverend Al Sharpton will both be back in a minute. 

And later, with more than 2500 troops killed in Iraq, is the U.S.  government doing its job to take care of the widows who have lost loved ones in the line of duty?  We‘ll talk with two women who are working to help fellow widows get what they deserve. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

We‘re back with Melanie Morgan and the Reverend Al Sharpton.  Republicans have found great success in recent elections by courting the religious right.  Can Democrats find similar success on the left, Reverend Sharpton?  You‘ve been working at that with the black church leaders; are you going to be able to take on the religious right, the Christian conservatives? 

SHARPTON:  Yes, I think we will.  I think when you expand the argument

beyond personal bedroom sexual moral issues and talk on a broader moral

level, which most of the church world and faith community is committed to -

issues like poverty, issues like war, issues like health care, which are great moral issues, the moral issues the Martin Luther Kings and the William Sloane Coffins led—it will give a new picture to the American public of what morality and faith is really all about, and will, in my opinion, render the Christian right very ineffective, because they‘re not willing to rise to the level of morality with those issues.  They‘re only limited to very narrow issues and really can‘t have a discussion about greater moral issues with impact toward the broader community. 

MATTHEWS:  Melanie, your reaction to that? 

MORGAN:  I have to laugh.  We have those kinds of discussions in my church all the time.  We talk about Martin Luther King, health issues and poverty.  And those are issues that are very near and dear to our heart because we are Christians.

It just struck me that Senator Obama, who broached this conversation earlier, when he made a statement that Democrats have to reach out to people of faith, when you have to say that, it seems to me, it may come across as a little bit unauthentic.  I‘m not to disparage the Reverend Sharpton, who obviously has a reverend before his name, but the Democratic party is so involved in ACLU issues of separation of church and state, they don‘t have meaning discussions about god in their party. 

SHARPTON:  Again, I don‘t know what part of the party you look at, when many of us that have been involved in the party, the last two blacks of high profile that ran for president were ministers, and I would love to know if these discussions in your church that I‘m sure in your church you discussed, that you should be not be opposed to affirmative action since Martin Luther King talked about us passing the check and making good the check that America wrote to blacks that bounced.  And I‘m sure in your discussions on Dr. King that that was part of the discussion and that your church is ready to reprimand President Bush for sending lawyers to the Supreme Court to oppose affirmative action. 

MORGAN:  We have discussions about Dr. Martin Luther King in our church and we talk about the fact that he wanted to judge the content of the character, not the color of skin. 

SHARPTON:  Right, that was in the same speech he talked about making the check good and so I‘m hoping that in those discussions, that they will not be kept so secret.  We need to see them on the televangelist program to see the Christian right say therefore we are with Dr. King on world peace, like he opposed the war if Vietnam, we join if our struggle for world peace in Iraq. 

MORGAN:  I would like to see the Democrats talk about Michael Newdow and embrace him far more publicly for trying to strike “under god” from the Pledge of Allegiance.  

SHARPTON:  I don‘t know anything about Michael Newdow.  I know about Dr. King, I know the morality of stopping war and I know the morality of stopping children from starving.  I don‘t know anything about striking god, I preach about god every week. 

MATTHEWS:  I want to ask you while we have a second here, who is right, the “New York Times” or President Bush? 

MORGAN:  President Bush.  I‘m assuming you‘re talk being about on the issue of terrorism? 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  On the issue of reporting what they did about this financial intelligence effort.  What about you Reverend Sharpton, where are you on that? 

SHARPTON:  “New York Times” is absolutely right.  They had the right to report the facts, and this administration has no problem leaking what it wants, and I think that the “New York Times” has the right to print facts. 

MORGAN:  I would like to thank you for having me on the show tonight because I know that many liberals who heard and saw your show on Monday tried to force me off your show, pressured your organization.  So I appreciate that. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re welcome.  Let me tell you, Melanie, on this issue, believe it or not, I‘m with you.  I don‘t think the Times should have ran that story, we didn‘t need to know that.  It wasn‘t really about us, it was of more interest to the enemy. 

SHARPTON:  And thank you, Melanie for being on.  You do a lot for my cause every time you‘re on. 

MORGAN:  And do you a lot for mine, Rev. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you Melanie, you‘re both welcome.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Many military widows of troops killed in Iraq and in Afghanistan are not only struggling to cope with the loss of their husband, but are encountering numerous problems in collecting their survivor benefit.  Holly Wren and Kimberly Hazelgrove are two such widows who had to fight the bureaucracy to receive the benefits owed to them. 

Holly‘s husband, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Wren was killed in Iraq just last November.  And Kimberly‘s husband, Chief Warrant Officer Brian Hazelgrove was killed in Iraq two years ago.  Holly, give us a sense of what it‘s like to try to get what‘s coming to you as a widow of somebody killed in action in Iraq? 

HOLLY WREN, WIDOW OF U.S. SOLDIER:  It‘s incredibly frustrating.  You‘re dealing with multiple different organizations within the government that have their own systems, their own bureaucracy, their own paperwork.  You are shuffled from one office to another while you‘re if shock, right after your husband dies.  I think the military is doing the best that it can and it has helped me tremendously.  I don‘t know what I would have done without the casualty assistance center, and my casualty officer, as well as my husband‘s division.  However the system, I believe it‘s somewhat broken, because it is so broken up across these different agencies, and you don‘t have a central point where you understand what it is that you‘re getting. 

MATTHEWS:  Have you gotten knocked off any lists?  Have you lost any money you‘re supposed to be getting? 

WREN:  I have not lost money, other than from an offset issue, which is called the widows tax and it‘s basically my husband‘s pension is lessened by a dependent‘s compensation that we receive from the veterans affairs.  And that is very complicated issue. 

MATTHEWS:  How much a month do you get from the federal government all together, being a widow of someone just killed in Iraq? 

WREN:  My position is a little bit higher than most, actually quite a bit higher than most because my husband was in for over 24 years, so my position is a little different. 

MATTHEWS:  So, is it a couple thousand a month?  Is it $3,000 a month, roughly? 

WREN:  It‘s roughly $3,000 a month. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you the same question, Kimberly.  What‘s been your experience her?  This lack of a one stop shop, to be putting it bluntly, is a real problem.  You have to travel around from agency to agency trying to get the money you deserve? 

KIM HAZELGROVE, HUSBAND DIED IN IRAQ:  It‘s always different like Holly said.  I never know what I‘m filling out all the time, but I know I always need the same information, name, Social Security, date of birth and I have two stepchildren that live in Indiana, where my husband was from, so I also have to make sure that I stay on top of their information to ensure that they are not left out of the system as well. 

MATTHEWS:  Holly, I would have thought there would have been a caseworker assigned to you, almost the day after you got the bad news about losing your husband in combat, that they would send somebody around to you, would be like the guide. 

WREN:  They absolutely did.  They‘re called casualty assistance officer. 

MATTHEWS:  Why can‘t that person help you cut the red tape? 

WREN:  He tried to.  He is a lieutenant colonel himself and because he is dealing with many civilians within the military in these agencies, they don‘t hold the same reverence for rank and position or for the sacrifice.  My casualty officer had to camp out on the survivors pension doorstep to find out why my paperwork was not filed and I was not receiving any payments.  I did not receive payments until my Congressman, Tom Davis, stepped in, and that was almost four months later. 

MATTHEWS:  He called up and they snapped to, they worked it? 

WREN:  Yes, they certainly did. 

MATTHEWS:  So we‘re facing two problems here, one is a lot of different agencies, you have to go trail around after, you have to be almost a government lobbyist to go around and find all these agencies.  There‘s no one stop shop for someone who lost their husband and secondly you face a lot of coldness from civilians who are exactly reverent to either rank or loss? 

HAZELGROVE:  Or even schooled in what the policies are.  Many times I‘ve had to educate the people while I‘m sitting in front of them and they‘re the one‘s who are supposed to help me. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, a lot congressmen and senators watch this show.  Talk to them Kimberly, right now, look at the camera.  Tell them what they ought to be doing right now. 

HAZELGROVE:  Well, what you ought to be doing is not talking so much and acting.  These military components, the VA, they need your help.  They need the funding.  They need the policy changed, and they need personnel that are educated in that policy to ensure that the survivors office gets established, because people are not prepared to handle our issues, especially after the initial casualty. 

MATTHEWS:  So they need a full-time, permanent caseworker assigned to every widow who keeps up with the problems and deals with everything, right? 

HAZELGROVE:  Well, what I can say is ...

MATTHEWS:  Would that work? 

HAZELGROVE:  No, I don‘t believe so, because people have lives to lead and our casualty officers have other missions to do.  They do serve the military in their active component, they are assigned to us for a certain period of time. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

HAZELGROVE:  However, after that certain period of time, there needs to be some transition to an educated office that can handle our issues, keep us up-to-date on policy changes and benefits.

MATTHEWS:  One place to go? 

HAZELGROVE:  Yes.  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  You agree with that, Kim?  I mean, Holly.

WREN:  I completely agree.  I completely agree.  It‘s a survivors office.  It‘s after your casualty officer has done all that they can do, you need a place that you can go back to.  You need a place that can track legislation for you, can track new laws.  We can‘t always do that.  We are younger widows—newer widows are younger widows with smaller children. 

Older widows have had to face this for years and years, which is unfair, but we have all small, young children right now, and a lot of us have had to go back to work.  Kimberly has had to go back to work to survive on a monthly basis and feed her children. 

I will eventually have to go back to work myself, but having a one stop shop with a database that goes out and finds out what the new legislation is, would be so incredibly helpful and there are products out there that do that.

MATTHEWS:  So you want to be able to go online and find that out? 

WREN:  I would love to. 

MATTHEWS:  Lots to do here.  Thank you.  Thank you for your—well, I don‘t want to say thank you for your loss, but perspective, and thank you.

HAZELGROVE:  Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to be here. 

MATTHEWS:  Kimberly, well, keep it up.  I recommend you keep lobbying, because people have got to hear this.  Thank you Kimberly Hazelgrove and Holly Wren.

Up next, the “HARDBALL Hotshots” talking about the Supreme Court‘s stand against the president, the Democrats‘ standing in the polls and what Superman stands for in today‘s world. 

By the way, don‘t miss the special Monday edition of HARDBALL when we talk to Iraq war veterans about their experience since coming home.  That‘s the special edition HARDBALL, “Voices from the Front” coming up on Monday.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(STOCK MARKET REPORT)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  It‘s time for our rowdy sometimes, rough and tumble Friday feature, “HARDBALL Hotshots.”  This week, Mike Barnicle, Amy Stoddard, and Craig Crawford.  Let‘s dig in.

First up, Bush loses his day in court.  This week, the Supreme Court ruled that President Bush went too far, overstepped his presidential authority, in essence, broke the law, in ordering military trials of suspected terrorists.  Is the court‘s decision a blow to the president or the presidency? 

Since 9/11, George W. Bush and his team have sought to restore power to the presidency, lost in the wake of Watergate.  Is the country putting the brakes on the president‘s power grab or power claim—Craig. 

CRAIG CRAWFORD, “CONGRESSIONAL QUARTERLY”:  Well, this doesn‘t create any problems that a constitutional amendment banning the Geneva Convention might not fix.  But I think ultimately the president will probably have the tribunals he wants.  Congress will go along. 

That‘s what the court said, that Congress needs to be involved, although I think the Geneva Convention component is the most intriguing, because it says that it applies to al Qaeda, which the administration has said it did not, which leads to the possibility—probably improbable—of war crimes trial. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Amy, what happens if the Congress simply does what the president wants now and passes a bill giving him the authority to try and hold the prisoners, and that just sets up the Democrats for another test of strength which they lose? 

A.B. STODDARD, “THE HILL”:  Well, no, I really think this is actually a big bummer for the administration.  This is the end of June and they‘ve had a great month.  This is the bummer of the month.  The timing couldn‘t be worse. 

It doesn‘t matter if all the Republicans, including Arlen Specter, who usually is making trouble for the administration, runs around and legislates what the administration wants.  It‘s going to make a big fight in the Congress, it‘s going to get gummed up.  There‘s 14 senators running for the presidency. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, I‘m going to find somebody to agree with me.  Mike, doesn‘t this expose the Democrats once again that having to choose between supporting the president in lockstep or saying they‘re different? 

MIKE BARNICLE, “BOSTON HERALD”:  Oh, it puts the Democrats in a box, there‘s no doubt about that, Chris.  Besides, they‘re in the box because this administration, often with their past behavior, they don‘t care about this court decision.  They haven‘t paid any attention to the Congress or the country or the war in Iraq. 

By now, 24 hours after the decision came down, I‘m sure they‘ve all convinced themselves that the court was on their side, and their job now is the political aspect of the decision to drop the hammer on the Democrats and puts them in that electoral box, vote up or down, are you for or against us here again in the war on terror. 

(CROSSTALK)

CRAWFORD:  As Andrew once said, “The court can decide.  Let them enforce it.”

MATTHEWS:  Now, let me ask you this, let the Democrats decide.  Will John Kerry, will Hillary Clinton when asked, as Senator, will they give the president the authority he says he needs to take care of the terrorists? 

CRAWFORD:  I think they probably will. 

MATTHEWS:  In other words, they‘ll buckle?

CRAWFORD:  Yes, they‘ll buckle and they‘ll whine and moan about how the president should have sought this authority all along. 

MATTHEWS:  A.B.?

STODDARD:  Not after a long, big, you know—they‘re going to make it a big, rhetorical field.  If they buckle in the end, maybe, but I think they‘re going to ...

MATTHEWS:  But that makes it all the more delicious doesn‘t it, if the Democrats twist in the wind for a couple of weeks and then they says, oh, OK, you win?  You know this is going to happen.  It happened in 2002 when they have the war vote.  All these guys demurred and then they all voted with the—Mike, every one of these guys, Hillary, your guy up there, John Kerry.  They all backed the president.

BARNICLE:  My guy?  I like my guy, he is my guy, but I have to tell you ...

MATTHEWS:  Except for Ted Kennedy who didn‘t do it. 

BARNICLE:  Just the specter that you have raised, the speeches on the Democratic side of the aisle, they‘re almost enough right now to start making me start taping my eyelids open in anticipation of what they‘re going to say.  My God, it‘s making my hair hurt to think about it and I don‘t have much hair. 

CRAWFORD:  This could be rough for Bush in the long run, because the court is showing that they might be hostile to some of the expansions of presidential power. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s go on to next.  The President and the King, Elvis may have left the building, but he‘s never really left the White House.  Look at this, today President Bush took Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi to visit Graceland down in Memphis.  Koizumi is such a big Elvis fan, he‘s put out his own album of Elvis Presley hits.  Here he is today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRIME MINISTER JUNICHIRO KOIZUMI, JAPAN:  Love me tender, love me true.  Wise men say only fools rush in, but I ...

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I thought you were going to do “Blue Suede Shoes.”

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I thought I was at a karaoke bar.  The prime minister may be awed by the singer called the King.  But it‘s nothing new for the ghost of Elvis.  In December of 1970, believe it or not, Richard Nixon met with Elvis at the oval office after the King showed up at the White House unannounced.  Jimmy Carter brags of being a distant cousin of Presley.  Mike Barnicle, you start, is this the true God of American culture, Elvis Presley. 

BARNICLE:  Chris, you can‘t make this stuff up.  You just cannot make this up.  By the way, that picture of Elvis and Nixon is the single most requested picture out of the national archives, because Elvis was clearly more stoned than any major league baseball player has been in the last year when that picture was taken. 

You know, all I could think of, given my bizarre nature and you‘re a student of history, Chris, can you imagine at the height of World War II, Franklin Delano Roosevelt taking Winston Churchill to Hoboken to see Sinatra‘s apartment?  We had the president of the United States at jungleland today with a singing prime minister of Japan.  Tel me there‘s not something wrong with this. 

MATTHEWS:  But let me suggest something A.B.  Isn‘t it a special treat for this prime minister because Koizumi really is an Elvis buff. 

STODDARD:  This is an excellent P.R. move by the White House.  It was a delightful story for everybody.  It was really fun in every way and I‘m wondering what more public appearances for Lisa Marie Presley could do for Bush‘s poll ratings.  I have another idea.  I really think Jacques Chirac, coalition of the unwilling, he‘s going to be retiring soon, I think the White House should inform him he‘s being taken on a trip to Neverland for a going away present, I think that Michael Jackson would be willing to give the tour and Lisa Marie Presley might show up to help out as well. 

MATTHEWS:  Maybe the president and Jacques should sit around and spin some old records. 

CRAWFORD:  I thought it was interesting that clip that the prime minister saying the line “only fools rush in,” that would be subtle criticism of the Iraq invasion? 

MATTHEWS:  Should we be talking more about North Korean missiles than spinning records. 

CRAWFORD:  I think that might help.  Although, they probably did in the limo. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with the HARDBALL hotshots.  On Sunday‘s on NBC‘s “MEET THE PRESS,” Tim‘s guest this Sunday Senator Mitch McConnell, who surprisingly voted against the burn the flag amendment and Senator Chuck Schumer.  Back with the Hotshots after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL hotshots with Mike Barnicle, A.B.  Stoddard and Craig Crawford.  Next up, a Republican spanking?  Are the Democrats ready to demolish the incumbent party come November?  A new “L.A Times” “Bloomberg” poll has 54 percent, a hard majority of the country now, hoping for the Democrats to take control of the Congress.  Just 34 percent want Republicans in charge despite their struggle for a message on Iraq.  Are Democrats still headed toward victory Alexandra? 

STODDARD:  I look into a crystal ball and I see red Republican districts, because they‘re so expertly drawn, I can‘t imagine that enough Republicans, just in general, Republicans will stay home allowing the energized left and center ...

MATTHEWS:  So the Voting Rights Act and gerrymandering together have added to an inevitable, unstoppable Republican wall of power? 

STODDARD:  It really is.  It‘s designed to protect the majority and nothing about that has changed, no matter where the polls go. 

CRAWFORD:  It‘s a system that‘s not majority rule. 

MATTHEWS:  How many votes do Republicans get automatically?  If you don‘t have an election basically, if both parties get the same number of votes, nationwide, same total number, how many seats is your Republican advantage? 

CRAWFORD:  I think it‘s still in the 15, 20 range. 

MATTHEWS:  They get it any way? 

CRAWFORD:  I mean we have a red (inaudible) built into the system. 

MATTHEWS:  So that‘s it, this is revenge, Mike Barnicle, for the old days of Phil Burton in California, where he would manipulate it so the Democrats had a big chunk of seats? 

BARNICLE:  Phil was a great man, Chris, he was a great man.  You know, I don‘t look into a crystal ball, but I do look if to the face of the gasoline meter every time I put gas in an automobile and in a country where filling up the tank for people on fixed incomes goes $50, $60 sometimes, depending on what kind of a car they‘re driving, there is the potential here for big, big Democratic gains this fall, if they can shut up. 

MATTHEWS:  If they he can what? 

BARNICLE:  If they can stop talking.

CRAWFORD:  It‘s a historic turnout that goes beyond anything that usually happens. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think they‘re saying Michael now that they shouldn‘t be saying?  What‘s turning off voters? 

BARNICLE:  I think what they‘re saying is so negative and so just knee jerk, anti-Bush, anti-war, anti-Iraq, which is all fine to a certain extent, I think people want to hear what are you going to do?  Never mind this guy, we know what he‘s done, tell us what you‘re going to do. 

MATTHEWS:  I like these guys like Dick Durbin and Carl Levin, they want to get us out of Iraq tomorrow morning, but they also say we‘ve got to stick around and make sure that the trials are handled properly.  I go what are you guys crazy? 

BARNICLE:  They are, they sound like lunatics. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with much more.  You‘re watching HARDBALL hotshots, only on HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  “Hot Shots” with Mike Barnicle, A.B. Stoddard and Craig Crawford. 

Next up, President Obama?  He has all the celebrity and none of the record.  Illinois Senator Barack Obama wowed the country in a show-stopping speech at the Democratic National Convention back in ‘04.  So if Hillary fatigue starts to set in, could Obama become the alternative that some in the party are already looking for?  Only two sitting senators have won the White House in history.  Is Obama‘s meager record a political plus?  Could he be a serious candidate, or is it just hoopla?  Alexandra.

STODDARD:  I think the odds are crushing.  I think that we all hope in this age of cynicism and sort of the professionalization of politics that someone can emerge, an untested natural leader can emerge and become president.  But he...

MATTHEWS:  Haven‘t we had an untested leader?  I‘m serious.  Bush had a few years as the governor of Texas, but...

(CROSSTALK)

CRAWFORD:  He had his daddy‘s Rolodex. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Learning on the job, you would think—Barnicle, you want

to solve this?  Do you have to have foreign policy experience and sort of -

some measure of big-time leadership to run for president? 

BARNICLE:  You‘ve got to be kidding me.  When George W. Bush was elected to the presidency, the first trip and the only trip he had made overseas—and he thought it was overseas—was to Martha‘s Vineyard. 

I mean, this guy, Barack Obama, if the Democrats want to attract voters under the age of 30, this is the guy.  Now, who knows if he can get through that primary process, but he brings excitement to the stage every time he appears.  He attracts new people to the process.  I don‘t think his lack of credentials in foreign policy are anything at all.  Jack Kennedy was elected in 1960.  His foreign policy credentials were fighting in World War II.

CRAWFORD:  But again, he had daddy‘s Rolodex.

MATTHEWS:  I think—I keep thinking of Julian Bond, who was such a hot ticket back in ‘68, you know, coming out of Georgia, a state senator, or a state rep, and everybody talked him up, and he disappeared.  I mean...

BARNICLE:  Yes, but, Chris, I mean, look at the issues in 1968 and look at the field, even the potential field in 1968.  Giants.  Gene McCarthy, Robert Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey.  Robert Kennedy, of course, died in June, but giants within the Democratic Party.   

MATTHEWS:  So you say it‘s a slower track now? 

CRAWFORD:  But I have not seen anything in his actual performance that suggests to me he has got anything beyond a lot of the ephemeral...

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me suggest one thing.  He gave a good speech.  I can‘t think of another Democrat who has in the last 20 years. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The Democrats do not have people who can talk.

(CROSSTALK)

CRAWFORD:  In situations where you learn about instinct—I mean, when Brian Williams interviewed him at the State of the Union, and Brian made the point that the president only spent 16 words on Katrina, for example, and it was a total softball to Obama.  And he punted, didn‘t take that shot at all.  And it struck me as someone who just does not have the instincts for the national stage yet. 

BARNICLE:  Well, you know something, Craig?  It could be that he is surrounded by too many handlers, even at this early stage.  

(CROSSTALK)

BARNICLE:  ... out of Washington, dump the handlers and stand with his hands in his pockets and talks English to people, he can go places.

MATTHEWS:  You have confidence in the natural ability of politicians, Michael?

BARNICLE:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t have such confidence in political handlers we know so well.

BARNICLE:  No.  Area code 202 kills them.

(CROSSTALK) 

MATTHEWS:  617 hasn‘t done so well over the years either.

BARNICLE:  No!

MATTHEWS:  Except—I don‘t know, I (inaudible).

Next up, is “Superman” anti-America?  America‘s favorite superhero has always been there to protect our country.  He fought Nazi power, even rescued a missing White House flag.  But this week, “The Hollywood Reporter” says a troubling yet salient question.  Is “Superman” still American?  Writers for the new summer blockbuster have changed “truth, justice and the American way” to “truth, justice and all that stuff.”  What gives?  “Superman” writer Dan Harris tells the newspaper, quote, “the truth is, he‘s an alien.  He was sent from another planet.  He has landed on the planet Earth.  He‘s here for everybody.  He‘s an international superhero.”  In fact, the writers never never considered using “the American way.”  They consider it loaded and antiquated.

Craig, what‘s the deal?

CRAWFORD:  Well, this does put a...

(CROSSTALK)

CRAWFORD:  It puts a damper on the 4th, doesn‘t it, and particularly it has been a tough month for the American way... 

MATTHEWS:  What is that uniform he has?  It‘s a red, white and blue uniform. 

CRAWFORD:  We had an Australian win the U.S. Open.  I mean, this is tough.

MATTHEWS:  Aren‘t these pro-American leotards he is wearing? 

CRAWFORD:  I do see—there is one serious point here, which is it‘s interesting to me that the marketers of Hollywood do not think “the American way” is marketable in an international community, which I think is part of what is going on here. 

BARNICLE:  Oh, sure.

CRAWFORD:  Because when so many people around the world think about the American way, they think about Haditha and Guantanamo and so on.   

MATTHEWS:  I thought they liked our cigarettes and stuff like that and our movie stars.

CRAWFORD:  Well, yes, our biggest exports are cigarettes and guns.

MATTHEWS:  I remember right after these, they would to reach for the rich American—rich American taste of Gold Dollar cigarettes, something we didn‘t even sell over here, but they sold there.  You are not talking—we sell our products stamped “made in America”...

(CROSSTALK)

STODDARD:  I think that now we‘ve found out that he is an alien, we should make sure the House Republicans don‘t find this out, and I think as long as he can make a pledge to sort of save some other crops that have been decimated in the deluge we experienced in the Northeast this week, maybe he can come up with a PowerPoint presentation on how he could stop the—he could save agribusiness from the effects of global warming, and then I think the Bush administration is going to score him a nice guest worker visa. 

MATTHEWS:  I just wonder how he got here—came here from Krypton, but end up looking like a northern hemisphere white guy?  Where did that come from?  Craig, you answer that one.  How did Superman get to look like...

STODDARD:  He looked puffy, actually.

CRAWFORD:  Well, because he was an American hero.  I mean, this is a tragedy.  I think losing—the fact that the American way is not marketable to the smart marketers of Hollywood I think is a frightening...

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t think this is liberal prejudice by Hollywood?

CRAWFORD:  No, I do not.  I think it‘s a business decision.  I mean, I think it‘s a good business decision...

BARNICLE:  Sure, that‘s exactly what it is.

CRAWFORD:  If they are going to sell this movie around the world, they cannot use the American way. 

MATTHEWS:  Is there any way to disguise, Mike, that he comes from us? 

This is our creation, this guy.  He is an American creation.

BARNICLE:  You know, Chris, you know, I mean you have written about this.  Movie making has never been part of a non-profit, and these people are concerned with the multiplex along the Champs d‘Elysees as much as they are in Westwood. 

And the other deal is—and it‘s historic in Los Angeles, writing movies, increasingly more and more movies are made by younger and younger people, directors and writers, and their entire frame of reference growing up isn‘t books about the United States of America or anything else.  It‘s Saturday morning cartoons.  The “Superman” movie is basically Road Runner in a cape.  It‘s Road Runner in a cape.  And it has nothing to do with politics.  It has to do with money. 

MATTHEWS:  Not that there is anything wrong with that.

BARNICLE:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, Mike Barnicle, A.B. Stoddard and Craig Crawford.  Have a great Fourth of July, everybody, and be sure to join us Monday for our special show, “Voices from the Front.”  I‘ll talk with Iraqi war veterans about what life has been like since they got home.  Right now, it‘s time for “THE ABRAMS REPORT.”

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

END   

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