updated 7/13/2006 10:31:32 AM ET 2006-07-13T14:31:32

Guests: Ed Rogers, Jenny Backus, Jack Welch, Lynn Sweet, Chris Cillizza, A.B. Stoddard, John McCaslin

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  For three years, Bush‘s people, Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, kept secret their leaking.  The strategy got the president through a narrow reelection.  But now Bob Novak, the prince of darkness, has shed light on the case.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

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

Three years ago, we found ourselves in Iraq without the reason for being there.  We could find no WMD, no nuclear weapons program, as the president and especially the vice president had been saying there would be in order to sell the invasion. 

Suddenly, there came an uproar.  A former ambassador said the president‘s people knew there was no evidence of an Iraqi nuclear weapons program, but covered up that fact.  Three years later, we now know that the president and his men refused to let us know what really happened, what they kept secret, their effort to destroy the whistleblower, former ambassador Joe Wilson, by leaking about him. 

We now know Rove talked to Bob Novak, the columnist who broke that story.  We know that Rove talked before that to “Time” magazine‘s Matt Cooper.  We know that Scooter Libby, the vice president‘s man, leaked to his friend Judy Miller of the “New York Times,” and to “Time” magazine‘s Cooper. 

So who says coverups don‘t work?  The White House got out discrediting information on the whistleblower, Bush aides, except for Scooter Libby, have avoided prosecution and possible prison, and the president won reelection.  Something worked here.  We begin tonight with HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The revelations by columnist Bob Novak mean the list of administration officials who leaked keeps growing.  Three years after President Bush offered this blanket denial. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I don‘t know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information.  If somebody did leak classified information, I‘d like to know it, and we‘ll take the appropriate action. 

SHUSTER:  Based on court documents released earlier this year, we know that presidential advisor Karl Rove discussed Joe Wilson and his CIA operative wife with two reporters, “Time” magazine‘s Matt Cooper and columnist Novak.  Other documents show that Vice President Cheney‘s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, who has been charged with perjury, discussed the Wilsons with Cooper and “New York Times” reporter Judy Miller.

And Libby testified to the grand jury, according to documents, that he had been authorized to give reporters classified information about Iraq by President Bush himself, who sent word through Vice President Cheney. 

The significance of Novak‘s column today is that he adds two more officials into the mix: CIA spokesman Bill Harlow who denies he ever confirmed anything for Novak, and an official that Novak only describes as his first and primary source. 

Novak says that in the summer of 2003, his primary source told him about CIA operative Valerie Wilson, quote, “in the middle of a long interview in a manner that was inadvertent.”  Then after Wilson‘s husband, Joe Wilson, published this column criticizing the administration‘s main case for war with Iraq, Novak spoke about the Wilsons to Karl Rove and then Bill Harlow. 

And then, Novak blew the cover in his column on Valerie Wilson‘ identity.  Within months, the leak investigation began and it eventually uncovered evidence that Scooter Libby had discussed the Wilsons with half a dozen government officials before his conversations with reporters.

But none of the information about Libby or Karl Rove came out until after the presidential election.  Why?  Because Novak‘s secret agreement to testify was kept a secret, offering no roadmap to other reporters.  In fact, Novak‘s revelations today show that he agreed to testify early on, just as other reporters were fighting to protect their pledges of confidentiality. 

BARBARA COCHRAN, RTNDA:  I think it‘s very hard to say that anyone acted wrongly, but it‘s also very unclear, because people did different things. 

SHUSTER:  The difference came over interpretations of a general waiver White House lawyers asked all officials to sign, releasing reporters from any agreements.  For Novak, the initial general waiver was enough.  At a meeting with Fitzgerald in January of 2004, Novak says he told the prosecutors the names of his three sources. 

A year-and-a-half later, at the end of an expensive court battle, the “New York Times‘” Judy Miller and “Time” magazine‘s Matt Cooper were preparing to be jailed in contempt of court for continuing their refusal to testify. 

MATTHEW COOPER, “TIME” MAGAZINE:  In what can only be described as a stunning set of developments. 

SHUSTER:  Cooper said he received a last minute, specific waiver from the source that was different from the general waiver officials signed early on.  Cooper then testified his source was Karl Rove.  As for the “New York Times‘” Judy Miller, she went to jail for 12 weeks. 

JUDITH MILLER, “NEW YORK TIMES”:  I was a journalist doing my job, protecting my source, until my source freed me to perform my civic duty to testify. 

SHUSTER:  When Miller eventually testified, she said her primary source was the vice president‘s chief of staff, Scooter Libby.  So why did Novak testify when other reporters refused?  In his column today, Novak says his lawyer, quote, “told me that I was sure to lose a case in the courts at great expense.”  And Novak added he was satisfied by the general waivers officials signed early on. 

(on camera):  Lawyers points out that Bob Novak was under no legal obligation these last three years to keep his role or testimony a secret, and while it would not have changed any government official‘s legal status, analysts point out the political landscape for the White House might have been far different if leak sources, including Karl Rove and others, had been publicly identified three years ago, heading into a presidential election. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster. 

Jenny Backus is a Democratic strategist and Ed Rogers is a Republican strategist and former advisor to the first President Bush. 

Let me go to you, Ed Rogers, because this is an interesting case.  As you pointed out in the hallway here about 43 times as we came out here tonight, Karl Rove is not going to the can. 

ED ROGERS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  OK, is—that‘s it as far as you‘re concerned.  You can leak like a bandit, the president can say you didn‘t leak, they can send out the White House spokesman saying nobody leaked, nobody did anything to try to kill the whistleblower here, but if we get caught, that doesn‘t mean anything because nobody went to jail yet?

ROGERS:  Was that a question? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ROGERS:  Never has so much been said about so little.  It‘s over for Karl Rove.  They‘ve investigated allegations, everybody ...

MATTHEWS:  So he didn‘t leak? 

ROGERS:  He didn‘t disclose anything he ought not disclose, and he didn‘t initiate anything about Mrs. Plame, and when are the apologies going to start?  When is somebody going to say I‘m sorry, Karl Rove. 

MATTHEWS:  Right after we find out what went wrong here ...

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS:  I‘m sorry Karl Rove about the accusations I made against you. 

MATTHEWS:  Are they close enough to this case to know that there was two suspects from day one.  As for the leakers, whether the law would be interpreted against them, and they would go to jail ...

ROGERS:  And it wasn‘t.

MATTHEWS:  It was not, that‘s clear.  For whatever reason, they weren‘t held to these laws.  We have got a number of perjury charges outstanding against Scooter Libby, the vice president‘s chief staff. 

ROGERS:  That‘s unfortunate.  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  Unfortunate for who? 

ROGERS:  For Scooter. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, of course for him, but not for the Republican necessarily.  We‘ll find out the truth at trial.

ROGERS:  They‘ll be a trial, yes.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you—welcome to the show, mommy, or mom to be.

JENNY BACKUS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this, what did you think? 

BACKUS:  Well, I mean, look, I think it‘s a huge problem for the administration because ... 

ROGERS:  Oh, come on. 

BACKUS:  Listen, this president ...

ROGERS:  It‘s a kidney stone.  It‘s just over.  It‘s just over.

BACKUS:  No, he campaigned on credibility and their credibility—he said he would fire the leaker.  I still see Karl Rove in the White House.  He says that he would fire Scooter Libby.  There‘s no responsibility.  They come out ...

ROGERS:  I‘m bewildered. 

BACKUS:  Why are you bewildered?  I mean, morally, these guys come out and say we are the most decent people in the world. 

ROGERS:  As a matter of fact—as a matter of fact, it‘s been investigated by a non-partisan entity that says there was inappropriate disclosure here.  It didn‘t happen.  It didn‘t happen.

BACKUS:  The president—OK, hold on.  Hold on.  The president, the president, the man who said take me at my word, I‘m firm, I‘m strong, I‘m secure on this ...

ROGERS:  The Democrats are obsessed with Karl Rove.

BACKUS:  ...I will fire the—no, I‘m listening to the president of the United States ...

ROGERS:  They had the Lee Atwater disease, now they‘ve got the Karl Rove disease. 

BACKUS:  I‘m not obsessed with Karl Rove, I‘m obsessed with ...

ROGERS:  This didn‘t happen, he‘s there, this has no impact on politics on America.

BACKUS:  Ed, Ed, slow down.

ROGERS:  None, zero.

MATTHEWS:  Let me just open this for a second here.  Let me just ask you if nothing happened, let me ask you what this is I‘m about to describe to you.  We went to war in Iraq, we‘ve lost 2,500 people there.  Fifty thousand people have been killed in this war so far. 

ROGERS:  Bad.  Very bad. 

MATTHEWS:  The war was argued up front, that it was because we faced a nuclear threat from Iraq.  It turns out we didn‘t.

ROGERS:  Well, the weapons of mass destruction ...

MATTHEWS:  Just a minute.  No, the nuclear was the key piece of it.

ROGERS:  Yes, that‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  It didn‘t turn out to be true, and a man who tried to blow the whistle on the fact that it may not have been ever true gets targeted by the White House, the top people at the White House, Rove and Scooter Libby, and people start going and talking to the press about his wife working at the CIA, that doesn‘t bother you?  The whistleblower gets attacked. 

ROGERS:  The whistleblower in this case, Ambassador Wilson who you‘re talking about, did not tell the truth.  As a matter of fact ...

MATTHEWS:  In other words, there was a nuclear weapons program in Iraq?

ROGERS:  ...it has been proven all that the administration told was the truth.  I mean, Wilson turned out to be a gadfly that was auditioning for the Kerry administration and it didn‘t work out.  

BACKUS:  Ed, listen to this though.  What have we listened to for the last month?  We‘ve listened to the president of the United States wring his hands because of leaks about national security, about his listening program, about the banking program.  He‘s attacked journalists, he‘s attacked major people around the country, but the president of the United States does the same darn thing and there‘s no leaking.

ROGERS:  Does what thing? 

BACKUS:  Leaking information about national security.  That was put out to discredit criticism of the war. 

ROGERS:   This is a distraction for the Democrats.  This doesn‘t matter. 

BACKUS:  I‘m talking about this country.

ROGERS:  Get over it.  Karl Rove is free and clear, he‘s focused on ‘06, and you ought to be worried about that.

BACKUS:  But politics ...

ROGERS:  And some people ought to apologize to Karl Rove, apologize—starting with Joe Wilson. 

BACKUS:  Let‘s—OK, let‘s come back a second.  Ed, Ed ...

ROGERS:  That guy ought to apologize to Karl Rove.  He was the one that said Karl Rove broke the law and ought to go to prison.  He should apologize. 

BACKUS:  Ed, the country.  Chris, we‘re if a war right now.  My state of Vermont, a real small state where I come from ...

(CROSSTALK)

BACKUS:  No, but Vermont has lost more kids per capita than almost any other state in the union ...

(CROSSTALK)

BACKUS:  But this is all about national security. 

(CROSSTALK)

BACKUS:  Well, when people raise questions about this administration‘s conduct of this war, what do they do?  They play dirty tricks.  But when other people raise questions about the administration, they put up their hands and start attacking their morality.

ROGERS:  It‘s a fair debate to talk about America‘s conduct in the war in Iraq.  That‘s fair.  And here you have Hillary‘s position, you have the Pelosi position.

BACKUS:  Was it fair what happened to Joe Wilson?

MATTHEWS:  Ed, is your position that if someone goes free, they‘re acquitted or there‘s no prosecution, no foul, no harm.  That‘s your position?

ROGERS:  Well my position...

MATTHEWS:  In this case.

ROGERS:  ... In this case, it has been proven affirmatively that no one disclosed any information that as a matter of law shouldn‘t be disclosed.  And that‘s what this was about.  That‘s what the special prosecutor is about.

BACKUS:  I mean, this is ridiculous.  I mean, you guys—where‘s your apology...

MATTHEWS:  ... So it‘s unfortunate if Scooter Libby is found guilty, but if he is found guilty, would you accept the fact that he is guilty?  I‘m going to ask you a question.  If he gets prosecuted effectively and he‘s found guilty, because you seem to have a standard here which eludes me.  If somebody breaks the law and is found to be guilty by a jury, is that at least wrong?

ROGERS:  Yes.  I‘ll give you that hypothetical.  Sure, I‘ll trust the court system in America.

MATTHEWS:  But if they‘re acquitted, they‘re clean.  And of course if they‘re not prosecuted, they‘re clean, but there‘s no other standard here?  There‘s no other standard here?

ROGERS:  Not guilty is not guilty.  Well as it applies to this case, it‘s been proven affirmatively that Karl Rove didn‘t do anything wrong.

MATTHEWS:  From the beginning of the morning until the end of the day at midnight, he can go 24/7, making statements which are factually untrue and he knows that day after day after day, and he won‘t ever go to jail.  Is that your standard?

ROGERS:  It‘s been proven as a matter of fact this White House didn‘t do that, didn‘t happen.

BACKUS:  The president said he would fire the person that was involved in the leak.

ROGERS:  Don‘t put words in the president‘s mouth.  That‘s not what he said.  You just showed the clip where he said anybody that disclosed classified information.

MATTHEWS:  Well wait a minute, the president puts words—the president of the United States hires a spokesperson and sends him out to tell us what he believe.  He sent out Scott McClellan to tell us that nobody leaked at the White House.  What did that mean to you?

ROGERS:  You just showed a clip of the president of the United States saying anyone that disclosed classified information could be in a lot of trouble by the administration.  It‘s now been proven that didn‘t happen.  Let‘s move on.  It didn‘t happen. 

BACKUS:  I can go back and show you the clip before that, which is where he said he was very troubled about what was going to happen and he would do something about it.

ROGERS:  Well everybody was very troubled about it.

MATTHEWS:  All I know is we had a war that was argued on the argument of a fear of a nuclear attack from that country, a nuclear threat, a man who tried to delve into that.  In fact, evidence he had to present to us was attacked for doing so.  More with Ed Rogers and Jenny Backus when we come back.  No relation to Jim Backus right?

BACKUS:  Fourth cousin.

MATTHEWS:  Wow, I like that.  And later, is the economy booming?  President Bush hangs the bunting.  Democrats hang the crepe.  Former G.E.  chairman Jack Welch will tell us what he thinks.  You‘re watching HARDBALL of MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH:  I don‘t know of anybody in my administration who leaked classified information.  If somebody did leak classified information, I‘d like to know it and we‘ll take the appropriate action. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  I‘m back with Democratic strategist Jenny Backus and former adviser to the president, Ed Rogers.  Ed Rogers, you have rank here.  You had a much bigger job than Jenny ever had.

ROGERS:  I‘m older, I‘m a lot older.

BACKUS:  I‘m trying to get there.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you also have a bigger house, probably.

Let me ask you about Rudy Giuliani.  We just had a little joust off camera, I‘m always told don‘t waste it off camera.  I believe he‘s not only running, I think he‘s going to win the whole thing come around the next election, the way things look right now.

ROGERS:  I hope he runs, I think it says something about the Republican Party, it‘s a big tent.  And the interesting place to be in ‘08 with a lot of variety.  It‘s unlikely Rudy Giuliani is going to be the Republican nominee.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think, Jenny?

BACKUS:  Rudy Giuliani is not going to get through the Iowa caucuses.  I mean, you‘re looking in the state of Iowa where you have more of the sort of extremes of both parties control the caucus process.  He‘ll raise some money, he‘s got some problems, Bernard Kerik was not a really stellar moment for his administration.  And I just think anybody who is pro-choice, pro-gay rights, it‘s a huge problem.

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s my thought.  I want to throw it out again, I‘m not going to argue again.  I‘ve got a position, I think he‘s going to win the next presidential election, but let me tell you something.  I think the No.  1 issue, check me on this, both of you, you first, is security the No. 1 issue in the country right now?

BACKUS:  Absolutely, not even a question.

MATTHEWS:  Security on the streets, walking at home tonight with your kids, being safe in your apartment or your home, is the No. 1 issue in the country?

BACKUS:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  OK, who‘s tougher than him on security out there, Democrat or Republican?

BACKUS:  I think the question‘s out there.

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s tougher than him on security?

ROGERS:  He is the toughest and the most credible.

BACKUS:  Tougher than him?  I think John Kerry is pretty tough.  He is tough.

MATTHEWS:  More street cred than Rudy?

BACKUS:  Street credit, probably not right now, but he could get it.

MATTHEWS:  We‘ve got a murder problem in Washington, D.C., in Baltimore, in Philly.  There‘s something going on, it‘s not the economy.  We‘ve got a street problem and isn‘t Rudy the toughest cop in the country?

BACKUS:  I‘m not sure though.

ROGERS:  He‘s the most credible, that‘s for sure.

MATTHEWS:  You could walk around New York when he was mayor and wander around late at night and you felt safe as hell.

BACKUS:  Yes, but the bottom line is he has had—he was the mayor of a very Democratic city, so he had a lot of money for social programs.  He also—I mean, John Kerry was a prosecutor who put people away.  I think he‘s going to have an argument.

ROGERS:  Are you for John Kerry?  Me too.  I want him to run again. 

He‘s my 2nd choice after Hillary—after Hillary, I‘m for John Kerry.

MATTHEWS:  They were very impressed with him.  I‘m just saying—let me ask about the Lieberman-Lamont race.  I find this the most exciting political race in the country this August, because there isn‘t anything else going on, OK?  Lamont versus Lieberman in Connecticut.  If Lamont beats Lieberman, I contend, that‘s a message that the war is a huge issue.

ROGERS:  No question.  It‘s a question of how monolithic and rabid to the left the Democratic Party has become.

MATTHEWS:  For anti-war.

ROGERS:  There‘s no place for Joe Lieberman in the Democrat party?

MATTHEWS:  Are you saying if somebody‘s against the war, they‘re left? 

Let me tell you, 56 percent of this country...

ROGERS:  No place for Ed Rogers?

MATTHEWS:  ... Wait a minute Ed Rogers, you snuck that in there. 

ROGERS:  Joe Lieberman, come home, change parties.

MATTHEWS:  He snuck that in there that if you‘re against this war in Iraq, you‘re a leftie.

BACKUS:  Look at the last polling.  Look at the numbers on Independents and Republicans.

ROGERS:  There‘s no place for Joe Lieberman in the Democratic Party. 

Joe Lieberman, come home to the Republican Party.

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t believe how you can—this is Tokyo road stuff here to talk like that.  Ed, do you want to take that back?

ROGERS:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Pat Buchanan is against this war.

ROGERS:  I want to reinforce it.  There‘s no place for Joe Lieberman in the Democrat Party.  Come home.  Come to the big tent.  Get inside the big tent.

BACKUS:  A, it‘s a Democratic Party.  Well what about...

MATTHEWS:  ... What‘s wrong with that by the way, shouldn‘t people who like this war, real hawks who loved it from day one, shouldn‘t they vote for Bush?  They believe in Bush.

BACKUS:  Yes, but—that percentage of the vote right now is about 22 percent.

MATTHEWS:  Why don‘t you just—give Lieberman his walking papers and say, “Joe, if you want to be a Republican in effect, be a Republican in name.  Just say so.”

BACKUS:  Well I think that‘s why you‘re having a primary race right now.  But the bottom line is Joe Lieberman‘s been a very good Democrat on a lot of other issues.  He‘s good on the environment.

MATTHEWS:  Are you back Lieberman in the Democratic primary in the general?  Are you going to jump in there and be one of these Republicans for Lieberman?

ROGERS:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  You are?

ROGERS:  Joe Lieberman, come to the big tent, come to the big tent.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re going against your own party nominee?  OK, thanks.

ROGERS:  Joe Lieberman is welcome in the big tent.

MATTHEWS:  But you won‘t back him.  I‘ll tell you one thing.  Right now, the way things are going, Lamont beats him.  Who knows what will happen the next month?  Anyway Jenny Backus, you‘re great.

BACKUS:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Are you expecting?  Just guessing.

BACKUS:  Yes, absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Well it‘s nice to have you, good luck with everything.  We all care about people here.  And Ed Rogers, we even care about guys who live in big houses.  Don‘t throw stones if you live in big houses. Up next, former general electric boss Jack Welch, my old boss, does he think the economy is a wonder or a worry?  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS: Welcome back, President Bush says the economy, his policies, in fact, are working and his first term tax cuts are bringing jobs and a new prosperity to America, but if it‘s that great out there, why isn‘t he getting credit for it?  All the credit he says he deserves.  Here to explain what‘s going on in the world of politics and of money, is Jack Welch. 

He‘s of course the famous former chairman of this company, C.E.O. of General Electric, the parent company of MSNBC and the author of many best sellers.  He‘s co-written the most recent one called “Winning,” with his wife Suzy.  Jack, thanks for joining us.  Is the president‘s economic program winning? 

JACK WELCH, FMR. CHAIRMAN & C.E.O GENERAL ELECTRIC:  Absolutely, Chris.  I mean these numbers are quite staggering, and look at their revenues that are coming in, as the deficit comes down.  I mean, this guy has got the numbers in terms of the economy.  Now he doesn‘t have the numbers in terms of the polls. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s going on?  I‘ve got a new number from the “Wall Street Journal”-NBC poll that says only 1/6 of the people, 16 percent, see the economy growing right now, getting better over the next 12 months. 

WELCH:  Well, I mean, how can you say, I mean, I don‘t know how they say this.  Look at reality.  We‘ve got 4.6 percent unemployment, the household numbers said we grew over 300,000 jobs last month, but one way to look at this, the power of this economy is this one, Chris.  I always like this number.  Go from mid 2003 to today and the U.S. economy has grown $2.2  to $2.3 trillion.  That‘s equal to the size of the whole Chinese economy.  That‘s the power of this economy and what it‘s done in the last 30 months. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s amazing, but you know when you look at the Dow every day like I do and I‘m sure you still do, to watch how things are moving, it just seems to get stuck around 11,000.  It never goes up really for any sustained period.  Why is it stuck if the economy is booming? 

WELCH:  Look, people are trying all kinds of different investments, if you look the Russell, it‘s done well.  If you look at selected segments, you get a lot of hedge fund money, you‘ve got a lot of private equity money, investing in non-Dow stocks and that‘s changing some of the shape of how the economy is performing. 

MATTHEWS:  I see.  Let me ask you about the fact that the public perception, I mean, you‘re well off, but you‘re pretty street wise, you know what people are going through.  You go to the pump and buy gas at $3 a gallon.  If you‘re a working guy or working woman, that usually means you have to go a long distance to your job, that‘s the way it is, so you‘re pouring cash in to that gas pump.  Is that what‘s bothering people in saying the economy is better, or is it the war in Iraq that‘s making them feel like we‘re not doing so good in the world? 

WELCH:  Chris, without question, it‘s the war in Iraq.  You‘re a very sophisticated guy.  I think I have some degree of understanding of what‘s going on in the world.  I don‘t have the foggiest idea of how this is going to end.  And I‘m concerned about that.  You see what happened in Mumbai yesterday.  You look at Baghdad in the last three days, with these riots.  Chris, we don‘t know, I mean, somebody may know, but if they know, they‘re not telling us.  I don‘t know how this is going to end.  I don‘t know how well it‘s going.  And that concerns me. 

I‘m a strong Bush supporter.  I love what he‘s done with the economy.  I believe in what he‘s done.  The deficit is down to 2.3 percent, the economy, we can handle that.  But I am concerned as heck about Iraq, about terrorism.  I think we‘ve done a fabulous job so far against terrorism around the world, with lots of organizations, but I personally don‘t know how Iraq is going to end, and that concerns me.  Do you know the answer? 

MATTHEWS:  No.  But I think I know the question and the question is, can we trust the decision to go into Iraq in the first place?  Was that an example of a wise leadership or not?  We can ask that question, can‘t we? 

WELCH:  We absolutely can, and in hindsight, of course, it doesn‘t look anywhere near as good as it looked right after our success in Afghanistan, and we thought about the atrocities that Saddam had created.  I mean, this is a different, hindsight is always very, very good.  I‘d like to know how it‘s going to end.  That‘s what‘s troubling me.  I thought we did a hell of a job in prosecuting the war and obviously, we haven‘t done a great job in bringing the country together and whether or not we can ever bring the country together, or whether it ends up being three countries.  I don‘t know the answer. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with Jack Welch.  We‘ll talk about him and the knocks he‘s taken from “Fortune Magazine,” it says new ideas have overcome some of his better ones.  We‘re going to see whether he wants to do some boxing with “Fortune Magazine.”  This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with Jack Welch, former C.E.O. of General Electric and that‘s the parent company of ours, of course, and he‘s a best selling of a book, his latest is called “Winning,” he wrote with his wife Susie.  Jack, you know, you said something, you snuck something in there that I think a makes a lot of people feel better.  A lot of us worried for years, like maybe you didn‘t but everybody else did, the Japanese are going to beat us and put us down and we‘ll be number two and of course for 50 years, we were worried about the Russians beating us in GNP and now you sort of put that thing in perspective about China, saying everything they have is merely a marginal number for us.  Are you confident we can keep our lead in the world economy over China? 

WELCH:  Absolutely.  It‘s going to be a battle and China is getting stronger.  I just tried to put in perspective the relative growth of the U.S. in the last 36 months, being equal to the total Chinese economy.  It‘s going to be a struggle.  China‘s growing at 10 percent a year and by 2040 to 2050, if the current growth rate continues, they‘ll close the gap with us very sharply.  On the other hand, how many people think China is going to be linear in its expansion.  Trees don‘t grow in straight lines, they don‘t grow to the sky, so there are going to be some political disruptions they‘re going to have to fight with.  We don‘t know what, when, or how, and you‘ve got to take China seriously.  That‘s a great big threat, but we have to be out there dealing with it. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of “Fortune Magazine” putting you in sort of the yesterday column here.  I‘m sure you‘ve taken note of this, being scrappy as you are.  It has the old rules of running a corporation here.  You look at the cover right now, big dogs own the street.  The new thinking is agile is best, being big can bite you.  Are you still with bigness?

WELCH:  I‘ve always been with big business and in 1981, in my opening speech to the shareholders, I talked about agility being the key thing for a large company.  So that‘s a 25-year-old idea.  These things that “Fortune” developed, these straw men, if you will, I never saw them.  I‘ve written two books.  I‘ve got a whole series of annual reports and none of these rules really are, maybe one or two are, but basically, they developed some straw men. 

Imagine, one of them was, it was cute, and the old rule was, higher A players.  The new rule is higher passionate people.  What the hell do you think A players are?  They‘re passionate.  So there‘s a whole series of these things that are just absolutely, so one of them was, admire my might, is an old rule.  Now admire my soul.  Can you imagine people walking around preaching that?  Chris, come on.  It‘s silliness. 

MATTHEWS:  You seem a little more secular than that, but what in the hell does it mean to admire the soul of somebody in a business context? 

WELCH:  Chris, I think it‘s right now it‘s talking about corporate responsibility in some of these things, but the main thing that I think, look, companies like G.E. have always had corporate responsibility before Jack Welch was there, while Jack Welch was there and now.  This was a summer issue, very clever I think.  Look, we‘ve had more TV requests to talk about this thing, about a magazine cover.  Once Susie and I started writing for business week, “Fortune” kind of didn‘t like it, so it was very nice to take shots at us and it‘s good fun, it‘s good competitive fun, but these rules, how they made them up, they‘re all straw men, that somebody dreamt in the middle of the night, the new rules are my rules. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about this Warren Buffett character.  I don‘t know anybody as rich as him.  You‘re maybe closer to him than I am, to say the least.  But what is it like to have, or this guy has billions of dollars, and he‘s giving away, it looks to me, about two-thirds to three quarters of his wealth, his legacy to basically, you know, the foundation of Bill Gates around the world, mainly working on AIDS and things like that.  Is that going to change the way people look at getting wealth, in the first place, that in the end, you don‘t give it to your kids.  In the end, even if you‘re a tycoon, it‘s better to give the money to some big organization in the world that‘s doing something? 

WELCH:  Well, Warren‘s kids have done very, very well, so let‘s not think, you know a billion here and a billion there counts out, but in fact, what he‘s done is a pretty smart philanthropic thing to do.  He likes Gates a lot.  They‘ve known each other.  It‘s almost a father-son relationship.  He trusts what he‘s doing.  He‘s seen what Melinda and Bill have done in their investing, and he likes it, so rather than leave it to some big fat bureaucratic foundation, he‘s leaving it to somebody he trusts, who is going to have a long run, who‘s doing work he feels comfortable with.  I think it‘s a pretty smart move and don‘t worry about the Buffett kids, they each got a big chunk for their foundations, plus there‘s plenty left over.  When you‘re dealing with a billion here and a billion there, Chris, don‘t feel sorry for him. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, now I‘m going to get you from behind.  What do you think of Ted Kennedy coming out today and whacking away at the top C.E.O.‘s and saying the ratios between their incomes and Joe six pack working on the line is outrageous? 

WELCH:  I didn‘t see it, but he says a lot of outrageous things.  But I think, what about Alex Rodriguez and the ticket taker.  Did he have any comments about that, or these World Cup soccer players and the people who took tickets there?  Should there be a ratio with these people?  Look, these are free markets. 

There‘s some abuses, there are people that make too much, there are people that make too much for bad jobs.  But in the end, this is a free market, just the way, we‘re two weeks, I guess three weeks left in the trading season for pitches, and players in the league, and now the trading deadline is up upon us.  Everybody is out with their checkbook and wallets trying to get somebody, and agents are having a ball.  They‘ve got three weeks.  No different, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  So it‘s like Babe Ruth when they asked him why he was worth $100,000, the president was worth less, he said I had a better year than he did. 

WELCH:  That‘s the way that one worked out. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Jack Welch, thank you, enjoy the summer.  Jack Welch, former C.E.O., author of “Winning.”  Up next, much more on the CIA leak probe and Decision 2006.  Reporters Chris Cillizza and Amy Stoddard, John McCaslin, Lynn Sweet are all going to be here.  We‘re going to have a quartet of opinion about Joe Lieberman‘s race, perhaps his end.   And of course Rudy Giuliani, who I keep pounding away is going to be the Republican nominee and I think the next president.  You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Columnist Bob Novak breaks his silence in the CIA leak case.  Does his story square with Karl Rove‘s?  What does the leak case tell us about how the administration defended its controversial war in Iraq? 

Plus HARDBALL does politics, of course.  Bill Clinton gets set to stump in Tennessee for Harold Ford, who‘s running for the Senate down there and Rudy Giuliani hits the country for ‘06 and I think for ‘08. 

Let‘s dig into all of it with the Capitol Hill‘s newspaper, “The Hill.”  The newspaper‘s called, A.B. Stoddard writes for it, WashingtonPost.com Chris Cillizza‘s great.  “Washington Times” columnist John McCaslin writes about us sometimes.  And Lynn Sweet of the “Chicago Sun-Times” covers nice folks out there like Bob Novak.

Let‘s start with Lynn Sweet.  Your colleague, Bob Novak, what do you make of his breaking of his silence—what do you make of his silence for three years on the leak case?

LYNN SWEET, CHICAGO SUN-TIMES:  I think it was his story and it was fine for him to tell it when he felt like it.  I know he was under a lot of pressure from other reporters to give them a story, but it was his to tell. 

He said he finally broke his silence because he was he told by Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor, that his role in this investigation is over.  So I don‘t have a problem with his timing.  I was very expectant and long awaiting his column that finally came out today.

MATTHEWS:  Is it a concern that others might draw, maybe not you, that whatever his motive and of course it probably was, I mean, I just assume was to keep a source secret, that‘s what everybody does, but that he knew that if he did blow the name of Karl Rove in the middle of the campaign last year, the president‘s denial of any role in this—the White House spokesman‘s denial of any role in this would have been very hurtful to the president?  It would have looked like he was lying, because Karl Rove was out leaking.

SWEET:  Well there‘s a difference here Chris between just telling what reporters and some of the press organizations thought he should have done, which is just at least confirm whether or not he had been before the grand jury, and then to spill names of people who were his sources. 

He did not do that.  He did not go before a grand jury and tell who his sources were without—except the two who gave waivers and gave permission.  So I think there‘s two different angles that you‘re going at here.

MATTHEWS:  Well let me go back to the one I started with.  Let‘s go to Chris Cillizza.  Chris, if we had known say October 2004, that despite what the president said, despite what his spokesman said that there was a massive leak from the White House, it was people like Scooter Libby, Karl Rove, of course all involved in it—I‘ve been counting there‘s six leaks coming out of there—in fact five there, one in the CIA—actually four out of the White House, one out of the CIA and one of the big mystery man out there so far.  Would that have hurt the president‘s reelection if he was he caught not telling the truth?

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM:  Would it have hurt it?  Yes, I think it would have.

MATTHEWS:  You only have to hurt him one percent, everything changes.

CILLIZZA:  Good point.  I think it‘s hard for us here in D.C. to measure how much people are really paying attention to this, but yes, of course, it hurts it.  When it looks as though the administration is submarining someone, solely because of their political partisan ties, there is an element of people who don‘t like that.  And again 100,000 votes, like you said, in Ohio, go a different way and it‘s President John Kerry.

SWEET:  But there are a lot of ways this could have come out, Chris.  You know, Bob was one of many players that could have brought in Karl Rove‘s name.  So he wasn‘t a central—he was not central to just being the person—he was one of many people that...

MATTHEWS:  ... Well, a lot of people knew about his attitude of course, but the ones who knew about his leaking were the ones he leaked to, Matt Cooper of “Time” and in a kind of supporting way, or affirming way, Bob Novak.  A.B.?

SWEET:  And Bob Woodward and Judy Miller.

A.B. STODDARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, THE HILL:  I think that what we learned from Bob Novak‘s column today is that Karl Rove is a confirming  source.  The mystery man is the primary source.  And what we learned is that Patrick Fitzgerald‘s got this job in December of ‘03 and just one month later or less, mystery man No. 1, the source No. 1, reveals that actually, the Valerie Plame revelation was inadvertent.

MATTHEWS:  So he should have folded his tent right then?

STODDARD:  You could make that argument.

MATTHEWS:  OK, what about the possibility—I‘ll try this among all four of you, that this leak case began perhaps inappropriately, because it was perhaps a leak if it was done by Richard Armitage, who‘s a prospect right now as the primary leaker.

He‘s certainly no hawk, certainly no neocon, certainly not a guy trying to push the destruction of Joe Wilson or his wife, who may have done it inadvertently.  But then as part of his investigation, this is what we think, Fitzpatrick discovered there were people like Scooter Libby who were pushing the story about Joe Wilson with abandon, they were doing it with purpose.  Go, John.

JOHN MCCASLIN, COLUMNIST, WASHINGTON TIMES:  Don‘t forget, Chris, that the White House is still saying there was no leak out of the White House and Karl Rove had nothing to do with this.  He was approached by Novak in this instance and he responded.

And nothing really new came out today or yesterday in Novak‘s column, because we already knew it was Karl Rove, he had already mentioned Karl Rove and Karl Rove I think was already fired twice because of leaking to Novak factor in the George H.W. Bush campaign.

MATTHEWS:  All right, well you know a lot, but you also know the discrepancy between what Bob Novak, the so-called prince of darkness, says to—Karl Rove said to him, what Karl Rove is contending he said. 

The prince of darkness says the guy really did confirm it.  He said so you heard about Valerie Wilson, that is confirming by the way, guys.  That is confirming.  No forget that, he‘s a red herring.

He confirmed that the guy‘s wife was at the CIA and No. 2, now Rove and his defense, or rather his spokesman for his defense says no, I never said so you heard.  I said I‘ve heard that too, which is not a confirmation, therefore you‘ve got to believe that Bob Novak is more likely telling the truth here than Karl Rove, because Bob Novak used him as his confirmation. 

You can‘t say I heard the same thing, and that‘s a confirmation.  It‘s not a confirmation to say I‘ve heard the same rumor.

SWEET:  Well that‘s why...

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead, Chris.

CILLIZZA:  If I could quickly just point out, I‘m amazed—the thing that I read and I was amazed by this, is that they both can recount verbatim a conversation they had in 2003. 

MATTHEWS:  Words.

CILLIZZA:  I can‘t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, much less oh you heard about him or yes, that‘s him.

MATTHEWS:  You are so right.  When you‘re lucky to remember is the tenor of a conversation, like the guy was really mad at me or he seemed to be enjoying it.  But you rarely can remember words.

CILLIZZA:  I just know as a reporter when I go through my notes, or I look through my notebook, I mean, I have—exactly like you said, I have the tenor and the tone of the conversation, but I wouldn‘t have that specificity.

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll tell you the reporter‘s advantage.  Check me on this, reporters.  You‘re scribbling away, the guy talking to you or the woman talking to you is not scribbling away.  You have a record.

SWEET:  That is enormous.  That is enormous.  It‘s not only a record, you‘re paid to be paying professional attention and taking notes and most people who we are talking being to are not.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

SWEET:  And I think Bob did leave a very kind of teasing clue there that I hope he will come back to and address at some point, because he said the substance of the recollections that he had and that Karl Rove had were the same, but the form was different.  I thought that was just a tease for another column one day, that he could actually let us know what exactly that form was. 

MATTHEWS:  No, I think the way he recorded it was that he really did get confirmation from Karl Rove, and the way that Karl Rove supposedly remembered it was he wasn‘t a confirming source.  He wasn‘t anything, he was just a rumor enjoyer.  We‘ll be right back with Lynn Sweet, John McCaslin, A.B. Stoddard and Chris Cillizza. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL.  We‘ve got a quartet with us here.  We‘re going to talk about the 2006 elections with Lieberman this August.  That‘s the first big test of the war as an issue, August 8th, up in Connecticut, and then whether Rudy Giuliani is in this thing for the kill. 

You‘re only here—you‘re only here—I‘m reading part of it from the prompter.  HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

I‘m here with “The Hill”—that‘s the name of the newspaper up on Capitol Hill, A.B. Stoddard is her name; the Washingtonpost.com‘s Chris Cillizza, the “Washington Times” columnist John McCaslin that we all rely on because he‘s such an items kind of guy, and Lynn Sweet who works very closely with Bob Novak, the prince of darkness.  Do you guys call him the prince of darkness over there or is that just for the other people to use? 

SWEET:  It‘s such a—I‘ll tell you, it is such an overblown title.  I‘ve known Bob for years and I‘m here to tell you, he‘s only been nice to me.  And I have never seen the prince of darkness side. 

MATTHEWS:  Tough on the outside, soft on the inside, right? 

SWEET:  He‘s very decent.  He‘s very pleasant to be with.  I hate to blow his image here, but he is quite charming actually. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.  I think he is nicer to women in my experience, anyway.   

SWEET:  Oh, come on Chris.  He‘s just—I don‘t think it is a gender thing.  This prince of darkness is just a persona that he has, and I‘m telling you, if you know him, it is not like having a talk with Darth Vader.  It is not.  He‘s quite nice.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you, now that you‘re all revved up there Lynn Sweet, my brother—and I always like to remind people of this, although I am not involved at all—is running for lieutenant governor of Pennsylvania as a Republican.  He is a Republican. 

And he spent the day—I just talked to him on the phone a couple of hours ago.  He spent the day with Rudy Giuliani, and his son and both—they say this guy is so hot, so revved up, so juiced up right now politically that he is running.  They think he is running for president.  What do you think, Lynn? 

SWEET:  Well, Rudy Giuliani was just in Illinois before Pennsylvania doing a campaign stop for Judy Baar Topinka who is running for governor there.  And he really cranked up the troops there, I think, from what I hear, even in ways that President Bush who was in last week for Topinka, who‘s running for governor—so I think he is, what, it‘s heavy exploratory, heavy testing the waters. 

Whether or not, you know, he‘s going to boil, I don‘t know yet.  It is way too early.  Certainly, he is not the kind of Republican that a lot of the conservatives in the party could take a liking to. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but he keeps winning these polls.  I‘m going to go to John McCaslin.  Everybody says that Rudy can‘t win, and every time I pick up a poll of Republicans or leaning Republicans, Rudy wins. 

SWEET:  Sure.  At this point, it‘s just a beauty contest.  It doesn‘t mean—you know, when they get down to certain issues, it‘s going to be a little rougher for him. 

MATTHEWS:  Beauty contest?  You mean getting rid of the comb-over helped?

MCCASLIN:  You said, Chris, that he was in Philadelphia.  He was in Baltimore today campaigning for Governor Ehrlich.  He was down with Asa Hutchinson, governor down in Arkansas last week. 

MATTHEWS:  Running for governor in Arkansas, yes.

MCCASLIN:  Yes, it is interesting, he is turning to the governors now.  And I‘ve been told by his top strategist that‘s it is more likely he will be running than not be running.  And his biggest campaign will be in the primary.  It wouldn‘t be if he were, say, facing Hillary Clinton. 

MATTHEWS:  So he—what do you mean his biggest campaign?  You mean his toughest challenge? 

MCCASLIN:  Toughest challenge would be in the Republican primary. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go—you‘re laughing.  I‘ve watching you on TV.  Do you think he‘s running?  I believe he‘s running, and he‘s going all the way.

(CROSSTALK)

STODDARD:  ...a long time ago, when he went to campaign for Ralph Reed. 

MATTHEWS:  It showed he was willing to ...

STODDARD:  You, obviously, want something in return if you‘re going to hang out for Ralph Reed this season, OK? 

MATTHEWS:  So if you‘re going to eat crap, that proves you‘re running for president?

STODDARD:  Ralph Reed‘s in deep trouble.  I think ... 

(CROSSTALK)

SWEET:  This is the minimum activity you have to do if you want to be taken seriously.  He has to go out ...

MATTHEWS:  Then you have to go down to Falwell‘s operation and that circus and play you‘re interested in that game. 

SWEET:  And raise a lot of money for other people.  It is the minimum he has to do. 

CILLIZZA:  I just—I want to make a point.  I don‘t want to disagree with A.B., but I would say that ...

STODDARD:  But you‘re welcome to.

CILLIZZA:  ...but I‘m going to.  When I saw him do an event for Ralph Reed, I though maybe he is not running for president. 

MATTHEWS:  Why? 

(CROSSTALK)

CILLIZZA:  Because for the same reason, I don‘t know that the connection to Ralph Reed right now and the Jack Abramoff scandal makes sense. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s got to make sense out there.

CILLIZZA:  You don‘t go to Arkansas, you don‘t go to Illinois, you don‘t go to all these places to do that, but ... 

MATTHEWS:  You know why—you know, I want to end this, because I don‘t want to get out here on a limb.  I‘ve already gotten on a limb.  I think he‘s going to be the next president.  How is that for a limb?  But let me ask you all, isn‘t the job description to replace George W. Bush, who a minority of the people really still like, who‘s obviously got problems in Iraq.  We all do as Americans. 

Isn‘t the job description somebody who will be better than the president we have now on security, on homeland security, protecting this country?  That‘s the job description.  Not being nice.  Not how many times you‘ve been married.  Not where you stand on gay marriage, but the job description of the next president is to protect this country. 

And that shows up in all the polls.  I don‘t like all these people speaking for the conservatives in the Republican Party saying they‘ll never accept him, when the polling keeps saying the Republican majority wants this guy. 

CILLIZZA:  But I would—Chris, the one thing I would say is, and I think I agree with Lynn here is, the reality is, if you ask people about Rudy Giuliani, they say September 11, New York City mayor.  Most people don‘t know that Rudy Giuliani favors abortion rights.  Most people don‘t know that he favors gay marriage, and when they find out about it ...

MATTHEWS:  You know what they know?  You know what they know?  You can walk through the streets when he was mayor, and come home alive.  They know that, so don‘t say they don‘t know a lot about him.

CILLIZZA:  I agree, but I don‘t know that Iowa caucus-goers vote on walking through streets of New York City and come home alive.  I think they vote on things like abortion. 

MATTHEWS:  Des Moines then.

CILLIZZA:  I don‘t know if Des Moines is the crime capital of the United States. 

MATTHEWS:  If anybody thinks that any president of the United States is going to change abortion policy on his watch, they haven‘t been paying attention to American politics.  What they can do is talk a lot about it, but nothing ever changes.  We have Roe v. Wade.  It‘s going to be there in 10 years, in 20 years, and we have got to live with it.  Go ahead.

SWEET:  Chris, the fact that the Giuliani thing, what he has though is this New York moxie show business way.  You put him in a room with somebody who is very nice and a decent speaker, like a George Allen, who are people going to listen to more?  Mitt Romney who can be real funny and who is a very interesting guy and drop-dead good looking? 

But still a lot of people don‘t know about him.  He has got the name I.D. right now, and he is doing everything right just to run around and at least raise money for people so they‘ll have to give him an entry when he comes back the next time, calling for himself.

MATTHEWS:  We all agree we has a political pulse right?

OK, let‘s go.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Lynn Sweet, thank you.  John McCaslin, great roundtable. 

Great quartet, A.B. Stoddard.  Great.  Chris Cillizza, thank you, sir.

Play HARDBALL with us again tomorrow when our guests will include Republican strategist Matt Dowd.  He got Bush reelected.  Well, I think Bush got Bush reelected.  Can he do it for Schwarzenegger out in California?  Right now it‘s time for “TUCKER.”

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

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