updated 8/4/2006 9:57:47 AM ET 2006-08-04T13:57:47

Guests: Saxby Chambliss, Jack Reed, Dan Gerstein, Al Sharpton, Mark Zaid, Max Cleland

MIKE BARNICLE, MSNBC HOST:  Today, top U.S. generals tell senators the violence in Iraq could turn into a civil war.  Will American troops get caught in the crossfire? 

Let‘s play HARDBALL.  Good evening.  I‘m Mike Barnicle sitting in for Chris Matthews. 

Today, under intense pressure to appear, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld faced a political firing squad over his leadership of the war in Iraq.  Senator Hillary Clinton, a likely Democratic presidential candidate, grilled Rumsfeld on the war. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK:  Because of the administration‘s strategic blunders and, frankly, the record of incompetence in executing, you are presiding over a failed policy.  Given your track record, Secretary Rumsfeld, why should we believe your assurances now? 

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  My goodness. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  The Iraq war has cost over 2,500 American lives and over a quarter of a billion dollars.  And polls show it‘s the defining issue in this fall‘s election.  In a moment, we‘ll talk to two senators who questioned Secretary Rumsfeld today. 

And later, day 23 of the Mideast conflict turned out to be the deadliest day for Israel since the fighting began.  The militant group Hezbollah killed eight people in rocket attacks in Israel, and four Israeli soldiers were killed in fighting in Lebanon. 

Plus, the leader of Hezbollah said today the group would target Tel Aviv if Israel attacked central Beirut, but offered to stop the rocket attacks if Israel stopped its bombing campaign in Lebanon.  More on the crisis in a moment with NBC‘s Richard Engel in Tyre. 

But first, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee today.  Here‘s HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In his first testimony to Congress in six months, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld today tried to offer soothing words about Iraq.

RUMSFELD:  I remain confident in our mission, in our commanders, in our troops, and in our cause. 

SHUSTER:  But for the first time, Rumsfeld‘s top Mideast commander acknowledged the growing violence in Iraq could lead to all-out civil war. 

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, COMMANDER OF U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND:  I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I‘ve seen it in Baghdad, in particular, and that if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move towards civil war. 

SHUSTER:  General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, offered some perspective. 

GEN. PETER PACE, CHAIRMAN OF THE JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF:  Sir, I believe that we do have the possibility of that devolving to a civil war but that does not have to be a fact. 

SHUSTER:  But even steadfast supporters of the Bush administration today showed signs of exasperation.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  Did you anticipate this situation a year ago? 

PACE:  No, sir. 

MCCAIN:  Did you, General Abizaid, sir? 

ABIZAID:  That they would be this high?  No. 

SHUSTER:  Senator McCain noted U.S. troops are not being added to Iraq, just moved around to each new insurgent stronghold. 

MCCAIN:  What I‘m worried about is we‘re play a game of whack-a-mole here.

SHUSTER:  And he spoke of recent discussions in Iraq with U.S.  commanders. 

MCCAIN:  They said, we‘ve got big problems in Ramadi.  Everybody knows we‘ve got big problems in Ramadi, and I said where are you going to get the troops?  Well, we are going to have to move them from Fallujah.  Now we‘re going to have to move troops into Baghdad from someplace else.  It‘s very disturbing. 

SHUSTER:  Republican Committee Chairman John Warner raised questions about the president‘s authority. 

SEN. JOHN WARNER ®, VIRGINIA:  I think we have to examine very carefully what Congress authorized the president to do in the context of a situation if we‘re faced with an all-out civil war, whether we have to come back to the Congress to get further indication of support. 

SHUSTER:  Democrats charged the U.S. military is so bogged down in Iraq that the nation is not prepared to deal with potential problems elsewhere. 

SEN. JACK REED (D), RHODE ISLAND:  The bottom line is that we have no ready strategic reserve.  And this is a stunning indictment of your leadership. 

RUMSFELD:  I think it‘s an inaccurate statement.  If you ask the readiness of the forces with respect to what they‘re being asked to do, ask General Abizaid, are the forces over there capable of doing what they‘re doing, equipped and trained to do what they‘re doing?  He will tell you yes. 

SHUSTER:  And Abizaid did, but then it was Senator Hillary Clinton‘s turn. 

CLINTON:  But because of the administration‘s strategic blunders and, frankly, the record of incompetence in executing, you are presiding over a failed policy.  Given your track record, Secretary Rumsfeld, why should we believe your assurances now? 

RUMSFELD:  My goodness.  First, I tried to make notes and ...

SHUSTER:  Rumsfeld tried to go point by point on troop levels, equipment planning, and instability. 

RUMSFELD:  Are there setbacks, yes?  Are there things that people can‘t anticipate?  Yes.  Does the enemy have a brain and continue to make adjustments on the ground, requiring our forces to continue to make adjustments?  You bet.

The struggle against violent extremists who are determined to prevent free people to exercise their rights as free people is going to go on a long time, and it‘s going to be a tough one.  That does not mean that we have to spend the rest of our lives as the United States Armed Forces in Iraq. 

SHUSTER:  But Clinton refused to back down, charging that Rumsfeld has misled Congress and the nation. 

CLINTON:  There‘s a track record here.  This is not 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, when you appeared before this committee and made many comments and presented, you know, many assurances that have frankly proven to be unfulfilled, and ...

RUMSFELD:  Senator, I don‘t think that‘s true.  I have never painted a rosy picture.  I‘ve been very measured in my words and you‘d have a dickens of a time trying to find instances where I have been excessively optimistic. 

SHUSTER (on camera):  Democrats were incredulous and entered some of Rumsfeld‘s previous testimony into the Congressional record.  On Iraq, the political heat may only intensify with the Congressional midterm elections three months away, and with U.S. generals now testifying that the violence in Iraq is getting worse. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BARNICLE:  David, thanks very much. 

We go now to Democratic Senator Jack Reed and Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss. 

Senator Chambliss, give us the over-under, in your mind, the odds on what occurs first in Iraq:  civil war or democracy. 

SEN. SAXBY CHAMBLISS ®, GEORGIA:  Well, I think it‘s difficult to tell right now, Mike.  You heard what the general said, that certainly the level of violence has increased, but by the same token, there were no questions asked today about how the unification of the government is moving along.  And we know for a fact that under Mr. Maliki, that things are improving from an organizational standpoint. 

So while on the one hand we are seeing the government move towards unification, we are seeing not only an increase in the violence, but a different form of violence.  This is more of a gangland-style attack that we‘re seeing over there now, with groups of various militia folks, who are charging into Chambers of Commerce meetings, Olympic Committee Meetings and whatnot, taking hostages, executing people on buses. 

That‘s a different form of violence, but certainly a greater form of violence.  And as the general said, unless we stop it, then it could escalate into civil war. 

BARNICLE:  Senator Reed, you used the phrase “stunning indictment” today in addressing Secretary Rumsfeld.  Spell out the legal brief.  What are the elements of this “stunning indictment” of Secretary Rumsfeld‘s administration? 

REED:  Well, all of the Army brigades in the United States are reporting that because of severe equipment shortages, that they wouldn‘t be able to respond as quickly as required in an emergency, and that to me is a stunning indictment, that that‘s our strategic reserve of, that‘s our ability to respond to other problems. 

And, frankly, in response to Senator McCain‘s query about why we‘re not putting more troops into Baghdad, why we‘re simply moving them around in Iraq, that‘s because we don‘t have additional resources that are ready to go in. 

And one the principal functions of the secretary of defense is to ensure that we not only are able to stay engaged, but we‘ll also have the strategic reserve to react to other situations.  That, I think, is a stunning indictment. 

BARNICLE:  Senator Chambliss, in your state, there are several large and prideful military bases.  There is the proposal to redeploy troops in Iraq into Baghdad, up to as many as 7,000.  That clearly holds out the possibility of increased casualty lists.  What do you think about that? 

CHAMBLISS:  Well, obviously, you don‘t want to have any more casualties in this conflict but, Mike, there‘s nothing pretty about war.  It‘s an ugly, mean, nasty business and certainly we‘re dealing with Islamists extremists who are the meanest, nastiest killers in the world today. 

And by the same token, we‘ve got the best trained army that‘s ever been put on any battlefield, and I have all the confidence in the world that the 3rd I.D. and members of the armed forces that may be shipped as they have been out of Fort Stewart, Fort Benning, Robins Air Force Base, Moody Air Force Base—the list goes on in my state—that they‘re prepared to carry the battle to the enemy. 

And they‘re going to continue to do that, and I hate to think of any more casualties, but we‘ve got to finish this job and we simply can‘t pull back at this point in time, to any degree.  We‘ve got to put the necessary troops in place to make sure that we win it.

BARNICLE:  Senator Reed, in your state there are several large corporations.  This administration has prided itself for years on being the first administration filled with MBAs, business administration, business school people.  Can you think of any corporation located and headquartered in your state where the board of directors, the CEO, the shareholders, would have allowed Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to remain on the job if this were a corporate proposition? 

REED:  Oh, I don‘t think that would be the case, if this was a corporate organization running up to peak efficiency.  For many months now, when, asked I‘ve suggested that Secretary Rumsfeld should resign.  I think that‘s the case again today.  You‘ve got a situation where I think Senator Clinton laid it out very clearly, serious misstatements, serious mistakes, together with at this current juncture, a serious readiness challenge and I think we‘d all—the Department of Defense would be better served with a new secretary of Defense. 

BARNICLE:  Senator Chambliss, on the other front, Israel versus Lebanon—there was an interesting poll in the LA Times today, indicating that more Republicans support the state of Israel than Democrats do.  This is just voters, not senators now.  What‘s your take on that?  Why do you think that would be the case? 

CHAMBLISS:  Well, I‘m not sure why that would be.  I did see a poll that said that most Americans are supportive of Israel on this issue, and certainly Israel has a right to defend itself.  It sits in the middle of a volatile part of the world.  Its closest neighbors want to see that country destroyed, and they‘re doing what they have to do to be able to defend themselves.  Whether you‘re a Republican or Democrat, I think there‘s strong support for Israel in the Senate, and I‘m sure in the House, also. 

BARNICLE:  Senator Reed, the components of the Israeli-Lebanon conflict—war, actually—involving Syria, Iran and several other countries around there, do you not—how does it strike you that this administration has not spoken to Syria, does not speak to Iran, and the president of the United States apparently has not yet had a telephone conversation with the prime minister of Israel? 

REED:  Well, I think what has happened is that this is a demonstration of the failure, prior to this conflict, to invest a lot of resources by this administration into diplomacy in the region.  They stepped away.  Some of that might be attributed to the preoccupation with Iraq, but others might be attributed to the fact that they have not really spent the time to develop the contacts, informal and formal.  And in this case, maybe informal contacts would be very useful at this moment.

And now the secretary of State is on the fly, trying to put together some negotiations, some postures, some positions, and it‘s taking a long time.  In the meantime, there‘s a great deal of violence in the region, which I think ultimately will contribute to an instability that‘s much wider than in the present moment. 

BARNICLE:  Senator Jack Reed, Senator Saxby Chambliss, thanks very much. 

Coming up, a violent day in the Middle East.  Hezbollah fires a huge number of rockets at Israel and its leader promises to target Tel Aviv if Israel hits downtown Beirut.  We‘ll get the latest from Lebanon. 

And later, will supporting President Bush in the war in Iraq cost Joe Lieberman his job?

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. Israel renewed airstrikes on Beirut‘s southern suburbs and the head of Hezbollah threatened to take aim at Tel Aviv.  For the latest on the fighting, now more than three weeks old, we go to Tyre, Lebanon, and NBC‘s Richard Engel.  Richard? 

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC NEWS, TYRE, LEBANON:  Mike, today was the deadliest day for Israel so far.  Eight civilians were killed by Katyusha rocket attacks and then four Israeli soldiers were killed in fighting in south Lebanon, when their armored vehicle was hit by an anti-tank missile.  This comes just as the leader of Hezbollah, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, issued a televised speech tonight and he said if Israel continues to attack Beirut, the Lebanese capital, like it did yesterday, then Hezbollah would respond and attack Tel Aviv. 

I was listening as that televised speech was being made here in south Lebanon, with some refugees, people who live right along the Israeli-Lebanon border, and when Nasrallah made that announcement, people started applauding and cheering.  This is exactly what they wanted to hear. 

But at the same time, Nasrallah did, for the first time, make a possible overture for peace.  He said that if Israel stops attacking Lebanese cities and towns, then Hezbollah would do the same. 

BARNICLE:  So that‘s fairly new, or that is brand new, that statement of—by Nasrallah, is it not? 

ENGEL:  It certainly is.  It was certainly not a declaration of peace, but it could be a way for Nasrallah to try and save his organization, while he‘s at the peak of his power.  For the last several weeks, Nasrallah each day has been gaining popularity, not only in Lebanon, but across the Arab world, and his military organization has remained somewhat intact.  So he could be saying, Let‘s stop now, let‘s escalate things while I‘m at the peak of my popularity, authority, power, and not continue, as Israel says, to destroy this organization.

But it was just a small crack, because the rest of his speech was certainly—was certainly tough talk and saying that he‘s willing to escalate the situation, for the first time acknowledging that Hezbollah has rockets, according to Nasrallah, that could reach Tel Aviv. 

BARNICLE:  But as you stand there tonight, Richard, given the developments of the past 24 hours, is there a feeling, a lethal anticipation of another, even more lethal shoe going to be dropped by the Israelis? 

ENGEL:  Absolutely.  As I was—as you were just asking that question, over behind the cameraman‘s shoulder, I just saw a white flash of another Israeli airstrike.  We‘ve been hearing Israeli jets going over this city for the last few minutes, so there is an expectation that this is going to continue, that it could in fact intensify, but how it‘s going to develop, no one really knows.  People here are expecting some sort of Israeli retaliation against this city. 

Yesterday, dozens of Katyusha rockets were launched for the first time from the outskirts of Tyre itself.  In the past, they have been launched from the hills outside of the city.  There has so far not been an Israeli response to those Katyusha launches right here in Tyre, so there is a concern that that could be coming.  And just as I said that, I heard another, either airstrike or artillery launch or artillery impact, not very far away from here.  I‘m not sure if it was picked up on the mic. 

BARNICLE:  Richard Engel, NBC News in Tyre, Lebanon.  Thanks very much. 

Up next, will support for the war in Iraq spell doom for Joe Lieberman?  The Reverend Al Sharpton hopes so.  He‘ll tell us why he‘s endorsed Lieberman‘s anti-war challenger in next week‘s Connecticut primary.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  How will warfare across the Middle East play in the midterm elections this Fall?  The war in Iraq has trumped everything else in the fierce Democratic Senate primary in Connecticut.  Will Joe Lieberman, once his party‘s nominee for vice-president lose this election. 

Here to talk about it is Ned Lamont supporter, Al Sharpton and Lieberman campaign spokesman, Dan Gerstein.  Welcome gentlemen. 

Reverend Sharpton, let‘s start with you.  You‘ve been very, very busy up there in Connecticut.  It‘s a beautiful state.  You‘ve traveled all across the state.  How is it, Reverend Sharpton, that you can endorse a guy who belongs to a golf club that you couldn‘t get into? 

REVEREND AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK:  I endorsed Bill Clinton and I raised the objections to Clinton and after looking at the broad choices, I endorsed him in the campaign after I did it.  So would you suggest I be inconsistent with Ned Lamont?  In fact, I think the difference is that Bill Clinton was a member of a club that had legally barred me.  I think the question with Lamont is that it is mostly a golf club that excludes blacks, but the irony is that people are asking me to be inconsistent and say to Lamont something that I did not say in 1992 to Bill Clinton after objecting to it.  By the way, it is ironic to me that Lieberman campaign put this out with Lamont with Bill Clinton‘s picture on it.  I think that they‘re the ones that look a little laughable in this.

BARNICLE:  Well so why did you endorse him? 

SHARPTON:  Why did I endorse Lamont or Bill Clinton? 

BARNICLE:  Why did you endorse Ned Lamont? 

SHARPTON:  I think that in the issues that are critical to this country, the war, which is clearly the central issue of the midterm elections, which you just said yourself, Mike, and I‘m in Michigan today, Kentucky tomorrow, all over this country the war is the critical central issue.  On issues like tax cuts for the wealthy, or issues like vouchers, I think Joe Lieberman is a fine and decent man, but he has been with the president on those critical issues. 

I think that the most resounding way to send George Bush a message and to define what the Democratic Party is going to stand by and about is that those that are on the president‘s side should do that.  They should be with the president and that should be, and not be those that are the spokespeople or elected officials of this party, and when others came into Connecticut and campaigned for Lieberman, those of us on the outside that have constituents in Connecticut felt we had an obligation to come in and campaign for Ned Lamont, because he represents those things that we generally agree. 

BARNICLE:  OK.  Dan Gerstein, Connecticut has a long and proud history, anti-war history, beginning with Joe Duffy, who was a Senate candidate years ago, the Reverend William Sloan Coughlin, the late Reverend Coughlin, who just passed away, very active if anti-Vietnam War protests.  Is this election on Tuesday, is it about Iraq, is it about just Joe Lieberman and his support of President Bush‘s policies?  What do you think it is? 

DAN GERSTEIN, LIEBERMAN ADVISER:  Well, first, Mike, before I get to that, I‘ve got to correct some of the things that the reverend said.  I think he‘s been reading Ned Lamont‘s mythological talking points.  There‘s been a concerted effort to smear Joe Lieberman for the last two years and distort his record.  He is a proud, progressive Democrat.  He votes with his party 90 percent of the time.  Contrary to what Reverend Sharpton said, Joe Lieberman was aggressively against the president‘s tax cut plan from day one. 

Now, Ned Lamont was never to be heard from on that issue at the time.  And right down the line, Senator Lieberman has opposed the president on global warming, he has opposed them on their efforts to water down air quality standards.  He‘s opposed him on the federal marriage amendment, which is one of the reasons why Joe Lieberman has been supported by the state AFL-CIO, why he‘s been supported by NARAL, why he is supported by the Human Rights Campaign, right down the line and you know part of the problem here is there‘s so much misinformation about Senator Lieberman‘s record, we have to spend half our time correction the Lamont campaign.

BARNICLE:  Well how can that be though.  I mean, the guy has been in public life, he‘s been in the United States Senate for three terms.  He‘s been around Connecticut for 25, 30 years.  Why is this still this fog over his public record? 

GERSTEIN:  Well, there‘s not a fog among the people in Connecticut who know him but there‘s been a concerted effort by some of his critics in the blogosphere and the Lamont campaign to pedal a bunch of lies about him.  And it‘s really unfortunate.  You know, let‘s go back to the question that you asked Al Sharpton in the beginning. 

Ned Lamont, unlike Joe Lieberman, has not been a man of conviction.  He happened to resign from his nearly all white country club in Greenwich when it was only suiting him for the first campaign.  He said to the “New York Times,” I‘m only doing this because it‘s going to look bad for my campaign, after 16 years.  Wait Reverend, if you could let me finish.  After 16 years, he decides only at the end that it was potentially wrong for his campaign.  The brings into question Ned Lamont‘s core convictions.

SHARPTON:  May I respond to that?  If that is going to be your basis, sir, then why would you then have Bill Clinton, who is not a member of a merely all white and absolutely all white country club, come and campaign for you?  You can‘t have it both ways. 

GERSTEIN:  Sure we can. 

SHARPTON:  You cannot condemn Lamont for something that was not nearly

as clear as it was in Arkansas, and I think it‘s a distraction.  You opened

by saying that ...

BARNICLE:  Gentlemen, I tell you what.  We have to take a break. 

We‘ll be back with the distractions and the debate with Reverend Al Sharpton and Dan Gerstein in a moment.  Hang on, this is going to be good.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  I‘m Mike Barnicle in for Chris Matthews. 

The fighting between Israel and Hezbollah continues to dominate the Middle East.  Did Israel expect its enemy to be firing rockets three weeks into warfare, and is George Bush going to step in and call for a cease-fire? 

We go now to NBC‘s Peter Alexander in Tel Aviv—Peter. 

PETER ALEXANDER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Mike, good evening to you. 

It‘s now the beginning of day 24 of this conflict here in Tel Aviv, right along the water, the most populous city in this country and now tonight on alert in many ways because Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, in a taped address, said on Arabic television that he is threatening new airstrikes, these against Tel Aviv if central Beirut is hit by Israel.

He also added the first opening toward an end to this conflict.  He said specifically that if the rocket attacks on northern—that if Israel stops—excuse me—having airstrikes in Lebanon, the rocket attacks on northern Israel will end. 

Evidence that they haven‘t ended and don‘t appear to end any time soon existed again today when more than 180 of those rockets rained down on the northern part of this country.  It was the deadliest day in Israel since this conflict began.  Twelve Israelis in total dying, four of them soldiers fighting on the frontlines, eight of them civilians hit by those strikes including a father and his young daughter. 

Israel‘s priority right now is to build a buffer zone in the south of Lebanon.  Ehud Olmert, the prime minister here, says his country will keep forces there until a strong peacekeeping force arrives to take over for them.  Their fear is if they leave any sooner and a peacekeeping force is yet to come, Hezbollah will just resupply its fighters and this fight will continue—Mike. 

BARNICLE:  Peter Alexander in Tel Aviv.  Thanks very much, Peter.

We‘re back with HARDBALL, as the Reverend Al Sharpton, who has endorsed Ned Lamont and Joe Lieberman‘s campaign spokesperson Dan Gerstein.  Reverend Sharpton, you had the floor prior to the break. 

SHARPTON:  What I was saying is it‘s interesting to me that—when you asked me why am I supporting Lamont, I talked about the central problem in country is how we view Iraq.  I talked about vouchers.  He started arguing against things I did not bring up, other than the tax cuts. 

I think you forget, I debated Joe Lieberman scores of times in the presidential campaign.  I know where Joe Lieberman is on the issues.  He is the president‘s biggest cheerleader in the Democratic Caucus of the U.S.  Senate on this war.  There‘s he no question about it. 

And to try and race bait as a distraction, to tell us we should have one standard for Bill Clinton‘s country club and another for Lamont, I mean, people talk about race baiting, the Lieberman campaign is now going to try to come to the black community with a race bait scheme, a double standard, rather than answer the questions. 

Sir, why do you support the war?  You need to answer that.  That is what the people of your state and country want to know.  Why have you apologized for a failed policy there?  Don‘t try to distract us with a double standard that you don‘t believe in. 

BARNICLE:  Dan Gerstein, go ahead.

GERSTEIN:  Well, there‘s so many, you know, kind of misstatements and so much misinformation in there, I don‘t know where to start, with all due respect to the reverend.  You know, first off, you know, we didn‘t bring up Ned Lamont‘s membership in his too-white country club, he did. 

He openly acknowledged to the “New York Times” that the reason he resigned his club after 16 years of belonging to it was because he was afraid how it would look on his campaign.  We‘re not accusing him of being a racist.  We‘re just raising a question about his poor convictions. 

SHARPTON:  You put out literature, sir.  You put literature out.  You put literature out. 

GERSTEIN:  Wait, Reverend, I let you speak, if you‘d just let me finish. 

SHARPTON:  You‘re being ...

(CROSSTALK)

GERSTEIN:  And all we did is—and we‘re not engaging in any kind of race baiting.  We‘re not including Ned Lamont of being a racist.

SHARPTON:  You put literature out at black churches. 

GERSTEIN:  We did.  We called attention to Senator Lieberman‘s 30 plus year record of fighting for civil rights.  He marched with Dr. King. 

SHARPTON:  Does he have one member of the Congressional Black Caucus that will come in and support him?  He‘s been in Washington 30 years, he can‘t get one black Congressperson to come to Connecticut to support him?

GERSTEIN:  No, that‘s not true, Reverend. 

SHARPTON:  Who?

GERSTEIN:  John Lewis was here to support him.  Again, another piece of misinformation. 

SHARPTON:  No, sir.  Sir ...

GERSTEIN:  If I can finish here please.  We didn‘t bring this up.  Ned

Lamont did, and all we did was put out a flyer that pointed out Senator

Lieberman‘s strong record of support of civil rights and we compared that

to what Ned Lamont did with his country club.  That‘s a legitimate

statement of fact.  That‘s not race baiting, 

And then just yesterday, a campaign activist and mouthpiece for the Lamont campaign posted a picture on the Huffington Post blog of Joe Lieberman in black face.  For the Lamont campaign, of anyone to accuse anyone of race baiting is just ludicrous. 

SHARPTON:  Well, first of all—Mike, you see what he says.  They put out—the campaign put out—this literature about a country club, by the way, with Bill Clinton‘s picture on it, that they only put in black churches.  Some supporters, some blogger that has nothing to do with Lamont‘s campaign puts up this disgusting thing on Lieberman.  It was not the Lamont campaign.

GERSTEIN:  Again, that‘s not true, Reverend.  This woman is a part of Ned Lamont‘s campaign. 

BARNICLE:  She is not. 

SHARPTON:  She is not.  She‘s not.

BARNICLE:  She‘s a blogger.  She‘s a blogger.

GERSTEIN:  No, she‘s not an independent blogger.  She is part of his campaign.  She moved to Connecticut.

SHARPTON:  She is not part of the campaign.  These are the ...

GERSTEIN:  All right.  Al, let me ask you a question.

SHARPTON:  And, again, will you address Iraq please? 

GERSTEIN:  Al, let me ask you a question.  The war in Iraq clearly is the driving issue, not only in Connecticut, but in a lot of Congressional and Senate campaigns and gubernatorial campaigns across the country.  Would you agree with that? 

SHARPTON:  Absolutely.   

GERSTEIN:  OK, Joe Lieberman‘s position on the war, his support of the president and the war is clearly well-known, has been well-known for some time.  Would you agree with that? 

SHARPTON:  Well, I‘m hearing some variations in the last—that‘s why I wanted his spokesman here to tell us where they are right now. 

GERSTEIN:  Would you also agree that Senator Lieberman has a long record of achievement, accomplishment—however you want to view it—on behalf of poor people, middle income people, no matter their color.  He‘s got a record on this.  So why is it all around one issue? 

SHARPTON:  Sir, let me say this.  I grew up as a child of the Reverend Jesse Jackson, I grew up under Martin Luther King.  There‘s no one that had a better record in civil rights of poor people than Lyndon Johnson who signed the ‘64 Civil Rights Civil, ‘65 Voting Rights Act, ‘66 Open Housing Act, and Martin Luther King said we must oppose him and could not support him because of the war. 

You cannot use a background to justify an unjustifiable and failed war policy.  Dr. King took that position with Lyndon Banes Johnson.  Joe Lieberman is not Lyndon Banes Johnson.

BARNICLE:  So, Dan, I mean, you get the last word.  There‘s very few seconds left.  That‘s a powerful argument that the Reverend Al just made.

GERSTEIN:  Well, I‘m glad to acknowledge finally that the Reverend finally acknowledged that this whole campaign, this whole smear campaign against Joe Lieberman comes down to Iraq, that all these other side issues, there‘s nothing to it, that Joe Lieberman has been a proud progressive Democrat.  He‘s fought for Connecticut.  He‘s saved jobs.  He‘s increased education funding.  He‘s worked to expand health care.  He‘s been a leader in fighting global warming.  He‘s led the fight to clean up Long Island Sound and what this really is about is the anger about the war that is being largely targeted at Joe Lieberman, because they‘re mad at President Bush and they‘re trying to scapegoat Joe Lieberman. 

Now, we can have an honest disagreement about the war, but I can tell you, Joe Lieberman has been entirely consistent on this.  As a matter of principle, he believed it was right to take out Saddam Hussein and he has not flip-flopped, as Reverend Sharpton suggested.  All he‘s done is remind people, which they seem to have forgotten, that he‘s been a consistent critic of the president‘s handling of the war.  Let‘s not forget that.  He has spoken out time and time again about the president‘s handling of the war. 

BARNICLE:  Dan Gerstein, Reverend Al Sharpton, thanks as always.  HARDBALL will have full coverage of the Connecticut primary all day Tuesday. 

Up next, a nearly completed Pentagon report supports accusations that American marines deliberately shot and killed civilians in Iraq.  We‘ll talk to the attorney for a marine sergeant who led a marine unit at Haditha.  He‘s now suing ant-war Congressman John Murtha for libel.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  A marine who led the squad accused of killing civilians in Haditha is suing Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania.  He claims the Congressman defamed him when he spoke out about the incident in May. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN MURTHA (D), PENNSYLVANIA:  There was no firefight.  There was no I.E.D. that killed these innocent people.  Our troops overreacted because of the pressure on them.  And they killed innocent civilians in cold blood. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Mark Zaib filed the lawsuit for his client, Staff Sergeant Frank Wuterich.  Mark, you just heard the Congressman.  Is that why you‘re suing him, because of what he said then? 

MARK ZAID, ATTORNEY FOR FRANK WUTERICH:  Well not entirely.  There are some defenses that Congressman Murtha could hide behind, and part of it is whether he had met the speech and debate clause.  In giving a speech or a press conference over on the Hill could possibly fall within that, but he did more than that.  He took those comments and he went out on the road. 

He went to numerous media outlets, including this, I believe, this one and your competitors, and said those types of statements, statements like, the marines killed them in cold blood, that they balked under the pressure, that they were untrained, that they were not under fire.  All of those statements are false. 

BARNICLE:  So you know what Congressman Murtha has said in response to the lawsuit, that I don‘t blame the Staff Sergeant for lashing out when I spoke up about Haditha, my intention was to draw attention to the horrendous pressure put on our troops in Iraq and to the cover-up of the incident.  So I would assume, never mind the lawsuit, well first of all, what do you hope to get from the lawsuit against Congressman Murtha, before we get into the anticipated trial of your client.

ZAID:  Ideally an apology from Congressman Murtha.  In fact, we would drop the lawsuit tomorrow if Congressman Murtha admitted or indicated an apology to these marines, that he had over-reacted and he had prematurely concluded guilt, which is what the problem is.  His statement really says it al. 

For one thing, this is not a political lawsuit.  We have no political motives.  We don‘t care about whether troops should be in Iraq or not in Iraq.  Congressman Murtha raises many legitimate questions in some circles about what the situation is over there, but what he did was irresponsible, especially conduct unbecoming a marine officer, which he was in Vietnam, to go in public, prematurely, months before the investigation is finished, and issue this statement and commentary that in fact he has prejudged these individuals, and tainted not only the jury pool, but ceded the public thought, that in fact these are cold blooded killers, when what they were doing was defending themselves if a very tragic situation where unfortunately collateral victims were killed. 

BARNICLE:  Have you asked the Congressman for an apology? 

ZAID:  Not yet.  But one of the things we‘re actually going to do is we‘re going to make that offer to him.  If he apologizes for the comments, this is not a case about money, he apologizes for those comments, we‘ll very gladly withdraw the lawsuit and then let the investigation, the official investigation, let those chips fall where they may. 

BARNICLE:  What does the Defense Department, what does Marine Corps and Navy intelligence, investigative services tell you about the investigation?  When will it be completed, do you know? 

ZAID:  Yes.  They tell us absolutely nothing actually.  Every piece of information we‘ve had about the official investigation has come from the media, or anonymous, cowardly leaks from the Defense Department.  They shouldn‘t be talking to us until in fact there may be charges, if ever, proffered against.  That‘s what raises the issue.  Why were D.O.D.  officials talking to Congressman Murtha, who has no reason to know about a premature or a pending criminal investigation into the conduct of these marines. 

BARNICLE:  Who do you think told them? 

ZAID:  Well, he had said, in fact, that it was the commandant of the marines, which raises additional issues of command influence.  If in fact Congressman Murtha is telling the truth and I have a great doubt believing that the commandant of the marines, three months before an investigation was complete, would meet with a Congressman and say you know what, my boys committed cold blooded murder and are war criminals on the same level as the My Lai Massacre from back in Vietnam, but if in fact he said that, those people or those judges who will be serving in the marines who are overseeing these cases ...

BARNICLE:  The trial board. 

ZAID:  If they‘re looking at the marine commandant saying that these fellows are guilty, well that‘s a problem with commander influence. 

BARNICLE:  Your client, where is he right now?  Out at Camp Pendleton? 

He‘s not in the brig is he?

ZAID:  Not in the brig.  In fact, he was promoted in January of this year, once he came back, actually before he even came back from Iraq and he goes to work every day and does his performance and his duties just as he has for the last eight years. 

BARNICLE:  So, never mind, you don‘t know what possible charges might be filed against your client.  You don‘t know if charges will be filed. 

ZAID:  That‘s right.  All we‘ve known so far is that NCIS has been reported to have completed its investigation, but will still do interviews and even if that is true, the anonymous military officials who are saying charges will be brought, they have no idea, because the NCIS does not decide whether charges will be brought.  They send the documents, their investigative reports to the prosecutors and then the prosecutors have to talk to the charging officials to decide.  This is weeks away, so whoever these sources are is doing nothing but feeding some sort of frenzy for some private agenda. 

ZAID:  ... prosecutors and then the prosecutors have to talk to the charging officials to decide.  This is weeks away, so whoever these sources are, is doing nothing but feeding some sort of frenzy for some private agenda. 

BARNICLE:  All right.  So if charges are filed, I would assume they would be the most serious that you could accrue against someone, they would be murder. 

ZAID:  I would assume so. 

BARNICLE:  Let‘s assume so.  You‘ve had extensive discussions with your client, Sergeant Wuterich, so would the defense, the potential defense of the Sergeant Wuterich against such a charge, would it be for the American public a clear picture, a clear insight in to the pressures that these troopers, marines and army soldiers, are under each and every day in Iraq? 

ZAID:  Well, I can‘t speak for all the marines who potentially could be charged, because each of them may have been under different circumstances.  Staff Sergeant Wuterich, this was actually his first tour in Vietnam, sorry, in Iraq.  He had just gotten there.  He had been in the military for a number of years, but he wasn‘t under any type of pressure that I‘m aware of that might lead to it. 

I mean, there‘s a number of obvious defenses.  The best one being self defense.  They were under fire.  There were bullets going by them.  There had been a bomb, an I.E.D. that had kill one of their individuals, one of their colleagues.  They went into a house, and there were Iraqis with automatic weapons pointed at them, who they killed.  It‘s expected that in split second decisions, they have to decide, is this a threat or not and sometimes as I said, civilians unfortunately are killed.  It‘s happened in every war we‘ve ever been in, in the history of mankind. 

BARNICLE:  Come back and talk to us about it when, if charges are filed? 

ZAID:  Or if Congressman Murtha apologizes. 

BARNICLE:  Mark Zaid, thanks very much.  We should note that we have invited Congressman Murtha to come on the show but so far he has declined.  When we return is Congressman Murtha being swift boated?  We‘ll ask fellow Vietnam vet and former Senator Max Cleland.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Congressman John Murtha is not only being sued but he‘s coming under fire from a group called Vets for the Truth.  They are campaigning to redeploy Murtha from congress but today Vietnam veteran and former Senator Max Cleland defended the Congressman at a veteran‘s rally and condemned what he called Swift Boats attacks launched against him. 

Senator Cleland, welcome and in the very few minutes that we have we are going to attempt to do justice to this issue.  The attacks being made on Congressman Murtha, what are they coming from Vets for the Truth? 

MAX CLELAND, FMR. U.S. SENATOR (D-GA):  Well, it‘s the same kind of a thing that the Bush did against McCain in South Carolina in 2000, me in Georgia in 2002 and against John Kerry in 2004.  They have not changed course.  They are staying on course, and that is when somebody disagrees with the president, and challenges his policies, particularly in terms of the Iraq war, and making sure that our troops are deployed out of harm‘s way and we that we do get the truth about the Iraq war, then they are Swift Boated.  Then they are targeted.  Jack Murtha was called a traitor. 

They are setting up a post office box in his district to organize to oust him from the Congress because he degrees with the president, and is actually advocating something that is sane and sound and that‘s redeploying our troops out of harm‘s way.  Now, for that they are going after him and his character and that kind of character assassination is Swift Boating. 

BARNICLE:  So it‘s deja vu all over again as far as you are concerned? 

CLELAND:  Yes, it is and we can‘t let this happen.  What is happening to our country, when a member of Congress who has been there for more than 30 years, a ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, that is very close to the American military and is a marine colonel, retired and has been in the marine corps for 30 years, what happens when that voice of sanity, and advocacy for the truth about what is going on in Iraq, the ground truth, what happens when that person is trashed, his character is assassinated, and he is questioned in terms of his patriotism.  That‘s unbelievable. 

BARNICLE:  Congressman Murtha, he seemingly has a safe seat, I mean he is not in danger of being tipped over by Vets for the Truth, do you think that he is? 

CLELAND:  I don‘t think that he is being in danger of losing his seat.  That‘s not what we are talking about here.  Actually we are talking about the pain that somebody has to go through if they challenge this administration, whether it‘s Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame, whether it is John Kerry, whether it is John McCain, whether it is me, anybody that raises their head up against this administration, particularly on the question of the war, which now the majority of the American people see that Murtha is right, the ground truth is we cannot affect this war anymore. 

General Abizaid said today to the Congress this thing is drifting into civil war.  Murtha has known that for a year and a half.  Therefore, he advocates redeploying our forces, bringing our guard reserve home, and focusing on Osama bin Laden, which is what we should have been doing in the first place. 

BARNICLE:  So you‘re talking about the dialogue of Democracy actually, because John Murtha is in no danger of being defeated.  Do you agree with Congressman Murtha about, you know, that these troops should be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of the year, and we should begin the withdrawal almost immediately? 

CLELAND:  Absolutely because we can no longer do any good there.  This thing is drifting in to civil war.  It is in civil war.  We are losing, in effect, the Iraqis are losing 100 people a day.  We are spending $8 billion a month.  We have lost 500 young Americans since Jack Murtha took this issue public and said it‘s time to redeploy our troops out of harm‘s way.  We cannot afford to see the blood and treasure of this great country dissipated in the Iraqi desert.  Now, it‘s up to the Iraqis to solve their problems, not us.  That‘s the rationale for coming out and Jack Murtha is right.

BARNICLE:  Senator we have less than 30 seconds here.  Off of what happened to you, off of what happened in the last presidential election that John Kerry and seems to be happening to John Murtha, how much of your life is devoted to going from district to district, congressional district, state to state to oppose outfits like Vets for the Truth? 

CLELAND:  Total. 

BARNICLE:  Max Cleland thanks very much.  Join us against tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  The hotshots will be here.  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.

END   

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