updated 9/11/2006 12:02:32 PM ET 2006-09-11T16:02:32

Guests: Michael Chertoff, John Fund, Jonathan Alter, Colin Powell, Michael Isikoff, David Corn

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  A Senate report says there is no evidence there was ever any prewar relationship between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda in Iraq.  Democrats say this undercuts the president‘s case for going to war.  Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Today the Senate comes out swinging.  A new report from the Intelligence Committee says that neither Zarqawi, the al Qaeda terrorist leader in Iraq who was killed recently, nor any other al Qaeda member had any ties to Saddam Hussein whatsoever.  The scathing report goes on to say the anti-Iraqi exiles, known as the Iraqi National Congress, and led by Ahmed Chalabi, used phony intelligence to help sell the U.S. into invading Iraq.  More on this blockbuster report in a moment. 

Plus, leading up to the fifth anniversary of September 11, the Bush administration has launched an all-out campaign to crush war critics and to frame the debate over national security on its own terms.  We begin tonight with my interview late this afternoon with the Secretary of Homeland Michael Chertoff. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Secretary, once again we‘re coming up on a weekend and the American people have to wonder about who to worry about.  There‘s a new Senate report out, mostly Democrats, but a couple of Republicans Senators have said there was no connection between al Qaeda in Iraq before we went to war there.  Yet, a lot of people believe that when we went to Iraq we were going after our enemy. 

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY:  Well, I can tell you this.  Right now, we know there is al Qaeda in Iraq.  We know that there are other terrorist groups, Sunni groups, that are at least ideological fellow travelers with al Qaeda. 

We know that if we leave Iraq in a state of disrepair, it will be a platform in which some of these groups will be able to reconstitute training camps, build laboratories, and actually create a launching pad for attacks against the west, including the United States.  So, the one thing that I think nobody can debate is that we must bring the conflict in Iraq to a successful conclusion, or we‘re going to wind up with another serious problem. 

MATTHEWS:  But let me clarify the one thing.  One of the arguments that led us into the war with Iraq was the sense that we have got to get them.  They knocked down our buildings.  They killed 3,000 our people.  We‘ve got to get the people who attacked us.  The vice-president on several occasions led most Americans to believe, especially on “Meet The Press,” watching that show, that there was a connection. 

Here he is now.  Let‘s take a look at what he is saying.  Here is where he is denying he said there was a connection between 9/11 and Iraq, and later on we see that he did make that connection. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You have said in the past that it was, quote, pretty well confirmed.  

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  No, I never said that. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  OK, I think that is.

CHENEY:  I never said that and it‘s absolutely not. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  Well what we now have that‘s developed since you I last talked, of course, was that report that has been pretty well confirmed that he did go to Prague and he did meet with a senior officials of the Iraqi intelligence service in Czechoslovakia last April, several months before the attack.  Now, what the purpose of that was, what transpired between them, we simply don‘t know at this point, but that is clearly an avenue that we want to pursue. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well there you have it.  I mean, this hinting of a connection, and now the Senate Democrats, with two Republicans, Snow and Hagel, saying there never was any connection on the ground in Iraq before we went in. 

CHERTOFF:  I will tell you that my recollection is nobody said we were going into Iraq because Iraq had launched the attack on 9/11.  On the other hand, if you want to ask me did Iraq supports terrorism, there was a terrorist who was actually responsible for the killing of Leon Klinghoffer, threw him off the side of that ship, the Achille Lauro, and he was actually found ensconced in Iraq at the time the troops went in. 

So, without in any sense suggesting there was a connection between 9/11 and Iraq, you would have to say that Iraq was involved in sponsoring terrorists. 

MATTHEWS:  But the president more recently did say there was no connection. 

CHERTOFF:  I think that‘s right.  I don‘t think anybody has ever argued that, at least I never heard anybody argue that Iraq was somehow responsible for launching 9/11. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about sourcing of information about danger, the intel you have to collect.  The Iraqi National Congress had a lot of influence in this administration, especially in the vice-president‘s office and the Defense Department, among the civilian officers of that department.  A lot of influence.  They use, perhaps they used their dishonesty or dishonest information to sell us on a lot of WMD information on that country before we went in. 

What does that tell you about the reliability of these supposed friends of the United States, who want to use us to achieve their purposes, in this case, to knock off Saddam Hussein? 

CHERTOFF:  Well, you know, it identifies a challenge that everybody who collects intelligence has to face, which is you have to assess the credibility and motivation of the source.  When I was doing criminal prosecution, Chris, we always had witnesses coming in.  Sometimes they had biases.  Sometimes they had pretty clear motives to lie.  That didn‘t mean, by the way, that they weren‘t telling the truth and some of them actually were a very reliable witnesses at trial. 

So, one of the things we get when we look at intelligence is we get a statement about whether there is a belief that the witnesses intending to influence, as well as to give us real information, and we have to weigh that and that is part of a delicate judgment that intelligence analysts undergo. 

MATTHEWS:  Did we make a mistake in believing Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress? 

CHERTOFF:  Oh, I haven‘t immersed myself in the kind of hindsight lessons learned of all the intelligence analyses that went into the Iraq war.  And I was, at the time, in the Department of Justice worrying about what was going on in this country.  But I think certainly everybody looking back has learned an important lesson about, not only gathering information, but weighing it and evaluating its credibility. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about the things that affect every traveler who travels by air.  I guess that is, in a way, the American elite.  They travel by air a lot, more than the regular person does,  but those who travel by air are coming face-to-face with the dangers you and other experts see out there. 

Do you think it is useful when somebody has there shoe exploding or about to explode on an airplane coming from France or if somebody, perhaps there is a plot coming out of London to use liquids, gels to explode airplanes, do you think it is useful to tell people you can‘t bring your Starbucks on the plane.  You can‘t bring your hair tonic.  You can‘t bring your gels of any kind, toothpaste.  Is that really a way to prevent horror? 

CHERTOFF:  Well actually, it turns out that, particularly as it relates to liquid explosives, if you want a quick and very clear line to draw that will prevent people from brining liquid explosives on, particularly when we have seen that they can be very adept at disguising and putting components into separate bottles, then an absolute ban on liquid actually does make a lot of sense.  It works quickly, it works clearly, and it works sufficiently. 

One of the things we‘re doing now, of course, we‘ve had a month to evaluate both the nature of the plotting and also what our experience has been with the liquid ban and we‘re considering now whether to make some kind of an adjustment, maybe relaxing the standards a little bit, in terms of the size of what one can bring on as a quantity.  But sometimes it turns out, Chris, that a low-tech response, like a ban on liquids over a certain size, is not only more effective but actually is easier to maintain and more convenient than a more complicated process that requires us to open up liquids and test them. 

MATTHEWS:  Are we on the way to no carry-on luggage? 

CHERTOFF:  I don‘t think we‘re on the way to no carry-on.  The British put that into effect very briefly after the plot was discovered.  They walked back from that to one carry-on.  We have to be realistic about the need for travelers to take some things on the plane and one of the general, philosophical approaches we take is we don‘t want to break the system we are trying to protect. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

CHERTOFF:  And so we always, part of the challenge for us, frankly, is to make sure we are always taking efficiency and convenience into account when we are making these rules up. 

MATTHEWS:  I was talking to a local news director out in California, who told me that the reason people turn on the TV or the radio in the morning, and this is scary, they haven‘t been in touch with national communications over night.  They go to bed at maybe 11:00 and they get up 7:00.  If they‘re lucky, they get eight hours, you probably don‘t.  They want to know if anything bad happened.  That is how people use the national media now, to find out if anything went wrong.  Is that paranoid or is that a reasonable way to be an American now? 

CHERTOFF:  Well, I suspect if you look back even before 9/11 people in hurricane prone areas, for example, would turn on the television to see if there was a storm brewing. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

CHERTOFF:  I mean, one of the functions of the media, frankly, is to warn and to say there‘s an issue out there.  You‘ve got to be alert.  You‘ve got to be prepared.  And so, to the extent that we are preparing people or getting them to think about getting prepared, that is good.  If people are getting paranoid, that is not good. 

My message to people again and again is there is a way to raise the level of our security and protect ourselves, but not at the expense of being in a state of high anxiety or bankrupting ourselves or creating a police state.  And finding that balance, I think, is the challenge and the effort five years after 9/11. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think these movies like “Flight 93” and “World Trade Center” are scaring people too much? 

CHERTOFF:  You know, I‘ve got to say, I don‘t watch those movies, because for me the impact of 9/11, having been at the helm of the criminal division and having worked through that day and the days afterwards, it‘s still so real to me that I can‘t bear to see a fictionalization of it.  So, I can‘t judge for you whether it actually helps people ventilate their feelings or whether it actually raises their alarm. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, good luck in your job.  It is important to us all.

CHERTOFF:  Thanks a lot Chris.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much Michael Chertoff, Secretary for Homeland Defense. 

Coming up, Democrats want to make Iraq the focus for the midterm election.  Can they do it?  “Newsweek‘s” Jonathan Alter and “OpinionJournal.com‘s John Fund will be here to talk about that and probably argue about it.  And a reminder this Sunday, Vice-President Dick Cheney is Tim Russert‘s guest on “Meet the Press.”  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

A new Senate report on pre-war intelligence released just late today says there is no evidence that Saddam Hussein had a relationship with al Qaeda leader Zarqawi.  And Ahmed Chalabi‘s Iraqi National Congress provided, quote, “false information” to the intelligence community that was used to support key assessments on Iraq, especially WMD. 

How much mileage will Democrats get out of this report in the run up to the elections?  And can they make the justification for going to war the central issue?  “Newsweek Magazine”‘s  Jonathan Alter and NBC News analyst and there he is.  And John Fund writes for opinionjournal.com.  Thank you to both gentlemen both. 

Jonathan, I am falling in love with your book on Roosevelt.  It gets better every page.  What a great book. 

JONATHAN ALTER, “NEWSWEEK MAGAZINE” CORRESPONDENT:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  It is heroic.

Let me ask you about this issue, both of you gentlemen, your assessments of the Senate report.  Two points of interest here.  One, no relationship before we went into Iraq between Saddam Hussein and the al Qaeda elements in that country.  Number two, the that Ahmed Chalabi‘s Iraqi National Congress fed us bad information to get us in the war to topple Saddam.  You first, Jonathan.

ALTER:  Well, you know, what strikes me about this, Chris, is the Republicans are saying it is old news, and that is exactly right.  We should have known this before voters went to the polls in 2004.  And it is only because at that point, Congress was not exercising appropriate oversight. 

Intelligence committees really were not doing their jobs, that it‘s taken all this time for us to find out that basically, a hyped story helped determine to the 2004 presidential election.  Because polls showed that a large percentage of American public thought there was a connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11 when they went to vote. 

MATTHEWS:  And by the way, we got a new poll out to that effect.  Even now after all this old news, as it‘s called, John Fund, 43 percent of the people according to a CNN poll say they believe Saddam Hussein was involved with 9/11.  Do you think he was? 

JOHN FUND, WRITER, OPINIONJOURNAL.COM:  We have a worldwide failure of intelligence.  One of the things we‘re going to have to use this report, is figure out how in the world, in the future, if the British, the French, the German and the American intelligence agencies all agree on something that turns out not to be the case, how we avoid making decisions on that basis? 

But this report, Chris, does look backwards.  Is important that we know what happens.  But there is still the question, what do we do now?  Next week, the House Intelligence Committees is going to issue a report on al Qaeda, its worldwide network, and what happens if we pull out of Iraq and Iraq becomes a staging area for al Qaeda. 

So while we also have to backward, I think we also have to look forward because we know we don‘t want to repeat that mistake, it doesn‘t tell what we do now though.

MATTHEWS:  Do we want to trust the Iraqi National Congress in the future, having been burnt this badly? John.

FUND:  We relied on sources that we should not have.  But I have to tell you, the Iraqi National Congress is no longer a player in Iraq.  We have to deal with the players that are there now.  So, this report is valuable, it does not tell us where we go from here. 

ALTER:  But you know, John, you‘re acting as if this was just all an innocent mistake back in 2003.  It wasn‘t an innocent mistake.

FUND:  No, I‘m saying it was a comprehensive mistake.  Be cause if you read the British, the French and the German intelligence reports, they said the same thing. 

(CROSSTALK)

ALTER:  John, can I finish?  If you look across the whole scope of intelligence, there was so much Hamburger Helper that was put on this in order to make the case for war.  It was hyped, it was a cherry picked, whatever metaphor you want to use, it was politicized.  That is not good for our country.  And I‘m glad that we‘re finally...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you.

(CROSSTALK)

You know there is common ground here, John and Jonathan, there is common ground here.  It isn‘t all dispute over facts.  The president fairly recently, we all noted, made it clear that there Saddam Hussein and the attack on us on 9/11.  He said no connection. 

This report goes further and it‘s got a couple Republicans signing onto it as well, manly a Democratic report, says there was no connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda itself, generally. 

But John Fund, why did it take until just a couple weeks ago for the president of United States, our commander in chief, the man who supported this war and led us into this war, to tell us that, that there was no connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11?  Why did it take so long? 

FUND:  Well the president had said it in so many words before. 

MATTHEWS:  But the vice president said the opposite. 

FUND:  If you go back to his statements last year, he was saying it already then.  Chris, one of the things that has been a problem in this war, and it‘s fault on both sides, the hyper-partisanship of this means that nobody wants to give any quarter because they believe it is going to be used as a political cudgel. 

And we are going to see that coming up coming up in the next sixty days.  We are going to have a very hard fought campaign, and we should.  But it is—I have to tell you, we have never been a war situation in which politics has intruded so much and both sides literally have almost no common ground at the same time that we have troops in harm‘s way. 

ALTER:  But John, that was a decision made exclusively by the Bush White House. 

FUND:  Jonathan, where we disagree...

ALTER:  It was made to politicize it, to use it as a wedge issue in the 2002 and 2004 campaigns.  You are right, John.  The president did admit last year that there was no connection, but he did not admit it until after the election.  Talk about politicizing. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think John Fund is right.  We only have a minute or two with both of you guys.  You know your stuff.  Let me ask you first, Jonathan, it seems to be the Democrats—the most clarifying of all the statements has been made by Chuck Schumer, he‘s a very politically astute guy and a leader in the Democratic party. 

He said the Democratic position on the war right now is to withdraw our troops back to the barracks basically, get them out of the cities where all the shooting‘s going on, put them a logistical support role, a training role, and a self-protection role.  That is the goal of the Democrats now . 

Is that a useful strategy militarily, or is that simply a political positioning? 

ALTER:  I think it is more of a political positioning.  You know, they call it over the horizon strategic redeployment.  It is fine as kind of a holding pattern in the short term.  But the point is, Chris, it is not up to the Democrats to decide what we do in Iraq.  They don‘t have any power in this country. 

The onus is on the Republicans to tell us what they want to do now.  So every time the conversation turns to, you know, what is the plan, it‘s irrelevant.  They can‘t do anything about it. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but in every government, there ought to be... It seems to me in a democratic society, Jonathan Alter, there ought to be a serious opposition.  And that opposition ought to tell you what their position is. 

ALTER:  I agree.  And I think they are now on this, what they call the  Reid-11 (ph) position, which is strategic redeployment.  It‘s a, you know, kind of a Band-Aid.  Nobody really knows what to do in the long run.  But this election should be about accountability.  That‘s what elections are for. 

FUND:  Well, there is a war of terror beyond Iraq.  And we found that with the British terror plot against the airliners.  It‘s been five years, the homeland has not been attacked.  That‘s one issue that‘s going to be laid on the table, which is, as bad as things are in Iraq, the homeland has been secure for five years, knock on wood and God willing.

MATTHEWS:  OK thank you gentlemen both.  Have a nice weekend.

Jonathan Alter, a great book on Roosevelt.  And John Fund, thank you always. 

Up next, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster will have the third report in his series on the five unanswered questions of 9/11.  Tonight‘s question, who was that 20th hijacker?  He‘ll be back to tell us.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Tonight, with the fifth anniversary of 9/11 approaching this Monday, we continue our series on the top unanswered questions about the plotting of this.  To this day, intelligence officials believe at least one or two more hijackers were supposed to be part of the 9/11 attack, but who exactly was that 20th hijacker? 

Once again, here‘s HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  It remains one of the most enduring mysteries of the 9/11 attacks.  Who was the 20th hijacker?  Each of the aircraft that hit the World Trade Towers and Pentagon had five terrorists on board.  United flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania had four. 

BILL HARLOW, FMR. CIA SPOKESMAN:  For whatever reason, they had one person that did not make it on time, did not show up, whatever, and it had a significant impact.  Perhaps if they had had that extra hijacker it might have had a different result. 

SHUSTER:  Just a month after 9/11, Vice President Cheney said federal authorities believed they had a would-be hijacker in custody.  This man, Zacarias Moussaoui.  Moussaoui had been arrested in August 2001 on immigration charges while seeking flight training on jumbo jets.  And after 9/11, from jail, Moussaoui filed handwritten motions with the court calling himself the 20th hijacker. 

But to this day, there is no hard evidence Moussaoui ever communicated with any of the 19 hijackers.  Furthermore, he showed up for flight school months after the others had completed their training.  This year, after Moussaoui was convicted on 9/11-related charges, Osama bin Laden issued an audiotape saying Moussaoui had, quote, “no connection whatsoever” with the events of 9/11. 

ROGER CRESSEY, NBC COUNTER-TERRORISM ANALYST:  We now know, based on what bin Laden has said, that there was a 20th hijacker who was trying to come into Florida, but was refused entry.  And, ultimately, they relied upon the 19.  Moussaoui, of course, was not the 20th hijacker. 

SHUSTER:  Michael Scheuer, a former CIA analyst who now works for CBS News, agrees that Moussaoui was not part of the plot. 

MICHAEL SCHEUER, FMR. CHIEF OF CIA BIN LADEN UNIT:  Moussaoui was clearly a meathead, not someone they would have used for an operation that required such sophistication and secrecy.  The one that‘s most speculated is Qahtani or Ramzi Bin al-Shibh.

SHUSTER:  Mohammad al-Qahtani and Ramzi Bin al-Shibh both had problems obtaining a U.S. visa.  Qahtani was a bedouin from Saudi Arabia.  A month before 9/11, he flew on Virgin Atlantic to Orlando, Florida, with $2,800 in cash on hand and no return airline ticket.  He couldn‘t answer several questions posed by immigration officials and was denied entry. 

SCHEUER:  Some of the papers that were collected in Afghanistan, which are voluminous after the war began, indicated that he may have been one of the group that have been selected to run this operation or to conduct the operation. 

SHUSTER:  Had Qahtani made it through immigration on August 4, 2001, the evidence suggests he would of been met by the 9/11 ringleader Mohammad Atta, who investigators now believe was waiting in a rental car outside the Orlando Airport. 

As for Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, he was from Yemen and had been a roommate of Mohammad Atta in German.  Bin al-Shibh was believed to have helped plan the terrorist attack in October 2000 that killed 17 American sailors on board the USS Cole.  After that attack and before 9/11, evidence collected by the 9/11 Commission shows that Bin al-Shibh tried and failed on four separate occasions to get a U.S. visa. 

Bin al-Shibh He is featured prominently in a newly released videotape of Osama bin Laden in 2001, training al Qaeda associates for the 9/11 attacks.  Investigators now believe Bin al-Shibh was the money man and coordinator for the 19 terrorists, who unlike him, made it into the United States. 

Both Bin al-Shibh and Mohammad al-Qahtani have been in U.S. custody for three years, but despite whatever information has been gleaned from them about 9/11, one 9/11 target still has not been confirmed.  Before the passengers on United Flight 93 fought back and the terrorists crashed that plane in Pennsylvania, that aircraft was headed here, to Washington D.C. 

But were the terrorists aiming for the U.S. Capitol building, the White House, or someplace else?  We will examine that unanswered question in our next report. 

I am David Schuster for HARDBALL, in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE) 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster. 

That next report will air right here on Sunday evening in a special 7:00 p.m. edition of HARDBALL.  That is this Sunday. 

Also, if you have missed any part of this series so far, you can watch the video reports on our Web site at HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

Coming up, Colin Powell shares his thoughts on the fifth anniversary of 9/11.  It is a rare interview with the former secretary of state. 

And later, “Newsweek‘s” Michael Isikoff and “The Nation” magazine‘s David Corn will talk about their new book detailing how the Bush administration sold the Iraq war to us. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, SECRETARY OF STATE:  That the Secret Service said, you have to go to a secure area of the White House because it is likely target.  And so, I stopped at a phone, talked to the president one more time.  I said, Mr. President, you cannot come back here because Washington is under attack.  We do not know what is going to happen. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

This Monday night at 10:00 Eastern—that‘s Monday night at 10:00 --

I will host an MSNBC living history special, “9/11 FIVE YEARS LATER.”  It‘s a special hour of remembrances of that fateful day by some of our country‘s most well-known leaders and citizens. 

Tonight, we bring you a preview of this special with a portion of my interview with former Secretary of State Colin Powell.  It is a rare opportunity to hear him.  He rarely talks, by the way, to the media about his experience on that day, and how he thinks it has affected our whole country. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE:  As I flew back to Washington, which was going to take about seven or eight hours, I only had a few conversations with my staff in Washington, with Deputy Secretary Armitage.  We did not want to clutter up the communications lines any more than they were already. 

And so I started to think about what my job was going to be over the next several days.  And, of course, it was going to be to reach out to our all of our friends and reach out to all the international organizations and to see what level of support we would get, and what could we do in response to their expressions of support. 

And so, by the time I landed in Washington that evening at about 7:00, my staff was hard at work, reaching out.  And over the next 24 hours, I lived on the telephone, talking to foreign ministers around the world, talking to heads of state, heads of government, dealing with NATO, the United Nations. 

And every international organization that I spoke to had expressed their horror over what had happened and expressed their support for the United States in this time of need. 

It was only after I got back to Washington did I get all of the facts that it was really one of the four planes—two in the World Trade Center, the one in the Pentagon, and the one in the field in Pennsylvania.  It takes awhile for the information to settle down and not bounce, as you well know, Chris. 

And we had to think for awhile was that the fourth one headed to the State Department?  To Capitol Hill?  To the White House?  But I had to get to the department and my folks never left the department, so we stayed hard at work. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you have a worry that there were more coming? 

POWELL:  We did not know.  By the time I got back to Washington and had a sense of what had happened, at that point, I did not think more coming, because it would have been impossible for any more to come.  The air traffic system was shut down.  We were on high alert.  We had a fighter planes covering our airspace. 

So, in typical terrorist fashion, they planned to an extreme level of detail and once they‘ve executed that plan, that is probably it for now.  But you certainly had to be weary.  You couldn‘t be sure of that. 

And you had to wonder whether or not they had another plan that they could execute in the very near term period.  But I did not expect a continuation of that attack.  That attack was over.  What was the next attack going to be? 

MATTHEWS:  What was it like coming back to work at Foggy Bottom, coming back to the White House to meet with the president?  Did you get a sense that you could share, for history‘s sake, of that? 

POWELL:  We all assembled at the White House late in the evening after everybody got back, the president got back, I got back.  And everybody was back in Washington.  Everybody understood the momentous nature of the event and everybody understood the tragedy that was before us. 

But within a short period time, there was a certain calmness that came through when we realized the extent of the work before us and the task before us.  A lot of things we‘re going to have to do—rescue efforts in New York, rescue efforts at the Pentagon, rebuilding, building international coalitions, making sure we knew who had done this to us, and how do we go after them. 

But the president was calm.  All of my other colleagues were calm. 

There was no histrionics.  Everybody knew that there was work to be done.  The president knew he had to speak to the nation.  We began to think about what we had to do to get ready for this task. 

And within two or three days, we were really on it.  Within two or three days, through the efforts of my colleagues and, especially my colleagues in the State Department, we reached out to the international community and assembled the kind of response that I‘ve discussed with you. 

But we started to do other things as well.  We realized early on that it had to be al Qaeda, and the source of all al Qaeda evil was in Afghanistan.  And the Taliban was supporting al Qaeda, giving it a place, a host.  And we knew that was going to be something we were going to have to deal with and go after right away.

And so we started to make plans for that, and within a day or so, we recognized that if we are going to have to do something in Afghanistan with the Taliban and al Qaeda, then it was going to require the help of Pakistan, and we gave them a list of things we wanted Pakistan to do, which essentially required Pakistan to complete reverse its policy with respect to the Taliban. 

The had been supporters of them, actively and tacitly.  And we gave that to the intelligence chief and he sent it back to the President Musharraf.  And the next I called president Musharraf, and they were difficult demands, hard political choices that he had to make. 

And I talked to President Musharraf and said, you know, we have to deal with this.  And we are asking you for these things.  And we understand it is a difficult choice for you, but we believe you should do this.  And he said I‘ll do it. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you—you have got this long, tremendous career as a military man and then as a diplomat, and you‘ve got a lot ahead of you.  I want you to think about what you learned as rules of engagement in war, whatever the big term for that is, what is fair and what is not fair game.  And think about the World Trade Center as a target.  How does that fit in the history of man killing man? 

POWELL:  It is about as vicious an act as one can imagine.  I mean, you can lay it alongside so many other inhumanities that man has committed against man, whether it is the Holocaust or so many other terrible things where no reason—no good reason, no civilized reason, no reason consistent with the rules of land warfare.  This was an act of terror that had a single purpose, and that was to kill as many people as possible, to convey a message of hatred to the United States and to the rest of the world.  And they did not go after a military target.  It was not a military engagement, it was a terror engagement.  And it reveals to the world the nature of al Qaeda and why this particular individual, Osama bin Laden and his colleagues, are so dangerous, not only to the United States, but to the rest of the world. 

It also was, for the American people, an unmistakable signal that this individual had been out there for a while and had perpetrated other acts of terror and now his work had to be stopped.  He had to be stopped.  He had to be destroyed.  The organization had to be destroyed.  We gave the Taliban an opportunity to turn on him and the Taliban did not take that opportunity, so they had to go.  And we made that clear.  But in our discussions in that first week, as we decided to go after al Qaeda, we weren‘t looking for a terrible war with the regime in Afghanistan, however bad that regime is.  But we gave them a choice and they did not take the opportunity and so they had to go. 

They went rather quickly and swiftly, in a very successful, complex military operation.  We have got to remain an open nation that is not taking council of its fears, that protects itself sensibly and goes after these enemies, but we can‘t let it become like the Soviet Union or like the tyrannies of World War II, the tyrannical regimes of World War II.  Because if we become that afraid, if we become so scared that we stop doing the things that are normal for us to do, then the terrorists would have succeed. 

They have succeeded in killing three thousand of our citizens, citizens of other nations.  They succeeded in blowing up these two marvelous buildings and damaging Pentagon.  The Pentagon has been rebuilt.  We have mourned those that we have lost.  We‘re in the process of rebuilding on the World Trade Center site.  But New York is alive and well.  New York is back to being New York. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  A lot of cover stuff coming on Monday night, a lot that isn‘t in that, but it‘s coming up in the interview later.  You will see the rest of this interview on our MSNBC “Living History” special, “9/11, Five Years Later,” Monday night at 10:00 Eastern.  That‘s here on MSNBC, including remembrances of that fateful day by the current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, by top Bush adviser Karen Hughes and a rare interview with the national intelligence director himself, John Negroponte. 

That‘s a MSNBC “Living History” event.  It‘s coming up here on Monday night at 10:00 and we are very proud of this effort.  We want to hear your memories of 9/11.  You can post them on our website, MSNBC.com. 

When we come back, “Newsweek‘s” Michael Isikoff and the “Nation” magazine‘s David Corn talk about how the Bush administration sold the Iraq war.  Their book is amazing.  It‘s called “Hubris.”  We‘re going to find out what went on behind the scenes, why we went to war, who made the big decisions.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  I think the biggest thing that most of our minds was what is next?  Clearly, one of the things that might have been next was flight 93 coming down to either hit the capital or the White House.  It has added another chapter of heroes in America‘s history.  Thank god for those brave young Americans who prevented it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Here to talk about Decision 2006 and the decision to go to war in Iraq are best selling authors Michael Isikoff from “Newsweek” and David Corn from the “Nation.”  Their new book is called “Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War.”  Michael, today the Senate Committee on Intelligence, mostly the Democrats, but a couple of Republicans joining them, said that we were lied into this war by the Iraqi National Congress and by the false claim that there was somehow a connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11.  Your view. 

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, CO-AUTHOR, “HUBRIS”:  Well, it is not a view.  I think it is now sort of settled, historical fact that there was no such connection.  The point, every point that is made in the Senate Intelligence Committee report are points that were made by intelligence community analysts and foreign governments prior to the run-up to the war in Iraq.  And as we document in “Hubris,” time and again memos are written, e mails are written, there are vigorous dissents that were made to almost every claim that the administration made in the run up to the war in Iraq. 

Those dissents, by and large, were concealed from the public.  They were suppressed.  They were in the classified National Intelligence Estimate, but not shared with the public.  They were voiced within the State Department and the CIA. 

MATTHEWS:  Why?  What was the animating thing behind the president?  Was it ideology?  Was it the intellectuals working at the sub-cabinet level?  Was it the concern that Saddam Hussein had tried to kill his father?  Was it an attempt to try to outdo his father by going all the way to Baghdad?  Have you been able to isolate the raw seed of this war from the president‘s point of view? 

DAVID CORN, CO-AUTHOR, “HUBRIS”:  Well, I think there was all of that in different combinations and I think historians will be arguing and reporters will be digging up more information, as we have started, to get to those motivations, but the book opens with a very graphic scene. 

In May of 2002, nearly a year before the invasion, we have on the record an eyewitness who was with the president, in the White House, talking to him about the exchange that day between Ari Fleischer and Helen Thomas.  Helen Thomas was saying why do we seem to be heading towards a war in Iraq.  And Bush all of a sudden, you know, listens to this and then he turns steely and he starts cursing a blue streak.  And he says you tell her I‘m going to kiss his mother fricking backside, but he said it more graphically than that, all across the Mideast.  So there was, at some level, this is some component of what you talked about, a visceral, passionate hatred for the man that was driving at least the decision making at his level, at the highest level.  At the same time, you know as well as anybody else, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Don Rumsfeld and others had been angling for ...

MATTHEWS:  All people that he looked up to us for foreign policy superiors, who really knew the trade craft, who really understood diplomacy and war and geopolitics and all of them said, in other words, you are saying he was receptive to a case to be made. 

CORN:  He was very receptive and he had his own, I think, emotional motivations. 

MATTHEWS:  Was he angry?  Is there anyway to try to dissect this?  Was he mad because they tried to kill his father? 

ISIKOFF:  Well that‘s actually, we have a chapter that opens with his trip down to a fund-raiser for John Cornyn, where he made those remarks about he tried to kill my dad at one time.  It is actually very interesting because the basis for that was this 1993 claim by the Kuwaiti courts that there was a plot and it‘s very murky and there are some questions raised.  In fact, we talked to the U.S. ambassador at the time, who says there was never any evidence that Saddam was directly involved in that plot.  And one of the fascinating characters in the book is Dick Armey, who was the House majority leader at the time. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I read that.  He was opposed to the war. 

ISIKOFF:  Who was opposed to the war, who spoke out briefly in Iowa and then gets called by Dan Bartlett at the White House, calls Armey‘s press secretary, what is he doing. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that why Armey quit politics? 

ISIKOFF:  Well, you should read the Armey sections of the book because we go into that. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, what I want to get into when we come back, how come all the warnings of what is going on now, a civil war over there, all the hell that has broken loose, it was going to be a tough war, all of the warnings that came from the old man, Bush one, Bush 41 and Scowcroft and Jimmy Baker, all those guys, how come the son, our president didn‘t listen to them?  We will be back with Michael Isikoff and David Corn about their hot new book “Hubris.”  We‘ll be right back on that one.  More HARDBALL coming back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with “Newsweek‘s” Michael Isikoff and the “Nation Magazine‘s” David Corn, author of the new book “Hubris,” just out.  The inside story of spin, scandal and the selling of the Iraq war, hell of a book.  You guys broke the story that the real leaker in the CIA leak case was Richard Armitage, Michael. 

ISIKOFF:  Correct and it‘s, you know, it was one of the ironies of the Plame investigation, that the guy who was the primary source for Novak, who was the primary source, and it was the sole source for Bob Woodward was a member of the administration‘s moderate cell who actually had misgivings about the march to war. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that he might have been used by people like Scooter, they put it in front of him, knowing he was a blabermouth? 

CORN:  No, the only reason he knew about this was because Scooter Libby, weeks earlier, had become obsessed with Joe Wilson and had asked the State Department to write up a memo.  So Armitage gets the memo.

MATTHEWS:  OK, why did Armitage get the memo? 

CORN:  Well because he was the number two guy there.  So they went to the number three guy, Mark Grossman, who wrote the memo, sent it to Scooter, or read it to him over the phone, and a copy also went to Dick Armitage.  That‘s kind of routine.  But, you know, conservatives are embracing this as if it absolves Karl Rove and Scooter Libby.   

MATTHEWS:  Does it.

CORN:  No, because at the same time ...

MATTHEWS:  They were leaking anyway.

CORN:  They were leaking anyway.  At the same time they were going up to Joe Wilson and they were leaking to Matt Cooper and others. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s get to something I think I believe a lot about.  I am not sure that I am right, but you check, because you guys are the best reporters on this now.  When the president of the United States came out in 2003 and spoke in the State of the Union about there being a nuclear threat from Iraq, where did that stuff come from and how come it was not stopped from getting in the speech when there was no basis for it, Michael? 

ISIKOFF:  First of all, the nuclear claim, all right.  They had started with the nuclear claim, that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program.  That was primarily based on the Aluminum tubes which, the piece of intelligence about which that was most disputed within the intelligence community to the man and women, the energy department scientist, who nuclear centrifuges, knew that the tubes were not for the centrifuges, that they did not have that purpose and they could not be used to support the claim.

MATTHEWS:  So how come this administration continues to claim, as of tonight, that the French were wrong, the English were wrong, in fact they keep saying everybody believed that Saddam had this stuff? 

ISIKOFF:  Everybody did not believe that he had a reconstituting nuclear program. 

MATTHEWS:  Well that‘s what got us into the war. 

CORN:  There was the presumption in some other intelligence agency that there were some W.M.D. programs there.  But the administration, you know, sort of ducks what it really said and the tubes issues is interesting because that‘s one case where, as Mike noted, there were ideally top exerts who denied or disagreed with this assessment. 

There was one guy, who we name in the book for the first time, at the CIA who kept pushing this case, and of course the White House was receptive to that, but not to the dissent.  But even when this got into the newspapers, there was not much, but there was a little coverage that there was some disagreement over this fact, Condi Rice, Dick Cheney, the president himself, no one called anyone in and said I understand this is a disputed point, let‘s have it out.  They just went with what served their interests.  Again it gets to the notion ...

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you about the president.  Does the president of the United States run this government or does he rely on advisers, especially Cheney? 

ISIKOFF:  Well, I think he certainly set the tone from the top of what he wanted the policy to be.  And that‘s why we start the book with the scene about George Bush. 

MATTHEWS:  So get Saddam was his plan?

ISIKOFF:  He is, you know, the main goal was to get rid of this guy. 

MATTHEWS:  So it wasn‘t Paul Wolfowitz, the intellectual, went in to see him and said, somebody said in one of these books I read before, Wolfy got to him.  It wasn‘t somebody with a strong point of view, it was the president with a strong point of view.   

CORN:  I don‘t think it took a lot to persuade him.  I think anybody can guess in an armchair from a distance, I think after 9/11 he felt a proactive need to go after somebody, because al Qaeda is a difficult target.  He had a lot of other reasons to go after Saddam and he had this whole network around him who had been trying to get Saddam for years. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, by the way, I have to end the show with something we talked about earlier.  Seventy percent of the American people back in 2003, after we went to war with Iraq, thought that Saddam Hussein was involved with 9/11.  So, it wasn‘t something that was thought up here.  The people thought we went to war to get even with people who were involved in killing us. 

ISIKOFF:  Look, the people were led to believe that, in part by Vice President Cheney, who kept pushing the argument. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘d like to have him answer to you guys some time.  Maybe we can get the rubber hose on Cheney some time.  Anyway, just kidding.  Anyway, good luck with the book, “Hubris,” I‘m even in there.  Michael Isikoff, David Corn, congratulations on the big book, lots of work, lots of string collection. 

On Monday at 10:00 Eastern, by the way, a very special hour, “9/11 Five Years Later.”  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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