updated 9/14/2006 11:28:56 AM ET 2006-09-14T15:28:56

Guests: Howard Fineman, Chuck Todd, Michael Isikoff, David Corn, Bill Maher, Karen Hanretty, Sidney Blumenthal

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  This means war.  The September 11 cease-fire, such as it was, is history.  The president‘s men slice at the Democrats as weakeners of the national defense.  The anti-war people lance back with a charge of McCarthyism.  The president is right; the war has reached America.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to a special edition of HARDBALL, the 2006 election.  Fifty-five days now before the election and the results are in from the 10 primaries.  The Republican establishment in Washington won a big one Tuesday night with Senator Lincoln Chafee, the moderate from Rhode Island, beating back a challenge from the right. 

The Republican Party used hardball tactics to keep incumbent Chafee in the race, going negative against his opponent, Stephen Laffey, in a series of television ads in the final days in getting out the vote in the final hours.  Control of the Senate is what is at stake here, and the national Republican Party pulled out all the stops.  Guess what?  It worked. 

In the Senate, Democrats need to pick up six seats to be in charge. 

Over in the House, Democrats need to pick up 15 seats to take control. 

It‘s not easy, but Democrats look like they have a fighting chance. 

HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has this report on all of yesterday‘s hot races. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In a string of big primary elections, both national parties got the victories they had been hoping for.  Lincoln Chafee, the most liberal Republican in the U.S.  Senate, beat back conservative firebrand Steve Laffey 55-46. 

STEVE LAFFEY (F), FMR. RI SENATE CANDIDATE:  I just called Senator Chafee a couple minutes ago and I told Senator Chafee that in November when choosing between Sheldon Whitehouse and Lincoln Chafee, I will be supporting Lincoln Chafee. 

SHUSTER:  National Republicans viewed Laffey as unelectable in a Rhode Island general election, and said if he beat Chafee, the GOP would practically concede the November race against Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse. 

But with Chafee the GOP winner,

CHUCK TODD, “THE HOTLINE”:  Tactically, it was a good night for Republicans because now Democrats have to still target Rhode Island through November.  They have to spend money in Rhode Island to try to win that seat rather than saving money and spending it in Arizona, Tennessee or Virginia. 

SHUSTER:  In Maryland national Democrats got the result they wanted in that senate primary.  House member Ben Cardin defeated former NAACP president Kweisi Mfume.  Mfume‘s fundraising had been so anemic that the Democratic National Committee feared having to take over and invest heavily in his campaign had he won.  Now Democrats not only expect to hold the Democratic seat, but enable precious national party fundraising dollars to be spent on other races. 

One race might be in Arizona where Democrats believe they can now pick up a Republican-held House seat.  Randy Graf won yesterday‘s GOP primary by highlighting his hardline on immigration.  National Republicans, including Jim Kolbe, who was retiring from the seat, say Graf is too divisive and will lose to Democrat Gabrielle Giffords. 

In New York yesterday, former Clinton housing secretary Andrew Cuomo defeated liberal advocate Mark Green in the primary race for state‘s attorney general. 

And in Washington, D.C., 35-year-old city council member Adrian Fenty won the Democratic nomination for mayor.  With 70 percent of city voters registered as Democrats, Fenty is a lock this fall to become the youngest mayor in Washington, D.C. history. 

Across the country, the one national lesson from the primaries involves the growing passions against the Iraq war.  In Maryland, House Democratic lawmaker Albert Wynn voted for the war.  His primary opponent Donna Edwards ran against him on that single issue and came within 2,000 votes of beating him. 

In New Hampshire, Democrat Carol Shea-Porter has been calling for a troop withdrawal from Iraq.  She defeated Democrat Jim Craig, who said a withdrawal right now is inappropriate. 

New Hampshire‘s passions are significant because the Democratic presidential primary there is in 16 months, and several candidates, including anti-war Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin are hoping to put a dent in the expected campaign juggernaut of Hillary Rodham Clinton. 

For now though, all eyes are on November an the battle for control of Congress, and the fight is getting nastier over the president‘s 9/11 speech and his primetime political arguments about Iraq. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Whatever mistakes have been made in Iraq, the worst mistake would be to think that if we pulled out the terrorists would leave us alone.  They will not leave alone.  They will follow us. 

SHUSTER:  Democrats condemned the White House for what they saw as a speech exploiting 9/11.  Republicans suggested Democrats are weak on terror.  House Leader John Boehner is going even further.  Quote, “I wonder if they‘re more interested in protecting the terrorists than they are in protecting the American people.” 

One Democrat today fired back by comparing Boehner‘s tactics to those of red scare Senator Joseph McCarthy. 

REP. DAVID OBEY (D), WISCONSIN:  You shouldn‘t have to resort to attacking—I come from the state of Joe McCarthy.  I know a first rate McCarthy when I see one and I also know a third rate McCarthy when I see one and we saw one yesterday. 

SHUSTER (on camera):  The passions, of course, may only intensify.  Control of Congress is at stake in this election.  Iraq is the top issue, and voters will go to the polls across the entire country in just eight weeks. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  There was a little glitch there.  Those were pictures of Eugene McCarthy, the liberal anti-war hero, not Joseph R. McCarthy, the red-baiter.  Sorry about that mistake.  Thank you, David Shuster.

“Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman is an MSNBC news analyst—actually an NBC news analyst—and Chuck Todd is editor-in-chief of “The Hotline,” our new partner on POLITICS.MSNBC.com. 

Let me start with Howard up there.  It seems to me, Howard, that there was a bit of a message yesterday.  I want to start with that in these elections.  It was definitely anti-Bush.  Up in New Hampshire, a very anti-war woman, Shea-Porter, won against the more established candidate. 

Anti-Bush down in Arizona over the immigration issue, where the grassroots of the Republican Party are much more virulently anti-illegal immigration, and even with Linc Chafee who said I didn‘t vote for you Mr.  President.  I wrote in your dad‘s name.  So I don‘t know where the good news is for Bush here. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”:  I don‘t know where there is either.  And I think that the automatic assumption that Chafee is going to coast in Rhode Island may not necessarily be true.  Don‘t forget, Chris, that he had a lot of open, enthusiastic support from the Bush machine and the Republican Party in that intramural primary.  He can‘t have that kind of thing, at least that visibly, in the fall election in a Democratic state. 

So I was impressed that Laffey got 46 percent against a guy who, you know, comes from a—has that golden name in Rhode Island.  I don‘t think it‘s that big of a relief for the Republicans.  They save one initially but they‘ve got a lot of problems down the road. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, that‘s my hunch too.  I think that Whitehouse is still going to be a powerful Democratic challenge up there. 

TODD:  Oh, there‘s no question of that, but let‘s being realistic.  This is $3 million the Democrats now will spend in Rhode Island to target Chafee.  As Democrats said, hey, you know, Laffey never went negative on Chafee.  That‘s half true.  The Club for Growth did, but Laffey didn‘t.  He never did a negative on Chafee.  Chafee unloaded on Laffey, the most negative ads we‘ve seen this cycle.

But what it means is $3 million in Rhode Island.  Now, it‘s not $3 million extra for Harold Ford, not $3 extra in Arizona, in Virginia so it tactically matters. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe—can I ask you a real New England question?  Do you really believe that those arch conservatives out there that really don‘t like Chafee—they think he‘s a rhino, a Republican in name only—are they going to sit out the general? 

TODD:  See, I think that they either—I don‘t think they‘re going to vote for a Democrat.  That‘s where I think that Democrats ...

MATTHEWS:  So it won‘t be like the old Jack Kennedy, Henry Cabot Lodge campaign? 

TODD:  I think they end up sitting if they‘re that angry. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at anger.  Here‘s a new ad out on the television right outside.  It‘s at MoveOn.org, obviously very anti-Bush.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They said there was a connection between 9/11 and Iraq, but there wasn‘t.  They said the war in Iraq would make us safer, but it hasn‘t.  They said they would destroy al Qaeda, but they haven‘t. 

Republican leaders exploited 9/11 to mislead us into a war with Iraq.  Are they going to get away with exploiting 9/11 to win re-election?  Not on your life. 

With 3.2 million members, MoveOn.org Political Action is responsible for the content of this advertisement. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Chuck, that‘s a very strong ad.  By the way, who is this guy who speaks like that, that voice they hire? 

TODD:  It‘s a good voice.  It sounded like a Reagan impersonator, yes.  You know what‘s interesting about MoveOn and why I think Republicans fear them so much is because MoveOn uses tactics that the Republicans would use against the Democrats.  You know, they figure out a wedge and they just drive it home, and they just bluntly say it. 

The Democratic Party is afraid to run an ad like that and that‘s the difference between.  The Republican Party wouldn‘t be afraid to run a wedge, just a barrelling-down, wedge-type of ad like that, and you will not see a Democratic nominee in a major U.S. Senate race want to even run an ad like that.

MATTHEWS:  Why? 

TODD:  Because Democrats are afraid.  They somehow—they walk up right to the line and they get afraid to play. 

MATTHEWS:  They do.  Are they afraid—Howard, are they afraid—pick up here.  Are the Democrats afraid they have to win seats, they have to hold onto seats, that at the last minute, something will go well in the war and the president will be on national television saying the scaredy cats ran and I fought? 

FINEMAN:  Yes, I don‘t know why they‘re being hesitant, because I‘ve been in your neck of the woods here, Chris, looking at the sixth, seventh and eighth districts, you know, those districts around Philadelphia and Bush is just absolutely a toxic name here and it‘s because of the war. 

I talked to a Republican constable—you know, Pennsylvania is still a state that has constables, you know.  This guy is standing on a street corner in one of these towns, and he‘s a Republican.  And he starts telling me jokes about George Bush, that he doesn‘t know what‘s going on in the world, that we‘ve spent $250 billion or more thrown down the rat hole in Iraq.  That we need the money here, that we have to protect the borders, on and on and on.  You know, Bush‘s numbers are 70/30 negative around this area.  I don‘t see why the Democrats don‘t go head on because the war in Iraq has made George Bush‘s name toxic in the suburban areas of Philadelphia, where three Republican House members could go down.

MATTHEWS:  You know, you have to wonder especially given the vice president‘s statements over the weekend.  I mean, if you listen closely to what the vice president acknowledged on “Meet the Press,” we should show this tape a couple times actually to verify it.  But he said that, “Yes I didn‘t know there was going to be an insurgency like there is.”  In other words, he‘s the first leader in history to say, “I didn‘t know there was going to be a war,” because that‘s what people call Iraq, the war.  And he‘s admitting he didn‘t know there was going to be one.  He was wrong, he admitted, about there being a connection between 9/11 and Iraq. 

Long ago they admit there was no WMD.  They‘ve admitted the erroneous nature of all the foundations for the war, except they‘ve stubbornly said we‘re right, you‘re wrong.  If fact, you‘re not only wrong, you‘re treasonous to oppose our policies.  You‘ve got to hand it to these guys, they have nothing in their hands, and yet they‘re out there bluffing so hard the Democrats are afraid of them.  Am I right?

FINEMAN:  Well that seems to be—that‘s the way it comes across up here, at least from the Democratic candidates themselves, whether it‘s in the Senate race with Bob Casey or in these House races.  I mean, the Democrats here are going after the war to some extent.  But to me it‘s all merging together into attitudes towards the president, attitudes about Iraq, and the economy, because people in this area at least are making a connection between the amount of money that‘s been spent over there and what‘s going on in—some of these towns around this region aren‘t doing all that well.  You know, Pennsylvania is a hard-hit state and I think the Republicans are just going to get clobbered here on that level even if Santorum survives, which he may.  The Senate can‘t, the senator.

MATTHEWS:  I think that‘s the way people think, Chuck.  They think if somebody is losing, if you‘re not doing well economically, somebody is winning, the money is going somewhere.  In this case, this money is going to the defense industries.

TODD:  Well, I think that‘s right, but I do think the Democrats—here‘s what I think.  The Democrats in 2002, what did they do?  They were afraid of the war so they pivoted to the economy.  I think they‘ve got to be careful.  If they don‘t just jam home the Iraq issue, they‘re not going to win.

MATTHEWS:  Because people won‘t believe you unless you believe yourself.

TODD:  And they need to start believing their own rhetoric.  And the candidates themselves are uncomfortable with this anti-Iraq rhetoric and that‘s what you‘re noticing.

MATTHEWS:  You know that great scene in “Presumed Innocent” where the prosecutor says you‘ve got to point to the guilty guy in front of the jury and say, “He committed the murder,” because if the jury doesn‘t believe you believe the guy did it and have the guts to face him with it, they won‘t try the guy, they won‘t find him guilty and I think the Democrats have got to point the finger and say we‘re right, he‘s the bad guy.  Thank you, Howard Fineman.  Thank you, Chuck Todd.

Don‘t forget to watch HARDBALL at 7 p.m. tonight for more results of the new poll by NBC News and the “Wall Street Journal.”  We‘re going to have NBC‘s David Gregory with us, CNBC‘s John Harwood and NBC‘s Mike Viquiera from Capitol Hill.  They‘re all going to be here to tell us about these new results, lots of hot stuff in this poll.  Coming up by the way, “Newsweek‘s” Michael Isikoff and the “Nation” magazine‘s David Corn will be here to talk about the latest news in this CIA saga and this fight over this weekend.  Was the president playing politics, tying again together 9/11 and Iraq?  And later on, Bill Maher is coming here.  You know where he‘s coming from.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re now deep into the home stretch of the November elections.  They‘re coming up quick and both parties are jacking up their attacks and ramping up the rough play, the HARDBALL if you will.  Will Americans buy Republican attacks against their opponents on handling terrorism?  Can Democrats figure out to take on the president without seeming weak on fighting the bad guys.  Here to dig into all of it are the authors of the hot new book “Hubris.”  “Newsweek‘s” Michael Isikoff and the “Nation” magazine‘s David Corn. 

Let‘s take a look at a really hot politician out there, Rick Santorum fighting for his political life and fighting for the president.  Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RICK SANTORUM ®, PENNSYLVANIA:  No the president did not give a political speech last night.  He spoke the reality of the conflict that is before us.  It is not popular to do so, I know.  It is not popular to stand up and support a conflict that is difficult.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well I hear there were hotter moments in that speech, but it was yesterday and I‘ve got to tell you something, or today rather—

Rick Santorum who is substantially behind on his race for re-election, he‘s

a hawk like most Republicans on the war in Iraq.  Is he right objectively -

let me go to you on this—objectively.  Did the president give a political speech Monday night?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NEWSWEEK:  Well look, anytime the president gives a speech in election season, it has a political dimension.  And the fact that he took the occasion to tell—to present his case on why the United States went to war in Iraq, which is the biggest political issue in this campaign, you can‘t escape the political ramifications of that.  And they knew that and what the president...

MATTHEWS:  ... But Tony Snow said he was not going to do that.

ISIKOFF:  And he did.  So what can one say other than...

MATTHEWS:  ... Let me go to the heart of this.  You guys, I want you to use your book, because I read—my wife and I drove to New York this weekend, bringing some things up there to our kid at school, and I read it to her in the car the whole way up, everything I could read aloud.  I‘m a good reader in cars.  She can‘t read in cars.

ISIKOFF:  If you taped it, we could have used that in the audio.

MATTHEWS:  I like to read in cars and I read a lot of good, juicy stuff.  And I ant to ask you these questions.  A lot of people out there haven‘t decided how to vote.  Let me give you some facts.  The president of the United States, when we went to war with Iraq, made a couple of good arguments that sold with the middle American people.  One it was a danger to us, probably nuclear, mushroom cloud.  You want a smoking gun?  I‘ll give you a mushroom cloud.  You heard that from everybody, including Condi Rice in this administration.  It turns out that wasn‘t true, no WMD, certainly no nuclear.

Then he said there was clearly and they made this case in country music, I mean every aspect of our culture, to the point where 80 percent of the American people, four out of five people believed that the Iraqis attacked us.  They did a damn good job, now the president and the vice president have admitted there was no connection. 

The vice president has admitted he didn‘t even know there was going to be a war over there.  He thought we were going to be greeted as liberators.   I‘ve never heard of a political leader in history say I took you into a war and I didn‘t know it was a war.  And yet the president is out there, Santorum is out there, fighting tougher than the Democrats, saying we believe in our side, we believe in our cause, we‘re sticking to the course.  And they look strong even though they acknowledged all the things that weren‘t true about this war and yet they still argue with the thing with such strength.  How do they do it, and the Democrats are wobbling all over the place. 

DAVID CORN, THE “NATION”:  Hubris perhaps, or arrogance. 

MATTHEWS:  Maybe it‘s hubris, the name of your book.

CORN:  But the thing that struck me in the speech, and I think getting distracted over whether it was a political speech or not, they helped the White House.  Bush came out and said very clearly I‘m going to tell you why I went after Saddam Hussein after 9/11.  It‘s because he was, quote, a clear threat. 

MATTHEWS:  Take it from me. 

CORN:  But a clear threat, what does that mean?  We now know that, as we detail in the book, that the intelligence on the W.M.D. was bad and there were no, there was nothing there since 1991.  We also know, according to the Senate Intelligence Committee report that came out on Friday, there was no connection between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda.  So you step back.  Why is there not a media debate today over the use of those words, what was the clear threat there? 

MATTHEWS:  You went further in the book.  You point out the fact that Saddam Hussein, who is an evil guy, how could he demonstrate he was destroying weapons he had already destroyed? 

CORN:  Well, that‘s the problem and we also quote in the book from Charels Duelfer and others who said that they believe that he was playing this impossible game.  He didn‘t have weapons of mass destruction, but he didn‘t want Iran and other countries to know that.  But, nevertheless, whatever he did or didn‘t do, the president is still out there pitching the same sales campaign that we talk about in the book. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you a question.  Try to be fair here, this MoveOn.org ad, this very much anti-Bush ad we saw a few moments ago, basically suggested that the president lied, not that he got it wrong, not that he cherry picked, not that he leaned on the better intel and ignored the bad intel, but he lied.  Is that a fair shot?  Did he sit in a room and say let‘s fake this thing? 

ISIKOFF:  We don‘t use that word in the book.  And, you know, it‘s such a loaded term because it implies that you are willfully deceiving the American public.  What‘s clear from our reporting is that there were plenty of reasons to question what they were saying and they ignored those. 

MATTHEWS:  So they ignored, they jumped on anything they could say, even the slightest read that there was some connection to 9/11. 

CORN:  It‘s was a political campaign.  You throw whatever you can out there and, someone used this phrase before, they didn‘t perform due diligence.  These are the big corporate honchos who were going to bring responsibility to the government.  All they cared about was the intelligence bits and pieces that supported their case and they ignored some very hotly contested disputes.  

ISIKOFF:  Can I just make another point about what Vice President Cheney said over the weekend.  He said regardless of the intelligence, we would have been done it exactly the same way. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a powerful statement.

ISIKOFF:  But just examine that for a moment because another part of the book that we, and we document this, is the lack of post war planning and the sort of short shrift to those who were saying you‘re going to need much more troops, you‘re going to need to plan for a possible insurgency, you‘re going to need to plan for sectarian strife and all of which they ignored because it would have interfered with selling the war to the public. 

Now can Vice President Cheney credibly say that they would have done it exactly the same way without increasing troop levels, without doing more adequate planning, you know, without making contingencies planning for all of the strife that people were telling them.  And that‘s where I think you know the greater credibility gap. 

MATTHEWS:  Well they‘re so smart.  They said the war is necessary and that war is going to be easy.  It turned out to be unnecessary, in terms of our national defense, and a lot of harder.  If it was a war we had to fight, we‘re still fighting. 

We‘ll be right back with Mike and David.  They‘re staying with us. 

The name of the book is “Hubris.”  It‘s number what now?  Right at the top

ISIKOFF:  Number six at Amazon at the moment. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s still way up there.  Anyway, thank you.  And we‘re going to have Bill Maher come on here in a minute to talk about it and play HARDBALL.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the authors of “Hubris,” “Newsweek‘s” Michael Isikoff and the “Nation‘s” David Corn with a hot selling book right now.  And you guys are the expert on this CIA leak case.  Quickly, what do we know right now, Michael Isikoff, about the role that was played by Richard Armitage, the number two guy at the State Department, the role played by Karl Rove and the role played by Scooter Libby?  Who was the chief leaker or were there several leakers?

ISIKOFF:  Well, Armitage was the first leaker because he first tells Bob Woodward in June.  Scooter is actually the second leaker because he tells Judy Miller in late June. 

MATTHEWS:  He invited her to breakfast to tell her. 

ISIKOFF:  Armitage is the third leaker because he leaks or tells Novak on July 8, Tuesday.  That same day, by the way, Libby is again meeting with Judy Miller and again talking about Joe Wilson‘s wife‘s work at the CIA and then Rove bats cleanup, fourth, because he tells Matt Cooper on Friday. 

CORN:  After confirming to Novak.

ISIKOFF:  After confirming to Novak.

MATTHEWS:  Have you been able to assert that except for Armitage that there was a collaboration between Scooter and Rove, any evidence that they talked together, planned the leak? 

CORN:  Well, we do know that Scooter talked to Ari Fleischer on that Monday and said, listen this is information on Joe Wilson.  Here, it‘s on the QT, meaning that we should probably use it.  And the one question is how did Rove know this, how did he know to leak or to confirm to Novak and sources say that that‘s because Libby told him and, of course, Cheney is a part of this too, because on June 12, before the whole ball gets rolling, he is the one who tells Scooter Libby that she works at the CIA. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s never forget, I know you guys are pros, that these guys work within a few feet of each other.  So, you know, Ari Fleischer and Rove and Scooter all work right there next to each other.  They go to the same coffee bar, the same place to get the, the same bathroom. 

ISIKOFF:  Another thing we have in the book is the role of Fleischer and Dan Bartlett pointing reporters to the story in Africa that week and John Dickerson writing after talking to Ari Fleischer.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And the leak goes on.  Anyway, thank you very much.  Good luck with the book David Corn and Michael Isikoff.  The reason I say good luck with book is I believe everything you said is true. 

Anyway, up next Bill Maher will be here.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on

MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Bill Maher is back in full swing on his HBO show, “Real Time with Bill Maher” which airs live Friday nights at 11:00 every Friday night.  Here‘s a preview of Bill Maher in action. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL MAHER, “REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER”:  Bad presidents happen to good people. 

(APPLAUSE)

MAHER:  Amid all the 9/11 anniversary talk about what will keep us safe, let me suggest that in a world turned hostile to America, the smartest message we can send to those beyond our shores is we‘re not with stupid. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  He‘s funny, he‘s smart and he‘s with us now live from Los Angeles this evening.  How are you doing, Bill? 

MAHER:  Chris, I think your music is too violent. 

MATTHEWS:  I didn‘t design it.  I think John Tesh did it for us.  Just kidding.  Look, did you watch the president give his speech Monday night? 

MAHER:  I did. 

MATTHEWS:  And? 

MAHER:  Well, I think like most reasonable Americans, I was outraged that he asked for network time to give us a speech that supposed to be non-political, that was just supposed to be, I guess, more wallowing in 9/11, and it turned out to be extremely political. 

He tried to jam down our throats one more time that the war on terror is about the war in Iraq, and I think most Americans have heard that.  We listened to the speech and we said you know what?  We get it.  That‘s your opinion.  You think the war on terror is the war in Iraq.  We‘ve made a judgment.  It‘s not, so shut up about it, especially on this day. 

MATTHEWS:  Who would you—the Democrats are out there beating the drum saying they want equal time or they want something like the fairness doctrine brought back.  They‘re not going to get that from the FCC, but who would you put out there if you had to pick a big Democrat to match Bush on this point you raise? 

MAHER:  That‘s a really good question.  Maybe somebody—you know, first of all, somebody who can talk, can string a sentence together, maybe Joe Biden, John Edwards, somebody like that.  I‘m not that crazy about the leadership that they have. 

I mean, some of them are right thinking but they‘re not very charismatic.  Others are a little more charismatic but they stumble on their words.  They don‘t have a lot of stars in the Democratic Party.  It‘s true. 

MATTHEWS:  But isn‘t that the problem, that if you were to give a guy on your show—and your show is pretty racy, but if you were to say to one of these mainstream Democrats who got elected to the leadership, here, talk to the American people, regular people right now and tell them why the president is wrong, do you think they could do it in a cogent way? 

MAHER:  I don‘t know why they don‘t.  They have all the facts on their side.  All they really would have to say to the American people is the Republicans chose to fight the wrong war and then they lost it.  They lost the war.  How about that? 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about what we saw this weekend and it may be incidental, but it struck a lot of people that five years ago, 3,000 people were killed at the World Trade Center towers and yet we have a hole in the ground.  After all these years, a hole in the ground. 

MAHER:  Yes, and let‘s not also forget about the hole in the ground that Bush flew to on 9/11.  You know, he talks constantly about how we can‘t forget 9/11.  How about let‘s not forget where he was on 9/11.  You know, he went to New York and Pennsylvania and Washington to commemorate this 9/11 five years later, he should have gone to the places where he went on 9/11. 

He was in Florida, and then he heard there was a attack on New York so, of course, he flew to Shreveport, Louisiana, and then he heard that there was another plane that went down in Pennsylvania so naturally he went to Nebraska.  So I think to commemorate 9/11 he should have gone to Florida, Louisiana and Nebraska. 

And, of course, I also read that on the night of 9/11, he was in bed by 11:30.  Yes, on the day that changed everything, Chris, he still hit the hay before “Nightline.” 

MATTHEWS:  Is that bad?  I guess you‘re saying it‘s bad, like he‘s nighty-night on the biggest day that he should be staying up all night thinking about how to deal with this thing? 

MAHER:  Well, it‘s not as bad as sitting there for seven minutes after you are president of the United States and you hear the words “the country is under attack.”  If the country was under such an attack that he had to fly and find a hole in the ground because it could have been a nuclear attack—which takes, you know, less than an hour for a missile to be launched and hit the continental United States—I would think seven minutes is kind of a long time to be sitting there. 

MATTHEWS:  But if he had been ...

MAHER:  And I know I sound like a ...

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me try something else buddy.  Suppose the vice president, who seems to have been the day officer that day, the officer of the day, had said to the president come on back to Washington, land at Andrews and come back and he had been blown up.  I mean, would that have been a good thing? 

MAHER:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

MAHER:  No.  Chris, I kid about that, it‘s never a good thing and we can‘t even joke about that and we shouldn‘t joke about that. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but I mean, you‘re saying it‘s wrong for him to go out

(CROSSTALK)

MAHER:  But you did set me up. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, but you‘re saying it was wrong for him to go up to SAC headquarters when they thought that was the most secure place for him to be if there was going to be an attack on the White House, and we still don‘t know whether that 93 flight—United flight 93 -- which came down over Pennsylvania because of the heroism of some of the people on that plane could have been headed right toward the White House.  He could have done the smart thing maybe, don‘t you think? 

MAHER:  Well, he could have.  It didn‘t look that good.  And what I‘m trying to say here is that you can‘t have it both ways.  The attack can‘t be such that you can waste seven minutes just sitting there and also be so dire that you have to go underground.  I think you kind of have to pick. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, well, let me ask you about it.  You know, there is an interesting thing here about the political smarts of both sides and I think in your hesitation about naming Democrats who would be going at addressing this from the Democrats side against the president, it seems to me if you look at, as you said in the beginning, who is holding the cards, the Republicans and the president and the vice president together admit there was no WMD a long time ago. 

They admit this weekend there was no link to 9/11.  Both admitted it.  The president said nothing, no connection.  The president sort of got that out there to Tim ...

MAHER:  Russert.

MATTHEWS:  So Russert got it out of him. 

And then, of course, the third thing, Cheney admitted he didn‘t know there was going to be a war in Iraq.  I mean, they admitted everything, that they were wrong to say it was easy, wrong to say it was necessary, and yet they still say we‘re sticking to our guns, even if all this wasn‘t true.  We‘re still going to stick to the arguments that we made, even though they‘re all proven to be retractable or retrievable and yet the Democrats can‘t make a case based on the facts.  The Republicans don‘t need the facts.  They just keep going. 

MAHER:  Exactly, and the Cheneys and the Bushes and the Rumsfelds, they don‘t even care when they get caught in lies.  Tim Russert presented a lot of tapes of Cheney lying about this and Cheney‘s response basically was well, yes, those specific lies, OK, you got me on those, but my overall lie still pertains.  We still need the war.  And, you know, I just think the American public at a certain point, I would never accuse them of being quick, but I do think they will catch on to the idea that if a president keeps having to remind you that you‘re at war, you‘re not, OK.  Our troops are at war.  We‘re shopping. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, sadly true.  Let me ask you about the big charge against the Democrats.  The Republicans say when they‘re shrewd about this, OK we‘re bad, but they are worse, that‘s the way they sell it these days, from the frying pan into the fire.  If you vote Democrat, they say, look, if the Democrats win they‘re going to use the subpoena power, people like John Conyers of Detroit and Nancy Pelosi as speaker and Henry Waxman from out in L.A. and people like that are all going to use their subpoena power to have endless investigations and maybe even an impeachment effort.  What do you make of that theory? 

MAHER:  It‘s possible and it certainly would be appropriate.  It certainly wouldn‘t be unjust considering what Clinton was impeached for.  And it‘s not just Democrats.  We have Pat Buchanan on our show in the satellite this week and I know that he thinks that Bush should be impeached for certain reasons.  I think that has to do with Mexicans coming over the border at an alarming rate to Pat.  But, you know, it wouldn‘t be the worst thing in the world if he was impeached. 

I think a better solution would be if this country would change its constitution and have a vote of no confidence.  Because, let‘s be honest, if George Bush was president in a parliamentary democracy, he would have been gone a long time ago.  This is what the Republicans would like.  They would like to be able to retain the White House but not have the bad leader and that‘s what a vote of no confidence offers you. 

MATTHEWS:  If you‘re that confident, why do you think it‘s still a big, and I think it‘s a big question, in fact I‘m beginning to think it‘s not in fact likely, that Republicans are going to lose control of the House.  I think they could very easily hold onto 218, squeak it, and if that‘s the case, that means more than half of the American people or roughly half are voting Republican despite everything you say being true, perhaps. 

Everything could be objectively true about the case being misled for war and how they didn‘t have the facts about anything right, and yet the people, half of them are ready to vote Republican now, what does it say about the Dems?  What does it say about the Republican case? 

MAHER:  The Democrats do not know how to fight back to the fear argument.  The Republicans keep winning the election based on the idea that there is a Werewolf out there in the woods and we‘re the only ones who have a silver bullet.  If you don‘t go along with their idea that indefinitely occupying the country of Iraq is the way to fight terror, then you‘re one of the al Qaeda types, which is completely ridiculous. 

It‘s like saying to the exterminator, look I don‘t think that hitting the vermin on the head with a hammer is the way we should get rid of them and being accused of being for the rats.  But the Democrats don‘t seem to know how to make that counter-argument and say to the American people no, we‘re patriotic to.  We want to fight the war on terrorism, but we just don‘t think this is the right way to do it. 

MATTHEWS:  Why can‘t they say that? 

MAHER:  Because the Republicans keep scaring people with terms like Islamo fascists, which is so ridiculous because there is nothing that an Islamic militant has in common with a fascist.   

MATTHEWS:  OK, I‘ve got on good authority, by the way, I‘ve got on good authority that nobody, two to one or three to one, the American people don‘t buy that Nazi connection, but yet the Democrats, you‘re right, maybe they‘re still afraid of being called Nazis or communists or whatever to the point where all you have to do is say something bad about them and they go hide or talk to their fund raising machines, say can we still afford the ads now or whatever they do when they disappear.  I don‘t know where they are because they‘re not on television.  They‘re not speaking up.  They‘re not being clear.  You are. 

MAHER:  Right, and as many people have pointed out before me, if this really is World War III and bin Laden and Hussein are really Hitler and they‘re fascists, would we really be fighting the war the way we are fighting it, on the cheap, not getting the home front involved, not having a draft.  If it really was World War III, wouldn‘t you think you‘d have to draft people to fight that war? 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s your best line of the night, Bill.  Thank you sir.  Bill Maher.  On Bill Maher in Real Time.  I did grade you.  That was the best.  “Real Time” is coming up again Friday night at 11:00.  It‘s always on Friday night at 11:00.  If you‘re home that night, watch this show.  It‘s always great.  The guest this week is Robin Williams.  For more information check out HBO.com\BillMaher. 

When we come back, Sidney Blumenthal will talk about his new book called “How Bush Rules.”  This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Pat Buchanan is going to be Bill Maher‘s guest this Friday night.  Robin Williams will be on next month when he actually gets to Washington. 

Welcome back, as I said.  He says that George Bush is the most willfully radical president in American history.  Here now to discuss his new book, “How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime,” is the author himself Sidney Blumenthal.  Sid, thank you very much for joining us.  Good luck with this book.  You‘re in midst of writing and getting this book out.  You‘ve been writing it every week.  It‘s a book in real time.  It was pretty darn at tracking how things went.  What was your incite into this administration that led you to see what was happening as it happened? 

SIDNEY BLUMENTHAL, FORMER WHITE HOUSE ADVISOR:  Well, I‘m glad to be here Chris.  I think that Bush is the most radical president that we‘ve had.  You know, no one anticipated that he would be this radical when he ran as a compassionate conservative in the year 2000.  Nonetheless, he has used 9/11 and exploited it in order to concentrate unaccountable power in the executive.  And you can see it this week as he‘s trying to push two issues, warrantless domestic surveillance and the question of torture of detainees, directly into the political arena so that Republicans can try and demonize Democrats in the Fall campaign. Bush requires this very disciplined, one-party rule in order to achieve what he‘s achieved and for the next two years of his term, if he loses one or both houses of Congress, then he will be checked and balanced and this unique presidency will really founder on the rocks.

MATTHEWS:  Well do you believe if the House were to go narrowly Democratic in the November election, say the Democrats pick up 220 seats and they get the speakership and the committees, the subpoena power—do you believe that they will actually stand up to him?

BLUMENTHAL:  I think that they will begin investigating.  You know I think that this is the constitutional obligation and the institutional integrity of the Congress.  We‘ve had one party control both the Congress and the presidency in the past and we remember when Democrats stood up to Democratic presidents, like J. William Fulbright, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Vietnam, the Lyndon Johnson.

And you and I both remember very well what happened when the Democratic Congress really I think unfairly cut Jimmy Carter‘s presidency apart.  Now we have a very disciplined Congress that has been controlled throughout by Tom DeLay in the House who is now in deep trouble and without that Congress acting that way and suppressing its congressional oversight, Bush would not have been able to achieve what he‘s done in the executive.

MATTHEWS:  But Sid, you know that the Republicans are putting out the word right now that what you say is coming.  If the Democrats get the subpoena power, they‘re going to, you know, as he used to say about the 80th Congress, which was Republican in 46, is going to open with a prayer and end with a probe and probing will never end.

BLUMENTHAL:  Yes, I think that that‘s actually aimed at the press corps and not at the public.  I think the public doesn‘t really know even who Nancy Pelosi is for the most part.  It doesn‘t know any of these names.

MATTHEWS:  Well my numbers prove that, by the way.

BLUMENTHAL:  Yes, these are Democrats who will become committee chairmen, the public doesn‘t know that.  I think it‘s intended to move the press corps to sort of raise the question that Democrats will create conflict.  In fact, the polarizing strategies come from Karl Rove and Bush is now using—he‘s trying to conflate Iraq with the war on terror in order to maximize the turnout of his hard core base on a polarizing strategy because they‘ve lost the independents and certainly even the moderate Democrats.

MATTHEWS:  Hold on, Sid Blumenthal.  The name of the book is “How Bush Rules.”  Sid‘s going to stay with us and also we‘ll be joined by Republican strategist Karen Hanretty.  She‘s going to be here to talk about this battle for power in 2006.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Sidney Blumenthal, author of “How Bush Rules.”  We‘re joined right now by Republican strategist Karen Hanretty.  Let‘s watch what Dave Obey had to say on the House floor today, I believe.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DAVID OBEY (D), WISCONSIN:  You shouldn‘t have to resort to attacking someone.  I come from the state of Joe McCarthy.  I know a first-rate McCarthy when I see one, and I also know a third-rate McCarthy when I see one, and we saw one yesterday.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well there he is in the house, talking about John Boehner, what he had to say.  Do you think this is getting pretty hot, Karen, McCarthyism?

KAREN HANRETTY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  I think that there‘s absolutely—whether it is Republican or Democrat right now, there is not a clear, strategic message on either side.  I think it is a lot of hot-headed, off the cuff remarks.  I think it doesn‘t bode well for Republicans or Democrats.  And I‘d like to see Republicans need to get back on message.

MATTHEWS:  Should they be calling Democrats fascists or whatever they‘re calling—what are they calling them?

HANRETTY:  They‘re not calling the Democrats fascists.

MATTHEWS:  They‘re calling the terrorists fascists.  Is that smart?

HANRETTY:  I don‘t have a problem with the term Islamic fascism.  I don‘t have a problem at all with that.  I know you don‘t think it polls well.  I don‘t think it matters if it polls well.

MATTHEWS:  I know it doesn‘t poll well.

HANRETTY:  but the point is, there are some policy issues where I think Republicans between now and November could really drive a wedge between Democrats.  I think there are two factions in the Democratic Party.  There are the John Kerry‘s, who are out there on the Sunday programs saying we can fight the war on terror more effectively.  That doesn‘t mean he doesn‘t think we shouldn‘t be fighting a war on terror.  Then I think you‘ve got the Ned Lamont Democrats who say no, bring the troops back home.  We don‘t want to fight.  We don‘t want to fight with guns and bullets.

MATTHEWS:  Do you want to respond to that, Sid Blumenthal?

BLUMENTHAL:  Well you know, when I saw President Bush deliver his speech on 9/11, was someone who was trying to tell us and set the agenda for the campaign, what we should remember, namely, the Bush in the weeks immediately after 9/11 and what we should forget, which is what‘s happened in five years.

And the problem right now that the Republicans are contending with is the overwhelming reality.  And they‘re trying to use technical campaign means, ultimately they will come down to 30 and 60-second attack ads against the Democrats as defeatocrats and appeasers, trying to manipulate issues like torture and domestic surveillance and try and pretend that the Democrats are somehow on the side of terrorists, and use these technical means to trump reality, which will be flooding back in because the president in fact has no strategy for dealing with Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  Your response?

HANRETTY:  A couple of things.  You know, whether it is that letter that Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid sent to the T.V. stations today demanding equal time or what Sidney Blumenthal or what Bill Maher, your guest before is saying, it‘s a lot of, well the American people are too stupid to be able to cut through the rhetoric and figure out the truth.  I think that‘s one part.  I find that very condescending. 

The other part is you know, the Democrats have made Iraq a political issue by going out there and campaigning on a message of you should vote Republicans out of office, put Democrats in office, because President Bush has failed in Iraq.  They made that their national campaign strategy.  They have politicized Iraq.  There was nothing political about President Bush going out there on the anniversary of September 11th and talking about what are we doing on the war on terror?  You might not agree with it, but it is, he says, the war on terror.  So let‘s hear it, what is the strategy, where should you fight the war on terror?

MATTHEWS:  I think we‘re agreed.  Anyway, thank you Sidney Blumenthal and thank you Karen Hanretty.  Play HARDBALL with us again in one hour with the new NBC poll, lots of highlights in that baby coming up.  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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