updated 10/5/2006 11:08:47 AM ET 2006-10-05T15:08:47

Guests: Bob Woodward, Bill Brooks, Melanie Sloan, John Laesch, Juliet Eilperin

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Why hasn‘t the speaker spoken?  If he heard two years ago about Mark Foley and the danger he presented to congressional pages, why did he coverup? 

Speaking of denial, we have the author Bob Woodward with his smashing news on George W. Bush.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

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

Tonight, is the Republican Party imploding over the sexually charged e-mails and instant messages Congressman Mark Foley sent to teenage boys?  As Foley sits in rehab, members of his party are doing damage control trying to distance themselves from this lurid tale of political pornography. 

As House Speaker Dennis Hastert and other Republican leaders deny they knew about Foley‘s pattern of behavior, the “Washington Post” reports today that as early as 1995, pages were warned to stay away from Congressman Foley, and late today, a senior congressional aide said he told Hastert‘s aides two years ago about Foley‘s conduct and danger he presented.  Well, the Foley investigation is widening and we‘ll have the latest later in the show. 

But first, a bombshell guest.  Bob Woodward is setting off political explosions of his own, with his investigation of the Bush administration and its war in Iraq.  “State of Denial” is a best-seller on Amazon right now, and tonight Bob Woodward plays HARDBALL. 

Bob, thank you. 

BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR, “STATE OF DENIAL”:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Congratulations.  Already number one.  I predicted on the show the other day it will be number one on Election Day.  This one is going to stay up there. 

Let me ask you a hot point that I‘ve been trying to figure out, and your reporting reveals a lot here, I think.  A lot of people supported the Iraq war, not because they were ideologues or they were Republicans.  They were just Americans worried about a nuclear threat. 

They believed the president when they went on national television at the State of the Union in 2003 and spoke those words about what we‘ve gotten from British intelligence, that there was a deal to buy yellowcake from Africa.  Why were those words in the speech? 

WOODWARD:  Oh, wow.  I mean, they were—I never quite figured out who put them in because they had been taken out by the CIA director a couple of months earlier.  I don‘t ...

MATTHEWS:  You said in the book—I‘ve annotated your book like I‘m a Bible scholar here.

WOODWARD:  OK, good.  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  And let me go to this page here because ...

WOODWARD:  You did.

MATTHEWS:  ...”Armitage was pretty sure that Hadley”—that‘s Steve Hadley, the number two at NSC at that time—“had taken a figurative bullet for the president but more so for the vice president.  It was Cheney who was the strongest advocate that Saddam has been reconstituting his nuclear program.” 

And you later on have Tenet, the head of the CIA, referring to Hadley as a “sleeper agent,” someone serving the interest apparently of the vice president.  Now why would the vice president want to cover it up if he wasn‘t the source for that claim, that there is a nuclear threat facing the United States? 

WOODWARD:  Well, I‘m not sure.  I went as far as I could and it is reported in the book.  I mean, Cheney has been quite explicit in public, at least before we knew the truth about the weapons of mass destruction, that this was the thing to be worried about.  You may recall in many television interviews, the vice president said his worry was a nuclear weapon going off in an American city.  He waved that around regularly. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure, and it was the mushroom threat and everything, but it is so clear in your book, the reporting here, that it was in the interest the vice president that the coverup continue, that you have these people like Hadley saying oh, it was my fault that got in there, when everyone knows the vice president‘s office clears all major presidential speeches, especially in this administration and they saw those words. 

WOODWARD:  Well, I can only go as far as I do in the book, Chris. 

Yes.

MATTHEWS:  So you stick with the fact that Armitage was believing that Hadley doing the work of Cheney, his office? 

WOODWARD:  Yes.  Oh, sure. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me ask you about Cheney and this whole thing.  Your book makes clear there is always so many forces at work that led us into this war that a lot of people don‘t like right now.  Everybody seems to not like the war, but rMD+IN_rMDNM_rMD+BO_rMDNM_at the time there were a lot of interests, a lot of confluence.  Cheney, you have in the book that Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, were out front. 

WOODWARD:  Yes, sure. 

MATTHEWS:  And the people that were in the back were Condi, who was just a loyalist, Colin Powell who was against the war.  Now, Rumsfeld—this is fascinating.  You know he is fascinating to watch.  He is hard to figure.  He‘s opaque.  He‘s like you.  It‘s very hard to read you.  It‘s very hard to read him. 

He said on our HARDBALL show, when we interviewed him at the Pentagon, that the president of the United States never went to him, the secretary of defense, and asked him if we thought we ought to go to war. 

WOODWARD:  That‘s right.  I had that in the book “Plan of Attack” two years ago.  I was astonished.  How could he—and I asked President Bush, how could you not ask the secretary of defense because he also didn‘t ask the secretary of state then, Colin Powell, and the president‘s answer was I already knew what they thought. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh really?  Well, let‘s talk about what Cheney—here is a man ...

WOODWARD:  Are you obsessed with Cheney? 

MATTHEWS:  No, I am ...

WOODWARD:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  ...because what you say in your book is how powerful he is in this administration.  Certainly, you would agree the most powerful V.P.  in history? 

WOODWARD:  Based on the evidence we have, sure. 

WOODWARD:  OK.  You have him out—like looking for a GPS in his car somewhere in the Lebanon desert, looking for WMD to make his case that hadn‘t been made so far in the fall of 2003.  “We had been in the country for four or five months.  We hadn‘t found any weapons of mass destruction.” 

So he‘s tooling around with the help of somebody.  Was it Israeli intelligence?  Is that—where did he get the idea that there was somehow coordinates that he could ...

(CROSSTALK)

WOODWARD:  Specifically what happened, David Kay who was head of the Iraqi survey group after the war went in, said let‘s see if we can find weapons of mass destruction or find out why we got it wrong. 

And David Kay, one night 3:00 a.m. in Iraq, got a call from the vice president‘s office saying come right away, we want you to check this communications intercept.  And there was some indication that something might be buried someplace. 

And then at another point, they actually passed from the vice president‘s office coordinates, geo coordinates, to where they suspected the WMD was and he checked it with his image experts—David Kay—and it was in Lebanon, and the image expert said well, that‘s where we‘re going next. 

MATTHEWS:  How did you figure that?  What did you make of the fact that he was so eager to find WMD after David Kay and the rest couldn‘t find it? 

WOODWARD:  Well I mean, it‘s reasonable at this point because we went to war for that reason, and if he had intelligence that suggested it might be someplace or somebody might know something, certainly go and check it out.  I don‘t find that troubling.  You know, he was trying to see ...

MATTHEWS:  Make his point.

WOODWARD:  Yes, he was trying to make his point and see if they could come up with—you know, I talked to the president about this for the earlier books.  Just one little vile of biological weapons or a bubbling vat of chemical weapons ...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I remember that.

WOODWARD:  ...or, you know, something to show—and they found zero.  So I think if I had been—you know, if you were in that administration and you had gone to war on that basis, you‘d be checking geo coordinates and communications intercepts also. 

MATTHEWS:  But at some point it becomes Teddy Roosevelt running up and down the stairway.  I mean, you start to act a little bat there, you just keep trying to improve it.  Maybe not.  Let me ask you about the president.

WOODWARD:  I don‘t make that judgment.  I don‘t make that judgment.

MATTHEWS:  I know you don‘t.  The president of the United States—and this is the great thing about you.  You get in.  You‘re such a heavyweight.  You get in to see the president and have these very interesting conversations.  You had one with him about this time, I think the late fall of 2003. 

WOODWARD:  Yes, that‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  Now, this is the kind of conversation everybody would like to have, but you had it.  You asked the president don‘t you know a lot of people are concerned, dismayed a bit, that we haven‘t found WMD when that was the reason we went to war? And this is after we got in there.

And don‘t you ever hear anybody, like your pals, say to you, it‘s too bad we didn‘t get the WMD.  It‘s kind of embarrassing.  And he said, “I don‘t wonder in your circles,” as if you were some sort of elitist and he was the regular guy. 

WOODWARD:  Oh, he said it.  Yes, he said you‘re in elite circles. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what did you make of the fact that the president said he wasn‘t—didn‘t know anybody that would come up to him and say you know, you blew it, George.  Mr. President, you‘re my pal, I‘m loyal to you, but you blew it.  There was no WMD.  How did you read that, that he was—in denial?

WOODWARD:  Well, I recount this as an example because he was saying to me, well, why do you need to ask about that?  And I said, it is an important issue.  I‘m writing about the war.  And we went around—my assistant, Christine Parthemore, actually timed how long the questioning on this one subject was, and I think it is five minutes and 18 seconds. 

MATTHEWS:  For him to admit the obvious? 

WOODWARD:  And for him to—at the end, I said all I‘m trying to find out is if now you acknowledge we so far have not found WMD.  And he went, true, true, true. 

And then he was quite concerned I was going to race down to the “Washington Post” and write a story saying the president says we haven‘t found weapons.  Well, of course, we hadn‘t found them and those were the groundrules and it took a couple of months for that to come out in the book. 

MATTHEWS:  But you get several layers of denial here.  I know you don‘t like psychobabble but it is there on the page of the transcript.  First of all, he denies he ever talks to anybody who would actually raise the question.  Then he denies he‘s ever going to admit it publicly.  In fact, he‘ll admit it to you gradually and painfully, but you have got to hold it for the book.  That‘s denial. 

WOODWARD:  That‘s why I reran it here.

MATTHEWS:  Is that why you call the book “State of Denial”? 

WOODWARD:  Well, it is only one of a hundred reasons.  If you go through the book, you find that the people closest to the president, intelligence people regularly—from the CIA man who is in charge of the Middle East—come in and say it‘s an insurgency, and the president says I don‘t want the “New York Times” to find out. 

John Negroponte, his view this summer that we have a policy that is not working.  John Negroponte is the number one intelligence person, is the director of national intelligence.  And his view is that we‘ve always miscalculated and underestimated the insurgency.  I was surprised—you don‘t get a lot of surprises when you‘ve been a reporter for 35 years, like I have—but I was really surprised to discover the level of violence in Iraq.  And you see that they go out and say, the terrorists are in retreat, we have turned a corner.  And the secret intelligence flatly contradicts that. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you interpret that?  Do you know these papers got to the president‘s attention, or they were just written up?  You present a lot of documents.  Do you know they got to his eyes? 

WOODWARD:  I know he gets two or three daily briefings on these things in memos on Iraq and what the situation is on various foreign policy issues.  I mean there is no way—look, if you are president of the United States, you want to know what is the level of violence, how often are we being attacked.  And this information comes in regularly in the White House. 

The book has been out for a week and if there was some claim that, hey, I didn‘t see that paper, I suspect they‘d make it. 

MATTHEWS:  They‘ve offered, kind of, a blanket defense.  Tony Snow...

WOODWARD:  It‘s not.  It‘s a strange...

MATTHEWS:  It‘s not a documented defense. 

WOODWARD:  Well, it‘s not even a non-denial denial.  It‘s kind of, they say they‘re myths, and then if you look at the myths, they set something up that I didn‘t say, and then say, no that‘s not true. 

And then they also—I mean what is interesting, they say, for instance, Laura Bush didn‘t want Don Rumsfeld out.  And they say that is flatly untrue.  I don‘t say that in the book.  I say that Andy Card had two discussions with her about it and Andy Card, who is credited, has gone on television, including your network, saying those quotes are accurate. 

MATTHEWS:  He is a good man, isn‘t he? 

WOODWARD:  Well, he‘s...

MATTHEWS:  He‘s an honest man, isn‘t he?

WOODWARD:  There is such a thing as character.  And you find out about character when you know things and you—I‘ve had two years to work on this book—and some people run for the woods, and then some people stand up and say, yes, that‘s what I said. 

MATTHEWS:  Which reminds me of the problematic George Tenet. 

We will be back with Bob Woodward.  What a book. 

And later, we‘ll talk to Democrat John Laesch, the man running against Dennis Hastert.  Is the Foley mess making Hastert‘s own race more interesting? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We are back with Bob Woodward, author of the new book, “State of Denial”. 

Well, let‘s talk of the state of denial, which is your signature here, your title.  You talked about the president not willing to really, wanting to come to grips, when you‘re sitting with him about the WMD problem, not wanting to admit people talked to him, not wanting to offer his own certification of the fact we didn‘t find WMD. 

Rumsfeld has been on the skillet now, Bob, for weeks now, as you know.  What do you make of the fact that Rumsfeld, in your book, sought total control over the war, total connection with the president to the exclusion of the joint chiefs? 

WOODWARD:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Did that muzzle the joint chiefs about needing more troops? 

WOODWARD:  Well, what he did is he picked people who would offer their views, and he‘d say, no.  And then they wouldn‘t push—you want people who are strong military leaders.  In fact, the law requires it.  It says that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will be the principal military advisor to the president, to the secretary of defense in the National Security Council. 

And you look, and you get notes of these meetings, and you talk to

people and the chairman says what Rumsfeld says.  I mean, as one general in

there is quoted, you know, you shouldn‘t be the parrot on the secretary‘s

shoulder.  And that‘s exactly what you get, so you don‘t get that kind of -

I really, I like tough people. 

I like people who come in and say, OK, you‘ve decided this, but I disagree, I want to revisit it, here is new information, let‘s really talk about this.  And Rumsfeld has bleached those people out of the system.  And, you know what, it‘s bad for President Bush, bad for the country, and it‘s bad for Rumsfeld. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, when the president says over and over again, as the middle of the road people have been hearing him for years now, say about the war, if my generals want more troop, they can ask for them and I‘ll give them to them. 

Is that somehow undermined by this method of dealing with keeping them quiet? 

WOODWARD:  No, I don‘t think so.  The issue now is not really the number of troops, because people who are over there and experts on this say, you bring more American troops in now, or really at any period after the insurgency got going, and it will feed the flames of the insurgency because, as I quote General Abizaid, you know, saying, you know, you bring in the troops, in fact, we may have too many troops now there. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.

WOODWARD:  And it‘s interesting Rumsfeld says that, because they‘re so visible, they‘re in flak jackets with weapons and helmets and they‘re looking at Iraqi women, they‘re  kicking in doors.  And Iraqis don‘t like that. 

MATTHEWS:  Who would?

WOODWARD:  Iraqis don‘t like being occupied. 

MATTHEWS:  But in all fairness, this isn‘t a novel, this is the truth. 

And all truth is uneven, and it doesn‘t always add up.  For example, in both cases, Rumsfeld and the president, in both cases in your book you quote them as acknowledging what you just said, countries don‘t like to be occupied. 

I thought, before I read this book, that these guys were blind to the normal nationalism that they seem to be aware of, that when we went into Iraq, they weren‘t going to like us for very long.  And yet they pursued the policy. 

WOODWARD:  Yes.  And they are stuck with it because it‘s their war, it‘s going to be known as Bush‘s war and Rumsfeld‘s war.  I suspect—I mean, you know this better than I, that the political system reaches the point where it will not—well, it actually will start boiling and will not permit all of these people being killed, all of these troops over there without some sort of strategy that will say, look if we do this and wait here and do this, there will be a happy ending.  This is three and a half years of bad news, and if you really look at it hard, put it under a microscope, you see that there is not a real strategy and they don‘t agree on a strategy. 

MATTHEWS:  What is stunning in the book is the news that we‘re hit over there, Americans, our units, are being hit every 15 minutes every day.  Every 15 minutes. The fact that the intelligence, which you report in the book, says it‘s going to get worse next year than it is now.  Meanwhile, the president is offering up kind of a blithe case, well, let‘s stick it out for a while, let‘s do job here, let‘s finish the job, as if we‘re near finishing, when you say, it‘s eluding us still further. 

We‘ll be right back with Bob Woodward, with the latest news in the book, and it‘s news about how bad it is getting in Iraq.  By the way, on—today the “New York Times” and the other papers reported we had our bloodiest day in more than a year over in Iraq.  Lot‘s of people killed, 21 so far this month, and how long is this month?  Four or five days now.  It‘s only the fourth and we‘ve lost 21 guys already over there.  It‘s a bloody war going on and it‘s not getting covered.  I want to ask Bob about that. 

And later the Foley scandal is growing.  Was there a cover up?  Will it knock Republicans out of power? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We are back with Bob Woodward, the author of the new book “State of Denial.”  It is number one on Amazon.  It will be number one for a while because it talks about our war in Iraq, which is the number one political issue in the country today and will be on election day, the number one issue.  And what grabbed me in terms of late news you managed to get in the book, or deadline I guess, the fact that we are getting hit 100 times a day, which in a 24 hour day is 50 minutes—every 50 minutes our units are being hit.  How come that hasn‘t emerged in to the front page coverage of the story?   

WOODWARD:  Because those attacks, the way they count them are improvised explosive devices that go off, but they also count the ones they disarm or that don‘t go off, because it really is an attack, it just was not successful.  They count car bomb, mortar attacks and so forth. 

MATTHEWS:  But this is the environment our troops are in over there. 

WOODWARD:  Exactly.  You know, there are lots of reporters there and they are do doing a great job.  But you can‘t cover every action.  And so there are things that go on and if there is no casualty or no death, it doesn‘t get out.  It just goes into the secret report. 

MATTHEWS:  I know you‘re not a regional studies expert, very few people are.  You study American government and politics and what people do, usually what they did wrong, lately, in this book.  But how do you explain the fact there is a report in your book that the president was advised by his intel people that next year is going to be worse and he keeps telling us otherwise? 

WOODWARD:  Yes, that is baffling, baffling.  Yes, you have to be optimistic, yes, you have to be a leader, yes, you have to hope for the best.  But—and I—in interviews for the other books I talked to him about this, because a leader needs to be the voice of realism. 

People really like straight talk in America and in American politics.  And I think in the course of this—I mean, maybe even now he could come out and say, look, you know what, it‘s been a lot worse than I have told you and this is the plan and this is what we‘re going to do, but we are going to make it bipartisan. 

We are not going to do this—these cheap shots about, you know, the Democrats or the party of cut and run.  That‘s—no president should be calling the other party that in a war.  What—the situation is so dire, I mean, the alternative title for this, for me, was “Crisis.”  This is a real crisis.  And the Democrats have power.  They may have more power, may have less power after the election.  Who knows?  But he‘s going to have to sit down with them.  It is kind of Clinton late night at the dorm and spend the time and say what do you think, what do the experts think, what is the data, what can we do, let‘s develop a strategy like we did for the Cold War, that in the—you know, the Republicans and Democrats agreed on the basic Cold War strategy. 

What we need—if—one of the secret reports I have in there, where they say this is going to be a two generation war, if that is correct, that is one long hall and somebody needs to come up with, this is the plan and it has got to be credible and it‘s got to be based on fact, not hope. 

MATTHEWS:  “State of Denial,” Bob Woodward.  It is going to be the big book of this election season.  It‘s going to be the big book about the war this year.  Thank you very much Bob. 

Up next, House Speaker Dennis Hastert is under fire for his handling of the Foley scandal.  Will he lose his job as speaker?  How about his job as a Congressman?  We‘re going to talk to his Democratic opponent this November, John Laesch.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  The Mark Foley page scandal continuing to ripple across Capitol Hill today.  It now turns out that red flags about Foley were evident from the time he first came to Congress 11 years ago.  HARDBALL‘s David Shuster reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Today it became clear that Mark Foley‘s sexual interest in teenage congressional pages actually began more than a decade ago.  One former page told the “Washington Post” he was warned about the Florida Republican in 1995 when Foley was serving his first term.  Foley allegedly sent notes and letters to the pages recruiting them for social jaunts like trips to an ice cream parlor.

While the contacts were not overtly sexual, Mark Beck-Heyman, a House page in 1995 and ‘96 said the contacts were “weird.”  Since then, there were several public examples of behavior that seemed emotionally over the top.  Like the time Foley spoke to pages on the House floor and became choked up.

REP. MARK FOLEY ®, FLORIDA:  I wasn‘t going to do this.

SHUSTER:  Some of the instant messages that have emerged in recent days show Foley engaged in sexually explicit banter with teenage boys and in one case had online sex while waiting for a House vote.

Last night, Foley‘s lawyers said there was no excusing the congressman‘s actions, but then offered up several excuses saying Foley as a teenager had been sexually abused.

DAVID ROTH, LAWYER FOR MARK FOLEY:  He kept his shame to himself for almost 40 years.  Between the ages of 13 and 15, he was molested by a clergyman.

SHUSTER:  Foley‘s lawyer refuses to identify the church in Florida or the clergyman but says Foley will provide more details when he leaves rehab.  In Congress, Foley was co-chairman on the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children.  In that role, he said the issue with online predators was not complicated and that the sanctions should be topped.

FOLEY:  To anybody even contemplating a sexual offense against a child, understand your life will be ruined.

SHUSTER:  The evidence of Foley‘s sexual interest in congressional pages 10 years ago raises questions about the Republican House leadership at the time and their responsibility to protect pages.  Did then House Speaker Newt Gingrich know of Foley‘s unusual interactions with the pages?  Did Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay know? 

At the moment, the questions remain focused on the current Republican leadership, including Speaker Dennis Hastert.  On the heels of revelations that Hastert was told about Foley‘s behavior months ago and tried to keep it quiet, the drumbeat continued today among some conservative activists seeking Hastert‘s resignation. 

Hastert says he will not step down, but several Republicans are suggesting he may leave his leadership post in January.  In the meantime, Kirk Fordham, the chief of staff for Congressman Tom Reynolds resigned today.  Fordham had provided guidance last week to Foley, his former employer. 

This, as the top Democrat that is hammering the Republican leadership hard.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), CALIFORNIA:  They held this closely, they shared it among themselves, they did not act to protect the children.  They are all responsible.

SHUSTER:  And one Democrat is already using the Foley scandal in a campaign ad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  For over a year, they knowingly ignored the welfare of children to protect their own power.  For 17 years, Patty Wetterling has fought for tougher penalties against those who harm children.  That‘s why he‘s demanding a criminal investigation.

SHUSTER:  Today the Justice Department took the first steps towards a criminal investigation.  Officials sent a letter to the House asking that Congressman Foley‘s office computer and documents be protected to preserve any potential evidence, even though the name on the door has already been removed.

(on camera):  Based on the e-mails and computer messages, law enforcement officials say it would be difficult to prosecute Foley because mere sex talk with a minor is not automatically illegal.  But when it comes to politics, the damage from the Foley scandal could be devastating to the GOP and the question is, can House Speaker Denny Hastert and other top Republicans survive?  I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you David Shuster.  This story has more legs than a centipede.  Mark Foley‘s attorney said Tuesday that Foley was molested by a clergyman when he was a teenager, though he did not say the name of that person.  Foley was raised Catholic and was an altar boy at Sacred Heart Church in Lake Worth, Florida.  He went to Cardinal Newman High School, where our next guest, Bill Brooks was a priest and guidance counselor.  Brooks later left the priesthood and today he serves as a town councilman in Palm Beach.  Mr. Brooks, tell us about this Mark Foley youth that you oversaw as a guidance counselor.  Was there any sign of trouble?

BILL BROOKS, PALM BEACH CITY COUNCIL MEMBER:  No, Chris.  He was a very normal adolescent boy.  He had great verbal skills.  I don‘t think he was particularly fond of homework, but there was nothing that I could see.  He was a nice, pleasant kid.

MATTHEWS:  No sign of a traumatic experience with a—a sexual experience of some kind with a teacher or a clergyman?

BROOKS:  None that I could define, no.

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe his account, then?

BROOKS:  Do I believe the lawyer‘s statement?

MATTHEWS:  Yes, or is this just P.R., is this just a defense?

BROOKS:  I think, Chris, as you well know, a defense lawyer has one job and that job is to defend the client.  So, you know, paraphrasing Shakespeare, away with thee to a nunnery.  Now we say, away with thee to a rehab.

MATTHEWS:  Well, so you think it is a cover-up?

BROOKS:  Well, I‘m not going to say that because in light of recent events, particularly the last five years, the potential for a child being abused by a clergyman I think we all know.  My point is when Mr. Roth made that statement last night at the press conference, it would seem to me that elemental fairness would say, name them.  Then let the legal process unfold.  But the fact Mr. Roth just cast a cloud of suspicion over countless good clergy people back in the early ‘70s.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think there was any—anybody you might have suspected of being responsible in the faculty of the high school at the time?

BROOKS:  No.  Again I don‘t know if I‘m the—I was the chaplain for the athletic teams, Chris, so I really didn‘t have many on-campus duties.  I was—you know with the football team, the basketball team, et cetera. 

I will say this.  Over the years, Mark and I have been very friendly and the fact that he was a homosexual was well known and made no difference.  He was, as you know a very astute congress person, a wonderful public speaker.  And I kind of thought perhaps naively that if something like that had happened, he would have talked to me.  Then again maybe he chose not to for reasons unknown to me.

MATTHEWS:  Did you—during the course of your friendship over the years, did you know he had a lack of—let me try to be non judgmental here despite the obvious judgments people are making. 

Does he seem like the kind of guy that was out of control, that didn‘t know—whatever he found the appeal in these young boys, not that young, 16-years-old, that he wasn‘t supposed to have anything to do with them?  That he knew as a grown up in his 50s, you don‘t have anything to do with these kids in terms of sexual interest.  It‘s just wrong.  Did he seem to be a guy that didn‘t get that?

BROOKS:  Well apparently now with hindsight it does.  But my judgment of Mark over the years, when I was running the television station, he‘d come in, we‘d chat and we‘d talk about politics and we talked about the story of the day.  And as far as the alcohol charge, I have never and I‘ve been with him many occasions, socially and civic occasions, I never saw him under the influence of alcohol.  Now...

MATTHEWS:  ... I‘d like to know how anybody—let me charge in here.  If somebody has got a serious booze problem, people know about it.  They know when you‘re hung over, they know when you‘ve been drinking, because you can smell it.  They certainly—I‘ve never heard a guy who only drinks at home who when somebody offers him a drink and he‘s a drunk and he doesn‘t take it, he never takes it at a party.  He never is shown in the public drinking at all, but the minute he hits his apartment, he starts chugging.  It didn‘t sound familiar to me in any way. 

BROOKS:  Well, I think you hit the nail on the head.  Of course, Mr.  Roth said he became a closet drinker late at night.  Well, I don‘t know that, you know that, who knows that? 

MATTHEWS:  It looks to me like they‘re trying to complicate this thing.  You think so, too, right?

BROOKS:  Well, I have a great deal of affection for Mark.  I mean, look at the great things he‘s done.  But, now he‘s in control of the spinmeisters.  Let‘s face it.  And I don‘t know what‘s going to be next, maybe global warming.  I don‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you mean as a defense, it‘s gotten too hot? 

BROOKS:  Of course.  Of course. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I would have had the Twinkie defense, we‘ve had a lot of defenses.  I had a bad Twinkie...

BROOKS:  We had Twinkie in San Francisco. 

But, Chris, we have to remember Mr. Roth‘s job is to protect the client.  So he‘s laying in P.R. planks and I think he is laying in a few for a legal defense that may or may not be coming down the road. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m ready to believe anything now that Spencer Tracy has just been nailed a closet homosexual in the latest “Vanity Fair”.  If I believe that, I‘ll believe anything.

Anyway, thank you very much, Bill Brooks, for coming on the program.

BROOKS:  Thank you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  House Speaker Dennis Hastert has never been re-elected with less than 64 percent of the vote in his Illinois district.  Now with the Foley mess swirling around him, could his own re-election effort be taking a hit?  Democrat John Laesch is the man is looking to knock off Hastert and both of his jobs as speaker and member of the House. 

Well, when you entered this race, Sir, John Laesch, you didn‘t think you had a prayer did you? 

JOHN LAESCH, (D) CHALLENGING HOUSE SPEAKER HASTERT:  Well, I‘ll tell you what.  I entered this race with the hope that I could win.  As you know, I‘m a former intelligence analyst.  I served in the Middle East.  I got a brother who‘s serving in Baghdad right now with the United States Army. 

And I entered this race with the intention to win.  I was hoping at that time that this race would be a referendum on the war in Iraq.  I had certainly had no anticipation that this would be, you know, a sex scandal in Washington, D.C. that takes down the most powerful Congressman in America. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe Denny Hastert is a cover-up guy in this case? 

LAESCH:  Well, absolutely.  I think he‘s even said that he knew something was going on.  You know, at this point, I think his spin is that he knew it but he didn‘t know all the details of the e-mail.  You know, I‘m not buying it.  And—I thank you for looking into this a little bit further. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me just tell you this.  John, I don‘t want to help your campaign, but the fact is he told Mike Viqueira of NBC the other day that he had not seen the e-mails or the instant message, any of them until this past Friday.  And that, of course, is being challenged. 

LAESCH:  OK.  OK.  Well, we‘ve seen different stories.  He‘s changed his position several different times. 

MATTHEWS:  The race at home, have you done any recent polling in your campaign of the attitude of the voters towards Mr. Hastert, given these events? 

LAESCH:  Yes.  I haven‘t done any polling recently.  I can tell you our phone has been ringing off the hook, and this is about the only thing that voters want to talk about.  You know, the Iraq war is not on the front page.  Neither is health care, education, or some of the other issues that people have been talking about throughout the rest of the race. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think—we have some tough customers on this show, Pat Buchanan, as you know, he‘s a pretty tough customer on the cultural values front.  And we had Tony Perkins, who‘s a Christian conservative activist, the other day, a leader, I should say.  Both raising the question, maybe it‘s a hobgoblin, it‘s being raised now in the this context, should we have—should gay people serve in Congress?  These guys raised this issue.  And do you think that is a fair issue to raise, to broad brush people who have that orientation, given these events? 

LAESCH:  No.  I think America is a country of equality and that every person should have equal rights, regardless of your race, creed, sex, sexual orientation. 

MATTHEWS:  And so you think that is a wrong attitude about this case? 

LAESCH:  Absolutely.  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  So you believe a gay member of Congress can serve with the same kind of sexual restraint expected of a heterosexual member? 

MATTHEWS:  Every member of Congress should be held accountable by their actions by the voters.  We live in a democracy.  Right now you see a page who was sexually abused, who was pretty much voiceless, and is now taking on the highest levels and the highest members of Congress.  In a democracy, everybody is supposed to have equal opportunity and their voice is supposed to be equal.  And you‘re starting to see democracy play its course here. 

MATTHEWS:  So you believe Mark Foley abused that former page? 

LAESCH:  Well, at least he, you know, was acting in inappropriate behavior, you know, sending unwanted e-mails to several members. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Last question. 

I‘m being pushed here.  John, I‘m being pushed here.  I got to ask you a question. 

Do you believe that Denny Hastert is a man of character? 

LAESCH:  I think that this issue has defined the clearest difference between myself and Mr. Hastert, that being I stand for honesty and integrity..

MATTHEWS:  And he doesn‘t?

LAESCH:  ... and I‘ll let the voters decide where he stands. 

MATTHEWS:  But you‘re not challenging his character here or word?  Is that right?  You don‘t challenge his word here?  You think he might be telling the truth? 

LAESCH:  I will challenge his word.  I‘ll get out there and say so.  On page 186 of Dennis Hastert‘s book, he says that he listens to everything, and, you know, he knows everything that is going on.  Use his words.  Apparently he forgot, but on page 186 of his book, he says he listens to everything and he remembers everything. 

MATTHEWS:   OK.  Thank you very much, John Laesch, the Democratic candidate running against Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert. 

Up next, what is the FBI doing to sort out this Foley mess?  Were they doing anything before they heard about this five days ago? 

This is HARDBALL on MSNBC.

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

The FBI has alerted three months ago—was alerted to questionable e-mails Mark Foley allegedly had sent to a former page.  But the Bureau failed to open an investigation then.  And now the organization known as Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington wants to know why.  Melanie Sloan, the group‘s exclusive director and a former sex crimes prosecutor was the first person to notify the FBI of the e-mails and now she is asking the Justice Department‘s Inspector General to investigate whether the Bureau was politically compromised into not taking any action back in July.

Melanie, thank you.  How did you ahold of these e-mails?

MELANIE SLOAN, CITIZENS RESPONSIBLE FOR ETHICS IN WASHINGTON:  We

received them from a third party, who got them from a congressional staffer

and as soon as we got them, the same day, we forwarded them to FBI

MATTHEWS:  Did they come from someone who had gotten e-mail from the congressman?  

SLOAN:  I don‘t know who the staffer was, but we got them from a third party. 

MATTHEWS:  Who is the third party? 

SLOAN:  Somebody from a different government watch dog organization. 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t want to give their names?

SLOAN:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Why?

SLOAN:  Because they‘ve asked us not to.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you about the FBI.  What do you think the FBI did when they were alerted to these by you?  I mean, you turned them over to the FBI?  What did they do, as far as you know? 

SLOAN:  I think they did nothing.  That‘s what I‘m learning now, because they just said this week that they opened a preliminary investigation.  If they are just opening a preliminary investigation on Monday in response to Speaker Hastert‘s letter, then obviously they haven‘t been investigating over the past couple of months. 

MATTHEWS:  What was the worst you found in the e-mails, that you think justified a criminal investigation? 

SLOAN:  The e-mails, which were from an adult male to a young man he barely new, asked for a photograph and asked the young man when his birthday was and what he wanted for his birthday.  Those are the kinds of e-mails that a sexual predator will use to entice a victim into further contact and there is material on the FBI‘s own website indicating that that is what to look for, that‘s what to be aware of. 

MATTHEWS:  When do you break the law, at what point in that conspiracy, or that effort to seduce or entice do you break the law? 

SLOAN:  It depends on the age of the young person involved, but mostly you have to have done something, to take an action to actually arrange sexual activity. 

MATTHEWS:  So meet me at the corner of this, or meet me at this restaurant?   

SLOAN:  That‘s right.  

MATTHEWS:  Any evidence of that in the e-mails you saw? 

SLOAN:  Not in the e-mails I initially saw.  In the later instant messages, there is some evidence that that may have occurred, but the e-mails that I saw raised—

MATTHEWS:  Well it definitely talks about—he says I could drive a lot of miles for a hot stud like you and there is another one where he says you‘ve got to come to my apartment to drink, because we don‘t want to get busted.  Is that enticement? 

SLOAN:  Yes, that could be enticement and it, again, depends on where they both were at the time and the age of the young man involved, but that could, in fact, be a crime.   

MATTHEWS:  Is phone sex a crime? 

SLOAN:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  Where does the court decide these things?  Where does the government decide what is in and what is out, what is legal, what is not? 

SLOAN:  Congress decides.  Congress makes these laws, ironically enough. 

MATTHEWS:  And what do you think should be—what should be the action taken by the FBI, as of now?  What should they be doing from now on? 

SLOAN:  They should be grabbing Representative Foley‘s computers.  They should be looking at his hard drive.  They should be talking to all the other former pagers who used to know Congressman Foley. 

MATTHEWS:  Do they need probable cause?  Do they need a warrant to do all that?  They do, don‘t they?

SLOAN:  They do need a warrant, but I think with the instant messages, they have enough to get a warrant. 

MATTHEWS:  With the suspicion of what crime? 

SLOAN:  The suspicion of soliciting a minor into sexual activity. 

MATTHEWS:  What is the punishment for that crime? 

SLOAN:  It can be up to ten years.

MATTHEWS:  Jail time. 

SLOAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  This law has been effective? 

SLOAN:  Yes, it has been applied before. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s great to have you on.  Thank you for teaching us all of us this.  Melanie Sloan, thank you very much. 

When we return, male house pages were warned to stay away from Foley 11 years ago.  We also have a report from a staffer, who‘s just quitting now, that he told the speaker about this two years ago.  Why are we just hearing about all this now?  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.  The “Washington Post” reported today that congressional pages were warned, catch this, as far back as 1995 about Mark Foley‘s conduct.  Juliet Eilperin was one of the reporters on that story.  She‘s the author of “Fight Club Politics: How Partisanship is Poisoning the House of Representatives.” 

Well, we can argue about that later.  Let me ask you this, how did you get the story?  How do you know that 2 years ago, or was it 11 years ago people were on the lookout for this guy. 

JULIET EILPERIN, THE “WASHINGTON POST”:  What happened is one of the former pages, who was approached by Congressman Foley, contacted us, actually.  That‘s how we got it. 

MATTHEWS:  He was back in that era, ten years ago, 11 years ago?

EILPERIN:  Exactly, exactly.  This is someone who was at the time a Republican-appointed page.

MATTHEWS:  Did he make overt sexual advances toward the kid?

EILPERIN:  No.  No, what he did is he asked him out for ice cream on at least one occasion, seemed somewhat upset when it became clear that this page was dating another female page.

MATTHEWS:  Seemed upset? 

EILPERIN:  Right.  In retrospect, this young man says that when it became clear that he made mention of the fact that it was his girlfriend who had delivered breakfast to him after working all night, that the Congressman seemed somewhat irritated or upset by it.  And then later, after he had written a thank you note, this page had written a thank you note to 10 members of Congress and Foley followed up immediately with him and asked if he wanted to meet up during the Republican presidential convention in California, because this page returned to California after serving in the House. 

MATTHEWS:  You mention in your piece, you report in your piece that there were warnings given to new pages.  They come in every year.  They‘re juniors in high school.  They live in the dorm.  Who delivered the warnings? 

EILPERIN:  Well, exiting pages, at least on a couple of occasions, warned—

MATTHEWS:  How did they do it, because they don‘t ever meet each other?  One leaves in June, the others come in in September.  How did they connect? 

EILPERIN:  Well there are—I mean, I‘m not sure about the details of how they communicated, although they have rotating—some pages serve for longer than other, some serve for a semester, some serve for a full school year.  So there are ways in which pages can, you know, pass on information. 

MATTHEWS:  What were they warned?  That this guy had an unusual interest as a grown up man, a middle aged guy, in them and that was a little creepy.  Or were they warned that he might be interested in molesting them or something or having sex with them?  What were they warned about? 

EILPERIN:  It was not that explicit.  I think it was something more along the lines of steer—you might want to watch out or steer clear of this gentleman. 

MATTHEWS:  You know when there is a crime or someone is accused of rape or something, the best evidence is contemporary reporting it to somebody, sharing the information.  Do you have contemporary reports of any kind of activity 11 years ago where a page went to somebody in authority and told them about this concern they had? 

EILPERIN:  No, we‘ve checked that out and to the best of our knowledge we‘ve not been able to identify—

MATTHEWS:  So, it is all buzz?  It‘s just buzz.

EILPERIN:  Right, well, I think one of the issues is that the Congressman often contacted these pages once they had gone home and as a result, that is at a point where they wouldn‘t—

MATTHEWS:  How did he get everybody‘s e-mail?  I‘ve been thinking about that for two days now.  How does a Congressman get e-mail for all former pages? 

EILPERIN:  Well it is interesting you ask that.  We found in the course of our reporting today that some of the e-mail is in the congressional records. 

MATTHEWS:  It is? 

EILPERIN:  As part of the farewell address. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh wonderful.  Thank you Julia.  Great reporting.  It stuns us but it is necessary to know this.  Thank you.

Play HARDBALL with us again on Thursday.  Our guests will include House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer.  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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