updated 10/11/2006 12:53:39 PM ET 2006-10-11T16:53:39

Guests: Bill Richardson, Howard Fineman, Bob Bennett, Pat Buchanan, Eugene

Robinson

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  What can Bush do to Korea with our army stuck in Iraq where the nuclear weapons were supposed to be?  And when he said bring them on, he wasn‘t talking about Mark Foley.  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews and welcome to HARDBALL.  Tonight, is President Bush‘s foreign policy making you more or less safe?  It‘s a question millions of Americans will be asking as North Korea boasts it has successfully tested a nuclear bomb.  This news comes in the midst of new reports that the already dire situation in Iraq is deteriorating into all-out civil war. 

On the home front, the story that has more legs than a centipede, the Mark Foley congressional page scandal.  The “Washington Post” reports today that Republican Congressman Jim Kolbe of Arizona knew about Foley‘s trolling for pages as early as 2000.  Did Republicans leaders in the House try to cover it up?  We‘ll talk to attorney Bob Bennett about the congressional investigation. 

Plus a new downward poll for the president and his party less than a month before the election.  Only one-third of Americans approve of the president‘s job performance.  And a majority want Democrats to take over Congress.  And catch this, for the first time since 2001, Democrats beat out Republicans on moral values and national security.  We‘ll dig into all the numbers.

But first, this report from HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Today at the White House, President Bush called North Korea‘s nuclear test a threat to international peace and security.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  The United States condemns this provocative act.  Once again, North Korea has defied the will of the international community and the international community will respond.

SHUSTER:  But the response will be a diplomatic one.  White House officials acknowledge there are no plans for a military response.  Sop it was left today to John Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations to try to improve the political landscape for the Bush administration by talking up international criticism of the North Korea. 

JOHN BOLTON, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N.:  To have a unanimous condemnation of the North Korean test, no one defended it, no one even came close to defending it.

SHUSTER:  While the test raises questions about whether the Bush administration‘s foreign policies are working in regards to Kim Jong-il‘s pursuit of nuclear weapons, the crisis has returned President Bush to the bully pulpit, four weeks before the congressional elections. 

And the Republican Party usually benefits when foreign policy security issues take center stage.  Today, House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Majority Leader John Boehner, under fire in the Foley page scandal, were quick to issue statements about standing with President Bush on the international community to isolate North Korea. 

Still, the Republican Party finds itself in a precarious political position.  According to the latest “Newsweek” poll, the No. 1 issue for voters is Iraq.  U.S. military commanders in Baghdad now say the number of U.S. soldiers injured last month was the highest in two years.  Insurgents left more bombs than ever and Iraq‘s new government is still struggling to assert itself.  This fall, the national security intelligence estimate that said Iraq has spawned more terrorism threats around the world, not less and a book by Bob Woodward that revealed the administration is hiding Iraq‘s violence and instability.

BOB WOODWARD, AUTHOR:  Quite frankly, as I said, as directly as can be said in English, they have not been telling the truth about what Iraq has become.

SHUSTER:  According to “Newsweek,” when voters were asked which party would handle Iraq better 47 percent said Democrats, 34 percent Republicans.  That‘s the biggest spread so far. 

And for the first time, a majority of Americans, 58 percent, believe the Bush administration purposely misled the American people in order to build support for the war. 

The nosedive on all issues related to Iraq is taking down views of the president‘s party on fighting the overall war on terror -- 44 percent trust the Democrats to handle it better, 37 percent trust Republicans.  Those numbers are almost exactly reversed from what they were two months ago.  And when it comes to the impact of the Foley page scandal...

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), SPEAKER:  Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Mr. Speaker, this is not a good story.  Where is the accountability?

SHUSTER:  More than half of Americans, and nearly a third of all Republicans believe House Speaker Dennis Hastert was aware of Foley‘s inappropriate contact with pages and tried to cover it up. 

And 42 percent of Americans now say they trust Democrats to do a better job at handling moral issues compared to 36 percent for Republicans.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER:  So the Foley scandal and the problems in Iraq still leave Republicans with a lot of ground the need to make up as North Korea lurches into the spotlight.  The question is, if North Korea stands as a foreign policy crisis, does that change the political equation?  I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.

Andrea Mitchell is NBC‘s chief foreign affairs correspondent.  Andrea, you know the setup.  How does the president mix his politics, which is essential if he is to hold control of Congress next month with his diplomatic and national security responsibilities vis a vis North Korea?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  Well actually, I think that it could end up working in his benefit because he can focus on the threat from Pyongyang, this evil regime that very few people would support and it‘s hard for the Democrats to get through, to punch through with the argument that if you had been negotiating with them in the first place, perhaps this wouldn‘t have happened.

That if you hadn‘t been focusing on Iraq—I don‘t know, it‘s a tough argument to make.  Joe Biden and others tried to make it today.  Maybe they can punch through, but as long as they‘re not talking about interns and pages and sex on the Hill, I think he‘s better off.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I‘m not sure.  Let me ask you this.  This is really more of a news business judgment.  I‘m not sure the American people are all that interested in Korea, North or South. 

MITCHELL:  Well, it‘s a scary place.  And the fact that there has been a nuclear test and that this is a regime where you have 37,000 plus American troops.  There‘s a wonderful anecdote in Bob Woodward‘s new book, “State of Denial,” by the way, where apparently the first President Bush tried to get the Prince Bandar, the former Saudi ambassador, to brief then Governor George W. Bush on why he should care about Korea. 

And apparently Governor Bush said, “Why should I care about Korea?” And Bandar said well perhaps because there are 37,000 American troops there.  It‘s one way of saying that it does become real if people are afraid that after everything we‘ve gone through in Iraq and Afghanistan, we could be facing another military confrontation.

MATTHEWS:  But we‘re never getting back to a second Korean war.  That‘s agreed, isn‘t it?  The American people will not support a war that cost us so much in the cold last time.  There‘s no bring them on, there‘s no mission accomplished.  How come he has dropped the cowboy lingo, the president?

MITCHELL:  Because he doesn‘t have any real options.  We have to work diplomatically because it‘s the only option.  And in fact, the one thing that they are proposing on the list of sanctions that they‘re discussing right now at the United Nations today that could be a bit provocative, is this naval blockade where they would stop cargo going in and out of North Korea.  And that is considered a potential military escalation by some critics.

MATTHEWS:  That would be trying to gin up the Cuban missile crisis again for electoral reasons though, wouldn‘t it?

MITCHELL:  It would.  And it does fit in with this proliferation security initiative that was John Bolton‘s pet project when he was back at the State Department.  So it is definitely on the list that they‘re discussing with the allies.  I don‘t think China and Russia will go along with it, but the U.S. is proposing it tonight.

MATTHEWS:  That would be an escalation, wouldn‘t it?

MITCHELL:  It could trigger something.  I mean this guy, Kim Jong-il is wily.  He‘s clever, according to people who‘ve negotiated with him.  I‘ve met him when I was in Pyongyang during the Clinton years.  But the real issue is can you really predict how he will respond to something like a naval blockade?  Hard to say.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s not only sober, is he?

MITCHELL:  That‘s another issue.  There are lots of reports, hard to decide whether you really believe this American intelligence reports about some of his strange behaviors, with starlets from Sweden and Scotch and all these other things, but there have been some pretty wild stories about his personal life.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, there used to be an old expression in politics, don‘t get in a fighting match with a skunk.  He might be the person to avoid.  Anyway, thank you very much Andrea Mitchell.

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson made a name for himself as a skilled negotiator with some of the most feared dictators of our time.  He served as ambassador to the U.N. under the Clinton administration and has traveled to North Korea five times. 

Governor, thank you.  You know how to deal with tough guys.  How does a president fighting an unpopular war in Iraq, with the American army in Iraq, his own polls at the lowest they have ever been, get credibility in leading the American people with this situation in North Korea?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO:  Well, he has to shift gears, Chris.  We need to do three things that we haven‘t done before. 

One, the president has to order his negotiators to deal directly with North Korea.  We refuse to do that.  That hasn‘t worked.  Secondly, we have got to go to the U.N. Security Council, get international support for tough sanctions. 

Right now at a time when we‘re pushing sanctions on Iran and others, it may be tough, but I do think there has got to be a coalition of security council members, China, Russia, Britain, France, and us, that put on military technology sanctions and then secondly tightened the noose on financial transactions of the North Koreans.

Third, we should really put the onus on China, which so far has refused to pressure North Korea.  So what you have is carrot and sticks at the same time.  Our policy of ignoring them, of calling them an axis of evil, has not worked, and so we have to shift gears. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think the president used that phrase, axis of evil?  I don‘t know who cooked it up.  I keep trying to find out.  But it seems like all it did was give us sort of a bodyguard of lies to go to Iraq, make it look like he was mad at three countries, when he had one already targeted. 

RICHARDSON:  Well, that‘s been fortunate, because what we‘ve now had is an axis of evil foreign policy, which in my judgment the president has wanted to change, but we may be in a box.  I think with North Korea, you have to shift gears.  You have got to deal with them directly. 

With Iran, I think you have to talk to them directly.  They control oil supply, disruptions i Iraq.  They‘re going to be developing nuclear weapons.  So it just makes sense to talk, negotiate, it doesn‘t mean you‘re caving in.  But not having and using diplomacy, I believe is hurting us. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about Iraq, it‘s the number one issue in all our polling.  When voters go to vote a month from now, governor, they‘re going to be thinking about Iraq.  They‘re going to be thinking about Mark Foley, too, but mainly Iraq.  And the question is, do you think Jim Baker, the former secretary of state, will be able to help that situation in his new capacity, to try to put together a bipartisan approach to Iraq? 

RICHARDSON:  Yes, I believe that what is needed now is bipartisanship.  There‘s got to be something in between the so-called staying the course and cutting and running, a moderate solution that does involve a timetable for withdrawal, but basically, redeploying our forces in Afghanistan where the real threats happen. 

But I can tell you, Chris, the Iraq issue is not just affecting Congressional races.  It‘s affecting local races, governor‘s races.  It‘s something that right now that cries for a bipartisan solution right in between these two extremes that I think a lot of people are pursuing. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think we went to Iraq?  The real reason, not the sales pitch.  Why do you think we went there? 

RICHARDSON:  I believe the president wanted to avenge his father, who I think conducted a very sound foreign policy in Iraq, and the fact that it wasn‘t terminated, the war, that we didn‘t finish the job.  I‘ve been reading Woodward‘s book.  I‘ve been reading a lot. 

I think there‘s a psychological aspect here.  And that‘s not how you run foreign policy.  We have to have an exit strategy, we have to have a bipartisan foreign policy.  And I think the Baker initiative is exactly what we need right now.  And what Baker also said is we should talk to Iran, we should talk to Syria, we should talk to North Korea.  And I wish the president would listen to James Baker,  a Republican former secretary of state. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, do you think the impulse was Oedipal or filial?   

RICHARDSON:  Well, those are words that I don‘t understand. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes you do.  One is you are trying to knock your dad‘s block off because you want to beat him out.  The other one is, my daddy—they tried to shoot my daddy, I‘m going to get even.  So which is it?

RICHARDSON:  Well, I think it‘s more, I want to get even, I want to get even, we didn‘t finish the job.  And that‘s unfortunate because our foreign policy should be based on what are national security interests are.  And what I think is needed is a recognition this war isn‘t working. 

But you don‘t just leave.  You leave with some kind of security training of the Iraqis, you leave with redeployment where we really have threats, international terrorism, nuclear proliferation, homeland security, protecting our ports.  And that‘s what I would do right now.  So unfortunately, the debate is one side and the other side without anything in between. 

MATTHEWS:  Governor, last question.

We‘re talking negotiations, where you have proven yourself on foreign soil.  That was an old Kennedy phrase.  You‘ve proven yourself on foreign soil.  If you had to negotiate between a new House leadership under Pelosi or whoever and the president, what would be the common ground on Iraq? 

RICHARDSON:  Well, it would be an agreement that there would be a disengagement based on what our military commanders say should happen, based on a redeployment of our forces into Afghanistan and also transition for the reconstruction of Iraq. 

You get the politics out of it.  After the election with a Democratic House, you negotiate this  timetable that is—also, I think, responsibly supporting and representing our security interests in the region, and not just leaving without some kind of residual force or some transition force. 

MATTHEWS:  If nominated by the Democratic party for president, would you run? 

RICHARDSON:  Well, I haven‘t decided yet.  I got to get through my reelection in New Mexico.  I‘ve got to elect a bunch of Democratic governors.  By the way, we‘re going to get a majority.  There are 22 of us.  I bet you we get to 26 governorships.  That‘s the unknown story there. 

Then after that, we‘ll see, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the second time today I‘ve heard that.  Thank you very much, Governor Richardson of New Mexico. 

When we come back, “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman will talk about bad poll numbers for President Bush and his fellow Republicans. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL ON MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Just 29 days left now before the midterm Congressional elections.  And “Newsweek‘s” new poll does not paint a pretty picture for Republicans.  “Newsweek‘s” chief political correspondent Howard Fineman is here the tell us more. 

Howard, it seems like the president got a big advantage over the—we never call it the anniversary, but the marking of 9/11 five years later.  And he deserved to.  Everybody felt he had done a very good job back then. 

It was a call back to duty, he looked good. 

But those numbers that he benefited from, that showed his benefit, have all come down again.  A new poll.

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”:  I think they‘ve come down again because the American people have kind of made a decision about the war in Iraq.  According to our poll, I think they‘ve now concluded that it was a mistake, that it‘s not made us safer.  It‘s made us less safe.  And they‘ve even begun to conclude that we were deliberately misled into the war, all of which are damning judgments, so every time the president has another anniversary to mark, every time the topic turns to Iraq, which it inevitably does, it doesn‘t help him anymore, it hurts him. 

Our numbers are, by our poll measures, historic, 58 percent saying that they misled us into war.  Only 29 percent say we‘re safer as a result of having gone there.  Only 29 percent think we‘re making progress in Iraq.  I mean, these are deadly, literally deadly numbers.  And so when the topic...

MATTHEWS:  No.  You didn‘t give us the deadliest.  Which is, Democrats are more trusted on moral values. 

FINEMAN:  I thought that was the next question. 

MATTHEWS:  I mean, that is the stunning—the Democrats are the big city party, the tolerance party, in many ways, libertarian on social and moral issues.  And now they‘re perceived to be more priestly, more honorable on moral questions—I guess that includes social, sexual questions, than the Republicans.

FINEMAN:  In fairness to the Democrats or to everybody, it‘s kind of a race to the bottom on that question. 

But it is remarkable.  It‘s a turn around.  I think about two or three months ago it was slightly in the Republicans‘ favor.  Not overwhelmingly.  Because I think the accumulated aura sort of aura of the money scandals on the Hill, no one of which made a big impressions, but overall they kind of did. 

The notion of government spending being out of control, which by the way, a lot of people view as a moral issue.  The borders not being protected.  There‘s a lot of people...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s something that Democrats don‘t get and better damn get someday, which is to Republicans having budget deficits is...

FINEMAN:  It‘s immoral.  It‘s immoral, because we‘re wasting the assets of our own future, of our children‘s future.  It‘s something people care about a lot. 

In any case, that‘s turned around.  And I think the Foley scandal is the reason.  There‘s no other explanation. 

We were in the field last Thursday night and Friday night.  The poll came out yesterday.  So we caught whatever wave there is there.  And it‘s real.  It‘s real. 

And by the way, it‘s not that the evangelical Christians are all going to vote Democratic.  They‘re not.  Most of them will still vote.  But it‘s like in football when they talk about separation, you know, between the receiver and the defending.  You get a little glimmer of daylight there.  That could be a killer for the Republicans because they‘ve depended on evangelical turn-out and evangelical volunteers to run their machine.  That‘s what‘s at stake here.

MATTHEWS:  And 10 percent makes all the difference. 

FINEMAN:  A huge difference in a divided country in a divided year. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to the toughest.  We‘ll have to be very tricky in our language to make sure we don‘t offend anybody, and you don‘t want to do it, and I don‘t want to do it.

But it seems to me that there‘s been a window, an epiphany here, if you will.  A window has opened in this scandal about Mark Foley.  It‘s not just that he has this problem with young boys, with teenagers and he‘s had it for some time and he‘s gotten away with it.  But the sense of enabling of it. 

There‘s a sense that comes through as they didn‘t jump on this guy, that this was going on.  The staff people knew about it.  A lot of top leaders knew about it.  In fact everybody but Hastert seemed to have known about it, going back to now Jim Kolbe, an openly gay member... 

FINEMAN:  Including people in Hastert‘s own office. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, six years ago.  And now that has come to speculation about what it means.  And what do you think it—I think it means that they thought they were in a party that didn‘t like the gay lifestyle, that didn‘t—that was sort of not big city, was sort of rural in its base, that it shared that family values outlook that the evangelicals do.  In other words, they thought Republicans were like them.

And now it comes off as the Republicans are quite tolerant of the gay lifestyle.  They have staff members, they have members of Congress that they know about.  And even if they‘re not officially, quote, “out of the closet”, they know they‘re there and they work well with them. 

But they don‘t—I don‘t think those people out in the country like that, these conservatives.  That‘s my hunch. 

FINEMAN:  Well, you do have to be careful.  You have to separate willingness to tolerate and even feel sympathy toward. 

MATTHEWS:  Promote into high position we‘re talking about here.  High party position.

FINEMAN:  Gay lifestyle, being gay, from the predation, from the notion of going after 16-year-olds. 

MATTHEWS:  Trolling. 

FINEMAN:  I think it‘s the trolling that really upsets people.  I—

I...

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t you think that—just a question.  Maybe it‘s too hard a question to ask a straight journalist who‘s just covering the story.  But I—I read between the lines.  I listen to the people like Tony Perkins who sit in that seat.  I read the papers, and what I—and I read these polls and what I hear is “we didn‘t know gambling was going on in this casino.” 

FINEMAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  They weren‘t in on the deal that Hastert and the others are in on, which is simply live and let live.  It‘s a big city.  It‘s Washington, D.C.  We don‘t check people‘s orientation when we hire them.  And if we find out what it is, we leave them alone. 

FINEMAN:  Chris, I was in Florida last week and I talked to a bunch of evangelicals.  I wrote about them in the magazine.  I think what they were disappointed to find out, what they think they found out, is the Republicans in the end were no different from the Democrats. 

That anybody who ascends to power in Washington descends into some kind of moral lassitude, that they lose their bearings, that they lose their sense of family values, that they start spending money like crazy, that they start taking gifts from lobbyists like crazy, that they look the other way at what they view as immoral behavior. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

FINEMAN:  That this is the big, sinful city.  And whoever comes here, no matter what they proclaim in their platform, no matter promises they make, now matter how many times they put their hand on a Bible, they‘re going to come out the same way. 

And it was ever thus in politics, but a lot of people who supported the Republican Party, evangelical and otherwise, thought that maybe it would be different.  And it‘s not. 

MATTHEWS:  And they now believe the Republicans went native. 

FINEMAN:  Exactly.  That‘s the best way to put it. 

MATTHEWS:  No, you said it better.  Howard Fineman staying with us. 

We‘ll be right back.

And later we‘ll have the latest on the Foley congressional page scandal. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman to talk about some of the hottest races in the midterm election. 

Let me ask you this.  Without going through all of the networks, we‘ve looked at all these Senate races.  It seems to me that they‘re stuck with a lot of really, really close races, like people are sitting there thinking, you know, “Do I keep this Republican senator or do I try a Democrat?”  And they‘re still trying to decide.  It‘s inching towards the Democrat, but the Republicans could still hold on to most of these seats. 

FINEMAN:  I think they could.  I think, as you know, a week is a year and a year is a lifetime in politics.  There‘s still almost a month till election day. 

And I think what the Democrats need to do—what the Republicans are going to do between now and then is scream bloody murder about the Democrats.  Nancy Pelosi is going to spend us deeper into debt.  The borders are going to be open.  Ironically, they‘re going to make all those arguments.

MATTHEWS:  Who are they going to yell most about, the Democrats or the North Koreans?

FINEMAN:  The Democrats?

MATTHEWS:  On the Hill.

FINEMAN:  Well, that‘s another track.  The whole other track is the world is dangerous and you can‘t trust them because they‘re weak—the Democrats are weak on defense.  And that is a—that is a weakness that they‘ve got politically. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it true? 

FINEMAN:  Are the Democrats weak on defense?

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

FINEMAN:  Historically no.  Historically no.  Whether you‘re talking about Harry Truman or Franklin Roosevelt or Henry Jackson or Jack Kennedy.  Don‘t forget: Jack Kennedy ran to the right, in a way, of Richard Nixon on defense in 1960. 

MATTHEWS:  I meant recently. 

FINEMAN:  Well, it‘s a little different.

MATTHEWS:  Howard Dean, George McGovern. 

FINEMAN:  Yes.  And the Republicans will drive that, and they‘ll drive the notion that you can‘t take the Democrats back in power. 

And what the Democrats have to do, having basically depressed the turn-out among Republicans, the Democrats have to give their own people even more of a reason to turn out and the independents a reason to turn out.  And I haven‘t heard them quite do that yet. 

And I think it‘s all hanging in the balance.  I‘m not one of those ready to declare that the Republicans are going to lose both the House and the Senate.  I don‘t think it‘s there yet.  Because the Democrats haven‘t made the sale yet about themselves.  Most of these numbers show that Republicans at a really low point, Bush at a really low point.  They don‘t show skyrocketing numbers for the Democrats. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I wish I was writing these scripts.  Just for one case, look at the Democrats, how easy it would be.  All you have to do is say, do you like the way things are going in Iraq?  Do you like this war we got into?  Do you like the way they‘re behaving on Capitol Hill, the way they‘re looking after their own crowd? 

If do you, just say three cheers and vote Republican, if you like the way things are going.  If you want to stay that course. 

Why don‘t they have good writers anymore?

FINEMAN:  Well, I know that‘s your theory. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.  I‘m just saying that‘s how they‘d win.

FINEMAN:  And they don‘t say it that succinctly, which they should. 

MATTHEWS:  They get this in or out, the redeployment over the horizon. 

What is all this about? 

FINEMAN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Nobody‘s going to follow that, and why should they?

FINEMAN:  No.  And ironically, they‘re very happy that they think they‘ve come to such a clear position on Iraq...

MATTHEWS:  By the way, you‘re right about the last two minutes.  The two minutes in the Eagles games yesterday against the Dallas Cowboys.  You had one guy, one guy, fourth down, throws a 50-yard pass.  Within the same two minutes, another guy gets the ball on the wrong end zone and takes it to the other end zone.  Shepherd.  The most amazing two minutes in the history of professional football yesterday in Philadelphia.  And I was there. 

FINEMAN:  You‘re a local.  So...

MATTHEWS:  I know.  I‘m just telling you, I‘ve never seen, like, two minutes is a lifetime.  Thank you, Howard.

He says a week is a lifetime.  Anyone can say that.  Two minutes is a lifetime. 

Up next, we‘ll have the latest on the Foley mess.  What will the House Ethics Committee find out in their investigations?

And on Wednesday, best show I‘ve ever had.  The HARDBALL college tour is back.  Our special guests at Georgetown University, the beginning of the HARDBALL college tour with Robin Williams and Barry Levinson.  You haven‘t seen—Robin Williams is—I just laugh for an hour, but it‘s so serious what he has to say.  The start and director of that new political movie, the comedy, “Man of the Year”.  It‘s an hour of politics and big laughs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Is this country ready for President Hillary Clinton?

ROBIN WILLIAMS, ACTOR:  Vice President Oprah I think they‘re ready for.  Because I would just like to see the debate between Oprah and Condoleezza.  I think that‘s a pay-per-view event. 

One time only, be there!  Oprah, Condoleezza.  Watch them get down, throw down.  They‘ll be bringing their books.  It‘s going to get rough. 

The talent section, Oprah plays.  No Condoleezza plays, Oprah dances. 

Dr.  Phil mediates.  Be there. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s Robin Williams and Barry Levinson sitting quietly next to him on the couch.  Join us Wednesday from Georgetown University.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWSBREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

As the stench of the Foley mess blows from coast to coast, Republican leaders in Congress are trying to figure out who knew what and when.  The House Ethics Committee today put every member on notice to tell them what they knew and how to find out—how they found out.  And the current and former pages are also what they knew. 

NBC News Capitol Hill correspondent Mike Viqueira has been following this and has the latest—Mike.

MIKE VIQUEIRA, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, that‘s right.  Not only do Republican leaders want to know who, what and when, but of course it‘s the ethics committee putting out this letter today. 

They‘re casting a very wide net.  Not only are they asking current members and their staffs to tell them anything they knew about any inappropriate contacts between Mark Foley and pages, but they also say that they request to contact current and former House pages sponsored by your office for the purpose of learning whether any of those had inappropriate communications or interactions with Foley or any other member of the House.  So they‘re casting a very wide net here.

Of course, House speaker Dennis Hastert‘s staff has maintained all along that the first they heard of any inappropriate contact between Foley and pages was in the fall of ‘05.  This in the face of other conflicting testimony, among them, of course, Kirk Fordham, the ex-aide to Foley.  He says he told them as early as 2003. 

And NBC has a corroborating former House staffer who backs up Foley‘s claim—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I guess there‘s a disconnect, Mike, between what Foley—the level of Foley‘s curiosity about this mess before he got caught and his extensive curiosity now. 

Apparently, he had no curiosity, even though numbers of members came to him.  Many of his own staff, three of them at least, were involved in discussing this.  All—various elements of the House leadership were involved.  And he says he knows nothing.  Hear no evil, see no evil.

Now they‘re talking about an investigation that‘s going to be cosmic, global.  They‘re going back through everybody as if everybody is a suspect.  That doesn‘t sound real.  It sounds like they‘re not the same body.  Is it just P.R.?

VIQUEIRA:  Well, the House Ethics Committee, we normally don‘t know when they‘re meeting or who they‘re talking to.  They told us last week when they were meeting.  They came and had a press conference afterwards.  We‘re going to be down there every day this week with a camera, trying to see who‘s coming in or out.

But the problem is we‘re not going to know necessarily where they go out in the field, whether it‘s Oklahoma, California, or anywhere around Washington to interview people. 

I don‘t know if you‘ve already mentioned the “Post” article that said that Jim Kolbe was approached by a former page complaining about inappropriate contacts from Mark Foley.  But this happened as early as the year 2000. 

And the report was that Kolbe went to Foley and had a face-to-face meeting with him.  But there‘s no indication that Kolbe told anyone, whether it was on the House speaker‘s staff or the clerk of the House staff or the clerk of the House himself about any of these inappropriate contacts.  So at least a few people knew way back in 2000 what was going on. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  What makes me think a lot of people knew?

Anyway, thank you very much, Mike Viqueira up on the hill. 

Bob Bennett is a former federal prosecutor and veteran Washington lawyer and one of the most respected, if not the most. 

Bob, I continue to keep my non-lawyer mentality.  Why don‘t this little committee, the subcommittee of the ethics committee, call in Speaker Foley—I mean, Speaker Hastert and say to him, “Here‘s what we want to know.”  Everything he know about this, whiffs, scuttlebutt, rumor, whatever, from day one.  Here‘s a tape-recorder.  We‘re playing it now.  We want to hear everything from you.

And then take everybody what said they talked to Hastert about it and tape them and make a judgment as to who‘s telling the truth.  It doesn‘t take a year to do that.  Just limit it to Hastert. 

BENNETT:  Well, I don‘t think you can limit it to Hastert.  First of all, I start with the premise that the morally right thing to do here is also what makes the most political sense.  You can‘t have this House Ethics Committee with its close ties to leadership conduct this investigation.

It won‘t have any credibility.  While they are casting a very wide net, which is good, what about the issue of who knew what when?

MATTHEWS:  That‘s my point. 

BENNETT:  Who on this committee, what staffer on this committee, what member of this committee is going to drag Mr. Hastert in, especially before an election. 

MATTHEWS:  Why can‘t they bring Hastert‘s staff into the same room with Hastert, stay there all night, order pizza, until they get a straight story about what happened? 

BENNETT:  Well, because they won‘t get a straight story that way.  You have to take investigative steps.  I think they should do that, but they have to do a lot more.  And they really need an independent investigator in there to conduct this thing. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the sanction for lying under oath in this kind of situation?  Suppose the members come in there and lie?  What‘s the worst that could happen to them? 

BENNETT:  Well, it‘s a criminal penalty. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it criminal?

BENNETT:  Absolutely, it could be a criminal penalty.  There is a misdemeanor section of not fully disclosing information to Congress.  You may remember Mr. Quindeese (ph) was...

MATTHEWS:  You mean, they can—you know, Hastert looks like the kind of guy, judging by the way he is, looks like he say, I can‘t remember.  He just keeps saying it all night. 

BENNETT:  Well, it‘s difficult to convict somebody when they say they can‘t remember.  That‘s why these things can‘t be done overnight.  That‘s why you have to do a thorough investigation, confront people with documents, confront them with other witnesses.  And if you can do that, there are serious federal statutes, false statement statutes, applying to Congress, lying the agents of the government, which carry serious criminal penalties. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about the responsibilities of Congress in our republic.  You worked with the Church, our common church, the Roman Catholic Church on this.  What are the dissimilarities or similarities between the institutions and their responsibilities to young people?

BENNETT:  Well, also let me remind you, I did three very high-profile, public  investigations for the Senate Ethics Committee.  Williams, Durenberger, and Williams.  And that just convinces me that they need an outside person to do it. 

Look, first and foremost, they have an obligation, just as the Church had an obligation, to protect young people.  That is the paramount point here.  It is not what‘s good politics.  That is the only thing that really matters.  And I don‘t see how this investigation, the way it‘s set up, will do that. 

And I will at least—as you know in my report, I was highly critical of the bishops.  But at least let‘s give the bishops credit, they created an outside board of lay Catholics, who had no interference, to conduct a thorough investigation, which we did.  And the Congress of the United States should do the same. 

MATTHEWS:  Would you accept if they ask you, if they commissioned you, to be the attorney?  You know, the independent attorney here?

BENNETT:  If certain conditions were met. 

MATTHEWS:  They haven‘t been met yet?

BENNETT:  Well, I haven‘t negotiated with them.  But they haven‘t asked me.  But the conditions would be independence.  The conditions would be, we let the chips fall where they may.  The conditions would be, we want a written report.  And the conditions would be that I would have to pick my staff, because I would not want—and I did this when I represented the Senate Ethics Committee—I don‘t see how you can have a career employee able to make independent judgments when their job is dependent upon the people you are investigating.  How is anybody on this committee going to meaningfully investigate what Mr. Hastert knew and when he knew it, who else knew? 

MATTHEWS:  Do they know they need this independence on the part of the investigator?  Do they know it?  Does the House leadership know they need somebody on the outside like you? 

BENNETT:  Well, I know that some of them know it, if they at least—some of them know it.  Look, it‘s so obvious.  The issue isn‘t whether they know it or whether they think it‘s the right thing to do.  The issue is they have to do it.  But I happen to believe that political decisions were made that, before an election, nobody wants—the Congress never wants an outside person doing it.  The major reason why I was hired, I believe, like in the Keating Five, as outside counsel, was because of the tremendous pressure of the press, saying, you have to have an independent, an independent person. 

So sure, I would be happy to do it if those conditions are met.  But there‘s plenty of other people who could do that too.

MATTHEWS:  Are they talking to you about it? 

BENNETT:  The answer is no.  But in the spirit of full disclosure,as was reported yesterday, someone in leadership did disclose to Rich Lowry, I believe, that I had been talking to a couple of members of leadership. 

But again, it was not—you know, Bob, will you take this job. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  I understand, it was a probing. 

BENNETT:  It was a probing of what should be done in this situation. 

And unfortunately, what I advised has not occurred yet. 

MATTHEWS:  The trouble is, my desire for a quick investigation, a lot of people, because they want to have the air cleared before the election.  You don‘t think it can be done?

BENNETT:  Chris, it really can‘t be done.  I mean, I‘ve conducted hundreds of investigations.  The first thing that will happen is you say, I want to have Mr. Hastert, I want to have X, Y, and Z.  And then you‘ll get a call from a lawyer, saying, I‘m representing him in this because, after all, we want to cooperate with Congress, but there‘s implications with the Justice Department.  And the way, I have a trial and I‘m not going to be available for the three weeks.

MATTHEWS:  I have a campaign to run.

BENNETT:  That‘s the real world of investigations. 

MATTHEWS:  Stay close here to your heart here. 

HARDBALL.

Anyway, up next, Hardballers Pat Buchanan and Eugene Robinson will break down the latest headlines that could decide control of Congress and will.

This is HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

The polls, the pas, and the politics of pages.  Let‘s bring on the Hardballers, MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan, author of “State of Emergency”, which is at what number on the “New York Times” list?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Six.

MATTHEWS:  And climbing.

And “Washington Post” columnist Eugene Robinson. 

BUCHANAN:  It‘s not climbing. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s doing great.  I mean, it‘s great.  I mean, it‘s great.  Most people on the best seller‘s list come on this show, if you haven‘t noticed. 

Eugene Robinson, I know you‘re a man of great probity, what about the stench factor of this Foley thing?  I think it‘s attacking on two fronts.  The Republican sense of responsibility and the leadership position it held now for all these years, just a bad corruption smell.  Secondly, the fracture of the unity of the sort of, Main Street Republicans, the moderate East Coast Republicans, whatever‘s left of them, and these evangelicals, who joined the party because it was clean.  What‘s going on? 

EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON TIMES”:  Well, I think it‘s what you said.  I think that fracture is really important.  And the Republican party has had the support of the religious and social conservatives, for whom this is anathema, this is awful, that there are gay Republican Congressmen. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s be honest.  What is the “it” that they see that don‘t like?  One bad apple? 

ROBINSON:  Well, one bad apple who may have been protected by the Republican leadership for whatever reasons, or tolerated.

MATTHEWS:  What reason do you think might be the reason they would protect this guy?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why would you protect or tolerate a guy who trawls for young boys off the page list? 

ROBINSON:  Well, I guess you wouldn‘t do that, would you?  I mean, if you bothered to find that out.  But did you bother to find out when you got the first indication? 

MATTHEWS:  The number of Republican leaders that knew about this before we knew about it is growing everyday.

ROBINSON:  It does.

MATTHEWS:  Kolbe knew for six years, Reynolds knew, Shimkus knew, the leader knew, the campaign committee chair knew, and the patron knew—Pat.

BUCHANAN:  I think the problem for the Republicans is not simply they have a gay individual.  You have those all the time, you know, and this fellow‘s been outed, in effect, doing something wrong.  It‘s the perception that he was enabled and the perception that they covered up for him, and this is squalid and the Republicans sat on it, didn‘t investigate it, didn‘t do the job of throwing him out.

MATTHEWS:  Did they do it out of compassion for his orientation or to cover that seat, the politics of that seat? 

BUCHANAN:  Mr. Kolbe says he knew it in 2000, I believe, in the “Washington Post” and Mr. Kolbe‘s the second open homosexual, I mean, he was the only open homosexual, in the House.  If you got the perception...

MATTHEWS:  It doesn‘t sound like he sympathized with his behavior because he went and told Foley to stop it, according to what we‘re hearing. 

BUCHANAN:  But apparently, look, that‘s six years ago, and he wasn‘t stopped.  And Mr. Foley is a homosexual, apparently, and so it the, according to the “Washington Post”, the House clerk who is overseeing this.  And so is this individual Fordham, who resigned.  And so is Foley himself. 

That‘s what it looks like.  It looks like, frankly...

MATTHEWS:  You counted him twice.  You‘re piling on here, Pat.

BUCHANAN:  No, I only counted Foley once.   I counted Kolbe once.  Kolbe, Fordham, and the clerk, who was named Trendall or something, I forget. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s certainly growing.  We know this.  This has legs. 

BUCHANAN:  I will say this.  What this is going to be, this is the Little Big Horn of the Log Cabin Club on Capitol Hill. 

MATTHEWS:  Why? 

BUCHANAN:  Because I think, because I think the “Post” and “Times” are right.  And these people are being outed as Republican homosexuals. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But only one guy has been involved with messing around with the pages. 

BUCHANAN:  But I know.  But it‘s been covered up.  That‘s the problem. 

That‘s the problem.

MATTHEWS:  You think out of sympathy?

BUCHANAN:  I don‘t know why they did it, but it‘s been covered up and not cleared.  And the speaker is a citizen under suspicion because there are direct conflicts in testimony, and they‘d better tell the truth to the FBI.

MATTHEWS:  Back with Pat and Gene in just a moment. 

More HARDBALL coming up.  You‘re watching it on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the Hardballers, MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan and “Washington Post” columnist Eugene Robinson. 

Pat, imagine if there‘s any left, you are an independent, middle-of-the-road voter right now, and you‘ve got to go in that booth.  And you got things on your mind.  You got the stench of this Foley that looks really bad.  You got the war in Iraq, which is really not doing well, looks like a civil war now, almost.  And you‘ve got the economy, pretty good, the market is doing well, the gas prices are down.  Now you have the threat from North Korea.  How do you put that together in one vote, you got to put it all together and make some sense of it. 

BUCHANAN:  I think what you do is, frankly, this is the Republicans are in trouble, they looked at—have these guys really handled this well, have they handled it the way I wanted it when I voted for Bush narrowly? 

No they haven‘t.  Iraq is a mess.  And the economy, there is some good news about the economy.  Let me tell you, out in Michigan and Ohio, those manufacturing jobs are gone.  People are getting jobs and they‘re are not as good.  And you look at this Foley thing...

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the differential on how much a guy or a woman has to take now as a drop in what they‘re getting, somebody who‘s working in an assembly line in an auto plant?

BUCHANAN:  They‘re taking—I‘m sure all the manufacturing jobs, they all get worse.  They are all get jobs, but they‘re all getting service jobs in the service industry.  The biggest...

MATTHEWS:  They go from about $50,000 to $60,000 to down... 

BUCHANAN:  And they‘re health service workers now.  That‘s where the increase, is health service workers. 

All these things, and then the stench that comes out here.  Now if I don‘t if the stench is certainly not going to be at great, unless this story continues in November, but right now people are saying, get them out of there. 

MATTHEWS:  Gene?

ROBINSON:  I agree. 

MATTHEWS:  Middle-of-the-road perspective?

ROBINSON:  I think if you‘re middle-of-the-road, there‘s no real percentage in voting for more of this...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You know the Democrats are coming in and start raising taxes. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  But that‘s one reason to go out and vote, that—there‘s no doubt about it. For Republicans, Republicans will make the tax cuts permanent, Democrats will let the old taxes increase. 

ROBINSON:  But what Pat said the economy right.   I mean, in a macro sense, it‘s doing pretty well even with gas prices going down.  I think in a lot of places the loss of those manufacturing jobs and the fact that there‘s nothing...

MATTHEWS:  Is that the Republicans‘ fault, though?  Who‘s fault is that?

ROBINSON:  It‘s the fault of whoever‘s in office.  It‘s the fault of the incumbents. 

MATTHEWS:  Clinton in this policy.  Clinton and the Republicans are on the same page, they‘re both free trade. 

BUCHANAN:  We have an $800 billion trade deficit we are running as of July, for the year.  That is a disaster.

MATTHEWS:  Eight hundred million?

BUCHANAN:  Eight hundred billion.

MATTHEWS:  Billion, I meant billion.

BUCHANAN:  All the manufacturing is going to China.  It‘s all going to China, Chris, and there‘s nothing to stop it.  And both parties are involved in it.  Both parties are complicit. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Pat Buchanan, Gene Robinson, thank you, both. 

Play HARDBALL with us again tomorrow.  Tuesday our guests will include President Bush‘s sister, Dora Bush Koch.  And on Wednesday, the HARDBALL College Tour is back with Robin Williams.  What show that‘s going to be.  And Barry Levenson (ph) from Georgetown University the first on the tour.

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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