updated 10/12/2006 5:15:06 PM ET 2006-10-12T21:15:06

Guests: Stan Brand, Chuck Todd, Mike Barnicle, Ned Lamont, Larry Miller

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Dennis Hastert wonders what his staff will say about Foley once they‘re under oath.  Mr. Speaker, why don‘t you pick up a phone and ask them right now. 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

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

Major developments today in the Republican page scandal.  Under political pressure just four weeks before the election, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert spoke to the press today and threatened to fire anyone on his staff who tried to cover up the scandal. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DENNIS HASTERT, HOUSE SPEAKER, ® ILLINOIS:  I understood what my staff told me.  And I think from that response, they have handled it as well as they should.  However, you know, in 20/20 hindsight, probably could do everything a little bit better.  But if there is a problem, if there was a cover-up, then we should find that out through the investigation process.  They will be under oath.  And we‘ll find out.  If they did cover something up, then they should not continue to have their jobs. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Meanwhile, retiring Congressman Jim Kolbe confirmed he passed a along a complaint from a former page about Foley‘s suggestive e-mails to Foley‘s office in 2000 and 2001, years before the House leadership say they learned about this type of behavior. 

And the investigation continues.  The page who started this scandal met with the FBI today in Oklahoma City.  And members of the House are responding to the House Ethics Committee request that they interview aides and former pages to see if they had any knowledge of Foley‘s behavior. 

The polls are deadly for Republicans.  We‘ll dig into them tonight. 

Three words could bury Republicans this election:  Iraq, Bush and Foley. 

We start the show with this report from HARDBALL‘s David Shuster. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER:  In Illinois today before a backdrop of a graveyard, House Speaker Dennis Hastert all but sacrificed his own staff. 

HASTERT:  If there is a problem, if there was a cover-up, then we should find that out through the investigation process.  They will be under oath.  And we‘ll find out.  If they did cover something up, then they should not continue to have their jobs. 

SHUSTER:  Two members of the House Republican leadership say they told Hastert last spring about Foley‘s sexually suggestive contacts with pages.  And former congressional aide Kirk Fordham told the FBI this week he provided details three years ago to Hastert‘s Chief of Staff Scott Palmer. 

Last week, Hastert defended his Chief of Staff Palmer, stating Palmer was never told anything.  Today:

HASTERT:  If anybody‘s found to have hidden information or covered up information, they really should be gone. 

SHUSTER:  In the midst of the Foley mess, Hastert is desperately trying to change the subject. 

HASTERT:  We‘ve lowered peoples‘ taxes.  People have more money in their pocket to spend.  The economy is good. 

SHUSTER:  But half a dozen Republicans have now canceled appearances with the Speaker over the past week.  And the revelations in the Foley scandal keep coming.  Just days after Hastert said no member of Congress knew about Foley‘s problems until this year, retiring Republican lawmaker Jim Kolbe stated today he knew of a suggestive contact Foley had with a page at least five years ago.  Kolbe said he spoke to Foley‘s office and the page clerk at the time. 

The House Speaker is supposed to oversee the clerk.  So Denny Hastert today was in the awkward position of having to claim ignorance about the page program and an about an issue raised by Kolbe. 

HASTERT:  He was on the Page Board, that was his job to do that, that confrontation.  I don‘t know anything more about it. 

SHUSTER:  Hastert‘s problems, including new poll numbers showing a majority of Americans believed he engaged in a cover-up and should lose his job, com just as some of the former pages are starting to talk to federal investigators. 

Today in Oklahoma, Jordan Edmund talked to the FBI for two and a half hours.  His lawyer then made brief comments to the press. 

STEPHEN JONES, ATTORNEY FOR FMR. HOUSE PAGE:  I‘m not able to discus the interview, except to say that it occurred and that our client answered their questions and cooperated to the fullest. 

SHUSTER:  All of this is taking a toll on the Republican party. 

REP. TOM DAVIS, ® VIRGINIA:  You can‘t get your message out when this stuff is on the front pages every day.  We‘ve got a lot to talk about, a lot of good things happening, but nobody knows about it. 

SHUSTER:  Today in a panel sponsored by the “National Journal” and MSNBC and moderated by HARDBALL‘s Chris Matthews, 150 people heard the capitol‘s top political experts predict GOP losses of as many as 35 seats in the House and eight in the Senate. 

Why?  Because the page scandal comes on the heels of new and deeper problems with the war in Iraq. 

CHARLIE COOK, THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT:  The focus is shifting back towards Iraq.  Then the page scandal hit, which pushes it back over.  I still think this election is more about Iraq than pages. 

SHUSTER:  But taken together, those two issues are putting Republicans in the worst position their party has been in for a decade.  The president‘s approval ratings are in 30s, Democrats are seen as the party that is strong on moral issues, and dozens Republican-held seats once considered safe are now in play. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Individual races still count, but no matter who you are, there‘s a breeze coming against that enables Democratic candidates to start about 20 yards ahead of where they ordinarily would be.

SHUSTER:  And the questions about the Foley scandal are not about to die down.  Because on top of the investigation into who knew about the page contacts when, and who is telling the truth now, House Speaker Dennis Hastert has now opened up the question of whether the buck really stops with him, or whether it actually stops with his staff. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster. 

NBC Capitol Hill Producer Mike Viqueira is covering all the developments in the Foley scandal. 

Is that your reading, Mike, of what‘s going on up there?  That Denny Hastert called a press conference, seemingly for one reason, to say he doesn‘t trust his staff?

MIKE VIQUEIRA, NBC NEWS CAPITOL HILL PRODUCER:  Well, I‘m telling you right now, the Republicans up here on the House can‘t figure out why Denny Hastert called that press conference with that unintentional metaphor of posing before a graveyard. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

VIQUEIRA:  You know, they didn‘t want this story, they figured Republicans had a chance to get back on the right track here.  They didn‘t want this story, another element of this story to give everybody an excuse to do television and newspaper articles tomorrow, saying what Hastert said about the unfolding scandal.  Hastert still stands behind his staff, technically.  He says it‘s all 20/20 hindsight, but, of course, if anything is found to have been hidden up or covered up, then that person has to go. 

Chris, it‘s not unusual for senior staff—smart senior staff here in the Capitol would not necessarily bring their boss in, just so that boss could have plausible deniability.  Of course, this first went to the deputy chief of staff, who worked under Scott Palmer, then a gentleman Ted Van Der Meid is the House counsel who deals directly with the clerk at the time, Jeff Trandahl. 

And we need to mention that Jeff Trandahl is emerging as a key figure here.  A number of instances cite Trandahl‘s contact with Foley, with staff contact with Trandahl, complaining to Trandahl about actions that were or were not taken, and about the actions of Mark Foley himself.  Trandahl put out a statement today saying he‘s not going to be sharing any recollections that he has had with anyone, until after he speaks with the FBI and the House Ethics Committee—Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  What law could the staff have been protecting the Speaker from breaking?  Why would they keep him in a situation of plausible deniability here?

VIQUEIRA:  Well, because the staff is the one that would handle something like this.  And by telling him would bring him into the circle, in case something like this has exploded, as it exploded now.  I think it‘s pretty much standard operating procedure.  I don‘t know, you know, what happened, who said what to whom, whether there was an intentional cover-up or not.  That‘s the subject of a lot of reporting going on by “NBC News” and others.  But it doesn‘t surprise too many people here that Hastert‘s senior staff would not have brought him in at an earlier time. 

MATTHEWS:  OK Thank you very much, once again, for great reporting. 

Mike Viqueira up on Capitol Hill.

Stan Brand is the former counsel for the House of Representatives. 

Stan, do you buy this possibility that the Speaker of the House was not informed by any of his top three staffers, that he was right when he said he never was told by the tow members of the leadership, Reynolds and Boehner?  Do you buy all this denial? 

STAN BRAND,  FMR. U.S. HOUSE OF REPS. COUNSEL :  It‘s possible.

MATTHEWS:  Is it plausible?

BRAND:  It‘s possible that the staff did not inform him of what was going on, protected him in a sense, if you will. 

MATTHEWS:  From what?

BRAND:  Well, from having to dirty his hands and get in and do something about it, and triggering a broader investigation and a broader inquiry.  Perhaps they thought they could take care of it at their level.  That‘s not unheard of. 

The problem here now is, aside from the political problem, is the legal problem.  These people keep giving statements to the press at the same time that they‘re giving interviews to the FBI and House Ethics Committee.  If those stories don‘t square up, and those statements don‘t square up, they‘re going to have the Martha Stewart and the Scooter Libby problem.  They will not have committed any offense, it certainly isn‘t an offense inside the House to determine whether or not to bring these things to the Speaker.  But if they lie about it, or prevaricate to the FBI or the House Ethics Committee under oath, then they all wind up with a gigantic legal problem. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that the only legal problem that they face? 

BRAND:  I think that‘s the only...

MATTHEWS:  Well, then why didn‘t they tell the Speaker about this in the beginning? 

BRAND:  Because I think, Chris, the instinct, and it‘s not an instinct limited to Republicans, is when you‘re in power, and you‘re afraid of a burgeoning story that is going to outrun you or cause a problem, your instinct is to try to contain, try to manage, try to deal with it. 

I venture to say, every time you and I went in to see Tip O‘Neill, he wasn‘t that happy to see us, because we were bringing problems to him.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, he wasn‘t happy, but it was always better to tell him.

BRAND:  Absolutely, and that never stopped us from doing us from doing that, but I can understand how people may have thought, we‘re better off shielding our boss from this than we are bringing him in.  I just think, on a nerve-center issue like this, where you have responsibility for children in a sense in your custody, they needed to have done that.

MATTHEWS:  I wonder whether the straight people in the leadership were a little bit squeamish about getting involved with a gay member they knew to be gay and his involvement with anyone.  They‘re thinking well, this is sort of like it may be taboo territory, in terms of loco parentis responsibility, but we‘re not familiar enough to this territory, we‘re going to turn it over to somebody else to handle it.  That‘s what keeps coming through, a division of labor on Capitol Hill.  You guys, some staff people members, you guys take care of this problem with Mark Foley.  We don‘t want to get our hands on it.  That seems to be the way it‘s developing.

BRAND:  That is a legitimate hypothesis.  The problem with that is, when it unravels and when it becomes an issue, then you‘ve set yourself up for a big fall, because you haven‘t gone to the leadership, the principals and inform the principals of something you have a duty to tell him.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m trying to figure this thing out, and this is new territory for most of us, gay or straight.  We are trying to figure out what the rules are.  You obviously have a in loco parentis relationship with these pages. 

In fact, even in the telephone conversations, this rather awful telephone conversations at one point, former Congressman Foley says, “I don‘t mess around with pages.”  In other words, I wait until after they have graduated.  So he understood the taboo, at least technically. 

And then we find out he was trolling these people after they graduated for years to the point where he had sex with somebody at 21.  Where is the line drawn in terms of loco parentis?  When can—if it was a straight member who fell for some girl when she is 16 and 17 and looked her up four years later and they got together, would that be considered breaking the taboo?  A younger member of Congress, for example?  Would that be considered bad?  I don‘t know these days.

BRAND:  It would be in a state in which the laws protect the minors.

MATTHEWS:  But this latest case that Foley had sex with somebody 21, it‘s reported.  What‘s wrong with that?

BRAND:  Consenting adults. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BRAND:  That‘s where we‘re in a gray area and we have larded over it, this notion of cyber crimes.  If you solicit over the Internet, you know, they are putting people away for 30 years in prison for some of this stuff.  There is a confusing, legal matrix.

MATTHEWS:  Jack Kennedy married Jackie when she was 22 and he was 34 or something.  Was that considered perversity?  It‘s considered the most healthy relationship in the world.

BRAND:  It certainly wasn‘t illegal. 

MATTHEWS:  What is this thing about—these things are gray right now.  It seems to me adults, if you reach the age of maturity, 21, we stay out of it.

BRAND:  And this may come down to that.  It may be like Scooter Libby, where there is no underlying crime because nobody who was a minor was solicited.  But people lie.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m not willing to let Scooter off the hook on that one, by the way.  But let the prosecutor make that decision.

BRAND:  The jury‘s going to decide that.

MATTHEWS:  That could be interesting.  By the way, I‘m still waiting for the big pardon to come along.  Anyway, thank you Stan Brand.  Coming up, we‘ll talk more about the politics of the Foley mess with MSNBC contributors Mike Barnicle and “Hotline” editor Chuck Todd.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Polls, pages and the handling of the scandal.  Let‘s rip into it with MSNBC political analyst Mike Barnicle up in Boston and “Hotline” editor-in-chief Chuck Todd.  First, let‘s take a look.  Do we have this commercial ready, which is the opponent now running -- this opponent, this is Jack Davis, it‘s an ad.  He‘s the Democratic challenger to Republican Congressman Tom Reynolds, chairman of the House Congressional Campaign Committee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Tom Reynolds knew that Congressman Mark Foley was a predator, going after a 16-year-old boy.  What did he do?  Tom Reynolds urged Foley to seek re-election.  Why?  Because Mark Foley gave over $100,000 to Reynolds‘ political committee and Tom Reynolds needed to keep Foley‘s seat in Congress, so he kept quiet.  Reynolds says he did nothing wrong.  But when it comes to protecting kids, isn‘t it wrong to do nothing?  Tom Reynolds, wrong on all accounts.

JACK DAVIS, CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m Jack Davis and I approve this message.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You sure did, Jack.  That is—Mike Barnicle, that is about the toughest—it‘s a monster movie about this guy Reynolds, most people never heard of, but he‘s here cast as chief of the coverup.

MIKE BARNICLE, MSNBC CONTRIBUTOR:  Yes, it‘s probably the equivalent of, in some ways, of the Daisy commercial, ‘64 with Lyndon Johnson‘s campaign.  It is a powerful piece, Chris and I think it gets to the heart of the twin dangers that the Republican Party is facing right now, Iraq and Mark Foley, in the sense that we just heard Stan Brand speak to this as well.

More and more people, voters in this country are looking at the Mark Foley scandal and thinking to themselves, “Will these people who chose to protect the speaker of the House, Denny Hastert and chose to protect themselves in their own congressional seats, rather than protecting children?”

MATTHEWS:  So in the effort of at least perhaps effort of plausible deniability, not telling the boss, at least that‘s what the boss is suggesting.  Not telling the boss what was the stuff going on with Mark Foley, they did that to protect him, Foley perhaps, but certainly not to protect the kids.

BARNICLE:  Right, and how many people in this country have children and are looking at it exactly through that prism?  You know, I‘m a parent, you‘re a parent.  They chose to protect themselves politically rather than these kids?  Get them out of there.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s 9:00 p.m., do you know where your pages are?

CHUCK TODD, THE HOTLINE:  I think that works in a—the thing is, that you‘re not going to cookie cutter that ad and run in it in 50 districts.  You know, it‘s working.

MATTHEWS:  You can try that in Hastert‘s district.

TODD:  Look, there‘s four Foley ads running right now, four of them.  You‘ve got one by a child welfare advocate in Minnesota and she is just known for that, Patty Wetterling.  You‘ve got one woman running against another member of leadership, Deborah Pryce, who‘s running in a Christian radio stations, and then you‘ve got one in southern Indiana, which is a very values district.  You‘re not seeing it yet everywhere else.  And I think if they tried to do it in more places.  You know, the Democrats have to got to walk this line of not overplaying their hand.

MATTHEWS:  Why?  How can you not—the Democrats overplayed Watergate and it worked for them.  The Democrats overplayed Hoover.

TODD:  With Reynolds, this works because he went on the air with his apology ad.  So in some ways, he‘s the one that introduced it.  I think he panicked, by the way.  He didn‘t need to do that.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at Denny Hastert today doing something very unusual, holding this press conference.  Let‘s all listen to what he had to say out in Illinois.  And it was actually in front of a graveyard, ironically.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), SPEAKER:  I have understood what my staff told me.  And I think from that response, they have handled it as well as they should.  However, you know, in 20/20 hindsight, probably you can do everything a little bit better.  But if there is a problem, if there was a cover up, then we should find that out through the investigation process.  They will be under oath, and we‘ll find out.  If they did cover something up, then they should not continue to have their jobs. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Mike, as has been pointed out, I worked for the speaker of

the House more than 20 years ago.  In fact, 20 years ago we both ended up -

that experience.  The speaker retired.  But the idea of the speaker—

Speaker O‘Neill in that case—going on national television saying I don‘t know whether my staff told me the whole truth or not, and I‘m waiting to see them under oath, I would feel very bad that he let me down and didn‘t trust me, Michael Barnicle. 

BARNICLE:  You know, Christopher Matthews, that that would never happen with Thomas P. “Tip” O‘Neill.  I mean, the funny thing about the Hastert press conference that‘s not actually funny is it is posed in front of a cemetery, and you can hear the gravediggers digging the graves of too many Republican candidates coast to coast because the cloud over this situation is a mushroom cloud politically. 

We just spoke about the Reynolds ad.  You don‘t need an ad in every congressional district.  This is in the water now.  This is in the water, the Mark Foley thing. 

MATTHEWS:  Throwing your staff under the bus is one of the last refuges.  I‘m thinking of Nixon dumping next to dumping haberdasher and Ehrlichman.  We‘ll be right back with Mike Barnicle and Chuck Todd.  They‘re staying with us.

And later, Democratic Senate candidate Ned Lamont, who beat Joe Lieberman in August, can he do it again in November?  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, you heard it a minute ago.  The HARDBALL College Tour is back tomorrow.  We have got Robin Williams.  We have got Barry Levinson.  Robin Williams is absolutely unbelievable on the show tomorrow.  Wait until you see the antics and the thought process of this guy, who has got to be a genius and manic as hell.  What an hour on HARDBALL, tomorrow at this time.

We are back now with the MSNBC political analyst Mike Barnicle, and “Hotline” editor in chief Chuck Todd.  I want to go back to the speaker‘s predicament, but I also want to go back to the partisan predicament. 

Michael, it seems to me that the Democrats have an opportunity here.  Maybe they‘re just going to sit down and watch this bonanza of bad news for the Republicans, but don‘t they, at some point, have to say something or the story will die in a week or so and then they won‘t have anything else to talk about? 

BARNICLE:  I don‘t think so.  And I think if they do say anything, they run the danger of playing into the hands of Republicans.  I mean, this immediately became political, as we all know, which I think was a huge turnoff to many, many people in this country, the idea that you have vulnerable children, these pages, being exposed to what they were exposed to, being looked upon as prey from Congressman Mark Foley—former Congressman Foley, and it immediately became a political issue. 

I think a lot of people looked at that and said, oh my God, this is just what we suspected.  Everything in Washington is political, even kids.  I think if the Democrats speak to it in a more partisan tone, it‘s going to hurt them, not help them. 

MATTHEWS:  Will the smell from the Capitol Dome elect enough Democrats to control the place? 

TODD:  I think it‘s possible, but I think what Democrats have to do is figure out now the pivot onto Iraq.  I mean, they‘re closing.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s talk about Iraq.

TODD:  They‘re closing message has got to be Iraq ...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We have our army—the American army is in Iraq, for all practical purposes.  Now we have this new threat from North Korea, we have the ongoing threat from Iran.  Has this president put us in a box corner?  Has he led us into a box canyon, to use an old cowboy term?

TODD:  Well, the fact that the debate is not about do we send more troops somewhere or pull them out more completely, the fact that the debate is about well, let‘s just figure out what the troops should do while they‘re there, sure.  I mean, I‘m not a military expert, but it does seem to me that neither side is arguing what they really want to argue. 

You know, I‘m waiting for the Democrat actually, to come out and say -

some Democratic candidate to say, you know what?  I either want the troops out or I‘ll triple the amount of troops that are in Iraq.  You know, they‘re not ...

MATTHEWS:  High low it.

TODD:  Yes, exactly.  Nobody has had the guts on the Democratic side to go that route on Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  Because it sounds ambiguous.  And it sounds ambidextrous.  Wait a minute.  What do you really want, Congressman?  Do you want an enlarged commitment—military commitment to the Iraq front, or do you want to pull out of the Iraq front?  Which is it that you believe? 

TODD:  But we‘re not having either debate, I mean, and that‘s the thing.  What would be the more honest debate? 

MATTHEWS:  Mike Barnicle, your sense of these three issues that are banging into each other: Iraq, North Korea and the Foley problem. 

BARNICLE:  Iraq, North Korea—I think people are terribly frightened about the mismanagement of this war, and I think increasingly what they perceive to be the obtuseness of the Bush administration in dealing with international issues.  I think they are increasingly frightened for their children for the next five years. 

You have got a crazy man in North Korea, apparently with a nuclear weapon, a totally mismanaged war.  The Foley thing is the umbrellas over it, the incompetence of the way the Foley thing was handled, the political way it was handled.  I think people are confused and frightened, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, it seems to me the easiest argument for the Democrats is to say if you like the way things are going, vote Republican. 

BARNICLE:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Mike Barnicle, thank you.  Chuck Todd.

Up next, Ned Lamont plays HARDBALL.  Can he beat Joe Lieberman again? 

And tomorrow, the HARDBALL College—as I said, big time tomorrow at Georgetown, one of the great universities in the country.  Robin Williams, and he is coming out with a new movie, “Man of the Year,” in which a TV show host runs for president.  Here‘s what Robin said about the similarity between his character and Ross Perot. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBIN WILLIAMS, ACTOR:  And Perot actually set things up.  Just in

fact, like this, like a squirrel without its nuts, what do you think?  He

came in there.  Not going to do it.  Here‘s the drill.  Vote for me.  Not

going to have a sex scandal, I‘m too damn ugly.  Look at me.  I look like a

Ferengi.  What‘s the problem?  Right there.  (INAUDIBLE)> 

Here‘s the thing.  Here‘s your economy, there‘s the money.  There it goes right now (INAUDIBLE).  There‘s NAFTA.  There‘s nothing.  There‘s your money just being sucked out of the country.  Don‘t call me right now.  (INAUDIBLE).  I‘m going to talk to you right now.  I made money selling computer time.  It‘s a bit like surplus energy.  Where‘s that big rabbit?  Don‘t call.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  And people say I talk fast.  That‘s Robin Williams on the college tour tomorrow from Georgetown.  And if you want to get an inside look at the college tour right now, check out our Web site HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.  You‘re watching it, HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Despite his primary loss to Ned Lamont, Quinnipiac‘s latest poll shows Senator Joe Lieberman beating Lamont by 10 points.  Can Lamont close the gap and beat Lieberman again? 

Let‘s ask the Democratic nominee himself for the Senate in Connecticut, Ned Lamont.  Mr. Lamont, you ran as an anti-war candidate.  You‘re famous for that.  Are you still pushing that as your No. 1 issue, getting us out of Iraq?

NED LAMONT (D), CT SENATE CANDIDATE:  Look at the axis of evil that George Bush brought up a few years ago: Iran, Iraq and North Korea.  And all three of those fronts, the world is a much more dangerous place.  And Joe Lieberman has cheered on President Bush every step of the way on his foreign policy.  Yes, I‘d say the war in Iraq is more important than ever.  Look at the national intelligence estimate that says this war is making America less safe and national security is a big part of this campaign.

MATTHEWS:  Why do we see polls like the Quinnipiac poll showing that people in a state that is vastly anti-war voting for a guy who is vastly pro-war, Joe Lieberman?

LAMONT:  I got introduced, Ned Lamont, I did it all during the primary.  Got into my car, put on 1,000 miles every week, introducing myself to every single person I could.  They were mainly Democrats in the primary.  Now we‘re reaching out to moderates, independents, unaffiliates and Republicans, telling them that Lamont is an independent guy, a business man who started up his business from scratch.  Maybe that‘s just the type of experience we need in Washington.  I think we‘ll do OK with the unaffiliateds.

MATTHEWS:  Well people say that you had him down, but didn‘t step on his neck in August.  Did you think you exploited your victory as well as you could have?

LAMONT:  I thought everybody wanted maybe just a short break after a hard-fought primary.  Instead, two days later, Dick Cheney said the al Qaeda types are getting comfort from Lamont‘s victory.  We have been going flat out ever since.  And we‘re serious about this race, Joe Lieberman has not been here for the state of Connecticut.  We‘ve lost half of our manufacturing jobs, half of our defense-related jobs.  He‘s missed an awful lot of key votes along the way and we‘re telling people you‘re going to have a Ned Lamont, a senator who‘s going to fight for you every step of the way.

MATTHEWS:  Is he playing ethnic politics by accusing you of being anti-Israel?

LAMONT:  The anti-Israel thing has come up a little bit, but look, I have gone to a number of synagogues.  I‘ve been reaching out, people know that I‘m strong on Israel.  And people know that this war in Iraq has done nothing for Israel‘s security.  It has emboldened Iran.  And an emboldened Iran puts Israel more at risk.  I think we‘re very strong on that issue.

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re saying he‘s wrong when he said the other day that this war is good for Israel, good for the Middle East.  The way he phrased it was good for the Middle East, good for America, but the message was clear.  Was he wrong in saying that the war was good for Israel?

LAMONT:  He was wrong in saying this war was good for Israel.  It emboldened Iran, like I said, emboldened Hezbollah, which attacked Israel.  It‘s destabilized the Middle East. 

This war has been a disaster both in terms of the Middle East and in terms of the war on terror.  You know, my god, Chris, here you have the head of NATO operations in Afghanistan saying, give us the troops so we can finish the job in Afghanistan. 

This is the country that aided and abetted al Qaeda which launched the attack on us and we don‘t have the troops to finish the job in Afghanistan and that‘s in part because they‘re bogged down in a civil war in Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  What about this other ethnic piece, where Al Sharpton has accused your opponent, Joe Lieberman, of flagrant race bating.  What is that about?

LAMONT:  That‘s the fact that Senator Lieberman and Al Sharpton have a long-standing relationship.  Senator Lieberman was interested in having Al Sharpton come up and campaign for him here in Connecticut.  Instead, Al Sharpton decided to come up and campaign for Ned Lamont.

MATTHEWS:  Well you know, I‘ve got to get back to my same question.  The way I look at your race is, your job coming out of the primary was to get the regular Democratic base, a lot of working people. 

You had some upper income people with you, but you had to get the working people behind you, bring the party together under your leadership.  How come you haven‘t been able to do that.  How come he is poaching all these Democratic votes from you, the Democratic nominee?

LAMONT:  You know, on the contrary.  We‘ve got strong union support.  The legislative team here has come on board behind this campaign.  I feel very good that the Democrats are rallying behind our banner right now.  What I have got to do is introduce myself to the unaffiliateds.  They weren‘t part of the primary campaign, they didn‘t get the direct mail.  They haven‘t been introduced to Ned Lamont, but they‘re getting to know who I am now.

MATTHEWS:  Where do you two guys stand on war with Iran?  We‘ve already gone to war with Iraq.  It hasn‘t worked out the way it was promised.  There are still people out there on the right who are saying this president can‘t leave office until he has dealt with the Iranian nuclear threat.  Are you against military action against Iran?  Is Joe Lieberman for one at some point as an ultimate step?

LAMONT:  You know, Joe Lieberman and Rick Santorum sponsored that resolution that would have us go in and destabilize Iran.  I just think that is not realistic at this point.  I think we should engage Iran directly.  I Think we should work with Russia, China, India, those countries that have leverage with Iran, engage with them directly.  I think that‘s our best hope to stabilize relationships with Iran, make sure they never get a hold of that nuclear weapon and probably it‘s going to be part of our broader answer as our exit from Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  Would you ever, under any circumstances as a U.S. senator should you get elected, support a military attack on Iran? 

LAMONT:  Look, always the military option is on the table. 

MATTHEWS:  Really? 

LAMONT:  Things you fight—the military option is always on the table, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  rMD+IN_rMDNM_You really think you might support an attack on Iran, and what that would mean, a war with a major country in the Middle East like Iran?  You would actually support that under some circumstances? 

LAMONT:  Look, right now, this president is at fault because we are not in direct diplomacy with Iran.  We‘re not in direct diplomacy with Syria.  When that happens, we don‘t isolate those countries, we isolate the United States of America. 

And the other thing I was going to say is our human intelligence is so failing us at this point.  We don‘t know the basics of what‘s going on in Iran.  We don‘t know the basics of what‘s going on in North Korea, and we now know in hindsight how little we knew about Iraq.  So these are the things we have to get right first. 

MATTHEWS:  If you both see—you and Joe Lieberman—a possible military strike against Iran as still on the table, what‘s the difference between you two? 

LAMONT:  Because he is leading with rattling the saber.  He had the number of interviews where he talked about the nature of the attacks and what they would be.  I think that is absolutely wrong.  I think we have got to start with diplomacy.  We haven‘t used diplomacy at all.

My god, people said it would be impossible to deal with Khadafi, and through quiet, steadfast, hard-headed diplomacy, we made a big difference in Libya.  We could do the same in Iran, but we have got to start now. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much.  Democratic candidate—Senate candidate in the state of Connecticut, Ned Lamont.  Thank you, sir.

Up next, actor, author and comedian Larry Miller will talk about the political mood across the country.  He has a  new book out called “Spoiled Rotten America.”

And later, President Bush‘s sister Doro speaks about her new book and it‘s a delight.  It‘s about her father, the first President Bush. 

And rMD+IN_rMDNM_tomorrow is the HARDBALL College Tour with Robin Williams and Barry Levinson, from Georgetown University—I think the most exciting show we‘ve ever done and it‘s totally different. 

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Breaking news in Iraq right now.  You are looking at dramatic pictures right now of a series of blasts at an ammunitions depot in Baghdad.  According to NBC‘s Richard Engel, who‘s in Baghdad, the fire was at the ammunitions depot in Camp Falcon.  It contains tank shells, artillery rounds and bullets. 

The fire was contained to the ammo facility itself, but the cause of the fire is under investigation still.  The officials say said there were no reports of deaths or injuries yet.  We will continue to monitor that fire throughout the night. 

Now, we turn to Larry Miller and his book, “Spoiled Rotten America”—you sound like a conservative—“Outrages of Everyday Life.”  Miller says we‘re spoiled, but that‘s not necessarily a bad thing. 

Good evening, Larry.  Is this about ...

LARRY MILLER, AUTHOR, “SPOILED ROTTEN AMERICA”:  Hi, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  ... not being able to get the kids to rake the lawn and stuff like that?  What is this about?

MILLER:  You know, I just want to say that given—off of the giant explosion that just happened in Baghdad, it just came in that apparently the Sunnis, the Shiites and the Kurds swear they have never seen any of Congressman Foley‘s e-mails.  They swear.

So—by the way, I was looking for—the reason I called it “Spoiled Rotten America” is that whether you‘re 20 or 50 or 80, I like the things we all know.  Your parents are twice as tough as you and their parents were twice as tough as them.  It keeps getting tougher as you go back.  And then you slingshot back to us.  My father had three jobs and went to school at night.  If I go to the cleaners and the bank in the same day, I need a nap. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you comparing your dad to Big Russ?  Come on.  So he was one of the greatest generation guys? 

MILLER:  Well, you know what?  He was, but we get—we‘re not bad people.  We‘re soft, that‘s all.  You know, when I was ...

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t have to defend me, I work all day and all night. 

So, look, I‘m not part of this problem.  So who do you know—name names -

that are spoiled rotten? 

MILLER:  Well, you know what?

MATTHEWS:  I want some names.

MILLER:  First of all, there is me, there‘s you.  You know what? 

We‘re not lazy, it‘s just that we need air conditioning.  When I was writing this thing, I actually—the reason the title hit me was I went down for lunch in the kitchen.  It‘s always stocked.  You go to the freezer, pull out a big box of frozen soy buffalo wings, couldn‘t be easier.  Put them out on the plate, pop them in the microwave, two minutes, what could be simpler? 

And the directions say turning over halfway through.  And I actually thought, oh, now I have got to turn them over, too?  And you know, that‘s when I realized I suppose I have to take the ranch dressing out myself.  We‘re all the same.  You pull up to an ATM and you are outraged if there are two people in front of you.  I have to wait 41 seconds now for my money?

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I remember the old days when you had to go to Capitol Hill to get a bartender to cash a check for you.  You had to depend on his generosity.  That is easier—you could be more proud to go to an ATM machine then bumming it getting a check cashed, but I‘m not sure I buy this.  You‘re saying people don‘t work as hard?  People work around the clock.

MILLER:  No.  You know what?  No, we work around the clock.  You know what the key is though?  We have lost something, though.  This is—it‘s a title that ties the themes together.  It‘s about, you know, that we can‘t drink as much ...

MATTHEWS:  When‘s the last time you sat down and watched a regular prime-time TV show and then watched the next one?  There were times growing up when I would watch “Bilko,” I‘d watch “Highway Patrol,” I‘d watch “Red Skeleton.”  I spent the whole night watching television growing up as a kid, right?  I haven‘t done that in 30 years.   

MILLER:  It never happens, because you know what? 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m working.  I‘ve got projects. 

MILLER:  It‘s not that.  Number one—plus, it cuts into valuable drinking time.  That‘s my point.

MATTHEWS:  Drink some. 

MILLER:  You know what?  That changes, too.  In your 20s, you know, you can drink all night ...

MATTHEWS:  You‘ve got to say names.  You‘re a conservative right? 

MILLER:  You know what?  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  Was George Bush a lucky rich kid?  Was he a spoiled brat when he was growing up? 

MILLER:  Of course.  How could it be otherwise?  But look at every one of these guys.  You know why I have disdain for them, by the way?  Do you know why I have disdain for every one of these guys?  I would make America a deal right now.  If you and I decided together that everyone watching, on November 6, you go out and vote whoever is not in there, let‘s switch, because I don‘t care. 

I don‘t care whether it‘s Democrats or Republicans.  What that means, you say to Dennis Hastert and Nancy Pelosi, you know what?  You have got to go, too.  You‘ve got to leave right now, because they wouldn‘t accept that.  I bet you a dollar they‘d say, oh no, we have to be here, because it‘s not about party or ideals.  It‘s about them. 

By the way, you were right when you said these issues are bumping up against each.  Iraq, Korea, Foley—that‘s the axis of evil. 

MATTHEWS:  You think we‘re too tolerant? 

MILLER:  Come on.  It‘s just that we can use a ...

MATTHEWS:  You are a conservative.  I want to hear your chops here.

MILLER:  You know what?  What‘s the left-right position ... 

(CROSSTALK)

MILLER:  Hang on a second.  What‘s the left-right position on Foley?  You know what?  I think it‘s up-down.  There‘s no left-right.  You know what?  When you get down to Foley—and I can‘t say it.  It‘s so ridiculous.  He was overfriendly?  Can you imagine if this is the one they caught, what were there, 2,000 others?  Overfriendly?  He waited for the guy...

MATTHEWS:  Well, the instant messages I saw were not over-friendly, they were beyond imagination.  I invite people, if they‘re interested, to look it up on-line, because we‘re not going to show it here.  It wasn‘t romance. 

(CROSSTALK)

MILLER:  Well, he waited for them, though.  Yes, like a hawk on a branch waiting for a rabbit. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean, he waited for them to turned 21?

MILLER:  You know what?  What we forget in this whole issue, and I think that we really forget it, it get‘s crowded over, it‘s so gross. 

MATTHEWS:  Where do you live, Larry? 

MILLER:  Los Angeles. 

MATTHEWS:  So you vote for all Democratic Congressmen, right?  That‘s all they have out there.

MILLER:  You know what?  In the last governor‘s election, you know what, though, I voted for Angeline.  You know who that is?

MATTHEWS:  No.

MILLER:  She‘s an actress.

MATTHEWS:  Who?

MILLER:  Angeline.  Remember, they used to have 200 people running for governor in those days?  I thought it might be making her feel better.  It was someone I worked with, she was...

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re going to vote for Arnold this time?

Arnold Schwarzenegger?

MILLER:  You know what?  I just have such—probably, yes.  Angelides to me, is just—these are creepy people.  And I just don‘t understand why...

MATTHEWS:  You going to vote for Feinstein?

MILLER:  Probably.  I think she...

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re splitting a ticket?

MILLER:  You know why?

It‘s honestly gotten to a point of kind of not caring.  I think—you no the old phrase, it‘s cliched, “a pox on both their houses”?

MATTHEWS:  Well, no, you‘re voting for a grown-up Democrat and a recently moderate Republican governor. 

MILLER:  You know why?

MATTHEWS:  You‘re very eclectic here. 

MILLER:  You know what, though?

It, seriously, it comes down to—you‘re an individual, and I am too. 

We make our lives in the way we want. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

MILLER:  We live creative lives.  That‘s what our country does best. 

And you know what?  I think that‘s what we‘ll do best, too. 

MATTHEWS:  In the words of Will Ferrell in “Anchorman”, agree to disagree. 

I think we‘ve never worked harder. 

Thank you very much, Larry Miller, the author of the book, “Spoiled Rotten America”, even though I disagree. 

When we return, back to Baghdad for more on that fire at an ammunitions dump.  We‘ll talk to NBC‘s Richard Engel, and he‘s always there and he‘s always gutsy. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to Baghdad for an update on that dramatic fire and explosions at the ammunitions dump just south of Baghdad. 

NBC‘s Richard Engel joins us now by phone. 

Richard, what are we watching here?  We got it on the screen here with the flames bursting up there in the distance.

RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  I am actually looking at this fire right now.  It is in a southern part of Baghdad at a forward operating base, Camp Falcon.  This was in an ammunitions depot, where, according to the U.S. military, rounds of artillery shells and tank shells and bullets for various small arms weapons were being stored.  Generally, these facilities contain thousands of artillery rounds and tank shells. 

It has been burning and exploding for about the past two hours.  According to a military spokesman, there were no injuries, or no reports of injuries or deaths on this facility.  There had apparently been an instant of indirect fire, either a mortar or a rocket that landed on the base.  The military could not confirm that that was exactly the cause of this fire and explosion, although that is the assumption here. 

The base immediately went onto a state of high alert.  The soldiers were ordered into bomb shelters and a fire brigade on the base was able to contain facility this to the one building where the ammunition is being stored and is now being destroyed.  

The Quick Reaction Force, or QRF, was put on a state of alert.  Although it did not leave the base, there was a concern that this was part of a larger attack, and air cover was also sent up, helicopters were put up over the base. 

But right now it is continuing to burn and it is continuing to explode, but according to the U.S. military, it did not cause injuries or any deaths. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the military significance of what we are watching?  By the way, we‘re watching flashes, occasionally, what look like a rocket going off about a minute ago, coming out of that flames, those flames right there. 

What‘s the military significance of blowing up an ammunition dump like this? 

ENGEL:  There has already been one claim of responsibility from a radical Shiite militia group, the Mahdi Army, which said that its fighters were responsible for this.  It would be considered a tremendous victory for them, a lucky shot, if you will, of a mortar or a rocket landing right in this ammunitions depot.  It will put the base, if not out of commission, but it will certainly take it offline for a considerable period of time, as they try to deal with this facility.  There is quite a bit of damage.

Generally the ammunitions dumps are away from other buildings.  They‘re not located in any—next to a chow hall, or next to gym, or anything like that.  They‘re designed specifically for this eventuality, so the base will continue to operate, once this fire and explosions are contained.  But it will be a tremendous moral victory for the people who set it off, although the U.S. military, at this stage, is not confirming that the fire was a result of the mortar or rocket attack that did precede this incident. 

MATTHEWS:  Richard, for days now, we‘ve been getting reports on the front pages of our newspapers of real violence over there, horrendous violence, double-digit deaths each day in the sectarian war.  Are we now at a civil war status right now?

ENGEL:  The military continues to say that we are not at a civil war status.  The Iraqi people, however, believe that their country is in a state of civil war, so it is something of an argument of what you want to call it.  There were 60 more bodies found today in Baghdad, all of them showing signs of torture, a single shot or multiple gunshots to the head, people with their hands bound, generally the...

MATTHEWS:  We‘ve got to get back to you on this..

ENGEL:  ... the way the death squads operate, so it is certainly a sectarian war.  The military is not willing to call is a civil war, but that‘s what the Iraqis definitely call.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you for that terrible report. 

NBC‘s Richard Engel in the heart of the trouble in Baghdad. 

Tomorrow on HARDBALL, the college tour is back with special guest Robin Williams from Georgetown University.

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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