updated 2/2/2007 10:53:34 AM ET 2007-02-02T15:53:34

Guests: Joe Biden, Al Sharpton, John Murtha, Lisa Caputo, Eugene Robinson, Kate O‘Beirne, Susan Collins

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC ANCHOR:  He‘s mainstream, he‘s clean, he‘s articulate and nice looking.  Tonight, Joe Biden answers the big question, can he still win?  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

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

Senator Joe Biden announced he was running for president Wednesday, but spent most of his day apologizing for the way he complimented Senator Barack Obama.  As the Democrats gather for their winter meeting tomorrow, the question is, did Senator Biden‘s words damage his campaign?

We‘ll talk to the senator himself in a T.V. exclusive coming up in a minute and get reaction to his comments from Al Sharpton in a moment.

Plus, can America‘s mayor beat the maverick?  A new Gallup/”USA Today” poll shows Rudy Giuliani leading Senator John McCain by eight points, 50-42 percent.

More on picking the next president, later.

And U.S. congressman Jack Murtha, the administration‘s fiercest war critic met with the president yesterday at the White House.  We‘ll talk to Congressman Murtha in a moment.  But we begin with the big man in the news right now, Senator Joe Biden.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Senator Biden, thank you for joining us.  Let‘s go back to the text of what this is all about.  Now, here‘s the statement that you made the other day:

“I mean, you‘ve got the first mainstream African-American who‘s articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.  I mean, that‘s a storybook, man.”

There‘s two ways to read that sentence.  Please keep it up.

There‘s two ways to read that.  He‘s the first mainstream, yes.  Are you saying he‘s the first clean...

SEN. JOE BIDEN, (D) DELAWARE:  No, not at all.

MATTHEWS:  The first articulate...

BIDEN:  I wasn‘t making a historical statement.  I was trying to complement a colleague.  I was complementing a colleague.  I wasn‘t...

MATTHEWS:  So you were just saying he was clean and articulate?  You weren‘t saying he was the first one?

BIDEN:  Brand new, no, he‘s not the first one...

MATTHEWS:  OK.

BIDEN:  ... and when I...

MATTHEWS:  But people took it that way. Barack Obama said there have been a lot of articulate candidates before, as if you were saying you were trashing all the previous black candidates for president.

BIDEN:  Well he‘s right—I campaigned with those articulate candidates.  I campaigned with them.

MATTHEWS:  Well why did he feel like he had to correct you and say that there were articulate candidates?

BIDEN:  Well, I heard his first statement saying he understood what I meant.  And then I heard his second statement.

MATTHEWS:  Then he got staffed up, right?

BIDEN:  Well, I don‘t know about that.  All I‘m saying is that I can see how—in retrospect, what I really regret here is that this sort of takes everything I was saying in that article about the war in Iraq and everything I was talking about what we need to do to get out of that war, and it just sort of, it moved it.

And I also regret that there are people out there who would think that I was making a statement about the past.  I was complimenting one of my colleagues, who by the way, he‘s like a meteor.  There‘s not a single politician in either party who wouldn‘t like to be positioned where he is at this point.  That was the point I was making when I said he‘s clean—what I meant to say was fresh, that he was new, he‘s exciting and so...

MATTHEWS:  ... Well now you‘re saying that.

BIDEN:  Well I am saying that and I spoke to Reverend Jackson, I spoke to Carol Moseley Braun, I mean some of them called me.  I spoke to Bennie Thompson.  I believe they know what I meant.

MATTHEWS:  Is this media too in love with “gotcha?”

BIDEN:  Well look, I mean this is ...

MATTHEWS:  ... Is this “gotcha” journalism jumping on your back?

BIDEN:  Well, look, I think I‘m going to be judged by a different standard and I deserve to be judged by a different standard because I say what I think.  I sometimes say things inartfully.  But I think this election is about—part of it is going to be about authenticity and ideas.  And so look, I can‘t change ...

MATTHEWS:  ... Here‘s what I say to people.  You represent a large mixed community.  Wilmington is heavily African-American.  Your base, you can argue, is African-American. 

BIDEN:  It is my base.  I would not be elected without that.

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re talking to people on street corners, you‘re talking to people in homes.  You know them personally, you know a lot of your local people, your supporters for 35 years, first personal relationship with African-American friends of yours—close.

BIDEN:  By the way, they‘re the very people who came out of the civil rights movement.  They‘re the very people who were in the marches.  Some of them like Linton Mitchell (ph), they got beat up.  I mean I didn‘t, they did.  I mean so these are people I have enormous respect for.  They‘re the ones that elected me.

And Chris, you know my state.  My state, I think, has the eighth largest black population in America.

MATTHEWS:  Every time I drive through Wilmington I think of that as your home base.

BIDEN:  But it‘s also the whole state.  It‘s evenly divided.

But my point is that I don‘t think anybody in my home state misunderstands, but what I really regret is that I fought my whole life, along with many others, you and a lot of other people, to give everybody an equal shot.  And for it to look like, to be interpreted that I was somehow dividing the black community into now we‘ve got a good candidate, there weren‘t good candidates before, now we‘ve got an—that wasn‘t what I was saying at all.

MATTHEWS:  By the way, let‘s move on—operation—moveon.org, whatever we‘re going to call it, because you‘ve made your statement. Let me ask you about this.  There seems to be some new standard out there which I don‘t understand or like, which you can‘t criticize your opponent.

You said Hillary‘s plan which is basically to cut up the Iraqi army if they don‘t help us do what they have to do, is crazy.  You said that it‘s crazy to pull the troops out immediately, which you say Edwards wants to do.

And that gets drawn up in the media and everywhere else as somehow you‘re getting ugly.  That just seems like standard competitive politics to me.

BIDEN:  Well look.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the press is crazy all of the sudden?  You can‘t criticize an opponent?

BIDEN:  Well look, I was criticizing the opponents idea.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, well what‘s wrong with that?

BIDEN:  I hope nothing wrong with that.

MATTHEWS:  Well I‘m answering you—I want you to say something I want you to say, which is there‘s some new crazy standard out there that a politician can‘t defend his position and take on the opponents.

BIDEN:  Well I think they apply that to everybody.

MATTHEWS:  Jesus, what kind of a world do we live in now?  You can‘t argue politics?

BIDEN:  But I don‘t think most of the mainstream press thinks that.  I don‘t think they think you can‘t criticize your opponents ideas. This is what this is about.  I‘m running because I think I‘m best positioned and best qualified to end this war and end it without us being a debacle, having a debacle in the Middle East.

So I was asked by a reporter a legitimate question, “What do you think

of the idea of A, pulling down our troops and B, putting a cap on out

troops and B, cutting funds for Iraqi troops?  I said that‘s a crazy idea -

but it‘s a bad idea. 

MATTHEWS:  Jesse Jackson, who was obviously, like most politicians, like you, fairly egocentric over the years, has become a very generous, I would say almost sweet public figure.  He is very loyal to Obama.  He treats him like the next generation.  He fought, like so many blacks did, to make a chance possible for a guy to win statewide.  Back in the Jesse‘s time, the old Daley machine would give him a job collecting quarters out on the Interstate if he came looking for a job.

BIDEN:  Jesse won in New York.

MATTHEWS:  I know.

BIDEN:  Jesse put healthcare up on the...

MATTHEWS:  I know.  Things are moving because of Jackson.  He knows it.  He‘s part of that arc that goes back to the ‘60s right into this century.  But he‘s saying something nice about you in politics, which is rare.  He says, “I hope this doesn‘t dim your efforts, that you stay bright, you stay out there and keep fighting and don‘t get—don‘t start ducking.”

Is this going to make you duck?

BIDEN:  Chris, I can‘t.  I am who I am. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.  But I—it‘s nice to hear Jackson say that.

BIDEN:  No, no, it is nice.  He‘s a friend.  It is nice to hear him say that.  I appreciate that.  But, you know, he‘s been through this stuff, too.  Everybody has.  Everybody gets it.  It‘s a different game.  It‘s a different place.  It‘s a different time.  And...

MATTHEWS:  By the way, he took a lot of heat for when he described New York that way years ago.  I remember that one.

BIDEN:  Yes.  No, I remember that, too.

Look, I appreciate it.  I appreciate what Carol Moseley Braun—I appreciate all these people who know me, who have dealt with me. 

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s given you a hard time?  Besides the press.

Well, let me tell you this, Senator.  You have your chance now for the platform.  Here‘s 30 seconds.  I can‘t give you much more.

BIDEN:  All right.

MATTHEWS:  Why you and not Hillary or Obama?

BIDEN:  Let me tell you why...

MATTHEWS:  Why you and not them?  Let‘s be tough.

BIDEN:  ... why me.  Why me.  This president‘s dug us into a deep hole.  Foreign policy has made us more vulnerable in the world.  His domestic policy‘s made the middle class more vulnerable.

My background, my experience, my track record and who I am, I think best suits me to deal with both those problems.

MATTHEWS:  Are you advantaged because of your years in the Senate? 

Are they going to help to learn this country?

BIDEN:  Look, I mean, I hope...

MATTHEWS:  Or are you a prisoner of Capitol Hill?

BIDEN:  Well, I hope I‘m not a prisoner.  You know, you know I ride home every day.  I don‘t live here.

MATTHEWS:  I think they love you on the train, coming off the train this morning, based on the pictures.  They know where to find you.

BIDEN:  Everybody knows where to find me.

MATTHEWS:  But you don‘t think you‘ve had too many years of politics?  Like, you know, a lot of guys like Mondale and people like that, Dole, end up talking in Senate language.  And, you know, they don‘t really know how to talk...

BIDEN:  It‘s obvious that I‘m not talking in the Senate language.  I‘d be a lot better off if I said I liked my distinguished colleague from Illinois.

But, look, Chris, I think—I‘ve never seen the electorate so sober.  People know big things are at stake.  They know literally their place and a shot at the middle class is at stake.  They know literally that the nation is at stake.  I mean, we are in a very bad place.

MATTHEWS:  So you wouldn‘t have been offended, maybe—let me ask you this—if Obama had said you‘re the first sober Irishman to run for president?  You wouldn‘t have taken offense at that?

(CROSSTALK)

BIDEN:  ... and I don‘t think he was offended.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

His reference, as I understand it, was saying that others might have been offended.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, he was careful.  But he issued a statement two

after the first one.  The first one was beneficial to you.  Two hours later

he said, obviously, historically you were inaccurate because you suggested

and this is where his judgment came in politically—he put you in a position of saying people like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are not articulate, the one thing their worst enemies would say they are.

So he was using your statement to get you, wasn‘t he?  He was playing hardball here.

BIDEN:  Well, look, it‘s a hardball game. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

BIDEN:  It‘s a hardball game.

MATTHEWS:  He wasn‘t being chivalrous like Jesse Jackson was.

Now, let me tell you.  Is Sharpton on your side in this?  Because he‘s coming on now.  In a few minutes after you‘re done, he‘s going to be our judge, like the Miss America contest.  He‘s going to judge you.

BIDEN:  Let me put this: as that old joke, I know Al knows what it‘s my heart.

MATTHEWS:  Did you love that joke of his?

BIDEN:  I did, actually.

MATTHEWS:  “I assured Senator Biden I take a bath every day, I‘m clean.”

BIDEN:  And then I told him there wasn‘t anything historical about this.  We‘ve known each other for years.  We‘ve known—he‘s known my involvement in the fight.  He knows I‘ve been there keeping the Civil Rights Commission alive.

MATTHEWS:  Well, as they said in that old thing for the black states, here come the judge.

BIDEN:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  So we‘ll have him coming on here.  Anyway, thank you...

BIDEN:  A piece of mercy.

MATTHEWS:  ... a good guy, by the way, Senator Biden, I‘ve vouching for him, a good guy.

Coming up, Reverend Al Sharpton will react to what Senator Biden just said. 

And later, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine, she‘s another person questioning this war in Iraq and the way it‘s being run.

You‘re watching HARDBALL  on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Lots of buzz about Senator Joe Biden‘s comments about Barack Obama. 

Here to talk about it is the Reverend Al Sharpton.

Reverend Sharpton, your views on this subject please, sir?

REV. AL SHARPTON, (D) FMR. PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, I mean, I talked to Senator Biden last night.  And, in fact, this afternoon he did on my syndicated radio show.  I said the statement in itself was offensive, but many of us know Senator Biden.  And Senator Biden has had a long history and association and working relationship with people like Reverend Jackson and others.  And I think that he, to his credit, stepped up.  He called us, he went on my show, he‘s trying to make it very clear that he understands how someone could be offended by it.  And what his statement was, he did not intend that way. 

And I said to him, that what is more offensive to me is that we‘re not hearing a lot of the agendas from Mrs. Chisholm‘s day and the Reverend Jackson‘s day and to now, when I ran in the last cycle.  I would rather see us spend time talking about the disparities in America that we still must correct than to just reduce this into name-calling. 

Clearly, there were parts of that that was offensive.  Clearly, he has...

MATTHEWS:  What offended you as a person in public life?  What did you find offensive in what he said?

SHARPTON:  I mean, the connotation of not being articulate, not being clean, whatever that means.

MATTHEWS:  You mean you think he meant to say that this guy, Obama is the first African-American presidential candidate who‘s clean, who‘s is articulate?  Do you really think he meant articulate when you are the one of the most articulate, wittiest guys in the business?  Do you think he‘s saying you aren‘t articulate?  Do you think he‘s saying the Reverend Jesse Jackson, one of the great orators in history, was inarticulate?  Or could he have meant the first mainstream African-American candidate, who‘s also these other things? 

SHARPTON:  Well, again, I think the problem with the statement is that when you repeat it, people can put on whatever they want, whether he intended to or not, because in the statement itself, that‘s what it was said. 

Now, having said that, let‘s not forget, Reverend Jackson, all of us debated every debate that was made.  Reverend Jackson beat Joe Biden in some states.  So who defines mainstream?

MATTHEWS:  I was reminded of that yesterday by the Reverend Jackson. 

He made it clear...

SHARPTON:  So, I mean, who defines mainstream?  Mainstream, who defines that?  If you‘re giving more votes than another guy, I think you are mainstream.  So I think we can get into that.  I would rather spend the time raising issues.

MATTHEWS:  You know what it might mean? 

SHARPTON:  What does it mean?

MATTHEWS:  You know what it might mean?

He‘s been elected to state-wide office, he‘s come up through the system—state senator, U.S. senator, elected office.  You came out of protest politics, Jesse Jackson came out of the movement, of course, all those years in the movement.  You came out of the kind of politics which can be polarizing, which can give a guy baggage and—you know, you have to make enemies the way you came up.

SHARPTON:  But you can also be polarizing from elective office.  You can also have a lot of baggage in elective office. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s harder to be polarizing when you‘re trying to get 51 percent to vote for you.  But when you‘re a protest politician, 20 percent‘s a hell of a haul to bring in.

SHARPTON:  But if some of us didn‘t have—raise that and continue to raise those battle cries, there wouldn‘t be a lot more of us elective office with 51 percent.

MATTHEWS:  You are so right.  I think you‘re part of ark.  I think Reverend Jackson and you and all these guys with the guts to stand on street corners with bullhorns and raise hell about inequality in this country have raised the conscience of the country so that today a lot of white folk are a lot more open-hearted and open-minded about voting for a guy for president.  This guy has a real shot. 

Reverend Sharpton, did you have a real sharp—I‘m miss—making my words right—did you have a really good shot to win, or was it basically to try to get in the debate, when you ran last time?

SHARPTON:  I think that we wanted to get in the debate.  I think you always have a shot.  I think that Obama or whoever else—and Obama and I are only five or six years apart.  I think a lot of guys in the next generation after Obama and I will even have a better shot.  But I think you‘re right.  I think we are part of building the ark.  We just don‘t need the animals in the ark to crap on the ground. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re unbelievable. 

Let me ask you—I‘m only—I‘m not saying you‘re older than him, I‘m saying you‘ve been out on the stage a lot longer.  I know your name for many, many years.  I just started hearing about Obama a couple years ago.  So you‘re way ahead of him.

SHARPTON:  Sure.  I understand what you are saying.  And again, I don‘t think that the statement itself can be not said to be—some can misconstrue it to be very negative.  I think Biden stepped up.  I think we need to move on and talk about the real issues. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  When are you going to be as nice to Obama as Biden is? 

Are you going to endorse this guy or not? 

SHARPTON:  I don‘t know who I‘m going to endorse.  I think...

MATTHEWS:  Why are you holding back?  Has he called you and asked for your endorsement?  He‘s going to...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Ten days from now he‘s announcing for president.  By all accounts, he‘s going to the home of Lincoln, Springfield, Illinois, to announce for president.  I‘m just amazed—I‘m not amazed.  I‘m being somewhat argumentative.  Has he called you and asked you to join him there on the stage that day?

SHARPTON:  I met with Senator Obama.  I met with Senator Clinton.  I met with Senator Biden.  I met with Senator Dodd.  I intend to meet with others.  I‘m sure Reverend Jackson will.  I‘m sure others will.  And I—you know, we‘ll make a decision once we‘ve talk to everybody.  You wouldn‘t -- you would be the first one to tell me I couldn‘t make a decision just on race, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m not telling you anything, Reverend Sharpton.  You‘re going to make your own decisions.  You are a very funny, smart, brilliant guy.

SHARPTON:  And I‘m clean, too. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you said you take a bath every day.  You know, the image of you in a big bathtub is just too much for me imagine in my limited imagination.  I thought a shower, a light shower would be appropriate.

SHARPTON:  No, no, I like to make sure I‘m very...

MATTHEWS:  Do you have a ducky?  Do you have a ducky?  I want to know.

SHARPTON:  No, I keep a donkey usually when the go in the booth.  I just don‘t want the donkey to be kicking me and my constituents. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me ask you to appraise the three front runners according to all the polls on the Democrat side—Obama, Hillary, Edwards.  How are they doing in your community?  What are people saying about these people?

SHARPTON:  I think it‘s going to be a fight.  I think that Hillary Clinton has a lot of relationships, has fought on some issues in the Senate and clearly personified healthcare when she was first lady.  That‘s he strength. 

I think Obama‘s strength is in his local, state senate seat he did stand up on riot (ph) business, he‘s taken some position, though he has to build relationships.  He‘s fairly new, and that is his challenge, even in the national black community. 

John Edwards has raced some very substantive issues.  He‘s championed poverty.  He did not go home after 04.  He‘s been out there four years and has clearly raised very substantive issues and built some strong ties. 

So I don‘t think that this is going to be a vote that‘s going to be ignored and can be taken for granted by anybody. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Edwards, who comes in at about third place in most of these polls, is—will be able to excite people?  Forget ethnicity for a second.  For a second we can skip it.  Can he excite the general population about the big difference right now?  And you know the economics.  The CEOs of big corporations are making hundreds and hundreds of times what the workers make when they used to make like 20 times what a worker makes.  Is that big difference between the top and the middle going to be an issue, or is it going to be forgotten?

SHARPTON:  I think that it will not be forgotten if he raises it at the right time in the later part of this year, the debates.  The debates haven‘t started.

You have to remember, I was in the 04 race when the exciting guy was Howard Dean and Wesley Clarke.  And then, almost calculatedly, Edwards started building his excitement December 03 into Iowa, where he came in second, New Hampshire and South Carolina, where he won.  He‘s already timed this before.  And if you study Edwards 03, you don‘t look for him to do his buildup until about October.  But guess what?  That‘s when it counts.  And nobody had the world more excited than Howard Dean did.  He didn‘t maintain that excitement against the same John Edwards. 

MATTHEWS:  Can Edwards do it again?  It‘s tough a second time. 

SHARPTON:  It‘s tough the second time, but as an old Muhammad Ali fan, you never count out a guy that did it the first time against guys that have never done it at all. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I can‘t argue with that. 

That‘s not as poetic as you usually are, Reverend Sharpton. 

But thank you, very much for quoting my hero. 

SHARPTON:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, the Reverend Al Sharpton.

Up next, Pennsylvania Congressman Jack Murtha. 

And later, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster with the latest news from the Scooter Libby trial.  He‘s of course the confidant and former chief of staff of the vice president.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Will Congress vote to condemn the president‘s troop plan for Iraq?  Democratic Congressman Jack Murtha recently went to Iraq with Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  And they met yesterday with President Bush at the White House. 

Congressman Murtha, what‘s it like to be the chief war critic talking with the commander in chief?

REP. JACK MURTHA, (D) PENNSYLVANIA:  I‘ve been invited to the White House much more than I was in the past year, Chris.  But yesterday we had a very frank discussion and all of us agreed on the challenges that face us.  We just disagree on way to resolve the challenges. 

But one of the things we found in Iraq confirming the things we‘ve been saying, we can‘t win it militarily.  We don‘t think so.  In our opinion, there‘s got to be some negotiations between the Shias and the Sunnis.  And that doesn‘t look like it‘s going to happen.  As a matter of fact, I told the prime minister of Iraq I wasn‘t about to recommend funding $5 billion for their equipment if they weren‘t more cooperative and if they didn‘t do some negotiations because I think that may help.  I don‘t think it‘s going to win the war, but I think it will certainly help. 

MATTHEWS:  When the whites had to give up supremacy in South Africa, they cut a deal witht the majority blacks and they said, “Just give us a little more than we deserve because of our numbers for a while now so that we will go along with this deal.”

Why don‘t the Shia, who have the—hold all of the cards, say to the Sunnis, “We‘ll give you a better deal than your 20 percent warrants if you‘ll join and stop fighting us”? 

MURTHA:  No, I think that‘s absolutely the whole key to the whole thing.  For instance, the Sunni countries, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, and the other Sunni countries aren‘t going to help the Shias until they see some movement that compromises with the Sunni. 

And not only that, we found out they continue to ethnic cleanse the Sunni areas.  If a Sunni goes to the hospital, he‘s either chased out or ends up dead.  So there‘s all kind of problems.  All the construction is going on in the Shia area.  All of the things we‘ve known about—and other thing I‘ll mention, Chris, we went by helicopter into the Green Zone and walked into Saddam‘s old palace, there were contractors falling over each other.  So we‘ve got to get a handle on the expense of this thing.  They‘ve got to understand this is not open-ended.  We‘re not going to spend every cent that we have on—they‘ve got to do it themselves.  We have to turn this over to the Iraqis. 

MATTHEWS:  Do they know that there‘s a big move in Congress to vote, at least a non-binding resolution, against the president‘s troop surge?

MURTHA:  They understand it‘s more serious than that.  They understand that the appropriation process—we‘re building a case to actually divert some money from the surge to the resupplying and resetting our equipment. 

We have no strategic reserve in this country.  The danger, the future to

the danger of this country, if we don‘t resupply and refix up the strategic

I‘m talking about the active-duty Reserve.  So they understand it. 

But I say to the administration, you‘ve got to give them some benchmarks because otherwise they think we‘re staying there forever.  So, I‘m convinced...

MATTHEWS:  Can you cut out of funding, Congressman, if you make the moves you‘re going to do in the supplemental?  Can you cut off the troop flow into the—into Iraq?  Can you get it done?

MURTHA:  Well, under the Constitution, we control the funding.  The president controls the troop disposition, but we control the funding.

But that‘s not what I‘m all about.  What I‘m saying is they have to stop sending troops back that are not equipped, that are not trained.  They have to quit extending troops.  And then we have to build up our strategic reserves.  So we‘re talking about diverting money back to our strategic reserves so that we reduce the threat in the future.  We‘ve got Iran that‘s looking at us, we‘ve got North Korea looking at us, so—and China is going to be buying as much oil as we are by the year 2013.  So we‘ve got some real problems because we have no strategic reserves. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, U.S. Congressman John Murtha of Pennsylvania. 

Up next, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster will have the latest of Scooter Libby trial. 

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Let‘s get to the latest on the Libby trial now from HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster.

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, the testimony late today was dramatic, and it was all about Vice President Cheney. 

An FBI witness was on the stand, and brought in evidence showing that Scooter Libby and Vice President Cheney may have discussed with each other leaking Valerie Wilson‘s identity to reporters as a way of undercutting administration critic Joe Wilson. 

The FBI agent was on the stand summarizing the answers that Scooter Libby gave in his initial FBI interviews.  Scooter Libby was asked about a crucial conversation with Vice President Cheney on Air Force Two, when they were flying back to Washington and trying to figure out how they were going to deal with inquiries from several reporters who were writing about Joe Wilson.

This was the conversation where the evidence has already established that Vice President Cheney wrote out a series of talking points for Scooter Libby to essentially read to the reporters. 

But Scooter Libby was asked, during this conversation on board Air Force Two, did you and Vice President Cheney discuss leaking Valerie Wilson‘s identity to reporters? 

Libby replied, according to the FBI agent:  Yes, we may have. 

This is a huge deal politically, as far as the vice president is concerned.  It‘s also very big deal legally, as far as Scooter Libby is contend, because it‘s yet another nail in the coffin for prosecutors to show that Scooter Libby had motive to lie about his statements about where he learned information about Valerie Wilson. 

Scooter Libby has testified in the grand jury and to the FBI that he forgot about all the government officials who may have told him about Valerie Wilson, and that he—and that he first learned about it from a reporter.

But, again, this shows motive for the prosecutor.  This helps them show that Scooter Libby had a motive to try to obstruct and try to block the investigation—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we—I want to ask you about political motive here. 

The vice president, we know, triggered this trip to Africa by the query he took to the CIA.  We have got that evidence so far, though why—

So, why would he go out and try to diminish the trip by saying it was—that Joe Wilson was suggested, his name suggested, by his wife, who works at the CIA? 

Why was Cheney trying to kill the trail that led back to him, that he was the triggering force that led to this trip to Africa on uranium?

SHUSTER:  Because it suggests that the vice...

MATTHEWS:  What was his motive? 

SHUSTER:  Well, to suggest—for the vice president—to suggest that he essentially started the ball rolling by asking the CIA about this raw intelligence that Saddam was seeking uranium from Iraq, and then for the public to know, and to find out from Joe Wilson, that, in fact, yes, the CIA acted on that information, sent somebody to Africa, found out that the information was not true.

And, then, for this information to still get in the president‘s State

of the Union, essentially, the blame could have been put on Vice President

Dick Cheney for either not following up about what did the CIA do with his

request, or did the vice president know about what the CIA did, once they -

once they got their conclusions?  Did the vice president somehow allow this information to be in the State of the Union anyway? 

But, at the time period of this, of course, Chris, in July of 2003, weapons of mass destruction had not been found in Iraq.  There was an uproar over the very idea that the administration had gotten something wrong.  And all signs, of course, were pointing to the vice president‘s office.

And here was the vice president‘s office trying to hit back.  And, all along, the key question has been, in hitting back at an administration critic, did they cross the line?  Did they leak information about his wife?

And, for the first time today, we now have evidence in this case that the vice president and his chief of staff were trying to figure out how to deal with the media uproar caused by Joe Wilson, that they actually may have discussed Wilson‘s wife and using that information against Joe Wilson. 

And, when you put that in the broader context of charges that the vice president‘s chief of staff later tried to obstruct the investigation into the CIA leak, it begins to put the pieces together—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, David Shuster. 

I never thought WMD was the motive for the war.  That‘s why the president and the vice president were not upset when they didn‘t find any in Iraq.  It wasn‘t the reason we went there.

Lots of election news still swirling around the country—Senator Joe Biden still reeling from his comments about Barack Obama.  The Democrats are getting set for a big winners showcase tomorrow, with all the people participating who want to be president.

And here is a favorite.  Comedian Al Franken is running for the United States Senate from Minnesota against Norm Coleman. 

Here to talk about it all is Lisa Caputo, Hillary Clinton‘s former press secretary, Kate O‘Beirne of “The Washington”—from “The National Review,” John McLaughlin‘s old job, and “The Washington Post”‘s Eugene Robinson.

We have to do this.  I have to be ethnic.

What do you make of this...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... of what Biden said the other day? 

EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  I knew the job was dangerous when I took it. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  So, you‘re up first.

ROBINSON:  You know, I...

MATTHEWS:  Here is what he said, by the way.  I want you to parse this in what he means.

Quote—this is Biden in “The New York Observer”—I mean, you have got the first sort of mainstream African-American, who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy.  I mean, that‘s a storybook, man.”

So, he‘s trying to be street corner right there.  “Man.”

So, where do you get—where do you put this? 

ROBINSON:  What a way to start a campaign. 

(LAUGHTER)

ROBINSON:  You know, I‘m going to—let‘s take this kind of logorrheic stream of adjectives kind of one at a time.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

KATE O‘BEIRNE, “THE NATIONAL REVIEW”:  Very articulate of you, Gene.

ROBINSON:  Yes.  See, that‘s what—I‘m getting there.  I‘m getting there. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Start with mainstream. 

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  OK.  Mainstream, not quite sure what that means. 

Clean, I don‘t even get to clean.  You know, I will let Joe Biden explain what he meant, and if he really meant to get into personal hygiene or not.  I got stuck at articulate.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he meant that it was the first articulate African-American running for president?  Do you think he meant that?

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  I think he meant there was something different about Barack Obama.  First of all, I think he was trying to compliment him, in his clumsy way.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I need the answer, sir.  Did he say, by your reading of his sentence, that Barack Obama is the first articulate African-American to run for president of the United States? 

ROBINSON:  Yes, articulate in a special meaning, right?  Not articulate in being eloquent, but articulate—what do white people mean when they call black people articulate? 

This is a—this is a—this is something I have always wanted to know. 

(LAUGHTER)

ROBINSON:  It seems to me that it means:  Kind of like us.  Talks kind of like us.  Gives off the right kind of social cues of—of being one of us. 

It‘s used for Barack Obama.  It‘s used for Condi Rice.  It‘s not used for Jesse Jackson.  It‘s not used for Al Sharpton, even though they are both eloquent speakers. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, I got a long answer to this, but I ain‘t giving it. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Kate O‘Beirne

This issue, did he or did he not basically cast a slur on previous African-American candidates for president by suggesting they weren‘t clean, they weren‘t articulate, they weren‘t good-looking?  What?  What else here?  They weren‘t mainstream? 

(CROSSTALK)

O‘BEIRNE:  I done think he intended to do any such thing.  I think Joe Biden is getting a really bad rap on this. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what did he intend?  Give me his point. 

O‘BEIRNE:  Ironically, he was on safer ground when he plagiarized, rather than doing his own thing.

MATTHEWS:  Boy, you‘re putting the shiv in.  I think I‘m in prison here.  Let‘s stick the shiv in one more time.

(CROSSTALK) 

O‘BEIRNE:  I think the mainstream is a perfectly legitimate point about Barack Obama vs...

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Because?

O‘BEIRNE:  ... Jesse Jackson...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  What does mainstream mean?

O‘BEIRNE:  ... or Alan Keyes.

MATTHEWS:  What does mainstream mean?

O‘BEIRNE:  Well, one thing it means is being elected to some office somewhere.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  OK.

O‘BEIRNE:  Some people do wonder whether or not Barack Obama has the -

has a too thin resume for the White House. 

But I don‘t think it‘s an outrageous thing to ask that, before you run for the White House, you be elected to something someplace.  So, I think that would apply to Alan Keyes, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re laughing.

You do have a wonderfully sarcastic manner here. 

Let me go to Lisa Caputo.

By the way, Lisa, are you with Hillary in this campaign? 

LISA CAPUTO, FORMER PRESS SECRETARY FOR HILLARY CLINTON:  I am. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  So, the voice of Hillary is now speaking.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Lisa Caputo, is this gotcha journalism?  Is this gotcha ethnic politics?  Is this even fair to start with?  Was Joe Biden really saying that Jesse Jackson—I will say this for the 1,000th time, because I believe it—one the great orators of our time or any time, is inarticulate, that Sharpton isn‘t the wittiest, maybe the sharpest man around most of the time?

Do you really think Joe Biden is dumb enough to have accused those guys of being inarticulate? 

CAPUTO:  I absolutely don‘t. 

You know, you know Joe Biden as well as any of us.  Joe Biden has got a big heart.  And he used a poor choice of words, but his intentions, I think, were all in the right place. 

What I think he was trying to say was:  Here is an exciting candidate, somebody new, somebody exciting that—who is exciting Democrats.  And it‘s a great thing to have happening in the Democratic Party.  I really feel that he is really getting raked over the coals here for no reason. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s—let me now demur.

You know, when a surgeon leaves a pair of pliers in somebody‘s stomach, we say, nice try, but we really do get mad at the guy.  The purpose of a political leader is to use the right words that unite.

ROBINSON:  Well, yes.

And, I mean, I—look, I‘m a fan of Joe Biden.  I think he is, you know, one of the—certainly one of the best foreign policy minds in the Democratic Party, if not the best.  You know, his solution for Iraq is sophisticated.  I‘m not quite sure it‘s the right one, but it‘s very sophisticated and it‘s very...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s sort of spread—confederate the country.

ROBINSON:  To split it into three.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ROBINSON:  And that‘s—that‘s a defensible and very kind of, you know, intelligent, thought-out position.  I think he is a good guy. 

But we should recall, this is not his first kind of brush with verbal disaster. 

(LAUGHTER)

ROBINSON:  I mean, there was a—there was this time not—not long ago when he said something about, you have to...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Have an Indian accent to go into a 7/Eleven.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBINSON:  Right.  To go into a Dunkin‘ Donuts or something, you have to have an Indian accent.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m not going to defend any of this stuff, OK?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But he apparently said that to an Indian fellow, a guy who was an Indian American.

ROBINSON:  Yes. 

CAPUTO:  Chris. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It wasn‘t like he was hiding and saying a slur against...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What are you saying, Lisa?  I want to hear your thoughts, because, when you giggle, I want to hear from you. 

CAPUTO:  Chris, I—I—I think what is really interesting to note here, that we really haven‘t talked about, is why—how Biden launched his campaign, with an interview with “The New York Observer,” which I think is fascinating, given the landscape of what we are seeing candidates doing, going out on the Web with—with announcements.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I hate to think it‘s to suck up to the intellectuals of Manhattan, because that would be an unfortunate campaign strategy. 

(CROSSTALK)

CAPUTO:  Hey, I live in Manhattan.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... jump on—because the intellectuals that read “The New York Observer,” the sophisticates, the cognoscenti, are the first to jump on you. 

(CROSSTALK)

CAPUTO:  Why would you launch a campaign in “The New York Observer”? 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a good—or, well, he was—because he planned last night to do Jon Stewart‘s show, too, apparently, right? 

CAPUTO:  He did.

(CROSSTALK)

O‘BEIRNE:  It‘s—he—he talks too much. 

We all ought to have...

MATTHEWS:  Hah!

O‘BEIRNE:  In this business, we all ought to have a little sympathy for someone who talks too much. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I have got to talk an hour a night, but...

O‘BEIRNE:  He talks too much.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

O‘BEIRNE:  And I think that is—now, what he said—I agree with Gene—what he said, criticizing the other candidates, including Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, for their positions on Iraq, is actually important...

MATTHEWS:  Fair game.

O‘BEIRNE:  ... and worth listening to, and totally fair game.

But that has been those cogent criticisms, that John Edwards doesn‘t really know very much about foreign policy...

MATTHEWS:  Hah!

O‘BEIRNE:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  I wish they would talk like that more often. 

O‘BEIRNE:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS: “This other guy is a dodo.  He doesn‘t know anything.”

O‘BEIRNE:  We ought to join the issues, and that Hillary Clinton‘s proposal...

ROBINSON: “If you do what she says, it will be a disaster.”

O‘BEIRNE:  ... is—exactly—is the worst...

MATTHEWS:  But I think the new standard is, don‘t criticize your opponents. 

O‘BEIRNE:  I know.  Ridiculous.

MATTHEWS:  What else are they going to do? 

Lisa Caputo, stay with us. 

Kate O‘Beirne—God, we got a—we got a good ethnic mix here, Italian, Irish, black.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Gene, stay with us.

We‘re—you are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up:  Hillary, Edwards and Obama go head to head this weekend.  Who will win?

When HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

We‘re back with Lisa Caputo and Kate O‘Beirne and Eugene Robinson.

Eugene, again you start.  We will get off the ethnic to another one.

Al Franken for the United States Senate, taking on Norm Coleman, in Minnesota, what is the story?  Is this going to be a—a real campaign that can really beat the incumbent? 

ROBINSON:  You know, beats me.  Anybody can get elected in Minnesota. 

I mean, Jesse Ventura can get elected governor of Minnesota.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s hard to figure.  That state was reliable once.  It‘s hard to read it. 

ROBINSON:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s hard to read that state.

ROBINSON:  It‘s very hard. 

So, who knows.  Senator Al Franken, I—hard to imagine, but it could happen in that state. 

MATTHEWS:  Kate, I can remember the old days, when it was—you know, when it was Gene McCarthy and Humphrey and all the liberals.  But it isn‘t that DFL liberal state anymore. 

O‘BEIRNE:  No.

When you think, at one point, they had the late Paul Wellstone and Rod Grams, extremely conservative Rod Grams... 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

O‘BEIRNE:  ... simultaneously serving in the Senate.

Now, of course, Jesse Ventura, as somebody from Minnesota pointed out to me today, was elected during the ‘90s.  You know, the public mood could be quite different nowadays and a little more serious. 

On the other hand, Al Franken, the mood, I think, favors any Democrat in Minnesota at the moment.  And he will raise a whole lot of money. 

MATTHEWS:  Norm Coleman is moving over to the anti-war stance, have you noticed?  He is scooting over there to where he has to be. 

O‘BEIRNE:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Does co-opt the anti-war feeling and keep him in office? 

O‘BEIRNE:  Probably not, because he won‘t be willing to go as far as the real anti-war left might want him to.  But I think it will probably help him with independents in Minnesota.

Now, I think he gets high marks for having represented Minnesota in the Senate the way he has.  But I think it will be a race.

MATTHEWS:  Lisa Caputo, I know that Al Franken does a lot of work, despite the fact he is critic of the policy, is very active with the troops over there.

CAPUTO:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I was going to go over before I got sick.  He goes over a lot with the—for the USO tours.  He really—he has a lot of patriotism.

Do you think he can move from being a talk show comedian, et cetera, “Saturday Night Live” vet, to being a U.S. senator? 

CAPUTO:  You know, Chris, I think this is so interesting.  I actually know Al Franken fairly well.  He helped us certainly when I was in the White House with things for President Clinton, you know, lines in speeches.

MATTHEWS:  You mean jokes?

CAPUTO:  Jokes, absolutely. 

And he is a very thoughtful, very intelligent guy.  And he has a lot of passion.  And he hates where the country is going.  And, you know, yes, he is a celebrity.  Yes, he is a comedian.  I think that it is actually a sign of a good healthy process that popular culture and somebody who is so prominently known in our popular culture can made a bid at this. 

And I think he will run a formidable race.  I mean, let‘s remember, this isn‘t the first time.  We have had Sonny Bono.  We have had Fred Grandy, Jesse Ventura, as Kate mentioned. 

So, I...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How about Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronald Reagan...

CAPUTO:  Arnold Schwarzenegger.  I mean...

MATTHEWS:  ... and George Murphy and...

CAPUTO:  ... I think he will be exciting.

MATTHEWS:  ... Bob Mathias and Bill Bradley.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  We have had a lot of famous...

CAPUTO:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... celebs. 

CAPUTO:  Yes. 

ROBINSON:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Jim Ryun of Kansas.

CAPUTO:  Absolutely.  Absolutely.  And...

MATTHEWS:  Let me do a quick round. 

I want to ask you to start, Lisa, since I got your pretty face on television right now.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I want to ask you this.  Who is winning this battle, Hillary, Obama or Edwards, right now?  Who has had a good couple of weeks right now, since they‘re announcing now?

CAPUTO:  Now, this is Lisa Caputo talking.  I am not the voice of Hillary. 

My assessment of this, honestly, if you really look at it in the media and kind of how the campaigns have been staged, I think Hillary Clinton, honestly—I don‘t think anybody would quarrel with that—has had the strongest couple of weeks.

I think Barack Obama has been very formidable, very exciting.  He‘s working the phones, I‘m told, to Democrats.  He is going to the younger generation.  He‘s putting together a good organization.

And I—John Edwards, I think, is kind of the quiet strength in the race.  You know, there is an excitement about here—about him as well.  He has got a good organization.  He has got money in the bank.  It wasn‘t reported in the recent filings, because he didn‘t have to.  He wasn‘t an announced candidate at the time.  But he is going to be very formidable. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Lisa, you used up our time, but thank you.  You did it well. 

CAPUTO:  Thanks.

MATTHEWS:  And I—I think the Reverend Al Sharpton was smart.  He‘s watching for Edwards to do his kick at the end, as they as say in racing, at the very end.

Are you—are you an athlete?

ROBINSON:  I‘m not much of one. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  He‘ll do that kick at the end, where you save your juice, and you use it at the very end, like he did last time.

Anyway, thank you, Lisa Caputo.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Republican

CAPUTO:  Thank you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  You are looking great, by the way.

CAPUTO:  Thanks.

MATTHEWS:  And I just came from the Miss America contest.   And you‘re

you are up there. 

(CROSSTALK)

O‘BEIRNE:  That‘s a professional opinion.

(CROSSTALK)

CAPUTO:  I love going on your show, Chris. 

(LAUGHTER)

CAPUTO:  I will come back any time. 

(LAUGHTER)

O‘BEIRNE:  You have been judged, Lisa.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Kate.  You are wonderful, Kate, as well.

And thank you, Gene Robinson, for that voice of reason and—and—well, whatever. 

Up next:  How many Republicans will vote against President Bush‘s troop surge?  We are going to talk to one of them, U.S. Senator Susan Collins of Maine, when HARDBALL returns. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

A group of Democratic and Republican senators are joining forces to stop President Bush‘s plan to increase troops in Iraq, or at least to criticize it.

Senator Susan Collins of Maine—she is a Republican—is a co-sponsor of the resolution.  She‘s also a member of the Armed Services Committee.

Senator Collins, what‘s the—what role is the U.S. Senate going to play on the enlargement of this war?  What role will you play? 

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS ®, MAINE:  Well, I think it‘s important that the Senate go on record, either in favor or against the president‘s proposal to surge 21,500 troops into Iraq. 

And I think that will happen next week.  It‘s important that we do express our views.  This is a major change in direction in Iraq.  It involves thousands of American troops, inserting thousands of them into a sectarian battle in Baghdad.  And I think it‘s important that each of us goes on record. 

MATTHEWS:  What impact will it have, your vote?  If you get a majority of vote, a bipartisan majority, that says the president is wrong to surge the number of troops over there, what will be the consequence in reality? 

COLLINS:  Well, it‘s my hope—and I realize it‘s a faint hope—that, if there is a strong bipartisan vote for our resolution, that the president will do as we ask him, that he will look at alternatives, that he will try to come up with a new plan. 

I was in Iraq just a month ago, in December, and the American commanders that I talked with in Baghdad did not call for more troops.  They did out in Anbar Province, in the west, but not in Baghdad. 

I hope that the president will reconsider his plan, work with us to come up with another one.  I realize that is an unlikely prospect, but perhaps a strong bipartisan vote would cause the president to reconsider.  At the end of the day, it‘s his decision.  He is the commander in chief. 

MATTHEWS:  Along those lines of constitutional authority, does this president have the authority to widen this war into Iran? 

COLLINS:  There is some real debate over the constitutional roles of the Congress, vs. the president, as—as you well know. 

I would argue that he would need a resolution authorizing him to do that.  I am sure that the president, like every president before him, would disagree, and say, but that‘s part of his inherent authority under the Constitution. 

MATTHEWS:  But, politically, do you think the president would dare to bomb Iran, commit a major act of war against Iran, without approval of the Congress?  Would he do it, do you think?

COLLINS:  I don‘t think he would do it.

I don‘t think he would do it, given the circumstances that we find ourselves in, unless, of course, there were extraordinary circumstances.  Then, I think all of us would want the president to act. 

But, absent some extraordinary circumstances, I have no indication that the president is contemplating that.  He has said repeatedly that he does not have plans to go into Iran.  We brought this issue up with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who—who has said that there is no need for that, that they can cut off supplies without going into Iran. 

MATTHEWS:  Are you getting a lot of pressure from the White House, from people like Karl Rove, the president‘s political guy, not to vote for any resolution that might criticize the president? 

COLLINS:  No, I am not getting pressure from the White House, but I am getting a lot of pressure from my Republican colleagues in the Senate.

And there is no doubt that the lobbying within the Republican caucus is fast and curious.  And tensions are definitely there.  And feelings are running very high on both sides. 

MATTHEWS:  What was it like having the fight in front of Cheney this week? 

(LAUGHTER)

COLLINS:  Well, of course, I can‘t tell you what happened in the—in the caucus.

But suffice it say that it was a pretty contentious discussion.  Many of us spoke.  I can speak for myself, in saying that I got up and responded to some comments. 

I am really offended when people say that those of us who are in favor of the resolution are somehow betraying the troops.  I don‘t believe that at all. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Got to go. 

COLLINS:  And I think all Americans support our troops. 

MATTHEWS:  U.S. Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, thank you for joining us.

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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