updated 2/15/2007 12:34:47 PM ET 2007-02-15T17:34:47

Guests: Chuck Todd, Chris Cillizza, John Kerry, Bob Shrum, Ben Ginsberg, John Harris, Frank Luntz

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  President Bush says Iran is running arms into Iraq.  He says he doesn‘t care if the mullahs are behind it or not, he wants the U.S. military to act.

Here at here at home he wants the Democrats to get their act together.  If they OK General Petraeus, why are they undercutting his mission in Baghdad? 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews.

Welcome to HARDBALL. 

President Bush held his first press conference of the year today as Congress continues to debate a resolution opposing the president‘s troop increase in Iraq.  In a moment, we‘ll talk to NBC‘s David Gregory, who was at the press conference. 

Plus, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has the latest on the Scooter Libby trial. 

We‘ll also look at which 2008 presidential candidate are using the most winning words to win on the campaign trail.

And the Republican contenders will need the right words on May 3rd, when MSNBC and the newspaper “The Politico” host the first debate ever held at the Ronald Reagan Library in California.  Nancy Reagan herself issued the invitations.  And you can see it here exclusively on MSNBC TV and streaming live on the web on politico.com.  More on this later with “The Politico‘s” John Harris.

But first, while Congress is debating the war in Iraq, today NBC‘s David Gregory asked the president about Iran. 


DAVID GREGORY, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Critics say that you are using the same quality of intelligence about Iran that you used to make the case for war in Iraq—specifically, about WMD‘s that turn out to be wrong—and that you are doing that to make a case against war against Iran.  It is that the case? 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I can say with certainty that the Quds Force, a part of the Iranian government, has provided these sophisticated IED‘s that have harmed our troops.  And I would like to repeat, I do not know whether or not the Quds Force was ordered from the top echelons of government.  But my point is, what‘s worse?  Them ordering it and it happening or them not ordering and it‘s happening? 


MATTHEWS:  David Gregory joins us now from the White House.

Is this a warning to Tehran?  Is this a statement that we don‘t care if you say you are responsible or you aren‘t, if you let this continue to happen, we got a problem? 

GREGORY:  I think there‘s no other way to interrupt it.  The presidents own words were, “I‘m going to do something about it.” 

The fact that these weapons are there, the deadly roadside bombs, the fact that there‘s evidence, he claims—the president claims that they are being provided at some level by the Iranian government.  This is an example of deadly meddling that he is going to do something about it.  So I don‘t think there is any other way to interpret that.  Even as the president today tried to make very clear that it‘s preposterous to suggest that this government is in any way trying to provoke Iran.

MATTHEWS:  Why the gamesmanship?  Why the off the record briefing by the Pentagon over the weekend followed by some sort of push-back and then back again with the president say?  Why don‘t they speak with one voice if they believe that Iran is engaging in war-like action against Americans? 

GREGORY:  Well, I think the president summed up all those parts today and did speak with his voice very clearly.  But you‘re right, there‘s a lot of confusion, a lot of contradictions and a lot of sloppiness, frankly, that this administration doesn‘t like to be known for. 

Today the Pentagon making it clear that this was sloppily handled, sloppily explained, this he briefing over the weekend.  And you heard the president was very clearly say today, whereas over the weekend the message was yes, at the top levels of the Iranian government, they‘re the ones who are directly responsible for supplying these weapons into Iraq. 

Today you heard rather clearly the president not contradicting that, but certainly stepping back from that, saying, I don‘t know if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the leader of Iran, was behind it, it doesn‘t matter, the point is the weapons are there, we‘re going to deal with it. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you as a reporter of this White House on the most important issue, the possibility of wider war in Iraq, how do you calibrate, how do you detect whether we are moving toward war with Iraq or we‘re simply just pushing them back a bit?  How do we know what we‘re up to?

GREGORY:  We‘re at war with Iran, you mean?  Look, I think it is clear that this administration, this president wants to send a very strong message to Iran. 

Something that may not have been picked up later in the press conference, the president said there were some in the Middle East who were surprised by my decision to commit more forces to Iraq after my review.  He‘s talking about Iran. 

People who know his thinking, know that he‘s speaking about Iran and that he believes at this point, the president does, that sending a very strong signal to Iran, showing a willingness to confront it, if not invade Iran, but certainly confront it when it comes to meddling in Iraq, where U.S. troops need to be protected, as the president argued today, putting a carrier group in the Gulf to make it clear to Sunni governments there that they are not going to allow Iran to spread its influence.  That all of that may create some leverage, may help to undermine Ahmadinejad within Iran.  That is really what is behind the president‘s actions right now and behind his words. 

You‘ll notice when I and others posed the question, are you trying to make a case against Iran?  He doesn‘t actually answer that question.  The president chooses to say it‘s preposterous to suggest we‘re trying to provoke Iran.  Iran is up to no good in Iraq is the argument is the argument and is the evidence.  But at the same time, that confrontation, that stance is something that I think the White House thinks may actually do some good diplomatically. 

Having said all of that, I think that is something different than saying that there is active planning going on to confront Iran militarily.  I don‘t think there is any evidence to support that, even though war critics like Hillary Clinton today running for president said, if that‘s what the president is up to, he‘s got to come to Congress for authorization. 

MATTHEWS:  What about a middle case that he is willing to risk a war with Iran? 

GREGORY:  Well, I just—I don‘t think we know how to answer that at this point.  I don‘t know you to answer that.  The president has made clear and all we can judge at this point is that he is willing to take on Iran over its actions inside of Iraq.  And what form that takes is all together unclear, other than detaining Iranian agents who they can find inside Iraq and keeping that pressure up against Iran about supplying weapons in order to protect U.S. troops.  This of course is a separate track from the diplomatic pressure that the president is trying to keep on with regard to Iran‘s nuclear program.  But here‘s...

MATTHEWS:  David, my concern, thinking about this, trying to figure it out is, if I see a couple—the micro and the macro, the micro being the cross-border movement of materiel, the macro being the possibility of a real coming of a nuclear program in Tehran.  The president always makes mention of both. 

GREGORY:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  And therefore I wonder—my skepticism that this is only a border issue is that he keeps mentioning the bigger question of our problem with the nuclear program over there as if, hey, look, there‘s going to be a couple reasons for to us go to war with this country, not just its sending material in to fight our troops, but this threat to the region. 

GREGORY:  Well, I think there is a larger argument being made there, which is something different to say that the president—this administration‘s planning for war.  It‘s is to say, look at what Iran is up to right now, trying to spread its influence inside of Iraq.  Look how much more dangerous Iran would be if they fulfilled their goal to develop a nuclear weapon, in terms of then being able to hold sway over other countries in the Middle East and make it even more difficult for the United States and allied countries in Europe to get Iran to back down. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, David Gregory at the White House. 

He was at the press conference today.

Let‘s bring in Chuck Todd, editor-in-chief of “The Hotline” and the incoming NBC News political director—congratulations.  What a role you‘ve got.  And then Chris Cillizza of the “Washingtonpost.com”.

Gentlemen, let‘s just talk about this today.  The president of the United States knows that he‘s unpopular on Iraq.  Why does he—well, let me just ask you how did you read his statement today about Iran, Chuck, about Iran? 

CHUCK TODD, THE POLITICO”:  Well, I think he was obviously—he was trying—I think he was trying to backtrack a little bit from the weekend.  But it‘s an interesting bookend to me because you had Hillary Clinton taking the floor, who just can‘t get out of way of the Iraq story right now, and she was trying to, you know, get tough on this whole—about Iran.

MATTHEWS:  But wasn‘t she doing what she often does, two things at the same time, looking hawkish, but trying to be partisan at the same time.  Don‘t take anything off of the table in terms of military action against Iran.  That is the hawk part.  And then, of course, if you‘re going to do anything, get clearance from Congress. 

TODD:  Well, what‘s interesting—I think Bush is just daring this Congress to have a confrontation about Iran now.  And all of a sudden forget resolutions on Iraq, I think we‘re going to get closer—you‘re going to see resolutions on Iran and that‘s actually bad.  That will actually mess up the diplomacy problem that he‘s trying to engage with...

MATTHEWS:  Because if Congress does what it will do what to him?

TODD:  Well, it will neuter him. 

MATTHEWS:  If they say, you‘ve got to come to us?

TODD:  For Iran—it neuters him, and then all of a sudden, all of the stuff he‘s trying to do with sort of—trying to get the Iranians to back out of Iraq a little bit or at least to back off, it neuters him.

MATTHEWS:  Well, maybe the Constitution is supposed to get in the way. 

CHRIS CILLIZZA, “WASHINGTONPOST.COM”:  And speaking of sort of daring them—and I think Chuck‘s right.  I mean, in a lot of ways, he said, look, pass this nonbinding resolution...

MATTHEWS:  He‘s almost saying that yesterday‘s news? 

CILLIZZA:  Yes, he said, look, it‘s going to pass.  You know, essentially he accepted that—he accepted that premise...

TODD:  He‘s moved on... 

CILLIZZA:  Yes, I think what he said is, let‘s go to Iran and let‘s go to the funding, do you really want me to take me on the funding?  Because I think he knows that a lot of Democrats still view that as a bridge too far.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you what I think was a good jam by today.  He said, look, why did you confirm General Petraeus to lead this new operation into Baghdad and—because that‘s—you did formally approve him in the senate.  And now you‘re going to say, we‘re not going to give him the support he needs to do the job?  I mean, that does create a problem for Democrats, doesn‘t it? 

CILLIZZA:  Well, I think the equation he is trying to develop is why are we assuming this is going to fail?  Do Democrats want this to fail?  Is that the suggestion here, that we‘re voting against this resolution because they‘re in favor of it failing?  And that‘s the tricky question for Democrats.  How do you oppose this surge before we‘ve really seen what‘s going to happen with it without it making clear that you‘re against the war in some way? 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s clear some of the brush here, gentlemen.  First, Chuck, will the House pass this non-binding resolution this week with substantial—how many Republicans, 50, maybe?

TODD:  I imagine up to 50. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think, Chris?

CILLIZZA:  Well, we‘ve already seen a bunch of the moderates, Mark Hurd from Illinois, Tom Davis from...


MATTHEWS:  ... going to do the same thing on the Senate side? 

TODD:  I don‘t think so because I think not that—not without McConnell getting what he wants, not without him getting his resolution which gets out there.  And I think that Harry Reid‘s afraid of that resolution. 

MATTHEWS:  So the president knows this is coming, he said so say in his press conference today—I know you guys don‘t like me policy, that‘s yesterday‘s news. 

Now, will there be a binding resolution—a binding bit of legislation on the supplemental that restricts the president in terms of training, in terms of rotation of troops, that limits his ability to implement his policy in Baghdad? 

TODD:  I don‘t think that there will be on that.  I think what you‘re going to see is some sort of binding resolution about Iran.  I think the presidential candidates that are in the Senate, that that‘s where there will probably be a Hillary Clinton thing because that—or one of the other Democratic presidential candidates, or maybe even one of the Republicans...

MATTHEWS:  Which will say what, Chuck? 

TODD:  Which will try to keep them—force the president that anything he wants to about Iran...

MATTHEWS:  And put him in the same situation he was in with Iraq, you‘ve got to come to us? 

TODD: Right.

MATTHEWS:  Of course, he just comes back to the House and the Senate and says, OK, give me the authority.  So then...

TODD:  Well, he is going to have to have probable cause and then we go through this whole thing again.  And I just—there is no way politically the country wants expanded the war.  And that‘s why I don‘t think politically it will be safe to be against the president. 

CILLIZZA:  I think it‘s fascinating to look at the Democratic side, especially with Hillary Clinton going out on the floor, you know, hours after this press conference concluded.  I think a lot of Democrats—and I‘ll put Hillary Clinton in this category—running for president believe and understand privately that they swung and missed on the Iraq resolution vote, that in the end that was the clearly the wrong vote. 

MATTHEWS:  What makes you say that?

CILLIZZA:  I don‘t think she will—I was in New Hampshire with her this weekend.  She was asked five, six, seven times directly by people in the audience, do you apologize?  Was this a mistake?  She comes back and said, this was not my mistake, this was the president mistake...

MATTHEWS:  Well, wait a minute, here‘s the problem.  I was some of the Democrats last night, major ones, who think she‘s got to deal with this.  And I think we all know that—here‘s the question.  She keeps going back and saying, I gave him the authority to go to war and I didn‘t think he would use it.  Well, we went back and checked the polling back then.  And seven out of ten Americans, and they‘re not as well informed as she is, believed war was inevitable at the time she voted.  So for her to say now, I didn‘t know he would use this gun, but I gave him a loaded gun and said, I didn‘t know you were going to use the loaded gun.  And he did use it, when everybody—or seven out of ten people say he‘s going to use that.

CILLIZZA:  I think her response in this—and this was my sense when we were in New Hampshire, we got...

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s advising her on this thing?

CILLIZZA:  ... people told her—people believed that that is too cute by half, that you voted for a use of force resolution, but you didn‘t think the force would be used, it was a vote for inspectors to come back in? 

It doesn‘t fly.  I think she is going to have to find a better way to explain that vote.  If she‘s not willing to say, I made a mistake—and I don‘t think she is right now...

TODD:  This is the case of learning the wrong lesson from John Kerry‘s campaign.  They are so afraid of being painted...


TODD:  That‘s right.  They are so afraid of the flip-flop tag that they‘re getting—they‘re actually getting—too much emulating like George Bush, which is the stubborn tack.  She‘s almost being stubborn about saying that she‘s going to stand by that vote.  She has to take responsibility for it, because, frankly, I think it has to do with the fact that she says, I was in the White House, I know a president should have that authority whether I agree with it or not, that she believes the president...

MATTHEWS:  What is this authority that she believes the president should have, to make war at will? 

TODD:  I think that she‘s somebody who—that believes that the executive branch should have that authority...

MATTHEWS:  .... It‘s called the Constitution, the authority to make war stands in the Congress.

TODD:  If she believed the case was made and that it was in the president‘s—I‘m just saying her experiences with President Clinton in the White House—so she feels like she has seen it from the other side of the looking glass.  And that‘s where she was coming from. 

CILLIZZA:  I think there may be—let me add, there may be a political calculation this, is that she—what her big thing that Senator Clinton is emphasizing is that, OK, Senator Obama, former Senator Edwards, you‘re making these proposals, whether it‘s health care or the war, you‘re saying all these of things, but governing is a different thing.  I know about governing, I am not going to run a campaign and make empty promises.  And I think she‘s trying to establish herself as the serious person who you can trust.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s talk about the man this the White House.  I find him—know the polling shows this—that people feel that he‘s no longer living by the facts, he‘s living by his own personal view of things.  We know what those are.  He‘s not caught up in day-to-day information that comes to him. 

He uses a lingo which I find odd.  Now, he talked about last January when he said—when we had this decision about this policy announcement to go into Baghdad.  Last January is the way he said last month.  Just an odd way of saying it, is it that long ago? 

He refers to the homeland?  I mean, are we Mother Russia?  When did this new lingo come in? 

The Homeland, it sounds vaguely old European or even Far—like Russia or—where did that—no, I‘m dead serious about this.  Where did this new language that—he uses the word terrorists now again today to describe the totally complicated situation we face over in Iraq with the Shiite and the Sunni fighting each other, with the Al Qaeda elements.  And to him, they‘re all just terrorists we have to fight.  Well, if we stay in there to kill all of the terrorists, we‘ll never leave because those people want to fight with other.

Why is he driving U.S. policy with a foreign lingo, a language he uses that only he seems to use?  The press don‘t talk in this language.  The American people don‘t talk in this language. 

TODD:  See, I think it‘s a patriotic language that he tries to tap into.  When they were simplifying their message back if 2002 and 2003 when this thing was so popular, it was a simple language.  It was us against them, it was the terrorists.  And so...

MATTHEWS:  The people who knocked down these buildings.  That was American English.

TODD:  That‘s right.  But I think he is trying to get back to his—he‘s trying to simplify the argument because what happened is this argument, when is became Sunnis and Shiites and all of this stuff, that‘s when the American public—whoa, whoa, whoa, this is a mess, get us out of here.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m telling you the phrase “Homeland” just drives me to distraction.  It doesn‘t sound like us talking.  Where did it come from?

TODD:  There is an Old World, European thing to that. 

MATTHEWS:  There‘s something strange, there‘s something collectivist about it.  I just don‘t like it. 

Anyway, thank you, Chuck Todd. 

Congratulations.  Thank you, Chris Cillizza. 

Coming up, Senator John Kerry‘s coming here.

And later, the defense rests in the Scooter Libby trial.  What a quick defense.  We‘ll see what it‘s worth when David Shuster comes back with the latest from the courthouse. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Senator John Kerry serves in the Senate Foreign relations Committee.

Senator Kerry, thank you joining us tonight.

What is going on with us in Iran?  Are we facing a wider war as we did with Vietnam and Cambodia back in your day?

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  I hope not, and the president should be served notice that he is—does not have the authority to move, except in an emergency or in direct response to an attack on our troops. 

I think that it would be very dangerous at this point in time, dangerous to our troops and to our interests in the region, to be provocative with respect to Iran. 

That doesn‘t mean we don‘t need to stand up to them and push our agenda.  But there is a better way to do. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you read him when he said today, the president did, he doesn‘t really care whether the mullahs in Tehran approve this shipment of material to the Shiite militia in Iraq or not?  Whether they don‘t know about it or they do know about it, he wants action.  Is he basically saying, I‘m going to hold that state responsible even if they weren‘t responsible from the top?

KERRY:  Well, I think it‘s legitimate to ask for a bona fide effort to deal with the borders and to prevent it from happening.  And the indicators are that members of the Revolutionary Guard are certainly involved with some of this mischief, and we know there are Iranian agents in Iraq. 

So there are no doubts that Iran is making mischief for us, but most of the experts believe that Iran does not want complete chaos in Iraq.  They are happy to see us bogged down.  They are happy to sort of create a level of mischief, but they don‘t want complete chaos.  And so I think there are some avenues of opportunity for us to be able to begin to deal with Iran on, for instance, the Taliban, drugs out of Afghanistan, the border, the frozen assets, international economic issues, not to mention Iraq itself. 

MATTHEWS:  Where are you on the whole question of Iraq and Iran?  Let me run through this.  Are you going to continue to support a nonbinding resolution opposed to the escalation of troops into Baghdad? 

KERRY:  Well, I support the resolution, Chris, but obviously with a complete understanding that we have to move immediately to something that is binding and something that is consequential here. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you like the idea that Jack Murtha is working over there and the other Democrats in the House on that Appropriations Subcommittee to restrict the bringing in of untrained or less than necessarily trained troops into the Iraq theater, to reduce the amount of rotation?  There‘s a lot of—the length of the tours of our troops over there, that way of constricting the president‘s abilities over there to escalate.  Are you for that approach?

KERRY:  Well, leaving aside the president‘s ability to escalate, it‘s an appropriate role for Congress to make sure that our troops are properly trained, properly equipped, and that we live up to our obligations with  respect to rotation. 

During the 2004 campaign, I raised the issue of a backdoor draft.  I thought it was unfair and counter to the promises made to a lot of young Americans.  And I think now it‘s even more fair—unfair.  You have got a lot of National Guardsmen who are literally losing their businesses.  One deployment they were able to put up with, a second, but now they are moving into really prolonged time away from their business and family, and I think it is very, very disruptive.  

MATTHEWS:  When you look at this—you‘re not an active candidate for the presidency right now and maybe that has cleared your vision, your field of vision—I would think it might—when you look at the whole question of our involvement in Iraq, do you see a long-term involvement down the road leading to permanent bases, a sort of a permanent, almost the way the French have their relationship with African colonies, where anytime something happens, we get in there?  Do you see that as our long-term commitment to Iraq?

KERRY:  Well, I think it would be disastrous if that were.  I think that would be counter to Iraq‘s best interests.  I think it would be counter to our best interests in the region. 

I mean, Chris, I was just over there a month ago and met with all of the major leaders in the region, including President Assad for a couple of hours in Syria, and it‘s my judgment that the United States ought to announce that we are not going to have permanent bases.  I think that would go a long way towards starting to change some of the atmospherics and the recruitment potential for jihadists and al Qaeda. 

Secondly, what is really missing from the equation in the Middle East right now is a very legitimate diplomatic effort to leverage the stakeholders to resolve and compromise the differences that currently are at the root of the violence. 

It is not going to happen—it just can‘t happen, it won‘t happen at the muzzle of a gun barrel.  Our soldiers are limited in their ability to be able to affect the outcome. 

And what I don‘t like, and I think anybody who has been through this before understands, is that our soldiers are sort of trapped in a continuing stalemate of the political people to sit at the table and resolve their differences.  And I don‘t think one American soldier ought to be dying or maimed because Iraqi politicians are sort of using the security blanket of American presence as a way of prolonging their dance, if you will, over the power struggle. 

That is why I am in favor of being clear.  A deadline, by which time they have to realize we are going to change the dynamics of the region.  And that‘s the only way that has proven historically to get them to take action.  That‘s what happened in the elections, it‘s what happened in the setting of the constitution and the transfer of the provisional government authority.  And I believe now that that is the only way to get them to realize we are not going to be there on a permanent basis.  We are not their security blanket.  They have got to stand up for themselves and define the future that they want. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, very much, Senator.  That, by the way, as you know, is what John Kennedy was trying to do in the weeks before he was assassinated, to squeeze that government of Diem to try to get them to do the fighting so that we could get out, and he never got to follow through. 

Thank you very much, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts. 

KERRY:  Great to be with you.  Thanks.

MATTHEWS:  Up next, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster will have the latest from the Scooter Libby trial.  You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 



UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  So we have now learned through sworn testimony that at least three members of your administration, other than Scooter Libby, leaked Valerie Plame‘s identity to the media.  None of these three are under investigation.  Without commenting on the Libby trial then, can you tell us whether you authorized any of these three...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... authorized without your permission.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Yes, thanks, Pete, I‘m not going to talk about any of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They‘re not under investigation, though, sir.

BUSH:  Peter, I‘m not going to talk about any of it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How about pardons, sir?  I think you were asked whether you might pardon...

BUSH:  Not going to talk about it, Peter. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was President Bush today avoiding questions about the Scooter Libby trial.  Today, the defense team rested their case.  They ended it without putting Libby or his former boss, Vice President Cheney, on the stand. 

HARDBALL‘s David Shuster is at the courthouse with all the details.

David, I‘m flabbergasted.  We have seen a pretty substantial prosecution put on, meaning lots of witnesses, lots of testimony, lots of evidence that Scooter Libby thought certain things and did certain things.  And then the defense comes along.  We thought we were going to have a grand show, with the vice president, Scooter himself, and now nothing.  What is their defense? 

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, the defense strategy seems to be—if you look back at jury selection, there was a lot of talk, a lot of expectation put upon in front of these potential jurors, and then the jury, that the vice president and Scooter Libby would testify. 

It also seems, Chris, that the defense wants the jury at this point now, during deliberations, to focus on the prosecution evidence, and whether the prosecution met their burden of proof, rather than focus on Scooter Libby‘s demeanor or Vice President Cheney‘s demeanor, if they either testified.

And, by doing that, what the defense is perhaps trying to signal to the jury is, you know, this is such a dramatic shortfall on the prosecution, as far as meeting their burden, that we, the defense, didn‘t think it was even worth putting Scooter Libby on the witness stand or putting Vice President Cheney.  That may be the best defense sort of optimistic view. 

The other way to look at is, it might just be, Chris, that they felt that Scooter Libby‘s demeanor on the witness stand would not hold up, if he was forced to try and explain his logic of learning something, forgetting it, learning it again, and thinking he was learning it for the first time. 

And they might have also worried, Chris, that, if Vice President Dick Cheney testified in accordance with the documentation and notes that have been introduced as evidence, and testified, matching up with when Vice President Cheney learned about Valerie Wilson, that would undercut Scooter Libby and essentially bolster the prosecution case—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it seems to me, if we got Cheney on stand, we would find out what happened, in terms of how we went to war with Iraq.  We are not going to find that out once again, right? 

SHUSTER:  No, we are not going to find out.

And the other thing, Chris, that we are not going to find out—I mean, some of the chickens came home to roost today, with Scooter Libby deciding not to testify, because, at a certain point, the defense had been allowed, in pretrial hearings, access to all kinds of sort of classified intelligence briefings that Scooter Libby and the vice president were getting in the summer of 2003, as far as what al Qaeda may have been up to, what was going on in Iraq. 

And what the defense originally wanted to do was introduce this into this trial, to say, look at all these weighty matters that the office of the vice president was focused on during this crucial period, to try and show that Scooter Libby couldn‘t possibly have been focused very much on the Wilsons.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SHUSTER:  But, by Scooter Libby deciding not to testify, the judge said that the mis—there were misrepresentations, essentially, to the court during these pretrial hearings, and that it was the judge‘s understanding that Libby would testify, and that, when Libby when decided not to testify, all these pretrial rulings were moot.

And I would guess, Chris, that about 95 percent of this information, as far as Scooter Libby‘s classified briefings each day, and all the terror matters that he was briefed on, the judge did not allow any of that in. 

All he was allowed was a recitation of the general topics that Libby got

briefed on in the morning.  But that just seemed to go right over the jury


MATTHEWS:  Is Vice President Dick Cheney going to let his guy go to the can, go to federal prison, for a long time for serving him and serving their interests?  Without getting into details, clearly, Scooter Libby was a loyalist.  Is he going to let a loyalist go to prison? 


SHUSTER:  Well, he was loyalist to end.

Remember, if Scooter Libby gets convicted, Chris, on all five counts, he will be facing a minimum of four-and-a-half years in prison.  And, at that point, you sort of have to wonder, is it worth it for Scooter Libby to try to keep the tough questions away from Vice President Dick Cheney? 

But, at least right now, Scooter Libby is signaling, not only is Vice President Cheney not going to have to testify, but Scooter Libby is not going to testify.  And, if Scooter Libby testified, that, of course, could put the vice president in an awkward position, as Libby is pressed about his conversations...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SHUSTER:  ... with Vice President Cheney...

MATTHEWS:  I got to tell you...

SHUSTER:  ... conversations...

MATTHEWS:  ... talk about...

SHUSTER:  Go ahead.

MATTHEWS:  ... mixed sentiments.  I wanted so much for this trial to bring out the truth.  And it looks like it is not go to.

But let me tell you, I do admire loyalty.  I am stunned by this man‘s loyalty. 

Anyway, thank you very much, David Shuster. 

Up next: Hardballers Bob Shrum and Ben Ginsberg will be here to talk Bush, Iran, and 2008 politics. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

For more on President Bush‘s news conference today, and the ongoing congressional debate on the president‘s escalation in Iraq, let‘s turn to our Hardballer.  I love that phrase. 


MATTHEWS:  Bob Shrum is definitely a HARDBALLER.  He‘s out somewhere in California. 

I don‘t know what you are doing out there, trying to hook up with...

BOB SHRUM, HARDBALL POLITICAL ANALYST:  The weather is very nice. 

MATTHEWS:  ... Hillary or somebody out there.


MATTHEWS:  And then Ben Ginsberg, who has already hooked up with—with Romney, and now—well, that‘s enough to say on that. 

You have already hooked up.

Bob, are you going to hook up with one of these guys? 

SHRUM:  No, absolutely not.  I‘m going to come on the show and say what I think about what‘s going on, who is doing well in the Democratic Party, who is doing well in the Republican Party. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, let‘s start...

SHRUM:  And, occasionally, I will probably endorse Sam Brownback. 



MATTHEWS:  Well, that would be a shock, and it would be a hoot. 


MATTHEWS:  Let‘s start with the president today. 

Let‘s just spend a minute on this now, because we spent a lot on it already, this war in Iraq.  Is it going to grow to a war with Iran?  Use your—use your goggles.  Are we going to war in Iran, Bob Shrum? 

SHRUM:  I don‘t think we can. 

First of all, we have somewhere around 160,000 troops, or soon will, who are, in effect, hostages, surrounded by millions of Shiites in Iraq.  Secondly, the government that we are supporting in Iraq, the Maliki government, is very close to the Iranian government. 

I think, geopolitically, we are in a very difficult situation.  I think we have to do what we did with North Korea, which is talk to the Iranians. 

MATTHEWS:  Your thought, Ben?  Are we going to a wider war? 

BEN GINSBERG, FORMER BUSH-CHENEY CAMPAIGN ATTORNEY:  I don‘t believe so.  I‘m not sure there are any good options. 


MATTHEWS:  No, but are we going to a wider war?  That is one option? 

Are we going there?

GINSBERG:  I don‘t believe we are, again, because there are no good options for fighting that war. 

MATTHEWS:  Because we don‘t know where the nuclear sites—we don‘t know how to end it.  We know how to start it.


GINSBERG:  I think that is certainly part of it.

And I suspect there will be more ways to try and deal with Iran, largely through the international community. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you on the Democratic side, since you‘re on the Republican side with Romney.

How do you read Hillary Clinton on Iran and Iraq right now, as of today?  Based upon what she said today, where is she on this war?

GINSBERG:  She is getting buffeted and beat up for her war—for her vote on—on Iraq.  And, so, she is trying to find ways to sound and to cater to the left, the far left of the Democratic Party.  And her statements on Iran were an indication of that. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of that, Bob?  Is she catering to the far left of the Democratic Party?


MATTHEWS:  I haven‘t heard that—that—that that dog whistle myself.  I haven‘t heard that one. 

SHRUM:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead. 

GINSBERG:  Tone deaf. 

SHRUM:  No, I...


SHRUM:  Listen, I—if that‘s the case, if that‘s the far left of the Democratic Party, we are talking about 65 to 70 percent of the American people who are opposed to the surge and want the war in Iraq stopped. 

I think Hillary Clinton‘s problem—and I don‘t really understand this—is that she can‘t simply bring herself to say that the vote for the war was a mistake.  I think, if she did that, she would be past a lot of this difficulty.

I don‘t believe, as I have said on this show before, that anybody can be nominated for president in the Democratic Party in 2008 unless they‘re in favor of setting a definite date for withdrawal from Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You know the answer.  Bob, you know the answer to your own question. 

The current phrase used by the partisans on the right is, she will be guilty of Kerry-oke:  I voted for the $87 million before I voted against it.  I voted for the war before I voted against it.

She will be pilloried, not just as a candidate, but as a female candidate, for changing her mind.  The Republicans will kill her, saying, a woman‘s right is to change her mind, but presidential candidates can‘t.

Am I not right about that, Ben?


MATTHEWS:  Won‘t your side kill her, if she does?

GINSBERG:  I think the Democrats will kill her before we ever get a chance to really engage. 

MATTHEWS:  No, but if search switches...


MATTHEWS:  ... I wish I hadn‘t, a mea culpa position, what will you guys do to her?

GINSBERG:  We will point out the vast inconsistencies. 

Kerry-oke is a nice phrase.  I had never heard that before, but it‘s pretty accurate.


GINSBERG:  But she will—but I think her fellow Democrats will come after, too, as—as a recent convert.

MATTHEWS:  Bob, is that something that you believe will hold now? 

Let me ask just you to reiterate it.  You believe that any Democrat who supports the war resolution of 2002 will not win in 2008?

SHRUM:  No, no, I think anybody—anybody who is not willing to say it was a mistake, and we are going to set a date for getting out, cannot be nominated for president in 2008.

I think Senator Kerry was right during the campaign in 2004 to say, on basis of the information he had later on in that campaign, of course he wouldn‘t have voted for the war. 

I don‘t think Hillary Clinton would be hurt—John Edwards hasn‘t been hurt—by saying that the vote was a mistake.  The Congress was misled or lied to.  The intelligence was manipulated. 

I think you say that, and you say, under those circumstances, of course I wouldn‘t have voted for it. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you about your party.

Romney—you don‘t have to speak for Romney right now.  Is it possible that one of the leading Republican candidate, McCain, Romney or Giuliani, will, in the next six months, say, we have thrown everything we can into that Iraq struggle; the president was right in the beginning; we have learned we can‘t win, because it‘s in civil war; we have got to get out; pull a Nixon in China; this is the time for the right to say, we got to get out?

Will anybody do that? 

GINSBERG:  I think your timing is off.  I don‘t think it will be within the next six months, because that is the—the sort of timetable for putting in the new troops and seeing if—if that actually works. 


At the end of that string, will somebody come out and say:  I think we have don‘t enough; it‘s time to pull out? 

GINSBERG:  I think it is a hypothetical possibility. 

Sure, if the—if the war is going terribly badly, and the surge is clearly not working, then there—there may come a time.  Look at Hubert Humphrey and Lyndon Johnson.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I believe the traditional right has never been for this war.  They will love to hear somebody blow that bugle.

But I can‘t blow it.  You can‘t blow it, unless you get Romney to blow it. 

Anyway, thank you, Bob Shrum.

What are you doing out there anyway?

And, Ben Ginsberg, thanks for being here.


SHRUM:  I‘m just out here.  I‘m out here over the—over the Lincoln

or the President‘s Day holiday, getting some sun and avoiding the snow.

MATTHEWS:  Well, happy Valentine‘s Day.  Let‘s keep up to date.  Today is Valentine‘s Day.  Thank you very much. 

Happy Valentine‘s Day to both of you.

SHRUM:  Thanks. 

MATTHEWS:  Coming up:  MSNBC and “The Politico”—that‘s the Washington newspaper that is getting all the political buzz—is teaming up to bring you the first ever presidential debate from the Ronald Reagan Library in California.  Former first lady Nancy Reagan has invited the top Republican hopefuls for a debate on May 3 of this year.  “The Politico”‘s John Harris will be here in a moment to tell us about it. 

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 


MATTHEWS:  Coming up:  MSNBC and “The Politico” are teaming up for the

first debate ever at President Ronald Reagan‘s library, the big day, May 3

when HARDBALL returns.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Former first lady Nancy Reagan announced today that she‘s inviting the leading Republican candidates to the first-ever debate at the Ronald Reagan library in Simi Valley, California.  The debate will air in May—May 3, actually—right here on MSNBC, as well as simulcast that day online through the Web site of “The Politico.”  It‘s a newspaper in town here, a new one, Politico.com, as well.

John Harris is editor in chief of “The Politico.”

So, the president asked a question at the press conference of your colleague, Mike Allen.

Let‘s watch what he says, and let‘s catch the answer. 


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Michael, who do you work for?


QUESTION:  Mr. President, I work for Politico.com.

BUSH:  Pardon me?  Politico.com?

QUESTION:  Yes, sir.



BUSH:  Do you want—do you want a moment to explain to the American people exactly what...




MATTHEWS:  Well, here it is, Politico.com.  It‘s this newspaper.  It‘s a hot new newspaper in the area here.  It is going to be distributed all around Capitol Hill.  A lot of people with power are going to get this newspaper.  It‘s also online.

It‘s a combination, right? 


MATTHEWS:  Online and print, newsprint.

HARRIS:  Just because Mike Allen didn‘t take the opportunity to answer the president‘s questions, I won‘t pass it up. 

We are a new publication, been going three weeks, devoted to politics, Congress and the 2008 presidential campaign, with the best reporters we can find, including lots of people who have been on this show, like Mike Allen, Roger Simon.

MATTHEWS:  A lot of “Washington Post” reporters that...


HARRIS:  Jim VandeHei...


MATTHEWS:  ... outbid by the Albritton family, right?


HARRIS:  No, no, because we wanted an opportunity to do something new. 

That‘s why we...


MATTHEWS:  So, you‘re in this.  You all left a great metropolitan newspaper to do this.  Why? 

HARRIS:  Because we thought there was an opportunity to cover politics in a new and more creative way, take advantage of the Web, take advantage of the way journalism is changing.  Our style is more conversational than you might get at those traditional metropolitan newspapers.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I have been reading some great pieces in there. 

Let me ask you about this.  When people, say, in their 20s now, people who are beginning to cover politics—not cover it, pay attention to it, the habits you and I picked up...

HARRIS:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  I picked it up in grad school.  I started to read the newspapers relentlessly.

HARRIS:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  I started to read the columnists.  I was down at Chapel Hill.  I started reading Jack Kilpatrick (ph), all these guys, Lincoln Gould (ph), all these old guys. 

Will they now not pick up the habit of picking up a newspaper when they go to a deli or go to a diner, and will they now go online and eat while they‘re typing or what?  How are people going to get the news now, the politics news?


HARRIS:  ... most younger people do not have the connection with the traditional newspaper, like you and I do, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  They don‘t hold it.  They don‘t have...


HARRIS:  But, you know, what is interesting, what they do is, they edit their own publications.  They don‘t go for one-stop shopping. 

They‘re not going to let “The New York Times” or “The Washington Post” tell them everything they want to know about business, sports, news, politics. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

HARRIS:  They will go someplace, like Politico.com, for their political news, somewhere else, ESPN, for sports.  These people are editing their own newspaper themselves.  They want more control over the content.

MATTHEWS:  What did you make of the president‘s refusal to talk about the Libby trial today, and not even the trial, but use that as a code to say, I‘m not going to talk about anything about that? 

HARRIS:  Well, he...


MATTHEWS:  Why is he hiding from this issue? 

HARRIS:  I mean, I thought my former colleague Peter Baker over at “The Post” phrased the question very well.  He said, look, don‘t talk about the trial.  Talk about your role and whether you have accountability for any of this.


MATTHEWS:  Well, he did make a statement he would fire—he would deal with anybody who leaked.  And, then, all of a sudden, he went back and hid, and say, I‘m not going to talk about it. 

He said—he affirmatively said, if anybody leaked this information about a CIA agent working undercover for political purposes, he was going to basically get rid of them.  And then he just pulls back and says, I don‘t want to talk about. 

HARRIS:  Big contradiction.  And, so far as I know, he has never been called to account for that and never reconciled that. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he also has got to deal with a vice president of the United States whose guy is now facing 20 years in prison, or whatever, right?  And the vice president of United States...

HARRIS:  I have heard that. 

MATTHEWS:  ... is not testifying.

HARRIS:  I have heard that, yes.

MATTHEWS:  And, so, the president is not talking.  So, nobody is talking.  So, we‘re not—this is—is this the cover-up continuing?

HARRIS:  Well, I mean, in fairness to President Bush and the Bush White House, this is a pretty familiar dodge.  I mean, I covered the Clinton White House, and that‘s a pretty standard dodge:  Love to talk about it, but it‘s under litigation.

MATTHEWS:  Clinton was impeached.  He didn‘t dodge too well.

Anyway, thank you very much, John Harris, of...

HARRIS:  Sure thing.

MATTHEWS:  ... “The Politico.”

The MSNBC/Politico.com debate at the Reagan library will take place, as I said, May 3.  What a big day it‘s going to be for all us.

Up next:  What‘s the winning message for 2008?  Republican pollster Dr. Frank Luntz will be here to tell us the political lines, the key words you are going to hear in this campaign, by the people who are actually winning it, because these are the winning words of 2008.  This guy knows his stuff.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

How much is each 2008 candidates using words to ultimately win the election? 

Frank Luntz is a pollster.  He‘s also author of the new book “Words that Work: It‘s Not What You Say, It‘s What People Hear.”  He‘s picked out the five key words for a successful candidate this year.

Let me go through some words.  Let‘s start with this one.  And I want you to tell me who is doing it right, OK?  Let‘s nail it.



MATTHEWS:  Credibility. 

LUNTZ:  Credibility is your background.  It is what you have done.  It is your record. 

And no one has got a better record on the Democratic side than Bill Richardson.  We may not be hearing about it, but his resume is absolutely incredible: foreign policy experience at the United Nations, energy, when we are all focused on energy independence.  He was secretary of energy under Clinton, a member of Congress, and a governor.  He‘s done it all.  And...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I felt when he was on this week, that I think of a guy who can go to trouble spots, deal with dictators, nasty guys, and talk them down.  We can avoid wars. 


LUNTZ:  And we want someone with that kind of experience, someone who could step in from day one and be able to handle everything. 


LUNTZ:  On the Republican side, it‘s Rudy Giuliani. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, all the way, street cred.

LUNTZ:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Because he was there. 

LUNTZ:  He was there.  We saw him.  We witnessed what he has done in times of crisis.  We witnessed the fact that he could pull things together at the toughest time in American—in modern American history.  That gives him credibility. 

MATTHEWS:  Consistency, who‘s got it? 

LUNTZ:  Well, the question is, who doesn‘t have it?  And this is Hillary Clinton‘s problem.

MATTHEWS:  I will tell you who, Mitt Romney.  He‘s gone from being pro-choice...

LUNTZ:  He‘s the other...


MATTHEWS:  ... pro-gay rights, to being the other way in a matter of two or three years.

LUNTZ:  And this is one of the key point in politics is, they don‘t want flip-floppers. 

John Kerry experienced this.  I saw him on your show earlier.  He went through the meat grinder because of a lack of consistency.  The American people do want you to learn.  They do want you to grow.  But so help you if you have changed a position on an issue like abortion.  They will not forgive you. 

That is why Mitt Romney has got a problem on the Republican side. 

MATTHEWS:  Al Gore switched on abortion during his career, too, as you recall.

LUNTZ:  Year and years and years before he ran for president.  If it had been a modern switch, a year or two before, they would have crucified him also.

MATTHEWS:  So, it‘s—there is a statute of limitations on this?

LUNTZ:  People forget.  We don‘t have long memories as voters.

MATTHEWS:  So, Ronald Reagan could have been a Democrat back in the ‘40s and ‘50s, as long as he was consistently a conservative ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s?

LUNTZ:  And, in fact, when he ran in 1980, no one even knew that he was a Democrat earlier on.


MATTHEWS:  Here is my favorite word in here: novelty.  Who is actually new in this business? 

LUNTZ:  We want someone who does it differently.

And John Edwards and his stand up—I won‘t do it here, because I will hit a camera.  When John Edwards talked about, let‘s stand up for the forgotten, let‘s stand up for the left behind—he kept saying, let‘s stand up—you could almost picture him communicating, and people actually did get up off their feet.  It was the most incredible communication... 


MATTHEWS:  Aspirational.  We‘re running out of time.

LUNTZ:  That is obviously Barack Obama.  A focus on the future, hope, opportunity, that‘s Obama‘s message.

MATTHEWS:  Visualize. 

LUNTZ:  We want to be able to see it.  And, again, I will go back to Rudy...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I believe in that.  It is not just the direction you are taking us.  It‘s where you are taking us to and what that is going to look like. 

LUNTZ:  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  Who can do that now?

LUNTZ:  The best one is going to be Giuliani, because we could see what 42nd Street and Times Square looked like 20 years ago, and we can see it today.  All he has to do is paint that visualization, and the public will say, you know what?  That is what I want for the rest of America. 

MATTHEWS:  Does New York still look cleaned up, after he—after Bloomberg?  Is it still good? 

LUNTZ:  It looks even better today than it did. 

MATTHEWS:  I will tell you, I noted down in SoHo, down in downtown, just wandering around one night, when I was there with my teenage kids a couple of years ago, I said, this city feels safe. 

LUNTZ:  But watch.  These guys are using words that—they are focused on the language.  And we have never had a set of candidates that have made a greater effort...

MATTHEWS:  Can you fake it?  Can somebody out there who doesn‘t have consistency start saying it?  Can somebody who doesn‘t have credibility start saying it?   

LUNTZ:  No, because you can see in our eyes. 

It‘s—you can tell if someone really means what they say and say what they mean. 

And that, by the way, Chris, is the number-one attribute we are looking for, a straight shooter.  The was always John McCain‘s advantage. 

The danger for John McCain is if he starts to back up further and further.  And McCain‘s courting of the right—mark my words.  His courting of the right, in the long term, is actually going to do him more damage than good. 

MATTHEWS:  That is so interesting. 

Thank you very much, Frank Luntz.  And I agree with everything you said.  The book is called “Words That Work.”  Frank Luntz works today.

Play HARDBALL with us Thursday.  Our guests will include former Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen.

And, on May 3 -- remember that—MSNBC and ThePolitico.com host a Republican debate at the Reagan Library. 

Right now, it‘s time for “TUCKER.”



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