updated 2/26/2007 3:58:09 PM ET 2007-02-26T20:58:09

Guests: Joseph Biden, A.B. Stoddard, Craig Crawford, Janet Napolitano, Ron Christie, Tom Vilsack, Rory Kennedy

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Another flameout in the rapid fire presidential campaign.  Mark Warren, Bill Frist, George Allen, Evan Bayh and now Tom Vilsack.  Tonight, Joe Biden joins us in the fastest track in the world, the race for American president. 

Let’s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I’m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Congress comes back next week and Senate Democrats want to repeal the 2002 Iraq War resolution and replace it with a narrower measure that would limit the president and the military’s role in Iraq.

The Senate has twice failed to pass a non-binding resolution opposing the president’s plan to escalate the war.  What makes them think this plan will be successful?  We’ll talk to presidential candidate Senator Joe Biden, one of the architects of this new plan.

Plus was the Clinton-Obama sniping about money or was it about something else.  You need money to run and today’s the Democratic field just got smaller.  Former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack says he is dropping out of the race for president because he can’t raise enough money.  We’ll talk to Governor Vilsack later in the show.

And the jury still out in the Scooter Libby case.  HARDBALL’s David Shuster will have the latest on that but first a man very much in the race for president in 2008, Senator Joe Biden.  What is your feeling?  It reminds me of an Agatha Christie play where - “10 Little Indians,” I think it was called, where everybody keeps getting killed.  This is getting quiet out there.  Are we losing candidates by the minute here?

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), DELAWARE:  I don’t know.  Governor Vilsack is a really capable guy and I don’t think you’ve seen the last of Governor Vilsack on the national scene.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he just checked in so he can run for vice president?

BIDEN:  No.  No.  No.  I think he checked in because he knew he could be a good president.  But look, it’s kind of hard when it starts in your home state.  I’m not sure how I would feel about it if the first primary were Delaware or how others would feel about the first primary being their home state.

It’s kind of—it’s both an advantage and a disadvantage but this guy that turned that state around, this is a guy that turned that state blue, and so, you know, I know he has to feel some disappointment and his wife Christie is a gigantic political asset.  I’m sure it was tough for them.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the case he made when he quit.  He said this race is too expensive.  I remember you mentioned on the air a while back it is going cost yourself something like $25 million to get into this race.  If they move California forward and New Jersey forward and Florida forward, all those big mega states with big media markets, doesn’t that raise the ante?

BIDEN:  Well, it does Chris but if I am able to make my case about how to get us out of Iraq.  How I can lead this country.  And everybody knows there will be no margin for error, this next president will have no margin based on what Bush is going to leave him.  Then I think I could overcome whatever deficit I might have after the first four primaries but I do need enough to compete in the first four primaries and caucuses and I think I can do that.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about your plan.  The Democrats, big talk today in the Washington papers about a Democratic plan to try to rewrite the 2002 resolution which okayed or greenlighted the war.  How will that change things, to try to change the language in the Senate at this point?

BIDEN:  What I propose and Carl Levin is joining me or I am joining him is a resolution that repeals the authority he was given.  What authority he was he given to deal with weapons of mass destruction.  Take down Saddam Hussein if need be.  And force compliance with UN resolutions that Saddam Hussein was violating.

All three of those goals are met and now the president is plunging us further into a civil war where there is self-sustaining sectarian violence.  And he is taking us down a very, very dangerous path.

So what I can up with, we came up with was to suggest that we replace that with a new mission, and the mission should be guarding the borders, training the Iraqi army, denying the jihadis the ability to occupy territory like they did in the Afghanistan and force protection but not being in the middle of the cities, not being in the middle of a civil war in order to force a political solution.  If we do that, Chris, we need fewer combat troops to do that mission.  We can begin to back down as the Baker Commission, Biden-Gelb and others have all proposed.

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that the language of this new resolution to replace the 2002 resolution should include a date line for removal of U.S.  troops?  I heard it might be March of 2008.  Is that he case as suggested in the Baker Commission report?

BIDEN:  That’s exactly what we put in, yes, for that purpose.  Again, the reason to begin to draw down troops and it’s a goal, it is not a hard number, the military commanders will that judgment based on our force protection needs and the need to deal with leaving an over the horizon in the country to deny jihadis occupational capability.

The fact of the matter is that’s the only way all of us from former Republican secretaries of state, former commanders, members of the joint chief, myself, and others.  Carl Levin.  The only way we will force the Iraqis to move toward a political settlement.

Chris, you have to give Iraqis local control.  You’ve got to take this down, you’ve got to give them control over their daily lives.  And there’s never been a case they know of where there’s been a self-sustaining cycle of sectarian violence where one of three options weren’t the only three available.

One, you occupy, which we’re not prepared to do, nor do I recommend.  Two, you bring back a dictator which would be an ultimate irony or three you have a federal system.  There’s only one answer.  A federal system, that’s what the constitution calls for.

The president should get about it.

MATTHEWS:  How do you get enough votes, 60, to get this thing on the floor.  You’ve failed twice on your side to get a vote on the non-binding resolution.  Here you are going with a binding resolution which will curtail the president’s ability to make the kind of war he wants to make in Iraq.  How do you get 60 votes?  That is going to require 11 Republicans to join you when you only got seven on the non-binding.  How do you do it?

BIDEN:  Time.  This is a process.  You know from the old days that this is a process.  What is going to happen here is that the American public as we make our case is made why the president is leading us off a cliff here, we already off a cliff, at higher speed off a cliff, is if in fact public pressure builds on those Republicans. 

I can’t imagine that the Republicans who are home for the past week in their home states did not hear from their constituency.  Democrats, Republicans, independents know there is a need for a change of course.  The president has us on a collision course with war here with a civil war.

I think it’s a matter of pressure.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the course of this campaign for the Democratic nomination.  A top supporter, as you know, a top supporter for Barack Obama took a real shot at Hillary Clinton and said that her husband is going to be an embarrassment tot party if she is the nominee. 

A direct shot at what many people think will be a problem down the road.  Who knows?  Do you think that was within bounds?  Was he fair to make that shot?  Is that what the campaign might be about at some point?  Bill Clinton’s role positively or negatively in this campaign?

BIDEN:  I learned from the outset of my announcing my campaign my lesson not to comment on anybody else’s campaign or on anything that any of the other candidates are doing.  So I am going to refrain from commenting.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think there should be a code of conduct, like an 11th commandment Reagan once invoked for Republicans that they should not attack each other.  Here is a vicious - I am not going to call it vicious, that’s what Hillary Clinton’s people called it.  A tough attack on the former first lady and the former president, calling them liars.  Is this beyond the bounds of good politicking.  You say, what, senator, to that.  I keep trying to get you to say something here.

BIDEN:  Let me tell you what I will say.  I am going to abide by Reagan’s 11th commandment.  Never speak ill of another Democrat running.  I commit to that.  Now there’s a difference between speaking ill of them this terms of their character or family and taking sharp disagreement with a policy.  We are going to disagree on policy.  That’s healthy. 

The Democratic Party needs to hear the debate about which direction each of us want to take the party and take the nation.  But I believe we should refrain from either ourselves or through surrogates, if that happens, from going after, attacking the character, the personality, the family of any other candidate.

MATTHEWS:  Even though so many people out there think it will become an issue no matter what the Democrats say.  The Democrats can’t control the discussion.  They can control the debate.

BIDEN:  No.  That’s true.  We can’t.  There are a lot of things that will be raised by the press, by the bloggers, all I am saying though is that the principals should not add fuel to that fire as we go down the road.

The thing I worry about is we have the opportunity here to change the direction of the world.  Literally.  The next president has the opportunity to change the direction of the world, and I want the president who gets the Democratic nomination to have been able to have vetted his or her view for the Democrats and have it embraced so you can take it to the public at large so that when you do become president, you have a mandate to do what you’re suggesting. 

When we get into all this other stuff, Chris, what happens, it all gets drowned out.  I want to debate whether or not I am the only guy that put forward a plan in Iraq.  Well, people criticize it.  My response is, OK, what’s your plan?

MATTHEWS:  Well, that’s a sound position.  Senator, I’m allowed to say what I think.  I think your plan makes sense.

BIDEN:  Sure you are.

MATTHEWS:  It’s the only plan out there that seems to because federalization of that country seems to be what those people - not they what say they want, it’s what they do, they are fighting to create a federalized system.

BIDEN:  That’s exactly right.

MATTHEWS:  We ought to recognize what they’re doing and not what they’re saying in polling.  I trust polling in countries that are in turmoil.

Thank you Senator Joe Biden.  Up next, who is winning the war of words between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama?  And later, former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack who dropped out the of the presidential race today.  You’re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Will Democrats really be able to repeal the 2002 authorization for the war in Iraq?  And which Democrat came ahead, Hillary or Obama came out ahead in this week’s big dustup out in L.A.?

We are joined now by “The Hill’s” A.B. Stoddard and MSNBC political analyst Craig Crawford.

A.B. somebody ripped the scab off of the Bill Clinton issue very early in this campaign.  It was done this week by a liberal guy, David Geffen, openly gay guy.  Not some right wing conspiracist.

Hillary Clinton has a problem, doesn’t she?  That the issue has been raised about her husband’s role in the campaign, not the official role.  It’s the unofficial role.  Is this a problem that she’s going to have to put to sleep here?

A.B. STODDARD, “THE HILL”:  David Geffen was remarking about the Bill Clinton baggage coming out after she would become the nominee.

MATTHEWS:  Not the baggage, the current problem, he said.  He said it will come out after she gets the nomination.

STODDARD:  I think her problem is Barack Obama.  I think that Bill Clinton is more of an asset than a liability right now for her.

MATTHEWS:  Get to my particular question.  David Geffen said that if she gets the nomination, Republicans will lie in wait for her to get the nomination, then the swift boat types and everybody will jump on whatever Bill is up that may cause a problem.  They are going to jump on him.


CRAIG CRAWFORD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Hillary peeled it away herself out there in Iowa at that town hall after she made the joke about dealing with bad men.  Of course later she said she wasn’t talking about her husband.

MATTHEWS:  Everybody knows she was.

CRAWFORD:  That just showed quickly that story rose is going to rise to the surface whatever the provocation.  The “New York Times” wrote what, like a year ago ...

MATTHEWS:  Not - several months.  It seems like a year ago.

CRAWFORD:  It does.  About how much time they spend together.

MATTHEWS:  This is the travail of being a very big frontrunner, as I say to people, the bigger you are, the bigger your rear end gets as a target.  She’s a huge target now as a political prize for anybody that breaks the story.  So Barack Obama’s top money raiser out there in California said look at the Clintons.  They are going to win the nomination but if they win it, the Republican tear them apart and we have another Dukakis, we have another Al Gore, we have another John Kerry.  Another disaster.

CRAWFORD:  I think the Clintons also showed how they will defend themselves against these things by being so intense in their opposition.

MATTHEWS:  We had Howard Wolfson ...

CRAWFORD:  I think they got Obama off stride.  He had to distance himself.

MATTHEWS:  But he stuck with it.

CRAWFORD:  His own staff came out swinging, and then he later had to distance himself and said that he is getting a haircut.

STODDARD:  He is more viable than he was at the beginning of the week. 

She elevated his status.

MATTHEWS:  It’s the old - I believe in the old rules.  Always get in a fight with someone bigger than you.  It makes you look equal.  And he’s now in a fight with Hillary Clinton.

STODDARD:  I really agree.  I think this elevated Barack Obama to a place he was not at the start of the week.

CRAWFORD:  I think they got him down in the gutter.  They engaged him. 

He wasn’t above the fray there for a day or so.

MATTHEWS:  A difference of opinion here.  You think it hurt, you think it helped.

Let me ask you about this new poll I saw the other day.  Barack is only eight points behind Hillary among men.  She has got an advantage with the gender thing.  Men, I always thought that Barack eventually is going to get even on men.  You guys disagree.

CRAWFORD:  I think she will get about 60 percent of the women’s vote and closer to 50 or below on the men in the best case scenario.  A problem I see for Obama and I think it is something to talk about, I saw it in the Pew Center poll today.  Among people who said they would not vote for a Muslim.  That was his worst number.

MATTHEWS:  But he’s not a Muslim.  Who put that ...

CRAWFORD:  I know.  That was the Pew Research Center.  Among voters who would not vote for a Muslim, that was his worst numbers.

MATTHEWS:  Who raised the issue—who said he’s a Muslim?

CRAWFORD:  No one.  I think it suggests that people incorrectly think he is Muslim, if among those voters he is doing so poorly.

STODDARD:  I think the primary voters are divided into two groups, not male or female, they are divided into voters who support Hillary Clinton and are sort of comfortable with the past, embrace the fact that she has an impressive machine and voters who are trying toe make a break the Clinton Bush era and move on and that’s why there is  an appeal with Barack Obama.

And I think the episode with David Geffen this week really shows us that it’s one thing to have a an effective machine as she does but it’s another to be defined by your machine.  The voters who trying on Barack Obama on right now for size, those are the ones that are not impressed with the fact that she has been building a machine for two decades.  They don’t want to hear about that.

CRAWFORD:  David Geffen called her a liar.  She had every right to react to that as strongly as she chose and at the end of the day I don’t think it hurts her to have a big fight with a Hollywood guy.

MATTHEWS:  Is it smart of Howard Wolfson to say he thinks that Geffen was put up to it by Barack himself?

STODDARD:  Those accusations—He is playing hardball.

MATTHEWS:  Why is he trying, Howard, to bring it right to Barack?  Are they trying to dirty up Barack?

STODDARD:  Geffen is now a former friend, now an enemy.  They can’t get into a fight with Geffen.  David Geffen doesn’t care.  He says I stand by what I say.  They need to get into a fight with Barack and they can’t pick one with him directly so they had to use the David Geffen.

MATTHEWS:  So, they went after the deep pockets.

CRAWFORD:  It happened to them.  They didn’t go out and make Geffen say what he said.

MATTHEWS:  Any attack like John Edwards a couple weeks ago saying the Democrats who didn’t say anything about the war are guilty of the betrayal by silence.  Wolfson came out and said you’re attacking my candidate, you’re attacking Hillary with that.  He went right out there?

CRAWFORD:  I think that’s good politics on their part.  They have to rip the halo off Obama’s head.

MATTHEWS:  Can you referee a game if you’re already in it as a contestant.  Can Hillary people set the rules if they’re part of the fight?

CRAWFORD:  Sure, if the other candidates let her.  Why wouldn’t they set the rules, but they’re not going to get away with it.

MATTHEWS:  I think the scab has been ripped off so early that Bill is in play now.  “The New York Times” put him in play a few months ago.  Now Geffen has put him in play.  It just seems to be that we’re talking about stuff I didn’t think we’d be talking about until next whenever.

CRAWFORD:  All I’ve seen the Clintons do is gain from this kind of stuff.  They feed off it.

STODDARD:  Yes, I agree ...

CRAWFORD:  There is something about ...

MATTHEWS:  You don’t think people are tired of the sitcom?

STODDARD:  I don’t think the Bill stuff is going to be that damaging.  As Peggy Noonan said today in her column about this.  It’s never been a Republican that’s knocked Hillary off her stride.  It was finally a Democrat.  Republicans don’t bother her.  No matter what they say.

CRAWFORD:  I think making Sister Souljah out of David Geffen to appeal to centrist voters is not so bad.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway.  It’s more interesting than last week.  Anyway, thank you A.B. Stoddard and Craig Crawford.  Up next, the head of the National Governors’ Association, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano. 

And later, HARDBALL’s David Shuster reports on day three of the jury deliberations in Scooter Libby’s trial.  You’re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  This weekend, nearly 50 governors in Washington for the National Governors’ Association’s winter meeting.  Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano is the chairwoman, or chair of the NGA and she is here with us tonight. 

It is great to have you on.


MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the West.  There is the Russert theory which I sort of subscribe to which is if you want to look to the states in play for president this coming, look to the states like Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and think about them because some of the crustier states up in the industrial Midwest may not be as movable as yours.

NAPOLITANO:  I think our states are definitely in play.  And I can speak for Arizona.  It’s a fast growing state in the country.  People are moving here from all over the place.

MATTHEWS:  You have a real mix of people from all over the country there?

NAPOLITANO:  I think our number one source of migration are Californians, the second would be the upper Midwest.  But a very diverse population.  A very young population.  It’s one of the five youngest states in the country now.

MATTHEWS:  Let me get back to the game we play here which is trying to figure out which states are really going to be open.  You have conservative state, Arizona, it voted Republican except in ‘96.  McCain said it switched over because of prop - whatever it was, the anti-immigrant legislation in California that year.  Is that how things move, the Hispanic vote back and forth because of attitudes on that issue?

NAPOLITANO:  No.  That’s a different issue than the presidential race.  It will require whoever wins Arizona to come there to campaign to talk to Arizonans about the issues they are concerned about.

MATTHEWS:  One theory which I want to address with you, Madame Governor is that unlike the industrial Midwest which has very deer hunter, very macho, everybody has a gun or boat or both.  Your area was settled by men and women, sturdy frontiersman and then men don’t have that macho attitude against women leading.  Your state has had what, three top offices filled by women fairly recently?

NAPOLITANO:  I’m the third woman governor.  When I was elected attorney general in 1998, all five of our statewide constitutional offices were held by women.

MATTHEWS:  Well, Pennsylvania and Ohio have never had woman governors, OK?  So what is it about ...

NAPOLITANO:  So what’s that about?

MATTHEWS:  I want to know.  That’s why you’re here.  What’s that about?

NAPOLITANO:  I don’t know.  My two predecessors women governors were secretary of state who succeeded to office one because the male governor was impeached and the other because he was convicted.  So I really am the first one that was elected from scratch but I have never found the gender part of gender politics to really play a serious issue at least while I’ve been running.

MATTHEWS:  Hillary Clinton runs for president, she is running hard, she is the frontrunner, she has really got the numbers right now.  She wins the nomination, she is out there next summer.  Can she win your state?

NAPOLITANO:  I think any of the Democrats could run a very strong race.

MATTHEWS:  How about if McCain is running?

NAPOLITANO:  That makes it tougher.  Let’s be real.  He is the favorite sun.  He is from there.  He has got a large constituency there.  But I still think it would be very competitive.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  The subway series goes to Arizona, it’s Rudy versus Hillary.  First name candidates.  Who wins Arizona?

NAPOLITANO:  The one whose first name ends with a Y.  Work with me here.

It’s too soon to tell and one of the things I would say as the governor of Arizona and somebody who doesn’t live my life in the Beltway is that people want to here from the candidates.  This race is being called a horse race far too prematurely as far as most people are concerned.  In fact, they just got over the last election.  They haven’t yet begun to focus really on who they want the next president to be.

MATTHEWS:  People move to Arizona.  They don’t move away, they move to it.  Right?  You’re a state people end up in, they want to be there.

NAPOLITANO:  That’s right.  It’s a destination.

MATTHEWS:  It’s dry air.  You don’t have a lot of the problems you have, for health reasons, for just good weather.  Arizona is where people move, right?

NAPOLITANO:  That’s right.

MATTHEWS:  It’s not as congested as California.  Right?

NAPOLITANO:  That’s right.

MATTHEWS:  So those people who move there tend to be retirees?

NAPOLITANO:  No.  Wrong.  That’s the stereotype.  They tend to be young families with children.  Our fastest growing group are zero to five year olds.  They come because there are good jobs, there is a high quality of life, nice environment, and a sense for the future, of potential.

MATTHEWS:  That’s true.


MATTHEWS:  So why is that?  This goes back to Enron (ph) in Colorado. 

Why does the Rockies still offer the American dream?

NAPOLITANO:  Because it’s based o opportunity and people being able to succeed on their own merits.  I can use myself as an example.  I moved to Arizona not knowing a soul 25 years ago and now I’m a two-term governor.  And that story can be told time and time again in Arizona.  In Colorado. 

In Nevada.  All those rapidly growing states.

MATTHEWS:  Would that work for people not as friendly as you?  Can you go out there and be kind of nebbish and get to know people as well as you have.  This is pretty good, 25 years in the state and now you’re the governor of the state?

NAPOLITANO:  This is a nebbish issue but no, it’s really on open state and not about so much as where you are from but where you’re going to and what does the future hold for you.

MATTHEWS:  One tough question.  Why is it every time I meet a woman and ask her about this race for president, my wife excluded, it’s a very complicated answer about Hillary.  Why does Hillary cause—is it because she’s the first, a different kind of life as first lady, dealing with Bill Clinton and all that, which she jokes about.

What makes her problematic to women?  Why do they have to think about her all the time?  Why don’t they say, first woman, I’m with her?

NAPOLITANO:  Why do men have to think about John McCain?  Well maybe he’s good - You have got to think about the candidates beyond those kinds of stereotypes.  Who is going to be the best person to lead our country?  I happen to think Senator Clinton would be very good.  I happen to think former Senator Edwards, Senator Obama, Governor Richardson.

We have a very robust slate of candidates on the Democratic side.  Let them fight it out.  Talk to the voters.

MATTHEWS:  My bet is - my long shot is Richardson.  I think he is going to come back.  First of all he is very likeable.


MATTHEWS:  And he has had a lot of experience dealing with bad guys. 

Unlike Hillary.  Real bad guys.

Anyway, thank you Governor Napolitano ...

NAPOLITANO:  Thank you a lot.

MATTHEWS:  ... of Arizona, head of the governors’ conference.  Up next, HARDBALL’s David Shuster will have the latest on jury deliberations in the Scooter Libby trial.  Third day today.  And this Sunday on NBC’s MEET THE PRESS, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin is coming on to talk about the Democrats’ plan to change the resolution for war. 

You’re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.



MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Washington’s waiting for the verdict in the Scooter Libby trial.  If he gets convicted, what does that mean for his former boss, Dick Cheney?

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster joins us now from the federal courthouse—David.

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT:  Chris, they finished the third day of deliberations today and again did not reach a verdict, but there were also no indications that they’re stuck or needing anything from the court or from the judge.  Unlike yesterday, there were no notes, no indication that they’ve had some problems in the jury room.  So the only thing you can really deduce is that perhaps they’re moving very methodically.

There was some indication yesterday, based on a note that they wanted pictures of all 19 witnesses who testified, so one could assume perhaps that they’re trying to essentially map out the different witness and what they said as part of making their decision.

It’s also worth keeping in mind, Chris, at the last big trial here at the federal courthouse stemming from, for example, the Jack Abramoff investigation, the David Safavian trial went a little bit shorter than this one did, and it took five days for the jury in that case to reach a decision on four counts.  They found Safavian guilty on three.  Here, of course, there are five counts and there are sometimes two or three elements within each of the charges.

But again, no verdict, but we’ll see what happens next week—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  David, how do the jurors, I mean, even if they have a really smart, organized foreman or forewoman—how do they organize all this information from 19 different witnesses?

SHUSTER:  Chris, the way that I’ve seen it done in the past is that the jury develop essentially develop flowcharts.  They’ll put essentially a timeline on an easel and make essentially a calendar for themselves of what testimony, what evidence they believe happened at a particular day.

If they’re doing that in this case, that could be a problem for the defense because the defense argument was very sort of passionate, emotional.  They were trying to plead with the jury to consider the emotions in this case, the prosecution much more sort of matter-of-fact...


SHUSTER:  ... saying that here are the seven or eight government officials who testified, saying Scooter Libby knew this information before he said he first learned it.  And to the extent that the jury is going back and trying to piece together that timeline in a very sort of methodical, earnest sort of fashion, that would seem to help the prosecution.

But who knows.  We do know, Chris, that there is a retired math teacher on the jury.  There is also an MIT economist.  But then there are also people who don’t have much education who are serving on the jury.  And sometimes in a complicated case, just bringing the collective knowledge together and getting people to agree on what the witnesses testified to—sometimes that can take a little bit of time, as well—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  You know, I said last week I thought it would end up being somewhere in the middle, that they’ll look at some counts, feel they have a much stronger case, other ones they won’t.  I think it’s going to be very interesting how they dissect this.  Thank you very much, David Shuster.

Here to talk about the Libby case, plus the sniping—I guess that’s the word for it—between Hillary and Obama, our HARDBALLers, MSNBC political analyst Mike Barnicle and Ron Christie, a Republican consultant who was an assistant to President Bush.

Mike Barnicle, I didn’t think the Bill and Hillary issue would get—the husband issue would get so hot so fast, and now you got this guy, David Geffen, a liberal money-raising guy out in California, Hollywood, in Tinseltown, raising the issue of Bill Clinton’s personal behavior so early in the campaign.


Well, you know what’s interesting, Chris, is I will eat your tie if we could go to Laconia, New Hampshire, tonight and find two people up there who know who David Geffen is.  That’s one interesting aspect of it.

The other interesting aspect of it is I think once you remove yourself from the Beltway, from Washington, D.C., the horrific overreaction of the Clinton campaign, which clearly indicates, I think, to a lot of people, Hillary Clinton is really hearing footsteps.  She’s hearing Barack Obama coming on strong.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it seems to me they got two ways to respond to this charge that Bill’s behavior will cause a problem.  They could say there’s no bad behavior, or they could say it’s a personal matter, it doesn’t matter.  They chose to fall back to the, It’s a personal matter, right away.  Why did they go back to that and breed doubt?  Why didn’t they go to the person, What are you talking about?  Why didn’t they just say, What are you guys talking about?  They didn’t do it that way!

RON CHRISTIE, FORMER ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT BUSH:  You got me.  And if I were the Clintons, I would have stayed above the fray.  I think what you just said—what Mike just said, actually, is absolutely right.  They must be hearing footsteps somewhere.

MATTHEWS:  Why didn’t they just say, If you got some charges, make them, otherwise, stop talking?

CHRISTIE:  Yes, otherwise—otherwise, stop talking.  But clearly, Senator Clinton believes that Obama’s gaining traction.  He’s raising a lot of money.  And he’s sucking the wind and the oxygen away from her.

MATTHEWS:  Have you...


MATTHEWS:  ... I know you’re—both you guys—have you noticed—I

love looking at internals in these numbers.  Did you notice that among men

not women, Hillary’s dominating among women.  Among men, it’s only 8 points difference right now.  Here’s a woman who’s been in public life for 15 years, and she’s only 8 points above, with 8, 10 months to go, 20 months.  Obama is within striking distance of her among men right off the bat.



BARNICLE:  Well, look at it, Chris, the first thing, you know, this spat that began this week with Maureen’s column, Maureen Dowd’s column—this is as the referee is just giving instructions to the fighters.  They haven’t even gone to their separate corners to begin the fight yet.  So right away, they’re going to the mattresses.

the second aspect of it is that her response in Nevada the other evening, when she said she hoped that the candidates running for president would avoid involving themselves in the politics of personal destruction—that is so old, so out of the rearview mirror...

MATTHEWS:  What is the politics of personal destruction?  Would somebody tell me what it is?

BARNICLE:  Well, with her, it means you can’t say anything negative about Hillary Clinton.


MATTHEWS:  In other words, if your husband gets involved with somebody who works with him at the White House or with somebody who works for him down in whatever—somebody said all Bill’s friends are all his workers—then that’s politics of personal destruction.

CHRISTIE:  That’s what the whole rich aspect of this is.  And Mike’s absolutely right.  If you touch the Clintons, all of a sudden, it’s the personal attacks.  But what did they do?  What have the Clintons done for their entire time in politics other than do the slash-and-burn tactics...


MATTHEWS:  ... solution, which is keep it clean, Keep everybody out of your face and deny everything.  But it’s got to be consistent.  Let me ask you about this fight on your side of the aisle, Ron Christie.  Dick Cheney, who’ always playing the cards like W. C. Fields, right, close to his chest, attacking McCain publicly, saying he’s a nasty little guy who come up to me and apologized to me, like a meek little, you know, weasel the other night...


MATTHEWS:  Yes, he did say that.

CHRISTIE:  What he said was that John had said some things where they’ve had disagreements, and then John’s come over to him afterwards and apologized.

MATTHEWS:  And?  Keep going on that sentence.

CHRISTIE:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  And now he’s going to go apologize for Rumsfeld.


MATTHEWS:  He mocked him.

CHRISTIE:  Look, if you look—I think—I absolutely take exception with what Mr. McCain said about Senator...


CHRISTIE:  ... Secretary Rumsfeld.


MATTHEWS:  It was nasty?

CHRISTIE:  I think that that was way out of bounds, way out of bounds. 

He was not the worst secretary of defense.  Senator McCain, you recall, said, Oh, Rumsfeld has done a great job, and was a big supporter.  Then all of a sudden, when he was running for president and trying to prove, Oh, I’m against this war that I’ve been supporting, now he’s...

MATTHEWS:  Who started this fight, Cheney or McCain?

CHRISTIE:  I’m not going to say who started this fight.  I’m saying...

MATTHEWS:  OK, McCain started it because McCain said that Bill—that George Bush, the president, has taken too much advice from Dick Cheney over the years.

CHRISTIE:  He has said that.  And I—of course he’s going to take advice from his own vice president.  I mean, what do you expect?  But Senator McCain’s trying to have it both ways.  He’s trying to prove that he’s strong on national defense and with the president, but when he’s running for president now, he’s trying to get a little distance and try to appease the...

MATTHEWS:  Speaking of...

CHRISTIE:  ... who are anti-war...


MATTHEWS:  Is it possible for the vice president to get any further away from the Scooter Libby trial?  The last sighting of the guy was somewhere in Guam!  He was in Australia.  He’s in—he has gotten—Mike, don’t you think he’s really gotten some distance, to use Ron’s word, from this trial?

BARNICLE:  Well, Chris, first of all, he goes from hub to hub, from Tokyo to Manila to wherever he is tonight, you know, dropping bombs on the Chinese, on the North Koreans, on John McCain.  He has morphed in front of our very own eyes—he has morphed into Dean Wormer from “Animal House,” a bogus authority figure that nobody listens to.  Nobody pays attention to this guy.

CHRISTIE:  Hey, Mike, I love the “Animal House” reference, but I don’t see the VP dropping bombs in China.  But seriously, look, the vice president’s over.  Australia is a strong ally of the United States.  The vice president has had this trip planned for a good amount of time.  Chris is chortling.  Chris loves...

MATTHEWS:  I am because...

CHRISTIE:  You love the fact that Cheney’s over there...

MATTHEWS:  Because he’s—look, it just seems to me that he ought to be a strong ally of Scooter.

CHRISTIE:  Look, of course he’s a strong ally of Scooter, but the vice president...

BARNICLE:  He’s going to be in Switzerland when this verdict comes down.


CHRISTIE:  Hey, look, Mike—look, the VP has been very consistent in saying that he is not going to comment about this until the trial’s over.


MATTHEWS:  He’s making himself scarce.  Feet, don’t fail me now!


MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you very much, Mike Barnicle and Ron Christie.

Up next: He’s out of the presidential race, and he says it comes down to money.  That’s why he’s out.  Former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack joins us in just a minute.

This is HARDBALL only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Today the Democratic presidential field shrank by one, as former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack dropped out of the race, saying he didn’t have the money to compete.

Governor Vilsack joins us right now from Des Moines.  Governor, VP Vilsack—I mean, it really sounds right, you know, vice president—two V’s.  Are you still in the running for veep?


CANDIDATE:  You know, Christ, right now, I’m just focused on making sure that the staff of my presidential campaign is going to land on their two feet and that we pay off the debt that we’ve incurred during this process.  It’s really that simple.

MATTHEWS:  As a former staffer in these campaigns, I appreciate anybody that pays the bills because a lot of times, you get stuck without them paying.  Let me ask you about money.  We had Senator Biden on tonight, and he’s openly talked about the ante money it costs to get in one of these races.  Is it just getting too high to get in the door?

VILSACK:  It’s very tough to do, especially as a governor.  I think we were winning the idea primary, but the money primary was the one that mattered.  We obviously had a position on the war that I think was the right position.  And we had an energy policy I was very proud of.  But the reality is, if you don’t have the resources, you can’t basically push the message, and that was the—at the end of the day, that’s what it was.

MATTHEWS:  What is your position on the war in Iraq?

VILSACK:  We need to get out, and we need to get out now.  There’s no question that this is a civil war.  America doesn’t belong in the middle of it.  We’ve given four years of the brightest and best, and we’ve given quite a bit of our treasury to this effort.  It’s now up to the Iraqis to take responsibility for their nation, they economic and their government.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the Democratic primary.  I mean, the Democratic party has long been the populist party, back to William Jennings Bryan, it’s the party that looks out for the little guy, as Franklin Roosevelt called them, the forgotten men or forgotten woman. 

And yet so many of the frontrunners this time around are saying, We don’t want the federal limits on spending.  We want to be able to raise as much money as we can, as if it was before Watergate, and just blow out the other side.  Is that healthy?  I’m talking about Clinton and the other top runners saying, I don’t want any federal restraints.  I want as much money as I can spend.

VILSACK:  Well, I obviously understood the rules of the game when I got into this.  But clearly, I think there needs to be a debate and conversation in the country about precisely what the rules of the game ought to be in the future.  It ought to be about ideas.  It ought to be about substance.  It ought not to be just about money.  Unfortunately, that’s the game that’s being played today.  I understood that.  I thought I could compete.  Obviously, at the end of the day, I couldn’t.

MATTHEWS:  But they’re not living by table (ph) stakes, Hillary and other—I don’t think Obama is, either.  Are they going to take just the limits on how much you can spend per primary and then limit themselves in the federal—the general election?  I don’t think they’re going along with the rules that way.

VILSACK:  Well, I’m not sure what their—what their game plan is, but clearly, they have the capacity to raise substantial sums of money.  And frankly, what we need is a conversation about creating a structure and system where that’s not the—that’s not the incentive, that’s not what—what you can do, so that we get back to...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the primary system works anymore?  I was wondering back in the—before our time, you had a system whereby maybe a few big shots from New York, Chicago, the machine guys, would get together in—literally in a hotel room somewhere at a convention and say, You know, I like the cut of this guy’s jib, this Roosevelt.  He’s a clean, wealthy guy.  He’s got the famous name.  Let’s get behind him.  Truman, I believe, asked Adlai Stevenson of Illinois to come and visit him at Blair House, and he gave him the nomination, basically.

Do you think the big shots who know what works would be better off picking the candidates than the system we have today?

VILSACK:  I don’t believe that.  I believe that one of the great things about Iowa and New Hampshire, and perhaps Nevada and South Carolina, is the opportunity for ordinary people to have an impact on this race.  My hope is that we don’t get into a circumstance and situation where it’s about 3,000 people in a convention hall answering a few questions.  I hope that we have candidates going to Main Street cafes, living rooms, church basements, and actually talking with real voters.

Let me tell you, I was in Seattle talking to voters.  A 5-year-old child came up to me and looked at me and he said, Would 100 more troops in Iraq make a difference?  Would 1,000 more troops in Iraq make a difference?  When I explained to him that it wouldn’t, he looked at me and he said, You know, I’m frightened every day.

Now, when you have a conversation like that, it makes you think about the future of this country.  It makes you think about the direction of this country today.  Those are the kinds of conversations that have to happen in an election, in my view, for us to have the best candidate, for us to have the best president, and for that person to be able to do the best job.

MATTHEWS:  Well said.  Thank you very much, Tom Vilsack, for coming on


Up next, documentary maker Rory Kennedy with an inside look at the Abu Ghraib prison tragedy.

You’re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  The Abu Ghraib prison scandal has often been portrayed as an isolated event perpetrated by a few bad apples.  Eleven military police and intelligence corpsmen were court-martialed, but no high-ranking officers were held accountable.  Filmmaker Rory Kennedy interviewed both the perpetrators and the victims of the abuse and examines how torture found its way to the Iraqi prison in her new documentary, “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib.”  Let’s take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I believe Corporal Grainer took a photo of me.  And it was just a dead guy.  It was supposed to be just a dead guy.  And we didn’t realize until after these photos that he was bleeding in places that you wouldn’t bleed from me (ph) getting a heart attack.

Well, the thumbs-up, I got that from the little kids.  The smile—I always smile for cameras.  It’s just the natural thing you do when you’re in front of a camera.  It really wasn’t anything negative towards this guy.  Like, I didn’t know he was just murdered.  I just thought it was just—it’s war.  It’s another dead guy.  No big deal.


MATTHEWS:  Rory Kennedy, let me ask you, you talked to people who were victimized, people who were being held there as terrorists or whatever, people we picked up over there.  What account did they give you of what happened over there?

RORY KENNEDY, “GHOSTS OF ABU GHRAIB”:  Well, That’s right.  I was able to speak to a number of detainees who were held at Abu Ghraib at the time that all these abuses took place.  And they had very harrowing stories which really made me feel that the photographs were just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the abuse that happened.  But they maintained, like the soldiers, that they believe that these orders were coming from the interrogators and higher up the chain of command.

MATTHEWS:  There was a—some orders that said that the job of the prison guards was to soften up the prisoners, right, to get them ready to talk.

KENNEDY:  That’s right.  What happened was the prison guards were brought in to the interrogation teams.  The interrogators could only be with the detainees for two to four hours, whereas the prison guards were there day in and day out. 

And so they were brought in to try to soften up the prisoners.  And they were encouraged to use a range of techniques that had been authorized by General Sanchez in Abu Ghraib, as well as in Guantanamo.  And these techniques included sleep deprivation, stress positions.  A lot of what we see in the photographs was, in fact, authorized.

MATTHEWS:  Rory, I believe President Bush pointed out that the release of the photos of the way these prisoners were treated went around the world and really hurt the campaign we have under way to try to win the hearts and minds of the Middle East.  At the same time, you’ve got indications that the word came down from above at the Pentagon to engage in this kind of treatment of the prisoners.

That’s contradictory, isn’t it?  You don’t want the pictures out, but you want the treatment the way it was done.

KENNEDY:  Well, that’s right.  And you know, to me, the film is not just about Abu Ghraib, it’s about who we are as Americans, and do we want to be a country who says that it’s OK to treat people inhumanely, it’s OK to torture people, because not only was that our policy going into Abu Ghraib, but unfortunately, it’s still our policy today.

So I think if the president is going to say this is one of his greatest regrets, that we also have to revisit some of the policies that are still in place that he has, in fact, authorized.

MATTHEWS:  How do we get out of dealing with prisoner in a rough fashion?  If you go into a country, you occupy it, you face an insurgency, you have to engage in counterinsurgency, you’ve got to deal with—you have to have intel.  Doesn’t it all lead you eventually to this kind of treatment of prisoners because it’s the only way you can crack the insurgency is to find out what they’re up to?

KENNEDY:  Well, that is one belief system.  But there’s also a very large school of thought that says that, in fact, relationship building, trust building is much more effective in getting usable information.  That’s the techniques that the FBI supports. 

Those are the techniques that were used in Guantanamo prior to the shifts that took place in policy, and they actually produced a lot of very usable information, whereas there’s been very little that I’ve seen that has come out of the war on terror both in firsthand accounts of people who I interviewed, as well as all the studies I’ve read, to show that much usable information has come out of any of these more forceful interrogations.

MATTHEWS:  Why did the enlisted men and women who really took the fall here—and we know their names.  We’ve had them on the program, and you’ve interviewed them.  Why did they take the fall, if they were operating under instructions or orders from above?

KENNEDY:  Well, I think that was an easy solution.  You know, right after this scandal broke out, we heard members of the administration, from top levels of the military, say this was “Animal House” on the night shift.  This was just, you know, nine bad apples.  And their solution was to put them in prison, which happened.  And that basically enabled them to continue on with their policies.

MATTHEWS:  But why didn’t they blow their whistle on the bosses, the top-ranking people, the brass, if you will?

KENNEDY:  Well, they tried.  You know, the soldiers have been very outspoken, at least to me, to say, You know, we—every person I talked to, from the eyewitnesses to the detainees to the soldiers themselves, when I asked them why did they do this, they all said the same thing, which was, I did it because I was told to do it.  And they gave me very specific names of who told them to do that and...

MATTHEWS:  Well, why did they take the fall?  Why didn’t they just say, Wait a minute, I was operating under orders?

KENNEDY:  They tried.  They said that.  And the judge didn’t pay attention.  The media, for the large part, you know, with the exception of actually you and a few others, didn’t pay attention.  And unfortunately, you know, that has been the dominating viewpoint of what happened at Abu Ghraib, which is why I hope that people will see this film...

MATTHEWS:  They sure will.

KENNEDY:  ... which is going to be on...

MATTHEWS:  Thanks to...


MATTHEWS:  When’s it coming on?

KENNEDY:  It’s going to be on HBO.  It’s ongoing throughout the month...

MATTHEWS:  OK, great.

KENNEDY:  ... so you got to check your local listings.

MATTHEWS:  Rory Kennedy, thanks for the great work.  People need to know more about that and what really happened.

Right now, it’s time for “TUCKER.”

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