updated 3/7/2007 11:35:29 AM ET 2007-03-07T16:35:29

Guests: Robert Bennett, Michael Isikoff, Jim VandeHei, John Edwards, Ed Rogers

CHRIS MATTHEWS, MSNBC HOST:  Scooter Libby has been convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI.  The man lied in the line of duty defending the vice president.  Will the vice president save him?  Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening, I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Today a federal jury convicted Vice President Cheney‘s right-hand man of perjury, obstruction of justice, and lying to the FBI.

It is a victory to the prosecutor who told the jury that quote, “a cloud hangs over Dick Cheney.”

Today‘s conviction of Libby exposes a triple layer of administration cover ups.  First, Libby‘s lying about his and the vice president‘s role in outing the identity of CIA official Valerie Wilson.  Second, the attempt by the vice president and his staff chief Libby to cover up the faulty case for the Iraq War by discrediting Joseph Wilson and his wife Valerie.  The third level of the cover-up was the faulty nuclear case itself for war.  Which the Wilsons attempted to expose.

The questions tonight, what will Cheney do in the face of special prosecutors declaration, that the case puts him under a cloud?  Will Cheney protect Scooter himself by euchring a pardon from President Bush?  We begin tonight at the courthouse with HARDBALL‘s David Shuster.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, the prosecutor said today it is a sad day for the United States when a top aide to the vice president of the United States is convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice.  When the verdict was read in court, Scooter Libby sat there largely emotionless but his wife began sobbing as the jury foreperson announced the four guilty counts.  One of the jurors also seemed to be having tears in her eyes as the counts were announced.

Under the sentencing guidelines, Scooter Libby could face up to $1 million of fines and a range of three and a half to five years to prison.  Today the jury agreed that Scooter Libby lied and obstructed the CIA leak investigation and there was evidence at trial that Scooter Libby was taking actions at the behest of Vice President Cheney.

There was testimony they spoke on several occasions before Valerie Wilson was outed.  And Scooter Libby testified that he and Vice President Cheney may have discussed outing Valerie Wilson with reporters.

Late today, Patrick Fitzgerald was asked specifically about his statements in court, that there was a cloud over the vice president.  Here is what Fitzgerald he was asked about.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION:  Is there still information about Vice President Cheney that you do not know and secondly, do you believe the vice president was truthful in his testimony to you?

PATRICK FITZGERALD, SPECIAL PROSECUTOR:  We do not comment—we try to treat everyone the same in our legal system.  No one is above the law, no one gets less protection in the law.  So I want to make clear that we do not talk about people not on trial.  And that is not a negative comment on anyone.  And we apply the same rules to the vice president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  However, prosecutors continue to believe that Scooter Libby does have information about Vice President Cheney that would further the investigation, but prosecutors are not expecting Scooter Libby to flip and essentially try and cut a deal.  Nonetheless, Patrick Fitzgerald made the point today of saying that the door is open if Libby has a change of heart.  Now that he has been convicted.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FITZGERALD:  Mr. Libby is like any other defendant.  If his counsel or he wish to pursue any options, they can contact us.  But we are going to treat him like any other defendant and not comment beyond that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  As for the jury, one of jury‘s members said today, Chris, that the evidence was clear it was easy for them to come to the conclusion after they were able to piece all of this together after 10 days that in fact nine government officials have testified that Scooter Libby did know about Valerie Wilson in the weeks and days before Scooter Libby said he first learned about that information from a reporter.

The jury noted that there was testimony about Vice President Cheney, testimony about Karl Rove.  And Denis Collins, the jury member who came out and spoke to the microphone said that the panel did not think that Scooter Libby was the only government official who deserve to be tried in this case.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DENIS COLLINS, LIBBY TRIAL JUROR:  That there was a tremendous amount of sympathy for Mr. Libby on the jury.  It was said in a number of times, what are we doing with this guy here?  Where is Rove?  Where are these other guys?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Now by saying that Scooter Libby was essentially the fall guy as Denis Collins said late today, that of course it‘s politically damaging for the White House, Chris.  But legally, this investigation is over unless Scooter Libby decides that he has information that he can provide to prosecutors and prosecutors agree to try and cut a deal.  But that is not something the government is expecting.  So this means, Chris, that Scooter Libby is essentially - he is free on bail for now, but the sentencing phase of this case will begin in June.  Chris?

MATTHEWS:  What does he have to give the prosecutors to reduce his sentence?  If he gets hit with four counts here, he could go away to a serious person, maybe a medium-security prison for 10 years.  Doesn‘t he have to negotiate his way down by flipping for the vice president here perhaps?

SHUSTER:  That is what he‘s got to do and what prosecutors would want.  Is there were several crucial conversations that Scooter Libby testified he had with Vice President Cheney both before Valerie Wilson was outed, but also on the eve of the criminal investigation, when Scooter Libby lied to the FBI.  Libby testified repeatedly at the grand jury under oath that he could not recall specifics of his conversations with Vice President Cheney.

He said they may have discussed leaking Valerie Wilson to reporters, but Libby could not say for sure.  Libby also was vague about he and Vice President Cheney discussed on the eve of the criminal investigation.  If Libby were to come forward now and say to prosecutors, you know what, I do have a clear memory.  I was lying at the grand jury, but here is the truth of what happened between me and the vice president, then you are talking about a possible deal.

But again, Chris, nobody in the prosecution is expecting or anticipating, that even though Libby has now been convicted on four counts that his memory is now going to suddenly be refreshed.

Chris?

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.  Bob Bennett, attorney for former “New York Times” reporter Judy Miller, who is one of the journalists who testified at the Libby trial.  Counselor, how good and the case was this?  It looked to me like open and shut when you listened to Denis Collins, the jury, he said they had all the facts, they just took a while to analyze them.

ROBERT BENNETT, ATTORNEY FOR JUDITH MILLER:  I think it was a very strong government case and I think the government was a very wise in prosecuting a very narrow case.

MATTHEWS:  You mean to go for perjury and obstruction?

BENNETT:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Rather than what?  Conspiracy of some kind?

BENNETT:  Rather than going with the charge that he conspired with others to out her because that would be a much more complicated case.  This was a very .

MATTHEWS:  OK.  What was the backdrop here?  The prosecutor, Fitzgerald, talked in his summation, which apparently worked with the jury, that a cloud hangs over the vice- president himself now.  What does that mean to you legally?

BENNETT:  Well I don‘t think legally, it means very much.  I think politically, it is tremendously damaging.  And I think when you take that statement and combine it with the suggestion in the opening statement by Mr. Libby‘s lawyer that he was a scapegoat, what that tells the jury and everyone else is there was something there.  That something really happened.  And so I think, to use an expression of reporters is going to have legs and people will pursue it.

MATTHEWS:  When you go into these cases of civil abuse, or whatever the right term is, you look for motive.  There is no money motive here.  Scooter Libby lied, perhaps, to protect his job, but it looks to me when he says he did not get the information about Valerie Wilson from my boss, he was not defending himself, he was protecting the boss.  The jury probably knew that, they could see what he was doing, defending his boss, and yet, they prosecuted him and said afterwards, feeling a bit guilty, hey, there were other people involved in this.

BENNETT:  I think that is right, Chris.  I have tried a lot of cases in front of DC juries.  This was a very unusual jury.  This was an incredibly analytical jury.  And I think they took at face value the instructions of court that their job was to take the facts of the case and apply them to these narrow charges and I think that is what they did.  And if you do that, it was a strong government case.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about your client, Judy Miller, how did she do in the trial as you see it?

BENNETT:  Well, I thought she did very well and to some extent, that is vindicated by Mr. Collins, the juror‘s, statements that they felt Judy‘s notes were important and that she—they felt sorry for her.  They felt that the defense lawyers were badgering her which I think was accurate.  So he said something to with the effect that they liked her or felt sorry for her.

MATTHEWS:  The politics of this, however, and this is not to in any way put her down, but the vice president being somewhat the mastermind of this was saying, go, you Scooter, go to that reporter who has been covering the case for war, Judy Miller for the “New York Times”, go have breakfast with her, spend as much time as you need but get her to write something that puts down Joe Wilson.  How does she feel about being used in that way?

BENNETT:  Well, I don‘t know if that is exactly what happened or not.  I have never heard Judy express the view that she felt was being used.  Do not forget, Judy was writing the article from the very beginning which the White House liked.

MATTHEWS:  Sure.  Because it helped the case for war.

BENNETT:  And as a result of that, that is probably why if what you say what is accurate she was identified.

MATTHEWS:  As friendly.

BENNETT:  As someone who was friendly.  But Judy called it the way she saw it and in her testimony was incredibly candid and honest.

MATTHEWS:  My sense talking to some people who were involved in this case directly, including some journalists, that they are happy it is over.  They did not want another retrial here.  This would be a messy go at it again.  Judy feels that.  Have you talked .

BENNETT:  I have talked to Judy.

MATTHEWS:  Is that the way most people that participated in this trial feel?

BENNETT:  I think so.  Everyone is pleased that it is over with.  I think no one more than the reporters at large because our reporters have gone through something they were very uncomfortable going through.  I mean, Tim Russert likes to do the tough interviews.

MATTHEWS:  And I do too.  I understand.

BENNETT:  Doesn‘t like being on the receiving.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m with him on that one.

Let me ask you about the Wilsons now they have, they put out at a press release, like they are an institution, they put out a press release saying that they were very happy with the result because it does excoriate the whole process by which they were damned by this government.  Can they build a case now for civil action?

BENNETT:  Well ..

MATTHEWS:  Do they have standing?  Can you sue a vice president?  Can you sue top officials at the White House for doing their political work?  Has this ever been done?

BENNETT:  Well, you can—as you know, from my representation of President Clinton, a president does not have absolute immunity at all.

MATTHEWS:  I keep forgetting the Paula Jones case.

BENNETT:  This was conduct that occurred of course, before, allegedly it occurred before.

MATTHEWS:  But this precedent cover current officialdom.

BENNETT:  I think it would be difficult for them to bring a viable course of action against him.  Some creative plaintiff‘s lawyer could probably come up with something that would get them on file.  But my guess is that it would be an incredibly weak case and might well be tossed out on some immunity or .

MATTHEWS:  What is your feeling as a defense attorney about the prosecutor basically saying the vice president is under a cloud but not prosecuting?  Should a prosecutor be able to point out someone‘s guilt or murkiness and not have to bring charges?

BENNETT:  Well, I do not think they should be able to do that, but I

do not know that that is a fair criticism of Fitzgerald in this case

because when he talked about that, if my memory serves me correctly, he was

responding to arguments which were made by the defense.  There is a saying

MATTHEWS:  Right.  When they were trying to do the fall guy argument.

BENNETT:  There is a saying that we trial lawyers follow that if you open the door to something, judges are going to let the other side walk through it.  And I think that is what happened.  I think once the defense lawyers started the case out saying that Mr. Libby was a scapegoat, then I think that opened a door.

MATTHEWS:  There‘s a difference - having read - seen a lot of mystery stories—there‘s a difference between a scapegoat and a fall guy.

BENNETT:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  A fall guy is guilty.  A scapegoat is not.

BENNETT:  But he was not charged with the underlying offense.  He was charged .

MATTHEWS:  Where they smart not to put the V.P. on the stand or Scooter on the stand?

BENNETT:  You will never know the answer to that because we do not know what Libby would have testified to.  How do you know if he could have testified truthfully under oath?

MATTHEWS:  He would not want to perjure himself again.

BENNETT:  Now and there is another reason why you always have to think carefully about it.  If they thought they had developed enough reasonable doubt, which undoubtedly they felt, the risk of putting your client on the stand is the jury just disregards everything else.  And they make their decision based on the testimony of their client and the cross-examination of the client.

MATTHEWS:  I am not an attorney, but I am stunned when the jury says they like the defendant and then nail him on four counts.

BENNETT:  It happens a lot.

MATTHEWS:  It is better if they do not like you and they acquit you.

BENNETT:  That is absolutely the best.  Absolutely the best.

MATTHEWS:  Great attorney, Bob Bennett.  Thank you.

One of the great lawyers in this town.

Coming up, how dark is the cloud over Dick Cheney that Fitzgerald was talking about in that summation?  More on the Libby verdict with Politico‘s Jim VandeHei, “Newsweek‘s” Isikoff, the toughest investigator in town.

You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Reactions from both camps after today‘s verdict, finding former U.S. vice presidential aide Scooter Libby, by the way, his name is Lewis, we forgot that, Lewis “Scooter” Libby.  That is his nickname.  Guilty of four counts of lying, perjury, and obstruction of justice during an investigation tied to the Iraq War.

Jim VandeHei writes for politico.com.  And Michael Isikoff for “Newsweek.”  He is, of course, the incredible author of “Hubris, The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal and the Selling of the Iraq War.”

That book “Hubris” is sort of the box this case came in, right? 

Anything in this trial surprised you having written everything about it. 

What came out of this?  The vice president‘s role?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, “NEWSWEEK”:  We learned some further details about Cheney‘s role, and the centrality of the vice president in the whole case and we have to take a step back and say, it‘s this narrow case about perjury in that direction.  Libby as Denis Collins, the juror said today, was perceived by many of the jurors as the fall guy.  The fall guy for whom?

MATTHEWS:  A fall guy for .

ISIKOFF:  If you look at the totality of the evidence .

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s get to the points.  The vice president sat down with Libby according to sworn testimony and told him to go out and talk to Judy Miller.  He said at one point when confronted with a memo that said he was the source of the information about Valerie Wilson, he said, me?  And was like “Peanuts” or something.  Moi?

And he was told, to not give away any details on that.  Lots of information coming back from his trip from Africa, dictating, go see Judy.  It looks like he was working hand in glove with the guy who just got convicted,  20 years in prison for all we know.

JIM VANDEHEI, POLITICO.COM:  Absolutely, and I think that is what is fascinating about this case.  We really did get a lot of detail about the vice president.  We always knew that he was all powerful inside this White House, but this much of a micromanager?  Actually dictating the talking points, telling his staff to go out and use to defend the White House?  I think that is what is so remarkable here.

MATTHEWS:  The vice president, drop everything and we are hearing a lot of this, Mike, and you know this.  Why was he so afraid of what Joe Wilson was saying?

ISIKOFF:  Well, because Wilson was aiming right at the vice president. 

He was suggesting that trip .

MATTHEWS:  The trip to Africa he took.

ISIKOFF:  It was instigated by the vice president.  And the vice president would almost certainly have gotten a report out of that.

MATTHEWS:  Three people said under oath in this trial that it was the vice president‘s query that contributed to this trip.

ISIKOFF:  It was the vice president‘s question that prompted the trip.  The vice president - their defense was we didn‘t tell you to send the guy on the trip.  We didn‘t know .

VANDEHEI:  There is a difference between ordering and some query setting it up.

MATTHEWS:  The question is - let me just raise to you why it is important.  If it was his query that let the FBI to snap, the CIA to send him on that trip, you can bet your bottom dollar the CIA would come back with a report to the vice president.  If he got a report saying there was no deal for uranium, why did he allow the president to keep saying there was a nuclear threat from Iraq?

VANDEHEI:  But on the specifics - and that was the case to this trying to make.  Listen, let‘s try to set the record straight and let‘s go after him.

MATTHEWS:  Why?  Why did he want to set the record straight?  Why did the vice-president want to keep separating himself from this trip?

VANDEHEI:  They wanted to separate themselves from the whole argument that they were cooking up intelligence for the war.  This was not just part of one isolated case.  You have got to look at the context as Michael was talking about before.  What was going on at this time?  And they are under a lot of pressure.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this.  Investigative reporter, political guy, let me ask you this.  The president of the United States has had to put up with a lot of Cheney stuff, a lot of crap if you will.  I mean, shooting somebody in and a hunting accident and not even telling anyone for two or three days.  Acting like he is bigger than the president.  Does he have to do some accountability to the president at this point, his chief of staff, his number one guy, he is working hand and glove.  With the president reading about this trial, does he have to account himself to the president or not?  Or does the president just live with Cheney like he is a conjoined twin?  He is stuck with the guy and .

VANDEHEI:  He lives with him until he decides he does not want to live with him.  He serves at his .

ISIKOFF:  No, no, no.  He was elected.

MATTHEWS:  He was elected vice president.

ISIKOFF:  He was constitutionally elected.  The president cannot dispose of him like a U.S. attorney.

VANDEHEI:  Right but until the president says I don‘t want you here anymore.  Maybe you should—it is time for you to resign.  We get a new vice president here.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he would .

ISIKOFF:  He wouldn‘t have to.  He would not have to resign.

MATTHEWS:  This is fascinating.  Do you believe Cheney is tough enough to say to Mr. President, I got elected as well as you did, buzz off?

VANDEHEI:  No.

ISIKOFF:  I don‘t know that there is any precedent for that.  I don‘t know.  Who knows what Dick Cheney will do?  Dick Cheney has surprised a lot of people over the last few years.  People who say, who work with him for years past and say I don‘t know this guy.

MATTHEWS:  You heard what he said today, the vice president?  He kissed it off, the conviction of his guy by all these counts by saying he is a fine fellow, too bad.

ISIKOFF:  Just a couple of data points of why this is so stunning in a way.

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

ISIKOFF:  Look, it was the testimony in the trial and the evidence in the trial—it was the vice president who tells Scooter Libby that Joe Wilson‘s wife works in the CIA in the counterproliferation division, in the directorate of operations which is the clandestine .

MATTHEWS:  And Scooter denied it under oath.

ISIKOFF:  No.  He did not deny that.  He had to because there was a note, written down in his notes that Cheney had told him about it.

Then Cheney, after Wilson‘s op ed comes out, writes on the - cuts it out and says, did his wife send them on a junket?  It was Cheney who put them the junket charge in play.  Introduces it.

Then it is Cheney who tells Libby to go out to talk to Judy Miller.  And what happens in the Judy Miller conversation?  He, Libby, tells Judy Miller that the wife works for the CIA.  And then when he explains this to the grand jury he says I had forgot all that, I learned all through Tim Russert.  That‘s what he was .

MATTHEWS:  What was his motive.

ISIKOFF:  A reasonable person might conclude he was trying to protect his boss the vice president.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I think.  Is there any other way to look at this?  We are talking perjury.  We are talking a guy - he is an attorney, a top attorney.  In Philadelphia he was a serious, big time attorney.  He gave it all to become a public servant, to come down to Washington to become a wise man in foreign policy.

Why did he want to jeopardize, in fact, give that away on behalf of the guy he was working for?  If Cheney did something wrong, or wanted something wrong done, he should have done it himself.

VANDEHEI:  That is the great question.  Why would someone as smart as Scooter Libby who clearly has a pretty darned good memory .

MATTHEWS:  He‘s a public servant.  He hadn‘t done anything wrong before this.

VANDEHEI:  He had to know the consequences.  Either he was worried about the political fallout for he was worried that listen, maybe we did, maybe we did accidentally did out a CIA operative and boy could we be in trouble so we have to .

MATTHEWS:  And that explains why he would protect himself, but why did he protect the V.P. who had told him about Valerie Plame?

VANDEHEI:  It‘s his boss and they had been together forever.  That‘s what he‘s trained to do.  The same reason that Cheney would probably .

ISIKOFF:  It is the way Washington works.

MATTHEWS:  He is not a beagle.  He is a person.  He‘s trained that way?

We will be right back with Jim VandeHei and Mike Isikoff.  And later, an exclusive with Democratic candidate John Edwards, who has taken some stuff from Ann Coulter.  You are watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THEODORE WELLS, ATTORNEY FOR SCOOTER LIBBY:  We have every confidence that ultimately Mr. Libby will be vindicated.

And we intend to keep fighting to establish his innocence.

FITZGERALD:  The results are sad, it is sad that we had a situation where a high level official, a person who worked in the office of the vice president, obstructed justice and lied under oath.  We wish that had not happened but it did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  There you have it.  Magnanimity on the part of the winning prosecutor and hopefulness on the part of the losing defense attorney.  Jim VandeHei of Politico joins us now and Michael Isikoff of “Newsweek.”

There is a lot of talk out there about this administration and what it‘s doing to these tough prosecutors out there.  Are they trying to pull or manipulate these guys like the thing we are watching right now?

ISIKOFF:  Yeah.  There was some pretty incredible testimony in a Senate hearing just before the verdict was announced about the pressure that was put on the U.S. attorneys who were fired, David Iglesias, the U.S.  attorney from New Mexico, testified in public that Pete Domenici had called him wanting to know if he was going to bring an indictment against prominent Democrats before the election.  Heather Wilson who was in a tight race in New Mexico called and asked before the election .

MATTHEWS:  Is this a clearly partisan case of intervention .

ISIKOFF:  . if there were sealed indictments.

It was clearly because the whole interest was, is it going to be before the election?

MATTHEWS:  Who made the call to fire all those attorneys?

ISIKOFF:  That is the thing that both the Senate and House are investigating right now.  There was also testimony from this other fired U.S. testimony, Bud Cummins, who was the U.S. attorney in Little Rock, who got fired to make room for Tim Griffin, the former aide to Karl Rove, saying he gets a call from a top guy at DOJ saying to put the word out to other U.S. attorneys to not cooperate with Congress.  Do not testify or talk to the press or we are going to trash you.

He wrote an e-mail to that effect that came out today, all of which I think is going to escalate this whole U.S. attorney controversy.  And the point here—you know, just bring it around to what we‘re talking about—is, you know, would this case have been brought by a U.S. attorney who was answerable directly to the attorney general, as opposed to Pat Fitzgerald, who, although a Bush appointee, was named special counsel—don‘t—don‘t report to the Justice Department, do it your own way.  And I think you can reasonably conclude it probably would not have.  It really—whether or not you think this case should have been brought or shouldn‘t have been brought, you can, I think, safely conclude that it would not—that—that it was Fitzgerald determined to bring it...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

ISIKOFF:  ... independence—that ended up in this...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s behind this?  Is it Gonzales or is it Karl Rove? 

Who‘s putting the squeeze on these prosecutors?

ISIKOFF:  Well, it‘s Gonzales, clearly.  It was his Justice Department.

MATTHEWS:  Yes?

ISIKOFF:  He was in charge.  But they have acknowledged that the White House...

MATTHEWS:  It seems like a political move.

ISIKOFF:  ... was involved.  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  The White House, meaning Rove.

ISIKOFF:  Yes.  And look...

MATTHEWS:  Is it Rove?

ISIKOFF:  Well, we know in one case, it was a Rove aide who was being put into to replace the fired U.S. attorney...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the kind of reporting we like here, information...

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEHEI:  The irony is, is that all these other scandals might actually knock this Libby—the whole uproar over Libby off the front pages within a day or two because I think that Bush and Republicans have a much bigger problem...

MATTHEWS:  Let me tell you...

VANDEHEI:  ... with what‘s happening at Walter Reed and the veterans...

MATTHEWS:  Let me tell you, my judgment...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... the most important question before journalism in this country is how we got in this war, which is increasingly unpopular.  And the American people are looking for how they got in it, and they want to find out how it happened.

We‘ll be right back.  In fact, thank you, Jim VandeHei, and thank you, Mike Isikoff.

Up next, an exclusive interview with Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, who‘s up there, as you all know, in the top three candidates, fighting it out with Hillary and Obama.  He announced today his plan for universal health care, reaching out to 70,000 Iowa households—I wonder why he picked Iowa? -- to pitch his plan with a DVD.  Plus, his reaction to Scooter Libby‘s guilty verdict today.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re joined now by Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards.  Senator Edwards, what do you make of the Scooter Libby conviction?

JOHN EDWARDS (D-NC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, obviously, it means the jury decided after hearing all the evidence that he was guilty of those counts by beyond a reasonable doubt.  They heard the evidence in a level of detail that none of us did.

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the fact that a guy who‘s chief of staff to the vice president‘s convicted for perjury and objection of justice for actions committed in the line of duty?  In other words, he didn‘t do this off—he didn‘t go off and rob a gas station, he‘s accused of breaking the law while doing his job.

EDWARDS:  Yes, I think it says—it says bad things.  And we have to let the appeals process play itself out.  That‘s how our judicial system works.  And he‘s entitled to his appeal.  But at the end of the day, this is very troublesome.

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the fact that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said there‘s a cloud hanging over the head of the vice president right now?

EDWARDS:  It‘s true.  I think that the American people deserve to know how far this goes.  You know, does it stop at Scooter Libby?  Does it go to others in the administration, the vice president, Karl Rove and others?  I think that‘s something Americans are entitled to know.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the jurors were asking that question as they came out of the jury room today.  They were wondering whether this is the only person that should have been prosecuted.

What do you make about the prosecutor‘s claim—his summation, actually—that there was a hullabaloo in the vice president‘s office, some vehement effort to try to destroy the reputation of Joe Wilson, to separate the vice president from that trip to Africa, when in fact, it turned that three officials testified, two of them from the CIA, one from the State Department, that the vice president‘s query was, in fact, what triggered that trip to Niger?

EDWARDS:  Well, I hadn‘t heard that that was the—that was the argument he made in his closing arguments, so I‘m reacting to it for the first time.  But if that‘s true, it‘s part of a troublesome pattern here.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about this whole question.  Should the vice president resign?

EDWARDS:  I don‘t know the answer to that.  I mean, he—at this point, I don‘t know the facts.  I don‘t know precisely what his involvement is.  He was not charged with a crime.  He‘s not been tried before a jury.  He‘s entitled to a resumption of innocence until that happens and—but I think that what we know from this investigation is that the American people need to know how far this goes.

I mean, this is—as you pointed out earlier, these are not things that they did outside their responsibilities in the government.  This is clearly within the line of their duties and responsibilities, and we need to figure out how—what the truth is and how far it goes.

MATTHEWS:  Patrick Fitzgerald said he would continue to be open to any kind of negotiation with the convicted felon here, Scooter Libby, about whether there was someone else involved, perhaps the vice president, perhaps Karl Rove, involved in his crimes.  Do you believe it‘s appropriate for the president to short-circuit this process by pardoning Scooter Libby and thereby ending the negotiations and preventing Fitzgerald from squeezing him?

EDWARDS:  No.  No, I do not.  He should not be pardoned.  This is a situation where he has been convicted at a crime committed as part of his official responsibilities in working for the vice president.  He absolutely should not be pardoned.  There should be accountability if, in fact, he‘s guilty, as the jury found.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about this presidential campaign so far.  You‘re in the top three of those who are actively seeking the Democratic nomination.  What‘s your judgment of the campaign so far?  The quality of the campaign?

EDWARDS:  That it‘s early.  There‘s a lot of early skirmishing going on.  It‘s a little hard for the substance and the real ideas to break through a lot of the hullabaloo that‘s going on early.  And I think, unfortunately, that diminishes from the voters‘ ability to determine what the differences are between us.  And I think the voters are entitled to that, and our responsibility is to make sure they know what it is we stand for.

MATTHEWS:  Hillary Clinton—her spokesman, Howard Wolfson, who comes on this show a lot, made the statement after you a couple weeks ago said that there was a silence, basically, a betrayal by silence by Democrats in Congress who haven‘t stood up to this war policy of the president.  And he basically came back at you and said that was the politics of personal destruction and all that.  Are you allowed to criticize Senator Clinton in this campaign?

EDWARDS:  I think any candidate‘s allowed to say whatever they believe is right.  And anything I said about the war wasn‘t directed specifically at Senator Clinton, it was directed at what I think our responsibilities are to stop the president from continuing this terrible pattern.  I mean, there are men and women dying in Iraq, and there‘s been extraordinary damage done to the reputation of the United States of America as a result of what‘s happening in Iraq.  And we need to quit worrying about the way politicians react to the what we stand for, and instead do what‘s right about Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  What did you think of the tenor of that CPAC convention down here in Washington, the crack about you, you know, the “F” word used idiotically against you by Ann Coulter, and all that applause that followed it?  How did you read that room?

EDWARDS:  I think it‘s an indication—I‘m afraid that it‘s an indication that when—and I‘ve seen this myself when I was growing up.  When hateful words are used to describe anybody, whoever‘s saying them and whoever they‘re talking about, and nobody speaks out against it, then the atmosphere that‘s created is that it‘s OK, it is OK to use these hateful words, these derogatory words about other people and about a group of people.  And I think it‘s why it‘s so critical that when this happens, no matter who does it nor who they‘re talking about, that we stop it, we stop it in its tracks by standing up and saying it‘s wrong and denouncing it.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that crowd down there at CPAC here in Washington was homophobic?

EDWARDS:  I don‘t know.  I don‘t have any way of knowing that.  It sounds like some people in the room reacted by applauding, and that‘s a very—I can tell you, that‘s a very unhealthy thing.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Let me ask you about the three-way race because it has become something of a race among yourself, Senator Edwards, and Senator Obama and Senator Clinton, three U.S. senators.  It seems to be a race that is more and more looking like a three-way, although Richardson may be coming up, the others may be coming up.

Let me ask you about this whole question of advantages.  You bring the

advantage that you were a working class guy, came up the hard way, made

your name as a great trial lawyer.  Obama comes up with the credentials on

how to live in the third world, having been brought up in Jakarta, with a -

sort of a colorful third world past.

Are these negatives or all positives for you folks?  In other words,

is Obama‘s background a net plus, with no problems to be raised, as well as

in the same way that your poor kid background is a plus, with no questions raised?

EDWARDS:  Of course there are—listen, we‘re human beings.  I‘m 53 years old.  I‘m not perfect.  And neither is Senator Obama or neither is Senator Clinton.  And you could just obviously say the same thing about the Republicans who are running.  And I think all of us are subject to being evaluated, subject to being evaluated for the stands we take, what we want to do for the country, whether we‘re actually willing to push and promote big, bold ideas for America, or whether we‘re being politically cautious.  But I think our backgrounds are just like everything else, they‘re subject to scrutiny and they ought to be scrutinized.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think Obama‘s background, having grown up with having that Muslim influence in school when he was a kid in Jakarta and having had exposure to the Koran is a plus, absolute plus, or is there questions to be raised about that?

EDWARDS:  My reaction to it is that it‘s largely a plus, but that‘s for voters to decide, not me.

MATTHEWS:  Do you see any negative there?

EDWARDS:  No.  I think he‘s got an—he‘s got an interesting background.  He‘s seen things from different perspectives.  I think he‘s like every one of us as candidates.  We all have pluses, we all have minuses, and the—what the voters are going to have to do is evaluate—in his case, they‘re going to have to evaluate is he actually ready to be president of the United States.  He‘s a smart...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

EDWARDS:  ... dynamic, exciting guy.  But every one of us have issues that have to be looked at.

MATTHEWS:  OK, I got to ask you a question for which you are a specialist, and you cannot dodge this, Senator.  How‘s Hillary Clinton‘s Southern accent?

(LAUGHTER)

EDWARDS:  It ain‘t like mine.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s great!

EDWARDS:  That‘s what I would say.

MATTHEWS:  Yours is home-grown.

EDWARDS:  This way of talking can‘t come from anything but the real thing.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Senator John Edwards of North Carolina.  Thanks for coming on HARDBALL.

Up next: When will President Bush and Vice President Cheney get together and talk about the Libby verdict?

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DENIS COLLINS, LIBBY TRIAL JUROR:  The belief of the jury was that he was—he was tasked by the vice president to go and talk to reporters.  We never made any—you know, came to any conclusion or never even discussed whether Cheney would have told him what exactly to say.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  The verdict is in, Scooter Libby guilty on four charges.  But critical questions continue to loom large.  Why didn‘t Dick Cheney receive a report of Joe Wilson‘s findings in Africa?  That was at the heart of this question.  And if he did, why did the president‘s State of the Union address say that Saddam was seeking uranium from Niger?

Let‘s bring in the HARDBALLers, MSNBC political analyst Bob Shrum and former Bush 41 aide Ed Rogers.

Shrummy, I want to ask you this.  It seems to me there are levels to this story.  We can‘t do them all in the next couple of minutes.  But the charge against Scooter Libby, which the jury agreed with, was that he lied under oath to protect the vice president from the fact that he learned from the vice president about Valerie Wilson.  In other words, the vice president was giving him instructions on how to deal with the Wilson threat against the administration‘s case for war.

How do we explain this story to a regular person watching right this moment who‘s never been in this case before?

ED ROGERS, FORMER BUSH G.H.W. BUSH ADVISER:  You don‘t explain...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Bob first.

ROGERS:  That wasn‘t the charge to the jury!  Go ahead, Bob.

BOB SHRUM, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I think...

ROGERS:  Sorry.  I had to say something.

SHRUM:  That‘s all right...

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  That‘s all right.  We‘ll mix it up.  I think you explain it quite simply.  This may be a case where the cover-up does pay.  What‘s going to happen here, I don‘t think Scooter Libby will spend one day in jail.  I think George W. Bush will pardon him on the way out the door, just the way Bush 41 pardoned Caspar Weinberger, the former defense secretary in the Iran-contra scandal, on the way out the door.  I think the deal has already been made implicitly, probably not explicitly, and I don‘t think we will get to the bottom of this.

MATTHEWS:  You were...

ROGERS:  Oh, come on!

MATTHEWS:  ... anxious to speak.  Speak.

ROGERS:  Well, I mean, I‘m anxious to say the premise within your question that he somehow lied to protect Cheney—that wasn‘t the charge before the jury at all.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, it was.  It was the count where he claimed he heard this from Tim Russert, rather than hearing it from the vice president.  That was the...

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS:  ... huge extrapolation of the facts.  But hey, he got—he got found guilty today.  That‘s a bad thing.  It‘s not...

MATTHEWS:  He swore under oath...

ROGERS:  Justice wasn‘t done.

MATTHEWS:  ... that he got this information from Tim Russert, when the jury found he got it from the vice president.

ROGERS:  Justice wasn‘t done.  Bob is trying to preempt the notion politically that the president may grant a pardon.  The president won‘t grant a pardon anytime soon, but that‘s what the Democrats...

MATTHEWS:  Will he do it by the time of the...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Will he do it in December about midnight before Christmas?

ROGERS:  The president has said he‘s going to follow the Justice Department guidelines, unlike Clinton has done in the past.  So the answer is we will see.  It‘s discretionary.  It‘s unlikely.  They‘re going to appeal.  The process...

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you a legal question...

ROGERS:  ... is going to continue.

MATTHEWS:  ... which confounds us all.  In the next couple of months, we have a decision by the prosecutor and the judge as to how much of a sentence to give Scooter Libby.  During that time, Scooter Libby has the liberty, as the prosecutor pointed out today, to negotiate, to give information against the vice president or anyone else who‘s under a cloud in the White House.

What stops Scooter from saying, I‘d rather spend three months playing tennis in Allenwood than going to medium-security in Leavenworth somewhere for five years?

ROGERS:  I know Scooter Libby.  What stops him is the truth.  Scooter Libby will tell the truth and...

MATTHEWS:  Why hasn‘t he done it so far?

ROGERS:  ... the sentencing guidelines are what they are.  I think he has.

MATTHEWS:  What has stopped him...

ROGERS:  I think he...

MATTHEWS:  ... from telling the truth?

ROGERS:  I think he has told the truth.

MATTHEWS:  You mean the jury‘s wrong.

ROGERS:  And I think his defense—yes, I think the jury was wrong.  I don‘t think justice was done.  I think it‘s unfair what‘s happened.  I think it‘s...

MATTHEWS:  How much did you stick into the defense fund...

ROGERS:  ... bad what‘s happened.

MATTHEWS:  ... to justify this argument?

ROGERS:  I made my contribution.  I‘d do it again.

MATTHEWS:  But how...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why do you question the jury now?

ROGERS:  Because I don‘t think justice was done.  I know Scooter Libby.

MATTHEWS:  OK...

(CROSSTALK)

VANDEHEI:  You can‘t just keep saying you know Scooter Libby...

ROGERS:  ... the facts suggest that this should have happened!  There were...

SHRUM:  Wait a minute.  Ed, stop filibustering!

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS:  No, I‘m not filibustering, Bob.

SHRUM:  Ed!  Ed!  Stop filibustering!

ROGERS:  He knew—the prosecutor knew...

SHRUM:  Ed!  Ed!  The jury...

ROGERS:  ... there was no lie when...

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  The jury spent 10 days...

ROGERS:  ... pursued Scooter Libby for no reason!  For no reason!

SHRUM:  Ed, I think you‘re talking a lot because you have nothing to say.  The jury spent 10 days.  They had 34 pages.  They went through charge by charge.  They acquitted on one of the charges.  The jury has found that he lied.  Patrick Fitzgerald, who is not exactly a Democratic Inspector Javier, he‘s a Republican U.S. attorney from Chicago, at least until you guys throw him out, is the one who brought this case and prosecuted this case.

ROGERS:  I give you all that, Bob, but that doesn‘t mean justice was done today.

MATTHEWS:  What about...

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  You have to have a reason why it wasn‘t done.  You can‘t just say...

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS:  I‘ve got a reason.  I‘ve got a reason.  The reason is, there was no underlying crime and the prosecutors knew that, and they continued to badger Scooter Libby until he said some immaterial things that turned out not to be true.

SHRUM:  You know, I am a non-practicing lawyer, but I‘ll tell you one thing I learned...

ROGERS:  Me, too.  Me, too.

SHRUM:  ... in law school.  Tell you one thing I learned in law school.

ROGERS:  One thing.

SHRUM:  Perjury is a crime.  When you get asked under oath, you have to tell the truth.  He was convicted...

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS:  You‘re right about that, but was it perjury or was it memory or was it criminal?

SHRUM:  The jury decided...

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  The jury decided...

ROGERS:  The process is going to continue.  Justice wasn‘t done.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  So you believe—let me ask you one question, Ed.  You‘re getting upset here.  You‘re a close friend...

ROGERS:  Yes, I‘m mad about this!

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that—apparently so.  Do you believe that Scooter Libby simply had a bad memory?

ROGERS:  I don‘t believe Scooter Libby would like to anybody about anything.  I don‘t think he would like to an official of the U.S.  government.  I don‘t think he would lie to the FBI.  I think he is a good, decent man, public servant.

MATTHEWS:  So that‘s...

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS:  He is not a partisan hack.  He‘s not a partisan in any way. 

Scooter Libby is a straight arrow.

SHRUM:  Who happens now to be a convicted felon.

ROGERS:  And it‘s a tragedy!

SHRUM:  And who also happens to be part of an effort...

ROGERS:  It‘s a tragedy!

SHRUM:  ... by this administration...

ROGERS:  Oh, come on!

SHRUM:  ... to lie the country into a war in Iraq that we never...

ROGERS:  That‘s a lie!

SHRUM:  ... should have fought.

ROGERS:  That‘s—that‘s...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back with Bob Shrum and Ed Rogers.  And coming up tonight on COUNTDOWN at 8:00 Eastern, Ambassador Joe Wilson will be on that program.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Bob Shrum and Ed Rogers.  Let me start with Bob Shrum on the question that we opened up a can of worms here in this case, and it‘s still open, and that‘s the war and how we got in it.  The latest polling is devastating.  The question which keeps being asked of the American people, Do you think this war in Iraq has been worth it?  A frontal, total question.  And the number of people who say yes keeps dropping.

SHRUM:  Look, we were told that we were going to have a surge and that there was going to be peace suddenly descending on Iraq...

ROGERS:  Nobody said that.  Nobody said that.

SHRUM:  No, peace was going to descend...

ROGERS:  That‘s unfair!

SHRUM:  Ed—you know, Ed, just let me finish!

ROGERS:  Please go ahead.

SHRUM:  Then you can talk for a minute.  Good.  Today over 100 Shiites were killed.  Over 30 people were blown up in Baghdad, nine U.S. soldiers were killed, and we‘re being told, Well, the mission‘s kind of being accomplished because some neighborhoods are better off.  That‘s a little like saying that crime in New York is down because we moved it from the Bronx to Queens.

What‘s happening here is that we are trying to impose order in a society where there‘s no political consensus.  Until we get political consensus, we‘re not going to get a solution.  And George Bush is going to go down in history—and Ed‘s going to get really mad at me now—as having lied us into a war.

ROGERS:  Yes.  OK, yes, I...

SHRUM:  It‘s the greatest foreign policy disaster of our time.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

ROGERS:  George Bush believed the same things that the Clintons believed, that the Democrats in Congress believed, that the Democratic Senate voted for.  There were no lies, and you know it!  And the biggest lie being told right now in American politics is the notion that Bush lied us into war.  Well, the Clintons believed it.

SHRUM:  Bush gave them the...

ROGERS:  His secretary of state...

SHRUM:  Bush gave—the president gave the information to the Congress!  He was the source of the information!

ROGERS:  And it was his pick for the CIA that gave it to him.  Come on, I mean, let‘s not—let‘s not argue what is fact.  We made some mistakes to get...

SHRUM:  Dick Cheney was sending people over to the CIA to pressure them!

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you a question...

ROGERS:  ... but it wasn‘t lies, and you know it, Bob!

(CROSSTALK)

ROGERS:  It was not!

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to the central aspect of this whole leak case.  Was there a deal between Saddam Hussein and the government of Niger to buy uranium yellowcake?  Yes or no.

SHRUM:  No.

MATTHEWS:  Because that‘s what the president said in the State of the Union.

ROGERS:  It appears not.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  OK.

ROGERS:  But it is debatable as to whether or not that was deceitful. 

It‘s not debatable!  Whether or not it was deceitful or...

MATTHEWS:  Well, where did the information come from?  Where‘d the intel come from?  Joe Wilson says he shot it down.

ROGERS:  And Joe Wilson is the most discredited man we‘ve talked about tonight!

SHRUM:  Oh, yes!

ROGERS:  Not Scooter Libby!

SHRUM:  Well, no, actually, I think the most discredited man...

ROGERS:  He‘s a clown!

SHRUM:  ... we‘ve talked about is Scooter Libby.  He‘s not a clown, he‘s a patriot.  That information was unreliable.  The British refused to use it...

ROGERS:  Bob, it‘s not like...

SHRUM:  ... themselves...

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  Joe Wilson went to Africa...

ROGERS:  Joe Wilson is no patriot!

SHRUM:  ... and found out it was inaccurate.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The Scooter Libby defense fund remains...

ROGERS:  ... is a self-promoting clown!

MATTHEWS:  ... open to membership.  Gentlemen, thank you.  If you want...

SHRUM:  I‘m not joining!

MATTHEWS:  ... to send some money for Scooter Libby, please do so.

Anyway, thank  you, Bob Shrum.  Thank you, Ed Rogers.

Play HARDBALL with us again, as you just heard, one hour from now, a new edition tonight with “Time” magazine‘s Matt Cooper, one of the witnesses.

Right now, it‘s time for “TUCKER.”

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2007 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2007 Voxant, Inc. (www.voxant.com) ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

transcript

Watch Hardball each weeknight at 5 & 7 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,