updated 4/20/2007 12:25:25 PM ET 2007-04-20T16:25:25

Guests: Robert Raben, David Rivkin, Jill Zuckman, Michael Isikoff, Artur Davis, Patrick McHenry, Aamer Madhani

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Nobody loves Alberto.  Surrounded by his critics, the attorney general sat on the grill today for one sizzling attack after another.  Is Bush‘s friend still Bush‘s friend?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews, and welcome to HARDBALL.  Grilling Gonzales—with his job on the line, embroiled attorney general Alberto Gonzales testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee today.  Some of the toughest questions came from his own Republican Party.  And one Republican senator, Tom Coburn Of Oklahoma, just told him to resign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. TOM COBURN ®, OKLAHOMA:  Mr. Attorney General, it‘s my considered opinion that the exact same standards should be applied to you in how this was handled.  It was handled incompetently.  The communication was atrocious.  It was inconsistent.  It‘s generous to say that there were misstatements.  That‘s a generous statement.  And I believe you ought to suffer the consequences that these others have suffered, and I believe the best way to put this behind us is your resignation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Tell me what you really think.  Gonzales insisted that he did play a minor role and did nothing improper.  More on this later.

Meanwhile, presidential candidate John McCain joked about starting another war in the Middle East.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  You know that old Beach Boy song, “Bomb Iran”—you know, bomb, bomb, bomb—anyway, I think Iran is a great threat.  The Iranians are continuing their efforts to acquire a nuclear weapon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Plus, the new plan for Iraq called for securing Baghdad, but over 500 people have been killed there this week.  Is that the surge, the surge in death?  What is going on over there?  A debate over Iraq with two members on Congress later in the program.

And disturbing pictures of the man who murdered 32 people at Virginia Tech.  What are we learning about this killer?

But we begin tonight with the action on Capitol Hill and HARDBALL‘s David Shuster.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Today at the Senate Judiciary Committee, with his job on the line, Attorney General Gonzales was attacked right from the start.

SEN. PAT LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  Today the Department of Justice is experiencing a crisis of leadership perhaps unrivalled during its 137-year history.

REP. ARLEN SPECTER ®, PENNSYLVANIA:  You come to this hearing with a heavy burden of proof.

SHUSTER:  And when Specter noted the attorney general prepared extensively for this hearing and that Gonzales‘s response was not very deferential...

ALBERTO GONZALES, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I prepare for every hearing, Senator.

SHUSTER:  ... Specter erupted.

SPECTER:  Do you prepare for all your press conferences?  Were you prepared for the press conference where you said there weren‘t any discussions involving you?

GONZALES:  Senator, I‘ve already said that I misspoke.  It was my mistake.

SPECTER:  I‘m asking you, were you prepared?  You interjected that you‘re always prepared.  Were you prepared for that...

GONZALES:  Senator, I didn‘t say...

SPECTER:  ... press conference?

GONZALES:  ... that I was always prepared.  I said I prepared for every hearing.

SHUSTER:  Those kind of sharp exchanges marked this hearing all day long.  Gonzales repeatedly apologized for how he handled the seemingly political firings of these eight federal prosecutors.

GONZALES:  And I apologize to them and to their families for allowing this matter to become an unfortunate and undignified public spectacle.  I accept full responsibility for this.

SHUSTER:  But just seconds after that statement, Gonzales testified he was not very involved.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA:  All of this has been kind of constant equivocation.

SHUSTER:  Senators brought up the case of fired prosecutor Carol Lam.  Earlier this year, she testified the Justice Department many never raised concerns about her immigration prosecutions, the reason Gonzales alleged she was fired.  But Gonzales testified Lam knew about problems from Republicans in Congress.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK:  Is it general policy of the Department of Justice, when they have problems with a U.S. attorney, to let a Congress member tell them that something‘s wrong, or does the department -- is the department supposed to communicate directly with the U.S.  attorney?

GONZALES:  Here‘s what I‘ll say.  I think we should have done a better job in communicating with Ms. Lam.

SHUSTER:  Schumer also brought up the firing of Bud Cummins.  He was replaced by Karl Rove adviser Tim Griffin.  At the time, Gonzales promised Arkansas senator Mark Pryor that Griffin would be subject to confirmation hearings.  Documents, however, reveal that Gonzales‘s chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, implemented a plan to bypass such hearings.

GONZALES:  Mr. Sampson has testified that this was a bad idea, and it was a bad idea.  And it was never accepted not only by me, but he also testified as to the principles.

SCHUMER:  Mr. Sampson said it was a bad idea in retrospect in February and March.  In December, he was going full bore ahead with the plan, as the memo you‘ve just been shown shows.

SHUSTER:  Gonzales repeatedly testified that he could not remember crucial meetings that other department officials said he attended.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS ®, ALABAMA:  Would you dispute Mr. Battle?

GONZALES:  Well, Senator, putting aside the issue—of course, sometimes people‘s recollections are different.  I have no reason to doubt that—Mr. Battle‘s testimony.

SESSIONS:  Well, I guess I‘m concerned about your recollection, really, because it‘s not that long ago it was an important issue, and that‘s troubling to me, I got to tell you.

SHUSTER:  And Sessions was not the only Republican troubled.  One by one, nearly every Republican committee member criticized the contradictions and rolling disclosures from Gonzales and his department.

SEN. JOHN CORNYN ®, TEXAS:  But I have to tell you that the way that this investigation has been handled has just been—been really deplorable.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  I think it‘s clear to me that some of these people just had personality conflicts with people in your office or at the White House, and you know, we made up reasons to fire them.  Some of it sounds good, some of it doesn‘t.  And that‘s the lesson to be learned here.

GONZALES:  Sir, I respectfully disagree with that.  I really do.

SHUSTER (on camera):  However, more than 45 times today, when Gonzales was asked about specific events, he responded saying, “I don‘t recall.”  This afternoon, conservative Republican senator Tom Coburn urged the attorney general to resign.  Gonzales refused, saying that would not end the controversy.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.  Joining me now is David Rivkin, a former Justice Department official, and Robert Raben, who‘s a former assistant attorney general during the Clinton presidency.  He‘s also a Democratic consultant.

Let me start with you, Robert.  Is this, as Pat Leahy, the chair of the committee said, the greatest crisis of leadership, unrivalled in the 137-year history, I guess, of whatever?  Is this the biggest thing in the world, this guy‘s firing eight U.S. attorneys?

ROBERT RABEN, FORMER CLINTON ASST. ATTORNEY GENERAL:  It‘s a very serious problem.  I don‘t know if the firing of the U.S. attorneys is the crisis of leadership, but the incredibly poor performance that we‘re seeing in the department right now is awful.  When you think of the serious things that the Department of Justice does—they execute people, they deport people, they decide family reunification, they decide surveillance and wiretap—the performance you saw today isn‘t very inspiring.

MATTHEWS:  David, put it in perspective from your perspective.  Was this the biggest bad thing in the world...

DAVID RIVKIN, FORMER BUSH 41 JUSTICE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL:  Of course not!

MATTHEWS:  ... or is it a fund-raising campaign for Schumer and the Democrats?

RIVKIN:  Pretty much.  It‘s (INAUDIBLE)  Look at what they have not said.  There was very little substance.  They did not talk about specific U.S. attorneys.  They did not say, This e-mail reveals some prohibited conflict or some prohibited reason.  This was all about posturing.  This was all about generalities.  Everybody agrees that the back end stuff was handled badly, but they kept hammering at him to try to force him to admit that something was wrong...

MATTHEWS:  Back end, meaning the attorney general came up with a reason for firing the attorneys after they were fired.

RIVKIN:  Well, it was...

MATTHEWS:  Is that what you mean by back end?

RIVKIN:  Yes, but remember, these individuals can be dismissed for any reason, including, quite frankly, the personality conflict.  People serve for a number of years, done a good job—let‘s stipulate to that—but if there‘s a personality conflict, well, there‘s just...

MATTHEWS:  Why didn‘t they just say that?  Why did they put out these bad performance ratings, Robert?

(CROSSTALK)

RABEN:  First of all, I‘m not sure Senator Coburn agrees that he‘s involved in a conspiracy with Senator Schumer to raise money for the Democratic Party.  I think he‘d disagree with that.  I think you have incredible bungling here.  The attorney general had two choices.  He either had to admit that he was involved in the politicization of prosecutions, which he could never do, or he had to say, I‘m an empty vessel.  I relied on the considered judgment of my senior staff.  They handed me a list.  Did you look at the list?  I‘m not sure if I looked at the list...

MATTHEWS:  Is the history of the United States...

RABEN:  ... I don‘t remember if I...

MATTHEWS:  ... Justice Department that the attorney general is a cipher and that the big personnel and political decisions are made by White House staffers like Karl Rove?  Is that the tradition in this country...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... idea of a figurehead?

RABEN:  I certainly don‘t think...

RIVKIN:  That‘s not...

(CROSSTALK)

RIVKIN:  That‘s not the case at all.  Let‘s be clear.  U.S. attorneys exercise important responsibilities, but firing or replacing seven or eight U.S. attorneys in the big scheme of things is not a momentous decision.

MATTHEWS:  Whose decision should it be in terms of functioning?  Not technically, but who actually do you think should be doing this kind of decision making?

RIVKIN:  It depends, Chris, on what aspects of it.  The big policy decision, Look, we want some fresh blood, they‘ve been in place for four to five years, let‘s bring in some fresh blood—that is the decision at the attorney general level.  Whom to put in place of this U.S. attorney or that U.S. attorney—of course, they‘re all White House personnel.  Of course...

MATTHEWS:  Well, who makes the decision...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... that Iglesias isn‘t tough enough going after Democrats, and so Domenici calls him up and says, When are you going to prosecute, before or after the election?  No indictments before the election?  Slam the phone down.  Next thing we know, the guy‘s yanked.

RIVKIN:  But that‘s...

MATTHEWS:  Who makes that decision?

RIVKIN:  That‘s one version.  But you see, frequently in life...

MATTHEWS:  Is there another version?  Give me...

RIVKIN:  The other version is the diffused (ph) factors.  You have Iglesias, who was complained about, let‘s say, by local people, by some people in Congress.  He had some tensions with his peers at the department.  There are always tensions between U.S. attorneys, who are very, quote, independent—it has nothing to do with politicization.  So this is how things work in personnel.  Personnel is the most murky area of any business.

MATTHEWS:  Why did Specter, who‘s chair of the—who‘s ranking on that committee—why was he so personal in attacking Gonzales today?  That was like he was dressing down a junior staff member he didn‘t like.

RIVKIN:  Well, Chris, let‘s be clear about something.  Gonzales...

MATTHEWS:  Did you see that picture of him?

RIVKIN:  Yes.  It‘s a tough picture, and I‘m sure he thought he was justified in doing it.  But Gonzales is being attacked not for this.  Let‘s leave partisanship aside...

MATTHEWS:  No, but I mean, he‘s a partisan.  He‘s a Republican...

(CROSSTALK)

RIVKIN:  ... partisans off the table.  We‘re talking about NSA wiretapping.  We‘re talking about Guantanamo.  Gonzales has been the core architect of the key legal decisions of this administration, and a lot of people don‘t like it.  That‘s why they‘re attacking him.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that‘s why Specter went after him?  You think that‘s why Coburn went after him?

RIVKIN:  Specter—I don‘t know about Coburn, but Specter has been a critic of me...

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) went after.  These are pretty conservative people, except for Specter.

RIVKIN:  Well, and some—in some respects, he really does not have...

MATTHEWS:  Dana Rohrabacher, pretty conservative former Reagan speech writer, Congressman from California, wants him to go.  Bob Barr—he‘s hardly a moderate.  He wants him to go.  Viguerie wants him to go.  Keene wants him to go.  Bruce Fein, John Sununu, Jr.—all these conservatives want him to go.

RIVKIN:  It doesn‘t mean that he—that they are right.  But more importantly...

MATTHEWS:  But they‘re not part of the campaign committee of Chuck Schumer.

RIVKIN:  I‘m not saying that there‘s only (INAUDIBLE) The most important thing, there is nothing there.  All the thousands of e-mails, all the testimony of various...

RABEN:  There‘s a tremendous amount...

RIVKIN:  ... other people...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me...

RIVKIN:  There‘s no evidence that any case...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

RIVKIN:  ... was stopped...

RABEN:  There‘s a tremendous amount...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Make a case for why we should care, and why I think you‘re suggesting this man should go, the attorney general.

RABEN:  The attorney general—well, I‘m not sure that he should go.  I don‘t know what you‘re going to get next.  Bush is really in a corner, and he may send up somebody just awful.

The attorney general by law—by law—is responsible for looking at every death penalty decision, every NSA wiretap decision, every FISA application.  He‘s just told you on the most important personnel decisions they make, the head of key offices doing anti-terrorism prosecutions around the country, I wasn‘t involved.  I was handed a list.

MATTHEWS:  So what‘s that tell you?

RABEN:  Did you look at the list?  I don‘t remember.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s a cipher?  Does that tell that he‘s a figurehead put in there because...

RABEN:  He decided today—

MATTHEWS:  ... the president wanted to have his friend in that job but he didn‘t want to give him the authority of that job?  Is that what happened?

(CROSSTALK)

RABEN:  If you ever saw President Bush testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, it might be exactly the same thing.  I‘m the decider, but I don‘t get involved in the details.  I think it‘s very, very disturbing to have the top prosecutor in this country...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... nice Latinate word, disturbing.  But what does it disturb?  Who‘s it disturb, you?

RABEN:  It should disturb everybody...

MATTHEWS:  Did you see the latest polling?

RABEN:  ... who cares about due process.

MATTHEWS:  Two thirds of the American people say—I mean, they don‘t like it, but they don‘t think he‘s telling the truth, but they say leave him alone.

RABEN:  Chris, do you care about fairness?  Do you care about justice?  Do you care about due process?  I think all Americans do, and I think that‘s the disturbing part of it.

(CROSSTALK)

RIVKIN:  ... all due respect, though, the confusion of different narratives.  There are some out there (INAUDIBLE) saying there is a problem of fairness.  There‘s miscarriage of justice.  But yet also his fault is not being involved too much in the details.  Let me stipulate, the 93 U.S.  attorneys, plus dozens of deputy assistant attorney generals and assistant attorney generals and office directors, Department of Justice—it is not necessary for the head of the Department of Justice to be involved in each personnel decision...

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the worst thing Gonzales has done, worst thing he‘s done?  If you had to say, This is the worst thing this guy‘s done, what would it be?

RABEN:  I think the worst thing that he has done is defend vigorously even bad decisions.  I think it‘s very, very important to not just say, I may have made a mistake, or, I feel bad for these families.  I think he‘s supposed to say...

MATTHEWS:  David, rate him as...

RABEN:  ... the decision was wrong.

MATTHEWS:  ... an attorney general in your lifetime.  How would you put him on a scale?

RIVKIN:  I think...

MATTHEWS:  Robert Kennedy and the others—where would you put him?

RIVKIN:  Oh, I don‘t think that Kennedy was that great of an attorney general.

MATTHEWS:  Well, how—who do you think...

RIVKIN:  I would say in the middle.  Look, the department has done a good job on terrorism investigation, by the way, good job on public corruption cases, quite a few Republicans, as a matter of fact, Mr. Ney and a number of other members.  He‘s done a good job on...

MATTHEWS:  Is he as good as John Mitchell?

RIVKIN:  Oh, well, this is—this is a little unfair, but let me say this again.  He has done...

MATTHEWS:  Well, you were knocking Bobby Kennedy, I can bring in David

bring in John—John Mitchell here.

RIVKIN:  Let me just say this.  The Democrats tried very hard, and even some Republicans, to get him to acknowledge that there are limits in presidential discretion (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  OK.

RIVKIN:  He did not.  He was strong.  And that is right because the president does have a right to bring fresh blood.

MATTHEWS:  If we‘re not going to get rid of this guy, what‘s the point of all these hearings?

RABEN:  The point is to demonstrate that the people in charge at the Department of Justice don‘t know what they‘re doing.  We have terrible, terrible management there.  He‘s a very nice man.  I‘m think he‘s made that clear over and over again.  He‘s not doing a good job in charge.

MATTHEWS:  Your assessment, bottom line?

RIVKIN:  He is doing a good job.  I think he was strong.  He was dignified.  He did not change many minds...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We‘ll come back...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  This is a hot case.  I think it has to do with justice . I think it has to do with politics, and both.  We‘ll be right back with David Rivkin and Robert Raben.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEAHY:  If the White House did nothing wrong, then show us.  Show us the documents and provide us with the sworn testimony—the sworn testimony—of what was done, why and by whom.  If there‘s nothing hide, the White House should stop hiding it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GRAHAM:  I don‘t believe that you were involved in a conspiracy to fire somebody because they wouldn‘t prosecute a particular enemy of a politician or a friend of a politician.  But at the end of the day, you said something that struck me, that sometimes, it just came down to these were not the right people at the right time.  If I applied that standard to you, what would you say?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, as you probably can see, Lindsey Graham daring the attorney general to say he ought to be withdrawn.  And anyway, that was the testimony today in the hearing about Gonzales and his behavior as the attorney general.

We‘ve got David Rivkin here joining us.  He‘s a former Justice Department official.  And former assistant attorney general during the Clinton administration, Robert Raben.

Do you think this is a major problem, the Gonzales performance?

RABEN:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Because?  Again, I keep trying to get to the heart of this, which you‘ve raised, David.  What is the—what is the body of the crime here?  What is the body of evil here?

RABEN:  Well, I‘ll talk about the organizational...

MATTHEWS:  No, no, no.  You get into this systemic kind of discussions, and they sound like—it sounds like the GAO report.

RABEN:  The body of...

MATTHEWS:  What is the crime here that this guy committed?  Did he commit a crime?

RABEN:  We don‘t know and...

MATTHEWS:  Well—well, if you don‘t commit a crime, you usually—do you have an accusation he committed a crime?

RABEN:  You have an accusation from some senators that he inappropriately politicized cases, that he pressured or...

MATTHEWS:  I haven‘t heard that.

RABEN:  ... worked the senators...

MATTHEWS:  David, your point is we didn‘t hear that.

RIVKIN:  Not only that, I think—let me...

MATTHEWS:  No, did we hear that today?

RIVKIN:  If I can coin a term...

RABEN:  Not as much as you would have expected, no.

MATTHEWS:  Well, did you hear a particular argument in a particular case where he interrupted an investigation?

RABEN:  No.  You heard them dispel his previous assertions of why people were fired.  And so now you‘re left with, Well why were they fired?

RIVKIN:  But look...

RABEN:  And we still don‘t know that.

RIVKIN:  They‘ve seen thousands of pages.  Dozens of people have testified.  An absence of evidence that something has gone wrong is no evidence that something has gone wrong.  A lot of these guys want to shift the burden of proof.  The want to say, You prove beyond a reasonable doubt, and then some, that you‘ve done nothing wrong.  That‘s nonsense.  It‘s a combination of an institutional feud (INAUDIBLE) two political branches, with some partisanship involved, with some personal animosity towards Gonzales for things that have nothing to do with it.

RABEN:  With some terrible management of the Department of Justice.

RIVKIN:  And some mismanagement.  Look, do you tell me when Janet Reno, in my opinion, everybody‘s opinion, seriously mishandled the Waco siege, was she pilloried like this?  She said...

RABEN:  Yes, she was pilloried like this by John Conyers...

RIVKIN:  But I remember...

RABEN:  ... the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

(CROSSTALK)

RIVKIN:  I don‘t remember such hearings.  It‘s unfortunate.  It really is.  There is nothing there.  This is utterly smokeless crisis.  There is nothing there.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

Politically, was the president better off to keep Gonzales there taking the heat, rather than the president taking the heat? 

RABEN:  Oh, absolutely.  Absolutely.  It‘s much better for the attorney general to take it than the president. 

MATTHEWS:  So, he‘s the tackling dummy for this administration for the next couple of days?

RABEN:  Yes.  But the next question is, what happens next?  What happens next?  You‘re going to have a drumbeat of Republicans...

MATTHEWS:  My...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know the law like you guys do, but I think the politics are fairly clear.  The president would rather have Gonzales in there, taking the heat, rather than yanking him.  And then it is the president‘s responsibility to pick another person, and to accept sort of some kind of a blame for it, unless he can find a Robert Gates, some stellar candidate that he can bring in there, Ted Olson, for example, that becomes attorney general and makes everybody feel better. 

Would he do that?

RIVKIN:  I don‘t know what is going to happen down the road. 

But one thing, clearly, the president cannot do, precisely given the over-the-top complaints against Gonzales, for him to push to Gonzales or even accept his resignation in the near future would dignify...

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you make of the silence by—what do you make of this silence by the White House press people and the president himself in this regard?  They are holding back and letting him hang fire. 

RIVKIN:  Well, as of yesterday, the White House spokesman said full confidence in him. 

RABEN:  Perfunctory statements of full confidence, yes.

RIVKIN:  Well, look, let‘s not try to parse.  This is not criminology sometimes.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think the president supports...

(CROSSTALK)

RABEN:  Same with Rumsfeld.  Was that parsing?

(CROSSTALK)

RABEN:  I support him.  I support him.  I support him, until I don‘t.

RIVKIN:  Let‘s see what happens...

(CROSSTALK)

RIVKIN:  ... the White House.

But he did—he did about as well as he could.  Did you really expect any of the Democrats, at this point in time, to...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, I didn‘t expect it.  I didn‘t expect Specter to unload it on the—well, yes, I did.  I‘m not going to be completely naive here.  Specter would enjoy this moment.

RIVKIN:  So, he did about as well as one could expect. 

MATTHEWS:  But Cornyn from Texas is one of the president‘s strongest supporters, and he went after him, too. 

RIVKIN:  But only on the issue of how things were handled.  Republicans are hanging tough—and properly so—on no underlying crime, no underlying wrongdoing, nothing unethical. 

MATTHEWS:  And you agree with that?

RABEN:  I agree with that.  I agree with that. 

MATTHEWS:  There we are.

RIVKIN:  OK.  Well, let‘s agree.

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, nolo contendere.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you, David Rivkin.  Thank you, Robert Raben. 

Coming up:  What prompted the firing of eight U.S. attorneys?  And will Alberto Gonzales‘ explanation pass the truth test? 

And later: the debate over the Iraq war funding bill. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK:  You can‘t have it both ways.  If your chief of staff is implementing a major plan that contradicts what you just told the U.S. senator from that state, in my view, you shouldn‘t be attorney general.

And, if, on the other hand, what you said to Senator Pryor contradicts the plan, you also shouldn‘t be attorney general.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Did Attorney General Gonzales‘ testimony pass the truth test today? 

Will he survive all this? 

And, on a separate story, what was Senator John McCain thinking when he sang the words “bomb Iran” to the old Beach Boys tune “Barbara Ann”? 

Mike Isikoff is an investigative reporter for “Newsweek,” and Jill Zuckman is with “The Chicago Tribune.”

Can we start with this “Barbara Ann” thing?  What did you make... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And let‘s take a look at the right now.  This is so unbelievable.  This is what he gave in it.

Let‘s just watch him.  Let‘s watch him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s well documented that we have, for quite a long time now, known where the real problem is in the Middle East.  And, in fact, the president adequately described it as the axis of evil. 

I guess my question is, how many times do we have to prove that these people are blowing up people?  Now, never mind if they get a nuclear weapon.  When do we send them an airmail message to Tehran? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  You mean that old—that old Beach Boys song “Bomb Iran”?  You know? 

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN (singing):  Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb...

Anyway...

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN:  I think Iran is a great threat.  The Iranians are continuing their efforts to acquire a nuclear weapon. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Jill, it was pretty dramatic.  In fact, if you look at his whole statement, it wasn‘t all comical.  He was dead serious. 

He said, we will hit them.  We‘re going to—he‘s basically saying, we are not going to let them get a nuclear weapon. 

JILL ZUCKMAN, CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT, “THE CHICAGO

TRIBUNE”:  Senator...

MATTHEWS:  Much stronger than the president.  He says, we are going to keep all the options on the table.  This guy made it clear the military option is already on the table. 

ZUCKMAN:  Chris, Senator McCain has been arguing for a long time that he is the successor to Ronald Reagan.  And I think he proved it today with the bombing joke. 

(CROSSTALK)

ZUCKMAN:  But he—he is very—he‘s—he‘s willing to use the military when it comes to enforcing U.S. policy.  And this is another example of that. 

MATTHEWS:  So, we know what we‘re getting, Mike, if people elect John McCain president.  We are electing a hawk.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, “NEWSWEEK”:  Oh, he‘s made no...

MATTHEWS:  I mean a real one.

ISIKOFF:  Yes.  He‘s left no question about that.  Certainly...

MATTHEWS:  Even this president seems to be, under the guidance of Condoleezza Rice, a bit hesitant to talk in any kind of aggressive way about bombing Iran. 

ISIKOFF:  Right. 

Look, he is running in a Republican primary, where muscular rhetoric never hurts you.

(LAUGHTER)

ISIKOFF:  But, you know, I think this may have been a bit of a lapse in judgment, in terms of how he presented it. 

BLITZER:  He erred on the side of aggression, one might say. 

ZUCKMAN:  He—he...

ISIKOFF:  Of music.

ZUCKMAN:  He has always had a cornball sense of humor.  And that‘s the way he likes to campaign.  He likes to throw the jokes out.  He likes to keep laughing.

But, maybe, when you are running for president, you shouldn‘t joke about bombing other countries. 

BLITZER:  We‘re coming right back with Michael Isikoff and Jill Zuckman.

And later: the debate on Capitol Hill over funding for the Iraq war, and what is happening in Iraq this week, over 500 people killed since Sunday.  The surge could mean a surge in death. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARGARET BRENNAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I am Margaret Brennan with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

The Dow Jones industrial average closed at another record high.  It was the second straight day of gains.  The Dow Jones industrial average just eked out five points, to close at 12808.  The S&P and the Nasdaq fell.  Nasdaq lost about five points in today‘s session.

After the closing bell, Google reported first-quarter profit gain of 69 percent.  Earnings easily bet analyst estimates.  In after-hours trading, Google shares are trading up about 3 percent.

American Express and Merrill Lynch also reported strong earnings today. 

Stocks got off to a rocky start, after a sell-off overnight in China.  It was triggered—it has triggered fears that the government there may raise interest rates.

Oil prices took a big drop, falling $1.30 in New York‘s session, closing at $61.83 a barrel.

And 30-year mortgages edged down for the first time in six weeks, falling to a nationwide average of 6.17 percent.

That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to

HARDBALL. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)  

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  How can you know that none of them were removed for improper reasons?  How can you give us those assurances, since you had a limited involvement, the process wasn‘t vigorous, and you left it, basically, to somebody else?

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL:  Well, Senator, since then, of course, I have gone back and looked at the documents made available to Congress.

I also had a conversation with the deputy...

KENNEDY:  This is since then?

GONZALES:  Yes, sir.

KENNEDY:  But, when you made the judgment and decision—when you made the judgment and decision, you didn‘t know, did you?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, what‘s the answer? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  We are discussing the testimony of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales today, and his role in the firing of eight prosecutors. 

And we‘re back with “Newsweek”‘s Mike Isikoff, and Jill Zuckman of “The Chicago Tribune.”

I would like to know the answer.  I assume he—he sort of said yes, because, the way it has gone today in the testimony is, he admitted he came up with reasons for firing these people after he was given those reasons after they were fired, Jill.

ZUCKMAN:  After he went and looked back...

(CROSSTALK)  

ZUCKMAN:  ... to figure out what those reasons were and...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s not exactly command decision, is it?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  You know?

ZUCKMAN:  Well, either...

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of this? 

ZUCKMAN:  Either he is completely detached and not really running the Department of Justice...

MATTHEWS:  Hey, you think? 

ZUCKMAN:  Well, I mean, there‘s one or the other. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t you think, Mike, that it looks like he‘s a cipher, that he was put up there as a figurehead friend of the president...

ISIKOFF:  Sure.  This is...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... and that Karl Rove is calling up these deputies over there and assistant attorney generals, say, now, give me a list of these bums; first of all, get the guy out there in New Mexico; get the guy in California—the woman in California; get the person up in Seattle?

Don‘t you think it looks like he is just sitting on a pile of this stuff? 

ISIKOFF:  This has evolved from the specifics of the U.S. attorneys to just a core competency question. 

I mean, when you listened to his testimony today, there was so little that he remembers about the entire process.  He didn‘t remember the key November 27, 2006, meeting where Sampson presents him with the recommendations for firings...

MATTHEWS:  His chief of staff tells him what he is doing.

ISIKOFF:  ... says, he has searched his memory.  He can‘t remember it. 

Even more stunning, I thought, was, he says at one point, he now understands he had a conversation with the president in which the president passed along concerns about three U.S. attorneys, including the one in New Mexico. 

MATTHEWS:  So, he forgets meetings with...

(CROSSTALK)

ISIKOFF:  No.  He—he understands...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You know what this reminds me of?

(CROSSTALK)

ISIKOFF:  ... because Bush said he remembers the conversation. 

So, think about that for a second.  The president remembers talking to him about the U.S. attorneys that worked for Gonzales...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

ISIKOFF:  ... but Gonzales doesn‘t remember the conversation with the president... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, he‘s using the president as his tickler file.

ISIKOFF:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this.  Is this worse than Cheney not remembering anything Scooter did, his chief of staff? 

(CROSSTALK)

ISIKOFF:  I think that...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Is this getting a little pattern here, where the—the principal always doesn‘t know, and the chief of staff does all the dirty work, huh?

(CROSSTALK)

ISIKOFF:  I think, with Cheney and Scooter, there was—there was an ongoing criminal investigation on the table that might have played a factor in what people remembered, or chose to remember. 

MATTHEWS:  Were you amazed the other day, just on this other subject that you and I find so cheerful, that the vice president of the United States was asked on one of the weekend shows—it may have been “Meet the Press”—that—it wasn‘t “Meet the Press”—it was one of the other ones—that:  Have you talked to Scooter Libby, your chief of staff, since he was put—you know, he was condemned to a long time in prison, basically?

And he said:  I haven‘t had occasion to talk to him since then. 

What is that about? 

ISIKOFF:  Well, I don‘t think it would be wise to talk to him right now. 

I think the big push from defenders, allies of Scooter Libby is to get a pardon.  And it probably wouldn‘t be a good idea for the vice president to be acknowledging a—of having contact at this point...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

ISIKOFF:  ... in order to further that goal, which I think everybody thinks is the ultimate goal... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to Gonzales.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Was the president putting his own guy on the skillet?  If you look at some of this language coming out of the vice president‘s office, in this case Cheney, basically saying it is up to—it is up to Gonzales to save his butt. 

ZUCKMAN:  And the president has said that, too. 

And you know what, Chris?  I counted five Republican senators today who were extremely unhappy with Gonzales. 

MATTHEWS:  Even Cornyn. 

ZUCKMAN:  Even Cornyn, who...

MATTHEWS:  Cornyn, the absolute go-to guy...

ZUCKMAN:  He‘s always there...

MATTHEWS:  ... for supporting Bush.

ZUCKMAN:  He‘s always there representing the president, giving the president‘s point of view—not happy. 

I talked to Senator Sessions.  He‘s a former U.S. attorney general, former attorney general in Alabama.  He said, that November meeting, he just can‘t believe that Gonzales couldn‘t remember that.  He thought that was deeply troubling.

And, then, of course, you have Dr. Coburn, who comes out and says, you know, you ought to suffer the same fate as those U.S. attorneys, and lose your job. 

It‘s not good news. 

MATTHEWS:  So, they‘re—so, they have all been released to do what they want to do. 

ZUCKMAN:  It‘s—it‘s really—you know, there‘s the ones who matter, not the Democrats.  It‘s the Republicans.

But, at the same time, the only person who has a vote in this is President Bush.  He doesn‘t have to run for reelection.  And it may depend on whether he cares what the senators think. 

ISIKOFF:  Well, it may be that the most significant line in the hearing was when Gonzales himself said, if I thought that I was no longer effective, then I would resign.

And it seemed to me that at least he was laying the groundwork, knowing where this might be headed, you know...

MATTHEWS:  What is it? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... the president talks about the subtle...

ISIKOFF:  ... so that he could.

MATTHEWS:  ... prejudice of lower expectations, you know, that thing he‘s always talking about, the subtle bias of not expecting too much?  It‘s almost like he...

ZUCKMAN:  I believe that‘s for minority children. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  But, no, but here he is, letting his attorney general basically operate subpar, and act like, well, that‘s, you know, the best we can get from this guy.  He‘s just an old buddy of mine. 

Isn‘t—isn‘t a that weird kind of defense?  Isn‘t this a weak defense of the president‘s of his own attorney—I mean, the attorney general is supposed to be the best guy he can put in there. 

ISIKOFF:  Well, yes. 

No, I mean, look, Bush has not exactly been resounding in his vote of confidence.  It is clearly a very difficult decision for him.  It is very painful.  I mean, he brought Alberto Gonzales here.  He was his guy.  They go way back to Texas together. 

I mean, I think he saw—the president saw Gonzales as, you know, somebody who he wanted to be identified with, the sort of grass—the guy who builds himself up from Hispanic immigrant...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

ISIKOFF:  ... parents, and...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It‘s like...

(CROSSTALK)

ISIKOFF:  Yes.  I mean, it is the great American story, except that I think the consensus judgment at this point is, he doesn‘t seem to have been up to this job. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  What do they—what does everybody want here?  What does Specter want, the hard-driving ranking member here? 

ZUCKMAN:  Specter...

MATTHEWS:  He was very personal and very tough today. 

ZUCKMAN:  I think he‘s very unhappy. 

Look, senators don‘t like to be lied to.  And a lot of senators feel like they have not only been intentionally misled, but just outright using the word lie. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

To be very blunt and political, has Chuck Schumer had enough of this case?  He has raised enough money on this for Democratic Campaign Committee, that there‘s not much more to get out of this stone? 

ISIKOFF:  Well, I don‘t think...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Does he really want him to fire him? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Does he want him to be resigned?

(CROSSTALK)

ISIKOFF:  I think they want the investigation to continue, because it has sort of, you know, opened up sort of, you know, avenues about...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

ISIKOFF:  Like the White House e-mails and where they...

(CROSSTALK)

ISIKOFF:  ... where they‘re going to pursue.

MATTHEWS:  Is it reasonable to assume that the Republicans wouldn‘t mind the guy going, ironically, the Republican senators, because he is something of an embarrassment?

ISIKOFF:  Of course. 

(CROSSTALK)

ISIKOFF:  Republicans would much prefer him going.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But the Democrats like to have him as a target, a tackling dummy?

Jill.

ZUCKMAN:  I think everybody is done with him.  I think they are ready for this to be over, not that the Democrats want to lose the issue.  But I think there is a consensus on the Judiciary Committee that‘s it‘s time for Gonzales to go.

MATTHEWS:  Will there be any price to be paid by the Democrats for hitting so hard against a Latino, a Hispanic guy, just whacking him like they did? 

ZUCKMAN:  I don‘t think that the Hispanic voting population is that happy with Republicans.  So, I‘m not sure that they‘re going to pay a price for this.

MATTHEWS:  Boy, this guy is naked to his enemies, isn‘t he.  I mean, really.  It‘s frightening to be a public official of his stature and to feel that even your own party and your president‘s friends are not looking out for you when you go up there, that you don‘t have one ringer up there looking out for him today.

ZUCKMAN:  Senator Hatch tried to do the best he could, but it didn‘t seem like his heart was in it when it came to defending him.

MATTHEWS:  Usually Republican are better at circling the wagons than this.  This is one of their party‘s strengths.  The Democrats are usually a little more chaotic, as we know, but Republicans are better at this.

:  I think it is stunning to see how few Republicans—

ZUCKMAN:  Well let‘s compare this to Secretary Rumsfeld.  They rallied behind Secretary Rumsfeld over and over again, and then the president pulled the plug. 

MATTHEWS:  This is in an administration, late in a presidency.  I think we‘re seeing the erosion of power of a president here.  Anyway, thank you Michael Isikoff.  As always, thank you Jill Zuckman.  And we‘ll be right back.

Up next, can President Bush get the Iraq war funding bill he wants from Congress, or can anti-war Democrats push for the war‘s end.  Congressman Artur Davis and Congressman Patrick McHenry join us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Will Congress make President Bush‘s veto a withdraw date for U.S. troops in Iraq?  How much longer will they make Attorney General Alberto Gonzales sweat it out?  Democratic Congressman Artur Davis of Alabama is on the Judiciary Committee, and Republican Congressman Patrick McHenry is on the Oversight Committee. 

Let me go to Patrick McHenry, Congressman, this war in Iraq, the surge, it was supposed to stabilize conditions in Baghdad.  We had more than 500 people killed so far this week over there, including 200 just the other day.  Are we winning this war of stabilization in Baghdad? 

REP. PATRICK MCHENRY ®, NORTH CAROLINA:  Well, Petraeus is just in country for a few weeks now, and his new plan is taking hold.  I‘m not in the business of saying—

MATTHEWS:  OK, when will we succeed?  What date?  Give me a date for when we can ask ourselves if this is working?  Just give me a date, a month, a year?

MCHENRY:  I can‘t give you a date. 

MATTHEWS:  Give me a year when we can say if this is working or not? 

MCHENRY:  I think we‘re going to see (INAUDIBLE) in 2008, yes.  We are going to have to make a decision in 2008. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s when we make a decision about the presidency. 

MCHENRY:  Let me answer this question, though.  Petraeus wrote the plan, gets a unanimous vote out of the Senate to go over and take command in Iraq, and then immediately the Senate and the new Democrat House and Senate say that we don‘t like the plan.  Well, you put the guy in the battlefield. 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  What, are they supposed to reject him for a promotion by the president?  That‘s an insult.

MCHENRY:  They could have.  He wrote the plan.  So let the guy actually take hold. 

MATTHEWS:  Fred Kagan, a neo-con, wrote the plan.  OK, the general didn‘t write the plan.  Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise—you guys know where this stuff comes from.  The American Enterprise Institute, where the whole thing, philosophy comes from.  Excuse me, congressman, what do you make of the surge?  Is it working? 

REP. ARTUR DAVIS (D), ALABAMA:  Well, I don‘t think people in Iraq think it‘s working.  I think if you talk to families in Iraq, who live in Baghdad, if you talk to families of the parliamentarians last week, who were nearly killed, they don‘t think it is working.  The rally is president‘s old commanders said that the surge wouldn‘t go very far.  They said this idea of putting in a small infusion of troops wouldn‘t make a difference on the ground. 

They said that we turned the corner into chaos that is going to go on and on, and we can‘t reverse it.  The president didn‘t like the military advice, so he reassigned the old commanders.  Sounds a whole lot like second-guessing the military to me.  This is what‘s happened:  People in this country realize that this is a civil war between two factions who don‘t like us and don‘t like each other.  And we‘re not going to turn it around. 

So you have got to at some point decide this is not worth the sacrifice. 

MATTHEWS:  Have we lost?  Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader, the Democratic leader of the Senate, said today that we have lost the war in Iraq.  Is that your assertion? 

DAVIS:  People of Iraq have lost the war in Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  But do you believe we have lost it? 

DAVIS:  It wasn‘t ours to win.  It was the people of Iraq‘s to win. 

Only they can fashion a democracy.  Only they create a place where people can live together.  They haven‘t done it.  It is unfortunate; it‘s tragic.  But, Chris, this world is full of tragedy and suffering.  Our military and our power can‘t always turn around tragedy and suffering.  We are learning the limits of our power in Iraq.  And a wiser president would understand that, and would take this vast number of troops out of harm‘s way. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that Senator John McCain is right, Congressman, in talking aggressively about a potential military campaign against Iran, if they continue with their nuclear program? 

MCHENRY:  I think there is a wider issue and not one that America has to resolve in and of themselves.  I believe in a limited foreign policy for the United States, and seeking out what is best for our own self-interests.  We can debate the reasons why we‘re in Iraq, for instance, all you want.  I wasn‘t here to make the decision.  I wasn‘t in Congress then.

MATTHEWS:  What about Iran?  You may well be here that one. 

MCHENRY:  I will, and if there is a true imminent threat—

MATTHEWS:  What‘s that mean?  How do you mean that? 

MCHENRY:  Well, if they have the ability to get nuclear weapons. 

MATTHEWS:  The Ability to get nuclear weapons? 

MCHENRY:  If they have a nuclear device and they are intent on using it. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you know that? 

MCHENRY:  We would have to have intelligence sources. 

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re for preemptive war, not preventive war?  In other words, if you have reason to believe they‘re about to launch a missile -- 

MCHENRY:  What are you for, Chris?  I mean, are you for letting them have a nuclear bomb and try to use it against us, and then wait?  

MATTHEWS:  You‘re using language that doesn‘t make sense, trying to use it against us.  Certainly anybody that shoots at the United States needs to be destroyed, OK.  Anybody who tries to shoot against us and launches or prepares to launch should be destroyed.  That‘s what we do here.  It‘s called national defense.  That‘s not tricky.

But somewhere down the road somebody with a weapon that may use it against one of their neighbors is a different question.  Do we then intervene militarily, us, the United States, that‘s my question to you?  do we get—If they might use it against Israel some day, do we attack them for that? 

MCHENRY:  Sure. 

MATTHEWS:  Just for having the weapon? 

MCHENRY:  No, if they‘re going to use it against Israel. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you know? 

MCHENRY:  How do you know about Pakistan, Chris?  Look back in ‘98, when Clinton knew—

MATTHEWS:  This is your debate, for you gentlemen here.

(CROSS TALK)

DAVIS:  One problem that we have is the genie has gotten out of the bottle, as far as nuclear non-proliferation goes.  Now that happened before we got here, and it‘s unfortunate.  But obviously our foreign policy can‘t be if there is a potential danger somewhere down the line, we‘ll intervene.  My goodness, we‘d be in North Korea if that were the case.  We might even be in Pakistan if that were the case.  What if the radical Islamic fundamentalists take over Pakistan. 

There has got to be a more nuanced foreign policy than that.  Now, the problem is we‘re not going to solve Iran ourselves, either.  All the military experts that you and I have both heard from, that our colleagues have heard from, say, if we went into Iran, we wouldn‘t be able to do enough to stop the nuclear program.  We might set it back a few months.  They would start it back all over again. 

There are much tougher and stronger military than the Iraqis.  We certainly couldn‘t knock them out in a few weeks.  And if you think we have seen chaos in civil war in Iraq, think about what would happen in Iran.  The solution would be, if we had enough confidence in this world to bring the European Union, to bring the Chinese and the Indians to the table, to have genuine strong economic sanctions. 

MATTHEWS:  But Congressman, it goes back to the same question that Congressman McHenry is addressing.  If we can‘t succeed with things we have failed with before, economic sanctions, diplomatic initiatives, if they don‘t work and the time comes, and you believe they have the weapon, I‘m just going to ask you both again—I‘ll let you finish—if they had the weapon, is that enough of a reason for us to attack them? 

MCHENRY:  I think so, because they have been intent on using it.  Their language is vastly different than what Pakistan said in the ‘90‘s about getting a nuclear weapon.  It‘s vastly different than what other countries, like India, have said when they sought to get a nuclear weapon.  And so we have to judge them based on their rhetoric and what they are willing to do. 

That is—if I could finish, Artur.  And so we have to be willing to strike to alleviate that problem.  I‘m not saying invade Iran.  I‘m not saying that.  But a military strike to eliminate their nuclear capability could be a wise thing.  I‘m not saying that we do it today, because I don‘t believe Iran is far -- 

MATTHEWS:  But you believe their possession of a nuclear weapon itself is justification for a U.S. air attack? 

MCHENRY:  I believe so, yes.   

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t agree with that? 

DAVIS:  The world‘s not as simple as that.  No, I don‘t agree with that.  And I think this would be the much better strategy: the better strategy would be to isolate the Iranians economically, to the point where the Iranian government feels real pain.  We haven‘t had strong sanctions in place, because the European Union, Chinese and Indians won‘t come there with us.  And if our president had not lost the ability to put together an international coalition in the last six years, we could build a strong united front against Iran. 

The Bush administration has squandered so much capital in Iraq that we can‘t get it done. 

MATTHEWS:  These are the debates that we have to have here, Congressmen, thank you very much.  I think we have to figure out the rules of engagement.  We have to figure out what our strategy is going to be, because these contingencies end up being realities.  Right?

MCHENRY:  I agree with you.  And I‘ll tell you, in Iraq, we have to do much better and we have a long way to go. 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Congressman Patrick McHenry and thank you Congressman Artur Davis.  When we are return, new details about that Virginia Tech gunman.  We‘ll get the latest from Blacksburg.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back.  What do students at Virginia Tech think about Cho Seung Hui‘s manifesto we saw last night?  Aamer Madhani is national correspondent for the “Chicago Tribune,” and he joins us now from the Virginia Tech campus itself.  Aamer, thank you very much for joining us.  What is the reaction to those ghastly pictures we saw last night on NBC and MSNBC? 

AAMER MADHANI, “CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  I think it sort of retriggered the whole event over again.  Students were really shocked and dismayed by it.  There were some people that were really upset that the pictures made the air.  Over the last day, since those pictures and video came on NBC, there has been a little bit of backlash against the media here. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, it‘s on the front page of the “New York Times,” not to share the duty or the responsibility, but what is the belief down there among journalists whether this should have gotten out, these pictures should have been aired? 

MADHANI:  I can only speak for myself, I think NBC did a really good job, considering the circumstances.  It‘s not an enviable position to be in, where you are stuck making the decision on what was important and significant news.  I think it would have been wrong for NBC not to post the pictures and a little bit of the video.  I think you guys have shown pretty good restraint.

MATTHEWS:  Are students looking upon the late suicide killer, Mr. Hui, as a person who was deeply disturbed, who was nuts, and there is nothing anyone can do about it, or do they think upon him as one of these lonely souls campus, who was just ignored by everybody else, and sort of dissed, and ignored, and it somehow was a social responsibility that was failed here? 

MADHANI:  I think it is more of the former.  I think students on this campus are very angry and they look at this guy as a bit of a sociopath.  Everybody has their own insecurities.  He was mentally ill.  In no way is anyone excusing him or at all able to relate to this guy. 

MATTHEWS:  What about—we had one of his suite mates on last night, someone who shared a six person suite with him, and he said that he never talked, Cho never talked, never showed any human response to any comment made to him.  That is amazing behavior over the space of all of these months since they came to school together in August. 

MADHANI:  No doubt.  It is unexplainable how someone goes from the meek nerdy kid to someone who decides, it looks like over a period of time that he‘s going to start lifting weights, get rid of his acne, and go out on a rampage.   

MATTHEWS:  You have been all over the world.  You have covered Iraq and you‘ve covered this thing now.  Do you think there is some copy cat aspect to it?  I was looking at pictures of the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade last night on Google, and the way in which the suicides would—well you know all this—would show their weaponry right before they committed suicide?  I wonder, what‘s your response to all of that?

MADHANI:  I think it was more similar—what I saw in the videos that came out after Columbine.  You know, frankly, I think the Martyrs, while they go and they make these videos, that also their actions are reprehensible as well.  But often at least they have a political message that they are trying to make.  From what I‘ve seen, from what you‘ve shown, I can‘t understand what he is trying to say.  I still don‘t understand what his problem was. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much Aamer Madhani.  Thank you very much for joining us from down there.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Now it‘s time for “TUCKER.”

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

END   

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