updated 7/6/2007 2:48:00 PM ET 2007-07-06T18:48:00

Guest: Bruce Willis, Ron Christie, David Rivkin, Melanie Sloan

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Bill and Hillary.  Joe and Valerie.  Dick and Scooter.  Perjury and obstruction of justice.  Pardons and politics.  Dancing with the stars.

Let’s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I’m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  The 4th of July fireworks are still going off over Scooter Libby’s freedom.  In a radio interview in Iowa, Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton criticized President Bush’s decision to commute the sentence of the former Cheney chief of staff.  Let’s listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  They think they’re above the law.  They think that the rule of law is an inconvenience that they can skirt whenever they choose.  This is just one of many examples.  And it’s, you know, dispiriting because the president and the vice president have really decided that they are above the law.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Then Hillary let her husband, former president Bill Clinton, sound off on President Bush.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 

There are guidelines for what happens when, you know, somebody is convicted, and I think that, you know—you got to understand, I think that this is consistent with their philosophy.  They believe that they should be able to do what they want to do and that the law is a minor obstacle.  I think—that’s what I think.  I think that, you know, it was wrong to out that CIA agent and wrong to try to cover it up and wrong that no one was ever fired from the White House for doing it.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Today, White House press secretary Tony Snow hit back hard, saying, quote, “I don’t know what Arkansan is for chutzpah, but this is a gigantic case of it.”  And while he was at it, Tony Snow told the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers, to, quote, “knock himself out” with his upcoming hearings into the commutation of Libby’s sentence.

And today Scooter Libby himself paid the court fine of $250,400.  By the way, NBC News has learned he paid it out of his personal funds.  But now there’s a question of whether he will even have to pay or actually serve those two years of probation still left on his sentence.  More on this in a moment.

And later, my interview with Hollywood’s hottest action hero, Bruce Willis.

We begin tonight, however, with HARDBALL’s David Shuster with the latest developments on the president’s decision to commute the sentence of Scooter Libby.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Three days after President Bush decided to keep his former aide, Scooter Libby, from facing a single afternoon in jail, today Libby settled the financial penalty left intact, writing this check for $250,400.  But the backlash over the president’s commutation continues.  Today the editorial page of “USA Today” wrote, quote, “The message that’s left is unmistakable.  If you stand in the way of justice, you can get off easy if you have a friend in the White House.”

Even conservative voices are criticizing the president.  “The Washington Times” editorial page, usually a full-throated Bush supporter, has declared, quote, “Perjury is a serious crime.  The integrity of the judicial process depends on fact-finding and truth-telling.  Had Mr. Bush reduced Libby’s sentence to 15 months, we might have been able to support the decision.  Alas, he did not.”

Today at the White House press briefing...

SCOTT STANZEL, DPTY. WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  The president believes that he took the right approach on this.  He understands that he’ll get political heat from people all across the spectrum, but he did what he believed was the right thing to do.

SHUSTER:  Still, the White House refuses to say what specific factors the president took into account or even what President Bush considers an appropriate punishment for the federal crime.

QUESTION:  So a single day in jail for lying, obstructing justice in a federal case is excessive?

STANZEL:  The president believed that 30 months, the sentence that was given—one day wasn’t given, 30 months was.

SHUSTER:  The White House also refused again to say what role Vice President Cheney had in the commutation.  Libby’s trial revealed the vice president instructed Libby to leak Valerie Wilson’s identity as part of the effort to undermine her husband, administration critic Joe Wilson.  The evidence revealed that Cheney also got permission from President Bush to leak other classified information to “The New York Times.”

It’s unclear what motivated Libby to lie to investigators, but some Democrats believe he was trying to protect the very highest levels of the White House.  As Democratic activists now accuse the president of a coverup, former president Clinton is weighing in.  And yesterday he criticized the Bush administration during an Iowa radio interview.

CLINTON:  You got to understand, I think that this is consistent with their philosophy.  They believe that they should be able to do what they want to do and that the law is a minor obstacle.

SHUSTER:  In the closing hours of his presidency, Clinton pardoned more than 140 people, including fugitive financier Marc Rich.  But Clinton said that helping a White House aide who leaked a CIA operative’s identity is different.  Today, the Bush administration hit back.  Off-camera, presidential spokesman Tony Snow said, quote, “I don’t know what Arkansan is for chutzpah, but this is a gigantic case of it.”

On camera, Snow’s deputy added this.

STANZEL:  President Clinton issued 141 pardons on January 20, over 200 in the period—in the post-election period in 2000.  So it—it sort of pales in comparison.

They can disagree with the action the president took, but to use some of the language that they’ve used is really remarkable.

QUESTION:  So are you saying he’s not going to have a final day pardon for Scooter Libby?  Just get—let’s get that on the record.  Is that what you’re saying, that...

STANZEL:  The president is on the record on that, and he’s not ruling anything in or out.

SHUSTER (on camera):  In other words, it’s on the record that the president don’t know what the final record on Libby will be.  Democrats, by contrast, have been more clear in their intentions, and that is to keep the Libby controversy alive, and so congressional hearings on the Libby commutation decision are scheduled to begin next week.

I’m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.  David Rivkin is a former Justice Department official under the first President Bush, and Melanie Sloan is executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.  She’s representing, by the way, Joe and Valerie Wilson in their civil suit right now.

Let me go to Melanie on this case.  Melanie, do you think perjury and obstruction of justice are serious crimes?

MELANIE SLOAN, ATTORNEY FOR JOE AND VALERIE WILSON CIVIL SUIT:  Of course, they’re very serious crimes, and this administration has previously found them to be serious crimes, as does most of the American people.

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that they were properly used as the basis for impeaching Bill Clinton?

SLOAN:  I think that this is not about Bill Clinton.  This is about...

MATTHEWS:  No, I’m asking you a direct question.  You have to answer it.

SLOAN:  No, Chris.  What we’re actually talking about now is...

MATTHEWS:  No, I’m asking about Bill Clinton’s impeachment.

SLOAN:  ... Scooter Libby...

MATTHEWS:  Did you support the impeachment of Bill Clinton for perjury and obstruction of justice?

SLOAN:  I didn’t take position on impeachment of Bill Clinton one way or the other.  What I do take a position on is that this administration has said that perjury and obstruction of justice are very serious crimes, and yet now they’re not taking them seriously.

MATTHEWS:  So you’ve never said anything to anyone at any circumstances about the Bill Clinton impeachment exercise at all.  You’ve never, ever spoken about that in your life.

SLOAN:  Certainly, my organization, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington...

MATTHEWS:  No, you.

SLOAN:  ... did not take a position.

MATTHEWS:  You.  You personally.  Have you ever said anything about Bill Clinton’s impeachment to anyone?

SLOAN:  I’m sure that I have must have said something about Bill Clinton’s impeachment to someone, yes.

MATTHEWS:  And you didn’t take a position on whether he should have been properly impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice.

SLOAN:  I take the position that Bill Clinton had—was found to have perjured himself by the House, but the Senate declined to convict him.  And that’s what happened in that case.  Here, on the other hand, we have a jury of 12 citizens...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

SLOAN:  ... who convicted Mr. Libby.

MATTHEWS:  And 50 Republicans voted to kick the president out of office for perjury and obstruction of justice, and you think that was the correct vote on their part.

SLOAN:  I think it’s a far different matter when we start talking about impeaching a president of United States versus the concept of sending a man who’s guilty of those crimes to jail for a mere 30 months.

MATTHEWS:  So you think that the 30 months was appropriate.

SLOAN:  I think that Judge Walton, who’s a Republican Bush appointee, found that that was an appropriate sentence.  The sentencing guideline range for that—for perjury and obstruction of justice is 30 to 37 months, so it was on the low end of the sentencing guidelines.  And in fact, the Justice Department has long taken the position that any sentence given in the range of the sentencing guidelines is per se reasonable.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Well, let me try Mr. Rivkin and try to find consistency in your judgment of these two cases.  Mr. Rivkin, do you think the president of the United States, Bill Clinton, should have been impeached, as he was, for perjury and obstruction of justice?

DAVID RIVKIN, BUSH 41 DOJ OFFICIAL:  No, as a matter of fact, I do not.  I want to clarify something because I appreciate your question.  The impeachment actually was complete in the House, if you look at the Constitution.

MATTHEWS:  Sure.

RIVKIN:  So in effect, what happened to Mr. Clinton is tantamount to what the jury found with regard to Scooter.  It’s just that the Senate, which really was playing the same function conceptually as Judge Walton, decided not to punish him.

I personally think that the kind of punishment in the court of history that President Clinton received was sufficient.  I do believe that this perjury and obstruction of justice are serious crimes.  I reason I personally support the commutation and even a pardon here is I do not believe that this was a fair and just prosecution.  I think it was politicized.  I think the mistake was not made by the jury.  I think the mistake was made by the vindictive and out-of-control prosecutor who aligned the facts in such a way that the jury had no choice...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What do you think was his motive, since you’ve made the accusation?

RIVKIN:  Oh, his motive is actually entirely non-partisan.  Look, there are prosecutors who are exquisitely non-partisan who are just playing Inspector Javier.  They basically think that they can—that everybody is guilty of something, that if, God forbid, you are somehow not being straight with him, or so he or she believes, that they should prosecute you to the Nth degree.  And Inspector Javier is the right analogy.  It’s not a question of being incorrect as a matter of law.

Look, to put it very simply, the reason the jury found him guilty, it’s a question of narrative.  Every time you have non-pecuniary perjury situation, the question is always why.  This prosecutor, Mr. Fitzgerald, came in and told the jury that something was rotten inside the White House, that there was an effort to lie this country into a war, that there was a conspiracy to destroy Mr. Wilson, and what Scooter did was a part of it.  And that was a compelling narrative.

At that point in time, it was not a question of reasonable doubt.  It’s not a question of faulty memory.  The jury had their narrative.  And there is nothing the defense could do.  This is a false narrative.  The president and the vice president know very well that that’s not what happened.

MATTHEWS:  Well, why didn’t—well, why didn’t Scooter Libby—not that we can rewrite history, sir, but David, why didn’t Scooter Libby just tell the truth, that he learned about the identity of Valerie Wilson from his boss, and move on?  He wouldn’t have gone through the trial, if that were the case.

RIVKIN:  I personally—Chris, I personally believe—I have no way of proving it, I of course, was not on the jury—that what we have here is a situation where a person was mistaken not about whether or not he was told something, but which conversation out of many conversations about this...

MATTHEWS:  No, no, no, no.  No.  He has denied—he had an opportunity to tell the truth, which was his boss told him.  This is all on the record.  The trial did establish some facts, sir, that he was informed about it from his boss well ahead of any conversation with Mr. Russert.  It’s not a disputed memory here, it’s a fact that he had all this information and shared it with seven different people subsequent to being informed by his boss.  It’s all over the trial record...

RIVKIN:  Chris...

MATTHEWS:  ... that he knew about...

RIVKIN:  If I may...

MATTHEWS:  ... Scooter Libby’s, or rather...

RIVKIN:  If I may...

MATTHEWS:  ... Valerie Wilson’s role at the CIA long before he ever talked to Russert.

RIVKIN:  If I may?  The transcript of his grand jury testimony, to the best of my recollection—I’ll be precise and careful here—demonstrates that he told the grand jury that he heard about Ms. Valerie Plame from the vice president.  The question was, Who told him what first?  And we’re talking about conversations that transpired separated...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

RIVKIN:  ... maybe by several days.  I don’t know about you, I find it most difficult to remember...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I agree.  Look—look, completely with you.  Before you get to that point—look, there’s no doubt that people forget details.  There’s no doubt that sometimes we remember something that happened 30 years ago with far more lucidity than we remember something that happened - - like, Where were you last Tuesday?  I agree with that.

But don’t you have, as a citizen, the right to update your testimony, to correct it over time, to clarify it?  Isn’t that what Karl Rove did and escape the judge here?

RIVKIN:  Yes, but let’s—let’s—I think...

MATTHEWS:  Why didn’t Scooter Libby tell us yesterday, by the way? 

Why hasn’t he told us now that he was he was wrong in the trial?

RIVKIN:  Well, this is...

MATTHEWS:  How come he’s never corrected the record, said, I never heard it from Russert, I heard it from my boss?

RIVKIN:  This is a fair point.  Let me just stipulate the following possibility.  It is precisely because of heavily politicized nature what has happened here.  Remember, every senior Democrat in the House and Senate kept talking about how this proves that the Bush administration lied us into war, et cetera, et cetera, that it is precisely because it is not a private dispute...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

RIVKIN:  ... that it’s all done in the context of this enormous policy fight that he finds it difficult—and again, I’m not going to judge him one way or another—he finds it difficult to approach it in the same way Bill Clinton, for example, could approach it, if we’re talking about sex (INAUDIBLE) Monica Lewinsky.  It is—look, there is something—it is in my mind—and tell me if you disagree—the most politicized prosecution in this century.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I just think...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I agree with you on one point.  Melanie, I want to give you a lot more time when we come back because I want to talk to you about Joe Wilson’s testimony that’s coming up next week before the House Judiciary Committee.  That is the big story that’s emerging.  What is Joe going to tell?  What’s your client going to do?

And later: What action does Bruce Willis have to tell me in my interview with him?  We’re going to talk to him right after we talk about Joe Wilson with Melanie, and we’ll be back with David.

You’re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

We’re back with former Bush 41 Justice Department official David Rivkin, and Melanie Sloan, executive director of the group called CREW, who’s also defending Joe and Valerie Wilson—or, actually, representing them in this civil action that he’s involved with now.

Let me go to Melanie for a few minutes here.  Melanie, what do you think your client, Joe Wilson, will accomplish on the stand of the House of Representatives next week?

SLOAN:  Well, I think he’ll talk about how disappointing the fact is that Bush has commuted Scooter Libby’s sentence, given the fact that Bush originally said that anybody who leaked Valerie Plame’s name, anybody involved in this would be fired and there would be serious consequences, and now there are shown to be no consequences whatsoever for anyone involved in it.

And I think while Mr. Wilson will certainly say that the president has the right to commute any sentence under the Constitution, it’s disappointing that he would do so in this case and that they still owe Valerie Wilson and all covert operatives, in fact, in the United States a deep and sincere apology.  Here was a patriot who was serving her country, and for political purposes, this White House chose to disclose her identity...

MATTHEWS:  Who did the disclosing?

SLOAN:  Well, it seems like several people did the disclosing, really. 

Richard Armitage did it, but so did Karl Rove and so did Scooter Libby.

MATTHEWS:  Let’s go through those, so people understand exactly your memory and our joint memories of what happened.  Richard Armitage was number two at the State Department.  He was called up by Bob Novak, the “prince of darkness” he’s called.  He’s a conservative columnist.  And during the course of that conversation, he told Bob Novak, we’re told now, about the identity of Valerie Wilson, that she worked for the CIA.  Now, do you believe that that was part of an administration plot?

SLOAN:  I believe that Richard Armitage was given that information by the vice president’s office, by Scooter Libby.  He would never have had that information if the vice president’s office hadn’t been seeking it out.  And then he disclosed it to Bob Novak.  But at the same time, Karl Rove...

MATTHEWS:  No, wait a minute.

SLOAN:  ... and Scooter Libby was telling it...

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that was part of a plot?  Was that part of a plot to leak?

SLOAN:  Yes, I think that there was a concerted effort to leak Valerie Plame’s name in an effort to punish Joseph Wilson for...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, I just want to get this straight.  You keep going around this, Melanie.  Is the decision by Armitage to give this information to Bob Novak part of a plot?

SLOAN:  It certainly seems to be, yes.

MATTHEWS:  How so?  He was against the war, Armitage.

SLOAN:  You know, he was doing his boss’s bidding.  He was giving away Valerie Plame’s name while she was covert—when she was a covert operative...

MATTHEWS:  And who told Armitage to do this?

SLOAN:  Well, it seems like someone in the vice president’s office may well have had something to do with that.

MATTHEWS:  May well have had something to do it?  That’s a charge?

SLOAN:  That’s, of course—that’s, of course, Chris, why we have a civil suit, so that we can take the deposition testimony of these people and get to the bottom of this, exactly what happened.

MATTHEWS:  But how do you charge somebody with doing something if you don’t even know they did it?  You don’t even seem to know what Armitage’s motive was or that he was operating under any instructions, and now you’re asserting that he was.

SLOAN:  Well, I’m sorry, but you certainly can’t know somebody’s motives until you have sat down and questioned them about them.

We haven’t had the opportunity to take the deposition testimony of anybody in this case yet.  And that’s what a complaint does.  It alleges facts that you believe to be true, and then you go out and you try and prove them through discovery. 

RIVKIN:  Chris, if I...

MATTHEWS:  Yes, David.

RIVKIN:  This is ironic.

What shows you how wrong their narrative is, is this.  Not only Mr.  Armitage was an opponent the war, but, by all accounts, including Bob Woodward’s, he despised—repeat, despised—the vice president and everybody in his office. 

He actually gave this information to Novak.  And, in typical Washington fashion—I’m sure you had the benefit of some of those—as an oddity, as, look, here is the guy who went on this trip to Niger.  Isn’t it funny his wife works at the CIA on the same side of issues?  Kind of, isn’t it bizarre?

That’s what—that’s what Novak himself said. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

RIVKIN:  So, that just underscores how ridiculous the whole conspiracy narrative here is, OK?

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SLOAN:  There was clearly a conspiracy here.  Whether or not Richard Armitage was part of it, certainly, Vice President Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and Scooter Libby were a part of it.

MATTHEWS:  But how did they leak it if...

SLOAN:  They were contacting reporters time after time after time, trying to get this out. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  OK.  I wanted—I wish I had more time, Melanie. 

We will have to have you back. 

So, you contend that Scooter and Karl also leaked, as well as Armitage leaking? 

SLOAN:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  And...

RIVKIN:  But, Chris, very briefly, don’t you think—and with all due respect to Valerie Plame, which I have nothing against—the fact that she was—had something to do with sending her husband an an—in the work of an area that she also worked on and had some use, do you not think that that, let’s call it gently, arguable nepotism had something to do...

SLOAN:  There is no evidence that Valerie Plame had anything to do with sending Joe Wilson to Niger. 

RIVKIN:  Well, no, no.

Well, but at least—but that is the—I don’t know that to be the fact, but that is the speculation.  But do you not think, for example, that, if you work at EPA, that, even if you are not the one involved in it, having your husband sent on a sensitive regulatory area might in some ways impugn the credibility of this person’s findings, or if you work at the Treasury Department or Housing Department?  That is highly irregular. 

SLOAN:  Wow.  Well, doesn’t it undercut the credibility of the Bush administration to be commuting the sentence of a top White House official in the same way?

RIVKIN:  Oh.  I—we are not—all I’m tying to tell you is this.

The whole narrative here of conspiracy, of evildoing, is nonsense.  In this town, when you get involved in a policy debate, people push back.  What do they impugn?  Your credentials.  Gee, you are not an expert on WMDs, or who chose you...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

RIVKIN:  ... or your political affiliations.  I mean, tell me if I’m wrong.  That is what happens in day in and day out.  It doesn’t have to be nefarious. 

And the whole thing that the critics have created from the outset, the impression that there is something nefarious about it.  And Armitage doesn’t fit, of course, in the nefarious part. 

SLOAN:  Going after Joe Wilson would have been fair.  That would have been a totally reasonable thing to do.  But to endanger national security by outing a covert CIA operative for political purposes...

(CROSSTALK)

RIVKIN:  She was not a covert—she was not a covert operative. 

SLOAN:  The CIA says that she was. 

RIVKIN:  The CIA has never said...

MATTHEWS:  Well, we are going to have to find out whether they knew at the time that she was covert. 

And we’re also going to have find out whether the battle here wasn’t between the CIA and the hawks in the White House, and that Valerie Wilson was seen by the hawks in the White House as a combatant in this fight, because they were very much at war, in a leaking war, as you know, Melanie, and I know, living in Washington, between the CIA and the White House.

They were leaking back and forth for weeks after we found there was no

WMD. 

RIVKIN:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Everybody was playing the blame game.  They saw Hillary—or, rather, Valerie as a combatant on the other side, apparently. 

Anyway, thank you, Melanie Sloan.

Thank you, David Rivkin.

And up next: my interview with action star Bruce Willis.  We are going to take a little break here from the Libby story to talk about Bruce Willis. 

You’re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Bruce Willis, one of America’s biggest film heroes, came to Washington recently to donate articles from the “Die Hard” movies to the Smithsonian Institute. 

I caught up with Bruce and asked him about terrorism on screen and in real life.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  You know, when you think about the dangers that you exploit an expose in “Live Free or Die Hard,” right? 

BRUCE WILLIS, ACTOR:  Mm-hmm. 

MATTHEWS:  Terrorism, how does it compare today, the kind of terrorism we face as a country, compared to World War II? 

WILLIS:  I think it is the same fight, isn’t it?

It is a very American thing, in American cinema and I think in American life, to try to do whatever we can to make—you know, to help good triumph over evil.  The film world really is about—I mean, this film, there’s nothing about politics, but it is certainly about—we have always had, you know, terrorists, and terrorists as thieves, and terrorists in the films as characters. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about this—the cyberterrorism that is in “Live Free or Die Hard.”  Do you think that is something—I mean, you must have done some research on the movie.  And how much of a threat do we face from that kind of attack? 

WILLIS:  I think we went out of our way to make it a little more fictional, probably, than it is in, you know, the real world. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about personal heroism, because I love the movies you are in, and whether it’s “Sixth Sense” or it’s one of the “Die Hard”s.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “DIE HARD”)

WILLIS:  Mayday.  Mayday.  Anyone copying channel 9?  Terrorists have seized the Nakatomi building and are holding at least 30 people hostage. 

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  Attention, whoever you are.  This channel is reserved for emergency calls only. 

WILLIS:  No (EXPLETIVE DELETED) lady.  Do I sound like I’m ordering a pizza? 

Report me.  Come the (EXPLETIVE DELETED) down here and arrest me. 

Just send the police now!

(GUNFIRE)

UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS:  Ow.

(GUNFIRE)

(SCREAMING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Sometimes, I wonder whether we are encouraged enough to really stand up, if one of us is on an airplane that is grabbed.  Do you think Americans should be more encouraged to take the lead and be citizen fighters against the terrorists? 

WILLIS:  I think that, in this country, in the United States, and here in our nation’s capital, I think there’s a lot of national pride.  There are a lot of people who would fight for their country, who would fight for their families, and, you know, to keep people safe. 

And what I like about the character in the “Die Hard” series is that he has zero tolerance for anyone who would want to cause harm to innocent people.  And I think that’s a pretty American quality. 

MATTHEWS:  You were talking earlier—last question—you were talking earlier about the people who are the real heroes, not the movie stars and the actors, but the real heroes.

And I happen to know something you don’t talk about, or certainly don’t brag about, is your concern about the guys and the women who get hurt in these wars. 

Can you talk a little bit about the—what our responsibility is to those people? 

WILLIS:  Well, I think that, if we ask young men and women in this country, in any war, to possibly make the ultimate sacrifice, you know, by giving their, you know, lives, or, you know, blood, that—that they should be taken care of by the government, they should be helped, and I think maybe have more people, you know, stand up for them. 

And I—you know, I try to talk about it wherever—whenever I can.  I know it’s not a popular topic.  But, you know, there are Americans halfway around the world who fight, I think, really for, you know, the liberties and the freedoms that we have here in this country. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think—when you read in “The Washington Post” about our treatment of our service people who have been injured badly, wounded in the war, what is your reaction to that?

WILLIS:  I think that we can always do better to help people.  I think we should help people whenever we can, and none more than the people who get hurt and who make the ultimate sacrifice and—you know, and their families. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Up next, our HARDBALL debate tonight:  No jail for Scooter, good call or bad call? 

You’re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VERA GIBBONS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I’m Vera Gibbons with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks closed mixed after the holiday break.  The Dow Jones industrial average lost more than 11 points, but the S&P 500 was up fractionally, and the Nasdaq gained more than 11 points.

After the closing bell, Microsoft announced it would take a charge of more than $1 billion to expand its warranty coverage on Xbox video game consoles.  The company cited a number of hardware failures.

Oil prices rose slightly, climbing 40 cents in New York trading, closing at $71.80 a barrel. 

Mortgage rates falling this week to their lowest level in a month—the average 30-year fixed rate nationwide dipped to 6.63 percent.

And Hilton stock surged 26 percent today on news of the biggest hotel buyout ever.  The Blackstone Group agreed Tuesday to buy the chain for more than $20 billion.

That’s it from CNBC, America’s business channel—now back to

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Time now for the HARDBALL debate tonight.

Did President Bush go too far in commuting Scooter Libby’s entire two-and-a-half year jail sentence?  Well, “The Washington Times,” a very conservative newspaper, thinks the president went too far. 

The newspaper wrote on its July 4 editorial—quote—”Perjury is a serious crime.  This newspaper argued on behalf of its seriousness in the 1990s, during the Clinton perjury controversy, and today is no different.  We would have hoped that more conservatives would agree.  Had Mr. Bush reduced Libby’s sentence to, say, 15 months, we might have been able to support the decision.  Alas, he did not.”

Bob Shrum is a HARDBALL political analyst.  He’s the author of “No Excuses: Concessions of a Serial Campaigner.”  And Ron Christie is a former aide to Vice President Cheney.

For the defense, Mr. Christie, “The Washington Times,” hugely conservative, hugely loyal to this administration, believes the president was wrong in dumping the entire sentence of Scooter Libby.  Your position, sir? 

RON CHRISTIE, FORMER ADVISER TO VICE PRESIDENT DICK CHENEY:  My position is, the president acted properly here.

I think the sentence was excessive for Mr. Libby in this particular case.  And, Chris, as you and I have gone back many, many times, the special counsel in this particular case knew that Mr. Libby was not the one who improperly disclosed Valerie Plame’s identity.  It was the deputy secretary of state, Richard Armitage.  This entire process was a travesty of justice that wound its way from Richard Armitage, to Bob Novak, to the trial, to the sentencing.

I think the president did the right thing.  Scooter Libby is still a convicted felon.  He just paid a $250,000 fine today.  And, given that his livelihood is being a lawyer, he is unlikely to be able to practice law again.  I think Mr. Libby has been severely punished. 

MATTHEWS:  Bob Shrum?

BOB SHRUM, NBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  It was an act of pure Cheneyism. 

The doctor and the—the president, his staff, and especially the vice president, are above the law.

And it was incoherent on its face, because the president said at first he wanted the jury’s verdict to stand, that he was going to commute the sentence, even though the verdict was going to stand, and then left open the door today for the possibility of a pardon. 

What has happened here and the suspicion it arouses is that the president and the vice president have something to hide, or that Karl Rove has something to hide, and that Scooter Libby, faced with actually going into a jail cell, might have revealed some of that. 

You know, if—if the court had stayed his sentence pending appeal, I think he still would have been pardoned, or the sentence would have been commuted, but Bush would have done it on his last day in office. 

CHRISTIE:  Bob—Bob, what..

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  Instead, he did it now. 

CHRISTIE:  Bob, what are you talking about?  You know, I have listened to this for the last couple of days:  Karl Rove has something to hide.  Scooter has something to hide. 

There is nothing to hide here.  The Democrats—the reason that the Democratic Congress has approval ratings lower than the president’s is that they have no agenda, no issues, nothing to talk about.  And then you get former President Clinton and Senator Clinton wading into this, which is entirely rich.

I wish the Democrats would get something to run on, as opposed to trying to find conspiracies and shadows in the closets that don’t exist. 

SHRUM:  Oh, I think there is a lot—I think there is a lot—there is a lot to run on, like stopping this obscene war in Iraq, like guaranteeing health care for Americans. 

And I think those are the things people in Congress are fighting for, with Bush and Cheney opposing them every single step of the way. 

CHRISTIE:  Oh, of course... 

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  But, look, I didn’t say—I didn’t say that Karl Rove or George Bush or Dick Cheney has something to hide.  I said this leads to a reasonable suspicious that they do. 

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  It is as if Richard Nixon had pardoned James McCord when John Sirica sent him to jail after the Watergate burglary. 

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  You know, every time people throw around these terms like third-rate burglary, no underlying crime, you know that there is some fire to go with that smoke. 

(CROSSTALK)

CHRISTIE:  Bob, we have got the filibuster going here.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Bob, I want to interject a thought here. 

Why—I mean, you are a political tactician and strategist.  Why on God’s earth did Bill and Hillary Clinton, where Bill has got a couple problems on his rap sheet, perjury and obstruction of justice—he pardoned Marc Rich, his brother, Roger, Susan McDougal—why would he want to step back into the issue of pardons, perjury, and obstruction of justice on the campaign trail for his wife?

SHRUM:  Well, Susan McDougal was acquitted.  But, putting that aside, Scooter Libby was...

MATTHEWS:  But he pardoned her.

SHRUM:  Scooter Libby was convicted, but—and that’s the difference. 

(CROSSTALK)

SHRUM:  But, putting that aside, as a political matter...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Why is Bill Clinton back in the pardon business?  I don’t get it. 

SHRUM:  As a political...

CHRISTIE:  Chris...

SHRUM:  I was going to answer it, Chris, if you will let me. 

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead.

SHRUM:  As a political matter, I think they knew that they were going to face these questions in press conferences as they campaigned through Iowa.  The press was going to go after them and ask the question again and again.

So, they made the decision to just affirmatively talk about it.  I think, as a political decision, it was smart.

CHRISTIE:  No, Bob, that was not an affirmative decision.  Bob, I have to cut you off. 

That was not an affirmative decision.  Senator Clinton made the comment that this administration thinks it is above the law.  And President Clinton tried to parse, in the usual Clintonian nonsense, about, oh, well, this administration, you know, they think they are above the law.  They said the same thing. 

This was a president who pardoned 141 people on his last day in office, and, I might tell you, spending the time today to review some of these pardons, you’re talking about Mel Reynolds, someone who was convicted of having sex with a 16-year-old campaign worker, who the president commuted his sentence for bank fraud.  You’re talking about the McDougals.  You’re talking about Roger Clinton with his intent to distribute cocaine. 

For the Clintons to try to draw any correlation between what President Bush did with Scooter Libby did in his last day in office is obscene.  And this is why I think Senator Clinton is going to have a hard time on the trail, because it is more of that Clintonian nonsense and America is tired of it. 

SHRUM:  Listen, I think this is absurd and I think the way you are describing it is absurd.  I do not defend all of those pardons that Bill Clinton made on his last day in office.  But I think there is a critical distinction; none of those pardons has anyone every alleged could have in any way insulated him from some kind of criminal investigation. 

CHRISTIE:  Susan Mcdougall—

(CROSS TALK) 

SHRUM:  The president was not acquiesced of anything having anything to do with the Henry Susisnairo (ph) situation.  What are you talking about?  You just throw names out. 

CHRISTIE:  No, actually I’m throwing names out—

(CROSS TALK)

SHRUM:  How was Bill Clinton related to the Henry Sisnairos problem? 

How was he related?  What allegations were there about Bill Clinton?

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  I know the only connection and it is tangential, is that, as we all know, Henry Sisnairos in his application for the position of HUD secretary gave a dishonest answer about how much money he was paying off his girlfriend.  And that was a problem.  You can say that is the president’s fault, but only, Ron, highly tangential, that some how Bill Clinton knew how much money that Henry Sisnairos was paying his girlfriend.  How would he have known that?

CHRISTIE:  The correlation I’m trying to make, Chris, is the fact that the Democrats are trying to say that this administration has something to hide and they are being less than honest.  What I’m trying to demonstrate is that a number of the people that President Clinton had pardoned had a lot of embarrassing information about the president. 

MATTHEWS:  Ron, I want to call this a tie and it’s the first time Schrummy has met his match since George W. Bush.  Anyway, thank you Bob Shrum and Ron Christie.  

Up next, the HARDBALL round table on the fight between the Bushes and the Clintons—by the way, I’ll ask it again, why is Clinton back into this maw again over pardons and obstruction of justice and perjury?  Too close to home.  Anyway, we’re going to have the battlefield here.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Time now for our daily wrap up of the most exciting political news around the country today.  And here it to do it with us is “Time Magazine’s” Mark Halperin, the Urban Radio Network’s April Ryan—she was on with us the other day—and actor and comedian Robert Wuhl, who stars in the new HBO special “Assume the Position 2001,” or 2.0 or whatever it is, which takes an irreverent look at American history.  Here is a clip from Robert’s new event. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT WUHL, ACTOR AND COMEDIAN:  In just our third presidential election, Aaron Burr actually tied Thomas Jefferson in the electoral college and only became vice president because his old nemesis, Alexander Hamilton, used his influence to elect Jefferson.  Burr, a less than gracious loser, respond by shooting Alexander Hamilton. thereby becoming our first vice president to shoot somebody. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  OK, we are back.  That was a special that is going to be on HBO on July 7th at 10:00.  Robert, thank you for joining us.  Robert, weren’t you the guy in “Batman” that was trying to get Vicki Veil (ph)? 

WUHL:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Of course you were.  What a great part.  We were rooting for you the whole time.  Let me ask you about this.  Let’s start right now.  First up, Snow slams the Clintons.  Bill and Hillary Clinton have been going after the president for his decision to commute Scooter Libby’s two and a half year prison sentence.  Here they are.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK:  They are above the law.  They think the rule of law is an inconvenience that they can skirt whenever they choose.  This is just one of many examples and it is, you know, dispiriting because the president and the vice president have really decided that they are above the law. 

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There are guidelines for what happens when, you know, somebody is convicted and I think that—you’ve got to understand, I think that this is consistent with their philosophy.  They believe that they should be able to do what they want to do and that the law is a minor obstacle.  I think that is what I think. 

I think that it was wrong to out that CIA agent and wrong to try to cover it up, and wrong that no one was ever fired from the White House for doing it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Today, Tony Snow, the White House press secretary, had been waiting to whip back with this, quote, “I don’t know what Arkansan is for chutzpah, but this is a gigantic case of it.”  Let’s start with Mark Halperin.  Mark, it seems to me that the Clintons have gotten back into a fight here where they may not quite win on the points because the topic at hand is perjury and obstruction of justice and pardons. 

MARK HALPERIN, “TIME MAGAZINE”:  Well, Chris, I’m just back from Iowa, three days with the Clintons and while all this was going on and I have a piece in “Time Magazine” that deals with the question of why they are going after Bush.  I think that is the most important reason, but let me rattle off three others real quick. 

First of all, they think they can win this argument on the merits.  That’s Clintonian maybe, but they are confident that there is a difference that they can argue.  Number two, you run to your weakness.  You don’t run away from your weakness.  That is a way to win that both Clintons know.  If you’re week on some, you don’t hide.

Bob Shrum mentioned the third reason, they knew they were going to be asked about it and they couldn’t avoid it.  But I think the most important reason is that Hillary Clinton now has as a major part of her strategy to win this Democratic nomination, attack the ethics of the Bush administration.  She did it all throughout Iowa.  Bill Clinton did it too.  They think that will allow her to smooth over some of the hostility that the base feels towards her. 

MATTHEWS:  April, your assessment of the politics here.  Are the Clintons smart to engage on the issue of perjury and obstruction of justice and the issuing of presidential pardons and commutations?

APRIL RYAN, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS:  Well, they are in one sense and in another sense they are not.  Mrs. Clinton is basically guilty by association.  Her husband was the one who made the pardon.  She didn’t, but she of course is linking herself with her husband and she is standing firm on what she considers a moral and ethical issue because, indeed, she feels that Scooter Libby was involved with this White House and there was preferential treatment. 

So, you have to look at it in both ways.  Not only that, I think Tony Snow was a little verclempt when he talked about chutzpah.   

MATTHEWS:  A little verclempt, hey?  Let me go to Robert Wuhl on that.  Robert, what is your sense here of the Clintons?  The old trick in politics is to pick the topic where you can win, don’t pick the topic the other guy wants to talk about. 

WUHL:  Well, I don’t think this is going to have a bearing one way or the other.  I’m the only layman here, I guess.  And I’m sure it made a lot of people upset about how—how do you—if he served a couple of months, that would have been one thing.  But I think most people are upset about that.

As for the Clinton, it was going to come up either way.  And it is such a game.  It’s a long time coming.  People won’t remember this six months from now. 

MATTHEWS:  God, you may be right.  Except certain people will remember it, people like me.  Let’s talk about Al Gore.  Robert, you are up first with Al Gore.  Al Gore had another family mishap.  His son was just stopped driving 100 miles an hour apparently having smoking some dope and having some drugs of various kinds in the car with him. 

Is this a little a little personal family—this is not a little deal.  You can kill a lot of people going 100 miles an hour.  It is horrible, actually.  But is this the kind of thing just to put the damper on him at the time there is some perking up about him? 

WUHL:  Perhaps.  I mean, it didn’t seem to hurt George Bush with his daughters.  So I—you know, people—I think people do separate the kids from the candidates, especially when he is not a candidate.  But he is a pop cultural figure and he is in the news and he is a potential-potential.  So—

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

WUHL:  Again, I don’t think—if he is really serious about running, he has got to worry more about losing weight.  And I don’t mean that in a joking manner, in the sense that we cast our president.  We always have.  We always will.  At a time when people are talking about America being overweight, you don’t want the guy who is, you know, 30 pounds overweight right now.  It is just unfortunate.  It’s not right but it’s unfortunate. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me go right now to Mark Halperin on a couple of points.  First of all, just to clarify that, I think Robert said that—he compared it to the two Barbara and Jenna Bush, the president’s daughters.  They were picked up for basically—some unpleasant bartender once nailed them for phony I.D.’s or something.  I don’t know what that was about.

This was fairly serious, 100 miles an hour with drugs on you and under the influence.  This is pretty bad stuff. 

HALPERIN:  It’s bad stuff, a personal problem for them.  And, of course, he has had similar problems in the past.  Look, I don’t think Al Gore is going to get in the race, I never have, unless Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama collapses.  And I don’t see that happening any time soon.  The deadlines are coming on.  I do think what this points up, if anything, although Gore denied it on “The Today Show” this morning, is he is dealing with a lot of realms in life, the bad in it case, a lot of stuff that he is enjoying.

His life is full and rich and complicated.  He is not in a position to run for president right now, unless he made radical changes and this would keep him, I think—one more obstacle if he wanted to making that kind of radical changes. 

MATTHEWS:  So April, this big concert they are going to have, this worldwide conference with 100 bands this weekend.  It’s going to get him a lot of glitter and raise the issue of global warming, which is a good thing.  But it is just going to add to his star quality.  Do you think it is going to add to his real potential as a presidential candidate? 

RYAN:  Well, the more his name is out there, the bigger his name is getting, especially now.  But you have to also remember that Al Gore touched on something.  Some might say he over-exaggerated the issue of global warming.  But he did touch on something.  And Al Gore somewhat did force this Bush administration to have to really say OK, yes, humans are responsible for some parts of global warming and the problem with our climate. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, he has done that.  That’s a good cause.  Anyway, thank you.  We’ll be right back with our panel.  You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We are bark with Mark Halperin, April Ryan and Robert Wuhl.  Up next, hairy situation for Edwards.  Sometimes small events in politics can tell—can tell big stories.  Remember John Kerry’s I voted for it before I voted against it snaffoo?  Over the last several months, John Edwards’ populist push has been muddied a bit by reports that he paid 400 bucks for a haircut.  Now his stylist is saying that Edwards paid 1,250 dollars for one of his hair cuts.  That would include expense, of course, for travel. 

An Edwards spokeswoman responds, quote, breaking news, John Edwards got some expensive haircuts and probably didn’t pay enough attention to the bills.  He didn’t lie about weapons of mass destruction or spring Scooter Libby, he just got some expensive haircuts.

OK, that was an attempt at sarcasm.  Robert Wuhl, thank you for joining us.  I do remember your other great movie about Ty Cobb.  I remember that when you said Ty Cobb wasn’t as bad as you discovered him to be.  Do you think this is a big story. 

WUHL:  No.   My father was a Republican, my mom a Democrat.  So I respect both points of view and I understand the differences.  The difference is Republican play to win the game, Democrats play to make a point.  For example, a victory for the Republicans meant George W. Bush won the White House.  For the Democrats, it’s Al Gore won the Oscar.  There’s a lot to be said about that.

I don’t think this is an issue.  If somebody goes out and buys a bottle of wine for 300 dollars, are we going to check that also?  I’m sure some of the candidates like wine.  It’s a non-issue. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me go to mark on that.  Do you think this is going to ride him?  You know, the Brett Girl charge made against him by Maureen Dowd of the “New York Times,” does this add to the Brett Girl image.

HALPERIN:  Can I Ask Robert how much he pays for his haircut? 

WUHL:  For a bad haircut, I go about 250.  My wife is way above Edwards. 

HALPERIN:  Look, Chris, I think that it is a false and phony thing to say that John Edwards can’t be rich and be a populist.  I just think there are too many people in American politics throughout our history who have been able to do both.  On the other hand, he himself has said this is too much to pay—

MATTHEWS:  OK, I’m sorry I can’t get to you April.  We will get to you next time.  Thank you Mark Halperin, thank you April Ryan, thank you Robert Wuhl.  Up next “TUCKER.”

END   

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