updated 7/12/2007 12:28:00 PM ET 2007-07-12T16:28:00

Guests: Sen. John Kerry, Harold Schaitberger, Olympia Snowe, Michelle Laxalt, Melanie Sloan, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Bruce Dold, Joan Walsh, Michael Isikoff

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Downfall.  The old-line conservatives are turning anti-war.  The neocons are gone from government.  Now Senate Republicans are trying to escape.  Is Bush being ditched by his strongest supporters?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.   Tuesday, President Bush urged his war critics to wait until General Petraeus‘s report in September.  Well, today, new signs that members of his own party are running out of time and running out of patience.  Today Republican senator Olympia Snowe of Maine announced that she will support a Democratic resolution that calls for taking U.S. troops out of Iraq by next spring.  Today, President Bush met at the White House with one of his last supporters of the war, Senator John McCain.  But will more Republicans began to jump ship?  We‘ll have the interview with Senator Olympia Snowe in a moment, and Democratic senator John Kerry‘s also going to be here.

Also today, a House panel looking into the president‘s decision to free Scooter Libby featured war critic Joe Wilson.

And in 2008 news, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who‘s running on his 9/11 credentials, is getting hit hard by a new video released by the Democratic-leaning International Association of Firefighters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And yet eight-and-a-half years later, New York City firefighters, the greatest fire department in the world, we‘re using the same radios that we knew didn‘t work.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We have remains of dead heroes out at the garbage dump because of Giuliani and his administration.  And they‘re still there today, and they won‘t remove them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  HARDBALL has the exclusive first media look at this video, and we‘ll talk about it with the president of the firefighters internationally, Harold Schaitberger.

But first, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has tonight‘s report on the common thread running through all of the congressional testimony.  Let‘s watch.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Across Capitol Hill, it was a day of confrontation, and nearly all of it revolved around President Bush.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NE), MAJORITY LEADER:  Some of my Republican colleagues are protecting their president, rather than protecting our troops.

SHUSTER:  On the Senate floor this morning, Republicans blocked a vote that would have given U.S. forces as much time between deployments as they had on active duty.  White House defenders argued the proposal would effectively end the escalation strategy in Iraq.

SEN LINDSEY GRAHAM ®, SOUTH CAROLINA:  The president of the United States is not going to begin to entertain this.  No president would.  No president could sit on the sidelines and watch the authority of the commander-in-chief be taken over by the political moment.

MATTHEWS:  But the politics on Capitol Hill keep breaking against the war.  As most Senate Republicans were blocking the vote this morning, the GOP‘s Olympia Snowe and Chuck Hagel both announced they will join Republican Gordon Smith in trying to force the start of an Iraq pullout this fall.  Nearly a dozen Republicans have called on the president to start reducing forces.  And today national security adviser Stephen Hadley lobbied senators himself to try and prevent further defections.

The move comes as Democrats keep edging closer to the numbers they need to get past Republican filibusters.

Meanwhile, there were also confrontations today over White House scandals.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN:  I‘ve never heard of such a blanket assertion of executive privilege.  I didn‘t even hear it during President Nixon‘s term.

SHUSTER:  Leahy‘s Senate Judiciary Committee tried to examine White House actions related to the political firings of these eight federal prosecutors.  But after being sworn in, Karl Rove‘s former deputy, Sara Taylor, the former White House political director, declared...

SARA TAYLOR, FORMER WHITE HOUSE POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  ... that the president has directed me not to testify concerning White House consideration, deliberations, communications, whether internal or external, relating to the possible dismissal or appointment of United States attorneys.

SHUSTER:  Taylor did give general testimony about her White House responsibilities, but she claimed memory problems related to some of the U.S. attorneys.

TAYLOR:  Senator, I can‘t remember what I had for breakfast last week. 

I just don‘t recall any of those conversations.

SHUSTER:  And at first, she refused to answer a key question about the president.

LEAHY:  Did you speak with him, yes or no, about replacing U.S.  attorneys?

TAYLOR:  Senator, I have a very clear letter from Mr. Fielding.  That letter says and has asked me to follow the president‘s assertion of executive privilege.

SHUSTER:  Eventually, Taylor said she never discussed the firings with President Bush, but her refusal to answer specific questions infuriated committee Democrats.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK:  The president can dress it up all he wants in the lofty language of executive privilege, but it is a gag order.

SHUSTER:  On the House side of Capitol Hill today, the fireworks involved President Bush‘s decision a week ago to keep Scooter Libby out of jail in the CIA leak investigation.

JOSEPH WILSON, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR:  I‘d like to see the president and the vice president come clean with the American people.

SHUSTER:  Wilson accused the president of a cover-up.  Committee Republicans then tried to undercut Wilson‘s wife.

REP. CHRIS CANNON ®, UTAH:  Would you encourage her to come and clarify those inconsistencies?

WILSON:  Congressman, I don‘t believe that she was inconsistent in her testimony.  Neither does she.  She testified truthfully, honestly and to the best of her ability...

CANNON:  But I have not had an answer yet...

WILSON:  ... both in the House and the—I just...

CANNON:  Would you...

SHUSTER:  Democrats kept their focus on Scooter Libby‘s commutation.

REP. ROBERT WEXLER (D), FLORIDA:  ... egregious, rewards loyalty above the rule of law and encourages future acts of obstruction of justice.

SHUSTER (on camera):  The White House clearly hates these scandal hearings, and now the Bush administration has ordered former White House counsel Harriet Miers not to even bother showing up at tomorrow‘s session on the fired U.S. attorneys.  Democrats are having a field day with all of this, leveling charges of corruption and watching as the White House gets pummeled by Republicans who are demanding immediate changes in the approach to the war.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.  Joining us now is Democratic senator from Massachusetts and former presidential candidate John Kerry.  Senator Kerry, you know as well as anyone, having been out there on the hustings (ph) nationwide and now as a United States senator that people want this war over with.  Can the Democrats end the Iraq war?

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D-MA), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE:  Not at this moment.  We don‘t have 60 votes.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you need to get enough Republicans to join you, to bring about a legislative end to the war?

KERRY:  I guess they need to put their votes where their private words are and where their real concerns are.

MATTHEWS:  Well, when people talk to you off the record, do you have a

you‘re suggesting there‘s a difference between what Republicans think and feel privately and whether they‘re willing to break with the president on funding the war.

KERRY:  That‘s right.  There is, Chris.  Unfortunately—and I don‘t want to—I‘m not going to, you know, go into any details.  But the bottom line is a lot of my colleagues have had conversations with Republican colleagues in which they are extraordinarily clear about their disenchantment with the policy.  They think it‘s wrong.  They know it needs to change.  But there‘s still that political link.

And I think our job is to put the lives of these young kids, you know, on the floor of the Senate in these next days, and the strategic interests of our country, which clearly are not being served by the current policy.

MATTHEWS:  Do you think, a year from now, Senator—and you‘ve studied this.  Do you think a year from now, next July, 2008, that we‘ll still have over 100,000 troops fighting in Iraq?

KERRY:  No.  I think under any circumstances, people won‘t be fighting.  At least, the United States troops by next year will be in a very different deployment.  And I think that will happen and we will achieve that.  There will be some troops still on the ground in Iraq well into next year, I‘m confident of that, for at least—and I say at least the limited purpose of completing the training of Iraqis, of preventing complete chaos, of chasing al Qaeda and of protecting American forces and facilities.  But it‘s very hard to say at this point what level.

The most important thing to focus on, Chris, is that all of the shape of any future presence and the levels of troops is really going to be determined by what you achieve politically diplomatically.  And right now, there is an absolutely insufficient diplomatic effort to produce the kind of outcome that we want and need.

MATTHEWS:  Well, do you have any confidence that Robert Gates, the secretary of defense who replaced Don Rumsfeld, will exert influence on the president in that direction?

KERRY:  I do think he will.  I think he‘s a straight shooter.  I think he‘s been candid with the Congress, and I‘m confident that he‘ll call the shots as he sees them as we go through the next weeks.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s put it together, Senator.  If you assume there‘s going to be a number of votes in the next several days, there‘s going to be a fight over appropriations come September, over the next six months, give us a sense of the contour of our involvement in this war, if you can.

KERRY:  Well, I believe that we‘ll win more than 50 votes over the course of—at least on one or two of these amendments, and that will demonstrate a majority of the United States Congress is prepared to set a date.  I suspect that then you‘ll have a couple of reports over the course of the next months which will confirm the—the findings of many of us now that the escalation of the war has not done what it was supposed to do, which is provide the cover for the Iraqi politicians to make their decisions.

And therefore, we‘ll have another report from Petraeus or others in the course of the next month-and-a-half, two months, and the president will use that as the launching pad to say, Now I can begin to redeploy some troops, and he will do that.

MATTHEWS:  You expect—when will he make that statement, do you estimate?

KERRY:  It could be at any time.  It may be accelerated by events.  It may come sooner than the September Petraeus report, but certainly sometime by then, I would think.

MATTHEWS:  How do you match that up with the fact we keep hearing the president giving these almost existential commitments of saying, The next president of the United States may be willing to lose the Iraq war, I‘m not?

KERRY:  Because I believe that what will happen is—if you look at the individual provinces in Iraq, there are some tactical successes.  And tactical is different, obviously, from strategical.  The larger strategic interest is stabilizing all of Iraq politically, and that‘s not happening.  But tactically, we‘ve got some troops who‘ve been successful in certain places in routing some of the militia and some of the—and reducing some of the level of killing.  In al Anbar province, the Arab chiefs themselves, the Sunni chiefs themselves, have succeeded in chasing al Qaeda.

So you‘re having a transition in certain provinces which I believe will allow the generals in those provinces to say, It‘s now quieted down somewhat.  We don‘t need as many American troops.  And you‘ll see a claim of partial success sufficient to be able to create a transition.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about your political feelings right now.  You decided not to run in this cycle for president.  You‘re still a young guy, healthy, completely healthy, from what we‘ve been able to figure out in the public record.  Do you feel that maybe there was an opening there for an alternative to Hillary Clinton and it‘s not being filled because Obama appeals to a certain segment and perhaps John Edwards to another, but there‘s no real default button to punch if you don‘t like Hillary.

KERRY:  Oh, I don‘t know, Chris.  I‘m not sure that isn‘t, you know, overly simplifying what‘s going on.  I think that, from what I hear, Democrats feel they‘ve got a good set of choices.  There‘s a lot of energy out there.  People are campaigning hard.

Obviously, on a personal level, sometimes I look at it and I miss the fray, and I‘d be a liar if I didn‘t say that.  But I think I made the right decision, and I‘m doing what I‘m doing.

MATTHEWS:  But if you had the nomination handed to you right now, you must assume that you could beat the Republican, right?

KERRY:  Yes.  I think a Democrat can win this race, providing—and I think this is really important—that we stay very clear on how we strengthen America in the Middle East and the world with respect to the war on terror, and also how we‘re going to address the current critical concerns at home of health care and energy, education and jobs.

MATTHEWS:  Well, sometime I‘d like to hear, off the record, Senator, what you must think about every night when you go to bed, thinking, If I were president as of this date, if I were president as of that date, how this country would be differently led in Iraq, especially and perhaps with regard to Iran, as well.  But I‘ll settle for what you‘ve told us on the record.

KERRY:  I‘d love to have a conversation, but you live and breathe this stuff too much.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s my job.

KERRY:  I know.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  Thank you, Senator John Kerry...

KERRY:  Thank you very much.

MATTHEWS:  ... of Massachusetts.

Still ahead, Republican senator Olympia Snowe from Maine.  She‘s broken with the president now and supports timelines for withdrawal from Iraq.  It‘s an exclusive interview with her tonight.

And coming up next, a national firefighters union is going after Rudy Giuliani.  The union of the firefighters, including the firefighters of New York, is taking on Mr. 9/11 himself, Rudy Giuliani.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

The International Association of Firefighters is releasing a video this afternoon—right now, in fact—charging Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani with 9/11 leadership failures while he was mayor that they say led to the deaths of firefighters.  Here‘s an exclusive excerpt of that video, seen for the first time now on television right here on HARDBALL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  A 1994 report confirmed the radios didn‘t work, and Mayor Giuliani knew it.  Yet Rudy and his hand-picked fire commissioner took seven long years to replace the defective radios with new defective radios.  Firefighters had 56 minutes after the first call and 29 minutes after the second order to get out.  While all police officers left the building, 121 firefighters never made it out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  The union also attacked Giuliani on his decision to put his communications center right there at the World Trade Center even after it had been bombed in 1993 by al Qaeda, and his decision to pull firefighters off of search and rescue after $200 million in gold was recovered from the site.  We‘ll get to all those points.

We asked, by the way, for Rudy Giuliani or someone he would name to appear here on HARDBALL tonight to discuss these charges, but they declined an invitation.  By the way, it‘s always open.

Here with us now with more on the video, which can be seen on www.Rudy-urbanlegend.com (ph) is Harold Schaitberger, who‘s president of the International Association of Firefighters.  Who‘s paying for this, this video?

HAROLD SCHAITBERGER, INTERNATIONAL ASSOC. OF FIREFIGHTERS:  We are.

MATTHEWS:  The union or the PAC?

SCHAITBERGER:  No, our PAC.  We‘re not using a penny of dues money to pay for this video.  We‘re using the PAC, which are voluntary contributions from our members to pay for...

MATTHEWS:  Why are you going after a Republican candidate before we even have a Republican nomination?

SCHAITBERGER:  It‘s not about a Republican candidate, it‘s about a candidate that is trying to build his candidacy on this legend of his leadership on 9/11.  He‘s trying to embrace our industry, our profession, firefighting...

MATTHEWS:  How do you back up that accusation?  You...

SCHAITBERGER:  Because...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... exploit firefighters?

SCHAITBERGER:  Because he‘s out and around the country, and people on his behalf with the campaign are out around the country trying to sign up our members to become part of the campaign...

(CROSSTALK)

SCHAITBERGER:  ... he can use them as a backdrop, so he can use them in their photo ops, and so that he can add to this myth that he is a hero of 9/11.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Strong charges here.  Are you maintaining, as international president, Mr. Schaitberger, that Rudy Giuliani is personally responsible for the deaths of firefighters on 9/11?

SCHAITBERGER:  I‘m personally holding him responsible for the lack of radios, where 121 firefighters in the north tower could not hear the command to evacuate, and because of that, 121 FDNY members died that day in the north tower.  Not a single law enforcement officer that was in the tower was lost because they had radios that did work.

MATTHEWS:  What is the problem with radios?  And did your union complain about them before 9/11?

SCHAITBERGER:  The radios were being complained about since the 1993 bombing...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... line of sight or open windows?  What do they require to work?

SCHAITBERGER:  This is about going to a UHF frequency from the old frequency.  It‘s about firefighters being able to talk to firefighters.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... why doesn‘t it work?

SCHAITBERGER:  Last time we spoke, Chris, you talked about interoperability.  It doesn‘t work because they did not have the frequency range to be able to penetrate inside of buildings.  And the radios that they were given to replace the old radios were never field-tested, and in fact, were put out in the field and had to be drawn back, put in a warehouse, and on 9/11, those firefighters were using the same radios they were using in 1993.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s talk about the second issue.  That‘s radios.  And I‘ve heard this before, but you‘ve done it very well.  What about this other issue of the remains?  How many firefighters‘ bodies do you believe are still somewhere in the garbage dumps, as your ads put it?

never field-tested, and, in fact, were put out in the field, and had to be drawn back, put in a warehouse.  And, on 9/11, those firefighters were using the same radios they were using in 1993. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s talk about the second issue.  That‘s radios. 

And I have heard this before, but you have done it very well.

What about this other of the remains?  How many firefighters‘ bodies do you believe are still somewhere in the garbage dumps, as your ads put it? 

SCHAITBERGER:  Well, I—you know, this is very difficult for our members.  We are very much like the military.  We never leave our own on the battlefield. 

And, plus, our concern was not to leave any of those lost on that day in that site.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, how many do you think are left behind?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How many guys haven‘t been accounted for? 

(CROSSTALK)

SCHAITBERGER:  ... well, certainly, that there are scores of our members that still have not been accounted for. 

But the point is...

MATTHEWS:  You mean, if you were to dig through the dumps, to be very blunt about this—for people watching, I‘m sorry, but this is a political charge you have got to deal with.  You‘re saying, if you went through the dumps, you would find skeletons of people? 

SCHAITBERGER:  Unfortunately, there are remains that would be found in the dumps.  And, unfortunately, there are remains that are still part of that site, and they were continued—we continued to be find them and discover them up until a few months ago. 

The fact of the matter is...

MATTHEWS:  What were they attempting to screen for those people, for their remains?

SCHAITBERGER:  The fact of the matter is, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  Would it have been doable?

SCHAITBERGER:  The point is, though—I have got to make this point.

The point is that, when Rudy Giuliani decided to go from recovery to full excavation, it was within 24 hours after they recovered the $230 million of gold and silver bars in the Bank of Nova Scotia‘s vault.  It was within 24 hours, eight weeks into that incident, that he decided that the incident was too dangerous for firefighters.  That was what we protested...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What do you mean?  I don‘t get this.  What is the connection between finding $200 million in gold and stopping the search for bodies? 

SCHAITBERGER:  Because, in my opinion, it was more important for him find the gold than it was to continue to find and recover remains. 

MATTHEWS:  But he already found the gold.

SCHAITBERGER:  No, he found the gold on October 31.  And on November 1 is when he issued the order to remove the firefighters from their recovery mode. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, explain that, because I can‘t figure that connection out.  What is the connection?

SCHAITBERGER:  Well, the connection is that he was in full recovery mode as they continued to sift and look for those assets, in addition to the dignified recovery that our members...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I see.

SCHAITBERGER:  ... were looking for those that were lost. 

MATTHEWS:  Because there‘s so much money out, gold out there, they didn‘t want to take the time to go through the remains carefully anymore.  They wanted to go look and make sure they got all the gold. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCHAITBERGER:  When they retrieved the assets—I can tell you what the facts are. 

The facts are that, on October 31, the Brink‘s armored trucks loaded the gold out of that site.  And the next day is when the mayor issued the order to move the firefighters off the pile and discontinue with the recovery mode and go to full excavation. 

MATTHEWS:  Because he thought there was more money out there somewhere; there‘s more gold?

SCHAITBERGER:  No, because he wanted to get the site cleaned up on his watch, because he was getting pressure from Lower Manhattan businesses to get more normalcy and order.

MATTHEWS:  Oh.  Oh.  You are saying he only kept the search going long enough to get the gold?

SCHAITBERGER:  There was no question about it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well...

SCHAITBERGER:  That‘s exactly what I‘m saying.

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s is the implication. 

SCHAITBERGER:  No, well, that is what I‘m saying.  I am very clearly saying that—you know, early on in that incident, he said we would continue with the dignified recovery of all those lost, right down to the last brick.

Well, unfortunately, it turned out to be here to the last goldbrick. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

Well, let‘s take a look.  Here‘s his response by—the Giuliani campaign responded to your video, Mr. Schaitberger, by issuing a press release, saying that, under Mayor Giuliani, the FDI—that‘s the—I mean, the F.D., the federal—the Fire Department of New York—secured $10 million of bunker gear for all firefighters.  They purchased thermal imaging cameras, purchased personal alarms for all firefighters, and that Mayor Giuliani increased funding for the FDNY.  He updated the aging EMS ambulance fleet.  He increased staffing from four to five firefighters in 60 engine companies, and added more—actually, one new division and two new companies.

SCHAITBERGER:  Listen, a mayor‘s job...

MATTHEWS:  Did he do all that?  Is this right?

(CROSSTALK)

SCHAITBERGER:  A mayor‘s job in every one of our cities is to make sure that firefighters have adequate equipment, bunker gear.  These are not great...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

SCHAITBERGER:  These are not great...

MATTHEWS:  Harold, I have talked to you before.  I have always understood that the one union in the United States that has a sizable, if not half of its membership are Republicans, yours does.  Do you believe you speak for all firefighters when you say you won‘t vote for Giuliani? 

SCHAITBERGER:  We have got 281,000 members, Chris.  And you know our union.  Our union is politically diversified.  It‘s a cross-section of this country. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Well, how can you slam one Republican candidate?

(CROSSTALK)

SCHAITBERGER:  I‘m not going to suggest that every member will agree with this. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SCHAITBERGER:  I will suggest this.  Walk into any New York City firehouse and ask them about their position and their opinion of Mayor—former Mayor Giuliani.  I will live with that result. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

SCHAITBERGER:  The fact is, we do speak for our members.  And the fact is that our members are more than concerned about the treatment of those that were lost on that day and the treatment of those... 

MATTHEWS:  Well, this will surprise a lot of people, Mr. Schaitberger.

Thank you very much, Harold Schaitberger—Harold.  I‘m from Philly.  That‘s hardest thing to pronounce.  Harold—not Howard—Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Union of Firefighters. 

Up next:  Senator Olympia Snowe is the latest Republican to tell Bush, it is over.  She‘s not waiting until September.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine says the current strategy in Iraq is unacceptable.  And she is not waiting until September—rather, September—to decide.  She has signed on to a bill that would remove most U.S. troops from Iraq by next spring.

Senator Snowe, thank you.

And just take a few minutes and tell us how your thinking has changed on the topic of the war in Iraq.

SEN. OLYMPIA SNOWE ®, MAINE:  Well, Chris, essentially, you know, it began, obviously, with the surge that was implemented by the president last January, which I did oppose. 

But the purpose of the surge, according to the president, was to give breathing room and space to the Iraqi government‘s political leaders to achieve the political benchmarks, whether it was the oil revenue sharing, de-Baathification reform, the local elections, constitutional changes, and the de-militarization of the militia, and, so, for the Iraqi government to make those decisions in this period of time, while, you know, our troops are providing the security on the ground.

And, as we have—understanding is that the interim report that will be issued potentially tomorrow will indicate that, no, none of the political benchmarks have been reached.  And, so, we are reaching a moment of time, not to mention a moment of truth, with respect to the Iraqi government‘s intentions, as to whether or not the political leadership is committed to a united Iraq, committed to an agenda that represents a national Iraq, rather than a sectarian agenda.

And time is running out.  So, I think it is important to chart a different course for Iraq, and make sure the—unmistakably, that the government understands exactly what our intentions are for the future, which is to say, not having a military presence there open-ended or unconditionally or indefinitely. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe that people that vote for you and respect you and look up to you in Maine, especially, will be content with a claim that the—the United States military did not fare—fail in Iraq, but the political leaders over there did? 

SNOWE:  Well, that‘s—you know, essentially, that is what is happening.  It‘s the political leadership, and that they‘re not committed to moving heaven and earth to get things done that advances the interests of the people of Iraq. 

And Prime Minister Maliki obviously has not, you know, been moving forward aggressively in the way that he should.  And, you know, we have, you know, seen boycotts of the parliament.  We have seen they have been unable to achieve a quorum.  They‘re going to be out in August, which I find remarkable, if not atrocious.

(CROSSTALK)  

SNOWE:  And, so, when you think about all of that combined, I mean, you have really got a month-and-a-half remaining before General Petraeus gives his report in September.  We might as well send the messages now.  If they are not willing to chart a different political course, we must chart a different military course. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe the president or the vice president, with whom you have met recently, are open to a change? 

SNOWE:  Well, I think they have to grapple with reality. 

You know, I have said this is a crossroads.  We‘re at the crossroads between hope and reality.  And I think that the president and vice president have to understand the realities of the circumstances, and adjust accordingly. 

And I think, frankly, the Congress has to assert its own legislative prerogatives.  I mean, after all, it has been a war for 4.5 years.  Things have not been going well.  Our brave men and women have done superbly.  But, really, now, it is up to the Iraqi government‘s political leadership and its people.  And, if they‘re not prepared to do—make the political sacrifices, we should not continue with the military sacrifice. 

MATTHEWS:  The president has talked about the American attitude toward the war, the unpopularity of the war, in the last several days, as if it is a psychological condition on the part of the American people that could be corrected.  He talks about our psyches being harmed by the continuation of the war. 

Do you think that is a correct way to look at the American people, that there‘s something subjective wrong with our thinking, that the fact the objective facts are, the war is working? 

SNOWE:  No, absolutely not.

The American people, you know, are smart.  They‘re practical, and they‘re realistic.  And what they‘re seeing and hearing every day, you know, is more American losses, and, in addition to that, the increased violence, the increased sectarian violence.  And the fact is, we are coming off the bloodiest quarter since the war began. 

So, people are acknowledging the reality.  And that is what the president has to acknowledge.  And, frankly, if adjustments had been made along the way during the course of this war, because we understand mistakes will—will happen, you know, we might have been in a very different scenario. 

But that not being the case, I think the president has to understand that we have to put the pressure on the government to make the decisions now politically, when we have more men and women on the ground, designed specifically for the government to make the political concessions and compromises, which they are unwilling to do. 

So, I don‘t want our men and women there fortifying a sectarian agenda and losing their lives because of the political leadership and the failed political strategy.  And, so, it is important to send that message. 

Obviously, we would have troops remaining to achieve the objectives, according to the Iraq Study Group.  This would not be a precipitous withdrawal, as the president has been indicating.  This would be a reduction in forces—but, again, we would be silent on the numbers—but to make sure that we are maintaining the objectives of training the Iraqi forces and continuing to fight al Qaeda and conducting counterterrorism operations. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  OK.

Thank you very much, Senator Snowe.

By the way, we just got the sad news that former first lady Lady Bird Johnson has just passed away. 

Do you have any thoughts?

SNOWE:  Oh, I am very, very sorry to hear that. 

She was a magnificent woman who served this country with—superbly and with love and affection.  And it is a sad moment for our country. 

MATTHEWS:  I think we were lucky to have her.  And so was Lyndon.  I think that‘s for sure.

We will have some breaking news on that in a moment, by the way.  Here it is right now.  Former first lady Lady Bird Johnson has died just now.  The wife of Lyndon Johnson was 94 years old. 

NBC‘s Brian Williams remembers the first lady.

Let‘s listen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC ANCHOR, “NBC NIGHTLY NEWS” (voice-over):  At first, America knew her only as the wife of John F. Kennedy‘s vice president.  But then Kennedy‘s assassination made her the first lady. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  New President Lyndon Baines Johnson with his wife, Lady Bird. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LADY BIRD JOHNSON, FIRST LADY:  I feel as though I am suddenly on stage for a part I never rehearsed. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  In fact, her entire life prepared her for the role. 

Claudia Alta Taylor was born in 1912, and was known from the start as Lady Bird. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LADY BIRD JOHNSON:  I was nicknamed that by the nurse in our house when I was two months old.  And it stuck.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  She was a formidable young woman who grew up around powerful men.  She married Lyndon Johnson in 1934.  He proposed on their second date.

Once married, she devoted herself to his political ambition, the House, the Senate, the vice presidency, and, finally, the presidency itself, where she remained her husband‘s chief supporter and most trusted critic. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LADY BIRD JOHNSON:  You want to listen for about one minute to...

LYNDON BAINES JOHNSON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Yes, ma‘am.

LADY BIRD JOHNSON:  ... to my critique, or would you rather wait until tonight?

LYNDON JOHNSON:  Yes, ma‘am.  I‘m ready now. 

LADY BIRD JOHNSON:  I thought that you looked strong, firm, and like a reliable guy. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LADY BIRD JOHNSON:  What I wanted mostly was to give him an island of peace in which to operate and work and come home to. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  As first lady, Mrs. Johnson‘s passion was beautification.  She was an environmentalist before her time.  She was also a tireless advocate for the poor. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LADY BIRD JOHNSON:  We cannot stand idly by while one-fifth of our American families live in poverty. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  When Lady Bird spoke, the president listened. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LADY BIRD JOHNSON:  I had opinions, and I voiced them.  And I think he valued me enough to listen. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LYNDON JOHNSON:  I, Lyndon Baines Johnson...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  She held the Bible for LBJ‘s 1965 inauguration, the first wife in American history to do so. 

She saw both Johnson daughters married during their years in the White House.  She saw her country and her husband‘s presidency torn apart by the war in Vietnam. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LADY BIRD JOHNSON:  The toughest time was the Vietnam War and how to get out of that honorably. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Lyndon Johnson left office with the war still raging, and died just four years later at his Texas ranch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  His closest friend and his wisest adviser was his lovely wife.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LADY BIRD JOHNSON:  It was our life together, and it was our love together.  And I never expect to be separated from memories of Lyndon.  I think that will go on all the rest of my time. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Lady Bird Johnson survived her husband by decades.  She was sustained by the family members she always called her kinfolk, and by a lifelong love of nature. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LADY BIRD JOHNSON:  There am I in my very native habitat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Lady Bird loved wildflowers.  She was the co-founder of a national wildflower center that today bears her name.

In 1988, she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RONALD REAGAN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It certainly took a strong-willed first lady to complement a president few would ever have called a Milquetoast.   

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  It is true no one ever doubted the power of Lyndon Johnson. 

He never forgot how much he owed to one remarkable woman. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LYNDON JOHNSON:  Presidents are lonely people.  And the only ones they are really sure all the time are their women folks. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LADY BIRD JOHNSON:  Well, he was an exciting person to live with.  And I consider myself very lucky. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAMS:  Brian Williams, NBC News, New York. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back.

We‘re talking about the death, just announced, of Lady Bird Johnson, who was the former first lady, of course.

Melanie Sloan is executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.  I think the nickname is CREW.  She is also representing Joe and Valerie Wilson in their civil suit.  Joe Wilson, by the way, testified before Congress today.  And Michelle Laxalt is a Republican consultant.

Michelle, do you want to talk about this?  I mean, I didn‘t—you know, we didn‘t plan this, but nobody plans when they‘re going to die—

Lady Bird Johnson. 

MICHELLE LAXALT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  So true.

An extraordinary lady in every sense of that word, Chris.  You can remember, years and years ago—I have been here 30 years now—but it was certainly Lady Bird Johnson whose grace and Southern charm and hospitality who actually beautified this entire city by planting flowers everywhere.  So, anyone who visits Washington, D.C., can thank Lady Bird Johnson.

MATTHEWS:  Fannie Flagg, the comedian for years, comedian who used to talk about—used to do great imitations of her, and said she wanted to plant a tree, a shrub, or a bush.  Remember that? 

LAXALT:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  She used to go around telling that joke.

Melanie.

MELANIE SLOAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CITIZENS FOR RESPONSIBILITY AND

ETHICS IN WASHINGTON:  She was a magnificent woman and a very impressive person, and lived with Lyndon Johnson, who was a very difficult man, great president, but a very difficult person, and not always that nice to her. 

MATTHEWS:  And she had to replace Jackie Kennedy.  There‘s a tough act to follow for anybody, right? 

SLOAN:  Very difficult, but she did it with grace. 

MATTHEWS:  I think she was—I think Brian Wilson in that piece we just saw was right to give her credit—Brian Williams, rather.  What did I say?  Brian something? 

Brian Williams, of course, was right to give her credit, because I don‘t think there were a lot of environmentalists floating around in the ‘60s.  And she was one of them. 

LAXALT:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

LAXALT:  And she was also not shy about speaking up, but did so as a lady.  And she helped, I think, a great deal, particularly, in Lyndon Johnson‘s early, formative political years, to soften his image and make him a little bit more palatable.  If she likes him, maybe he can‘t be all that bad.

MATTHEWS:  Well, she was thoroughly authentic.  I‘m not sure Johnson always was, right?  When he said, “My fellow Americans,” a lot of noticed we had a draft card.

LAXALT:  Well, he swiped my dad‘s Senate seat in 1964.  So, I will have to demure at that point.

MATTHEWS:  He did?  How did he do that?

LAXALT:  A recount that occurred after we had won the election against a sitting United States senator, Howard Cannon.

And we found out in our 1974 election that women gave affidavits

indicating that they had burned

LAXALT:  -- after we had won the election against a sitting United States senator, Howard Cannon.  And we found out in our 1974 election that women get affidavits indicating that they had burned ballots in 1964 at the direction of President Lyndon Johnson. 

MATTHEWS:  After the fact? 

LAXALT:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Well, he learned the tricks of the trade back in 1948 when he got the nickname landslide, when he won by 84 votes in a very disputed election. 

LAXALT:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  How do we do this?  We‘re about to pay tribute to a woman who just passed away and we go after her husband.  Let me ask you this—

We have to quickly do a little debate here, because you came here to do it.  Do you think it is smart for the Democrats or this country to continue to investigate the president‘s decision to give clemency to Scooter Libby?  Is that a good move? 

SLOAN:  I think it is not so much about investing in the clemency—the commutation of Scooter Libby, but to discuss now what it means to have given Scooter Libby a commutation when so many people for much more—perhaps more deserving people have not gotten their sentences commuted.  There‘s a contrast and there‘s a real question of fairness here as to why Scooter Libby‘s—

MATTHEWS:  Life is unfair.  Isn‘t the big question here whether there is a cover-up involved, whether they did this to hush him up? 

SLOAN:  Well, it certainly seems like they may well have done it so that he doesn‘t talk about the vice-president‘s role in exposing Valerie Plame. 

MATTHEWS:  Which is what the prosecutor accused him of doing, which was covering up the vice president‘s role.  Right?

SLOAN:  Yes, absolutely, Patrick Fitzgerald accused him of that. 

MATTHEWS:  Michelle, do you think that Scooter Libby should have been freed?  Do you think he should not have served any time?  Do you think the president should escape any criticism for that? 

LAXALT:  I think he should have been freed.  I think he should have been given a full pardon.  I think that where the mistake was really falls with the Republicans.  There was an agreement many years ago between both the Republicans and Democrats indicating that they would stop turning everything that was hot over to independent counsel.  These are people who have limitless resources, our tax payers resources, to move on every day Americans.  And when you have that kind of a cash box in your pocket, your determination tends to strengthen to get some kind of kill out of it. 

MATTHEWS:  Why did our presidents say it was a fair trial; the jurors were right; the prosecutor was right; I just want to give the guy clemency? 

Why do you disagree with your president on this

LAXALT:  I think the president—I am not sure that he actually read the decision or came to it by virtue of his own legal acumen.  He himself is the first to indicate that he is not a big fan of lawyers or of that particular process.  But whoever provided his sound bites—

MATTHEWS:  You‘re trimming on him.  She‘s trimming on the president, when you know him and don‘t like his decisions—you say he does not do his homework.  He‘s not too bright.  He said he does not do due diligence. 

LAXALT:  No, I said, I don‘t know—you asked me the question as to whether or not the president—on what basis the president determined to pardon him, and I said I didn‘t know. 

MATTHEWS:  I would like to have an hour with Scooter Libby and some sodium penothal.  That is what I would like.  Anyway, thank you, Michelle.  Thank you for coming.  It‘s a grim moment.  But you know, 95 years old, Lady Bird Johnson just passed away.  We just got the report. 

Up next, our HARDBALL round table tonight will dig into all of today‘s headlines.  By the way, how many more Republicans are going to abandon President Bush on Iraq?  The number keeps growing.  It‘s getting up to ten.  We are almost to that magic 60 number the Senate needs to take some action against the war.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Lady Bird Johnson, the former first lady, has just died this afternoon at the age of 94.  Doris Kearns Goodwin is a presidential historian, of course, and expert on the Johnson White House.  She, of course, former president—President Johnson write his original memoirs. 

Doris, thanks for joining us.  You had such a hand in trying to put together the Johnson record on so many levels.  Ladybird, her role? 

DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN:  I‘ll tell you, when I was there, which was in the late 1960‘s, early 1970‘s, I actually lived for a time—when I would go down to the ranch—at the ranch itself.  There was no question that she played a central role in stabilizing Lyndon Johnson.  You know, there would be times when he would be off on a tangent, yelling about somebody and what they had done.  And all she had to do was put her hand on his knee and say, now Lyndon, you don‘t really mean that, do you? 

And suddenly, all of the tension come out of his whole body.  I remember she once said to me she knew she could have married someone who would have come home at 5:00 at night and given her a more calm existence, but Lyndon had shown her a world, and she never once regretted it.  She was an incredible force.  It‘s one of those times when, you know, you look at maybe the beautification of Washington, the public things she did.  But must more important was her personal role in keeping him alive in a very good way. 

MATTHEWS:  I came across a speech you gave, Doris.  I don‘t think you published it, but it was a speech you gave as a commencement address at Villanova a couple of years ago, and you talked about how Lyndon Johnson led an unbalanced life, a very unbalanced life.  He focused too much on his ambition and not as much on his real connection with other human beings.  What was her role in all of that?

GOODWIN:  Well, you know, I think what I felt at the end of his life there was that even though she loved him, and though the children loved him, there was a hole in him that was so deep that only the applause of thousands could somehow answer.  I think that‘s what happens with public figures sometimes.  So that when he was down at the ranch, there were no hobbies that he had left to interest him, no interest in sports that could take away the days. 

He missed power and politics so much that I saw a sadness and a vulnerability. 

MATTHEWS:  That is so—you have to write more about that.  I just thought that was so involved, so deep, that understanding about a guy who most people considered a success.  And you found the big vacuum in the guy‘s life.  Thank you very much, Doris Kearns Goodwin.

GOODWIN:  You‘re welcome.  Take care, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  When we return, our round table is going to be with us. 

We‘ve got a hot one tonight.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  It‘s time now to take on the big political stories of the day with the round table, “Newsweek‘s” Michael Isikoff, whose with me, “Salon.com‘s” Joan Walsh, and the “Chicago Tribune‘s” Bruce Dold. 

First up, Chertoff‘s gut; Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is raising eyebrows this day, but not the threat level.  Meeting with the “Chicago Tribune‘s” editorial board Tuesday, Chertoff said this—

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY:  All of these things give me a gut feeling that we are in a period—not that I have a specific threat that I have in mind right now, but that we are entering a period of increased vulnerability.  So I want to be more vigilant.  I‘m not raising the alert level or anything like that.  But just be mindful that, looking back historically at the summer and the volume of public announcements, public statements made, it leads me to feel we ought to be more vigilant rather than less. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Just a week ago, after the terror incidents in Great Britain, Chertoff said there was no specific credible information suggesting that this latest incident is connected to a threat to our homeland.  And late today, the Associated Press reports that government analysts say that al Qaeda has regained the strength and now rivals the operational level it had back in the summer 2001. 

Let‘s me go to Bruce Dold, who was there for the ed board meeting with Chertoff.  What did you think when you were in that ed board, or your paper was there, when the head of homeland security said he had a gut feeling we are going to get hit? 

BRUCE DOLD, “CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  I don‘t think he was trying to scare anybody, certainly not anybody in the room.  I think he was very specific in saying that we don‘t have any new known threat, at least that he could tell us about.  But he was saying that this is a period where, because we‘re hearing more public statements from al Qaeda, bolder statements from al Qaeda; we‘re seeing more training in south Asia, he‘s saying, you know, this is just a time—and historically summer has been a time of terrorist activity—that the threat level is essentially higher now. 

MATTHEWS:  So it‘s a seasonal statement.  It‘s just that in this season we can expect trouble? 

DOLD:  It was seasonal.  But it was also based on you‘re seeing more public statements, as you did today.  He‘s saying they may be bolder in their statements because they think they can carry them out. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Joan Walsh out there in “Salon,” out in San Francisco -

Joan, it seems to me that when the Associated Press puts out a statement that al Qaeda is back up to it‘s pre-9/11 strength, that will catch our attention? 

JOAN WALSH, “SALON.COM”:  It will catch our attention.  It should catch our attention.  But this is really quite unbelievable and quite irresponsible of Chertoff, in my opinion.  I would like to think that we have more than gut reactions going on at the Department of Homeland Security.  Let‘s get some intelligence analysis. 

The White House came out today and said they didn‘t see any credible evidence of a summer threat.  They came out today and actually said that Chertoff did not bother to share his gut reaction with the president.  So this seems rather irresponsible for the man in charge of homeland security to be running his mouth about his gut reaction without more. 

MATTHEWS:  Should he have kept quiet if he has a gut feeling we‘re about to be hit, or what should he do? 

WALSH:  I think if he has a gut feeling that is based on information -

MATTHEWS:  No, based on his gut. 

WALSH:  I don‘t think he should be going around talking about his gut feelings.  Honestly, Chris, I don‘t. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, some of our best police officers, I believe, do use their guts, their instincts about people. 

WALSH:  I‘m sure they do.  But to tell the entire country at a peak travel season that your gut is telling you this, without better information, I think is irresponsible. 

MATTHEWS:  But, Michael, if there‘s a bad hit in the next couple of weeks, we‘re going to say that Chertoff has a good gut. 

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, “NEWSWEEK”:  I agree with Joan.  It was an unartful way to put it.  But there are a number of worrisome developments out there.  We have a story moving right now, posting on MSNBC, “Newsweek.com,” about this new National Intelligence Estimate, classified document, that concludes that al Qaeda has reconstituted, regrouped and is stronger today than it had been before. 

MATTHEWS:  Does that mean—

ISIKOFF:  This is al Qaeda central in Pakistan, leadership of al Qaeda.  You know, a year ago, when there was an NIE released, declassified on the terror threat, it concluded that al Qaeda leadership had been seriously damaged and disrupted by U.S. counter-intelligence efforts.  There was a growing disbursement, a Jihadi threat.  But it was dispersed. 

It was matasticized.  It was not centrally located. 

Now what we‘ve got is really the worst of both worlds, a reconstituted al Qaeda along the Pakistan border and, because of the continued U.S.  presence in Iraq, which the NIE said last year had been a rallying cry, a cause celeb, for Jihadis, this sort of worldwide army of angry Jihadis, who are flowing out of Iraq, into Europe.  The Germans have set up a whole special program to monitor Islamic militants coming from Iraq into western Europe.  So you have it from all sides. 

MATTHEWS:  What good is the war in Iraq doing to stop this growth of al Qaeda? 

ISIKOFF:  The conclusion of the NIE last year was that it was making things worse. 

MATTHEWS:  Joan, your thoughts on this.  Are we fighting al Qaeda or are we fighting in Iraq or both? 

WALSH:  We are creating the conditions for al Qaeda to grow in Iraq.  Chris, I remember a conversation I had with you in 2003, where you described this war, which hadn‘t happened yet, as the greatest recruiting project for al Qaeda throughout the Middle East.  You have been proven right by that.  Al Qaeda is on the rise; al Qaeda is reconstituted because of this mess we have created in Iraq. 

So, they get us going both ways.  Their botched war has made us less safe.  But now they need us to trust them to fight this greater threat.  It‘s really quite alarming.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I wrote a lot of columns when I was with the “San Francisco Examiner and Chronicle” back then.  I have to tell you, piles of columns—I don‘t like to brag, and I‘m not going to, because thousands of guys have died over there.  But it was visible.  It was visible by anybody that knew history that putting the American Army in Iraq was going to cause hatred for—

you know say, if we lose the Arab people in this fight in Iraq, we‘re going to lose this war, no matter what happens.  And if we lose the Islamic world, we will lose the century.  That‘s how bad this damn thing is.  Excuse me.  I‘m getting overwhelmed here.  The Let me bring in Bruce Dold here, your thoughts on this latest report, the NIE, National Intelligence Estimate, that al Qaeda is back to full strength? 

DOLD:  Well, I think that was a large part of what Chertoff was talking about.  He had a political message in this.  I wouldn‘t kid you on that.  He was pushing support for the Real I.D. Act, saying that we are losing our sense of vigilance and our sense of being willing to make any concession.  So he wanted Congress—he wanted the states to stick with that. 

He is also saying, look, we‘re going to be coming up in the weeks and months ahead.  We‘re going to be pushing more for surveillance of private airplanes coming across the border. 

MATTHEWS:  I have to wrap.  I‘m sorry.  Bruce, I‘m being told to wrap.  Thank you very much for joining us Bruce, and thank you Joan.  Right now it‘s time for “TUCKER.” 

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

END   

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