updated 8/2/2007 10:50:51 AM ET 2007-08-02T14:50:51

Guests: Sen. Joe Biden, Holly Bailey, Chris Cillizza, John Feehery

MIKE BARNICLE, GUEST HOST:  Rumsfeld returns.  Former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld tells Congress there was no cover-up in the Pentagon investigation of Pat Tillman‘s death.  Truth or Pentagon propaganda?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Mike Barnicle, in for Chris Matthews.  A ton of news in Washington today and out on the campaign trial.  For the first time since he was fired by President Bush, former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld testified on Capitol Hill on what he knew about the Pat Tillman investigation.  Did the Pentagon try to cover up what really happened in Pat Tillman‘s death?  That‘s our HARDBALL debate tonight.

Plus, the Hillary surge.  A new NBC/”Wall Street Journal” poll shows Senator Hillary Clinton has widened her already substantial lead against her Democratic opponents.  We‘ll talk to one of them, Senator Joe Biden, in a moment.

And in the wake of Clinton calling Barack Obama naive on foreign policy, today he delivered a tough-talking anti-terror speech in which he talked about using U.S. forces to fight al Qaeda in Pakistan.  Our HARDBALL panel will dig into all the news from the campaign trail later in the show.

But first, we begin with HARDBALL‘s David Shuster on Rumsfeld‘s return to Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In his first public testimony since leaving the Pentagon, today former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld denied any cover-up in the friendly fire death of Pat Tillman, a former NFL star-turned-Army Ranger.

DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY:  I have not been involved in any cover-up whatsoever, and I don‘t believe there‘s an individual at this table, who I know well and have observed in close quarters in very difficult situations, who had any role in a cover-up.

SHUSTER:  Tillman was killed in Afghanistan on April the 22nd, 2004.  Within days, an internal Defense Department memo said a friendly fire investigation was under way.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND:  At least nine Pentagon officials, including three generals, either knew or were informed of the suspected fratricide in the first 72 hours after it occurred.

SHUSTER:  But at a public memorial service a week later and for the month that followed, Tillman‘s family and the public were told he was killed by the enemy.  The inspiring but false storyline took the spotlight away from two public relations disasters facing the Bush administration at the time: the revelations of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the growing insurgency confronting U.S. troops.

RUMSFELD:  I know that I would not engage in a cover-up.  I know that no one in the White House suggested such a thing to me.  I know that the gentlemen sitting next to me are men of enormous integrity and would not participate in something like that.

SHUSTER:  But lawmakers questioned how the senior Pentagon leadership could allow the false storyline to stand for five weeks.  General John Abizaid was the only witness today who actually saw the early memo about friendly fire, but Abizaid testified he didn‘t see the memo until after Tillman‘s public memorial service.  Abizaid reported to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Richard Myers.

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, U.S. ARMY (RET.), FMR. CENTCOM COMMANDER:  I called the chairman.  I told the chairman about it.  And it was my impression from having talked to the chairman at the time that he knew about it.

SHUSTER:  So how did the chairman know?  Myers couldn‘t say.

GEN. RICHARD MYERS, USAF (RET.), FMR. JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN:  From special forces that might have known this and passed it to me at a staff meeting.  I just—I can‘t tell you who passed it to me.  I just don‘t know.

SHUSTER:  Myers then testified it was the Army‘s responsibility, not his or Secretary Rumsfeld‘s, to notify Tillman‘s family about the possibility of fratricide.

REP. TOM DAVIS ®, VIRGINIA:  So nobody at the top was ensuring that

really looked at the regulations at that point...

MYERS:  That wouldn‘t be our responsibility.  I mean, when I learned that General McCrystal had initiated an investigation, that was—that was good for me.

SHUSTER:  As rough as this day was for Myers and Rumsfeld, this was also a very challenging day for President Bush.  In Baghdad, a series of suicide bombings killed more than 70 Iraqis, and the main Sunni political bloc quit the cabinet, plunging an already fragile Iraqi government into crisis.

In Washington, the president was pummeled in a major campaign speech by Democrat Barack Obama.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  By refusing to end the war in Iraq, President Bush is giving the terrorists what they really want and what the Congress voted to give them in 2002, a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined costs, with undetermined consequences.

SHUSTER:  And Vice President Cheney received harsh criticism today for a misleading claim about a Pentagon letter attacking and responding to Hillary Clinton.

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  She was demanding the plans for withdrawal from Iraq and...

LARRY KING, “LARRY KING LIVE”:  Do you agree with that letter?

CHENEY:  And I agreed with the letter Edelman wrote.  I thought it was a good letter.

SHUSTER:  Clinton, however, never demanded operational or classified details of any military plan.  Her letter specifically asked for a briefing to let her and Congress know such plans existed.

Across the board, polls show the Bush administration‘s credibility has hit rock bottom, even as questions still remain on issues including the response to the death of Pat Tillman.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D-CA), OVERSIGHT & GVT. REFORM CHAIRMAN:  The concealment of Corporal Tillman‘s fratricide caused millions of Americans to question the integrity of our government, yet no one will tell us when and how the White House learned the truth.

SHUSTER (on camera):  At the White House today, spokesman Tony Snow called the handling of Tillman‘s death deeply regrettable and repeated Rumsfeld‘s assertion that there was no cover-up.  However, the White House is still refusing to turn over Tillman-related documents to Congress on the grounds of executive privilege.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BARNICLE:  Thanks, David.

Democratic senator Joe Biden of Delaware is running for president.  He‘s the chairman of the Foreign Relations committee and the author of new book called “Promises to Keep.”  Senator, before we get to the book and your candidacy, I was watching you as you watched David‘s film piece, and when they showed General Myers and General Abizaid and former secretary of defense Rumsfeld testifying, you had sort of a—what I would consider a sad look on your face.  What was going through your mind when you were watching that?

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D-DE), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  No accountability.  This is the only administration that no one‘s ever made a mistake in the face of constant disaster.  You know, it used to be—my grandpop used to talk about you got to stand up.  I mean, it used to be an honorable thing that somebody‘s come forward and say, Hey, I screwed up.  That was me.  I mean, think of the fact—I mean, who has been held accountable for anything in this administration?  They attorney general, the secretary of defense, secretary of state, vice president, national security adviser, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff?  What‘d this all happen on the watch of privates?

I mean, I just find it incredible, the lack of—I don‘t know.  My grandpop would call it honor.

BARNICLE:  How frustrated is it for you, as a United States senator, never mind being out on the campaign trail, running for president—you‘re a United States senator.  You‘ve been there since 1970.  How frustrating is it for you that you have this going on, what you consider to be this lack of accountability, and yet you can‘t get people to be held accountable?

BIDEN:  Well, you can‘t.  You know, it‘s all about elections.  You know, we barely have control of the Senate.  We have 50 votes.  One of our colleagues has still not been able to vote because he‘s still ill.  And the House doesn‘t have effective control.  It‘s frustrating as the devil.

And what‘s even more frustrating, the people who voted to send the Democrats to Congress last time out expected that somehow we were going to be able to really, you know, have a—you know, operational control, really call people to task.  But it‘s—it‘s just really frustrating.

What‘s most frustrating, Mike, is that you got all these folks out there who‘re just losing confidence in the government, losing confidence anything that‘s going on.  And you got 160,000 families implicated by having folks over there in Iraq.  They don‘t see any plan.  They don‘t know what these guys are doing.  I mean, it really is.  It‘s—it‘s sad.

BARNICLE:  What do you think General Petraeus is going to do when he comes back and speaks to you people, speaks to us in September, September 15?

BIDEN:  I know General Petraeus well.  I‘m in constant contact with him the last four-and-a-half years.  I disagree with his plan on the surge, but I think he‘s an honorable guy.  I think he‘ll come back and say two things.  You‘re going to have to read between the lines.  And one‘s going to be we‘ve made some progress in the surge.  We‘ve made some military progress.  But I think he‘ll be honest enough to say we‘ve made no political progress.

And absent some political accommodation—you just showed—you had the Sunnis getting up and walking out of the cabinet.  They continued to adhere, as a lot of my Democratic colleagues do, Mike, to this flawed—fundamentally flawed premise that somehow, you can establish a strong unity government in Baghdad that can control the country.  It‘s not going to happen in anybody‘s lifetime.

BARNICLE:  You know, I can‘t recall a war that‘s been as difficult for reporters to cover as this war.  It‘s so lethal to anybody on the ground working for any news organization.

BIDEN:  Absolutely.

BARNICLE:  And yet you keep hearing anecdotal information that seems so at odds with what you get out of the White House or the Pentagon in terms—fine, military success in Ramadi.  I understand that.  I accept that.  I believe that.  And yet when you hear people who continue to come back, United State senators, as well as regular soldiers, saying they can‘t get the lights on in Baghdad, they can‘t get the water running...

BIDEN:  They can‘t.  They can‘t.  I‘ve been there seven times.  I‘m heading back in a couple weeks—actually, a month.  I‘m heading back for my eighth trip.  And let me tell you something.  I‘ve been in and out of the Green Zone, been to Muradi (ph) -- excuse me—I‘ve been down to Basra.  I‘ve been out in Anbar Province.  I‘ve flown over most of it in a helicopter.  I‘ve been up as—far us as—I mean, the idea that somehow there‘s any cohesion here is absolutely fanciful.

What has happened here is, to the extent that Petraeus has concentrated on certain areas and localized—localized—the conflict—that is, let local tribal chiefs have local police forces and local control.  To the extent that‘s happened, there‘s been some progress.  But absent a larger political agreement here—as soon as we leave—remember Tal Afar?

BARNICLE:  Yes.

BIDEN:  You know how you learn all these—all these names, you know, average Americans learn them.  Well, you know, a year-and-a-half ago, we heralded this as a great example.  We had 10,000 combined troops in there.  We cleaned out the city.  We rebuilt the schools and the city facilities, et cetera.  And then we had to leave, and a town of 250,000 people once again became basically a ghost town of 80,000 people.

I mean, same thing‘s going to happen.  Same thing‘s going to happen if we leave absent giving local control, local police, local regional power...

BARNICLE:  So is this hopeless?

BIDEN:  It‘s hopeless absent doing what—I‘m going to say bluntly what Les Gelb and I have been talking about for well over a year.  I did on your radio program up in Boston, you know?  And now everybody‘s coming around to it.  You have General Garner now saying—quoting—I‘m paraphrasing, Biden and Gelb are right.

The only way this ends without the whole thing splintering apart—meaning the whole country—and it‘s not going to just break up in three pieces, Mike.  It‘s going to break up not on just a religious basis but tribal basis.  You‘re going to see this civil war metastasize into Turkey, into affecting Iran and Syria.  And we have a real problem now, it‘s going to get a lot worse.  And why they continue to adhere to the prospect that Maliki can put together a unity government that can control the country is just beyond my comprehension.

BARNICLE:  So what you‘re talking about, what you‘re saying is not only something that‘s going to be handed off to the first term of the next president, it sounds like the next two terms and perhaps...

BIDEN:  Well, let me tell you something...

BARNICLE:  ... two presidents.

BIDEN:  Yes.  I think that‘s—look, Mike, what happens—what happens when, in fact, we leave?  We have to leave.  We have our commanding general saying you can‘t—the new chief of the Army is saying you can‘t keep 160,000 troops there next year.  We don‘t have the troops to do it.  We can‘t do it.  So everybody knows we‘re going to be leaving, Mike, and you either leave with putting together a political settlement, bringing in the international community that‘s ready to come in—because, look, the French aren‘t looking to help us, the Russians, the Chinese, but they know things are really bad for them if this place fractures.

BARNICLE:  You know, back on the point of—the larger point of David‘s piece on the death of Private (SIC) Tillman—do you think Rumsfeld was telling the truth?  I mean, how could it be that the secretary of defense could sit there and not find out for several weeks that someone as famous as Corporal Tillman was killed and how he was killed?

BIDEN:  I find it absolutely improbable.  I—look, they‘re so good at plausible denial.  They‘re so good at kicking the can down the road.  It‘s a little bit like—go back to Abu Ghraib.  Abu Ghraib was a disaster.  I went down to see the president right after Abu Ghraib.  I said, Mr. President, you got to do something drastic.  You got to literally bulldoze the place down, build a hospital, demonstrate our overwhelming distaste for what happened.  It‘s not part of us.  Nothing happened.

So we go back.  I called for Rumsfeld‘s resignation years ago.  I go back.  I‘m sitting with the president of the United States of America and the secretary—then national security adviser, and the vice president.  He said, What‘s this stuff about picking on Rummy?  I said, Mr. President, I have to be honest with you.  And I turned to the vice president.  I said, Mr. Vice president, were you not a constitutional officer, I‘d call for your resignation, too.  And the president looked and said, Why?  I said, Name me one piece of advice you‘ve been given on Iraq from either the secretary of defense or the vice president that‘s turned out to be correct?  Name me one.

BARNICLE:  That‘s all in the book.

BIDEN:  Well, but also...

(CROSSTALK)

BARNICLE:  We‘re going to get to the book.

BIDEN:  No, no.  But it‘s beyond the book.  It goes to your essential point, I think, Mike, and that is these guys just never level.  They just never level.

BARNICLE:  Senator Biden is staying with us to talk more about his bid for the White House and his new book and his  confrontations in the White House.

And coming up later, more on Don Rumsfeld‘s testimony today with two veterans of the Iraq war.  Has Pat Tillman‘s death and the Pentagon‘s handling of it hurt our armed forces?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  We‘re back with Democratic presidential candidate Senator Joe Biden, author of the new book “Promises to Keep.”  I read it.  It‘s interesting.  It‘s you.  It‘s about your life.

And now, at this stage of your life, you‘re running for president again.  And let me ask you—you‘ve been in the United States Senate for a long time.  You‘ve been on TV for a long time, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee.  A lot of people know you.  You‘re at 4 points in the polls.

Do you think that the country might be just going someplace else, might be saying, you know, No, I want to look at a woman for president, or a black man for president.  I‘m tired of the old Irish guys—not that you‘re old.

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  But where do you think the country‘s at on this?

BIDEN:  Well, there may be a piece of that, but I think part of it that—what we find out in our polling, no one really knows me at all.  They think, as my pollster said—I think it was she that said that they think I‘m this guy that‘s born behind a podium, went to Yale, is a wealthy guy, and knows a lot about foreign policy.

And so, you know, whereas, ironically, 22 years ago when I looked at this, you know, they knew everything about me personally, didn‘t know anything about what I thought.  Now it‘s the flip.  And—but I think it‘s early, Mike.  I mean, when was the last time any of these polls have made a difference this early out?  The polls up in your neck of the woods, out in New Hampshire, show that only 8 percent of the people in New Hampshire has made up their mind, have a definite choice.  Nationally, it‘s about the same.

And it‘s an old thing.  You know, recognition gets money, money gets recognition, gets coverage and press.  So I don‘t think people begin to make up their mind yet.  And as long as—as long as national security and foreign policy is a central issue, I think I‘m in the game.

BARNICLE:  You know, when I listen to the debates, when I listen to each of the candidates, and when it comes down to issues of national security—well, today, you know, Senator Obama talking about—you‘re smiling.  What are you smiling at?  You thought he was trying to be General Obama when he was talking about Pakistan and everything?  Sounded too much like you?  What are you saying?

BIDEN:  Well, you know, look...

BARNICLE:  Come on!

BIDEN:  Look, the truth is the four major things that he called for—and I‘m glad he did, but one of them is a surge in Afghanistan.  Well, hell, that‘s what I called for when I was in Afghanistan in 2003, and Hagel and I wrote the legislation adding money.  We have new money for Afghanistan in here.

The second thing he called for was, you know, aid to Pakistan be conditional.  Well, Tom Lantos and I wrote that into the bill when we passed the 9/11 bill.  It‘s law.  I mean, it‘s already there.  It happened weeks ago.

And he talked about the idea of U.S. troops in Afghanistan (SIC) if there‘s actionable intelligence.  Well, that‘s our policy.  The only thing you do is you don‘t go and announce it.  You don‘t talk about it.  But it is our—it is our stated policy.

And so I guess what I‘m trying to say is that I‘m glad that he‘s talking about these things, but there‘s—there‘s not a single thing that I heard of that he spoke about that isn‘t either already policy, already done, or has been spoken to at length before by myself and others.

BARNICLE:  I get the impression, when you‘re all on the stage, that you kind of like Senator Clinton.  You respect Senator Clinton.

BIDEN:  Well, do like her.  I do like her.  I really like Dodd a lot.  I—I mean, there‘s—no, there‘s people you know because you work with...

BARNICLE:  Yes. 

BIDEN:  .. and you are certain of who they are. 

I am certain of who Dodd is.  He‘s a stand-up guy and he‘s knowledgeable.  I‘m certain of who, you know, the governor is, because I have been with him a long time.  And I know Senator Clinton a long time. 

I don‘t know Barack as well.  I have served with him.  I respect him. 

And I don‘t John Edwards as well.  I know him, and I respect him. 

And—but I‘m really for a ticket of Kucinich and—and Gravel.

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  Senator Joe Biden, the book is “Promises to Keep.”

(CROSSTALK)

BARNICLE:  Senator Biden, Scranton, Pennsylvania, this Saturday.  All you Irish guys and Irish women, get up there and buy that book. 

(LAUGHTER)

BARNICLE:  Up next: MSNBC‘s own Colonel Jack Jacobs and what we learned from Don Rumsfeld‘s testimony today and what questions remain unanswered.

And don‘t forget to HARDBALL ad challenge.  Make your own campaign ad and sent it in.  And we will play it on the air. 

Here is an ad from Jordache Avery of Atlanta, Georgia.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Keep those ads coming.  Just upload them at our Web site, HARDBALL.MSNBC.com.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Today, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing to examine what senior Defense Department officials knew about the death of U.S. Army Corporal Pat Tillman.  Witnesses included former Secretary of Defense Don Rumsfeld, former U.S. commander General John Abizaid, and former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Richard Myers.

Here with some analysis, retired U.S. Army Colonel Jack Jacobs, who is also an MSNBC military analyst.

Colonel, it‘s always great to see you. 

Let me ask you, what, if anything, has surprised you about this entire Tillman debacle episode? 

COLONEL JACK JACOBS (RET.), NBC MILITARY ANALYST:  Well, first of all, that so many people in the chain of command apparently lied, including a three-star general who the secretary of the Army said lied under oath on three separate occasions.  That is astounding. 

The relatively light punishment that was afforded this guy is also surprising, in view of the notoriety of what happened and who was involved. 

And one of the things that really astounds me about all this is a little known bit in the recommendations that said that one of the things that the Army has done now, in light of what happened with Corporal Tillman, is that, in the case of every hostile death, there will be a formal Article 15-6 investigation that is conducted. 

That means that with, I don‘t know, almost 3,700 Americans or so having been killed in Iraq, that we would have had 3,700 separate investigations.  We don‘t have time to do that sort of stuff.  And the real implication here is that the—it appears that the chain of command does not seem to trust anybody in the chain of command, including general officers, to tell the truth. 

BARNICLE:  So, Colonel, again, let me ask you another question having to do with Corporal Tillman‘s death and the furor that it has aroused, with all the—all the myths, the anecdotes, the theories, the conspiracy theories around it, that there is a—a cover-up, a conspiracy.

What is your instinct on this?  Is it that the fog of war, a screwed-up mission in the middle of the night in Afghanistan resulted in his death, and they tried to cover it up on the ground there?  Or is it a larger cover-up?  What do you think?

JACOBS:  Well, it doesn‘t make any sense to me that it‘s a much larger cover-up than what you were actually articulating there.  It was the fog of war.  There were some terrible tactical decisions that made at low levels, at the platoon level and company level, and that caused the incident to occur in the first place. 

And that happens from time to time.  We do have fratricide.  And I myself, when I was in Vietnam, was involved in a number of circumstances in which good guys were shooting at good guys, and people got hurt.

But the rest of it, the lying, and all the rest of that stuff up the chain of command, that is unconscionable. 

Now, the suggestion that the secretary of defense was somehow involved in covering the story up, and that there was this grand conspiracy, that Corporal Tillman was actually the victim of a murder plot, doesn‘t make a great deal of sense to me.

No, you would have to be a really astounding person, if you were going to be a murderer, for example, to engineer the kind of mishap the kind of mishap that occurred out in the field.  So, that—the most extreme stories are not true.  The stories that everybody did the right thing, that is not true either.  It‘s—the truth is somewhere in the middle.  There was plenty of malfeasance and plenty of blame to go around. 

BARNICLE:  Well, what do you think was going through General Myers‘ mind?  He‘s chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.  Pat Tillman wasn‘t just any enlistee.  And when he‘s told that he perhaps has been a casualty of friendly fire, he says, oh, yeah, OK.  We will take care of it and study it.

That doesn‘t—something about that smells to me. 

JACOBS:  Well, that is not believable.  Even if you are not in the military, you know that that is not believable. 

The fact of the matter is that a high-profile guy like Pat Tillman, about whom the secretary of defense said, I want to keep an eye on that guy when he went overseas, the highest levels are going to know that he is dead when he is dead. 

The cover-up of about the circumstances of his death, that is different story altogether.  But I don‘t believe anybody, anybody in the chain of command who says he didn‘t know he was killed in action.

BARNICLE:  Colonel Jack Jacobs, as always, thanks very much.

JACOBS:  Good to be with you.

BARNICLE:  Up next, tonight‘s HARDBALL debate:  Did the Pentagon use Pat Tillman‘s death for propaganda?  And was there a cover-up?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REBECCA JARVIS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I am Rebecca Jarvis with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Nervous investors sending stocks on yet another wild ride.  After bouncing around all day, the Dow makes a last-hour turnaround, closing the day up 150 points.  The S&P 500 gained 10.  And the Nasdaq was up seven. 

Homebuilder stocks were part of the problem.  By midday, shares of Beazer Homes had lost 18 percent, amid rumors the company could go bust.  And other homebuilder shares also went along for the ride.  But they all recovered after Beazer denied the rumor.

But, just as that recovery was taking hold, Advanced Medical Optics said it would withdraw the buyout offer for Bausch & Lomb, reigniting fears about the ongoing credit crunch. 

Meantime, oil put pressure on stocks, hitting another intraday high, before pulling back.

That‘s it from CNBC, America‘s business channel—back to MSNBC. 

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Don Rumsfeld was in the hot seat on Capitol Hill today over the death of Army Ranger Pat Tillman.  And at the heart of the questioning was whether the former defense secretary tried to cover up the circumstances surrounding Corporal Tillman‘s death. 

Take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD RUMSFELD, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE:  I have not been involved in any cover-up whatsoever.  And I don‘t believe there‘s an individual at this table—who I know well and observed at close quarters in very difficult situations—who had any role in a cover-up.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Is Rumsfeld telling the truth, or was he involved in a Pentagon cover-up of Tillman‘s death?

Two war veterans join us tonight.  Jon Soltz served in Iraq in 2003 and is co-founder and chairman of VoteVets.org.  And Eric Egland served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and is a member of Vets For Freedom. 

Gentlemen, I don‘t know whether you heard Colonel Jack Jacobs on the segment just before this.  But it‘s his opinion that there was no real cover-up at the top, that this was a—more a tactical screw-up on the ground that resulted in Corporal Tillman getting killed by friendly fire. 

What is your view, conspiracy at the top or just a tactical screw-up on the ground, Eric?

ERIC EGLAND, VETS FOR FREEDOM:  Mike, I agree with that.

I mean, it‘s more than just a screw-up on the ground.  There was clearly some malfeasance in terms of sharing incorrect information.  I have a close friend who was a Ranger in Afghanistan at the time.  And I remember him telling me, hey, this is ugly, in terms of the information that was shared from the guys on the front. 

But, once that information went forward, you can‘t blame the Defense Department for sharing that, because they thought it was truthful.  So, that is why it is appropriate to fry some of those guys that were out forward.  But trying to pin it on Secretary Rumsfeld doesn‘t make any sense. 

BARNICLE:  Jon, what is your view?

JON SOLTZ, CO-FOUNDER, VOTEVETS.ORG:  I think the whole thing is absolutely disgusting.

You know, we know, as young officers in the Army, if one of our soldiers is killed, that we owe the family an answer.  And, if this administration can‘t come clean and tell Mary Tillman and the Tillman family what happened to their son, they have hurt the morale of our troops.  It hurts our recruiting, destroys the integrity of our institution. 

When a three-star, a four-star general shows up at a funeral, General Kensinger, and he gives the Silver Star to the family, and he knows that the soldier was killed by friendly fire, it is misleading, not only to us, but to our entire country. 

When the new report comes out that the coroner felt that he was killed from within 10 meters, it‘s a big problem.  And I encourage everyone to go to VoteVets.org, sign our petition, over 5,000 people.  Tell the president, you don‘t need to invoke executive privilege here.  You need to be the commander in chief.  You need to help the military out here.  You need to tell the family and our troops what happened to—to Pat Tillman. 

BARNICLE:  Eric, you know, I mean, the Silver Star citation, I mean, a bullet is a bullet.  And Corporal Tillman, clearly, was acting honorably and courageously.

And, yet, the idea that this information was relayed back to Washington within—within a few days, perhaps—weeks, certainly—and that we‘re still talking about this, and that there are still questions lingering out there about this, this does not smack well for the Pentagon, for former Secretary Rumsfeld, for anybody involved in this. 

EGLAND:  Well, certainly. 

I mean, it‘s—it happened terribly, but—but that is the thing.  Once the information comes from the field, the—the people in the Pentagon, you know, did what—what they would do based on assuming that information was truthful. 

It turns out it was not.  So, I mean, and I think they did the right thing.  Once it came out, you know, several weeks later, hey, this was friendly fire, this was not what it was claimed to be, they did what they should do, which is launch an investigation.  And now these generals are being—are being hung out to—to pay the price, which they should be.

(CROSSTALK)

EGLAND:  But we can‘t just do a political knee-jerk reaction and say blame Rumsfeld every time something goes wrong within the entire multimillion-person Department of Defense. 

SOLTZ:  It‘s totally—it‘s totally not acceptable.

Secretary Rumsfeld is the secretary of defense.  The president of the United States is the commander in chief.  If the investigation was done properly the first time, we would never have thought Pat Tillman was killed by enemy fire. 

If the investigation was done well the second time, we wouldn‘t have thought Pat Tillman was killed from 150 meters away.  And now we are finding out this week that Pat Tillman was killed, according to the coroner who looked at the body, from 10 meters away. 

So, where are the facts here?  The president needs to not invoke executive privilege and be honest with the American public.  Let‘s put this in a larger context.  April of 2004 was the Tet of Iraq.  It‘s when the Shia militias rose up in Iraq and the Mahdi army, and we had to extend the 1st Armored Division for 12 months to 15 months.

It‘s when George Bush retreated from Fallujah, when the Marines got burned at the stake, and wouldn‘t go back into Fallujah for six months because of his reelection bid.  And it‘s at the height of the Abu Ghraib scandal. 

And the politicians and the president, they needed a hero, and they chose Pat Tillman.  And it is unfortunate, because they misled our country at a time where they tried to justify political support for the soldier.  It is terribly unfortunate to use the death of an American soldier for your own partisan political gain. 

How do you expect a recruiter to walk into the homes of the mothers and fathers and ask for their son or daughter to fight and do what all Americans should do, which is serve our country, when the parent can look back at our recruiters, and they can say, why should my son or daughter fight for a president who is going to use their death for political support?  It‘s absolutely sick.

BARNICLE:  Eric, it doesn‘t...

EGLAND:  I mean, that is—that is—that is hyper-spinning of...

SOLTZ:  Absolutely not.

EGLAND:  I mean, you‘re using the report on this for your own political gain.

SOLTZ:  That‘s—absolutely not.  That‘s absolutely false.

EGLAND:  I mean, it is crazy to say that. 

(CROSSTALK)

SOLTZ:  Why are you putting the death—why are you putting the death of a soldier...

EGLAND:  I mean, every time something happens...

(CROSSTALK)

SOLTZ:  Why do you care more about politics than the death of an American soldier?

EGLAND:  Wait.  You just made a comment.  Now it‘s my turn.  Now it‘s my turn, Jon.

SOLTZ:  That‘s sick.  It‘s really sick.

(CROSSTALK)

EGLAND:  Jon, you just made your statement.  And I think you are spinning the report for your own political advantage.

SOLTZ:  It‘s absolutely sick.

EGLAND:  And I think that is wrong. 

SOLTZ:  Does Mary Tillman know all the facts?

EGLAND:  Every time something goes wrong...

SOLTZ:  Does Mary Tillman know all the facts of the death of her son? 

Absolutely not.  And there‘s one reason.

EGLAND:  That is what we are investigating. 

SOLTZ:  Because the White House...

(CROSSTALK)

EGLAND:  And that‘s why it‘s appropriate to do.

Well, if you‘re going to ask me a question, Jon, you need to let me answer.

SOLTZ:  The White House has invoked executive privilege.  It‘s absolutely sick.

EGLAND:  Jon, you need to make your statement and go.

(CROSSTALK)

SOLTZ:  I would expect somebody like you to care more about...

(CROSSTALK)

SOLTZ:  I would expect somebody like you to care more about a soldier who fought for this country than the president of the United States, who is a partisan politician. 

BARNICLE:  All right.  All right. 

SOLTZ:  It‘s absolutely sick.

BARNICLE:  All right, Jon.  Now, let—let Eric have his say.

Go ahead, Eric.

EGLAND:  OK.

We need to, you know, come out of the hyper-partisan spin zone and just look at the facts.  Wrong information was transmitted from the commanders on the ground.  They are being held accountable.  Once you have something that goes wrong like that, intentionally in this case, it takes a long time to figure it out, because everyone starts covering their tracks and misleading in different areas. 

But to say that every time something goes wrong—This was a terrible thing—so to say because I do not think that we should fire the president and the Sec Def every time something goes wrong is not—

SOLTZ:  I want him to apologize.  I want him to be commander in chief.

EGLAND:  You‘re using this for political purposes and that‘s unfortunate. 

SOLTZ:  There is a family out there that wants the truth about why their son was killed serving our country in war. 

(CROSS TALK) 

EGLAND:  For the people who were misleading, they need to be held accountable, and they are. 

BARNICLE:  Eric, let me ask you about this; off of that last statement, sitting here watching the testimony today, it struck me as rather unusual that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the time, General Myers, who know who Pat Tillman was—everyone was aware of who he was.  There was a lot of stuff written about him joining, enlisting, becoming a ranger, fighting in Afghanistan. 

For him to treat the death and the knowledge that he died from friendly fire in such a cavalier manner, as he did today in his testimony, I don‘t buy it.  I don‘t think many people do buy it.  How do you buy it. 

EGLAND:  Well, I think it comes down to the basic facts that the commanders on the ground said things that were not true, and once that filtered up the chain of command, the chain of command reacted.  And once they found out it was not true, then they launched an investigation, and that is what has created this whole mess in the first place.  But once they set up the investigation, you can‘t hold them responsible for the initial malfeasance. 

BARNICLE:  Why not?  They‘re in command.

EGLAND:  Because they are taking responsible action.  I have been in command.  I am sure John has been responsible for people too.  When you find out something has gone wrong in your scope of responsibility, it‘s your job to investigate it.  So—and then that does not mean you are automatically held responsible for everything. 

BARNICLE:  Eric, those four stars on General Myers‘ shoulder means he is in charge.  He is responsible.  He is accountable.  It is up the chain of command.  Both you guys know that.

EGLAND:  But your whole argument is basically saying, so no one beneath him can ever do anything wrong that merits any sort of punishment. 

(CROSS TALK)

SOLTZ:  My argument here is really simple.  We still do not have the facts in this case.  The coroner report just came out and said, hey, this guy was shot from 10 meters away.  The president is invoking executive privilege here, as if this is the Alberto Gonzales case.  There is a dead American soldier.  His family deserves the truth.  We know it as officers.  We write to mothers and wives and husbands and daughters and we say, your son or daughter fought honorably and this is how they died. 

I was in Iraq.  We had similar scenarios with fratricide.  Even when I was personally aware of a situation where there was a cover up, the battalion commander flew back to the States and told the family what happened.  Why can‘t the commander in chief here stand up and be the commander in chief?  He is leading—because --  

(CROSS TALK)

EGLAND:  You are just saying that the president should take the same responsibility as a battalion commander.   

SOLTZ:  Absolutely.  The president is commander in chief.  He is invoking executive privilege.

(CROSS TALK)  

BARNICLE:  John Soltz, Eric Egland, I want to thank you both very much for your service to our country.  Up next, our HARDBALL panel on Obama‘s tough talk for Pakistan and Michael Moore‘s fight with Rudy Giuliani.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Time now to dig into the hottest political headlines and the hottest political video of the day.  And here to do it is our political panel, “Newsweek‘s” Holly Bailey, “WashingtonPost.com‘s” Chris Cillizza, and Republican aide and Rudy Giuliani supporter John Feehery. 

First up, Obama the warrior.  Just days after Hillary Clinton tried to beat up Barack Obama over his willingness to meet with enemy leaders, Obama delivered a tough talking speech this morning on fighting terrorists.  In his speech, Senator Obama entertained the idea of sending U.S. troops into Pakistan to root out enemies.  Take a look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), ILLINOIS:  It was a terrible mistake to fail to act when we had a chance to take out an al Qaeda leadership meeting in 2005.  If we have actionable intelligence about high-value terrorist targets, and President Musharraf will not act, we will. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  So, is Senator Obama worried about being turned into a McCarthy or a John Dean, Chris Cillizza?  You‘re down town at the Post.  What do you think.  Is he putting his general‘s uniform on; let‘s go into Pakistan now? 

CHRIS CILLIZZA, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  Well, I think there are two things going on.  Number one, remember, Obama—even though we now know, in the political world, know a lot about him; average voters are still getting to know him.  And he wants to make sure that they don‘t just see him as a fresh face and hopeful.  Some of his rivals have said hope is not a policy.  He wants to go beyond it.

Number two, times have changed, but they have not changed that much.  Democrats still know they need to prove to the American public that they can keep them just as safe as Republicans can.  I think this is aimed at saying what happened with the war in Iraq is that we fought the wrong war.  Democrats are not against going and attacking our enemies, going and getting terrorists.  But we need to keep our eye on the ball. 

So, it‘s tough and strong.  Remember, this is what Democrats still need to be. 

BARNICLE:  Holly, talk to me about the cosmetics of the campaign.  You have been out there watching various candidates.  I was watching Senator Obama this morning talking about, you know, he will go into Pakistan if the Pakistanis won‘t.  We will do it.  We will get it done.  He clearly is trying to leave, as Chris pointed out, that impression that he is going to be tough on national security. 

HOLLY BAILEY, “NEWSWEEK”:  Absolutely.  This is really sort of going back to this debate that happened last week over experience.  You know, this is more of an effort to counter Hillary Clinton‘s comment that Barack Obama is naive when it comes to foreign policy.  He wants to be seen as a leader, and I think that is what the speech is all about today. 

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  I think Hillary is going to be all over this.  Pakistan has the nuclear bomb.  Going after them without their consent is pretty dangerous.  I think Hillary is going to bash Obama for this. 

BARNICLE:  Yes, I think Senator Dodd already is out of the blocks doing that. 

CILLIZZA:  Dodd and Richardson and Biden.  One thing I would say about that, however, is it does show you who is in that top tier when it comes to presidential candidates.  If you are the guy getting shot at, it probably means you‘re ahead in polling. 

BARNICLE:  That is true.  That‘s a good point, Chris.  That‘s why we have you here.  Next up, Michael Moore taking on Rudy Giuliani.  This week, Rudy Giuliani unveiled his health care plan, which attempts to lower costs and give states incentives to innovate, but not everybody is a fan.  Enter Michael Moore.  Here he is in an online video response to Mayor Giuliani.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL MOORE, DIRECTOR, “SICKO”:  All of those 9/11 heroes, a lot of them are suffering right.  A lot of them need medical care.  And you have refused to help them.  In fact, you have refused to even talk to them.  For three months now they have been trying to talk to you, our 9/11 heroes.  Could you please talk to them?  Could you please assist them?  Could you please do something for them? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BARNICLE:  Would you please tell me what your reaction is to that? 

FEEHERY:  I‘ll tell you, any time Michael Moore attacks Rudy Giuliani, it‘s great for him in the primary.  It‘s beautiful.  Republicans hate Michael Moore.  This is fantastic for Rudy Giuliani. 

BARNICLE:  How many voters out there do you think go see Michael Moore movies? 

FEEHERY:  Probably zero.  I mean, the guy is a bozo for most Republicans.  They can‘t stand him.  So for Rudy Giuliani, having this guy as your enemy, that‘s nothing but good things for Rudy Giuliani.  

BARNICLE:  Holly, is this something that Rudy Giuliani should wear on his sleeve?  He‘s getting attacked by Michael Moore?

BAILEY:  I think I agree.  I completely agree.  Having Michael Moore beating up on you is not the worst thing that could happen to Rudy Giuliani.  At the same time, you know, he is bringing up this whole firefighters scandal and that is something that Rudy wants to go away, frankly. 

BARNICLE:  Chris, the Giuliani campaign; do you think they are sitting there waiting for several other shoes to drop, “The Daily News,” the “New York Times,” continuing coverage of Rudy Giuliani as mayor of New York City, with the firefighters stuff and a whole bunch of other things, perhaps some of it his personal life? 

CILLIZZA:  Absolutely.  I think they know there are more hits to come.  Look, we didn‘t even mention this yet, but the “Vanity Fair” story that looks at Judith—don‘t call me Judy—Giuliani.  Look, that‘s not the kind of thing that Rudy Giuliani wants out there.  He knows that there is going to be a lot more looks—close looks at his life and his career as mayor. 

Everybody remembers him as America‘s mayor, the hero of September 11th.  The more that that sheen can be knocked off of him, the better chance people like Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson have of winning.  That is the core of Giuliani‘s campaign.  You see the firefighters, as Holly mentioned.  You see Michael Moore.  We‘re going to see more and more of that, that this guy may not be who you think he is, as Giuliani—

(CROSS TALK)

FEEHERY:  I think people know that Rudy Giuliani has got some warts and I think they still like him.  The reason they like him is because he cleaned up New York City.  He took care of the crime.  He cut taxes.  Republican primary voters like him, even though he‘s got warts, because he‘s—

BARNICLE:  Did you read the “Vanity Fair” piece? 

FEEHERY:  I can‘t wait to read it. 

BARNICLE:  They dropped a truck—Judy Bachrach dropped a truck on Mayor Giuliani‘s wife.  We‘ll be right back with our panel.  You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC..

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BARNICLE:  We are back with “Newsweek‘s” Holly Bailey, the “Washington Post‘s” Chris Cillizza and Republican strategist John Feehery.  Next up, can John McCain mount a come back?  In the latest issue of “Newsweek,” Holly Bailey, right here, writes about John McCain‘s efforts to jump-start his stalling, if not failing presidential campaign.  New campaign music from journey, crowd signs saying that Mac is back.  But can tactical changes really save him or are his problems on Iraq and illegal immigration simply deal breakers.  Holly, is he the comeback kid of 2008?  What is he doing?

BAILEY:  The campaign is trying to position him as that.  For one, he is sort of out there talking about the issues he did in 2000.  He is really making a point that he was never necessarily comfortable as the front runner.  But he is out there doing retail politicking, which he is very good at.  A lot of people in Washington are saying that he‘s dead.  We‘ve been on death watch for his campaign for a while now.  But up in New Hampshire last week, 200 people at a town hall on a Wednesday night.  No one got the memo up there. 

BARNICLE:  Chris, let me ask you; off of what Holly just said, two things strike me about the McCain campaign in New Hampshire.  I have been up there several times.  One is the level of vitriol toward him with regard to immigration among New Hampshire Republicans.  That is off the chart.  But the second thing that struck me, people really like this guy.  What happened here? 

CILLIZZA:  Look, I was at a town hall up in the north country in New Hampshire.  This was before John McCain had all the staff problems.  Most of the questions he got were on illegal immigration.  That said, I agree with you, Mike, that there is reservoir of good will there.  I think if John McCain is going to have any chance in this campaign, what he should probably do is focus the vast majority of his money, time on New Hampshire.  There is a connection there.  There is a reason he won by 19 points over the presumptive favorite, George W. Bush, in 2000.

Focus your time and energy there and hope that if you can surprise, win, come in second, you can use that to catapult yourself in South Carolina, Florida, and elsewhere.  I just don‘t think if he is going to put it on winning the Iowa caucuses, he has got the connection with the folks out in Iowa that‘s going to make that work. 

FEEHERY:  I thought the last song in the Sopranos was “Don‘t Stop Believing,” and I don‘t think that‘s coming back.  I am not sure about McCain either.  The problem, as Chris pointed out, immigration just killed him.  It just killed him.  And I think that‘s enough.

BARNICLE:  It is.  I agree with you.  But, you know, off of what Chris said, what Holly said and what my pathetic observances up there have been is that people want to continue liking John McCain.  And I don‘t know what happens in his campaign.  But in New Hampshire he‘s got something going there.  What do you think Holly? 

BAILEY:  I think I completely agree.  It‘s going to be difficult.  There is no question about it.  He has no money.  Ron Paul has more money than him.  At the same time, he is not the same kind of candidate as Mike Huckabee or Sam Brownback.  He can get a lot of stuff done without a lot of money.  

BARNICLE:  Holly Bailey, John Feehery, Chris Cillizza, thanks very much.  Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Our guests include Congressman Barney Frank, former Homeland Secretary Tom Ridge, and Tim Russert.  See you then.

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

END   

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

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