updated 8/16/2007 10:02:23 AM ET 2007-08-16T14:02:23

Guests: P.J. Crowley, Steve McMahon, Mike Huckabee

DAVID SHUSTER, HOST:  Are we headed towards war with Iran? 

Hello everybody, I‘m David Shuster sitting for Tucker Carlson. 

The United States has troops on Iran‘s eastern and western borders. 

There‘s an aircraft big (ph) carrier battle group in the Persian Gulf off the coast of Iran.  And today, Americans woke up to the front-page story in every major newspaper that the Bush administration is now preparing to label Iran‘s elite military branch, the Revolutionary Guards, as global terrorists. 

Iran‘s government has nuclear ambitions.  But is this the best way to convince Iran to stop them?  And why is the White House taking this arguably provocative action through an executive order instead of through an act of Congress?  Tonight, we will talk about it with a former Pentagon spokesman. 

Also tonight, campaign politics. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D-NY) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  If you‘re a family that is struggling and you don‘t have health care, well, you are invisible to this president.  If you‘re a single mom trying to find affordable child care so you can go to work, well, you‘re invisible too.  And I never thought I would see that our soldiers who serve in Iraq and Afghanistan would be treated as though they were invisible as well. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  The Bush-White House is calling Hillary Clinton‘s new ad outrageous and absurd.  But their latest elevation of Clinton‘s stature is only underscoring the idea the Republicans are eagerly conspiring to help make Clinton the Democratic nominee. 

Plus, on the Republican side, Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee is the man of the moment following his strong second place finish in the Iowa Straw Poll.  But instead of leveraging the spotlight with new fundraising efforts, he is holding more meetings than ever with members of the media.  Is Huckabee running for president or seeking a job as a cable television host?  We will ask him later in this hour. 

But, we begin tonight with the increasingly dramatic showdown between the Bush administration and the government of Iran.  Joining us now is P.J.  Crowley.  He is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.  He also served as a Deputy Pentagon spokesman during the Clinton administration. 

P.J., thanks for being with us. 

P.J. CROWLEY, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS:  David, a pleasure.

SHUSTER:  125,000 members are a part of this Iraq Revolutionary Guard.  Is this a smart approach to suddenly label a government entity as a global terrorist when the Bush administration has never done this before? 

CROWLEY:  Well, the IRGC has been the subject of sanctions already. 

Their security organization, some people have likened them to the mafia.  You know, they‘re somewhat like the Chinese military.  They have their hands in a lot of different cookie jars, including Mercedes-Benz franchise in Iran.  So, they are certainly sanctionable. 

The problem for the United States is that we have very limited economic relations with Iran going back 30 years, our relations have been frozen.  So, we will have to rely on the Europeans, the Russians, the Chinese.  So, the real question is not so much whether this is a good idea, but whether this is the first step in a process where you broaden U.N.  sanctions and then get the international cooperation that will be necessary to put pressure on Iran.

SHUSTER:  So, it sounds like, if I‘m hearing you correctly, that this is an effort really not so much designed or aimed at Iran but rather in all these businesses and financial institutions that are doing business with Iran. 

CROWLEY:  Well, both.  I mean, obviously, if you get Iran‘s attention, and the IRGC is related to the regime, it is related to the nuclear program, if you get their attention, then you have some political economic leverage that you can use for a diplomatic solution.  But—I think this is also a signal to the rest of the world, you don‘t want us to attack Iran, well then sanctions is the answer and we‘ll be looking to the Europeans in particular for greater cooperation.

SHUSTER:  It may be an effort to try to get the Europeans to cooperate in greater fashion, but it‘s also, a lot of people would argue, a situation where we‘re essentially raising the stakes.  And is that sort of provocation dangerous? 

CROWLEY:  It is, potentially dangerous.  Obviously, Iran has some leverage over us.  We have 170,000 troops in Iraq.  If Iran wants to help make life miserable for them even more than it is now, they can do that.  They have influence in Lebanon, they have influence in the Palestinian territories.  So, there is a danger here. 

But, clearly on the other side of the coin, we‘re moving towards a situation where you have to recognize whether it‘s five years, 10 years, Iran is on a path to a nuclear weapon.  We know what it‘s like to have Iran as a terrorist state, we lived with that for 25, 30 years.  But, Iran as a nuclear state would change the dynamics of the Middle East.  So, I think we need to use every weapon potentially in our arsenal, try and see if they will change course. 

SHUSTER:  One of political weapons the administration could use is to say that the entire United States is behind this.  I‘m wondering why didn‘t they go to the Congress—before Congress left, and say hey, we need to ratchet up the pressure, let‘s have a message from the entire United States government that this is appropriate?  By going through executive order, some would argue that Iran could just dismiss this as the Bush administration warmongering. 

CROWLEY:  Well, I mean—we have a sound and lengthy basis upon which to sanction Iran.  We‘re just adding one more entity to the list.  So I think there‘s a strong basis for doing this.

I mean, you know, the Bush administration isn‘t used to working with a Democratic Congress.  They don‘t trust a Democratic Congress.  I think if they have the means to do this themselves, that‘s why they‘ve chosen this route.

It remains to be seen.  The critical issues going forward, can the Bush administration, which has not played well in the diplomatic sand box, will they be able to makes their case to the U.N. and to critical nations such as China and Russia it‘s time to exert more influence on Iran?  Are then if Iran does say, OK, what do you want from us, are we willing to open a broader dialogue, a meaningful discussion with Iran on all of the issues, nuclear terrorism, other issues in the region.  And we‘ve not been willing to do that for five or six years.

SHUSTER:  You have great insights into how the Department of Defense operates.  Based on what you‘re hearing from your former contacts, if anything, how far along is the Bush administration as far as the actual war planning, if in fact, they were to choose to go in that direction? 

CROWLEY:  Well, our situation with Iran has been fixed since 1979.  So we have mature plans in terms of what we would try to do.  The real question is the efficacy of military action.  We don‘t really know how far along Iran is with their nuclear program.  They learned a lot from the Iraqis that put all their eggs in one basket in Osirak in the early ‘80s.  The Israelis knocked that out. 

I think you have to start with the basis that while military action is an option, military action is not going to solve the situation with Iran.  It has to be done diplomatically, politically, and hopefully we have a strategy to do that.

SHUSTER:  Given that Vice President Cheney, according to records, had suggested before the Iraq war that the way we could get into the Iraq war would be to essentially set up a provocation, a sort of trip wire—to have the Iraqis shoot at American pilots, shoot one down, or cross into Kuwait—some sort of fashion that you could then say, OK, now it‘s time to go to war. 

Given that record, do you believe that the Bush administration is being an honest broker in setting up this scenario? 

CROWLEY:  This is a danger.  Obviously, you know, if you look back, the IRGC was just involved in the kidnapping of British soldiers and sailors a few weeks ago, and that was resolved diplomatically.  Both sides decided to make sure they tamped down and it did not cross a line into a further provocation. 

We have to do the same thing. 

The question is, is the president true to his word?  He says he wants to solve this diplomatically, not militarily.  Hopefully, the sanctions regime, if it leads to more economic pressure, it gets Iran‘s attention.  We have to be willing to engage in that diplomacy and see if that will happen.

SHUSTER:  And I think the question and the jury is still out as to whether or not that effort at diplomacy, that that is really Bush administration‘s long-term goal. 

CROWLEY:  And this is the tension.  There‘s been great tension within the Bush administration since its existence.  Somewhat diplomacy, somewhat military action.  That remains unresolved today.

SHUSTER:  P.J. Crowley, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, also a former Pentagon spokesman.  Thank you very much. 

CROWLEY:  OK, David.

SHUSTER:  I appreciate it. 

Made in China doesn‘t sound too enticing these days following a rash of recalls.  The latest being a major recall by the toy maker Mattel.  Is it time to reconsider our global economy? 

And later, are Republicans trying to make Hillary Clinton their opponent in the presidential election?  We will explain.  You‘re watching MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  The resignation of Karl Rove has amplified the sense that George W. Bush is a lame duck president.  But fresh and dangerous challenges to U.S. foreign policy suggest not only that a lame duck administration would put the country in peril, but that President Bush retains plenty of his trademark will. 

Consider three developments.  First, there‘s the bold designation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a global terrorist organization, hardly the move of a lame duck.  Second, “The L.A. Times” reports that General David Petraeus will in September recommend redeploying some U.S. troops out of more peaceful areas in Iraq.  Sure the presumed lame duck administration will spin this recommendation as a victory. 

Finally, the Mattel toy company has recalled more than 18 million Chinese-manufactured children‘s toys.  Late this afternoon, the Chinese government announced it will send official delegations to the U.S. this month and next to discuss food and product safety.  The consumer scares imported from China represent a challenge to the administration to lead the American economy and its consumers through the perils of global economy and rising Chinese industrial power. 

Here to discuss the Bush administration strategies and effectiveness in these critical areas of foreign policy are Democratic strategist Steve McMahon and MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan. 

Pat, let‘s start with Iran, the designation of global terrorists. 

What‘s your reaction to this?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC ANALYST:  Well, I think the president‘s doing two things.  One, he‘s lined out a predicate if he ever has to go to war or attack.  But secondly, he‘s toughening the sanctions before he goes up to the U.N., tries to get the U.N. to really put tougher sanctions on Iran.  But clearly, moving up two ladders. 

I don‘t think the president has yet made the decision to attack, but the real question here, David, is does he have the authority, without the approval or authorization of Congress, to launch an attack on Iran, which would be an act of war, and which would get us into a third war in the Middle East.  And where is the Congress of the United States? 

SHUSTER:  Well, the Congress is silent.  I mean, you‘ve got Democrats, Steve, who suggest privately that the administration could go into Iran based on the war resolution that was used for Iraq.

STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  The president certainly has a wide range of latitude in these areas, and that‘s historical and traditional.  But I think the president is probably running outside of his leash on this one.  I mean, certainly, he‘s not doing such a good job in Iraq that we now need to open up a new front in Iran. 

And I think Pat‘s right.  I think he‘s trying to do two things.  First, he‘s trying to get—he‘s trying to get the U.N. to ratchet up the sanctions and he‘s trying to send a message that the United States is serious about the sanctions.  I think Congress would support him on that.

But the second thing he‘s doing is he‘s trying to create an opportunity or a back door, in case he wants to go attack Iran.  And I think Pat‘s right, I think the Congress of the United States is under the constitution of this country, the body that declares war, and that would be an act of war. 

SHUSTER:  So it‘s fair to say both of you are troubled by the fact that he made this announcement or he‘s making it by executive order instead of by going to Capitol Hill? 

MCMAHON:  Absolutely. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, I‘m not too troubled except in this sense: We all

know that Cheney wants strikes on the Al Quds Force.  The Israelis want

strikes on Iran.  The neoconservatives are hammering it.  Podhoretz has a -

you know, he‘s praying for the bombing of Iran.  He‘s first adviser to Rudy Giuliani.

So there‘s a war party in this city and in this country that wants an attack on Iran.  And the problem, David, is that the Congress of the United States was about to vote on a resolution saying, Mr. Bush, in the absence of an imminent attack from Iran, you‘ve got no authority to attack Iran.  And they pulled it off the table. 

So I think the president and Cheney feel, with some justification, that the Congress has really given them a wave, go ahead if you want to.  And if we don‘t know about it, all the better. 

SHUSTER:  One of the waves has also been on Iraq.  It seems like Congress sort of fell short of what they could have done before they left.  General Petraeus said today, told reporters that he‘s going to recommend redeploying some troops out of peaceful areas.  But he said, “I think that everyone understands that by about a year from now, we‘ve got to be a good bit smaller than we are now.”  A year from now? 

MCMAHON:  Yes, I think—you know, the interesting thing is, there have been Democrats that have been recommending a redeployment for some time now.  Maybe the president—and the president‘s own Iraq security—or the Iraq Study Group actually recommended a redeployment.  Maybe he‘ll finally listen. 

But I think the redeployment the American people are most interested in is not one that moves around the chess pieces and plays whack-a-mole in a different part of Iraq.  They want a redeployment that brings the troops home, and I think the Democrats in Congress are going to continue pushing until they see some action on that front. 

SHUSTER:  Well, the other problem, Pat, I mean, is that you can move troops out of certain areas, like, I mean, that area in northern Iraq was relatively peaceful along the Syrian border, and there were all these suicide attacks yesterday, 250 Iraqis killed, several hundred more injured.

I mean, you can‘t simply—there‘s no plan in place to put U.S.  troops protecting the border, either with Syria or with other parts of the Iraqi border. 

BUCHANAN:  Well, I think that‘s right.  I think what Petraeus is saying, though, is what I think the president‘s got in mind.  I don‘t believe this Congress, which voted for warrantless wiretaps, has got the nerve to set a hard deadline and overturn the president‘s veto or cut off funding for the war. 

So I think the president‘s going to win the battle this fall, and Petraeus is.  But I think they‘re going to give something, and that is as we got it now sort of moving the troops out of harm‘s way into various places in Iraq.  We‘ve got over 160,000 there. 

But I do think politically, the Republican pressure and Republican demands are more than anything else getting to the president.  They‘re saying, Mr. President, we‘re going to back you up, but you can‘t have 150,000 people there next November, or we‘re all—your whole party is going down to defeat, and the Democrats will have everything anyway. 

SHUSTER:  Pat, I want to tee one up for you before we end this segment.  China -- 80 percent of our toys are coming from China.  There are all these recalls because the toys apparently have lead paint.  How do we deal with it? 

BUCHANAN:  How do you deal with it?  I‘ll tell you, you‘ve got a hellish problem.  You know, China now has 1.3 trillion in reserves.  Now, you throw sanctions on China, you throw tariffs on them—which I recommended long—a while ago—and they will take $300 billion in U.S.  T bills, and put them in the world market in retaliation. 

You‘ve got a mutual assured destruction situation right here.  I do think we‘ve got to hit the Chinese hard on it.  They‘re hitting themselves, incidentally.  They shot the head of their FDA, and the head of the toy thing, I think, that exported them, he hanged himself.  So they play hardball over there but I think—I do not think we‘re going to impose those sanctions, I think—I mean, the tariffs.  Bush would veto that.

I do think the American people will get behind tougher pressure on them to take a look at what they‘re sending into this country.

SHUSTER:  And real quickly, Steve, Chuck Schumer said we should have an import czar.  Is that a wise idea?

MCMAHON:  Well, there are six federal agencies now that are responsible for trying to keep bad things out of America.  And it seems that those six federal agencies aren‘t talking to one another, so what Senator Schumer proposed is a streamline process that would have a single office under the Department of Commerce.  It seems to make sense, and at a minimum, you need to get the six agencies working a little bit more closely together, because this just can‘t continue.

SHUSTER:  Steve and Pat are staying with us, but coming up next, Hillary Clinton comes out swinging against the Bush administration in her latest campaign ad, telling Americans they‘re invisible to the president.  Surprise, surprise, the White House is none too pleased.

Plus, speaking of none too pleased, Karl Rove is keeping busy during his last two weeks at the White House, giving interviews to friendly reporters, and Hillary Clinton is one of his targets.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  Senator Hillary Clinton‘s new campaign ad says military vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are invisible to President Bush.  The White House wasted no time firing back at Clinton, despite the fact that they cannot run against her in the next election—or can they?

Just two days after announcing he will resign at the end of the month, Karl Rove appeared on Rush Limbaugh‘s radio program today and lambasted Clinton, calling her comments “over the top” and “egregious,” and citing her vote against the surge into Baghdad. 

Rove may be leaving the White House, but now many are wondering if his departure will just give him more time to run a swift boat campaign against Senator Clinton. 

Back with their thoughts are Democratic strategist Steve McMahon and MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan. 

Steve, what is the White House up to?  Are they deliberately trying to make Hillary Clinton the nominee?

MCMAHON:  I don‘t know, but it certainly has that effect.  I mean, any time you‘re running for president and you‘re fighting with the president, it elevates you.  It doesn‘t elevate the White House.  And so, you know, poor Barack Obama is sitting there saying, hey, what about me?  What about me?  And Hillary Clinton is in a back-and-forth with the White House and with Karl Rove.  It couldn‘t be better for her. 

And frankly, the more she‘s fighting with Karl Rove, the more partisan Democrats are going to be saying, maybe she‘s the fighter that we need next fall. 

BUCHANAN:  I split it a bit.  Hillary—the ad is an excellent ad, but you don‘t say the president of the United States doesn‘t give a hoot about the armed forces of the United States and the soldiers, and Hillary was slammed on that.  And that will hurt her in the center, because I think a lot of people will say, look, that‘s just going too far. 

And she does help herself on the left, I agree.  You‘re in a fight with the president of the United States.  And the left wing of the Democratic Party, there‘s nothing—they want to impeach Bush crowd—loves this. 

I think Hillary was—got a break in the fact that Rove went after her, because Rove‘s a political guy.  And so she comes at him, he‘s after me.  That‘s excellent.  But I think her ad, when you say that—and the White House helped itself I think to some degree, because a lot of Republicans would say, even those who disagree with Bush, that‘s an outrageous thing to say, the president of the United States doesn‘t care about the vets coming home.

MCMAHON:  On the other hand, though, Pat, I mean, if you step back, anyone who is reading the stories about Walter Reed that have appeared in “The Washington Post,” that have been covered widely on this network, have to wonder whether or not the president is as committed to the wounded vets coming home as he is to sending them off to war.  I mean, he‘s very, very good at loading them up on a plane and sending them over to Iraq, but when they get home, they don‘t always find the care and treatment... 

BUCHANAN:  Well, Walter Reed is a real scandal, but I couldn‘t say this president of the United States—I think the war was a mistake—I couldn‘t say this president of the United States doesn‘t care about those guys coming back. 

MCMAHON:  She didn‘t say he doesn‘t care...

SHUSTER:  Well, the issue now...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  ... they‘re invisible to him.

SHUSTER:  The issue now is moving away from what her ad said, and again to the fact that the White House and Hillary are in a battle. 

I mean, let‘s take a look at the sound today of Hillary Clinton reacting to what Karl Rove was saying about her.  Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK:  Today, Karl Rove attacked me again.  I feel so lucky that I now am giving them such heartburn. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Again, it seems like Hillary and the White House are in cahoots on this.  This serves both of their interests.  The White House gets to try to slam Hillary, possibly make her the nominee.  Hillary gets to use the White House to elevate her own stature. 

MCMAHON:  It‘s perfect.  It‘s perfect if you‘re a Hillary supporter. 

BUCHANAN:  This one is good for both of them.  There is no downside. 

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Rove, you can‘t damage him anymore.  And Hillary—and Hillary in a fight with Karl Rove—I mean, every Democrat and, frankly, here‘s a place where even some Republicans are saying, maybe Hillary‘s got a point, maybe Rove ought to go home. 

SHUSTER:  One of the points that you made earlier for us, Hillary‘s used the language—last week, during the Democratic forum, which was carried on MSNBC, we had a fact check segment, and we took issue with Hillary saying that the Bush administration, that as far as rebuilding New Orleans, she would put somebody in charge who actually cares.  And we said, it‘s fine to argue that the policy‘s wrong, but for a candidate to say that the Bush administration doesn‘t care about New Orleans strikes us as going too far.  The e-mail that flooded in, making Steve‘s point, that, oh, no, judge them by their actions.  But again, she does have a bit of a problem with language, doesn‘t she? 

BUCHANAN:  I think, listen, you make a very good point, again.  In the left wing of the Democratic Party, this works fine.  But most Americans are going to say, you know, Bush delayed, he was asleep at the switch, he‘s down at his ranch.  But don‘t say the president of the United States doesn‘t care about Americans suffering in New Orleans.  Maybe they‘re not running it well, but you can‘t say the man doesn‘t care. 

I think that hurts her in the center.  And she wants to hold that that center.  Her whole campaign is premised on the idea that she‘s going to win that nomination, and she wants to be in the center after she‘s nominated. 

I think these things, where you attack the president‘s character and whether he cares, whether he‘s a wicked person, that helps you with the left, not with the center. 

MCMAHON:  Well, hold on a second, because—I‘m sorry...

SHUSTER:  Well, let‘s hold this thought.

MCMAHON:  We need to go to a break?

SHUSTER:  We‘re going to go to a break.  And I know you‘ve got some choice things...

(CROSSTALK)

SHUSTER:  I know you‘ve got some choice things to say about Karl Rove which we‘re going to get to on the other side of this break, believe me. 

MCMAHON:  We‘ll be here.

SHUSTER:  Of course, he thought it.  It‘s one of the reasons why he‘s running for president, but now Barack Obama is actually saying it.  What is it?  We‘ll tell you when we come back. 

Plus, Dick Cheney is the most liked person in the Bush administration, but is it more of his leadership that we really need? 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MARKET REPORT)

SHUSTER:  Well, it took Karl Rove about 48 hours from the time he resigned his White House job until he started something of a press tour.  Rove talked to “The Politico‘s” Mike Allen for the website‘s morning post, and this afternoon, as you heard, the so called architect of the Bush administration visited with Rush Limbaugh on nationally syndicated radio. 

Combative from beyond his executive branch grave, Rove continues to criticize Hillary Clinton as fatally flawed and Congressional Democrats, whom he says overestimated their victory in last November‘s election. 

Is there anything to learn from Karl Rove‘s post White House press tour?  Here once again to answer that question and several others are Democratic strategist Steve McMahon and MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan.

Steve, I want to start with you.  Karl Rove also said today of President Bush, history will judge him kindly.  Look at what he has done.  When most Americans look at what he‘s done, even if they disagree about whether we should have gone to war, most people agree that the first three and a half years of this war was horribly mismanaged. 

MCMAHON:  Yes, and I think the legacy that the president‘s going to have to live with is going to war when we shouldn‘t have gone, not being honest about the intelligence and why we were going, and mismanaging it to the point of—it if it weren‘t so serious it would be funny, seriously. 

BUCHANAN:  I think it all depends on how Iraq comes out.  If it comes out well, I think the president might have a better shot at history.  It doesn‘t look very good right now.  He‘s going to say we did the tax cuts.  We did change the Supreme Court somewhat.  We got No Child Left Behind.  We did the Medicare thing.  The economy was good all the way through, at least until the end. 

MCMAHON:  We spent the surplus.  We created new deficits. 

BUCHANAN:  Those things don‘t really—the deficit—look at Ronald

Reagan.  He said—he came back to town and said, I came to town to do

five things.  I did four of them.  That‘s not bad.  The deficit was the one

forget that stuff. 

SHUSTER:  You can‘t forget the deficit within that last segment, Pat. 

You were talking about China and the amount of debt that they own of the United States.

BUCHANAN:  Listen, I think coming down the road—look, let me tell you something, coming down the road is the collapse of the American dollar.  We ran a 800 billion dollar trade deficit last year.  The Japanese—all these countries are piling up enormous sums of money.  They‘re putting them into equity funds.  And they‘re going to start buying up our corporations.  Bush will be gone then.

SHUSTER:  I want to show you a funny clip, at least I thought it was funny.  Watch Karl Rove on Rush Limbaugh and see if you caught the details that I caught.  Watch this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARL ROVE, FORMER WHITE HOUSE SENIOR ADVISER:  The people that I see criticizing them are, you know, sort of elite snobs who can‘t hold a candle to this guy.  He is—What they don‘t like about him is that he has common sense, that he is middle America. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  How ironic is that?  He‘s calling Democrats elite effete snobs when there‘s Rush Limbaugh smoking a nice cigar, wearing a golf shirt.  There was another video where you can see the nice watch that he‘s wearing.  Who is the snob in this case, Pat? 

BUCHANAN:  The effete core of impotent snobs is a lift straight from Spiro T. Agnew.  That was one of his first --  

MCMAHON:  Pat probably wrote it. 

BUCHANAN:  It‘s an exact lift from Spiro Agnew.  But look, I think Rove is unleashed.  I‘m not sure he‘s doing a great deal of good, frankly, because, look, he‘s considered a very partisan guy.  He‘s a political guy.  I think when Hillary gets in a battle with him and ridicules him, it helps her.  But he‘s unleashed.  The guy‘s been beat up a long time, cut him some slack, let him fight back a little bit, Steve. 

SHUSTER:  I‘m going to issue a challenge to Karl.  I love Mike Allen dearly.  He‘s a very polite guy, a polite reporter.  Rush Limbaugh, of course, was teeing it up for Karl Rove.  If Karl Rove is a man, if he‘s a man and he believe so strongly that Democrats are elite snobs and he believes so strongly that the Bush legacy is terrific, he ought to come on a show like this one, answer some questions about Scooter Libby, answer some questions about what was really going on with this spying program, and about the way this administration decided to use executive orders instead of talk to the people back there. 

MCMAHON:  What he also ought to do—Imagine if you are a member of Congress and you‘ve been trying get Karl Rove to come up and explain some things for a long time and he‘s hiding behind executive privilege.  Now he‘s sitting on the Rush Limbaugh show.  I presume he will continue his tour.

BUCHANAN:  On the executive privilege things, that‘s one I support the president 100 percent.  Congress has no business—Karl Rove, if he said fire those eight guys.  I don‘t like their looks, and neither does the president, he‘s got a perfect to do it.  Congress has got nothing to do with U.S. attorneys.   

MCMAHON:  They can‘t lie about it. 

BUCHANAN:  He hasn‘t testified under oath, how could he lie? 

MCMAHON:  You know, Pat.  You can fire these guys for any reason or no reason.  Absolutely agreed.  But what you can‘t do is not tell the truth to Congress. 

(CROSS TALK)

BUCHANAN:  The perjury investigation, call a special prosecutor, indict somebody and call him over into the Grand Jury. 

(CROSS TALK)

SHUSTER:  Here‘s the—look, here‘s the problem as I see it.  He‘s asserting a claim of executive privilege that the courts rejected during the Clinton administration.  He is saying, and the White House is saying, you cannot ask Karl Rove about his conversations with the people who worked with him.  Nobody in the Lewinsky scandal wanted to ask President Clinton about conversations between aides and President Clinton.  The members of Congress have already say they‘re not going to ask Karl Rove about his conversations with the president. 

(CROSS TALK)

SHUSTER:  They cannot get it to court because they‘re not allowing the U.S. attorney in D.C. to bring contempt charges for this crazy claim of executive privilege, which has never been upheld by the courts.  The claim they‘re asserting has never been up held. 

BUCHANAN:  It looks to me like Bush wins.

SHUSTER:  He wins because he‘s got a U.S. attorney in his back pocket. 

BUCHANAN:  Look, when the president takes one stand and Congress takes another, you‘re telling me that I‘m going to go against the guy that appointed me and go with Harry Reid.  You‘re kidding. 

SHUSTER:  My point is, if you can argue executive privilege, fine.  Argue executive privilege.  He‘s entitled not to testify about his conversations with the president.  He‘s saying no, you can‘t talk to me or my aides about conversations with each when—

(CROSS TALK) 

BUCHANAN:  Fred Fielding is saying it.

SHUSTER:  He‘s wrong.  He‘s wrong. 

BUCHANAN:  Take Fred Fielding to court.  Shuster vs. Fielding. 

SHUSTER:  We‘ll try.  Let‘s move on, now that we settled that—

(CROSS TALK)

SHUSTER:  Fred Fielding, you too have an invitation to come on this program. 

MCMAHON:  Read that Supreme Court decision before you come.  

SHUSTER:  Let‘s talk about Barack Obama.  In an interview with the “Washington Post,” he said that I believe I can bring the country together more effectively than she can, referring to Hillary Clinton.  Obama said something sort of similar the other night at the Democratic forum.  But when you sit down to with the “Washington Post,” in my estimation it‘s a much more calculated strategy and theme. 

This was much more calculated to portray Hillary Clinton as the past. 

Smart strategy?

MCMAHON:  He needs to draw some distinctions between himself and Hillary Clinton because he‘s about 20 points behind at this point.  Although in Iowa and the early primary states, it‘s a very, very close race.  To the extent that people are looking for an alternative to Hillary Clinton, it probably is because of what they perceive as the ideological gridlock and the partisan warfare occurred during the time that President Clinton was in the White House. 

That may or may not be an accurate or fair representation of what the record is, but that‘s what he‘s trying to tap into. 

BUCHANAN:  He‘s right.  Look, Obama‘s strategy‘s not working.  Hillary is rising slowly.  He‘s falling slowly.  You‘ve got to change it.  He‘s got to go after her.  It‘s a calculated cold political decision.  Let‘s go after her and engage her in a battle.  I agree.  Nationally he‘s not making it. 

He‘s still got a fighting chance in those first three states.  They could be everything.  If he can win Iowa and New Hampshire, I think he explodes.  He‘s decided, OK, let‘s take the gloves off.  The high road ain‘t doing it anymore. 

SHUSTER:  The other person who is going after Hillary Clinton over the same issue of Washington special interests and connections between the Clintons is John Edwards.  But the person who has been the hottest on the campaign trail lately is his wife Elizabeth Edwards.  She talked about universal health care.  She said Hillary Clinton does not have the political will and Barack Obama‘s plan would leave 15 million people uninsured without coverage. 

How does a campaign respond to the Edwards campaign when there‘s the wife of a candidate who‘s battling cancer who is making these charges? 

MCMAHON:  You ignore it.

BUCHANAN:  You don‘t respond to her.  But I‘ll say this, in a way this also helps Hillary in this sense: Hillary‘s worst nightmare is to have Edwards drop out and to have the non-Hillary, anti-Hillary vote suddenly move, the Edwards vote—which is on the left wing of the party.  That will move largely to Obama.  So the fact that Edwards is staying in and she‘s being hit over there doesn‘t hurt her that badly at all. 

I think everybody cuts Mrs. Edwards some slack.  And Steve is exactly right, you do not respond. 

MCMAHON:  Hillary Clinton was actually much more vulnerable back when she was at 30 or 32 percent, because at that point 68 percent were looking for somebody else.  She‘s now inching up in these national polls, close to 50 percent.  If she gets over 50 percent, then she has as much as the entire combined field.  And then she‘s in pretty good shape. 

BUCHANAN:  She‘s urging Biden and Dodd and Kucinich and the whole gang stay in there fellows, don‘t quit, don‘t quit.  

MCMAHON:  One of you is going to be secretary of state.

SHUSTER:  We‘ve talked to Joe Trippi, and he has said that the Edwards campaign has to do well in Iowa.  Underscoring that, they moved some staffers today from Nevada into Iowa. 

BUCHANAN:  That‘s because Nevada has been moved to the—it‘s the 19th of January.  So now it‘s the same day as South Carolina and Nevada‘s out. 

SHUSTER:  But it also sounds like the Edwards campaign, they‘re trailing in money.  They are trailing in national polls.  They have to come out of Iowa with a victory. 

BUCHANAN:  They‘ve got to come out with a victory or he‘s a goner. 

Unless he comes in a very close second and Obama is a distant third, and Hillary wins.  But if Obama wins or Hillary wins, he‘s got to be right second there, or first or he‘s gone. 

MCMAHON:  His best shots is Iowa.  That‘s the state he‘s supposed to win.  If he can‘t win there, the question is where can he win?  I think he actually needs a win in Iowa.  I‘m not sure second place.

BUCHANAN:  I think he needs a win too, if you had to push me. 

SHUSTER:  Pat Buchanan and Steve McMahon, thank you both for coming. 

We appreciate it.  Pat, feisty as always.  Steve—

MCMAHON:  That challenge is still out there. 

SHUSTER:  Steve and Pat are my witnesses to this. 

MCMAHON:  Maybe we can come back and, you know --  

SHUSTER:  Three on one.  You guys are all invited.  It‘s going to be fun for everybody.  Two quick programming notes, Karl Rove will be on NBC‘s “Meet The Press” on Sunday.  Check your local listing to see what time you can catch it.  Perhaps he thought, it‘s time to go into the snake pit.  Karl Rove, if you‘re going on with Tim Russert, you better be prepared.

John Edwards will be on HARDBALL with Chris Matthews, tonight at 7:00 Eastern, right here on MSNBC. 

Mike Huckabee was born in Hope, Arkansas.  He‘s also the former governor.  Sounds quite familiar to one of our former presidents.  Could Mike Huckabee be closer to the presidency than people think? 

Plus, a former Major League Baseball player goes absolutely berserk on the field.  What caused him to freak out?  Our washed up athlete correspondent Willie Geist has the details.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHUSTER:  Eleven years ago when Mike Huckabee was lieutenant governor of Arkansas, yours truly was a political reporter in Little Rock.  The state Capitol was the scene of one of the most dramatic political moments in Arkansas history.  Bill Clinton‘s successor as governor, Jim Tucker, was convicted of criminal charges in a Whitewater trial. 

Then, after saying he would resign, Tucker suddenly changed course and said he would not leave office until his appeals were exhausted.  Amidst the confusion, chaos and anger, Mike Huckabee addressed at a statewide television audience and national audience watching on MSNBC.  Huckabee spoke with no prepared text and no teleprompter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. MIKE HUCKABEE ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It is my hope and prayer that Mr. Tucker will, in fact, have to my desk at 9:00 in the morning a letter of resignations in which there are no qualifications, no ifs ands or buts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Within hours, Jim Guy Tucker decided to resign as planned.  Mike Huckabee was sworn in as governor.  And those of us who witnessed those events in Little Rock were convinced that Huckabee had skills that would eventually carry him beyond the governor‘s mansion.  Mike Huckabee joins us now.  Thanks for being with us. 

HUCKABEE:  Thank you very much, David.  It‘s great seeing you again.

SHUSTER:  It‘s great to see you.  It has been quite a ride for you these last 11 years.  Those of us who have been following have always said that this is a guy who has incredible political skills, is able to articulate himself in a way that a lot of other people can‘t.  But that‘s not enough to win the presidential nomination, is it?

HUCKABEE:  It‘s not.  You have to have ideas of substance.  People have to know that you‘re speaking not just to them.  They have to know that you‘re speaking for them, that you‘ve lived the life and experience that they themselves have lived.  And that you bring to the public policy arena ideas that are really going to touch their lives when they sit around the dinner table at night. 

SHUSTER:  The other issue I was getting at was money.  You need money, right?

HUCKABEE:  You need a lot of money, yes.

SHUSTER:  Why then, after coming in second place in Iowa, in the straw poll, and doing so well, and getting so much attention, you spent most of today meeting with reporters in Washington restaurants and raising money? 

instead of raising money? 

HUCKABEE:  Well, we‘re actually raising money.  In fact, our Internet hits have been dramatic.  I spent all day yesterday on the telephone, a whole lot of Monday.  We‘ll be busy raising funds now for the next several weeks.  The good thing is people that wouldn‘t even take my calls a week ago are now calling me. 

That‘s the good news.  We feel like what needed to happen for us happened on Saturday.  A lot of people finally realized, if we could do that well without resources, which we didn‘t have, imagine what we could do even with modest resources.  So it‘s a new day for us. 

SHUSTER:  Let‘s talk about a couple issues; Iran.  The president is labeling Iran‘s elite military branch as global terrorists.  The Bush administration is doing that through executive order.  Do you agree?

HUCKABEE:  I think their government certainly is involved in terrorism.  They‘re not only involved in Iraq.  They‘re involved with efforts in the Gaza Strip.  They‘ve been involved in Lebanon.  I think their hands are all over the world, wherever they can be. 

It‘s unfortunate that not all of the Iranian people are terrorists and involved in it.  But the Iranian government largely is. 

SHUSTER:  But would you support the Bush administration launching air strikes on Iran today, if that‘s what the administration decided to do? 

HUCKABEE:  I think we have to have a strong justification, showing that not only have we established targets that are clearly intended to be hurtful to us—or if Iran has established some nuclear capacity that could be weaponized, that certainly would be justification. 

SHUSTER:  Let‘s talk about Iraq.  You support keeping the troops there, right?

HUCKABEE:  I do.  In fact, even today General Petraeus is giving us more signs that things are improving.  Many people who were ready to drain the tub before the baby got the bath early in July now realize that the Senate sent him over there with a September deadline, not a July deadline.  And it looks like some of the members of Congress have a hard time taking yes for an answer. 

I‘m amazed.  General Petraeus—even the “New York Times” has come forth and said things are improving.  Is it perfect?  No, but it‘s improving and we need to give him a chance to really make it work. 

SHUSTER:  But if getting—if having it work is so important, why not pay for the Iraq war up front, instead of this mounting debt, which is going to be put on your children and your grand children, and future generations?

HUCKABEE:  That‘s a decision I‘m not sure I fully understand, other than it creates some sort of budget gimmick that doesn‘t make us really feel the impact right now.  But you‘re right, if it is passed on to the future generations, that‘s problematic and we do need to let the American people know what this is really costing. 

SHUSTER:  Let‘s talk about Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.  He‘s getting more authority than ever.  A lot of people suggest that he should resign because of all the scandals at the Justice Department.  Do you agree? 

HUCKABEE:  It‘s the president‘s call.  I said early on in a lot of this that when a member of a cabinet becomes a distraction, and really takes away from the president‘s ability to lead, then you would think that perhaps the individual would say, Mr. President, I can better serve you off the stage rather than on the stage.  Again, that‘s the president‘s call. 

I think we‘re at that point where the spotlight needs be taken away from the controversy around the attorney general. 

SHUSTER:  You‘re in much better shape physically now than you were 11 years ago, when we saw each other in Arkansas.  Would you support sin taxes as a way of trying to change American habits, in other words give people credits for going to the gym?  Give them taxes for alcohol, tobacco, fried foods?

HUCKABEE:  I like the idea of incentives for good behavior better than I do penalties for hurtful behavior.  In the long term, people are going to rebel.  They‘re going to bow up if you tell them what they can‘t do.  If you give them an incentive or a reward for doing what they should do, they‘re more likely to do it.  I know from experience.

SHUSTER:  Mike Huckabee, governor of Arkansas, former governor, who finished in second place in the Iowa straw poll.  He‘s the man with momentum.  And as those of us know who have been covering him for so many years, you ignore him at your own political peril.  Mike, thanks for coming in.

HUCKABEE:  Thank you, David. 

SHUSTER:  Russian President Vladimir Putin skins it off during a fishing trip with a foreign dignitary.  Was it a show of Russian might or just an indication of the country‘s sagging power.  Our topless diplomacy expert Willie Geist will be here with the answer when we come back.  You‘re watching MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK):

SHUSTER:  And now the segment that everybody, including Mike Huckabee, has been waiting for all day long, Willie Geist.  Willie, take it away. 

WILLIE GEIST, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Mike Huckabee is the man.  If he says so, I‘ll do it.  David, you mentioned that I was a washed up athlete correspondent earlier in the show.  I don‘t know what you were implying, but I take exception.  I can still dunk a basketball.  If that‘s washed up to you, I can‘t help you. 

Over the hill, David, 38-year-olds who have been Major League All-Stars, but who are now playing for peanuts in the minors tend to be a little bitter.  If you don‘t believe me, check out these pictures.  Jose Offerman, who played in the big leagues for 15 years, was an all-star in 1995, went nuts during a minor league game last night. 

After he was hit by a pitch, Offerman ran at Bridgeport Bluefish pitcher Matt Beech and started swinging his bat.  He broke the pitcher‘s middle finger with the bat and then hit the catcher in the head with it before he was subdued.  Offerman was arrested and charged with two counts of second degree assault.  He was led away from the ballpark in handcuffs. 

Meanwhile, that catcher who was hit in the head tried to stay in the game.  But he complained of nausea and later collapsed in the dugout.  He was taken to the hospital, but thank goodness he is now released.  David, I guess this is as good a time as any for Jose to hang up the old spikes I think. 

SHUSTER:  The lucky thing is that, since he‘s in the minor leagues, he probably swung and missed. 

GEIST:  This is a classic case of a guy hanging on too long.  Go into retirement.  You made some money in the majors.  That‘s enough.  I don‘t think he will have that choice.  I am feeling he will be forced out of the league. 

On yesterday‘s show, David, I introduced my unscientific theory that we are living in an era of unprecedented criminal stupidity.  The inspiration was this guy, a man who wrapped his head in duct tape to hide his identity during an unsuccessful robbery attempt in Kentucky.  Not only did he not get any money, but he was openly mocked by the manager of the store he was trying to hold up. 

Today, more fuel for my argument.  This clown you‘re looking at on surveillance video here tried to hold up a gas station just outside Fort Myers, Florida while wearing a mop on his head.  That‘s a mop on his head.  He walked up to the clerk and demanded money.  The clerk apparently was so confused and confused long enough that the mop-headed idiot got frustrated and left empty handed. 

That‘s pretty lame.  The idea of a disguise, for all you would-be robbers, is to conceal your identity, the face.  The mop hair doesn‘t really help you that much. 

SHUSTER:    Willie, that looks a lot like your Halloween outfit last year. 

GEIST:  I like dressing up like women.  What can I say?  I think that still comes in third place behind the duct tape guy and this guy, the tree branch robber from New Hampshire.  He concealed himself with some tree branches as he tried to rob a bank.  Still playing for third place in that one. 

David, I personally usually against made up holidays that force us to buy greeting cards at the last minute.  But I think we ought to consider making room for a new Russian holiday.  It‘s called the Day of Conception.  A declining population and low birth rate have become areas of national concern in Russia.  So one region of the country is doing something about it. 

The local government is giving its citizens the day off from work on September 12th so that they can stay home and, well, procreate.  The hope is to create a baby boom on Russia‘s national holiday which is June 12th.  Couples that give birth to a baby on that day will win prizes that include money, cars and refrigerators. 

SHUSTER:  Why refrigerators? 

GEIST:  I don‘t know.  David, I don‘t know what it says about the collective sex drive of the Russian people that it takes a refrigerator to get them in bed with someone else.  That‘s just not good.  Maybe there really is a problem there. 

SHUSTER:  Willie, you should go over there and show them how it‘s done. 

GEIST:  I think so, David.  We all know that.  Finally, Russian President Vladimir Putin didn‘t do much to put his people in the mood for that conception when he went shirtless during a fishing trip in Siberia this week.  Putin opted for the Rambo look, as you can see there, wearing camouflage pants, combat boots, a knife on his belt and an off-putting scowl on his face that you can see there. 

He‘s taking the vacation with Prince Albert of Monaco.  The two have been doing some topples fishing.  They have gone rafting together and they have held meetings in a riverside tent.  Now, I didn‘t see the movie and I don‘t mean to suggest anything, but isn‘t this a shot for a remake of “Brokeback Mountain?”  Isn‘t that what we‘re looking at there?

Prince Albert of Monaco and Vladimir Putin just kind of lost in the hills of Siberia, fishing by the river without their shirts on. 

SHUSTER:  I‘m noticing Vladimir Putin has a scowl on his face, but strangely the prince there had a pretty big smile.  Maybe something was—

GEIST:  Yes, I‘m not sure what‘s going on.  It also represents, David, a disturbing trend, world leaders going shirtless.  We saw French President Nicolas Sarkozy on vacation in New Hampshire last week without his shirt on.  I just hope our president stays fully clothed for the remainder of his administration. 

SHUSTER:  Willie, you‘re the best. 

GEIST:  All right, David, good to have you with us. 

SHUSTER:  And for more of Willie Geist, check out his Zeit Geist video blog at ZeitGeist.MSNBC.com.  That does it for us.  John Edwards is on HARDBALL, which is starting right now.

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

END   

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