updated 8/30/2007 11:31:19 AM ET 2007-08-30T15:31:19

Guests: Douglas Brinkley, Gary Bauer, Frank Gaffney, Jon Soltz, Jill Zuckman, Dana Milbank

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Craig‘s list.  Larry‘s got a name for his pain now, McCain.  First he blamed the newspapers, then he blamed the gay groups, then he blamed the cop.  Can he blame the Republican Senators led by McCain who now want him to go?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Our top story, obviously, tonight: President Bush resides in a political bunker, the downfall of his party driven by every movement of the body politic.  Just 48 hours ago, he gave up his pal, Alberto Gonzales, to the political wolves.  Yesterday he watched in awe as yet another warrior of the cultural right was caught in the spotlight of public illegal sexual misconduct, misconduct against which his party has mounted a chest-thumping, full-throated campaign, a campaign of words that once again has not been underwritten by actions.  Even their holiest colleagues are now forced to acknowledge that the public indecency of Senator Craig has exposed the sub-prime Republican morality of those who have dared to rate themselves as culturally conservative.

Our second story tonight: Christian conservatives have stood by Republicans in good times and bad, but will the social conservatives desert the party in 2008?  And political potty—lots of bathroom humor from the late night comics last night on the Senator Craig scandal.

Plus, the only Army officer charged in the Abu Ghraib scandal has just been cleared of abuse charges.  So who‘s responsible for the crimes of Abu Ghraib, and did the grunts take the fall for the Pentagon brass?  That‘s our HARDBALL debate tonight.

But we begin tonight with HARDBALL‘s David Shuster and his report on the tough times right now facing the Grand Old Party.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  In the midst of a horrific week for his White House and his party, today in New Orleans, President Bush tried to show a happy face while staring at another challenge, the two-year anniversary of the destruction from Katrina.

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Hurricane Katrina broke through the levees.  It broke a lot of hearts.  It destroyed buildings.  But it didn‘t affect the spirit of a lot of citizens.

SHUSTER:  On that point, the president is correct.  Two years ago, residents stuck for days at the New Orleans Convention Center were so angry at the lack of any government response that their spirited cries haunted the nation and sent the president‘s approval rates tumbling.  And while the White House is trying to put the focus on the ongoing recovery, thousands of Gulf Coast residents still live in FEMA trailers, large parts of New Orleans are still uninhabitable, and the memories of an incompetent administration divorced from reality are still hard to forget.

BUSH:  And Brownie, you‘re doing a heck of a job!

SHUSTER:  On top of the awkwardness today in remembering Katrina, the president‘s week began when he saw his long-time friend, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, driven out of town over a spate of scandals.

BUSH:  It‘s sad that we live in a time when a talented and honorable person like Alberto Gonzales is impeding (SIC) from doing important work because his good name was dragged through the mud for political reasons.

SHUSTER:  The politics, however, that fueled the U.S. attorney scandal came from the White House, and few Democrats or Republicans believed this year that Gonzales was talented or honorable.

ALBERTO GONZALES, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES:  I am ultimately accountable and responsible for what happens within the department, but that is, in essence, what I knew about the process.  I was not involved in seeing any memos, was not involved in any discussions about what was going on.

SHUSTER:  Gonzales eventually retracted that statement and a dozen others, but President Bush seemed oblivious.

BUSH:  I haven‘t seen the Congress say he‘s done anything wrong.

SHUSTER:  However, nearly everyone paying attention did whenever Gonzales testified.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER ®, PENNSYLVANIA:  I do not find your testimony credible, candidly.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA:  I have never seen an attorney general so contemptuous of Congress.

REP. JAY INSLEE (D), WASHINGTON:  If you count the number of times this attorney general has refused to shoot straight with the U.S. Congress, it has to set a congressional record.

SHUSTER:  On Tuesday, the president and his party suffered a huge embarrassment when court documents revealed that full-throated conservative senator Larry Craig was arrested for his behavior towards another man, an undercover cop, in this airport men‘s room.

SEN. LARRY CRAIG ® IDAHO:  Let me be clear.  I am not gay.  I never have been gay.  I did nothing wrong at the Minneapolis airport.

SHUSTER:  The Republican blamed the Idaho media, gay groups and the police for his arrest, for his guilty plea and for not telling anybody about it for months.  The problem, among others, is that the GOP campaigns as the party of “family values,” and Senator Craig‘s bathroom bust underscores the hypocrisy, never mind Craig and his old attacks on President Clinton.

CRAIG:  The American people already know that Bill Clinton is a bad boy, a naughty boy.

SHUSTER:  There is former Republican congressman Mark Foley, who built his social life on male pages, conservative pastor Ted Haggard, who had trysts with a male prostitute, Republican senator David Vitter, who campaigned as a family man but later acknowledged encounters with a woman who police describe as a prostitute.

It all adds moral insult to the injuries being suffered today by the victims of  Hurricane Katrina.  But as the president was finishing his solemn speech this morning...

BUSH:  We care deeply about the folks in this part of the world...

SHUSTER:  ... in Washington, White House staffers unveiled that they cared about wrapping Karl Rove‘s car in plastic.  The prank, wile perhaps funny to them, provided fresh fuel for critics who see a White House that is caught up in its own cozy world.

The White House did offer a statement today on the Larry Craig sex scandal.  A presidential spokesman expressed disappointment but refused to say whether Craig should keep his job.  That means the White House is trying to stay detached from Senator Craig in much the same way the White House has tried to stay removed from the lingering Gulf Coast problems since Hurricane Katrina.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.

Historian Douglas Brinkley is the author of “The Great Deluge” about the Katrina disaster and what happened and didn‘t happen thereafter.  And Pat Buchanan‘s an MSNBC political analyst.

Doug Brinkley, thank you for joining us.  Just putting this in perspective, this is one heck of a week for the president.  His attorney general he throws to he wolves on Monday.  Then Craig, Larry Craig, one of these staunch cultural conservative warriors, turns out to be something different than what he advertised himself to be.  And now he had to go down to that public school in New Orleans, where you worked and served and taught for so many years, and pretended that he‘d been there two years ago, when everybody knows the great scandal of this administration was the president was AWOL in that battle of New Orleans.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, AUTHOR, “THE GREAT DELUGE”:  Well, that‘s right, Chris.  And I‘m told at the school, Martin Luther King school, all the students wanted to heckle the president and had a lot of questions for him, but they kind of muzzled the students.  The anger in New Orleans towards President Bush is palatable (SIC).

And you know, here—look how difficult it was for the president.  He had to sneak in and sneak out of Louisiana, and he didn‘t even want to be seen in a photo op with Senator Vitter because Vitter‘s had his own prostitution problem, another one of the “moral majority” Republicans.  So you‘re seeing a president that‘s basically having to have audiences that he controls and that kind of sneaks around from place to place.  Everywhere he goes, nobody wants to be seen in a photo opportunity with him.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it is kind of a rogues‘ gallery, Patrick.  I know that you in 1992 in that infamous speech of yours talked about the cross dressing of the Democratic Party.  There‘s a heck of a lot of cross dressing going on here, in the sense that people who pretend to be one thing and clearly are not...

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, it looks to me like—frankly, like Senator Craig is a sick man, I mean, to do what he did and risk what he did, his life, his career and his family, national disgrace, for some opportunity in a Minneapolis men‘s room.  So I think...

MATTHEWS:  Well, apparently, it wasn‘t a dance learned for the occasion, either.

BUCHANAN:  Well, he obviously...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... based upon the police report that this was an habitual meeting place...

BUCHANAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... the kind of behavior and hand signals involved were well known in that world, and he knew it and was very much of a part of it.

BUCHANAN:  All right.  I‘m not defending what he did, but the idea that the guy would risk his career for this type of nonsense is unbelievable.

But look, on the presidential thing, there‘s no doubt that the president‘s got real problems.  The party has terrible problems.  The Moral Majority—these are good folks—they‘ve been demoralized by the behavior of the party, and especially these lurid sex scandals, Chris.  And it‘s going to affect our party, or what was my party, because it‘ll demoralize them and they won‘t come out.

But I don‘t think they‘re going to move toward the party of Hillary Clinton so much as they‘re just going to go home and say, you know, Politics really isn‘t worth it, that the people we believed in really didn‘t merit our trust.

I would watch one thing about the president, though.  He did have bad week, but Chris, you look very closely at what he‘s doing.  He is laying down the predicate for an attack on Iran, which could remake American politics this fall.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we might all agree on that one.  But let me ask you about this—let me go down to Katrina today.  Douglas, you know, I—you‘ve written beautifully about this, and I always thought just—I am a romantic about politics, and I still reserve the right to think positively about even a president in big trouble like this one.  And had he gone down there two years ago—and we should look at the scene again of the Convention Center, with all those African-Americans, mainly African-Americans, in terrible shape down there.

If he really wanted to build his party, had he go down there with Marine One and flown in—with protection, clearly, some security, but if he‘d flown in there, leading a convoy of drinking water and food and provisions for those people and been at the head of that campaign, I think history would have been written differently, if he‘d been of that fight instead of coming in about four or five days later, after getting a DVD to find out what had happened and congratulating that arse (ph) on a golden horse he had there, Michael Brown, and saying, Great job, Brownie—it seems to me he could have been a winner.  Look at Haley Barbour over in Mississippi.  Haley‘s a hero.  It could have been done.  There were some potentials for a hero there.

BRINKLEY:  There‘s no question about it.  There was a—yes, there‘s no question, Chris.  He made a terrible mistake.  He was in San Diego, and he did the famous flyover.  He seemed detached.  He never put his boot heels on the ground, never touched the flood waters.  Americans were—our hearts were bleeding...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Who told him not to go to New Orleans, to be AWOL in the battle of New Orleans of 2005?  Who said, It‘s going to hurt you if you go in there?

BRINKLEY:  Karl Rove was one of the people who advised him not to go in there, and also the Secret Service, who never wants to put a president in harm‘s way.  Lyndon Johnson went there in 1965 during Betsy, and all the people I interviewed in the lower 9th remembered that Johnson came in a boat in the night, put a flashlight on his face and said, Hi, this is your president.  I‘m here.

President Bush wasn‘t there.  Katrina marks the really—the tanking in the poll numbers for President Bush.  People started talking about his incompetency.  Up until that point, there was a debate about the war in Iraq.  Katrina began the beginning of, Is this man competent?  And most people, including Republicans, started saying, This is not a CEO president...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I agree completely with that, Pat.  Before you get in here, I know you might agree or not, but let  me tell you, I think that the war has always been murky in Iraq.  None of us can get a clear view of that war, even people fighting in it can‘t.  But there was a clear perception after the Katrina disaster about this president‘s administration.

Here, take a look.  Here‘s Hurricane Katrina, President Bush‘s job

approval, and the Gallup poll has fallen double digits since.  The numbers

look at this now.  See this, Pat?  We‘re looking at the poll numbers. 

He was about 45.  He wasn‘t in such bad shape at a difficult time, 45 percent.  About half the country thought he was doing a good job.  And then it went down, and it started there.

BUCHANAN:  Well, it‘s—it‘s locked in now that he‘s an incompetent

president.  And I blame—very much blame the staff, Chris.  His staff had

his staff is all over the lot.  They had an obligation—Mr. President, all hell is breaking loose.  The state can‘t handle it.  The city can‘t handle it.  Send in the 82nd Airborne and take care of these people who are on television screaming for help day after day after day.  It was that long delay, I think, followed up by the fact that the job‘s not done yet that has really...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... point out, Pat.  You were communications director for President Reagan.

BUCHANAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  You worked for President Nixon as a speech writer.  And you worked for the vice president in those days.  (INAUDIBLE) I always say the fish rots from the top, and I mean that.  I mean...

BUCHANAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... I watch people dress like the boss, behave like the boss, end up talking like the boss.  You say the staff has blown it for Bush?

BUCHANAN:  I do.  Let me tell you...

MATTHEWS:  Why does he have such staff?

BUCHANAN:  Well, listen to me tell you.  We were out at Santa Barbara. 

The president was up there at the ranch.  He didn‘t want to be disturbed. 

OK.

MATTHEWS:  Yes!

BUCHANAN:  But he had an officer down there.  One of us was...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... a hermit?

BUCHANAN:  No, but one of us was officer of the day, and we would have called him if we said—if something‘s urgent, you get on the phone and call him.  they should have called the—said, Mr. President, it is a hellish situation down here.  It‘s on television every minute.  You got to do something.  I don‘t care what you‘re doing.  And nobody apparently did that.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Doug, when you write the history (INAUDIBLE) have you figured out who was not in that—that—that parade, that water brigade that should have been a bucket brigade that should have worked its way to the president, said, Mr. President, grab a bucket.  We got to get in this brigade.  We got to get working here.  Who was missing in that—who had the lack of guts to walk into the president, say, Mr. President, wake up, get in a plane, we‘re going down there?

BRINKLEY:  One person...

MATTHEWS:  Was it Andy Card?

BRINKLEY:  ... Michael Chertoff.  No, it was—Andy Card, but it was Michael Chertoff.  Chertoff told the president, I have it under control.  He went...

MATTHEWS:  You mean the man he‘s going to make attorney general?

BRINKLEY:  Yes.  And he went to the—he went to Atlanta Center for Disease Control meeting and pretended—while 80 percent of New Orleans was flooding, biggest natural disaster in history, and Chertoff was AWOL.  It was one of the worst moments in any kind of cabinet officer in American history, Chertoff‘s behavior then.  And I have been stunned that he—at that time that he wasn‘t forced to resign, but Michael Brown of FEMA took the big media hit.

MATTHEWS:  What happens when people...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m sorry.  Got to go to Pat here...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Go ahead.  Go ahead, Doug.

BRINKLEY:  Well, a really quick thing.  You know, Michael Brown took the blame.  He became the pinata two years ago.  That was because he had lied on his resume and padded it.  And that took the heat off of Chertoff.  Otherwise, the media guns would have been aimed at him.

MATTHEWS:  Pat, let me ask you about presidents when they‘ve been in trouble.  We‘ve had presidents who‘ve in their later second terms—in fact (INAUDIBLE) there‘s Eisenhower had a very bad ‘58.

BUCHANAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  He had a great ‘59 and ‘60.

BUCHANAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  He came back.  Dutch Reagan, your guy...

BUCHANAN:  Right.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Reagan had a tough time with Iran-contra.  He came back and he left like gangbusters at the end.  He may not have done things you agree with, but he—he was a hero to the world...

BUCHANAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... with the end of the cold war.

BUCHANAN:  Nixon didn‘t survive his.

MATTHEWS:  Nixon didn‘t make—Nixon could never turn it around after Watergate.  What is this...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  The president had a horrible second term.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... Clinton still left with some popularity.  This president is going down, down, down.  He‘s got—I mean, it‘s not his fault that Larry Craig had this problem.

BUCHANAN:  No, it‘s not...

MATTHEWS:  He can‘t—he can‘t do—he can‘t be the hall monitor for the Republicans.

BUCHANAN:  But he‘s not going to be blamed for—I mean, Larry Craig is...

MATTHEWS:  But there is a...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  ... Republican Party—it‘s more of a problem...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But you have Mark Foley.  You got Vitter.  It‘s almost like the British Labour Party here all of a sudden.

BUCHANAN:  But Bush isn‘t...

MATTHEWS:  Or the Tories.

BUCHANAN:  But isn‘t running again.  The Republicans will be on the ticket in—that‘s why my guess is the guy that‘s going to be helped here is Mr. Clean, Mr. Romney.

MATTHEWS:  Because he‘s what?

BUCHANAN:  He‘s Mr. Clean.  He‘s got give kids.  He‘s got...

MATTHEWS:  His sister‘s running his campaign!

BUCHANAN:  No, she‘s with Tancredo.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, is she?  Oh, that‘s right!

BUCHANAN:  Sure.  I mean...

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Romney‘s going to—I think it‘s going to help him in that extent.  Republicans have got a horrible problem in this coming year, Christ, but as I say, there‘s a—what happens in Iran is going to be important ...

MATTHEWS:  So he‘s the...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He‘s Mr. Clean, the man from Glad.  He looks like the man from Glad!

BUCHANAN:  Well, sure.  He‘s running on “family values.”  He has five kids.  He mentions family every time he gets up there.  He‘s a complete contrast.  He threw Craig under the bus, who was one of two senators he had supporting him—threw him under the bus in a second.

MATTHEWS:  Real fast.

BUCHANAN:  Oh, it was...

MATTHEWS:  Big break.

BUCHANAN:  ... brutal.  Brutal.

MATTHEWS:  So the winner here—what do you think, Doug?  Is it possible within the Republican Party there‘s someone who can claim purity in this environment?  And I mean it.  There must be.

BRINKLEY:  I think the main thing—you saw everybody‘s been looking

for Ronald Reagan‘s coattails the past year.  It‘s—there is—there are

no coattails for George W. Bush, so everybody has to define themselves as

kind of the anti-Bush candidate, and I think Romney—I think Pat‘s right

is—really has a real good shot at it because he‘s developed this squeaky-clean reputation...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

BRINKLEY:  But Fred Thompson‘s entering the fray, and Fred‘s going to be—be able to distance himself.  They‘re all trying to distance themselves from Bush, at this point.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  It‘s a study in geography, Doug.  You‘ll notice that all of them, including Rudy Giuliani and Romney and now Fred Thompson, have all built their national headquarters away from Washington.  They do not want to be here in this capital city when they run for office.

Thank you, Pat, great historic sense.  I‘m sorry, but Bay is now with Tancredo.  How could I have forgotten?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  That campaign is just booming!  Anyway, thank you.  (INAUDIBLE) a point to make, though, I must say that.  Doug Brinkley, thank you, sir.  Congratulations again.  The guy keeps writing best sellers one after the other.

Coming up: Republicans say they‘re the party of values.  Are they losing bragging rights?  Will fed-up Christian conservatives stay home next time?  We‘ve got one of the big ones coming here to tell us about it, Gary Bauer.  He‘ll will be right here to tell us which way the wind‘s blowing for the church people.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Following the Larry Craig—Larry Craig embarrassment, are Christian conservatives ready to ask the GOP for a divorce?  Is there going to be a desertion here, or will they stick with the party? 

Here on HARDBALL last night, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council sounded skeptical. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL:  I think, increasingly, among social conservatives voters, there is a—a grave concern over the lack of integrity in the Republican Party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Gary Bauer is a former Republican presidential candidate and founder of the conservative group American Values.

Well, I am one of those who, although not part of the movement, do believe in you guys.  I know that you are there. 

GARY BAUER, CHAIRMAN, AMERICAN VALUES:  Good to hear that.

MATTHEWS:  No, I know you are real.  I know you don‘t just care about winning elections.  You‘re not pols.  You‘re movement people.

How does the movement respond to this kind of news?  Let‘s start with this thing with Larry Craig.  We can work our way back to Vitter.  It is not just gay sex.  It is paid-for straight sex, apparently.  There‘s the Mark Walsh (ph) problem—or not Mark Walsh.  I shouldn‘t say that.  He‘s a friend of mine.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Mark Foley problem.

What does it tell you?  It doesn‘t tell you anything.

BAUER:  Well, look, I mean, obviously, these sorts of events have a demoralizing impact on what has been termed values voters, Chris. 

On the other hand, when we go into next year, I think you are likely to have two parties that are very different on the issues that those voters care about.  And I suspect that...

MATTHEWS:  But are they really different if one person says, I voted against gay marriage, I voted for the Defense of Marriage, I have stood up and given a speech against even gay civil unions, which are something of a modification...

BAUER:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  ... I am against even gay people, as patriotic as they might be, serving in the military openly, and, yet, it turns out that this man has behaved in a manner which brings into real question what he really believes?

BAUER:  Well, but, look.  But, look, Chris.  Christian voters, particularly, certainly understand the concept of human sin.  In fact, the whole religion is based on the idea that all men sin, which is why we have a savior.

MATTHEWS:  But in a way that is totally hypocritical? 

BAUER:  Oh, well, look, I mean, you—I—I think the emphasis here on hypocrisy is interesting. 

What I find disgusting about this whole thing is not hypocrisy.  What I find it disgusting is that we have a culture now where the Minneapolis Police Department has to have stakeouts..

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BAUER:  ... in bathrooms, because adult men are engaged in sexual activity. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Gary, don‘t act like you didn‘t know gambling was going on here.  They have had problems out here in Virginia at the rest stops on the interstates.  For years, they have had these problems.

BAUER:  Well, look, but I would...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  These are meeting places.  People of a certain orientation will find places to meet where they can meet.  And we may not like it, but this isn‘t new.  You can‘t call this new.

BAUER:  The fact that it‘s not new doesn‘t make it any less disturbing and disgusting to the overwhelming majority of the American people. 

And, look, Chris, hypocrisy in Washington is not new either.  You can get that, all the way from $400 haircuts...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BAUER:  ... to former vice presidents talking about the environment who uses more energy than 20 families in Tennessee. 

I want to repeat...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute.  You are really saying there is nothing new here?  Or what are you saying?

(CROSSTALK)

BAUER:  I think hypocrisy in Washington is as old as politics.  I think what is new is that we increasingly have a society that is very confused about moral values, about reliable standards of right and wrong.  And the poisoned air of the culture we are in infects everybody, all the way, even more disturbingly, to our children, who are breathing the air... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But let me ask you, let‘s jump ahead six months.

BAUER:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s next spring.  Both parties roughly know who their candidates for president are.  We will know by March-something, probably, don‘t you think? 

BAUER:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  There will be either a Romney or a Rudy or a Thompson or somebody at the head of your—the conservative party.  There will be a Hillary or Obama or an Edwards or someone else at the head of the Democratic Party.

BAUER:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And the speeches will again.  The gotcha politics will begin, each side trying to catch the other. 

Hasn‘t it already begun, this kind of behavior, this kind of notoriety? 

BAUER:  Oh, it‘s—look, it‘s...

MATTHEWS:  And they are going to be able point to this all next year, the Democrats.

BAUER:  Sure they will.  They will point to this.  They will point to some other incidents.

Republicans will have plenty of examples on the other side to point to.  And I think that is—that is going to increase the cynicism among the American people.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

BAUER:  It is bad for our politics. 

(CROSSTALK)

BAUER:  But, Chris, again, at the end of the day, I think voters will say, well, now, wait a minute.  If I elect a conservative Senate, will they be more likely to put on Supreme Court justices...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I agree.  But you‘re saying it‘s going to be a relative judgment, rather than an absolute judgment.

BAUER:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this.  Last time around, to the credit of the Republican Party and to your movement, people voted.  I‘m a big believer, if people vote, it is a good thing. 

BAUER:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Over 120 million people voted.  All these years of decrying the lack of participation, over 120 million people went out and voted.  That is one heck of a sample. 

BAUER:  It‘s amazing.

MATTHEWS:  Right?

Will that be the same next time, because of all this?

BAUER:  I am afraid it will be down.  And I think that will be bad for America, bad for governance, bad for democracy. 

By the way, Chris, I believe that—that Senator Craig, for the sake of his family, the voters of Idaho, and for his party, ought to step down.  But whether he does or not, I think, at the end of the...

MATTHEWS:  So, you‘re with McCain and you‘re with Norm Coleman and Pete Hoekstra?

BAUER:  I think, when you plead guilty under these circumstances, you have a credibility problem that I don‘t see how you can overcome.  I think it would be a terrible mistake for the Republican Party, however, if, in reaction to this, they took the advice of this unnamed Republican consultant that was on the—quoting on this network just a little while ago, saying, well, maybe the Republicans ought to drop the values issues. 

The only reason the Republican Party is competitive as a national party to govern this country is because they get the votes of millions of people who do believe in these values, and who are not hypocrites. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of these televangelists who have had this problem, Swaggart and the other guy? 

BAUER:  Well, you know, again, it‘s—it is sad for them.  It is often disgusting behavior. 

But, as one theologian said, you know, Christians—it is not that Christians don‘t sin.  Christians are forgiven.  I want to reiterate, Chris, that, from a Christian theological—theological standpoint, all men have fallen short, which is why we needed the sacrifice of Christ. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  But, just remember, you are the party that pointed out Bill Clinton‘s—when it was called his Saturday night and Sunday morning dichotomy. 

BAUER:  Oh, no, look, it was terrible.

But, look, Chris, let me ask you this.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That he would be seen in church with a Bible in hand...

BAUER:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  ... but you knew that, the night before, life was different.  And that is what you thought and that is what you said. 

BAUER:  And—and, again, Craig‘s behavior is unacceptable, and he ought to pay a price for it.

But let me ask you, Chris, if this was a liberal Democratic senator that was in favor of same-sex marriage, would soliciting sex in a public restroom be any less disgusting?  I don‘t think so.

MATTHEWS:  I think it would be interesting how it would go over in liberal parts of the country.  I can imagine in a lot of liberal parts of the country, especially the Northeast.  And I am curious. 

I remember Gary Studds got reelected many, many, many times after seducing...

BAUER:  He did.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... a young male page under his personal responsibility.

BAUER:  And Governor McGreevey admits of trailing up and down the New Jersey Turnpike.

MATTHEWS:  But he‘s finished.  He‘s finished.

BAUER:  Well, he is, but he was welcomed on the shows like “Oprah,” and was applauded by his public announcement.

There, I think, is something...

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t use the willingness of people up like me to have somebody on their show as proof that they approve. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let me tell you.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I have had people...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Obviously, I have had people on this show that I palpably don‘t approve of.

Anyway, thank you, Gary Bauer.  It‘s great to have you on.

BAUER:  It‘s good to be...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  Fidel Castro plays pundit in the battle for the White House, Mr. Free Elections himself.

And the late-night comics have a field day with Larry Craig—those political headlines and more coming up. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Here‘s the latest political news. 

Communist dictator Fidel Castro, who will die before he allows free elections in his own country, is offering himself up as a political pundit on elections here.  Calling the 2008 horse race more than a year in advance, the Havana handicapper rates a Hillary-Obama ticket as—quote—

“unbeatable.”  That‘s his word for a ticket nobody on the planet thinks will ever exist.

And the return of Rodney Dangerfield.  The latest fellow getting no respect is our own John McCain. 

Here he is doing the Dangerfield number last night with Jay.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”)

JAY LENO, HOST, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”:  You really have not changed your position, but it seems like it‘s slipped in the polls.  Why? 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Well, we are doing so poorly, I thought maybe I would announce on this show that I‘m running for president of the United States. 

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  John Edwards, that dude with the hot-ticket haircuts, now wants the rest of us to cool it on expensive cars.  No more SUVs, he says, the minute he chugs into the presidency. 

Well, based on the latest polls, you won‘t have to hide your suburban in the garage. 

Next, Governor Bill Richardson is setting a high bar for himself in Iowa, saying—quote—I love this—“I think that, in order for me to do well, I have to be one of the three major contenders.”

So, let‘s get this straight: a third-place finish, and this guy is on fire. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Finally, Senator Larry Craig got the “Letterman” treatment last night. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”)

DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, “THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN”:  The senator, one of the senators from Idaho, Larry Craig, was arrested in an airport men‘s room. 

(LAUGHTER)

LETTERMAN:  It gives new meaning to the word caucusing. 

(LAUGHTER) 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)  

LETTERMAN:  But Senator Craig said he made a mistake by pleading guilty.

PAUL SHAFFER, BAND LEADER:  Oh.

LETTERMAN:  And I was thinking, well, maybe that was your second mistake. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Up next, tonight‘s HARDBALL debate:  Is the scandal of Abu Ghraib a result of Bush administration policy? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MIKE HUCKMAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I am Mike Huckman with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

And stocks rebounded after yesterday‘s sell-off, the Dow Jones industrials gaining 247 points, after dropping 280 points yesterday, the S&P 500 gaining 31 points, and the Nasdaq was up 62 points. 

Stocks were helped by a letter that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke sent to New York Senator Chuck Schumer.  In it, Bernanke says the Fed is prepared to act as needed to ensure spreading credit problems that have rocked Wall Street in recent weeks do not hurt the economy. 

Meantime, Apple helped the tech stocks today.  Shares jumped more than 5 percent after Goldman Sachs advised investors to buy the stock, ahead of the expected unveiling next week of a new family of iPods.

And oil climbed $1.78 in New York today, closing at $73.51 a barrel, that after the Energy Department reported sharp drops this past week in oil and gasoline inventories. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

We all remember these pictures, detainees in hoods, shackled in painful stress positions, piled naked or with a leash around their necks, like dogs.  It was followed by outrage about the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners by American forces in the Abu Ghraib Prison.  It was a story that demanded answers and especially someone to bear responsibility, like on the cover here of “The Economist” magazine in 2004. 

But now the only Army officer to face a court-martial for the Abu Ghraib case was cleared of the charges against him by a military jury the other day, ending a series of prosecutions that stretched over more than three years. 

So, the question remains, who is to blame for the Abu Ghraib scandal, and was the scandal at Abu Ghraib a result the Bush administration‘s policy?

That is the HARDBALL debate tonight. 

Frank Gaffney is a former Defense Department official in the Reagan administration.  He‘s now with the Center For Security Policy.  And Jon Soltz is an Iraq war veteran, now with an organization called VoteVets.org.

It is your argument, Jon Soltz, this came from the top, right?  Or where did it come from? 

JON SOLTZ, CO-FOUNDER, VOTEVETS.ORG:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  All this behavior, all these hoods, all these leashes, all this odd, almost sexual misbehavior, humiliating prisoners for worldwide television, whose—whose fault is it? 

SOLTZ:  Well, there‘s a couple issues at Abu Ghraib.

Obviously, we did not go in with enough forces.  The soldiers in Abu Ghraib were—they were military policemen, but they were not trained in detaining operations.  They were conflicted with their command.  Obviously, there was contractors that were involved.  And some of the soldiers were confused.  So, there‘s that issue.

But this is about a much larger issue of this administration.  George Bush, in 2002, against the willingness of his secretary of state, Colin Powell, decided that he was not going to support the Geneva Conventions in use to people that were captured in the war on terror. 

Later, that same rule followed into Iraq with foreign fighters.  Then you have Alberto Gonzales, who gives us a very limited, you know, idea in his—in his memorandum of what torture really is.  And then Donald Rumsfeld exploits that memorandum and comes up with these, you know, techniques, these torture techniques, or enhanced torture techniques, or enhanced interrogation techniques.

And all this is slipped all the way through.  I mean, our soldiers know the first day they go to basic training that we believe in the Geneva Convention.  And anything less than that undermines the morality of our troops in the field and it undermines their authority in combat.  And it‘s been detrimental to the armed forces, no question about it.

MATTHEWS:  Frank, your response. 

FRANK GAFFNEY, FOUNDER & PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR SECURITY POLICY:  I

believe that the persistence of the attention given to what clearly was a low-level gang of very perverted people behaving in a despicable fashion, not for the television cameras, for their own amusement, that were splashed over the cameras, and the fact that, frankly, we‘re having this discussion now, is revolting to me. 

We have got people who are determined to destroy this country, Chris, some of whom are violating every rule of the Geneva Convention.  And this notion that, only by giving them all of the protections of the Geneva Convention will we be conducting ourselves in a moral fashion, I think is ridiculous. 

The truth of the matter is Don Rumsfeld did not have anything to do with Abu Ghraib.  I don‘t think the president, Dick Cheney, any of the bogeyman that people would like to have somehow implicated or prosecuted for Abu Ghraib had anything to do with it, had any knowledge of it. 

More to the point, the fact that we persist—

(CROSS TALK)

GAFFNEY:  -- we persist in trying to find somebody like that to blame for this is an abomination. 

MATTHEWS:  John, your thoughts on this?  Are we stirring up trouble for America by bringing attention to this issue? 

SOLTZ:  Our soldiers are in combat every day in Iraq.  They are trying to convince the Iraqis they are there to support them, that they are there to win their hearts and minds.  When the president of the United States stands up and says we have moral authority, but that revokes the use of the Geneva Convention in combat, he is undermining the morality of every soldier who has volunteered to serve our country. 

Our officers in this military are against this administration on this issue.  Colin Powell is against the administration on this issue.  Senator McCain and Senator Graham are against the administration on this issue.  Our soldiers need that moral authority in combat to defeat the enemy.  Anything less is undermining their mission in combat at it is disgraceful to the soldiers who are serving their now. 

GAFFNEY:  Look, every one of those soldiers I think understands that if you start giving protections to people who do not wear uniforms, who hide themselves among civilian populations, who do not have chains of command, you are in effect actually making civilians more at risk. 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let Frank finish the though.  Then you react, John. 

GAFFNEY:  We are a country of laws.  But when you start applying the laws to people who do not earn their application, you debase the law.  That is what is I think at the crux of this debate. 

MATTHEWS:  What are the limits? 

GAFFNEY:  The limits are that they‘re not entitled to Prisoner of War status. 

MATTHEWS:  What are the limits of the treatment of them? 

GAFFNEY:  You treat them in a humane way.  You treat them in a way that is consistent with our own standards, but you do not confer upon them either the entire protections of our constitution—

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  I want to tighten this up here.  John Soltz, let me ask you this; do you have evidence that the behavior of these enlisted people and non-commissioned officers, the people that were engaged in stacking these people up like hot dogs and humiliating them sexually and putting dog collars on them, and, in effect, whether intentionally or not, creating pictures which have gone around the billion person Islamic world and caused hatred of this country, and has become a recruiting poster for the war against us in this war on terrorism; do you believe that this came from civilians at the top involved at Gitmo and brought this over to use over there, and this was a policy, or it was a corrupting result of people with too much time on their hands and not enough direction? 

SOLTZ:  It‘s both, because you have an administration that loosened the concept of us supporting the Geneva Convention.  In combat, these interrogation techniques are used to get what we call human intelligence, what we rely on in combat, actionable intelligence.  And when you use these interrogations techniques that are in violation of the Geneva Convention, like dog barking and making people stay up, that is not good intelligence.  That is not actionable intelligence that helps us on the ground. 

Here we are every day in Iraq in combat, trying to win the hearts of these people. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you have evidence that this came from civilians in the Pentagon? 

SOLTZ:  Absolutely.  The president of the United States said we are not going to support the Geneva Convention.  Secretary Rumsfeld released a mom that said that there are 24 enhanced interrogation techniques that are going to be used in Abu Ghraib. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me let Frank—

GAFFNEY:  The short answer to you question is, no, he does not have evidence.  He is imputing to what he claims to be the source of all evil, something that did not have an impact on Abu Ghraib.  And more to the point, it would be actually corrosive to our position vis-a-vis these terrorists to give them the treatment that he thinks they ought to have. 

SOLTZ:  I care about our American men and women in combat. 

GAFFNEY:  I care too, and I do not want to see them—

(CROSS TALK)

GAFFNEY:  -- as you would have them treated.

SOLTZ:  See, I have been in combat.  You haven‘t.  In the first Gulf War, they surrendered to us—the enemy surrenders to us in combat because they know we treat them humanely.  It is a force multiplier for our troops. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much Frank Gaffney.  Thank you John Soltz.  Up next, the—By the way, I picked this topic not to hurt America, because I feel if we let this go, the world will see us saluting it.  If somebody‘s not punished with authority here, the world will say we hid this problem, and I don‘t think we should. 

GAFFNEY:  The problem has been properly identified and properly addressed. 

MATTHEWS:  I have never heard of enlisted men being so original in policy-making.  Anyway, thank you. 

GAFFNEY:  Sick bunch of kids.   

MATTHEWS:  A round table on Bush‘s bad week is coming up in a minute. 

Larry Craig scandal leading the pack.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Time for our political round table, the NBC man himself, Mike Viqueira from Capital Hill, Jill Zuckman is with “The Chicago Tribune,” and Dana Milbank of the “Washington Post.”  Heavy weights tonight.

First up, Bush; the bad news for the Republicans just kept on coming this week.  Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced his resignation as questions continue to swirl about his role in the prosecutor firings and the NSA wiretapping program.  Senator Craig, of course, has dug in his heels for a legal and political fight after being picked up, arrested for soliciting an undercover policeman at an airport men‘s room.  And for two years after Hurricane Katrina, President Bush is still taking heat for his very slow federal response in the rebuilding of New Orleans. 

Can Republicans survive this onslaught of bad news?  I want to start with the big bad news, with Jill Zuckman.  Does this shock you that there‘s hypocrisy in American politics and that the party of compassionate conservatives was a little more compassionate than we thought, in terms of its behavior? 

JILL ZUCKMAN, “CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  It is actually a do what I say, not as I do party these days.  It is hard to be shocked.  Everyone is shocked at the moment, and then you think, well, OK, it is a big group of people.  There are 535 members of Congress.  Someone is bound to do something bad. 

MATTHEWS:  It used to be, Dana, that American politics was about stealing money, and British politics was about kinky sex.  And now you have the conservative party in this country, the Tori party, if you will, rounded up now.  Vitter, Mark Foley, this guy, Larry Craig, and especially Larry Craig, one of the real enemies of the gay world, you know, against gays who want to serve in the military, who want to serve their country, gays that want to hook up for life, gays that want to have civil unions for life.  And here he is engaged in sexual traffic in men‘s rooms around the country. 

DANA MILBANK, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  To be fair, our leaders still like to steal money.  There is the occasional 90 grand in the freezer.  There is the occasional photograph of a senator‘s wine cellar up in Alaska. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re talking about Ted Stevens? 

MILBANK:  I happen to be, yes.  But it has been unusual, and the hypocrisy is available each time one of these things happens.  I brought along my favorite example of that from the Idaho Values Alliance, praising Senator Craig.  There‘s a photo of him on the next page warning of the dangers of sexual trysts in airport restrooms. 

MATTHEWS:  Who gave him that? 

MILBANK:  The Idaho Values Alliance.  They were not yet on to Senator Craig at the time.  They were just warning of that problem.   

MATTHEWS:  What is the problem?  What is the generic problem that they warn people of?

MILBANK:  That is easy to find a hookup place for gay men on Craig‘s List. 

MATTHEWS:  But why would you warn people who weren‘t part of that world?  Why would you tell them? 

MILBANK:  They were discussing the general decay of our culture. 

MATTHEWS:  Right, and it would be evidenced by you if you were there.  Who else do we have joining us?  I forgot.  Mike Viqueira, have you been promoted to something big lately?  I‘ve been listening to the blogs. 

MIKE VIQUEIRA, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m not going anywhere near that, sir.

MATTHEWS:  No, I think you are going to greatness land.  Let me ask you Mike about this hill.  I just sat here today collecting the press releases from people like Norm Coleman of Minnesota, who is up for reelection, John McCain, who goes his own way and is very much the maverick, as know.  Pete Hoekstra from Michigan.  They are growing—the number of people calling for this fellow, Larry Craig, to walk. 

VIQUEIRA:  Yes, Chris, it is almost as if Republicans suddenly had an epiphany this afternoon after being stunned into silence over the last 24 hours over these revelations of Larry Craig.  It is not that many people didn‘t suspect that he engaged in gay sex.  Those rumors have been going around for at least 25 years. 

MATTHEWS:  Really?

VIQUEIRA:  Yes, well, in 1982 he was quoted on camera—there‘s a Lisa Myers story out there on the Internet, in the last page scandal in the early 1980s and Larry Craig stepped forward—no one had even mentioned his name—preemptively, and said, you‘re probably going to see my name mentioned here.  I had nothing to do with it.  I‘m persecuted because I am a single man. 

At any rate, those stories had persisted, waxed and waned over the last 25 year.  Just last year there was an outing attempt on a website of Larry Craig, which in turn led to the “Idaho Statesman‘s” month-long investigation of his sexual proclivities, which ultimately was not published, but published only Tuesday, the day after the story of the arrest and conviction broke on “Roll-Call.” 

So Republican leaders here in the Senate now pushing him off of his coveted seat on the Appropriations Committees, the top member of the Veterans Affairs committee.  They wouldn‘t mind seeing him take a walk altogether, at the very least not run for reelection in 2008.  Chris, they‘re very mindful of the fact that what happened in November in the Mark Foley scandal, under similar circumstances, helped put them out of power after 12 years of controlling Congress; that and the Iraq war. 

It wasn‘t as though Republicans were disaffected and stayed home in the polls, which is sort of a popular misconception.  It was the fact that independents went against them, and this is a continuation here.  It‘s sort of a hangover from the election of 2006.  And Republicans are doing everything they can to preemptively jump ahead of the story, pushing him off these committees. 

MATTHEWS:  We will have more about the sub prime behavior of some of these politicians when we come back.  You are watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  I believe that he plead guilty and he had the opportunity to plead innocent.  So I think he should resign. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s Senator John McCain, of course, calling for Larry Craig of Idaho to quit the Senate.  We‘re here with the political round table, NBC‘s Mike Viqueira, Jill Zuckman of the “Chicago Tribune,” and the “Washington Post‘s” Dana Milbank. 

Dana, you‘re very good at these portraits of Washington in action.  Any surprises here?  I mean, the fact that there is a certain percentage of the country that‘s gay is not news.  And probably a similar percentage of both parties, I would guess.  I would that this misbehavior in public places is something we know about.  It used to be over here at Iwo Jima.  Remember the Iwo Jima monument was a big meeting spot for that kind of behavior. 

Where is the surprises here, that McCain is coming out so fast?  What?

MILBANK:  My job is to parody what our leaders do and it‘s becoming more and more hard to create a parody, since they are self-parodies themselves.  But, you know, that said, yes, McCain‘s come out, Norm Coleman, Hoekstra; that does not mean that this man has to resign right away, and god willing for our business as well. 

MATTHEWS:  The only way it hurts their parties is if he stays and runs, because he might lose the general election to a Democrat in Idaho, which would be the first Democratic senator since Frank Church. 

MILBANK:  It would be an historic moment.  But stripping him of his committee, that‘s about all they can do.  Now they can just put pressure on him privately, publicly. 

MATTHEWS:  Stripping—be careful of these verbs.  It‘s a very strange time.  Mike Viqueira, what do you hear up there?  Is this going to go to a drum beat that knocks this guy out of office in the next couple of hours?   

VIQUEIRA:  Maybe not in the next couple of hours, but it‘s starting to look like that way.  The senator, in effect, threw down the gauntlet yesterday.  He said no fewer than three or four times, I am not gay.  He said that in one form or another and he said that very forcefully.  Many Republicans, mostly aides—the members are on recess right now—that I‘ve spoken with today say that, you know what, another shoe is going to drop in this thing, much like it did in the Foley scandal. 

Someone‘s going to come forward angered by Craig‘s denial and say I have had sexual relations with this man, if, in fact, he‘s lying.  I‘m not saying he is or isn‘t.  But rumors being what they are, that‘s the fear here among Republicans.  I also talked to another long-time Republican—

MATTHEWS:  Got to go, Mike.  I‘m sorry.  Congratulations, by the way.  Mike Viqueira, Jill Zuckman, Dana Milbank.  Right now it‘s time for “TUCKER.”

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

END   

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