updated 9/6/2007 10:55:16 AM ET 2007-09-06T14:55:16

Guests: Stan Brand, Tony Perkins, Frank Rich, Frank Rich, Michael Eric Dyson, Marcia Dyson, Anne Kornblut, Jay Carney, Matt Bai

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Senator Larry Craig caught on tape again.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

SEN. LARRY CRAIG ®, IDAHO:  Arlen Specter is now willing to come out in my defense, arguing that it appears, by all that he knows, I‘ve been railroaded, all of that.  (INAUDIBLE) all of that, we‘ve reshaped my statement a little bit to say it is my intent to resign on September 30.  I think it would help drive the story that I‘m willing to fight, that I‘ve got quality people out there fighting in my defense, and that this thing could take a new turn or a new shape.  It has that potential.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  So once again, the senator from Idaho leads a double life.  One Craig says he‘s ready to quit, the other‘s fighting to stay.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Senator Larry Craig will stay in the United States Senate if he can beat the legal charge against him.  That‘s the word from Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER:  If he is able to get the case favorably disposed of in Minneapolis, it would be his intention to come back to the Senate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  The declaration by McConnell comes after a wild day in which it‘s become clear as a bell that Larry Craig was implying one thing this Saturday when he called a press conference to announce his intent to resign from the U.S. Senate, and he was planning another.  Here‘s Craig leaving a phone message to someone a half hour before that Saturday press conference.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

CRAIG:  We‘ve reshaped my statement a little bit to say it is my intent to resign on September 30.  I think it is very important for you to make as bold a statement as you are comfortable with this afternoon, and I would hope you could make it in front of the cameras.  I think it would help drive the story that I‘m willing to fight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that message was left for a “Billy.”  It could refer, although we can‘t be sure, to big-time Washington lawyer Billy Martin, who Senator Craig has hired to make his case and later on Saturday did, in fact, issue a statement defending Craig.  So again, Craig was following a duplicitous double life.  He sent the word to the country he was out of the game, even as he was playing it for all it‘s worth.  As his spokesman, Dan Whiting, said today, there is no reason to assume that Senator Larry Craig is going to resign.

So now we have a fight in the Republican leadership.  The big boys wanted Larry Craig to go gently into that good night.  They said it was over.  Over.  The episode was over, Senator McConnell said.  Today, they‘re saying—and I‘m talking about Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, and John Ensign, the chairman of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee—that if Craig can reverse his guilty plea, if he can win with the Senator Ethics Committee, he‘s a senator here to stay, whether McConnell likes it or not.  And you can be sure these Republicans don‘t like it.

Our second story tonight concerns that latest hell (ph) from al Qaeda.  Is that—what almost happened in Germany evidence that we should have invaded Iraq or evidence that we got off the trail entirely of the killers by going into Iraq and getting stuck there?  Big question.

Plus, Oprah and Obama.  The queen of all media is hosting a political fund-raiser for Senator Barack Obama this coming weekend.  We know Oprah can sell books.  Can she sell a candidate to the American people?  Fund-raising is one thing, but should Oprah be hitting the campaign trail for a surrogate—as a surrogate for the senator?  That‘s our HARDBALL debate tonight.  Should she be doing it?  Is it fair?

But we begin with the latest news in the Larry Craig scandal with HARDBALL‘s David Shuster.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  On Capitol Hill today, away from the cameras, Republicans called it their worst nightmare.  Facing problems with the Iraq war, huge challenges in ‘08 and saddled with the most unpopular president in 30 years, the party that claims “family values” must continue to explain a conservative arrested for lewd conduct in a men‘s room who is still fighting to stay in Congress.

STAN BRAND, ATTORNEY FOR SEN. LARRY CRAIG:  Talking to the people that he trusts in Idaho, among other places, he‘s had second thoughts about whether he should throw in the towel or at least try to get the legal situation changed.

SHUSTER:  It was eight days ago when Craig publicly acknowledged having pled guilty to a misdemeanor stemming from his behavior towards an undercover police officer.

CRAIG:  I am not gay.  I never have been gay.

SHUSTER:  Craig insisted he did not commit any crimes, despite having signed a guilty statement in court documents.  Republican leaders embarrassed by Craig‘s behavior and news conference threatened to conduct hearings if Craig did not resign.  So on Saturday, Craig announced...

CRAIG:  Therefore, it is with sadness and deep regret that I announce that it is my intent to resign from the Senate effective September 30.

SHUSTER:  It‘s now clear, however, why Craig used the word “intent.”  Before the news conference, Craig spoke with Pennsylvania Republican senator Arlen Specter, who encouraged him to keep battling.  Craig then called another supporter but misdialed the phone number.  The person who received the message has nothing to do with Craig or politics and provided the recording to reporters.

CRAIG:  Arlen Specter is now willing to come out in my defense, arguing that it appears, by all that he knows, I‘ve been railroaded and all of that.  Having all of that, we‘ve reshaped my statement a little bit to say it is my intent to resign on September 30.  I think it is very important for you to make as bold a statement as you are comfortable with this afternoon, and I would hope you could make it in front of the cameras.  I think it would help drive the story that I‘m willing to fight, that I‘ve got quality people out there fighting in my defense, and that this thing could take a new turn or a new shape, has that potential.

SHUSTER:  A spokesman for Larry Craig says everything still depends on resolving the legal challenges in his favor by September the 30th.  To that end, one of Craig‘s new lawyers, Bill Martin, says there are constitutional issues with Craig‘s arrest and Martin is now preparing to file court documents as part of the effort to reverse Craig‘s plea.

Meanwhile, in another sign Craig is trying to hold onto his seat, his other new lawyer, Stan Brand, today urged Democrat Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Ethics Committee, to drop her panel‘s investigation.  According to Brand, the Senate does not have jurisdiction over this type of case.

BRAND:  The unbroken line of precedents in the U.S. Senate for 220 years is that only conduct amounting to treason, bribery, high crimes and misdemeanors has been subject to discipline.

SHUSTER:  A bewildered Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said today he spoke to Larry Craig this morning.  If Craig is unable to get the Minnesota case disposed of by the end of the month...

MCCONNELL:  It is his intention to resign from the Senate, as he expressed last Saturday.  If he is able to get the case favorably disposed of in Minneapolis, it would be his intention to come back to the Senate to deal with the Ethics Committee case that he knows that he will have and to try to finish his term.

SHUSTER (on camera):  Asked if he supports Senator Craig‘s approach, Republican Senate Leader McConnell said his view remains that Craig should resign.  Away from the cameras, other Republicans were far more blunt, calling Craig‘s latest maneuvering erratic and embarrassing.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.  Stan Brand, as we just heard, is the lawyer representing Larry Craig before the Senate Ethics Committee, and Tony Perkins is president of the Family Research Council.

Stan, my friend, does this senator have a right to remain in the U.S.

Senate, as you understand it as his attorney?

BRAND:  Under the rules of the Senate, I think he does because he hasn‘t committed any conduct that the Senate has ever taken cognizance of.  He‘s committed a misdemeanor, which under the rules and precedents that the committee has used for 220 years doesn‘t impact his ability to stay in office.

MATTHEWS:  Is he doing a double talk here by saying to the people on Saturday, and everybody took it to be a statement of resignation, at the same time conniving through his lawyer, apparently, his other lawyer, to carry on a campaign to stay in the Senate?  Which is it, he intended to quit or he intends to stick it out?  It sounds like he‘s going in both directions at the same time.

BRAND:  Yes, well, I think, you know, anybody in the position that he‘s been in for the last week, where the rug was pulled out from under him politically and where he waived serious legal rights that he had, would be in that dilemma.

MATTHEWS:  But was Saturday a head fake to the leadership to make it look like he was quitting so they‘d get off his back, meanwhile he‘s talking to you and he‘s talking to Billy Martin about hanging in there?

BRAND:  I think it‘s two different issues.  One‘s political, one‘s legal.

MATTHEWS:  No, the legal issue you‘re fighting is Senates Ethics Committee.

BRAND:  That‘s right.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s political.

BRAND:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  If he can win in the Senate Ethics Committee, get them off his back, he can stay in the Senate.

BRAND:  I agree.

MATTHEWS:  So it is political.

BRAND:  Well, it‘s political in a broader sense.  I wasn‘t giving him political advice, I was telling him as a defense lawyer to fight the case because I didn‘t think there was a case.

MATTHEWS:  Tony Perkins, should he stay in the Senate?  Should he fight this case, as he apparently has done?  He‘s lawyered up with this fine fellow, quality people, as he put it in that phone conversation.  He‘s hired quality people.  Look, Stan and Billy Martin, we just heard him.  Is that good for the Republican Party?

TONY PERKINS, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL:  I don‘t think it‘s a question of can he stay.  The question is should he stay in the Senate.  And I think there‘s an issue here of judgment—I mean, impaired judgment.  First he pleads guilty to a crime that says he didn‘t commit, comes back, says, I shouldn‘t have pled guilty.  Then he says he‘s going to resign, now he said he‘s not going to resign.  I think if I were a voter in Idaho, I would want a senator that was focused on the business of the Senate...

MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute.  Let‘s talk about actual guilt here.  He apparently, according to the police officer who filed the report—and he saw the report and pled guilty to it, or something like it—he pled guilty to disorderly...

BRAND:  Without advice of counsel.

MATTHEWS:  Well, he pled guilty to what he remembered as happening.  He ran some sort of hand under the stall.  He signaled the other guy he wanted to have sex, based upon that testimony by the cop.  He basically pled his case, right?  So the actual guilt is established.  The question is, can he win the case on the basis of arguing entrapment or something else that flaws this case, right?

BRAND:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  The actual guilt is pretty clear here, isn‘t it?

BRAND:  Well, yes, he hasn‘t denied that he signed that paper.

MATTHEWS:  He denied that he was signaling this guy for sexual purposes...

(CROSSTALK)

BRAND:  I think he did in the interview, but he decided to dispose of it, rather than contest it.  As far as the Senate of the United States is concerned, it doesn‘t matter a hill of beans because the Senate has never taken cognizance of misdemeanor conduct that does not involve misfeasance in office, bribery, conspiracy...

MATTHEWS:  So you put this on the level of what, drunken driving, DUI?

BRAND:  Yes, I mean, look, we had a guy...

MATTHEWS:  Give me an example what this is like.

BRAND:  Well, what it‘s like is we had a guy in the House of Representatives who ran through a stop light and killed somebody on a motorcycle.  We never had a ethics proceeding about that because that did not impact his duties and his ability to serve in the U.S. Senate.  That‘s what this is about.  And by the way, if the Ethics Committee wants to open the door to every traffic violation and petty offense, they‘re going to be very, very busy.

PERKINS:  You know, I think that‘s trivializing what has happened here.  And I think that the Senate does have an interest...

BRAND:  The law trivializes it.

PERKINS:  Well, you know, I think if you want to—you can argue the letter of the law, but...

BRAND:  I do.  That‘s what—this is a nation of laws.

PERKINS:  You‘re right.

BRAND:  It‘s a nation of laws.

PERKINS:  But you also have a Senate that creates those laws, and if there‘s questions about...

BRAND:  They didn‘t create this law...

(CROSSTALK)

BRAND:  ... disorderly conduct law.

PERKINS:  If there‘s a question about the judgment and the ability of the leaders of this country, I think it‘s incumbent upon senators to do that.

BRAND:  His constituents can decide that.

PERKINS:  I mean, I used to—I worked under...

MATTHEWS:  OK, in a public restroom—let me go through your lingo here, your language as an attorney for Larry Craig, and you‘re schooled in understanding how these ethics committees work.  Your contention, as his lawyer, before the Senate is purely personal conduct.  Is it purely personal conduct to solicit in a men‘s room, in a public men‘s room in an airport?  Is that personal conduct, or is that an invasion of other people‘s privacy?

BRAND:  It‘s not conduct that has anything to do...

MATTHEWS:  But is it personal?

BRAND:  ... with his office.  With his office.  That‘s what I‘ve said. 

And that‘s what the precedents say.  You know, senator Packwood has been raised at an example.  You know, Senator Packwood has been raised as an example.  Senator Packwood obstructed a Senate investigation, altered records, sexually harassed women on his payroll and tried to get a job for his wife with a lobbyist before whom he had pending matters.  That‘s the kind of stuff the Senate takes cognizance of, not jay-walking, not drunk driving, not other kinds of offenses that have nothing to do with his office.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask about your role as his attorney in the Senate Ethics Committee.  My understanding is if Senator Craig was willing to walk, I mean, resign from the Senate and leave the Senate in the fairly near future, like the next couple days, there wouldn‘t be an Ethics Committee action.  Is that fair to assume?

BRAND:  No, I don‘t know that.  All I know is...

MATTHEWS:  Well, isn‘t that the normal thing?  You don‘t go after a guy on an ethics violation if he walks, if he leaves?  Why would you have an ethics violation on an ex-senator?

BRAND:  That‘s true.

MATTHEWS:  Therefore, I think he wants to fight for his seat.  I think that‘s what‘s going on here.

BRAND:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  It‘s not just a legal issue, he‘s fighting for his political seat as senator from Idaho, isn‘t he.

BRAND:  Well, he‘s fighting for his name...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what you would consider...

BRAND:  ... and his honor, as well.

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what you would consider a successful case on your part.

BRAND:  Yes.  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  You‘d like to save this guy‘s seat for him.

BRAND:  I‘d like to save his reputation, as well.

MATTHEWS:  How do you do it?

BRAND:  Well, I think by getting the committee to recognize what it has for 200 years, which is we don‘t recognize this as being part of his office.

PERKINS:  But how does that save his reputation?  He‘s already pled guilty.

BRAND:  Well, we‘re collaterally moving to deal with that.

PERKINS:  But the damage has been done, in that he‘s already pled guilty to a crime.  You don‘t...

BRAND:  The public damage has been done.  The legal damage can be undone.

MATTHEWS:  Did you know about this alley-oop play, where he talked to Senator Specter late last week and said—and learned that Specter was willing to support him, and then made a statement that said “intent,” knowing that Specter would come on television the next day and endorse him?  I mean, hoping all this would happen.  Did you know about this alley-oop?

BRAND:  Well, my conversations with him are privileged because I‘m his attorney, but I was aware of Senator Specter‘s position because I saw it on television.

MATTHEWS:  Was this opening created during his speech in hopes that the Specter statement on Sunday would help save him?

BRAND:  I don‘t know that.

MATTHEWS:  Was this a sequence...

BRAND:  I don‘t know that.

MATTHEWS:  ... of events that he was hoping for?

BRAND:  I don‘t know that.  I know that he‘s been reconsidering his position since he got lawyers who understand what his rights are and understand what the...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Do you claim...

BRAND:  ... clear precedents of the Senate are.

MATTHEWS:  ... this is an entrapment case, or haven‘t you worked out your legal defense?

BRAND:  I don‘t know that it‘s entrapment.  I know that he did it without counsel.

MATTHEWS:  No, I‘m saying that his plea was to obstruction of justice

to disorderly conduct.  Does that cover his behavior of lewd behavior, peeking or whatever it‘s called...

BRAND:  No.

MATTHEWS:  ... under the technical...

BRAND:  No, he didn‘t plead to any such thing.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Are you contending he never pled guilty to lewd behavior?

BRAND:  No, he didn‘t.  He was never charged with that.

PERKINS:  It was a lesser crime.  As a police officer, I worked undercover sting operations like this and never had...

MATTHEWS:  Like this?

PERKINS:  Similar, where we‘ve never—I never arrested someone who pleaded guilty to a charge that was—to a lesser charge, which this was, that had not committed a crime.

MATTHEWS:  So you‘re saying it‘s prima facie evidence he‘s guilty.

PERKINS:  I think that‘s the way the American people see it.  I think that‘s the way his colleagues in the Senate see it.  And they‘re learning from past scandals, and they‘ve had a few in the last year, to deal with this quickly to clean up the reputation of the Senate.

MATTHEWS:  You know, it‘s funny.  I grew up in a country where it was always the conservatives that said, He got off on a technicality.  He‘s really guilty.  Do you think he should get off on a technicality?

PERKINS:  Well, I mean...

MATTHEWS:  In other words, you recall the law, but what conservatives...

(CROSSTALK)

BRAND:  I live by technicalities.  That‘s what the law is.

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe he‘s innocent under the law, innocent under the Senate rules?

BRAND:  Yes.

PERKINS:  Well, from the standpoint of what the Senate is doing.  And I hope—I mean, he does have a good track record of leadership...

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Last question...

PERKINS:  ... but he‘s...

MATTHEWS:  How long a fight can he make before he has to leave the Senate?  Can he get through this next month?  Can he get through the end of the year, to his term?  Can he fight this on?

BRAND:  Well, he can...

MATTHEWS:  Are you encouraging him to keep up the good fight?

BRAND:  It depends what the committee does.

MATTHEWS:  The Ethics Committee.  But they haven‘t expelled a senator since the Civil War.

BRAND:  They haven‘t expelled anybody for something like this.

MATTHEWS:  They expelled guys for joining the Confederacy!

BRAND:  Twenty-three expulsions, twenty-two of which were for treason.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  So you don‘t think they‘re going to expel him.

BRAND:  I would be shocked.

PERKINS:  I think they‘re hoping he...

MATTHEWS:  Therefore, we‘re going to have a Senator...

PERKINS:  ... will do...

MATTHEWS:  ... Larry Craig for years to come, it looks like.

BRAND:  It could be.

PERKINS:  I think they‘re hoping he‘ll do the right thing and step down.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think that opportunity is fading.  Anyway, thank you, Stan Brand, a great—a quality attorney, in the words of Larry Craig.  Tony Perkins, standing up for the religious right, even in difficult circumstances and times of perhaps hypocrisy.

Coming up: Are we stuck in Iraq, like we were stuck in Korea back in ‘92 (SIC), when Ike won, or in Vietnam, when Nixon won?  Are we somewhere - - and this is the netherworld I wonder about.  We‘re not winning, we‘re not losing.  We‘re somewhere between victory and defeat in Iraq.  And is that going to just keep us there?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Frank Rich is a “New York Times” columnist and author of “The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth From 9/11 to Katrina.”  It‘s now in paperback, a great inexpensive purchase for you.

Frank, you‘re my favorite columnist these days.  You‘ve been that for a long time.  I love “The New York Times” on Sunday.  Let me ask you about -- let‘s go to this latest terrorist plot that‘s been foiled in Germany.  Does it make the case for us being in Iraq or a case against us having deployed our troops there for the last five summers?

FRANK RICH, “NEW YORK TIMES” COLUMNIST:  I think the latter.  It shows once again that the al Qaeda that we are fighting in Iraq, which is, by the way, about 15 percent of the violence in Iraq anyway, is not to be confused with the al Qaeda that is plotting from Pakistan even as we speak, you know, and protected essentially by one of our allies.

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the president‘s latest argument—and it does change almost monthly now...

RICH:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... as to why we need to keep our troop deployment in Iraq?  The latest seems to be, We‘re not winning the battle of Baghdad, which he basically launched early this year with the surge, we‘re not winning with the politics over there, not even winning with the Iraqi army we‘re beginning—or trying to stand up.  We‘re not winning with anything we‘ve ever talked about before.  We‘re winning in this kind of organic development of tribal and local Sunni efforts to foil al Qaeda in places like Anbar province.  What do you make of that?

RICH:  Well, not much.  First of all, this little rapprochement in Anbar province happened before the surge began.  In fact, Bush mentioned it in his January primetime speech announcing the surge.  So the surge is really a postscript to this.  It‘s not caused by the surge.

Secondly, these are people who were in all likelihood attacking American soldiers, could again, could certainly go after the government that we‘re supporting, the Maliki government.  So I don‘t think it‘s representative of anything and certainly not an excuse for staying the course with the same strategy in Iraq.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the president told a reporter that has just done the book on him, “Dead Certain,” that he plans to win the battle of October, November.  He intends, obviously, to have the final battle of his administration a successful victory against the Democrats to hold and continue his war in Iraq up to the level he‘s been fighting it.  Do you think he‘ll win it?  Will the Democrats buckle or lose outright to this fellow?

RICH:  I don‘t think it‘s a matter of the Democrats buckling.  They do not have the votes in the Senate.  It‘s that simple.  But what does it say about his priorities that a victory over the Democrats or a domestic political victory is more important than American interests abroad and American interests...

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know why.  Because he needs to win at home so he can, you know, prosecute the war overseas.  That makes sense.

RICH:  Well, I guess so.  But I think the only real prosecution of this war is, as everyone I think knows, is to kick it down the road so that the next president, whoever it is, can clean up the mess.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, that‘s unfortunately what I think.  I think that this strategy is to continue the war through to the next administration.  What do you make of this?  You know, you‘ve written about this.  You‘ve shown in your book the sequence of arguments.  What amazes me is the gullibility of the American people, and to a large extent the media, to the way the president sets everything up.  He always sets it up, If this, then this.  And they go, OK.  And they go through the game as he lays it out.  If there‘s so-called WMD, then we go to war.  If there‘s this, if there‘s a Petraeus report that‘s been refined by the White House to my satisfaction, then we stay.  And the press goes, OK, let‘s wait and see until—and it‘s like we get—we—the press and the country gets dragged into these premises, and all of a sudden, they realize they‘ve lost the argument again and nothing‘s gotten better.

RICH:  Well, I agree with you.  Part of it is there‘s not enough fact checking by the press.  There‘s so many erroneous statements being thrown out there, including right now about what‘s going on with casualties in Iraq, both American and civilian.  Very little of it is fact checked.  It becomes a cloud of sort of disinformation, and that‘s been true since the hyping of the WMDs before we went in.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you make of his success?  People like yourself suggest he‘s slight politically or slight intellectually even, and yet he keeps winning the argument.  If President Bush is a lightweight, as some suggest on the anti-war side and among the people on the left generally, and on the right in some cases—if he‘s a lightweight, why does he keep winning every damn argument that comes along on the war?

RICH:  Well, he wins in Washington because the Democrats do not have enough power in Washington.  He has lost it in the country.  We saw that in the last election results, and the Republicans are going to see it again in ‘08.  I mean, the country has turned against the war two years ago, and most people I think are just tuning the whole thing out because it‘s too depressing and tragic.

MATTHEWS:  Speaking of depressing and tragic, you unfortunately took a vacation during the Larry Craig incident.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Give us the column you would have written.  I mean, here‘s a guy who‘s voted against gay everything—gay marriage, gay civil unions, against gay serving patriotically in the military.  He‘s just shut down the door on any kind of gay relationship, and yet it‘s apparent he has no problem with gay relationships.

RICH:  Well, I think it‘s just—you know, it‘s terrific.  I‘m glad he‘s keeping it alive so I may be yet able to write about it.  But the truth is...

MATTHEWS:  As one of the producers here said, he‘s keeping the ball alive.  This is like the 15th inning here.  This guy just keeps doing it.  This guy is fighting under the table.  He‘s fighting for the Senate Ethics Committee.  Stan Brand says, well, he wants to not just get vindicated in the courts, get a reversal of his guilty plea, he wants to get left alone by Dianne Feinstein on the Senate Ethics Committee.  He wants to walk back into that Senate chamber and get the high fives from everybody.

RICH:  Well, look, he may end up with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by the time this is over.  I would argue that he has a case to make.  He‘s really guilty of nothing except, you know, being a hypocrite and being a fool.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, listen, he‘s guilty if he‘s charged and he‘s pled guilty to...

RICH:  But to a misdemeanor.

MATTHEWS:  To a misdemeanor.  Let‘s face it.  But it is—there are ordinances along these lines that he‘s violated, clearly.  He can argue it‘s not a firing offense.

RICH:  You can argue it‘s not a firing offense.  You could argue that he‘s been sort of Imused, in a way, it happened so quickly, or at least he could argue this.  And...

MATTHEWS:  But just think of the standards in Idaho.  Do you think if the people in Idaho knew that this was the guy‘s pastime on the way home every time he came home to visit the peeps in Idaho, that they might have reelected him?

RICH:  Well, possibly not.  But who knows?  I mean, this will be a really interesting test, an interesting test for the Republican Party.  I mean, imagine the Ethics Committee stuff when he can drag in David Vitter and who knows who else and turn this into the kind of thing Arlen Specter hasn‘t seen since the Anita Hill and Clarence Thomas standoff.

MATTHEWS:  Specter has been helping him out.  He‘s endorsing him. 

Maybe there‘s some intramurals going on here between Specter and McConnell.  But it looks to me like Arlen is playing attorney here.  He‘s being a civil liberties lawyer here, trying to defend his colleague against all matter of folk.

Anyway, Frank Rich, the best columnist in America right now.

RICH:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re like Hemingway.  You‘re fighting for the title!  Anyway, “The Greatest Story Ever Sold” is in paperback.  That means it‘s cheaper.

Up next: A youngster slaps John McCain in the face for being old.  I‘m speaking rhetorically, but this guy—wait until you see the scene.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Frank Rich is the “New York Times” columnist and author of “The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth, From 9/11 to Katrina.”  It‘s now out in paperback.  A great, inexpensive purchase for you.

Frank, you‘re my favorite columnist these days.  You‘ve been that for a long time.  I love “The New York Times” on Sunday.  Let me ask you about - let‘s go to this latest terrorist plot that‘s been foiled in Germany.  Does it make the case for us being in Iraq or a case against us having deployed our troops there for the last five summers?

FRANK RICH, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”:  I think the latter. 

It shows once again that the al Qaeda that we‘re fighting in Iraq, which is, by the way, about 15 percent of the violence in Iraq, anyway, is not to be confused with the al Qaeda that is plotting from Pakistan, even as we speak, you know, and protected essentially by one of our allies. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the president‘s latest argument—and it does change almost monthly now...

RICH:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... as to why we need to keep our troop deployment in Iraq?  The latest seems to be, we‘re not winning the battle of Baghdad, which he basically launched early this year with the surge.  We‘re not winning with the politics over there.  We‘re not even winning with the Iraqi army we‘re beginning—or trying to stand up.  We‘re not winning with anything we have ever talked about before.  We‘re winning in this kind of organic development of tribal and local Sunni efforts to—to foil al Qaeda in places like Anbar Province. 

What do you make of that?

RICH:  Well, not much. 

First of all, this little rapprochement in Anbar Province happened before the surge began.  In fact, Bush mentioned it in his January prime-time speech announcing the surge.  So, the surge is really a postscript to this.  It‘s not caused by the surge. 

Secondly, these are people who were, in all likelihood, attacking American soldiers, could again, could certainly go after the government that we‘re supporting, the Maliki government.  So, I don‘t think it‘s representative of anything, and certainly not an excuse for staying the course with the same strategy in Iraq. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the president told that reporter that did—has just done the book on him, “Dead Certain,” that he plans to win the battle of October, November.  He intends, obviously, to have the final battle of his administration a successful victory against the Democrats to hold and continue his war in Iraq up to the level he‘s been fighting it. 

Do you think he will win it?  Will the Democrats buckle or lose outright to this fellow? 

RICH:  I don‘t think it‘s a matter of the Democrats buckling. 

They do not have the votes in the Senate.  It‘s that simple.  But what does it say about his priorities that a victory over the Democrats or a domestic political victory is more important than American interests abroad and American interests...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What he says—well, you know why.  Because he needs to win at home, so he can—he can, you know, prosecute the war overseas.  That makes sense. 

RICH:  Well, I—I guess so. 

But I think the only real prosecution of this war is—is, as everyone I think knows, is to kick it down the road, so that the next president, whoever it is, can clean up the mess. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, that‘s, unfortunately, what I think.  I think that this strategy is to continue the war through to the next administration. 

What do you make of this?  You know, you have written about this.  You have shown in your book the sequence of arguments.  What amazes me is the gullibility of the American people, and, to a large extent, the media, the way the—to the way the president sets everything up.  He always sets it up, if this, then this.  And they go, OK.  And they go through the game as he lays it out. 

If there‘s so-called WMD, then we go to war.  If there‘s this, if there‘s a Petraeus report that‘s been refined by the White House to my satisfaction, then we stay.  And the press goes, OK, let‘s wait and see until—and it‘s like we get—we—the press and the country gets dragged into these premises.

And they have all—all of a sudden, they realize they have lost the argument again, and nothing has gotten better. 

RICH:  Well, I agree with you.

Part of it is, there‘s not enough fact-checking by the press.  There are so many erroneous statements being thrown out there, including right now about what‘s going on with casualties in Iraq, both American and civilian.  Very little is fact-checked.  It all becomes a cloud of sort of disinformation.  And that‘s been true since the heightening of the WMDs before we went in. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do you make of his success?  People, like yourself, suggest he‘s slight politically, or slight intellectually even.  And, yet, he keeps winning the argument.  If President Bush is a lightweight, as some suggest on the anti-war side and among the people on the left generally, and on the right in some cases, if he‘s a lightweight, why does he keep winning every damn argument that comes along on the war? 

RICH:  Well, he—he wins in Washington because the Democrats do not have enough power in Washington.  He has lost it in the country. 

And we saw that in the last election results.  And the Republicans are going to see it again in ‘08.  I mean, the country has turned against the war two years ago.  And most people, I think, are just tuning the whole thing out, because it‘s too depressing and tragic. 

MATTHEWS:  Speaking of depressing and tragic, you, unfortunately, took a vacation during the Larry Craig incident. 

(LAUGHTER)

RICH:  That will teach me to go away, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Give us the column you would have written.  I mean, is—here‘s a guy who has voted against gay everything, gay marriage, gay civil liberties—gay civil unions, against gays serving patriotically in the military. 

He‘s—he‘s just shut down the door on any kind of gay relationship, and yet it‘s apparent that he has no problem with gay relationships. 

RICH:  Well, I think it‘s just—you know, it‘s terrific.  I—I‘m -

I‘m glad he‘s keeping it alive, so I may yet be able to write about it. 

But the truth is...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, as someone—as one of the producers here said, he‘s keeping the ball alive.  This is like the 15th inning here.

RICH:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And this guy just keeps doing it.

RICH:  I...

MATTHEWS:  This guy is fighting under the table.  He‘s fighting for the Senate Ethics Committee.  Stan Brand is his lawyer.

He wants to not just get vindicated in the courts, get a reversal of his guilty plea.  He wants to get left alone by Dianne Feinstein on the Senate Ethics Committee.  He wants to walk back into that Senate chamber and get the high fives from everybody. 

RICH:  Well, look, he may end up with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by the time this is over. 

I—I would argue that he has a case to make.  He‘s really guilty of nothing, except, you know, being a hypocrite and being a fool. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, no, listen—no, he‘s guilty if he‘s charged and if he‘s pled guilty to... 

(CROSSTALK)

RICH:  But to a misdemeanor. 

MATTHEWS:  To a misdemeanor, let‘s face it.

But it is—there are ordinances along these lines that he‘s violated, clearly.

RICH:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  You can argue it‘s not a firing offense. 

RICH:  Yes.  You could argue it‘s not a firing offense.  You could argue that he‘s been sort of Imus-ed in a way.  It happened so quickly.  Or at least he could argue this.  And...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But just think of the standards of—in Idaho. 

Do you think if the people in Idaho knew that this was the guy‘s pastime on the way home every time he came home to visit the—the peeps in Idaho, that they might have reelected him? 

RICH:  Well, possibly not.  But I—but who—but who knows?

I mean, this will be a really interesting test, and an interesting test for the Republican Party.  I mean, imagine the Ethics Committee stuff, when he can drag in David Vitter and who knows who else, and turn this into the kind of thing Arlen Specter hasn‘t seen since the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas standoff. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, well, Specter is in—has been helping him out.  He‘s endorsing him.  And maybe there‘s some intramurals going on here between Specter and McConnell. 

But it looks to me like Arlen is playing attorney here.  He‘s being a civil liberties lawyer here trying to defend his colleague against all manner of folk.

Anyway, Frank Rich, the best columnist in America right now...

RICH:  OK.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re like Hemingway.  You‘re fighting for the title.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, “The Greatest Story Ever Sold,” it‘s in paperback. 

That means it‘s cheaper. 

Up next:  A youngster slaps John McCain in the face for being old. 

I‘m speaking rhetorically.  But this guy—wait until you see the scene. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Time for some more politics. 

Talk about making an entrance.  Fred Thompson has slow-walked his way into the race for president.  No, he‘s not going to be in the debate tonight up in New Hampshire.  Instead, he‘s put out this new and first TV commercial. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, THOMPSON CAMPAIGN AD)

FRED THOMPSON, FORMER U.S. SENATOR:  I‘m Fred Thompson, and I approve this message. 

On the next president‘s watch, our country will make decisions that will affect our lives and our families far into the future.  We can‘t allow ourselves to become a weaker, less prosperous, and more divided nation. 

Today, as before, the fate of millions across the world depends upon the unity and resolve of the American people.  I talk about this tomorrow on Fred08.com.  I invite to you take a look and join us. 

NARRATOR:  Fred Thompson, Republican for president. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  We waited all these months for that?  Not exactly the lift of a driving dream, is it? 

And here comes the first shot from that tough Irishman Peter King of

New York, who is putting his weight behind front-runner Giuliani—quote -

“Rudy‘s a real crime-fighter.  Fred Thompson has primarily done it on television.  Rudy got crime in New York City under control, not by acting, but by getting results.

Well, as P.T. Barnum put it, if you want a crowd, start a fight.  Maybe Sam Brownback should get into a fight.  Here he is addressing the legions of Brownback backers in the Granite State.  Look at those people.  I think there‘s four of them out there.  Live free or die. 

On the Clinton front, Bill appeared on “The Today Show” this morning, and weighed in on an area of personal experience.  Here he is ministering to the needs of one Larry Craig. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TODAY SHOW”) 

MATT LAUER, CO-HOST, “THE TODAY SHOW”:  For all intents and purposes, can he survive?

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Unless they vote to expel him, which they can do.  That‘s a judgment—you know, that‘s something that he and the Republicans will have to work out. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Finally, our kicker tonight:  How would you like to be a patriotic war veteran who suffered for his country, and then had to suffer through this? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do ever worry that, like, you might die in office or get...  

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... or get Alzheimer‘s or some other disease that might affect your judgment?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Thanks for the question, you little jerk. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

MCCAIN:  You‘re drafted. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t you love it? 

The kid said to his face, this war hero, who was a POW for five-and-a-half years, what happens if you die in office? 

I think the response from the senator was just about right.  I really like McCain.  He called him a little jerk.  What an appropriate response. 

Anyway, up next—I shouldn‘t say that. 

Up next, our HARDBALL debate:  Is it wrong for Oprah Winfrey—she‘s so popular—to endorse Barack Obama for president?  She‘s going to do it, big money. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERTHA COOMBS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Bertha Coombs with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks nosedived, as pending home sales plunged last month.  The Dow Jones industrials lost 143 points, and S&P 500 fell 17 points, while the Nasdaq dropped 24.  The National Association of Realtors reported pending sales of existing homes fell 12 percent in July from June and 16 percent from a year ago. 

Investors were also disappointed by the Federal Reserve‘s so-called Beige Book look at the economy.  It gave no clear sign the Fed would cut interest rates at its next meeting September 18.  The Fed‘s report said, while the crunch is hurting housing, its impact on the overall economy is limited. 

Meantime, Apple unveiled a new line of iPods.  It also cut the price of its iPhone by $200.  But Apple shares fell more than 5 percent today. 

Meantime, oil rose 65 cents in New York, closing at $75.73 a barrel. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

When Oprah Winfrey talks, people listen.  She has an enormous audience every day, courtesy of her syndicated talk show, which everybody watches, her magazine, her Internet empires, everything.  An endorsement from Oprah Winfrey can send a book flying to the top of the bestseller list.  I can tell you that.

But can a presidential endorsement by Oprah put a candidate in the White House?  We will find out, because Barack Obama hopes that‘s going to be the very case.  For the first time, Oprah is actually endorsing a presidential candidate.  His name is Barack Obama from her city of Chicago.  She‘s doing fund-raising for him. 

But it‘s also the question we raise here today for our friends. 

Michael Eric Dyson is a Georgetown professor.  He is author of the book “Know What I Mean?”  And he‘s an Obama supporter.  The Reverend Marcia -- Marcia—is it Marcia or Marcia?

REVEREND MARCIA DYSON, FOUNDER, ROSA FIELDS FOUNDATION:  It‘s Marcia.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Marcia Dyson is a Hillary Clinton supporter and founder of the Rosa Fields Foundation.

So, Marcia, what do you make of Oprah Winfrey?  Tribune of the people, looking out for the women in trouble in this world, for all people in distress, a comforter of the aged, of the sick, of the...

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON, PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... those in trouble, has taken sides politically.  Is that fair to the political system? 

MARCIA DYSON:  Oprah Winfrey is all the things that you said, but she‘s an American citizen who is entitled to do whatever she wants politically. 

MATTHEWS:  To throw her weight around?

MARCIA DYSON:  She can throw her weight around. 

But she is the big O, sure enough, with her “O” magazine and all the other entities that you mentioned that she owns.  But she is not the omnipresent, she is not the omnipotent or the omnipotent. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  One of the communist leaders—I think it was Stalin—said, how many regiments or how many divisions does the pope have? 

How many divisions does—how many electoral does Oprah Winfrey have? 

MARCIA DYSON:  She has great potential to boost up and give what they call the big bounce to anything that she promotes.  But we‘re not talking about books.  We‘re not talking about Spanx.  We‘re not talking about...

MATTHEWS:  We‘re talking about who‘s going to be commander in chief of the United States, who is going to rule this country.

(CROSSTALK)

MARCIA DYSON:  ... about a president of the United States.  And Oprah, by her own admittance, has said that she has never been involved in politics.  So, for her to put forth a political candidate is quite different than putting forth an author...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, that is what I‘m saying.

MARCIA DYSON:  I think—but I think that the people...

MATTHEWS:  Do you think it‘s fair? 

MARCIA DYSON:  I think—well, yes, sure, it‘s fair for her to do it.  But will it be—how much impact that it would have, given this particular climate?  I say not. 

MATTHEWS:  Professor Dyson I have to get in here.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Professor Dyson...

MARCIA DYSON:  I think not.

MATTHEWS:  ... is it fair for a woman of her sterling character to be involved as a street corner pol, basically...

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON:  Well...

MARCIA DYSON:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  ... some—some ward healer coming in there and saying, I say vote for the ticket of Oprah Winfrey; I‘m voting...

(CROSSTALK)

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON:  Well, we save that for Chicago political machinery, that was more akin to the dailies and not to Ms. Winfrey. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON:  Ms. Winfrey is... 

MATTHEWS:  Is this boss Oprah?

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON:  Well, no, no, no.

MARCIA DYSON:  No.

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON:  Well, you know what?  She‘s been boss in the—you know, in the so-called vernacular for a long time. 

But Oprah Winfrey, I think, has done an amazing thing.  She has sided with a man that she thinks brings new hope and political vision to America.  And let‘s not forget, last time around, George W. sat on her couch, boosted from like 10 points down beneath Al Gore to a couple points up. 

So, it‘s not as if Oprah Winfrey‘s political charm has not been tested, is untested.  It has been tested.  I‘m saying that, now, she‘s got an actually worthy candidate to lend her charm to... 

(LAUGHTER)

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON:  ... a charismatic figure...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But is she—is she playing—is she playing ward healer here? 

(CROSSTALK)

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON:  No, no, no. 

What she is doing is saying this:  I have never sided with anybody politically.  I am not on so-called a syndicated television—I mean, I‘m on a syndicated television show.  Therefore, I don‘t have to be subject to these fair use laws. 

And I think what‘s important is that she‘s saying:  Look, America, I have never chosen anybody, left or right.  This is the man I choose.  This is the man I side with.  You should take a hint from me. 

MATTHEWS:  Would you say that if she had endorsed Hillary? 

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON:  Of course, if she had endorsed Hillary, that would be a good thing.  I happen to have stood with the candidate she‘s endorsed.  I think the big O is for the big O, Obama and Oprah, not only alphabetically but also ideologically.   

MARCIA DYSON:  Please.  Oprah Winfrey has had Obama and his wife twice on her show.  His ratings still did not reach the 22 points that Hillary Clinton has had at some point in this political campaign. 

MATTHEWS:  She doesn‘t have the bounce. 

MARCIA DYSON:  People can always follow Oprah on certain things.  I think there‘s always a line some people won‘t cross.  I think that their vote is a whole different category. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you endorse up?  The old rule of politics, professor—you know the political science—is to endorse.  A big governor of a state endorses somebody for state assembly, that means something.  But a guy in state assembly can‘t endorse somebody for governor.  Can a Congressman endorse somebody for president?  Can a talk show host, as popular as she is, say vote for this person for president. 

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON:  She is an extraordinary influential woman.  We‘re not only talking about her influence in terms of the books she‘s able to sell or the movies she‘s able to drive people to.  It‘s also the political and social capital.  Her social capital can translate into political captain.  We know that she‘s a hugely influential person. 

I don‘t think it‘s down or I don‘t think it‘s up.  I think it‘s a parallel move with an extraordinarily important and influential figure lending her weight and credence.  Oprah herself admits that.  She says look, I can give a bunch of money.  That‘s not what‘s important.  It‘s my presence.  It‘s what I represent.  It‘s the people who listen to me. 

I‘ll tell you what, it‘s better to have Oprah than not have her.  It‘s better to have her standing behind you than not.  It‘s an untested political theory to determine whether or not a politically and a socially influential woman can leverage that authority politically.  I‘ll tell you what, I‘m willing to take the risk and I‘m willing to put my bet down on Oprah. 

MATTHEWS:  Could it be that people resent Hollywood and celebrity endorsements?  Every time I hear some hot shot Hollywood person, maybe not Oprah, some big shot Hollywood type endorsing someone, I say, you are too cute by half.  You‘re too elite.  You‘re not telling me how to vote. 

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON:  She‘s not seen as Hollywood. 

MARCIA DYSON:  Celebrity endorsement; I don‘t think they actually do move the crowd.  What it does is it might move tabloids on who‘s reading for whoever‘s there, looking at fashion.  A lot of celebrities, there are American citizens who have, like I said with Oprah, the right to endorse or to put forth whatever candidate they want.  I know Oprah says she‘s for change.  I‘m just hoping that maybe at some point in her career she will be objective, maybe after the primary is over and Hillary is sitting on top of the hill, going toward that White House, she would have her on and she would talk about the changes. 

Oprah said she wanted something fresh.  The reason she‘s behind Obama.  Well, Hillary Clinton is bringing some changes and experience, as she said in her New Hampshire speech. 

MICHAEL ERIC DYSON:  But here‘s the point.  She‘s with Obama.  She stood with him.  It‘s the first time in the history of her own life.  I think it makes news.  We‘re on HARDBALL.  We talk about it around the world.  On Saturday we‘ll see.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m not allowed to endorse. 

(CROSS TALK) 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you sir.  Michael‘s book is “Know What I Mean?”  Up next, will Craig survive?  This guy‘s fighting for his life.  He‘s like Freddy Krueger.  He keeps coming back and it‘s Halloween.  Larry Craig, this guy won‘t quit.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Our round table tonight, it‘s a hot one.  The “Washington Post‘s” Anne Kornblut, Matt Bai of the “New York Times Magazine,” the author of the book “The Argument,” and Jay Carney of “Time Magazine.”

First up, the comeback of Larry Craig.  Who would have believed that Senator Craig has hired Stan Brand to fight a Senate Ethics Committee probe.  A new audiotape of what appears to be a telephone call, apparently intended for his attorney Billy Martin, has him talking Saturday about how Arlen Specter‘s coming to his defense on Sunday and, quote, this could take a new turn.

Could it?  What we‘re seeing here, Jay Carney, is two Larry Craigs.  One goes on national television on Saturday out in the Idaho, and says he‘s getting out of the race.  A half hour before that, he makes a call to his lawyer saying, I‘m going to fix this a little.  I‘m going to say I intend to quit, but I‘m basically working to stay in the Senate.  And he‘s got Stan Brand to win the Ethics Committee fight. 

Are you stunned that this guy‘s fighting a secret campaign to stay there after looking like he was walking? 

JAY CARNEY, “TIME MAGAZINE”:  I‘m not stunned because he‘s a desperate man. 

MATTHEWS:  Didn‘t he lose on Saturday when he walked out there and quit?  Didn‘t you think he had lost?

CARNEY:  I thought it was over.  And I was surprised.  I was surprised that he came back and is trying to resuscitate his career.  Imagine the humiliation.  He does not want to admit that he was guilty of anything in that Minneapolis Airport restroom. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CARNEY:  And he knows this.  He‘s got to know his Senate career is over. 

MATTHEWS:  He doesn‘t seem to. 

CARNEY:  I‘d be highly surprised if he ran for reelection. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘re talking about a guy who wants to fight his case in the Ethics Committee because he‘s staying.  If he was leaving, there wouldn‘t be.  Matt, if he leaves the Senate, there‘s no Ethics Committee action at all.  He‘s only fighting the Ethics Committee because he intends to stay.  We just had his attorney on to explain that. 

MATT BAI, “NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE”:  There appear to be a bunch of realities Senator Craig may be late in catching up to, both professional and personal.  Mostly, I think it‘s a sad—

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  -- that we‘re catching up to the reality that this guy intends to stay.  And you have haven‘t been kicked out of the Senate since the Civil War, guys who signed an oath to the confederacy.  That‘s the last guys to get kicked out of the Senate. 

BAI:  He could dig in and he could stay.  As Jay says, he‘s been thoroughly and publicly humiliated.  I think it‘s a sad personal tragic story no matter what, whether he stays or goes.  It‘s just an unseemly affair that‘s going to drag on and on. 

CARNEY:  I think he may have a case.  You know, the circumstances—circumstantial evidence against him—if what he was trying to do as overturn the guilty verdict and stay in the Senate and clear his name in the Ethics Committee by overturning the guilty verdict, then he might have a case.  I feel, you know, fairly sorry for the guy.  It‘s embarrassing. 

MATTHEWS:  Anne Kornblut, let me read you something from the AP.  It just moved.  The Senate Ethics Committee rejects Senator Larry Craig‘s request.  It says it will review the complaint against him pending any resignation.  I‘m not sure what that means exactly.  He‘s going to fight it before the Ethics Committee.  But he‘s also intending to stay in the Senate.  That‘s why he‘s fighting it. 

ANNE KORNBLUT, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  This is bizarre strategy on his part.  If he intended to fight it and stay, the fact he went out and held a press conference admitting he was getting out makes no sense. 

MATTHEWS:  To get the heat off. 

KORNBLUT:  I think what we see now is there‘s no real indication Republicans on the Hill are going to cut him any slack. 

MATTHEWS:  They don‘t have to.  Anne, how do they make him leave?  And the ethics committee what, they censure him?  They reprimand him?  What can they do to him? 

KORNBLUT:  There‘s nothing they can do except try and humiliate him and shame him out of the job.  That obviously hasn‘t worked so far.  What I‘m waiting to see is what the zoo is going to be like when he sets foot back on the Hill.  It‘s bad enough and he‘s not even there.  When he gets there, he‘s surrounded by his colleagues, there are going to be mobs of reporters asking questions about this.  This is going to be a nightmare for them like they‘ve never envisioned. 

MATTHEWS:  Jay, do think this could emerge by this coming weekend as the story?  I mean, the guy, do you think he‘s going to pull the plug by the end of the week?  He‘s lawyered up.  He‘s got Billy Martin.  He‘s conniving.  He‘s got Arlen Specter behind him, for some reason, the ranking Republican on Judiciary.  And he‘s fighting the case not just in the courts to withdraw his guilty plea, he‘s fighting in the Ethics Committee because he intends to go back to the Senate. 

I don‘t want to drag this out, but this guy want to. 

CARNEY:  He clearly wants to.  If you‘ve been publicly humiliated the way he has, maybe he feels he has nothing else to lose.  And certainly, given the way the Republican party turned on him in an instant, he‘s probably not inclined to do the party any favors at this point.  You know the party is just completely anguished over the fact that they‘re having this sex scandal live on beyond the summer. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m reading that AP story.  The way I interpret that report that we got that just flashed is that they‘re not accepting his argument that this is personal behavior and has nothing to do with the Senate. 

BAI:  I would imagine this is going to go in 24 hour cycles.  I imagine it‘s very hard to look forward.  I have a feeling that for Senator Craig and his family, whom I don‘t know, but for whom this must be a difficult time, this is all unfolding in slow time and the situation is very fluid.  He may feel today he wants to stay.  Tomorrow the results may be different.  There may be polling results, conversations with friends or colleagues. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll tell you one reason why he‘s got to fight it; he told his kids he‘s not guilty.  He told his wife he‘s not guilty.  The kids are loyal as heck.  He may well feel the best thing he can do is go down in flames rather than go down with an admission of guilt.  That‘s what it looks like right now.  Anne. 

KORNBLUT:  People fight charges all the time even when they are guilty and survive politically.  Look at Bill Clinton, for example.  I think perhaps the error here was in conceding that he was going to leave so early.  If he had simply said no, I didn‘t do anything wrong.  I‘m going to fight this, I think we would be telling a very different story.  I think what‘s surprising is the about face, or at least what we thought was an about face because of what he told us publicly. 

MATTHEWS:  What I love is Mitch McConnell and John Ensign, the top Republicans, admitting the episode is not over.  This guy‘s alive.  Those statements late this afternoon blew my mind.  They‘re willing to admit right now they haven‘t beaten this guy yet.  We‘ll be right back with the round table to talk about Oprah and a couple other things, including the president.  You‘re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the “Washington Post”—with the round table, the “Washington Post‘s” Anne Kornblut, Matt Bai of the “New York  Times Magazine,” what a great magazine that is, and, of course, “Time Magazine,” which now comes out on Thursday. 

CARNEY:  Friday. 

MATTHEWS:  Friday.  Anyway, it‘s amazing.  Let‘s talk about the Fred Thompson thing right now.  Fred Thompson has waited and slow walked this thing, Matt.  He‘s coming in I guess tomorrow.  He‘s doing a “Tonight Show” tonight.  He‘s skipping the debate tonight.  Is he too late for the party? 

BAI:  I don‘t think he‘s necessarily too late.  I for one am really curious.  I don‘t know what you feel.  I have no idea what he‘s going to bring. 

MATTHEWS:  I figure—How long is it going to take us before we have a rendering, a big media judgment?  I say two weeks.  Two weeks, he gets the gong, he gets the hook or else he gets the applause. 

BAI:  Could be right, but there‘s a wide open field on the Republican side.  There‘s a lot of voters still very curious about the field and very undecided.  In that sense—in another election, it might be too late.  In this cycle, I‘m not sure. 

MATTHEWS:  I think you‘re too broad.  I think there‘s one curiosity left.  That‘s Fred Thompson. 

KORNBLUT:  I think on the Democratic side it would be too late for somebody to get in.  It may even be too late for a Bloomberg type to get in.  But I agree with Matt.  I think on the Republican side is, nothing‘s too late at this point.  They‘ve had a hard time.  They‘ve been casting around.  They can‘t find anyone they like. 

MATTHEWS:  They‘re still looking for John Wayne. 

KORNBLUT:  Or Ronald Reagan. 

MATTHEWS:  This guy could fit the bill, fit the uniform. 

CARNEY:  I think there are two measure, Chris.  One will be the public reaction, what are the crowds like, how is he doing on the stump.  We‘ll know very quickly, once the third quarter of fund-raising reports are filed how he will did.  We know he—how he did in the three weeks after he announced.  Did the money go up?  If it didn‘t, he‘s done.

MATTHEWS:  Let me do what I like to do.  Anne Kornblut, my buddy.  Here‘s what I like to do, start a fight.  I think—I think what he‘s going to do is shut down Mitt Romney in the Bible belt.  Southern Baptist, evangelical people are going to say, here‘s the real thing, pro-life, anti-gay rights, the whole thing.  Here‘s the guy that is a southern boy, went to school, went to church like we did, just like us. 

He‘s going to shut down Romney.  That‘s going to help Rudy Giuliani, because Romney will be shortened in the south.  So it‘s a three-way race.  And then if McCain drops out of the race, he may endorse Rudy.  I could see this working to Rudy‘s advantage once again, Anne Kornblut. 

KORNBLUT:  Although McCain and Thompson have been friends. 

MATTHEWS:  I hear he‘s mad at him for entering the race.  I hear McCain is mad that Thompson got in.

KORNBLUT:  I think I am probably the last person in the country who doesn‘t think McCain‘s campaign is over.  At this point, I think he still could have another life in him.  But I think you are right.  I think Thomson is going to suck a lot of the attention away from Romney initially, certainly in the south where Mormonism has been a big issue for him.  And I think this race is going to look really different in about a month or two from now than it does now, on the Republican side. 

MATTHEWS:  Well the interesting thing is the Irish betting odds right now, Matt Bai, show that Thompson is moving up.  Thompson is going to be the number one contender to Rudy, not Romney, right off the bat. 

BAI:  He‘s going to get that bump.  I agree with Anne.  I don‘t think McCain is done yet either.  I think it‘s too early.  This will test what social conservatives want in this election because Giuliani -- 

MATTHEWS:  How about they want a social conservative. 

BAI:  Well, maybe.  But Giuliani‘s contention here—his argument is essentially that yes, I may be off on issues use like abortion.  I know how important those are.  But right now the war on terrorism -- 

MATTHEWS:  You are singing my song.  I‘m with you.  But I‘m saying he gets that vote.  But the people who really care about religion and geography and region, they‘re going to go with Thompson, not with Romney. 

CARNEY:  I think you are right, Chris.  I think the assumption that a lot of Washington Republican that somehow people for whom those social issues are the most important political issues on the table will somehow—it‘s condescending to suggest that they will hold their nose and vote for Rudy Giuliani, I think. 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  I still think it‘s Rudy‘s as the front-runner.  I‘m going with the numbers.  Rudy‘s is the front runner.  I think Thompson can steal the Bacon from Romney and pull in second.  Anyway, thank you, Anne Kornblut.  Thank you Matt Bai.  Thank you Jay Carney.  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   

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

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