updated 9/12/2007 11:19:57 AM ET 2007-09-12T15:19:57

Guests: Joe Biden, Mark Green, John Feehery, Jim Webb, Amanda Carpenter, Howard Fineman, David Brody

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  General Petraeus won‘t say if the dying in Iraq will make America safer.  Then what are we fighting for?  What are the people dying for?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  I heard something astounding late this afternoon.  General Petraeus told us that he couldn‘t say whether what we‘re doing in Iraq makes America safer or not.  He couldn‘t say whether the lost lives, the misery, the hundreds of billions of dollars being spent are worth the effort in terms of our national security.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN WARNER ®, VIRGINIA:  Are you able to say at this time, if we continue what you have laid before the Congress here as a strategy, do you feel that that is making America safer?

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, CMDR., MULTI-NATIONAL FORCE, IRAQ:  Sir, I believe that this is, indeed, the best course of action to achieve our objectives in Iraq.

WARNER:  Does that make America safer?

PETRAEUS:  Sir, I don‘t know, actually.  I have not sat down and sorted out in my own mind.  What I have focused on and been riveted on is how to accomplish the mission of the multi-national force Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  This must be a first, an American field commander who can‘t say whether the sacrifices he‘s asking of his troops every day and night are worth it to their country.  Did General Washington not know the answer in the American Revolution?  Did General Eisenhower not know the answer in World War II?  What are we doing in Iraq if the very man commanding the war doesn‘t know whether it‘s doing us any good in terms of our national security?

This is the real news of the so-called Petraeus report, the general who won‘t tell how long it will take us to achieve the mission in Iraq, can‘t tell us whether achieving that mission, should it be achieved, is worth it.

But it gets worse.  The person who has to account for this policy of sending and keeping the American army in Iraq isn‘t some good soldier named Petraeus, it‘s the president who did the sending and the keeping.  That the president continues to hide behind Petraeus, a man who admitted late this afternoon that he‘s given no thought to the wisdom of the Bush policy of fighting this war in Iraq, is not an acceptance of accountability but a betrayal of it.

Tonight, we have two of the biggest sluggers in the Senate, Joe Biden and Jim Webb.

In tonight‘s sordid political news, Senator David Vitter protested a few weeks back that his dealings with prostitutes was limited to a certain D.C. madam.  Well, late today, a former prostitute in New Orleans held a press conference to release the results of a lie-detector test in which she described having twice-a-week sessions with the Louisiana Republican at $300 a session for four months.  Well, you do the math.  The former prostitute dares the current senator to take a lie-detector test.

And today‘s the sixth year since 9/11.  Is former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani a hero?  That‘s our HARDBALL debate tonight.

But we begin with HARDBALL‘s David Shuster, who covered all the action in the Senate today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  After yesterday‘s mostly polite questioning in the House, today General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker testified in the Senate and ran into a bipartisan buzzsaw.

SEN. CHUCK HAGEL ®, NEBRASKA:  Are we going to continue to invest American blood and treasure at the same rate we are doing now?  For what?

Sen. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Over one thousand weekly attacks—one thousand—and we‘re calling that success.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA:  This was biggest foreign policy mistake ever.

SEN. CHRIS DODD (D-CT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  Sixty-eight percent of Iraqis believe that the surge has hampered conditions for political reconciliation.  Seventy percent believe that security has deteriorated as a result of this.  Ninety-three percent of all Iraqi Sunnis think it‘s justifiable to kill Americans.

SEN. NORM COLEMAN ®, MINNESOTA:  We need something a little more than, say, Give us more time to come back again in the fall.

SHUSTER:  Like his earlier testimony, Petraeus urged patience and said the U.S. troop escalation is producing results.

PETRAEUS:  The military objectives of the surge are in large measure being met.

SHUSTER:  But Democrats and even a few Republicans accused the witnesses of being misleading.

HAGEL:  We‘ve got too many disconnects here, General, way too many disconnects.  Are we going to dismiss the five reports that I just noted?

BIDEN:  Is it not true that the fundamental purpose of the surge, the primary purpose, political settlement, has not been met at this point?

PETRAEUS:  Sir, clearly, we do not have a national-level political settlement.

SHUSTER:  The aggressive questioning seemed to wear down Ambassador Crocker.  He went farther than he ever has in acknowledging deep problems with the U.S. occupation.

RYAN CROCKER, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO IRAQ:  There is an enormous amount of dysfunctionality in Iraq.  That is beyond question.  The government in many respects is dysfunctional, and members of the government know it.

SHUSTER:  But Crocker and Petraeus insist that lawmakers should consider the progress with some of the local governmental councils.  Democrats were aghast, noting that the Bush administration has been focused on Iraq‘s central leadership for almost the entire duration of the war.

DODD:  We have been begging that leadership for the last four-and-a-half years to get their act together, begging them to do it, but no real indication that we‘re getting any closer to that.  What makes you possibly believe that anything further like this is going to produce the results that everyone else has failed to produce over the previous four-and-a-half years?

PETRAEUS:  The national reconciliation has not taken place, but there are steps just happening, there are actions being taken that give you hope that they can, indeed, reconcile with one another.

SHUSTER:  Crocker argued that things like oil revenue sharing were happening even without legislation.  Once again today, there were protests.  And with emotions running high, Senator Hagel himself lashed out when the witnesses urged Congress to ignore the 15 of 18 benchmarks for progress that Iraq has failed to meet.

HAGEL:  Those 18 benchmarks didn‘t come from the Congress of the United States.  Those benchmarks came from the Iraqi government and this administration.  Somehow, it‘s the Congress dictated these benchmarks.  Well, we didn‘t.

SHUSTER:  All of this today came against the backdrop of the sixth anniversary of 9/11.

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN:  So the question we must answer is not whether we are winning or losing in Iraq but whether Iraq is helping or hurting our efforts to defeat al Qaeda.  That is the lesson of 9/11.

SHUSTER:  Democrat Barack Obama said an Iraq hearing at this time was inappropriate.

Sen. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I think that we should not have had this discussion on 9/11, or 9/10 or 9/12, because I think it perpetuates this notion that somehow, the original decision to go into Iraq was directly related to the attacks on 9/11.

SHUSTER:  This afternoon, Petraeus and Crocker testified before another Senate panel, the Senate Armed Services Committee, and it was more of the same.

SEN. EDWARD M. KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  What I hear from you is that the American commitment is going to be open-ended, it‘s going to be open-ended into the future, and I‘m not sure the American people are willing to buy into that.

SHUSTER:  The most stunning moment, though, came after a question to Petraeus from Republican John Warner.

WARNER:  If we continue what you have laid before the Congress here as a strategy, do you feel that that is making America safer?

PETRAEUS:  Sir, I believe that this is, indeed, the best course of action to achieve our objectives in Iraq.

WARNER:  Does that make America safer?

PETRAEUS:  Sir, I don‘t know, actually.  I have not sat down and sorted out in my own mind.  What I have focused on and been riveted on is how to accomplish the mission of the multi-national force Iraq.

SHUSTER (on camera):  For Petraeus to even struggle with that simple question about whether the Iraq war has made America safer won‘t exactly help the White House because, as it stands, President Bush is expected to refer to Petraeus repeatedly later this week when the president speaks to the nation and argues that the high troop levels in Iraq should continue.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David.

Senator Joe Biden is the Democratic—he‘s actually the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee—Foreign Relations Committee of the U.S.  Senate.  He chaired this morning‘s hearings with General Petraeus.

I am stunned, Senator—not usually stunned here.  I know you‘re not stunned often.  But there‘s 169,000 people over there fighting and risking their lives every day, men and women in Iraq, wondering if they‘re serving their country, in some cases.  Here we have the general commanding them saying he doesn‘t know whether they‘re making America safer over there.

BIDEN:  It‘s a sad day, Chris.  Look, this is—I think what the whole day proved, both in my committee and now in the Armed Services Committee, is that the two men in charge of the policy, I don‘t think they embrace the policy.  I think they know that there‘s no possibility to be able to secure Iraq, bring our troops home and leave something stable behind based on the strategy of this administration.  And yet that‘s what they‘re supposed to implement.  I think that‘s what you saw today.  That‘s me making a judgment about two men I know pretty well.  They did not say that to me, but that‘s what their answers said to me.

MATTHEWS:  Well, You know them well.  I only know them from appearances.  Ryan Crocker looks like he does not believe in the policy because he didn‘t really explain it.  He never really made the case that there‘s going to be a political unification of that country, the kind of central government that you oppose and believe won‘t work.  He doesn‘t sound like he believes it, either.

BIDEN:  I don‘t think he does.  Look, I don‘t think—I think there‘s virtually—there‘s very few people who at this point don‘t agree with what Les Gelb and I have been pushing, not because we pushed it, either as a default position or as their starting position, which is the only way—the only way American forces can leave Iraq without leaving chaos behind and having a civil war metastasize into the region is to separate these parties, give them breathing room within their own federal areas and have a loosely knit central government that distributes revenues.

I think that‘s the only, only way out.  I‘ve thought that for some time.  And I believe—and it sounds self-serving, but I really believe, Chris, the vast majority of the foreign policy and military specialists are reaching that conclusion.

MATTHEWS:  But we have a policy of restoring stability to the streets of Baghdad so that that central government can come together, and you‘re saying...

BIDEN:  Not possible.

MATTHEWS:  ... all the blood and treasure to try to do that has a worthless end because in the end, there won‘t be a coming together and this mission will fail.

BIDEN:  There will not be a coming together.  Look, by the definition

look, this president‘s had a policy.  What was his policy?  He was going to establish a strong central democratic government in Baghdad.  How was he going to do that?  He was going to, quote, “stand up” an Iraqi army so we could stand down.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BIDEN:  The second part of the policy was, We‘re going to have this surge.  Why?  To give breathing space to the warring sectarian factions to get together and reach an accommodation.  By their own measure, they have failed.  The military will not be ready for at least another two years.  I don‘t believe they‘ll be ready for four to five years.  I‘m not sure they‘re ever...

MATTHEWS:  How long are we going to be in Iraq, according to Petraeus‘s estimates, based upon your conversations with him?  He won‘t say it in the hearing.  Will he tell you?  How many years, how many decades are we going to be over there?

BIDEN:  Well, if, in fact, we reelect—I‘m not being a wiseguy now.  If we elect a Republican president after this, we‘re going to be there for another seven, eight, ten years.

MATTHEWS:  And when will we achieve this goal of an independent...

BIDEN:  We will not.

MATTHEWS:  ... defensible, democratic, stable government in Iraq?

BIDEN:  We will not.  What we will have done, we‘ll try to occupy as long as we can to keep the wheels...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BIDEN:  ... from totally coming off.  That‘s all this is about, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  So we‘re the cork in the bottle.

BIDEN:  We are the cork in the bottle.  That‘s it.  And that is not—that is not something I want my—that our sons and daughters to be.  We will not tolerate that.  The American people will not tolerate us being the cork in the bottle.  They‘ll take sacrifices for a victory that, in fact, enhances the security of the United States of America, but they‘re not going to do this to keep the status quo ante, and they shouldn‘t.  They shouldn‘t be asked to do it.

MATTHEWS:  What‘s going to happen in the U.S. Senate, sir?  You‘re one of the senior members.  What‘s going to happen between now and the end of this year to deal with this war question?

BIDEN:  Look, we‘re going to—look, the bottom line is, Chris, you know, we need 67 votes in the United States Senate to override the president, a recalcitrant president‘s veto.  He‘s going to veto everything.

My hope was -- - my hope was that what would happen with this report is enough Republicans would see through it, we would be able over the month of October and early November to pick up enough votes to set deadlines of beginning to withdraw our troops...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BIDEN:  ... and reject this notion that we‘re going to have—we‘re going to go back to pre-surge levels this time next year.  For what?  For what?

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me just count—let‘s count the names.  You might—you‘ll probably pick up Chuck Hagel.  He‘s leaving the Senate...

BIDEN:  I hope, yes.

MATTHEWS:  ... because he‘s apparently being shunned by other Republicans.  You‘ve got Gordon Smith, I believe, who‘s been outspoken in this regard.  Will you get Susan Collins?  Will you get Olympia Snow?  Will you get John Sununu?  Will you get Norm Coleman?

BIDEN:  The answer...

MATTHEWS:  Will you get these people?

BIDEN:  The answer is, based on what I heard—I shouldn‘t guess, but in my committee, Coleman and Sununu, they weren‘t as critical of the report as I hoped they would be.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BIDEN:  So I‘m not optimistic about how many of them are going to switch, at this point.  But look, Chris, you know, you‘re not doing this, but what is—what we all do is we handicap whether the president has a good day, a bad day, the administration‘s policy has a good day or bad day.  None of that matters.  What‘s going to matter is when I pick up “The Washington Post,” “The Philadelphia Inquirer,” “The San Francisco Examiner” a month from now and they‘re going to see nothing, nothing materially has changed for the better.

And so all this malarkey about whether or not the president‘s had a good day and whether or not he‘s been able to move the pea in the shell a little bit longer is going to be irrelevant because this comes down to how many people are going to be dead between now and then, how many people are wounded between now and then.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you again about the performance.  Let me watch this again together.  And I want your reaction.  I‘ll get out of your way.  I found this profound.  This is the senior Republican on Armed Services, one of the most respected colleagues you have, and I know you agree, John Warner.

BIDEN:  Yes.

MATTHEWS:  Here he is, asking the question.  I think he took the bark off this guy.  And I respect him as a soldier, but not as a policy maker.  Petraeus shouldn‘t be a policy maker.  We only have one of them, the commander-in-chief.  Here‘s the question and the answer again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WARNER:  Are you able to say at this time, if we continue what you have laid before the congress here as a strategy, do you feel that that is making America safer?

PETRAEUS:  Sir, I believe that this is, indeed, the best course of action to achieve our objectives in Iraq.

WARNER:  Does that make America safer?

PETRAEUS:  Sir, I don‘t know, actually.  I have not sat down and sorted out in my own mind.  What I have focused on and been riveted on is how to accomplish the mission of the multi-national force Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, Senator, you have the port in which the—Dover, Delaware, where the bodies come back.  I hate talking about this.  I know you do, too.  But if the commander over there can‘t justify the deaths of these soldiers because it serves a national purpose and makes us safer, then what the hell are we doing there?

BIDEN:  We shouldn‘t be there, Chris.  We should not be there now. 

We‘ve got to get out of there.

Look, Chris, on my way back, I was supposed to fly out this last Friday on a C-130.  And on that flight, they placed what they call—and this is heart-wrenching—they refer to every one of those bodies as a “fallen angel.”  They put six fallen angels on that aircraft.  And you know, Chris, what do you say?  Why did they fall?  What do you say?  What do you say to their parents?  What do you say to those troops?

And you know what?  They‘re incredible, Chris.  I know—you know, I‘m not one of these guys that gets on every time and talks been about, Oh, I love the military, and the rest.  But let me tell you something, Chris.  I‘ve been over there eight times.  These kids are brave.  They get in these vehicles every damn day, and they ride out on those roads, some of them having been hit already, knowing that their chance of getting blown away is overwhelming, and they do it every day.

And what do we—what are we doing now?  We are not telling the American people the truth about the failure in Iraq, and we are not having the courage—the courage to have a fundamental change in policy—withdraw, change the dynamic, eliminate the footprint, move outside the cities, get out of this civil war, insist on a federal system, bring in the international community.

But this is—this—I‘m—I‘m—I‘m getting myself angry about it.  I mean...

MATTHEWS:  I understand, sir.  You‘re very emotional about this because you‘re talked to me.  I‘ve watched you on television, not just with you personally, but watched you on television talking about the need to give these men the equipment to protect them, the vehicles, to protected them from IEDs.

And I keep thinking about General Eisenhower.  I didn‘t serve in the military.  I was in the Peace Corps.  But let me tell you something.  General Eisenhower, when he met with the troops on D-Day, right before they took off and risked their lives, and lost them in many cases, he said, Good luck, soldier.  Imagine if he‘d said to them, Good luck, soldier.  I don‘t know what the hell you‘re fighting for, I don‘t know if this is going to make our country any safer or not.  It‘s unimaginable.

It‘s unimaginable that Petraeus came before the Senate and spoke.  Imagine what this is going to sound like on Armed Services Radio tonight and television when they watch the commander say they don‘t know whether they‘re making America safer or not.

BIDEN:  Chris, I...

MATTHEWS:  And he‘s asking them to go into battle every day.  It‘s maddeningly stupid.  And this president seems to be hiding behind a guy he gave the orders to and then is expecting him to defend the policy, and he admits it‘s beyond his pay level to defend the policy.

BIDEN:  Let me tell you something, Chris.  He also knows that there‘s other generals and admirals, some his superiors, who do not think it‘s making America safer.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, I think that is his honest answer, Senator.  I think you were on to it...

BIDEN:  So do I.

MATTHEWS:  ... when you said you know—when they say they don‘t know, I‘m afraid they do.  Senator Joe Biden, chairman of the Senator Foreign Relations Committee, which held these very important hearings today.

Coming up, another prominent war critic, Senator Jim Webb of Virginia.  He‘s coming here in a minute to talk about what he got done today with Petraeus.  And we‘re going to go over this again and again tonight.  If the commanding general, Petraeus, cannot tell us why we‘re fighting, cannot say this is making America safer, then who can?  Certainly not the president because he doesn‘t know any more than Petraeus knows, apparently, because he put Petraeus up there to sell his case.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker faced some tough questioning today by the Senate.

Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, sits on both committees, Armed Services and Foreign Relations.  And here he is taking a few minutes‘ break from the Capitol from the hearings. 

Senator, thank you for taking a break, a couple of minutes.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Tell us, are we learning anything from General Petraeus today? 

SEN. JIM WEBB (D), VIRGINIA:  I don‘t really think there‘s anything new, nothing that people who have been working on this couldn‘t have expected. 

You know, we—my—my take on this is that—actually, the night that the president announced the surge, I said, this is not a new strategy. 

It‘s a tactical adjustment.  And the only way it becomes strategic if there

is if there are gains in terms of the political situation inside Iraq, and particularly unless there‘s something to be gained diplomatically. 

And that just hasn‘t happened.  So...

MATTHEWS:  And those two witnesses have been very unforthcoming in telling us whether we‘re getting any closer to that goal of a real Iraqi government. 

WEBB:  Well, the one thing that was really disturbing to me that—that I hope we can run down in the future is that they‘re talking about withdrawing troops, but they‘re only going to withdraw them to the level that they were before the surge began.  And we—you know, we—we need more than that. 

I‘m one—one voice up here, one vote, but that‘s certainly not what people thought when this began. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that a little token for the Senate and the Congress, a little forget-me-not? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What—what is the 30,000 troop reduction about?  It looks to me like it‘s...

WEBB:  It‘s reality. 

MATTHEWS:  ... shop dressing. 

WEBB:  It‘s reality. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

WEBB:  They—they have to get down to the pre-surge level, at a minimum, because they are burning up the active units. 

And, unless they‘re going to extend the tours further—one thing that I said to General Petraeus in the Foreign Relations Committee hearing is that there is one undeniable reality from this surge, and that is that, by moving these troops forward into Iraq, they—they change the rotational cycles of the Army and the Marine Corps units, and they have burned them out. 

And that‘s why I put in this amendment to—to try to give people as much time here at home as they spend overseas, just to try to get a—a safety net under our military people while we‘re trying to resolve this situation. 

MATTHEWS:  You have been in combat.  You have faced the enemy.  You have been in it.  Do you think it‘s useful for the commanding general to say he doesn‘t know if it‘s worth it, in terms of our national security, in terms of making America safer, not knowing the answer to that basic question?

WEBB:  I—I watched that exchange.  I‘m on the committee, as you know.  I thought it was a very telling exchange. 

And my—my reaction, when I was watching that, was that, like many people, I felt very strongly that we should not have invaded Iraq, that there was no direct threat to the United States that would bring about an invasion like that.  And, by invading Iraq, we did become more—more vulnerable as a nation...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

WEBB:  ... because of how it accelerated the international terrorist movement.  So, now we‘re in this conundrum, where we have to figure out a way to remove our combat forces and not bring greater instability to the region.  And that‘s the problem that everybody is wrestling with up here. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you—were you surprised that General Petraeus was quick as a snap to come back and say, there is absolutely no connection between 9/11, which we‘re marking today, and going to war with Iraq?  There‘s no connection.  There was no connection between Iraq and 9/11. 

He said it just like that, without even questioning it. 

WEBB:  My—my reaction—I have spent at least eight hours with him today, with—with both these committees back to back—is that he is really narrowing the focus of his remarks to Iraq.  He‘s not taking the bait, as it were, in terms of talking about what might happen in Iran or larger terrorism issues. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

WEBB:  He‘s just not doing it. 

Even when I asked him straight up on this dwell-time amendment, could he justify using our troops the way that we have, when the traditional cycle is two for one, you know, twice as long at home whenever you‘re deployed?  And the Brits have been doing four to one, six months in Iraq and two years back. 

I asked him, could he—did he—do you feel comfortable with this?

He wouldn‘t even answer that.  I think he‘s just trying to keep everything focused right into the Iraq area. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you say to the people who voted for you to end the war, and the war‘s still going? 

WEBB:  I have a long, long—big part of my life working in this area, starting when I was 28, when I wrote my first book on—which was on strategy, and actually, of course, serving in the military before that.  I was very clear on the campaign trail last year that this was a war that was entered into recklessly and that we had to get out of carefully. 

And I think that we—I—I‘m—I really regret that we‘re not further along, in terms of putting this formula together.  But we‘re pushing every day to get the right formula in place...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

WEBB:  ... which is to get aggressive diplomacy as an umbrella over solving this problem.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I don‘t think President Bush wants us out.  Do you?

WEBB:  No, they—well, he certainly does not want to talk to Iraq‘s neighbors in a constructive way.  And that is the key to solving the problem. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Senator Jim Webb, thank you.  Virginia Senator.

Up next: dirty politics on the campaign trail, and a prostitute who says she plied her trade with Louisiana Senator David Vitter.  We‘re talking about another prostitute than the one we heard about before.  The beat goes on.

All the day‘s political news, the big stuff and the sordid stuff—coming up on HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

And time for more politics. 

On the sleaze front, the man who ran the dirty campaign against John McCain back in that 2000 South Carolina Republican primary, a campaign of sleaze that accused McCain of fathering a black child, accused Cindy McCain of being a drug addict, well, he is back to his old tricks. 

His name is Warren Tompkins, who headed the Bush campaign that left McCain slimed and embittered in that infamous South Carolina primary, is now doing his worst for Mitt Romney. 

Today‘s “Boston Globe” places Tompkins at the head of a Web site attacking Fred Thompson as a philandering moron and a skirt chaser who backs abortion rights. 

Apparently, the Romney crowd fears that Fred Thompson, a down-home conservative with a deep-fried Southern accent, will do too well in Dixie, and they are out there trying to beat him up, the way the Texas crowd did McCain back in 2000. 

The target of the Romney sleaze, Fred Thompson, was, of course, the senator assigned the job of probing all that honky-tonk fund-raising the—the Clinton family did back when they held the White House, all those Lincoln Bedroom sleepovers for those who could pay the price in Clinton campaign contributions, all that Motel 6 use of the president‘s house. 

Well, here we go again.  Hillary Clinton has just been caught with and has had to return $850,000 from a guy named Norman Hsu, now under investigation by the FBI. 

And some good news tonight, and I mean it.  Bob Kerrey, a senator who didn‘t make a Hollywood star pay to stay overnight with him in the Nebraska governor‘s mansion, is heading back to the United States Senate.  He‘s heading for that Senate seat Chuck Hagel has said he‘s giving up in 2008. 

And a former prostitute who said she plied her trade with Senator David Vitter of Louisiana—that‘s another one, besides the one we heard about before—today offered up the results of a lie-detector test.  And she stuck to—she stuck it to the senator.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  He wants to have taxpayers paying this man.  So, why do we want to have a man that is representing our country lie continuously and continuously?  That‘s—that is just not ethical whatsoever. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, you heard it from...

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  ... swear and under oath that I‘m telling the truth, when you‘re a liar. 

(END AUDIO CLIP) 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you heard it from her. 

And, finally, late-breaking Larry Craig news tonight.  And I mean it‘s news.  A Minnesota judge has granted the senator‘s request for a hearing to take back his guilty plea.  Well, that hearing is scheduled for September 26, very near the deadline he faces for getting that dealt with, or else having to resign. 

Up next:  Rudy Giuliani is running for president based in large part on his leadership after the 9/11 attacks, six years ago today.  The HARDBALL debate tonight—and this is a hot one—is Rudy really a hero? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BRIAN SHACTMAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Brian Shactman with your CNBC “Market Wrap.” 

Stocks surging, as investors growing more confident that the Federal Reserve will cut interest rates next week.  The Dow Jones industrials gained 180 points.  The S&P 500 picked up nearly 20 points, and the Nasdaq gained 38. 

McDonald‘s gave the Dow a boost, reporting a larger-than-expected increase in August sales, shares of the fast-food giant jumping more than 3 percent on the day. 

Meantime, General Motors saying it would need fewer incentives to attract buyers.  It also showed off new models at the Frankfurt, Germany, auto show.  GM shares were up more than 4 percent on the day. 

And stocks getting a further boost when OPEC announced that it would increase oil production by a modest 500,000 barrels a day.  But, despite that, interestingly enough, oil rose 74 cents in New York, closing at a record high of $78.23 barrel. 

And that is it from CNBC, America‘s business channel—now back to

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Today marks the sixth year since the attacks of September 11.  And Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani is running a—in large part for his role leading New York during and after the attack.  So, is Giuliani a 9/11 hero?  That‘s our debate tonight. 

Mark Green is the president of Air America Radio.  And he was elected public advocate in New York City.  And, for eight years, he was the number-two elected official under Mayor Giuliani.  He also ran, unsuccessfully, to replace him in 2001.  And John Feehery is a Republican consultant. 

Let‘s take a look at this.  The Giuliani campaign said today it was

not a day for politics.  So, they took their Web site down today, in memory

of the 9/11 attacks.  The blue page that remain read: “September 11, 2001 -

We will not forget.”  And the only active link was for the National September 11 Memorial and Museum Web site. 

Let me start right now with Mark. 

What do you make of Rudy Giuliani as a hero? 

MARK GREEN, PRESIDENT, AIR AMERICA RADIO:  He‘s not a hero on 9/11.

John Kennedy, John Kerry, John McCain are authentic heroes because they volunteered to serve their country under fire and were wounded.  Rudy Giuliani was a politician with a fine instinct toward opportunism and grandeur who did rise to the occasion on 9/11. 

I saw him up close as a public official that day and thereafter.  And he was commiserating, courageous, eloquent, and strong. 

But his provable failures before and after 9/11 undermine any hero status he may have had.  For seven years, he let the radios of the fire and police departments not speak to each other, which, tragically, led to so many firefighter deaths that day.  And he located the emergency command center in the World Trade Center complex after it had been attacked...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

GREEN:  ... in ‘93, for example.  And he tried to use the 9/11 catastrophe right after to extend his term or overturn term limits, which was a—which was a—a self-benefit that I found unseemly and political. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Mark, let‘s go to John. 

Your defense of Rudy Giuliani as a 9/11 hero.

JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST:  I‘m not sure if he was a hero, per se.  I think what he proved was, he was an effective...

MATTHEWS:  Was he better than Ray Nagin was in New Orleans?

FEEHERY:  Obviously much better.  He was also...

MATTHEWS:  Would you agree with that, that he did a better job in the aftermath of that catastrophe than Ray Nagin did in the aftermath and during the catastrophe in New Orleans? 

GREEN:  Are you...

MATTHEWS:  Would you say Rudy Giuliani is a better mayor than Ray Nagin?

GREEN:  Are you asking me, Chris?

MATTHEWS:  Yes, Mark.

GREEN:  Absolutely.  He performed wonderfully on and right after 9/11, but failed before and after in the policy that could have mitigated it. 

FEEHERY:  Listen, the real heroes on 9/11 were the firefighters and the cops who went in the burning buildings and... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  They‘re not running for president. 

FEEHERY:  They‘re not running for president.. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

(CROSSTALK)

FEEHERY:  But—but—but Rudy...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s get to the point here. 

FEEHERY:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Does Rudy Giuliani deserve to win the presidency on the basis of people looking at him as the iconic hero of 9/11?  Is that a fair case? 

FEEHERY:  I think it‘s a fair case to say he was the iconic leader of 9/11, who led the city before and after.  I like Rudy Giuliani because he cut taxes and he cut crime.  And then, when he showed up at 9/11, he proved that he was a street corner conservative, a guy who go and would help people through their hard times. 

MATTHEWS:  A street corner conservative, that‘s the line.  It sounds more winning than—what was that thing we used to hear from President Bush?  What was that? 

FEEHERY:  Compassionate conservative. 

MATTHEWS:  Compassionate conservative.  I don‘t think that sold too well.  But this one might.  Street corner conservative sounds a little ethnic, a little gritty, a little big city.  It works for me. 

GREEN:  Chris, if I could.  A picture can speak for a million words.  The photos of Giuliani which we‘ve all seen repeatedly wandering around the canyons of downtown Manhattan near the trade center, with the soot and the chaos around him; he looks heroic.  It‘s very hard to rebut that with mere words.  And so that image is seared in people‘s minds and it has gotten him a third of the vote in the primaries and potentially the nomination. 

It‘s going to require journalists to like read Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins‘ book, which is quite documented, or speak to Jerry Howard (ph).  Jerry Howard was the head of emergency preparedness.  When Giuliani asked him after ‘93, the first World Trade Center attack, where should we locate the emergency command center?  And Howard said in Brooklyn, certainly not in the World Trade Center, because Ramzi Yousef, after he was arrested for planning the ‘93 attack, said next time we‘ll use a bigger bomb and knock them down.  Giuliani ignored him. 

Worse, this year, he‘s lied about it and said Hour never said that when the memo stream documents Hour‘s point of view. 

MATTHEWS:  What did he do right? 

FEEHERY:  He showed he‘s a real leader.  He was there.  He went to the funerals.  He went to the—he actually got the city prepared for—if you look at what happened New Orleans versus New York, New Orleans was not ready for any kind of catastrophe.  New York was.  The way it‘s rebuilt is because of Rudy Giuliani‘s leadership. 

MATTHEWS:  But I‘m looking at a hole in the ground six years later. 

FEEHERY:  Buildings like that take time to build.  But the city itself is doing unbelievable. 

MATTHEWS:  They built the Empire State Building in the middle of the Great Depression in about a year. 

FEEHERY:  Well,  I tell you what, there‘s some politics involved. 

Rudy Giuliani is no longer the mayor of New York.  Maybe that‘s part of it. 

MATTHEWS:  You were bragging about how he rebuilt New York. 

FEEHERY:  He rebuilt the whole city.  Look it. 

MATTHEWS:  You‘re in New York.  You know the politics.  Is New York rebuilt?  It looks like it‘s booming economically right now. 

GREEN:  New York is booming economically, under, may I say, my friend Michael Bloomberg, who I ran against.  Look, even after 9/11, when -- 

MATTHEWS:  Just think how great it would be doing if had you been running it. 

GREEN:  I don‘t go there, Chris.  Even after 9/11, when there was time, Rudy Giuliani—remember in the last month—said he was down at World Trade Center as much or more often than the emergency workers, breathing in the same toxic air.  That wasn‘t true.  It was him exploiting a moment for personal gain.  We‘re going to hear more about that, either from his rivals or the media or the firefighters who know best. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, we‘re going to see because he‘s running ahead in the polls right now.  He‘s leading in the betting odds over in Ireland.  I keep noticing the in-trade betting.  He‘s still there.  Anyway, thank you, Mark Green.  It‘s great to have you on.  And John Feehery, thank you buddy.  Up next, the HARDBALL round table.  Can anyone give us an answer about what our goal is in Iraq and whether we‘re getting any closer to reaching it and whether it will make us any safer? 

The general over there, Petraeus, says he can‘t tell whether this war is making us any safer or not.  To me, that‘s a damning confession.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Our HARDBALL round table tonight, “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman, TownHall.com‘s Amanda Carpenter and David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network.  First up, Petraeus reports, this time to senators.  There was a telling exchange with senator John Warner late today. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN WARNER ®, VIRGINIA:  Are you able to say at this time if we continue what you have laid before the Congress here as a strategy, do you feel that that is making America safer? 

PETRAEUS:  Sir, I believe that this is, indeed, the best course of action to achieve our objectives in Iraq. 

WARNER:  Does that make America safer? 

PETRAEUS:  Sir, I don‘t know actually.  I have not sat down and sorted out in my own mind.  What I have focused on and been riveted on is how to accomplish the mission of the multinational force Iraq. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know what that answer means, Howard, except it‘s like he‘s saying in French, I‘m just a functionaire.  I don‘t figure out the policy.  I just do what I‘m told.  He was asked the question, are young men and women getting killed over there, is it making our country safer, and he couldn‘t say that on national television?  I fear Armed Services Radio tonight, when that reaches those people over there who are fighting and risking their life every day; what are they going to say?  The general doesn‘t know whether we‘re here for a good reason or not. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”:  Two things.  Senator John Warner, newly liberated because he‘s not running again. 

MATTHEWS:  Newly liberated, I like the phrase. 

FINEMAN:  He‘s basically speaking for everybody at the Pentagon who is not David Petraeus.  Petraeus is for as many troops in Iraq for as long as possible.  A lot of other people at the Pentagon, a lot of other military planners question whether the Iraq war is sapping our overall military strength and posture.  That‘s number one. 

Number two, if he can‘t answer that question, if Petraeus can‘t answer that question yes, then the answer in his mind I‘m sure—I‘m guessing, but I‘m sure—is no.  In other words, if he could have said it, he would have said it.  The fact that he didn‘t say it, I think, is absolutely stunning, because what he‘s really saying is, don‘t take me there because I can‘t give you an honest answer. 

MATTHEWS:  Amanda, your sense of this?  I keep going back to what this very good soldier kept saying about his troops.  He said every one of the 169,000 troops over there has a different view of the fighting.  But each one has to ask themselves in the end in the darkness of midnight, I‘m going to risk my life tomorrow.  Am I doing something for my country.  His answer is I don‘t know. 

AMANDA CARPENTER, TOWNHALL.COM:  Yes.  After he said that, he said, listen, I was given a job to do.  I look and see what I can do in Iraq.  I was given directives to fill and I‘m doing my best to do that.  I was in there.  I thought it was devastating when he said I don‘t know.  But this is going to be something he‘s going to have to explain more fully. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the White House will be running around fixing this up by tonight. 

CARPENTER:  I‘m not sure.  I do know Petraeus will be at the press club making an appearance tomorrow.  I‘m sure that‘s going to be the number one question. 

MATTHEWS:  I think so, too.  Let me go right now to David Brody.  I don‘t know if it hit you like it hit me. 

DAVID BRODY, CHRISTIAN BROADCASTING NETWORK:  Chris, it was obviously more than an awkward moment.  There are two headlines here.  The one headline is, from the Democrats, how General Petraeus just gave them a talking point.  At the same time, the Republicans talking point tomorrow will be 30,000 troops out by next summer.  So now where are we on Capitol Hill?  It‘s back to what Joe Biden said. 

MATTHEWS:  David, that is a cheap political an assessment.  The issue here is not what headline is out tomorrow.  It‘s the profound question that he was asked after all these months of waiting, is this war worth it.  He couldn‘t answer it.  That‘s a perfundity.  That‘s not some question of whether the administration dug up some clever tchotchke, some headline they could throw. 

You know and I know and everybody here knew that 30,000 thing was drummed up months ago when they figured out the troop rotation.  They knew what they could throw out to the public as a little party favor.  So let‘s talk about reality here, not what‘s going to be in the headlines of the papers tomorrow, who are dumb enough to print it as a headline, but the profound question here; we have a guy we were told would give us the rationale for this war, who would say we‘re reaching an objective that‘s worthy of all our loss of life and limb and treasure, and he couldn‘t answer the question. 

BRODY:  There‘s no doubt about it, Chris.  Absolutely 100 percent, that‘s the reality.  What I‘m saying is that the reality also is that what are the Democrats going to do on the Hill?  That going forward, 67 votes; this is President Bush‘s war. 

MATTHEWS:  I agree with you.  Thank god our measure of religious or whatever our value system is doesn‘t depend on the success or guts of the Democratic party.  Thank god.  Because you‘re right.  They won‘t make the fight.  In fact, they don‘t have the 60 votes or the 67 to overrule the guy, they won‘t really make the fight even rhetorically. 

Howard, that‘s what I‘m afraid of; they won‘t even make the argument clearly and sharply, because they‘re afraid they‘re going to lose. 

FINEMAN:  Well, two things.  First of all, the presidential candidates, the Democratic presidential candidates, almost without exception now, are talking about firm end dates for withdrawal of troops. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  But that‘s the -- 

MATTHEWS:  You mean including the three or four that voted to authorize the war. 

FINEMAN:  Including those who voted to authorize the war.  Now they‘re talking about end dates.  That‘s true.  But I think the Democratic party is a little bit scared because they—I thought the tone today with Petraeus and with Ryan Crocker was very interesting.  I expected a little more combat than I saw.  Interestingly, I thought it was John Warner who was the one who surgically took them apart. 

MATTHEWS:  He did it like a gentleman.  By the way, Crocker was not exactly a hard case for diplomatic success today. 

FINEMAN:  The other thing is that George Bush, I think rather cynically, is trying to back the Democrats into the corners of their own conscience, because the Democrats, like Jim Webb, how you just had on, know that withdrawing from Iraq, because of Bush‘s policy on the way in, is a difficult thing to do. 

MATTHEWS:  How about beginning the withdrawal. 

FINEMAN:  Well, I agree with you. 

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t understand why they don‘t use that idea.  We‘ll be back.  I think the country knows we can‘t stay more than two or three more years, really, on the outside.  Why don‘t we begin to send that message to our friends over there; you got to get your act together.  You got about two years, no matter who wins the next election.

BRODY:  Chris Dodd, among others, said today.

MATTHEWS:  They don‘t seem to want to send the message.  They‘re deluding these people into thinking we‘re there for ten years.  Petraeus sounds like a ten-year man.  This guy, this cookie pusher that was with him today, Ryan Crocker, god, that‘s the State Department.  We‘re in trouble.  We‘ll be right back with this round table.  You‘re watching HARDBALL.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the round table.  Another shoe dropped in the David Vitter case today.  A second prostitute has given public testimony today against Senator Vitter, the Louisiana Republican.  This prostitute, or former prostitute says Vitter paid her for 300 dollar meetings over a four-month period, twice a week sessions.  She says she took a lie detector test and dared the Republican senator to do the same. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WENDY CORTEZ, NEW ORLEANS PROSTITUTE:  I can not boast that I (INAUDIBLE).  Why do we want to have taxpayers paying this man?  Why do we want to have a man that‘s representing our country lie continuously and continuously?  That‘s—that is just not ethical, whatsoever.  You‘re going to get up there and swear under oath that you‘re telling the truth, when you‘re a liar.  And I know what it feels like. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  The question is, will Vitter face the same kind of attack that Craig got from his colleagues?  Howard, I hate to come off as too fair and equitable here, but this is pretty sleazy stuff and the Senate‘s going go to have to deal with it.  It looks to me.  I think, if anything, the gay groups will say, it looks like a double standard here? 

FINEMAN:  This is going to force the hand of the Ethics Committee, I think.  They had not wanted to deal with it.  They‘re probably going to have to, also because Larry Craig‘s story is still out there.  He‘s withdrawn his guilty plea.  Now there‘s been a hearing set for him in Minnesota. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s hanging on by his fingernails right now. 

FINEMAN:  Yes, but he‘s going to get the chance to try to withdraw the case, so that story is going to be out there all month. 

MATTHEWS:  So we‘re going to have dueling banjos, Amanda, between him and Vitter.  What a revolting development it is, if you‘re trying to defend a Senate seat.  How are your colleagues Vitter and Craig doing? 

CARPENTER:  I‘m not sure we are going to be seeing Vitter for another two weeks after this shoe dropped. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it them,. and the other guy is Republican; does this mean, Even Steven, they have to cut their losses on both sides? 

CARPENTER:  I‘m not sure we can compare them yet, until we see criminal charges with Mr. Vitter, which we haven‘t yet. 

MATTHEWS:  What would be the charge? 

CARPENTER:  Having a relationship with a prostitute. 

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know if you can do a late hit on that.  Let me go to the Christian Broadcasting Network right now and David Brody.  What do you make of this? 

BRODY:  There‘s a lot of things—

MATTHEWS:  These are new stories.  These people come out with tapes. 

They come out with lie detector tests.  This is investigative reporter.  Journalists aren‘t out there digging up stories on David Vitter.  It seems like, as often is the case, the woman squeals. 

BRODY:  There‘s no doubt about it.  And Mitch McConnell can‘t wait for all of these people to go away fast enough.  But what is he going to do?  Vitter is out there and there‘s going to be a situation where at least Vitter had the mea culpa early on.  With Larry Craig, it was this, it was that, it was all over the place, in terms of flip flops.  That may be part of the difference here. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, you have bathroom seats.  You have prostitutes.  You have a guy with 90,000 dollars in his refrigerator.  It would seem like a good time to run against an incumbent, David. 

BRODY:  Well, there‘s no doubt about it.  You know, obviously, with Larry Craig, he‘s gone in 2008.  What‘s the point there?  With Vitter, he‘s up in 2010.  So there‘s more wiggle room there. 

MATTHEWS:  I think this is about the time in the movie the Greek turtles took over.  Anyway, thank you Howard Fineman, Amanda Carpenter, and David Brody.  Thank you all for joining.  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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