updated 9/25/2007 11:56:51 AM ET 2007-09-25T15:56:51

Guests: David Weprin, Anne Kornblut, William Nosal, Sarah Leonard, Howard Fineman, Jill Zuckman, Chris Cillizza

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  High noon at Columbia University.  So who won the battle of Morningside Heights, the visiting demagogue or the grandstanding host?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Like a nasty pair of New York cab drivers, the president of Columbia University traded barbs today and insults with the president of Iran.  This afternoon in Manhattan, trying to cover his tracks for inviting him in the first place, the university president trashed his guest on every front before giving him a chance to even speak.  He committed the outrage, I think, of actually winning sympathy for the demagogue he invited to his campus.

The diminutive head of state he referred to as petty.  It was the American host who came across, I‘m afraid, as petty.  Anyway, not a great day for America, the land of the free, that looked today like it was afraid to hear what it didn‘t like hearing.  Looked today like the bully big shot first-world country picking on the little guy it had invited into the lion‘s den.

Ahmadinejad will dine out for the rest of his life on this day in Gotham.  He will have what he needs most, the moral indignation of a people who spent years being exploited by the shah, who the U.S. CIA placed on his peacock throne.

Anyway, our second story tonight: Hillary Clinton pulled a Groucho Marx yesterday, going one on one with all five Sunday interview shows.  It was Groucho Marx who once offered to, quote, “fight every man in the house for a dollar.”  Let‘s see how she did with someone who, believe it or not, watched all five shows yesterday.

And in our HARDBALL debate tonight, a young Republican from Columbia University who thinks the Iranian president should not have been on campus today and a young Democrat who thinks he should have been there.

But first, HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  At Columbia University, the protests actually started on Sunday.  Today, they multiplied.  And by noon, thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of New York City.  It‘s not clear if Ahmadinejad could hear the protests.  He arrived through the back side of the auditorium, protected by the Secret Service and New York City police.

But when the event began, the Iranian president got an earful about his denials of the Holocaust, his threats to wipe out Israel, his arms shipments to insurgents in Iraq and his efforts to build a nuclear weapon.

LEE BOLLINGER, PRES., COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY:  You are either brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated.  Why have you chosen to make the people of your country vulnerable to the effects of international economic sanctions and threaten to engulf the world in nuclear annihilation?

SHUSTER:  Ahmadinejad did not answer the questions directly.

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, PRES. OF IRAN (through translator):  We want to have the right to self-determination towards our future.  We want to be independent.  Don‘t interfere with us.

SHUSTER:  On the Iranian president‘s threats against Israel, first he sidestepped the question, then he was asked again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do you or your government seek the destruction of the state of Israel as a Jewish state?  And I think you could answer that question with a single word, either yes or no.

(APPLAUSE)

AHMADINEJAD (through translator):  You asked the question, and then you want the answer the way you want to hear it.

SHUSTER:  Ahmadinejad never directly answered.  Instead, he repeatedly told the audience that their problems with him have been created by the political leadership of the United States.

Ahmadinejad‘s performance was similar to what aired Sunday night on “60 Minutes.”

AHMADINEJAD (through translator):  Well, this is what the American officials are saying.

SHUSTER:  Every time Scott Pelley tried to pin him down on Iran‘s pursuit of nuclear weapons or the Iranian supply of weaponry to Iraqi insurgents, Ahmadinejad went off on his own tangent.

SCOTT PELLEY, “60 MINUTES”:  Mr. President, can you tell me that you are not sending weapons to Iraq, very simple, very directly?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator):  We don‘t need to do that.  We are very much opposed to war and insecurity.

PELLEY:  Is that no, sir?

AHMADINEJAD (through translator):  It‘s very clear the situation.  The insecurity in Iraq is detrimental to our interests.

SHUSTER:  At Columbia University today, Ahmadinejad dismissed questions about the dozens of public hangings of drug dealers.

AHMADINEJAD (through translator):  Don‘t you have capital punishment in the United States?  You do, too.

SHUSTER:  Some of those executed were allegedly engaged in homosexual behavior.  Ahmadinejad denied that.

AHMADINEJAD (through translator):  In Iran, we don‘t have homosexuals like in your country.

(LAUGHTER)

AHMADINEJAD (through translator):  We don‘t have that in our country.

SHUSTER:  Despite all of his views, Ahmadinejad said the United States and Iran could be friends some day.  In the meantime, he offered another challenge to President Bush.

AHMADINEJAD (through translator):  I am ready, in the United Nations, to engage in a debate with Mr. Bush, the president of the United States, about critical international issues.

SHUSTER (on camera):  Today, Ahmadinejad repeatedly condemned U.S.  management of the world.  And while many Americans might agree with him on that, nearly everything else Ahmadinejad said was divorced from reality.  The Iranian president and President Bush will both speak to the United Nations tomorrow.

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster.  Pat Buchanan‘s an MSNBC political analyst and David Weprin is a New York City councilman.

Pat, if you just watched that report, which is always accurate from David, you‘d get a sense that this guy was a horse‘s ass who came to see us.  And fair enough.  But you wouldn‘t (ph) have missed the portrait that we got from the president of Columbia today.  I don‘t know about you, but I haven‘t heard a longer speech since the League of Women Voters used to hold presidential campaign debates.  That guy went on for an hour.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know what he was trying to do, cover his tracks for inviting the guy.

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  He‘s trying to reassure his donor base, which is not terribly happy about the arrival of that fellow at Columbia.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  But I—you know, I will say...

MATTHEWS:  Whatever it was, he tried to—he Bogarted (ph) the whole time.  He was a bigger filibuster than Hillary Clinton.

BUCHANAN:  Well, you know, and Ahmadinejad, what he did, he just played off him beautifully.  He said, Look, in Iran, we don‘t invite guests and then insult them to their face, and secondly, we generally let the audience decide whether what they have to say, if they agree or disagree with it.  And you‘ve sort of insulted the audience.  And then he moved on.

I thought he was very effective from his standpoint, Chris.  I think in a number of areas, for example, the IEDs coming into Iraq, and there are no homosexuals in Iran—I find that a little bit hard to believe.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

BUCHANAN:  But in a number of cases, I thought he was very powerful and effective.  He did not at all deny the Holocaust.  He said the events occurred in Europe, and the Palestinians didn‘t do it and they‘re not responsible for it, Europeans are.  This will sit very well in the Middle East.

Secondly, he did not—you know, he did not deny that, as we said, IEDs are coming in, but he did say that terrorists are being used coming out of Iraq in Iran.  Now, this is the Mujahidin-e-Khalq, which a lot of neoconservatives have said we ought to take off the terrorist list and use against the Iranians.

So he was scoring points in his own community, in his country.  And frankly, we at MSNBC—we gave him 100 times the audience that Columbia did, and I think we did the right thing.  It was riveting television.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go to David Weprin.  You‘re a New York City councilor, and your view of the performance today—I assume you watched the whole darn thing.

DAVID WEPRIN, NEW YORK CITY COUNCILMAN:  Well, You know, I thought it was pretty outrageous, in the first place, that Ahmadinejad got this type of forum from an institution like Columbia, you know, recognized as one of the great institutions in this country, certainly an outstanding institution right here in the city of New York.  And actually, the name in the city of New York is in Columbia‘s name.

And I think it‘s an outrage that President Bollinger gave him the propaganda forum that he did, enabling him to basically revision his own—his statements that he‘s made before.  He totally, you know, used it as a propaganda mode.  And I hardly call him a world leader.  I‘d really refer to him as a world terrorist or a world gangster before I‘d call him a world leader.

MATTHEWS:  Well, I‘m not even sure he‘s calling the shots in that country, are you, Mr. Weprin?  You‘re a politician.  Do you think he really calls the shots in Iran or the mullahs do?

WEPRIN:  Well, you know, there‘s a lot of people, obviously, that are calling shots.  But he‘s certainly calling the propaganda shots.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s talk about that very point.  The hottest issue of the last century, of course, and the worst case of inhumanity to man, of course, is the Holocaust.  I listened carefully to him.  And I know you did, sir.  Didn‘t you hear him allow the fact that there was, in fact, a Holocaust?

WEPRIN:  Well, he—his statement today was different than his statement in the past.

MATTHEWS:  Right.

WEPRIN:  In the past, he‘s clearly said that the Holocaust was a hoax, it never existed.  Now he‘s talking about doing more research.  There‘s no question...

MATTHEWS:  Don‘t—don‘t—I‘m not asking you to agree with him, but didn‘t you notice that he said, I‘m not denying that there was a Holocaust?  I thought I heard that pretty clearly.

WEPRIN:  There‘s no question that he obviously used this forum for an ability to kind of revision—revisionist history and really make himself look more acceptable to the American people.  I would guess that the forum he had last night with Iranian nationals or Iranian-Americans, where he would not allow the American media in—I would guess he probably said different things than he said at Columbia.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BUCHANAN:  But Chris...

MATTHEWS:  But Pat, isn‘t this going to hurt him back home, where he‘s looking—he‘s trying to be the wildest man in the Middle East, the new Nasser?  Isn‘t it going to hurt him if it looks like he backed down in front of the New York audience?

BUCHANAN:  No, I think your point is right, Chris.  This guy is not running the show in Iran.  The ayatollah is and the Supreme Council are running the show.  And this guy has got them in a lot of trouble and got them very close to a war with the United States.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BUCHANAN:  I genuinely believe he‘s come into this country to try to ease back his image because I don‘t believe Iran wants an all-out war with the United States of America because there‘s no doubt we‘d be hurt badly in that war, but they‘d be smashed and ruined.

MATTHEWS:  Well, they don‘t want a war with Israel, either, I don‘t think.

BUCHANAN:  Well, I...

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Weprin, let me ask you about a couple points here.

WEPRIN:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  He did say some things that to a sophisticated metropolitan audience sound ridiculous.  What do you think he meant when he said there are no gay people in Iran?  Did he mean there‘s no openly gay community?  What could he possibly mean?

WEPRIN:  Well, either he‘s very ignorant or it was very deliberate in his statement because there‘s no question that, you know, homosexuality exists everywhere.  You know, obviously, if someone‘s a gay person in Iran, I think the message is it‘s not a good thing to come out.

MATTHEWS:  I think they‘ve got a “Don‘t ask, don‘t tell” law from the time you‘re born over in that country!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Not to make light of this.  Let me ask you about a couple things.  I thought—you know, I‘m not going to give him credit for anything big time, but he did score some interesting points.  He said the United States backed Iraq in the war, the bloody horrible war with Iran that killed a lot of Iranians.  That‘s going to help him back home, sticking it to us for backing Saddam all those years.

BUCHANAN:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  Mr. Weprin, you know the politics of this thing.

WEPRIN:  Yes, he clearly had his propaganda message to get across.  Hong Kong, there‘s no question that it‘s been proven that he has been directly linked to killing Americans in Iraq, to supplying, you know, terrorists with the funding and the activities.  His history actually goes back to the hostage crisis in 1979, where hostages have come forward to say that he was clearly one of the captors and one of the people that mistreated Americans back in 1979.

BUCHANAN:  Chris, to your point, he said two things.  The Western nations invented chemical, biological and nuclear weapons.  The Americans used them on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and they were used on our people in the war against Iraq, where you all supported Iraq against Iran.  Now, all those are statements of fact, and they‘re very, very persuasive in the Arab and Islamic world in making his case.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, gentlemen, about human nature.  It seems to me that the whole third world case against the first world is that we have humiliated that part of the world, manipulated their governments, used the CIA to put people like the Shah—by the way, the Shah‘s not from royal blood or anything.  They just created that throne for him.  The CIA put him in there against the democratically elected prime minister.  We have exploited that country for its cheap oil.  We‘ve taken advantage of that country.  And now we say we want justice.

Is there not an Iranian case against the United States and the West, Mr. Weprin, or do you say they‘re dead wrong, the country‘s just wrong and we‘re right?

WEPRIN:  Well, it‘s not a question of right or wrong.  You know, there‘s no question that—you know, that they‘re revising, you know, American history and American policy.  There‘s no question that we took certain positions at different times in our country.  But we did not actively support terrorism.  We did not, you know, support...

MATTHEWS:  We took over their country, though, didn‘t we?  Didn‘t we put the shah in power?  Wasn‘t it Kermit Roosevelt and the CIA that put him in power?

BUCHANAN:  No, it was Eisenhower.  It was...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Eisenhower.  It was under Kermit Roosevelt.

(CROSSTALK)

BUCHANAN:  Yes.  Yes, Chris, you‘re...

MATTHEWS:  We did that.

BUCHANAN:  Look, there‘s an Iranian case against the West and an American case against Iran.  That‘s why we ought to sit down and put it all on both sides of the table.  And I think we do have things where we disagree profoundly, but we have issues on which we agree.  We both—neither of us wants the Taliban back.  Neither of us wants the Sunni Ba‘athist dictatorship back.  Neither of us wants an all-out war.  Those are common interests.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  We could well get a Sunni dictatorship back in Iraq five days after we leave.

Let me ask you, Mr. Weprin, what‘s your policy toward Iran?  What should the United States do to Iran, if you were president?

WEPRIN:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  What would you do if you were commander-in-chief?  Call the shots.  What would you do?

WEPRIN:  Well, the first thing I would do is look for a way to gradually, you know, get our troops out, obviously.

MATTHEWS:  No, Iran.  Iran.

WEPRIN:  Oh, Iran.  I would have no public dealings with Iran, as much as possible.  I would look to defund certain—anything we do that helps Iran.  There‘s no question that Iran right now is probably one of the most dangerous countries...

MATTHEWS:  Would you bomb them?  Would you bomb them if you were commander-in-chief?

WEPRIN:  Well, I would be hesitant to bomb anyone unless it was absolutely necessary, but I would do everything economically possible...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

WEPRIN:  ... to shut them down and to really, you know, try to do everything we can to economic sanctions and any other sanctions we can, short of an all-out war at this point.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, I‘m very impressed, sir.  I‘ve never met you before.  I‘m impressed, sir.  I‘m sure you‘re going to go places in New York politics.  You seem like a smart guy.  And I mean that.  I‘m not...

WEPRIN:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  ... being pandering.  It‘s great because you had to go up against Pat Buchanan, and it‘s not easy.

Sir, Pat Buchanan, your last thoughts about Iran?  Is this going to give this guy something to dine out on because he was abused by the president of Columbia University?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I think so.  I think those insults are what he‘s going to use against us.

BUCHANAN:  Right.  I think—I think—and Bollinger—he wants—

I think he should take Bollinger on the road with him, you know?

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  That‘s what I think.

No, I think Bollinger was like the Washington Generals and the Globetrotters series, a perfect guy to run against.  Thank you very much, Pat Buchanan.  And thank you, New York City councilman David Weprin.  And welcome to the show.

Coming up: Hillary Clinton does all five—count them—Sunday morning talk shows yesterday.  We‘ll see how well she did from somebody who watched all five shows.

You‘re watching HARDBALL only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Hillary Clinton was hard to miss yesterday.  As Anne Kornblut wrote in “The New York”—or actually, “The Washington Post” this morning, quote, “Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared on all five talk shows yesterday morning and demonstrated a particularly senatorial skill, the art of the filibuster.”

Anne, thank you very much for joining us.

ANNE KORNBLUT, “WASHINGTON POST”:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  You heard from the Clinton crowd after this, right?

KORNBLUT:  Yes, it was made—it was mentioned to me that I was in the minority of people who said anything that could be construed as negative about her appearances yesterday.  In truth, I wasn‘t actually criticizing or doing any kind of judgment of her appearance, but did take note of the fact that in all of her answers yesterday, as you saw in watching it, she had really mastered the art of taking a question, answering it the way she wanted to, and going on at some length so that she could say everything she wanted to say.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look what you‘re talking about here. 

Here she is answering a question from Tim Russert on “Meet the Press.”

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM RUSSERT, “MEET THE PRESS”:  Is it fair to say that the most important vote you cast in the Senate, in your own words, on authorizing the war in Iraq, was wrong?

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It‘s fair to say that the president misused the authority that he was given, and if I had the opportunity to act now, based on what I know now, I never would have voted that way.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  The problem with that, Anne Kornblut, is what she knew when she cast the vote authorizing the war is that 80 percent of the American people believed that Bush was taking us to war at that time.  At that time, she knew that most people believed—she may not have—overwhelmingly, people knew Bush was gunning for a war, and approving the war, authorizing it, meant we were going to war.  What does she mean by saying, I didn‘t know he was going to abuse it?  I mean, that‘s what he asked for.  If I say, Can I borrow your car, you‘re going to drive it.

KORNBLUT:  This has been the sort of...

(LAUGHTER)

KORNBLUT:  This has been the sort of inherent problem with this answer for her all along.  And it‘s been a calculated risk on her part.  She would rather give this answer that, to you and to some others, might seem convoluted, might seem verging on dishonest, because...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

KORNBLUT:  ... of course, a lot of people thought that it was going to lead to war.  But it‘s better, in her view, than apologizing, which would seem perhaps weak and like she‘s not really owning up to what she did.  So, she—she made that calculated risk...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

KORNBLUT:  ... quite some time ago, over a year ago.  And that is what she has really stuck to. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think, in all fairness, what she‘s calculating is, if she does modify her position, because she is the first woman with a real shot to be president, and probably is going to be the nominee, based upon the current polling, that they will do one of those windsurfing ads; they will flip her; they will say, first, she voted to authorize the war; then said it was a mistake; well, you can‘t do that, Madam Senator, that kind of thing? 

KORNBLUT:  Look, absolutely. 

She is a student of what happened to John Kerry and to, you know, Max Cleland, others who have been on the receiving end of the Republican machine over the war. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

KORNBLUT:  She has been very careful to try and make sure she‘s consistent.  She leaves a lot of caveats in everything she says, including her initial floor speech, so that, at any point in time, you can basically go back and found something she‘s previously said to match what she‘s currently saying, so, there‘s no news in it.  That‘s been her strategy from the beginning. 

MATTHEWS:  No news.

KORNBLUT:  She‘s...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s so great.  In other words, go on television, do all five shows, and you can beat up five guys.  You don‘t have to—And if she had just gone on against Russert, it would have been mano a mano.  You know, that doesn‘t look good by its very fact, because all you need is a draw and she doesn‘t win. 

But if she goes on against five guys and she has a draw, then she wins. 

KORNBLUT:  Look, there is no question that, for her, this was a victory.  She went on.  She didn‘t make any big headlines...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

KORNBLUT:  ... other than the fact that she went on and didn‘t make any big headlines. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you guys die trying to figure out what the lead was yesterday? 

KORNBLUT:  Well, there were little things here and there.

MATTHEWS:  Did you all—did you all call around and ask each other? 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I know you do this at a big event.  Everybody says, what‘s the damn lead here?

(LAUGHTER)

KORNBLUT:  There‘s no media conspiracy, Chris.  I‘m sorry. 

MATTHEWS:  I know, but...

KORNBLUT:  I hate to break it to you. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  ... trying to find the lead is not a conspiracy.  It‘s a job description. 

KORNBLUT:  Well, there were a few things. 

I mean, she did—look, she did a say few things in there.  She took a—something that could be a mild shot at Thompson.  She did say that she regretted Governor Vilsack saying some harsh words about Rudy Giuliani. 

There—there was information...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

KORNBLUT:  ... in what she said.

And what she said on “Meet the Press” about the war, there was a lot of substantive information in it.  It just happened to be a lot of stuff we had already heard before.

MATTHEWS:  I know.

Let‘s take a look at what she said to Chris Wallace on FOX. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “FOX NEWS SUNDAY”)

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST, “FOX NEWS SUNDAY”:  Senator, talk about conservative hit jobs, right-wing conspiracies, why do you and the president have such a hyper- partisan view of politics?

(LAUGHTER)

CLINTON:  Well, Chris, if you had walked even a day in our shoes over the last 15 years, I‘m sure you would understand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I think she was laughing because she was talking to Chris Wallace, who went after her husband like you couldn‘t believe that time a few months ago.

She‘s laughing at the notion there might be a political problem for the Clintons when they go up against FOX. 

KORNBLUT:  Right.  I...

(LAUGHTER)

KORNBLUT:  I think that‘s true.  That was...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  She‘s got to be laughing at that. 

KORNBLUT:  Yes.  And the—that was quite a laugh first thing in the morning yesterday. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.  I think she was really mad at who was asking it. 

That‘s my guess.

KORNBLUT:  Yes.  I think—I mean, you could tell by the look on her face that it was not just a sincere “I‘m laughing with you.”  But...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

KORNBLUT:  But, you know, look, there‘s a history there.  And I think what she got credit for was going on the show in the first place, after what he went through with her husband, coming back and saying, I‘m going to take—that was the first question out of the gate yesterday morning.  And she took it.  She laughed maybe a little bit too much, but she did laugh.  She didn‘t get back in his face. 

MATTHEWS:  At least she didn‘t put his—her finger into Chris‘ knee...

KORNBLUT:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... the way Bill did. 

(LAUGHTER)

KORNBLUT:  Right.  Exactly. 

MATTHEWS:  She didn‘t get on him physically anyway. 

Thank you.

KORNBLUT:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Chris Wallace, too.

Thank you, Anne Kornblut.  Great review of a very difficult day. 

Rudy Giuliani‘s cell phone rang in the middle of his speech to the NRA.  This is the second time that phone has rung, the second time it‘s been a call from Judith.  Dare I call her anything else? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL. 

When‘s this is guy going to get some manners?  Get him on the quiet car. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Larry Craig is facing judgment day—politically, that is.  He‘s going before a judge in Minnesota who will decide whether to let him withdraw his guilty plea for disorderly conduct. 

Late today, the prosecutor in that case made his case against Craig—quote—“Denial of the defendant‘s motion prevents further politicking and game-playing on the part of the defendant.”

Well, if Senator Craig does get his way, he‘s got a chance to withdraw his promise to resign from the Senate.  If that happens, look out.  The Republicans, especially Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, want this guy out of sight, out of mind.  You can bet they want it forgotten by the time they hold their national convention next September in Minneapolis.  It will be downright fascinating to watch how this thing plays out.

Speaking of fascinating, Harold Ford Jr., who lost a hard-fought race for the U.S. Senate from Tennessee last November, is apparently thinking about running for governor.  A close adviser of Ford‘s is meeting with Democrats in the state about getting a Ford run going in 2010. 

Well, given his graceful concession after a tough election campaign last fall, voters might just give him a chance.

In other news today, Senator Evan Bayh has endorsed Hillary Clinton for president.  I have been thinking that Bayh has a good shot at being Hillary‘s pick for V.P.  A, he‘s from the Midwest, which could be the battleground next November.  B, he voted for the war resolution that led to the Iraq war.  C, he would not be to Hillary‘s left on the whole war issue.  In fact, he would be to her right, which would help her hold the political center. 

And, finally, he would certainly not outshine her.  He‘s a moderate, soft-spoken politician successful at winning in the most pro-Republican state in the Midwest.

At the National Rifle Association presidential event last week, Rudy Giuliani received this phone call while he was speaking up at the lectern. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDOLPH GIULIANI ®, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  This is my wife calling, I think. 

(LAUGHTER)

(CELL PHONE RINGING)

GIULIANI:  Hello, dear.  I‘m talking—I‘m talking to the members of the NRA right now.  Would you like to say hello? 

(LAUGHTER)

GIULIANI:  I love you.  And I will give you a call as soon as I‘m finished, OK? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Bob Newhart, he‘s not. 

Now, you might chalk that up to an oversight.  You might think that he‘s simply in the rush of things, forgot he had left his cell phone on during an important speech. 

Well, unfortunately, it‘s not the first time he‘s let this happen. 

Here he is in June interrupting a speech to 200 people to take another call from his darling. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GIULIANI:  Hold it.   

CROWD:  Rudy!  Rudy!  Rudy!  Rudy!  Rudy! 

GIULIANI:  Hello? 

Stop yelling “Rudy.”  This is my wife on the phone. 

CROWD:  Rudy!  Rudy!   

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

GIULIANI:  See, I‘m doing well.  You hear that?  Say hello.  I don‘t know if you can hear.

I will call you back.  I will call you back, OK? 

(LAUGHTER)

GIULIANI:  OK, dear.  I love you.  Bye. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Call me old-fashioned, but, when you invite people to go to the trouble to come to an event and listen to what you have to say, you give your first attention to them.  You don‘t operate a switchboard of anyone who feels like interrupting you. 

If this thing happens again, and people aren‘t openly offended by it, that‘s their fault. 

Cute once, maybe, not cute twice, not cool, if it happens again. 

Up next, the HARDBALL debate:  Should the president of Iran have been allowed to speak today at Columbia. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SHARON EPPERSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Sharon Epperson with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

After last week‘s gains and with no major economic data out today, stocks closed lower.  The Dow Jones industrials lost 61 points.  The S&P 500 fell eight points.  And the Nasdaq dropped three.  Oil fell 67 cents in New York trading, closing at $80.95 a barrel.

Seventy-three thousand United Auto Workers went on strike this morning against General Motors.  It‘s the first nationwide strike against the industry in more than 30 years.  The key issue?  Job security.  It‘s estimated the strike could cost GM up to $100 million a day.  GM shares fell 20 cents today.

And “The Wall Street Journal” reports Microsoft is in talks to buy up to a 5 percent stake in the fast-growing social networking site Facebook.  “The Journal” says the talks could set up a battle between Microsoft and Google, which is also reportedly interested in Facebook. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Just hours ago, the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, finished his controversial question-and-answer session at Columbia University.  What did students there think about it?  Should President Ahmadinejad have been allowed to speak there in the first place? 

Well, that‘s the HARDBALL debate tonight.  Couldn‘t be more relevant. 

It happened today. 

We have two Columbia University students who were present at the speech today.  William Nosal is a study and member of the College republicans.  And Sarah Leonard is also a student and a member of the College Democrats. 

God, you know, it‘s like old times, the College Democrats, the College Republicans. 

William, you first. 

Why should Ahmadinejad have been denied or banned off the campus to begin with? 

WILLIAM NOSAL, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY COLLEGE REPUBLICANS:  I‘m actually surprised Lee Bollinger didn‘t shake his hand at the end. 

He‘s a—president Bollinger should not have invited or even permitted Ahmadinejad to speak on our campus.  It‘s a disgrace to our university‘s history.  And, unfortunately, it contributes nothing to any academic debate or political debate, I would say, within reason. 

Are there any other foreign leaders that he should ban?  You want to give us a list of who they should be? 

NOSAL:  No.  Actually, our university has selective free speech.  The College Republicans tried to bring Jim Gilchrist, the founder of the Minutemen Project, on campus, and the university would not allow that. 

So, if you‘re an American citizen and you have a—a controversial point of view, they won‘t allow to you speak.  But, if you‘re not a foreign citizen, and you‘re a world terrorist, they will allow you on campus. 

MATTHEWS:  God, you‘re good. 

Let‘s go to Sarah Leonard.

That‘s a tough standard.  Apparently, your—your president of the university won‘t let the Minuteman guy come on, because he‘s too far to the right, but they will let Ahmadinejad come on, who hates us. 

SARAH LEONARD, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY COLLEGE DEMOCRATS:  Well, the Columbia University College Democrats actually really welcomed Ahmadinejad‘s visit, because we got to subject him to questioning that he will never face in Iran. 

And we—we thought this was a tremendous opportunity to really give students the opportunity to challenge him in free and open debate, which is, you know, we can exercise our First Amendment rights, and we can question his horrible policies, his horrible stance on international issues.  He‘s—he‘s out of his safety zone now. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

LEONARD:  He—in Iran, he will not be forced to answer those questions. 

MATTHEWS:  Weren‘t you surprised, William, that he did allow that there was a Holocaust today?  Isn‘t that progress that wouldn‘t have occurred had there not been an—an event like today‘s? 

NOSAL:  I don‘t think there‘s anything that remotely resembles progress. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, answer that question.  Weren‘t you impressed that he admitted there was a Holocaust, after these days and months of denial?

NOSAL:  Somewhat. 

But, I mean, I watched on “60 Minutes” last night, like most of America, I‘m sure, and he said pretty much the same thing as he said today on campus. 

MATTHEWS:  What did he say? 

NOSAL:  He said—he countered with his two questions about—for

the first being, why can‘t we do more research into this field, meaning the

Holocaust, whereas we continue to do research in the realms of physics and

science.  And he‘s said those questions, I think—I am not exactly sure -

but for months at least.  It‘s nothing new from him. 

MATTHEWS:  There is something new. 

Anyway, let me go to Sarah. 

It seems to me that he did—I mean, I‘m watching this thing.  He said, I‘m not denying there was a Holocaust.  I heard him clearly say that. 

LEONARD:  Well, I think that‘s hardly an impressive statement.  I mean...

MATTHEWS:  From him? 

LEONARD:  Well, I mean, the world knows there was a Holocaust.  And, as Bollinger said, he would have to be incredibly uneducated or just trying to incite hate...

MATTHEWS:  I know.

LEONARD:  ... and anger by making statements like that. 

And, you know, he knew he was at a university, where we‘re not going to buy that. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

LEONARD:  And, so, no, I‘m not impressed that he that—that he acknowledged the Holocaust. 

But I think it‘s a very good example of, when you get students up there, asking him hard questions and holding him to account for the things he‘s said, he can‘t—he can‘t hold to a lot of lines he‘s held before, without looking foolish.  And he knows that.  And—and it was something of a surprise to hear that from him today. 

MATTHEWS:  Were you surprised, William, that he made the point that the United States supported Saddam Hussein, when he used chemical weapons against the Iranian people, in fact, supported him in that whole war? 

NOSAL:  I wasn‘t that surprised myself.  I mean, he spoke for 30 minutes uninterrupted and gave his whole narrative of the Iranian position. 

MATTHEWS:  But that is the truth.  But that is the truth. 

NOSAL:  It is the truth, of course.  And I don‘t deny that, ever. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think is the United States‘ history towards Iran?  Do you think we have had a good record toward Iran over the years? 

NOSAL:  No, I don‘t think we have. 

I think the only hint of use that I see in him visiting our campus today would be at the end of his speech, where he did call for diplomatic relations to be increased between our two nations. 

LEONARD:  I would say that this event was a prime example of, you know, the way we need to improve relations with Iran, because, instead of just, you know, pretending—instead of isolating Iran, instead of refusing to engage in dialogue that can make process—progress, we at Columbia were trying to ask him questions, hold him accountable, and engage in a dialogue. 

And, when—when there is no dialogue, you know, violence very quickly becomes the answer.  And I think that this government‘s current policy, where there‘s a lot of isolation and a lot of ignoring of the issues instead of discussing them, I think that‘s very dangerous.  I think Columbia is setting an example by engaging in controversial free debate, where we can raise these questions and talk about them and hold him accountable. 

MATTHEWS:  William Nosal and Sarah Leonard, I‘m impressed by both of you.  I must say, I was not impressed by your president today.  I thought he was a very lousy host, who was afraid to engage in dialogue.  He had to dump on the guy before he could speak.  Everybody knew where they stood.  Unfortunately, he tried to shut down the conversation before it began.  Thanks very much.  William Nosal of the college Republicans and Sarah Leonard of the college Democrats. 

Up next, the HARDBALL round table on today‘s fight up there at Columbia, at Morningside Heights.  Plus Hillary Clinton‘s Sunday stampede, where she hit all five Sunday talk show hosts with her best, at apparently got off all right.  Maybe it was rope a dope.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s a great night for a round table, and here it is tonight.  Howard Fineman is chief political correspondent for “Newsweek” and an NBC News analyst.  Jill Zuckman is a reporter for the “Chicago Tribune.”  And Chris Cillizza is a reporter and author of “The Fix” for theWashingtonPost.com. 

Well, here we are with the round table.  How else are we going to start except talking about Ahmadinejad.  Howard Fineman, my pal, it looked to me—I know I‘m going to get in trouble for this—but I though that guy was a horse‘s ass today.  I man that hour long speech, that was ridiculous.  He had the worst guy in the world there.  It was easy.  And he made the guy look sort of sympathetic there for a while.  What do you think?

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK”:  Well, as a graduate of the Columbia Journalism School—

MATTHEWS:  You‘re in the tank already.

FINEMAN:  No, I‘m not in the tank.  I think that Bollinger behaved abominably.  I think there are a lot of reasons to criticize him, perhaps, for inviting Ahmadinejad to begin with.  But having invited him, he played into Ahmadinejad‘s hands.  Only Lee Bollinger, it seems, could have made Ahmadinejad seem sympathetic. 

Also, I was talking to some Iranians here in Washington who are very unsympathetic to Ahmadinejad; they said that was a ridiculous thing to do, because back in Iran Ahmadinejad is not well thought of.  They think he has run off the rails all too many times, including his comments about the Holocaust, and yes, even some of his comments about Israel.  The last thing you want to do is make that guy look like Daniel in the lions den, to use the Columbia analogy.  I guess it‘s all too appropriate for those insiders in New York who know what I‘m talking about, the Columbia lions.

It was ridiculous.  It was bad all the way around.

MATTHEWS:  A very good Eastern reference too, the bible.  And I must say, Jill Zuckman—well, let me have you say, what do you think of today‘s performance?  You saw both sides.  Who won this battle of PR, which is probably what it is?

JILL ZUCKMAN, “THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE”:  I think he did in a way, because

to continue the lions den analogy—I mean, he was willing to put himself in front of all those students at Columbia.  That is a tough audience to begin with, because those are people who are going to tell him what they think.

MATTHEWS:  And you know, Chris, he‘s a man of short stature.  I got to tell you, people who are not tall resent references to the people who are short as petty.  It just seemed like he was putting him down as diminutive.  I felt it was a physical assault on the guy.  That‘s the way I heard it.  I saw a little guy sitting up there on the stands putting up with this crap.  And I thought he‘s going to end up winning on this when he gets home. 

CHRIS CILLIZZA, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  As a 6‘2 guy, I don‘t want to get into the height thing.  I‘ve never had that problem.  I‘ve been this height since I was 13 years old.  Look, I do think you‘re right Chris.  Just to return to Howard‘s point in some ways, it looked like an opportunity, at least, for Columbia to answer some of the criticism that they‘ve received at say, look, we‘re not just giving this guy a free pass.  We‘re here to raise legitimate questions.  He has the right to say what he‘s going to say, but we‘re going to question it. 

It didn‘t come across that way as much as I think a lot of people had hoped, certainly. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s go at this, Howard, like wire service reporters.  Did we move the ball?  Did the journalists, in getting the answer to those questions at Morningside Heights, did they get some answers?  Did he move on the issue of whether there was a Holocaust or not? 

FINEMAN:  Well, I thought he was very careful in this forum not to repeat some of the remarks that he has made in the past years.  He was very careful.  He had his flags a little bit furled there today.  And what should have happened is he should have been called on and he should have been cross-examined, politely but persistently, instead of what Bollinger did, which is to try to cover his butt with people inside the Columbia community who were criticizing him, and in New York City, by the way, who were going after him. 

MATTHEWS:  Why didn‘t somebody say today, Chris, that you could go to Yad Vashem in Israel, as a lot of us have, and you could you go into those vaults—and they were all there—and they have the records of the names and the biographies of the six million killed.  This is, as somebody said the other day, the most documented event in history. 

CILLIZZA:  Just following up on what Howard said, I actually thought Ahmadinejad clearly understood this as an opportunity and—I don‘t want to say hedged—but certainly glossed over some points like that.  And no one did take that next step.  He obviously saw it as a chance to see—I hesitate to say this—but soften his image in the United States and no one came back and said, wait a minute, what about X, Y and Z that you said in the past. 

Without that, he was able to have somewhat free reign to say hey, maybe this guy‘s not such a bad guy in the first place. 

MATTHEWS:  Jill, what news did you see?  If you were knocking out a wire story on this, did you see anything new, in the terms of the state of Israel?  He clearly didn‘t move on that.  He wasn‘t going to give an inch on Palestine.  Where else did he give?  

ZUCKMAN:  There are two things.  He will think he pretty clearly acknowledged that the Holocaust did indeed happen.  I think that was significant.  But the second thing I thought was fascinating—I mean, here‘s was an opportunity to learn a little more about the guy.  And he‘s telling the whole world that there are no gay people in Iran.  That does not exist.   

MATTHEWS:  I think I know what he meant.  You know what he meant.  We all know what he meant.  There‘s no Provincetown.  There‘s no place you can go if you are openly gay and enjoy freedom.  There‘s no locales.  I was two years in Africa.  I didn‘t see any gay hangouts at all.  But I assume the Kinsey numbers apply everywhere. 

FINEMAN:  If you think about, that was an unintentionally revealing remark on his part.  It‘s not about Provincetown.  It‘s about the freedoms that we hold dear here.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  It‘s about there‘s not allowed to be a Provincetown. 

FINEMAN:  And that we have slowly come to terms with—and I think a very good fashion—which would be unthinkable in Iran.  And if people would sit and think about that alone, that was really more revealing than I think Ahmadinejad wanted to be today. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I think he—didn‘t he tell us, Chris, that don‘t ask, don‘t tell is the rule from birth over there. 

CILLIZZA:  Absolutely, Howard‘s right.  I mean, again, I just keep returning to it.  I think he smartly, to his credit, sought to gloss over some of the more controversial things he said.  But, as Howard rightly points out, he revealed himself in trying to be unrevealing, in some ways, like the comment about no gay people being in Iran. 

MATTHEWS:  I remember Barbara Walters years ago interviewing the Shah, saying do you think if anything happened to you, the Shah, that your wife could take over for you?  He openly dismissed it as a joke.  That told us a lot about how he looked at things.  

FINEMAN:  I‘ve got to also say; the notion that this was a real active discourse here today—I think if that‘s what we regard as real, tough, insightful questioning discourse, a real argument in the Greek sense, that would be something Columbia would be proud of.  This wasn‘t it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that opening statement was to me—

FINEMAN:  that didn‘t help. 

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead, Jill.

ZUCKMAN:  I also loved, at the end, how he invited the students and faculty of Columbia to come to Iran, visit any of their college campuses, meet with the students there.  And all I could think about was the scholar from the U.S. who went to visit her mother in Iran and wound up in detention for nine months, thinking I don‘t know if anyone‘s going to want to take him up on that offer. 

MATTHEWS:  Anybody here want to go? 

FINEMAN:  I‘ll go.

CILLIZZA:  I‘ll go. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘ll be right back with the round table.  Let‘s talk about Hillary Clinton.  Some people say that she filibustered yesterday.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the big boys, “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman, “The Chicago Tribune‘s” Jill Zuckman and TheWashingtonPost.com‘s Chris Cillizza.  Well, President Bush suggested the other day that Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee for president.  But he says, quote, “I think our candidate can beat her, but it‘s going to be a tough race.  I will work to see that a Republican wins and therefore, don‘t accept the premise that a Democrat will win.  I truly think the Republicans will hold the White House.”

That‘s in an interview with Bill Salmon for his new book.  Let me ask you, start with Jill, it is kind of interesting for the president of one party to acknowledge the other party‘s nominee more than a year before the election. 

ZUCKMAN:  It‘s fascinating, Chris.  The fact is, up and down the ranks of the Republican party, they are convinced that she will be the nominee.  I was having a conversation with a Republican strategist who‘s been involved in every presidential election for years the other day, and I said, isn‘t there some scenario you could imagine where she wouldn‘t get the nomination?  And he said, well, I suppose if she gets hit by a truck.  I mean, they are convinced. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that your reading, Chris, too? 

CILLIZZA:  It is.  I think there‘s an interesting dynamic.  There‘s a difference in the sort of professional Republican political class, I think they‘re not in awe, not irreverence, but a real respect for the so called Clinton machine.  In the political activist world of the Republican party, there‘s a distaste for the Clintons. 

But I really do think Jill is right; if you talk to the operatives, these people who make their living doing these campaigns, watching this, talking to people like us, they will tell you that they will fear/respect the Clinton operation. 

MATTHEWS:  Of course.  President Bill Clinton gets elected, defeating a war president who just won a war.  he defeats the guy handily.  His wife gets elected to the U.S. Senate after her husband gets in trouble with a young staffer.  They always come out on top. 

CILLIZZA:  The other thing, Chris, I would say is the campaign that Clinton has run to date, which—I don‘t want to use the word flawless.  It‘s been a very good campaign.  She‘s had problems, Norman Hsu, those kinds of things.  But she has not made a big major mistake.  That‘s reinforced, in a lot of Republican professional political people‘s eyes, that the Clintons know what they‘re doing and are going to be formidable if and when she becomes the nominee. 

MATTHEWS:  How about yesterday?  How would you score on her five-man battle?  It was like Groucho Marx saying I‘ll fight any man in the house for a dollar.  I mean, she starts, she does Russert, Chris, George, Wolf, everybody over there. 

FINEMAN:  Within the world of TV talk show bookers, Chris, that‘s known as a full Ginsburg. 

MATTHEWS:  Who else has done that? 

FINEMAN:  That‘s a reference to the media hog lawyer for Monica Lewinsky. 

MATTHEWS:  I forgot that guy. 

FINEMAN:  -- years ago to get on all five shows.  I talked to Betsy Fisher, who is the producer of “Meet the Press,” and I asked her, when was the last time that a candidate, a presidential candidate, had ever done that.  She couldn‘t remember in her experience.  The only ones recently had to do with 9/11, had to do with Chertoff and warnings about disasters or Katrina.  So it‘s Katrina, disasters or Hillary.  She‘s that much in charge. 

Not only did she do all five.  She did them under her own circumstances.  She did them from a set in the barn up in her house in Chappaqua, beautifully lit, perfectly lit.  It showed the control she has of the political process at this point.  And, by the way, it also showed the attitude they have towards the media.  They did all five of these today, so they don‘t have to do any more until after the primary season. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

FINEMAN:  I would be very surprised if Hillary Clinton does a single Sunday talk show until after the votes are in on the early primary. 

MATTHEWS:  Jill, I have another theory that even if she had gone head to head with Tim Russert on “Meet The Press” and had done pretty well, people would say that‘s a drew.  But if she goes against five guys, and it‘s a draw in each case, she somehow wins.  I think it was brilliant gamesmanship. 

ZUCKMAN:  I think she ate them all for breakfast, frankly.  Nobody was able to move the ball further.  She stuck with what she wanted to say on every single issue. 

MATTHEWS:  What did she say?  OK, what did she say then Jill?  What was the headlines? 

FINEMAN:  Now, I‘m not comparing her in any way to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, but you are. 

FINEMAN:  Except for the fact that she didn‘t answer questions any more directly than he did.  She filibustered.

MATTHEWS:  Are you calling Hillary Clinton a petty little dictator? 

FINEMAN:  No, I‘m not.  I‘m just saying she didn‘t answer any questions. 

CILLIZZA:  From her perspective, Chris—

MATTHEWS:  What was the lead last night.  I‘ve got to get to Jill. 

What was the lead? 

ZUCKMAN:  What was the lead with Clinton on all of those talk shows? 

There was no lead. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Thank you, Howard Fineman, Jill Zuckman, Chris Cillizza.  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.

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