updated 3/24/2008 10:58:57 AM ET 2008-03-24T14:58:57

Guests: Deborah Solomon, David Kuo, Jill Zuckerman, Adam Clymer, Ron Brownstein, Mike Allen, Maria Teresa Petersen, Joe DiGenova

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  ... endorses Obama, tells Hillary to get out of the race.  Bill Clinton suggests that McCain and Hillary are the real patriots in the race.  Is Bill trying to keep Hillary in the race even at the cost of suggesting that Obama is not a patriot?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL on this Good Friday evening.

By any account, Barack Obama‘s had a tough week, but what a difference a day makes.  Today, not only did Governor Bill Richardson give Obama the big endorsement he wanted, but Richardson all but called for Hillary Clinton to get out of the race.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO:  It is time, however, for Democrats to stop fighting amongst ourselves and prepare...

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

RICHARDSON:  ... and prepare for the tough fight we will have against John McCain in the fall.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, hours later, Bill Clinton fired a shot at Obama by seeming to question his patriotism.  We‘ll get to all this in a moment.  And we‘ll hear from one observer who says even the idea that Hillary Clinton still has a realistic chance to win the nomination is nothing but a myth.

Also: Passport, please.  Today the State Department admitted the passport files of not just one but three presidential candidates—Obama, Hillary and McCain—have been breached.  HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has been all over this story since it broke last night, and he‘ll join us in a moment.

And here‘s a twist.  Remember John Hagee?  He‘s the allegedly anti-Catholic televangelist who seemed to embarrass John McCain by endorsing him.  Well, now it turns out Hagee says it was the other way around, that McCain asked him for the endorsement.  We‘ll straighten that out in a moment.

And in the “Politics Fix” tonight, we‘ll take a look at all the hot political stories of the day and the week.  And what a week it‘s been.

But we begin with Governor Bill Richardson‘s endorsement of Senator Barack Obama.  Ron Brownstein is with the Atlantic Media Company.  Maria Teresa Peterson is with Voto Latino.  And Mike Allen is with “The Politico.”

Let‘s put all this together, Ron Brownstein.  Bill Richardson came out of this campaign not the winner, I think liked, personally liked.  I don‘t think he got hurt too much.  How big is this endorsement at this time of Barack Obama?

RON BROWNSTEIN, ATLANTIC MEDIA COMPANY:  Well, he might have maximized his impact if he had done it before Texas, when he could have perhaps helped Barack Obama with the Latino vote there and perhaps even have ended the race March 4, if Obama could have took Texas, but...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... taken him over the top in Texas.

BROWNSTEIN:  I think he would.  It could have helped him in that, and if Obama could have gotten over the top in Texas, that was the point at which the race—probably the last point at which the race could have been ended before going all the way through.

But certainly, this is a good week for Barack Obama to receive an endorsement like this.  It has probably been his roughest week of the campaign, in many ways.  He has taken a hit in national polling both in the Democratic race and in head-to-heads against John McCain in the general.

And what this says is that the—there‘s leadership—there are still important segments of the leadership of the Democratic Party that still sees him as the best bet for November, which I think is a very important for Obama to send, when Clinton—the one, you know, slim lane that Clinton still has in this race is convincing a preponderance of the superdelegates that she‘s a better bet for the general election.

MATTHEWS:  Michael Allen, that makes your point in your piece today with Jim VandeHei, that this race is effectively over.  Anything can happen, but it‘s effectively over.  It‘s a myth to keep calling this even.  Does the Richardson thing put the nail in the coffin, saying, Look, I‘m one of the big shots in the party, Nancy Pelosi‘s coming, Al Gore‘s coming, but I‘m the first big shot to say Hillary Clinton is over?

MIKE ALLEN, POLITICO.COM:  Yes, Chris, Governor Richardson was saying the Obama train is leaving the station, and exactly for the reason that Ron points to.  There‘s a reason that Governor Richardson is doing this now and not on Super Tuesday, when theoretically—or before Texas, when, theoretically, it would have been more useful, and that is now he‘s even more sure that this is Senator Obama‘s race.

Chris, Democrats are telling us that it would take a meteor strike, a political meteor for Senator Obama not to do this.  The math just does not work for Senator Clinton, as you know.  Something could always happen, but they‘re depending on something that basically would disqualify Senator Clinton—Senator Obama.  That‘s a big, tough hill to climb.

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s Bill Richardson today, talking about Obama‘s speech on race and his standing in the Democratic contest.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARDSON:  ... didn‘t evade the tough issues to soothe us with comforting half-truths.  Rather, he inspired us by reminding us of the awesome potential residing (ph) in our own responsibility.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

RICHARDSON:  Senator Obama could have given a safer speech.  He is, after all, well ahead in the delegates count for our party nomination.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, as an American, I am so happy with that moment.  Regardless who ends up as our president and regardless of who we end up voting for.  I am so proud to see that.  Here‘s a guy, Bill Richardson, who likes to kid about it, saying, Look, I‘ve got an Anglo name, I‘ve got a Mexican mother and I look like an Indian.  And here‘s a guy who‘s part—he‘s African-American, but he comes with a white parentage on one side, all standing there like real political heavyweights for the first time in our lives, real political heavyweights.  I‘m impressed.

MARIA TERESA PETERSEN, VOTO LATINO:  I think it‘s excellent.  I think what folks aren‘t zoning in on, though, is also Richardson‘s position.  He‘s a superdelegate, a governor, and he has an amazing pull with the Latino delegates, which is—the superdelegate is around 40 or so.  So his positioning right now at this time...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do we know if he‘s going to jump in and make some phone calls?  Do we know if he‘s going to do that, to bring in other superdelegates, Ron?

BROWNSTEIN:  Everybody is calling everybody, so we can assume that he will be—he will be—he will be part of the list.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s hard to get on the line with Eddie Rendell holding.

BROWNSTEIN:  Yes, you know, it‘s, like...

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN:  Right.  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  ... holding for everybody.

BROWNSTEIN:  Right.  You know, look, I mean, this is—I mean, as we said—I mean, the situation, as Mike suggested in his story, and others, it‘s pretty clear that by—especially with Florida and Texas—Florida and Michigan not re-voting that Hillary Clinton is not going to catch Barack Obama in the pledged delegate count.  She‘s almost certainly not going to catch him in the total popular vote without those re-votes.  And that leaves her in the situation where the one way that she can win the nomination is if a supermajority of the superdelegates...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

BROWNSTEIN:  ... decides she is the one.  And the more that Obama gets reinforced in this way, the more it helps him.

But let‘s keep in mind that the paradox Democrats face is the risk that his numbers start to deteriorate in the—both in the primaries and in the general—and in the general polling in April and May.  That will give Clinton an argument.  It may not give her the leverage to get there, but it will give her the argument.

MATTHEWS:  But Mike Allen, like a cartoon character, Mike—I want to ask you about—you know the cartoons we grew up watching of the cartoon character that runs off the cliff and doesn‘t look down and keeps running, in fact, stays there in free space, as if there isn‘t a cliff they‘ve just gone over.  Hillary and Bill Clinton—I want you to look at this.  If this isn‘t a case of that, I don‘t know what is.  This is Bill Clinton today talking about the situation in this race in this somewhat unearthly way.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  John McCain is an honorable man.  And as all of you know, he has paid the highest price you can pay for the United States, short of giving your life.  And he and Hillary are friends.  They like and respect each other.  They have big disagreements on foreign policy and economic policy.  They have taken reluctant Republican senators all over the world to prove that global warming is real but there is a way to deal with it that grows the economy and doesn‘t shrink it.  And we now have a bipartisan majority in the Senate to do something about this.

That‘s the kind of leadership this country needs.  And I think it would be a great thing if we had an election where you had two people who love this country and were devoted to the interests of the country, and people could actually ask themselves who‘s right on these issues, instead of all this other stuff that always seems to intrude itself on our politics.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  There‘s only one way to read that.  He‘s saying that if you pick these two people, you get two people that love their country.  If you don‘t, you don‘t get two people that love your country.  You get this other guy, Obama, who has all this other stuff, as if that other stuff is Obama‘s problem.  He‘s getting pretty tough here, isn‘t he, in these last efforts to hold onto reality or something like a Clinton reality, Mike?

ALLEN:  Well, of course, Chris.  And the Clintons, in fact, really believe that he would be a weak candidate in the general election.  They, of course, for their own personal reasons, but they also feared a campaign like this.  You have to believe this, that they would be much stronger candidates.

Now, Chris, as you suggested in your question, there‘s two reasons that the press hasn‘t—has sort of been suspending reality here a little bit or holding off on a verdict in this campaign.  And that is, first of all, because we‘ve been wrong so many times, burned so many times.  Why should this be the first time in this cycle that what we expect to happen will happen?

But second, as you referenced, it‘s the Clintons.  People think that somehow, some way, they‘re going to find a way to get out of this.  And this has to be very emotional time for them.  This was such a personal affront today for Bill Richardson, who had two appointments from President Clinton, to go ahead and endorse their opponent.

MATTHEWS:  Ron, it‘s a new standard now if you don‘t call this race even, no matter what happens, continually call it even, you‘re not being even-handed?

BROWNSTEIN:  No, the...

MATTHEWS:  Have the Clintons enforced that new regimen?

BROWNSTEIN:  No, I think the third reason that Mike didn‘t mention is it‘s not our role or responsibility to end the race.  Ultimately, it belongs to the voters and the superdelegates.  Our role is to accurately describe where it is.  And where it is, is that Hillary Clinton has a steep uphill climb, that Barack Obama clearly has the upper hand, will likely remain having the upper hand, but there is still a path because neither one are likely to have enough delegates—will have enough delegates to have the nomination without the superdelegates.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN:  So we don‘t...

MATTHEWS:  The superdelegates can overrule the elected delegates.

BROWNSTEIN:  Absolutely.  And look, it would be an enormous thing for them to do.  It would be tumultuous in the party.  Barack Obama will probably end this race with more votes in the primary than any Democratic nominee in history.  So overturning that would be a big deal.  They would need a big reason to do it.  but I don‘t think it‘s our role to sit here and say they can‘t do it.  Ultimately, they will decide, not us.  And the voters will decide.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it‘s the role of “The Politico,” Mike Allen (INAUDIBLE) Jim VandeHei and Mike Allen have taken that role.  They have launched us into the future.  Thank you very much, Mike, for joining us.  Maria Teresa Petersen...

(CROSSTALK)

ALLEN:  Happy Easter, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  We‘re allowed to disagree.  Ron Brownstein, thank you. 

Maria Teresa.  Happy Easter, everybody.

Coming up: First we learn Barack Obama‘s passport files were breached at the State Department.  Now we learn that Hillary Clinton‘s and John McCain‘s were, too.  So what?  Let‘s find out why.  Who‘s somebody working for?  Was it crazy?  Was it stupid?  Was it mischievous?  Was it a dirty trick?  And what did they dig up, if anything?  Are these dirty tricksters we‘re talking about?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Barack Obama called today for a congressional inquiry into the three security breaches of his passport files at the State Department, as well as the breaches of Hillary Clinton‘s and John McCain‘s passport files.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  It is deeply disturbing, what‘s happened.  I talked to Condoleezza Rice this morning.  She called me and offered her apologies, which I appreciated.  But I also indicated that this is something that has to be investigated diligently and openly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  HARDBALL‘s David Shuster has more—David.

DAVID SHUSTER, HARDBALL CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, I mean, this entire issue is on two tracks.  First of all, the State Department is trying to figure out why this information didn‘t bubble up from this lower-level office in consular affairs.  Why was that it a supervisor, a direct supervisor for these contract employees, made the decision that somebody should be terminated, but then didn‘t tell anybody above that supervisor, as protocol warrants?

But the other thing the investigation‘s going try to do is, never mind the lag time and why it took so long for the inspector general to get involved.  The other thing is what motivated these people?  The State Department, at least at the upper echelons, still can‘t say for sure that this wasn‘t politically motivated.  It could have been.  It might not have been.  At least, the lower-level supervisors didn‘t think so.  But again, they don‘t have any solid basis yet, at least through the normal channels, to determine why it was that these people were sort of fishing around in these passport files.

And Chris, I want to draw your attention to sort of a timeline that may help explain this a little better.  We‘re talking about three different candidates.  Of course, Hillary Clinton was the first episode, July of 2007.  We‘re told this was simply sort of a training effort in which a State Department employee was supposed to punch in her mother‘s name to test the system.  She put in Hillary Clinton‘s and was admonished.

And then you have the more serious one, at least according to a direct supervisor, January the 9th, where Barack Obama, his information was accessed by a contractor.  That particular contractor was fired.  It was the same sort of case February the 21st, where another contractor was fishing around in Barack Obama‘s passport file.  That contractor was fired, again by the immediate supervisor.

And then there was another incident March the 14th, in which one person went into both Barack Obama‘s file and John McCain‘s file, and for whatever reason, that was not deemed as serious and simply the contractor was suspended, and their job status is pending.  So at least in the Barack Obama cases, it‘s considered to be more serious.

MATTHEWS:  David, stay with us.

Let‘s turn right now to NBC chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell and former independent counsel Joe DiGenova, who‘s on the phone.  Andrea, your assessment.  Is this dirty pool?  Is it still cloudy?  What is it?  Why were these files tampered with?

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  I think it‘s cloudy.  I think it really looked fishier, worse, last night, frankly, when it was three instances only involving Barack Obama, and also the questions that David has raised as to why higher-ups were not told.  Then it became a lot murkier today, when it was all three candidates.

Certainly, the first instance, where a trainee is sitting there, there‘s a supervisor sitting over her.  She‘s been brought in because of that surge in passport applications.  They brought someone in who had never done this before.  She‘s told, Type in a name, type in your mother‘s name.  She types in Hillary Clinton‘s name.  They—Don‘t—don‘t do that.  That seemed more innocent.  These others I think are still murky.

But it does seem like there‘s a real failure of protection of privacy, if it‘s this easy to access the records, but there may not be dirty political tricks.

MATTHEWS:  Joe DiGenova joining us here.  You‘re the guy that put these protocols together, the rules, the safeguards on keeping our private matters private.  What do you see here?

JOE DIGENOVA, FORMER INDEPENDENT COUNSEL:  I see monumental incompetence, at a minimum, and I see very, very bad management inside the Department of State.  This thing needs to be looked at from top to bottom.  And for—you know, you really get tired of hearing it, but civil servants never get fired.  You know what?  Somebody ought to get fire who‘s a civil servant, not just political appointees from time to time.  The level of incompetence and lack of concern for privacy is mind-boggling.  This is the kind of stuff that angers the American people, and it should.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you the “So what” question.  How does this affect the average person?  How does this affect our politics?

DIGENOVA:  Well, it affects the average person because your Social Security number is in there, family information, all kinds of stuff that can be used to steal your identity.  I mean, this stuff is not the old file cabinet, you know, gray metal World War II cabinets in someplace in southeast Washington.  These are electronic files which can be used to steal someone‘s identity.

MATTHEWS:  Last time around, when you really developed part of your national reputation, was going after the—you were probing, leading the probe, of whether the State Department, led by Secretary of State Jim Baker, had been digging into the files of then candidate Bill Clinton.  What came out of all that, that sort of bad story?

DIGENOVA:  Well, no one was charged, ultimately, in that case because the bottom line was there was a lot of incompetence, some sloppiness, some stupidity, but there was no effort, ultimately, to use any information improperly.  And that may end up being the case here.

What is disturbing here is the repetition after something as significant as what went on in the 1990s, with these brand-new electronic tracers in place.  At least all the breaches were discovered because of the electronic protocols that were put in place.  That‘s one good thing.

MATTHEWS:  You know what I thought, Andrea, when this first broke and I heard about it, they‘re trying to find out where he traveled.  They‘re trying to find out, really, where he was as a kid, all this stuff we‘re trying to find out about this relative newcomer to American politics.

MITCHELL:  Absolutely.  Now, Joe, I don‘t know what you think about this, but this kind of database did not exist when Joe was doing the investigation back in 1992.  And that‘s...

DIGENOVA:  That‘s correct.

MITCHELL:  ... because they were paper files.  And Joe, you know, correctly after three years, came up with all of the links and the facts that they had looked at—when Bill Clinton went to Moscow, they were looking at his background when he was a candidate.  But in this case, they claim now that these files are much more limited.  I initially thought that all your background information...

MATTHEWS:  Are they linked to anything else?  You get through Social Security numbers, you can link it.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  David, can you link the other things? 

SHUSTER:  Well, no, but what makes it...

(CROSSTALK)

MITCHELL:  Identity theft...

(CROSSTALK)

SHUSTER:  But, also, what makes it more nefarious is, for somebody who is surfing into this system, there‘s a warning.  There‘s a warning that this is privacy information that you are about to access.  Do you want to continue to look at it?

In at least two of the cases, the people decided to ignore the warning and look at the information anyway.  And the fact that that simple episode, in two cases, wasn‘t reported up, not only does it put a burden in terms of the contractors to explain what motivated them, but what motivated their direct supervisors not to tell anybody about the breach?

MATTHEWS:  As we say in journalism, more coming. 

Thank you, David Shuster, Andrea Mitchell.

And, Joe diGenova, thank you joining us tonight.  Happy Easter to you, Joe. 

Up next:  John Edwards goes on “Leno.”  When, by the way, if ever, is he going to endorse somebody for president?  We have been waiting for that one for weeks now. 

Plus, an astronomical “Big Number.”  We‘re breaking all kinds of records this election year.  Wait until you hear this one. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

JAY LENO, HOST, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”:  Let me ask you something.  Your choice to run as a middle-aged white man, do you think that was a good idea? 

(LAUGHTER)

LENO:  I mean—I mean, when you consciously made that decision, I mean, do you think that was a good tactic? 

(LAUGHTER)

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I tried very hard to figure out what to do about that. 

(LAUGHTER)

EDWARDS:  But I could not figure it out. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That was, of course, John Edwards on “The Tonight Show” last night. 

I thought he was going to endorse Hillary Clinton by now, but he passed up a chance again last night to do so. 

So, what else is going on in politics right now? 

Well, talk about unwanted friends.  On a radio show this week, Dennis Hoff—he‘s owner of—for those who don‘t know, owner of Nevada‘s Moonlight Bunny Ranch brothel.  He declared his support for Hillary Clinton this week. 

Here he is telling us why—quote—“It‘s amazing to me that there is one woman in America who would not vote for her.  Whether you like Hillary or not, this is going to change the women‘s movement in America.”

Well, let‘s get this straight.  The runner of a house of prostitution is filling us all in on what‘s good for women in this country. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Now to everyone‘s favorite former governor—no, not New York‘s Eliot Spitzer, but his next-door neighbor from Jersey, Jim McGreevey. 

A judge just decided that Dina Matos McGreevey can continue to pursue her claim that her husband—quote—“committed fraud” when he tricked her into a loveless marriage.

Query:  Can you call someone a strange bedfellow if you have shared the bed with him and another fellow?  Hmm.

Bad news for Ben Bernanke.  The chairman of the Federal Reserve is apparently getting a taste of the brutal economy that most of the country knows so well.  An economist has just been quoted by Bloomberg news that estimates—he estimates that Bernanke‘s house in Washington, D.C., has lost $260,000 in value. 

I guess we are all in this together. 

And now it‘s time for the HARDBALL “Big Number” of the night.  Never before in the history of campaign politics has so much money been raised for a single race.  Not only are the candidates raising bags and bags of it.  They don‘t even need to hold time-consuming fund-raisers anymore.  You know those dinners? 

These days, an urgent e-mail blast can call donors to immediate attention.  In fact, Barack Obama has raised more than four times the amount of money that John Kerry had raised by this point four years ago. 

Just how much money has been raised by all the presidential candidates over the last 14 months?  Seven hundred and million dollars -- $790 million.  Think about it, $700 million being spent to run presidential campaigns. 

Now, a grinch might say it‘s just another case of the rising price of gas—tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next: with friends like these.  John McCain has denounced the support of John Hagee that evangelical pastor who called the Catholic Church a cult.  And now Hagee tells “The New York Times” that McCain had come looking to him for his endorsement. 

Will McCain pay a price for this politically?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHRISTINA BROWN, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Christina Brown.  Here‘s what‘s happening. 

Floodwaters are still rising in parts of the Midwest, where severe storms and flooding this week are now blamed for at least 16 deaths.  Some rivers aren‘t expected to crest until later this weekend. 

Meantime, a snowstorm blew through Minnesota and Wisconsin into the Chicago area.  Up to nine inches of heavy snow are expected in some places.  In fact, more than 400 flights have now been canceled at Chicago‘s O‘Hare Airport because of the weather. 

China has issued a list of 21 most-wanted rioters following last week‘s violent protests in Tibet over Chinese rule there.  Thousands of Chinese troops are also continuing to pour into Tibetan areas to contain unrest. 

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gave support to the Tibetan cause, visiting the Dalai Lama, the leader of Tibet‘s government in exile in India. 

And thousands of Christian pilgrims marked Good Friday in Jerusalem,

retracing the roots the Bible says Jesus took on his way to his crucifixion

now back to HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Barack Obama has been taking heat from conservative critics for trying to characterize the typical white person.  That‘s how he described his grandmother.  But how about John McCain?

In a “New York Times” magazine interview with Deborah Solomon that is coming out this Sunday, Pastor John Hagee, who has called the Catholic Church “the great whore” and who has said that Hurricane Katrina was God‘s punishment for gays and their gay pride parade down in New Orleans, says—quote—the following—“It‘s true that McCain‘s campaign sought my endorsement.”

Will McCain face the same backlash that Obama took this week?

Here to talk about it is “New York Times” magazine‘s Deborah Solomon herself, who wrote the piece.  And also with us is David Kuo of blue—of bluenet—Beliefnet.com.  My eyes are going—Beliefnet.com. 

Beliefnet, that‘s more appropriate than bluenet.  We‘re not doing the blue material here.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to Deborah.  Tell me what the significance is of your interview with—let me go to David Kuo.

Let me ask you first.  I guess we have a hookup problem. 

It seems to me that he says things like, we should bomb Iran, this guy Hagee, because it will speed the apocalypse.  He‘s very tough on Jewish people.  He said this: “All hurricanes are acts of God, because God controls the heavens.  I believe that New Orleans had a level of sin that was offensive to God.  And they are—were recipients of the judgment of God for that.  The newspaper carried the story in our local area that was not carried nationally, that there was to be a homosexual parade there on the Monday that Katrina came”—punishment in advance for a planned parade. 

Now, this guy was sought out by John McCain to support him for president of the United States. 

DAVID KUO, AUTHOR, “TEMPTING FAITH: AN INSIDE STORY OF POLITICAL

SEDUCTION”:  Let me say two things.

One is, I want someone to ask Pastor Hagee why it is that the one place in New Orleans that was spared was the French Quarter.  I mean, I just—I don‘t quite understand it. 

You know, listen, I don‘t understand why someone like John McCain...

MATTHEWS:  You are saying that‘s where most of the sin takes place.

KUO:  Oh, sorry, where—where—that‘s where—you know, that‘s—when people think of New Orleans, they tend to think of the French Quarter. 

Now, I don‘t understand why John McCain goes after someone like Pastor Hagee.  It‘s bad staff work, at the very least, you know, because John Hagee isn‘t exactly one of the...

MATTHEWS:  Is he still planning to bring in the far right? 

KUO:  Yes, he absolutely is. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He absolutely is.

But there‘s this other point that we really need to be careful of.  We‘re reaching a scary point now, where we‘re really getting into the examination of pastors and what pastors do and their relationship with elected officials far too closely.  I mean, are we really going to get to the point where we start examining the sermons of every pastor, every—every rabbi? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I know someone who is examining them.  And that‘s Deborah Solomon, who is interviewing the guy. 

Deborah, thank you for joining us. 

Give us a sense.  It‘s online now.  It will be in the paper—in the magazine on Sunday, the glorious “New York Times” magazine.

What‘s the significance of this pastor speaking to you?  What did he have to say? 

DEBORAH SOLOMON, “NEW YORK TIMES” MAGAZINE:  Well, I think that some of his views are certainly very controversial, in particular, his criticism of the Catholic Church, which is a turnoff to just about everyone, I would think, in this country. 

But he feels that he‘s been misunderstood.  And, to some degree, he has.  I think it‘s very interesting that, right now, we‘re looking at two candidates who are trying to distance themselves, basically, from clergy.  And what I‘m wondering is, when did clergy, who are supposed to bestow an aura of goodness on candidates, become such a political liability?  And when exactly did they become so toxic? 

It‘s interesting that Jeremiah Wright has not given any interviews this week.  And I was wondering, would he appear with Barack Obama during the now famous talk on race?  He did not.  He‘s hidden away. 

And Pastor Hagee also was very reluctant to give me the interview.  He was worried that he would drag Senator McCain down into the mud with him.  And...

MATTHEWS:  Did he do that with you? 

SOLOMON:  Well, what do you mean?  Did he...

MATTHEWS:  In other words, is there stuff in the interview that shows up on Sunday that‘s going to hurt McCain? 

SOLOMON:  You didn‘t read it yet? 

MATTHEWS:  No. 

SOLOMON:  Oh. 

No.  No—well, I don‘t believe that a—that a pastor‘s words

should hurt a candidate.  You know, we believe in separation of church and

and state in this country.  And I think—and I think it‘s unfair right now that we‘re treating clergy people as being so harmful to campaigns. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, what do we make of the—of these associations?  What do we make of it?  Supposed it weren‘t a religious church—a church where the statements were made, but it was a club a guy went to and listened to this point of view. 

KUO:  Well, I think it‘s an important thing that we shouldn‘t make that distinction now, right?

We have always made a very clear distinction between the church and the state.  And I‘m very much with Deborah here.  We‘re in this very dangerous zone of beginning to examine the words of every pastor. 

I saw a report up about another pastor in Ohio who supports Senator McCain and something that he said.  I mean, are we really going to get...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

KUO:  ... to the point where we follow around every candidate, every elected official, and determine their religious habits? 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

Render unto Caesar...

SOLOMON:  Can I make one more point?

MATTHEWS:  Just a minute.

The rule has been, render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar‘s and to God the things that are God‘s.  But what about when men of God, women of God speak out against the government or attack our government, as—as Jeremiah Wright did, calling God damn America?  What happens when they enter the political sphere?  Can you ignore that, if you‘re picking a president? 

KUO:  Well, I mean, we need to be very careful here, right?

Barack Obama did not say those things, right?  Barack Obama went to that church.  He has denounced those things as being un-American and being reprehensible. 

MATTHEWS:  Silence can be seen unto the law as consent, 20 years of listening.

KUO:  But he‘s also—but he has—he‘s denounced it. 

MATTHEWS:  Now.  Now. 

KUO:  And he also made very clear in his speech what church—what it was—what Trinity United Church of Christ was like.  He said, if that church was only what Jeremiah Wright talked about, sure, I would have left, right?  But there is a complexity to these churches.  There‘s a goodness to these churches that is being left out of this media discussion.  We have to understand what that church did in caring for the poor and for other people.

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  The problem is, Deborah, running for president involves a body search.  People check everything there is about you, who you have been married to, how you treat your kids, blah, blah, blah, everything of personal significance, your religious beliefs and practices, where you spend your time, no, not necessarily what religion you, but what experiences and what influences you allow to take place with you every Sunday morning. 

He sat and listened to a guy giving a rather fiery liberation theology sort of approach.  Some people would call it left-wing.  Some would call it militant, but it‘s certainly outside what most voters hear at church or at their synagogue. 

Is it wrong to question it? 

SOLOMON:  Well, I think—I think we are examining the clergy too closely right now. 

And I think it‘s—it‘s incredible that they have become such a liability, because it used to be candidates‘ brothers and uncles who had to be hidden away and who...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SOLOMON:  ... were—posed a potential embarrassment.

You know, it used to be Billy Carter and his beer company that had to be hidden away.  And I find it incredible that clergy, who—who presumably are speaking out of genuine belief, have now become so toxic to candidates. 

And I think we do have to draw a separation between the candidate and the pastor.  And Hagee has said some horrible things, no doubt about it, especially about Catholics, gays, and women.  But you can‘t interpret religion the way you interpret a Senate transcript. 

You know, if you go back to the Old Testament, there are sections that justify slavery.  I don‘t think you can read it as if it‘s the U.S.  Constitution.  And I think license should be made for religious expression in this country.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s talk about pastors for a second. 

That John McCain went out and sought out the endorsement of this Pastor Hagee, who has made all these comments, that‘s not about what religion you attend or what you believe in.  It‘s using a guy for political purposes.  Was that a justifiable decision, to go to Hagee?  Is this going to hurt him? 

SOLOMON:  Well...

KUO:  Well, let me take it from Hagee‘s side. 

I mean, I very much think that evangelicals in particular have—evangelical pastors in particular have been way too enamored of the Republican Party.  I have said this over and over.  And this is yet another example. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, this guy is to the right of the Republican Party.

KUO:  This is yet another example.

MATTHEWS:  I think he‘s further over.

(CROSSTALK)

KUO:  It‘s a mistake for McCain to go after this guy. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

KUO:  It was a political mistake. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, do you think he was trying to pander to the right?

(CROSSTALK)

KUO:  But, more importantly, for Hagee, right, it‘s a mistake for him to confuse the Gospel of Jesus Christ with some wacky political message.  And that‘s when pastors, whether they are Jeremiah Wright or Pastor Hagee, get in trouble. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me tell you the concern I would—that I would have. 

When the candidate for president jokes about bombing Iran with the old bo-, bo-, bo-, bomb Iran, as a joke, and then we find out he‘s got the support, which he has supported—which he has solicited, of a man of God who says, bombing Iran will speed the apocalypse, you know, the rapture and all that, I begin to wonder whether there‘s a dangerous coexistence here of politics, policy, and religion. It is a concern in this administration, by the way. 

KUO:  Do you really believe that Pastor Hagee‘s position on foreign policy is going to influence John McCain? 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m listening. 

SOLOMON:  And we should also add that John McCain.

MATTHEWS:  I do think that would be the case with this president.  But there has been a lot of books written, by the way, Deborah, and you know it, and you know it, David, a lot of books have been written about how this president, our president, has been influenced by very, very fundamentalist religious teaching with regard to his Middle East policy?  It‘s not something to laugh about.

KUO:  No, I don‘t think anybody is laughing about it.  But again, I mean, going back to Deborah‘s, point, the question is, are we getting way too far into the weeds on examining the religious habits of people in office or running for office?  I think the answer to the question is yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I want to know everything. 

KUO:  You do. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you to—not enough.  Thank you, Deborah Solomon, thank you very much for coming.

SOLOMON:  Thank you.

MATTHEWS:  Congratulations on getting a piece which has caught our attention, even though I haven‘t read it yet.  It‘s only Friday.  I‘ll read on it Sunday.  Thank you, David Kuo.  That‘s why we buy the newspaper. 

Up next, the Friday edition of the “Politics Fix.” What a week it was.  But which presidential candidate had it worse this week?  We‘ll have that in the “Fix.” This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, Governor Bill Richardson snubs the Clintons and endorses Barack Obama.  Is it a sign of things to come?  Will more big-name Democrats follow?  HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D-NM), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  We‘re blessed to have two great American leaders and Democrats running for president.  Now.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

RICHARDSON:  . my great—my great affection and admiration for Senator Clinton and President Clinton will never waver.  It is time, however, for Democrats to stop fighting amongst ourselves and prepare.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

RICHARSON:  And prepare for the tough fight we will have against John McCain in the fall. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That is a great American portrait, as I said earlier in the show, to see those two fellas from different backgrounds.  One from white American and African background, the other one with a Mexican background and an English—American—an Anglo background and American-Indian all standing there as power figures in American politics with all of those young people cheering.  Now what a moment. 

Well, it‘s time for the “Politics Fix,” tonight‘s roundtable.  MSNBC political analyst Michelle Bernard; Jill Zuckerman of The Chicago Tribune; and of course the great Adam Clymer, author of “Drawing the Line at the Big Ditch.” He has got a great new book out.  He‘s one of the favorites of Dick Cheney, from what we have been able to hear over the years.  I think he said, oh yes, he‘s a big one, whatever it was. 

Let‘s get to this issue of this week, the biggest news.  Dinah Washington—it was Dinah Washington who said, what a difference a day made.  All of a sudden, a bad week for Barack, a tough week for Barack, he had to defend himself and give a great speech about race to get himself out of a ditch.  He gets the biggest endorsement so far in the campaign, Bill Richardson, its significance, please, Jill. 

JILL ZUCKERMAN, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE:  Everybody wanted that endorsement.  I mean, Senator Clinton worked really hard.  Her husband went and watched the Super Bowl with Governor Richardson.  I mean, they did everything they possibly could to get.  And the fact that Obama was able to pull it out and somewhat change the subject to get it back on track in a positive direction, it was a really big day for him. 

MATTHEWS:  Adam, Bill Clinton was calling this guy regularly, reminded me, gave him two cabinet appointments, U.N. and Energy.  Bill Richardson owed Bill Clinton but he paid it off to Barack Obama. 

ADAM CLYMER, AUTHOR, “DRAWING THE LINE AT THE BIG DITCH”:  Well, it was, what have you done for me lately? 

MATTHEWS:  Right.

CLYMER:  Look, and I think—I think Richardson has made it clear for some weeks that that‘s his inclination.  He was calling on somebody—he was effectively calling on Hillary Clinton to drop out if she didn‘t win both Ohio and Texas, which she thought she wouldn‘t. 

MATTHEWS:  But he still wants her out. 

CLYMER:  Yes.  And I don‘t think she‘s going to go. 

MATTHEWS:  Michelle, it was the many faces of Benetton today at that stage out there with Barack Obama and, of course, Bill Richardson both with their various backgrounds, their sort of connected backgrounds, different backgrounds.  I was impressed by the power on the stage, however the question is political, will this drive Hillary Clinton to throw in the towel? 

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I‘ve got to tell you, I think it might drive her in that direction slowly, slowly, but surely.  I mean, symbolism is the story of the week.  It started off as a very difficult week for Barack Obama and it‘s still ending that way, but there are two types of symbolism, political symbolism that I think was really political genius on the part of the Obama campaign this week when he gave the great speech on race earlier in the week.

He ended it talking about a little girl—a little white girl who brought an elderly black man to the campaign.  And Obama talks about speaking to this man on Martin Luther King Day and saying, what brought you to my campaign?  And he says, Ashley. 

And then today, you know, we‘ve heard so much about the black/brown divide in this country and then to see Bill Richardson and Barack Obama standing on that stage together at the end of what, you know, arguably has been the most difficult week of Barack Obama‘s presidential campaign I think says it all. 

The day after Senator Obama‘s race speech, you know, Senator Clinton was speaking and she was saying how glad she was that he gave the speech but, you know, at that moment, and it was just a snapshot in time, but at that moment, she looked defeated.  And I think that this is that leading up to April, I mean—by no means the race is over, but.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I‘ll tell you who is not defeated.

BERNARD:  . it‘s going to be difficult. 

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s her husband, former President Clinton, what he had to say, some tough words today.  I think he‘s still in a fighting mood. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, 42ND PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  John McCain is an honorable man.  And as all of you know, he has paid the highest price you can pay for the United States short of giving your life.  And he and Hillary are friends.  They like and respect each other.  They have big disagreements on foreign policy and economic policy.  They have taken reluctant Republican senators all over the world to prove that global warming is real, but there is a way to deal with it that grows the economy and doesn‘t shrink it. 

And we now have a bipartisan majority in the Senate to do something about this.  That‘s the kind of leadership this country kneads.  And I think it would be a great thing if we had an election where you had two people who love this country and were devoted to the interests of the country and people could actually ask themselves who‘s right on these issues instead of all this other stuff that always seems to intrude itself on our politics. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, when he waves that finger at him, I remember him waving that finger before, I did not have—you know, when he starts to wave that finger, I begin to wonder, what is he talking about?  There‘s only two patriots running in this race and the other guy has all of these problems as if it‘s his fault? 

CLYMER:  When he waves his finger, reach for your wallet. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Jill? 

ZUCKERMAN:  No, I don‘t believe that he‘s trying to suggest that Senator Obama is not a patriot.  I think what he‘s saying is Senator Clinton and Senator McCain like each other and they have policy disagreements. 

MATTHEWS:  You have two people that love the country and don‘t have all this other stuff.  What‘s all of this “other stuff” and why single these two out as patriots? 

ZUCKERMAN:  I think what he‘s saying is if these two are in a general election together it will be a great race.  It will be an uplifting race where people can feel proud of their country. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a unique selling point? 

ZUCKERMAN:  Look, Senator McCain talks about it a lot. 

MATTHEWS:  A unique selling point, so they‘re paired off more or less politically. 

ZUCKERMAN:  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  What do you think about that, Michelle, that they are now defining who they think their ideal opponent should be?  Now they pick the opponent?  Hillary Clinton says, I‘m still in the race.  And then she says that McCain and I match up well. 

BERNARD:  This is analogous to Hillary Clinton inviting Senator Obama to be her vice president a few weeks ago.  That didn‘t work.  So today‘s campaign strategy is completely to ignore Senator Obama and act as if Senator Clinton is going to be the Democratic nominee and won‘t we have a great debate on policy issues if the race is between Senator Clinton and Senator McCain. 

MATTHEWS:  Adam? 

CLYMER:  Well, I think one of the reasons for this, the only real way she has a chance of winning this nomination is to persuade superdelegates from polls that she can beat McCain and that Obama would lose to McCain.  So, making people think about that race is the only—basically the only thing she has going for her. 

But, you know, it‘s a long shot.  But it‘s a possibility. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, I‘ve heard today that they‘re going to try to win in North Carolina, the Clintons, pull an upset like guess who once did. 

CLYMER:  Ronald Reagan was about down and out in 1976 and then he discovered the Panama Canal issue, as I say in this book, and the rest, my friends, is history. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Do the Clintons have a Panama Canal issue up their sleeve that they can turn this election around with?  I don‘t know what‘s left in the cookie jar. 

ZUCKERMAN:  Hey, how about—let‘s not forget about Pennsylvania. 

She is poised to have a very big victory in Pennsylvania.

MATTHEWS:  Therefore, will it change the delegates tally much?

ZUCKERMAN:  I just don‘t think—everybody is acting like they‘re writing her obituary today, and I just don‘t think... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, The Politico wrote it today, they said that it‘s a myth to argue that she‘s still in the race unless an extraordinary event occurs.  Is Pennsylvania an extraordinary event?  Suppose she wins 58-42 in Pennsylvania, OK?

ZUCKERMAN:  That is a big, big victory. 

MATTHEWS:  And what does it do to the delegate count? 

ZUCKERMAN:  And what if it influences the states that come after?  She could potentially turn the momentum around.  I just don‘t think it is for us to say that she should get out or that‘s over at this point. 

MATTHEWS:  It is for Bill Richardson to say it, because he just did. 

ZUCKERMAN:  He can say it. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you believe anyone else is going to come forward like Nancy Pelosi or Al Gore, following in the footsteps of Bill Richardson in the next couple of weeks? 

ZUCKERMAN:  No, I don‘t really. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  We‘ll be right back with the roundtable for more of the “Politics Fix.” Back with you, Michelle, when we come back.  You can start.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the “Politics Fix” in our roundtable, starting with Jill—I mean, Michelle, I‘ve got to let Jill start, Michelle.  You can jump right in on this, because you were making the case that despite the fact we had a report on earlier from Politico that if you look at the numbers, the hill is so steep for Senator Clinton, she has to win 60 percent of all of the races left, and even will come up short in delegates, you see a path, if narrow, for victory for the Clintons. 

ZUCKERMAN:  All I‘m saying is that to say that the media trying to be objective by saying the race is dead even is a bit of a strawman.  I think the press has been reporting that Senator Clinton has a very difficult path ahead, that it‘s extremely hard for her to get to the nomination.  But it‘s not impossible.  I mean, it‘s still a possibility. 

MATTHEWS:  I think television, as a medium, has—Michelle, has been suggesting that there‘s still an equal chance to the starting gate, that they‘re just leaving the gate.  That‘s the way it sounds like when I look at the headline coverage.  They‘re both in the contest here.  It‘s close, this game ain‘t over yet, I know why, but that‘s the way it‘s being sold, when in fact, as you say, it‘s an uphill of Hillary winning 60 percent.  The other guy merely has to hold 40-some percent to win that from now on—

Michelle.

BERNARD:  I think the media coverage has been fair.  I think that no one is saying that it is impossible, but if you look at the delegate count, it is highly improbable.  You know, I understand what Jill is saying, if she wins Pennsylvania, if she wins Guam, if she wins North Carolina, that the momentum will change, but if Barack Obama wins the popular vote, if he is ahead in the delegate count, and all of a sudden the superdelegates decide that Hillary Clinton should be the Democratic nominee, I think it‘s going to spell disaster for the Democratic Party.  And the chances of that happening are very, very small. 

MATTHEWS:  Adam, your sense about this race, as it should be called, we‘re talking media criticism, which I hate, but here we go. 

CLYMER:  Well, the press is always, if there‘s any race, focused on the race.  It‘s a good story.  You don‘t want to declare it over.  And this isn‘t the first election.

MATTHEWS:  Ha!

(LAUGHTER)

CLYMER:  This isn‘t the first election that that has happened.  But, I mean, I agree with Jill, I think that for Clinton to win, she has to do three things that are very hard, she has to close the number on elected delegates.  She has to close the numbers on the popular vote.  I don‘t think there‘s any way she can get ahead on both of them. 

And then she has to win a bunch, look like she‘s doing well, and in particular show that she would run much better, not just a little better, but much better than Obama against John McCain. 

At that point, the superdelegates will be weighing the—you know, what it is they‘re supposed to do.  And that really hasn‘t been defined since they were created back before the ‘84 primary.  And.

MATTHEWS:  So close the delegate count, close the popular vote, win a bunch in a row to make it look like you‘ve got momentum and then win the match-ups in the polls with John McCain, do you agree with that? 

ZUCKERMAN:  I agree with that. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s a tall order, but it‘s doable. 

ZUCKERMAN:  It is a tall order.  She has got a difficult road to hoe.  But it‘s not over and a lot of people are discounting—saying the superdelegates don‘t matter.  They‘re over there.  We‘re just looking at the states.  And that‘s not the way the system is set up.  I don‘t think it‘s necessarily over until everybody has had their say. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. Michelle Bernard, thank you very much.  Thank you, Jill Zuckerman.  Thank you, Adam Clymer.  Good luck with the book.  It shows how Ronald Reagan got to be president, a lot about how the conservative momentum got started.  It was over the canal, it was over a nationalistic issue, “Drawing the Line on the Big Ditch” by Adam Clymer.

Join us again Monday at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  And to you and your family, from all of us at HARDBALL, a very happy Easter.  Right now it‘s time for “THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE” with David Gregory.

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

END   

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

transcript

Watch Hardball each weeknight at 5 & 7 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,