updated 3/25/2008 11:29:09 AM ET 2008-03-25T15:29:09

Guests: Bill Richardson, Pete Hegseth, Jon Soltz, Eugene Robinson, Heidi Harris, E. Steven Collins

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Bill Richardson—is he the superdelegate who tilted this election once and for all to Barack Obama?  Bill Richardson, is he the decider?  Let‘s ask him.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  Will the uncivil war between Senator Clinton and Barack Obama split the Democratic Party apart?  With a war in Iraq and a deteriorating economy at home, why are Democrats still caught up in what amounts to a soap opera about who said what about who and when?  In a moment, we‘ll talk to former presidential candidate Governor Bill Richardson, whose endorsement of Obama set off a chain reaction of charges and countercharges this weekend.

Also, less than a week after we noted the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, we hit another grim milestone.  The death toll of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq has reached 4,000.  With tens of thousands more wounded and untold Iraqis—numbers of Iraqis killed or made into refugees, our question is, is the surge really working?  We‘ll talk to two Iraq war vets with very different views on that subject.

And yet another politician has fallen victim to a sex scandal.  Today it was Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who was charged with perjury, obstruction of justice and misconduct in office after sexually explicit sex messages to a former aide were published.  last week, it was New York governor Eliot Spitzer, and they‘re just the latest such examples.  The question is, should sex matter in politics?  We‘ll get some heated answers to that hot question from two radio talk show hosts.

And in tonight‘s “Politics Fix,” we‘ll ask the question: At this point, what does Hillary Clinton really want?

But we begin with Governor Bill Richardson.  Let me bring in the governor.  Thank you very much for joining us.  You were up early this morning.  I saw you on “MORNING JOE,” sir.  Talk about what‘s going on in the Democratic Party right now between Senators Clinton and Obama.  What‘s going on, actually?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO:  Well, what‘s going on is a food fight, personal attacks.  My recommendation is both the staff and the candidates should take some time off and reflect that these incessant attacks on each other are hurting the Democratic Party, that we can‘t possibly go into the Democratic convention with the blood-letting that potentially the race is going to proceed with.

So Chris, I think where we are now is, let‘s look at the next series of primaries, Pennsylvania, North Carolina.  There‘s a total of 10.  But after those primaries, let‘s look at where we are.  Party leaders, national chairman, voters should come together and say, Let‘s end this race.  Let‘s see who‘s ahead.  Let‘s see who has the most delegates, the most states, the most votes, and have a nominee.

Senator McCain right now is traveling around the country.  He‘s a statesman internationally.  He just got back from overseas.  He‘s raising money.  He‘s going to California, Democratic territory.  And we‘re just tearing each other apart.  And we should be talking about the issues, about Iraq, the 4,000 Americans that have died, how are we going to get out with honor and a diplomatic plan?  How can we bring universal health care to the American people?  How can we deal with this economy?  I mean, this economy is falling apart—gasoline prices, subprime lending, housing, real estate.  That‘s what we should be talking about.

MATTHEWS:  Well, how do you end it if the Clintons believe that they shouldn‘t quit until the last dog dies?  In other words the last possible gleam of possibility right before you go to convention the last week in August.  Suppose they say, Well, Barack doesn‘t have enough votes to win the nomination.  We‘re stay in this fight until he does.  We‘re not quitting.  What happens then?

RICHARDSON:  Well, I‘m not going to advise them when to get in and out of the race.  She‘s run a very strong race.  She‘s the favorite in Pennsylvania.  Obviously, she has to make that decision.

But I think this is where party leaders, the Al Gores, the John Edwardses, others that have had, for instance, a run at the presidential nomination, that are senior statesmen, with Governor Dean and others, should convene not just superdelegates, but convene some kind of a summit where both candidates attend and we try to resolve this issue of not moving toward the convention that is totally untested, a convention that is going to just bring more division and more bloodletting.  That‘s what I would do, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  You had a conversation with Senator Clinton the other day when you told her you were going to endorse her opponent.  Do you have a sense from that conversation that the Clintons, either one of them, Bill or Hillary, are open to the idea of you leaders in the party, you other candidates getting together in such a summit and deciding who won?  Will they let you declare them the loser?

RICHARDSON:  Well, I had a—it was a private conversation with Senator Clinton.  It was—I‘ve had better conversations with her.  She was unhappy.  I gave her the reasons why what I was doing.  She stated she was, you know, determined to stay very much in the race.

And—but I think, eventually, after these 10 primaries that are coming up from big states, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Guam, Pennsylvania, that we can now look at where we are in terms of delegates, in terms of votes, in terms of states, because right now, this constant hitting each other, getting personal, talking about issues relating to how you govern, who controls you, McCarthyism—this isn‘t helping the Democratic Party.

The time has come to come together as a party.  We should win the presidential election.  But if we continue on this path, I think it‘s going to hurt us enormously.  And I do believe Senator Obama has the judgment, the competence, the patriotism, the ability to bring people together.  I was out in Oregon.  I never saw so many thousands of people so enthused and positive with hope and yelling at the top of their lungs.  This man has something very good, Chris, that I think the American people are connecting with, and we should take advantage of that.  This may be a once-in-a-life-time leader.

MATTHEWS:  You say that, and maybe the people who are out there supporting you, I look at the people in that crowd, they obviously support you in that view.  But the Clintons have made clear that they believe that John McCain has passed the commander-in-chief standard, that he‘s a patriot, he‘s a loyalist, and perhaps to the exclusion of another candidate there.  They never said that about Barack Obama.

What makes you think that Bill and Hillary Clinton wouldn‘t prefer the election of John McCain to that of Barack Obama, if it comes to that?  They‘re saying he‘s qualified, but they won‘t say...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  But they won‘t say that their rival in the Democratic Party is qualified, but they will say that John McCain is.  They keep saying it now.  That‘s the pattern of their argument.

RICHARDSON:  Well, I realize that, and I think this is why it‘s important that this nomination come to a positive end because the heat between the two candidates and their staffs is getting so intense.  And we should be talking about real solutions, the economy, health care?  How do we get out of Iraq in a dignified way that brings diplomacy to bear?  What do we do about the Middle East?

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

RICHARDSON:  So many problems affecting this country.

MATTHEWS:  You know, James Carville, who‘s got a brilliant mind—I‘m not sure about his style sometimes, but his brain is certainly there.  Why would he accuse you of taking 30 pieces of silver to make this endorsement?  What‘s he implying you got for what he portrays as the treason against the Clintons?

RICHARDSON:  Well, I‘m very disappointed, but I‘m not going to get in the gutter with him.  I‘m going to try to rise above this.  I don‘t know what he means.  You know, there‘s a sense of entitlement that several of President Clinton and Senator Clinton‘s staff have.  They don‘t.  They don‘t.  I think they‘re honestly trying to get the nomination.  But I‘m not going to respond to that anymore.  He seems to want to persist.

There are a lot of people in the Clinton administration that are supporting Senator Obama.  You know Federico Pena was a two-time cabinet member.  He‘s for Senator Obama, Susan Rice, an assistant secretary, Tony Lake, his own national security adviser, Greg Craig.

You know, so to imply that because—I served in that cabinet.  I was very proud to.  But I gave good service to the country, and you know, I had a reputation before I was in the Clinton cabinet and since I‘ve been governor.  I was rescuing hostages, just diplomatic initiatives as a congressman and since I was in the Clinton administration.  You know, so this litmus test of loyalty is unfortunate.  But I‘m not going to respond anymore to this.  I think we got to stay positive and talk about issues, instead of this personal attack.

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s end this.  And my biggest possible question I could conceive of, Governor, that is this.  When you went and wrestled with this question of who to endorse—and your endorsement means a lot to both candidates—when you think about the kind of country that Barack Obama might be able to lead and the kind of country that Senator Clinton might be able to lead, give me the comparison.

RICHARDSON:  Well, the comparison is that Obama represents something new, that unifies people.  His speech on race—you know, I‘m Hispanic.  I appreciate what he said about stereotypes and being candid about how we all have these negative stereotypes of people, but more importantly how we have to come together.  And I think he clearly represents change in this country and enthusiasm about America.

Senator Clinton is very competent, but you know, she‘s running on what I ran on, experience, and the American people want change.  They want somebody that can lead, that has good judgment.  And Senator Clinton has all that.  But I just believe that Senator Obama is something special.  I can‘t exactly put my finger on it, except to...

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... with regard to Iraq.  Governor, it‘s very important, this last question, because Iraq is driving a lot of—well, my concern in this election, obviously.  A lot of Americans are concerned about Iraq.  How will he be different than she would be as president with regard to Iraq?

RICHARDSON:  Well, his plan is he has a timetable for withdrawal and for withdrawing our troops, a diplomatic initiative.  And you know, Senator Clinton—and I said this during the campaign.  She would leave a large number of troops behind, and I believe that the best thing to do is have a definitive timetable for withdrawal.

And what Obama also says he‘ll do is he‘ll talk to our adversaries.  He‘ll talk to Iran.  He‘ll talk to North Korea without preconditions, but with a plan, and strong American leadership.  And that‘s what I‘ve done all my life.  I‘ve talked to these dictators.  I‘ve brought American servicemen back, peace in some cases.  Obama likes the style of total negotiation, dialogue, mediation.  It‘s call diplomacy, and I believe that he brings enormous assets to that.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Governor Bill Richardson of New Mexico.

Coming up: The U.S. reaches a grim milestone in Iraq, 4,000 American troops killed as of now.  How‘s the surge working?  Is it working?  And will the war affect this presidential election?  It‘s obviously affected a lot of Americans.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Five years after the start of the Iraq war, the U.S. reached a grim and bloody milestone this weekend.  The deaths of four U.S. servicemen in a roadside bombing on Sunday pushed the American casualty death toll to 4,000 Americans dead.  Is the surge working both militarily or politically, or either one?  I‘m joined by two Iraq war vets.  Pete Hegseth is the executive director of Vets for Freedom, and he recently made a return trip to Baghdad, where he had served with the 101st Airborne in 2005.  And John Soltz is co-founder and chairman of Votevets.org.

I want to ask you both to comment on something that just came out from John McCain.  There was a lot of talk about whether John McCain, who is the Republican nominee for president and a military man through and through—if he is clear as to who our enemy is over there.  He said that the al Qaeda organization which attacked us on 9/11 is our primary enemy over there and that they‘re being trained in Iran.  Is that correct, Pete?  Is that fact correct?

PETE HEGSETH, VETS FOR FREEDOM:  Listen, al Qaeda in Iraq has received weapons from Iran.  So let‘s not mince words here.  Iran clearly wants al Qaeda to have a level of success to ensure Iraq is not stable.  But you know, John McCain has been to Iraq eight times and Hillary Clinton has been twice and Barack Obama once.  If anybody understands the nature of the enemy in Iraq, it‘s John McCain.

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s the enemy?

HEGSETH:  He has led the charge on the surge...

(CROSSTALK)

HEGSETH:  I‘m sorry?

MATTHEWS:  Who is the enemy and who‘s supporting them?  Who are we up against over there...

(CROSSTALK)

HEGSETH:  Foreign fighters and al Qaeda and Iraqi Sunni insurgents and we‘re also—rogue Iranian-backed militias.  So we‘ve got two distinct enemies that we‘re fighting, and we‘ve been taking them on—both of them on simultaneously with great success against al Qaeda.  Attacks are down over 90 percent...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

HEGSETH:  ... in Baghdad, and over—sectarian violence is down over 90 percent throughout the country.  So the surge has been successful because we‘re taking on our enemies, and I believe we know who they are and we‘re taking them out.

MATTHEWS:  Jon, who are our enemies over there?

JON SOLTZ, VOTEVETS.ORG:  Well, we have a lot of enemies right now.  Obviously, you have Shia-on-Shia violence.  You have Shia-on-Iraqi—or Shia-on-Sunni violence.  You have Shia-on-American violence.  So look, I mean, the...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How much would be going on if we weren‘t there?  How much of it—who would be fighting with who, if we weren‘t there?

SOLTZ:  Well, obviously, you‘d have Shia-on-Shia violence and Shia-on-Sunni violence, which is the chorus (ph) you hear.  But Senator McCain‘s statement was, like, absolutely ridiculous.  And I‘m surprised that Pete would defend it.  The Shia militias that operate in Iraq, the Mehdi Army and the SCIRI militia, those are—not only are they supported by Iran, but the SCIRI militia was in Iran during the Saddam Hussein years.  The key Shia cleric in Iraq, Ali Sistani, is also Iranian.  So for Senator McCain to make those statements, I just don‘t know how he can...

MATTHEWS:  Well, let‘s take a look at...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s watch—Pete and Jon, let‘s watch what Senator McCain said because it has caused a stir.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:   As you know, there are al Qaeda operatives that are taken back into Iran, given training as leaders, and they‘re moving back into Iraq.  I think Americans should be very angry when we know that Iran is exporting weapons into Iraq that kill Americans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, it‘s so complicated, Pete.  Let me ask you to explain it one more time.  We went into Iraq to topple a government run by Sunnis.  We found going in there that the al Qaeda organization took advantage of the vacuum, they moved in there, too.  We‘re now facing al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.  We‘re also fighting the Shias.  But the Shias are the government over there, the new government that was set up, and they are somewhat friendly to Iran.  It‘s very hard for me to figure out what would be different if we left.  Wouldn‘t these wars continue as if they—they are right now?

HEGSETH:  You can‘t say that all the Shia in Iraq (INAUDIBLE) Shia in Iran.  You‘ve got Arab Shia in Iran.  You‘ve got Persian—or Arab Shia in Iraq, Persian Shia in Iran.  They‘ve been fighting each other for decades.  So to sort of say Shia equals Shia in Iraq and Iran is certifiably false.  There‘s also a lot of evidence that Iran has sent weapons both to Shia militias and to al Qaeda elements in Iraq.

SOLTZ:  Not true at all.

HEGSETH:  This is intelligence that has...

MATTHEWS:  Well, why should...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... fighting for decades.  Why will they stop because we‘re there?  I don‘t understand why they intend to stop.  Do you think they intend to stop fighting over there, the Shia and the Sunnis?

HEGSETH:  Chris, why is the violence...

MATTHEWS:  No, because we...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... soldiers in the field.  Of course.  But when we leave...

HEGSETH:  Why is the violence...

MATTHEWS:  ... they‘ll continue the fight they had before we got there, won‘t they?

HEGSETH:  They‘re—they‘re—listen, Iraq is very proud of its nonsectarian past.  And you know what?  If you talk to Iraqis on the street, like I did three weeks ago, Sunnis don‘t hate Shia and Shia don‘t hate Sunnis.  Iraq and Iran have exactly—excuse me—al Qaeda and Iran have exacerbated the violence by trying to hit each other‘s populations with suicide bombers and death squads.

SOLTZ:  Completely revisionist history.

HEGSETH:  It is not—it is absolutely not the mass of Sunnis and Shia going at each other.

MATTHEWS:  OK...

HEGSETH:  They want to live in peace, and we‘re taking out al Qaeda and Iranian militias, and that‘s why the violence has come down to dramatically.

SOLTZ:  Pete, you know that—Pete, you know this...

HEGSETH:  That‘s why the surge has been successful.

SOLTZ:  You know this is revisionist history.  When we invaded Iraq, we handed the country to Iran.

(CROSSTALK)

SOLTZ:  I mean, the bottom line here is that all the EFPs that penetrate our Humvees, these are Shia weapons.  These are Shia weapons. 

HEGSETH:  They‘re Iranian weapons.

SOLTZ:  These are coming from the support of Iran. 

HEGSETH:  They‘re Iranian weapons.

SOLTZ:  They‘re coming from the support—they‘re coming from the support of Iran.  I don‘t think there‘s any question about it.

HEGSETH:  Absolutely they‘re coming from Iran.  They‘re absolutely coming from Iran.

SOLTZ:  But that‘s not al Qaeda.  And for Senator McCain—for Senator McCain to somehow make that correlation between the two is absolutely ridiculous. 

HEGSETH:  John...

(CROSSTALK)

SOLTZ:  I can‘t believe that. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let me ask you both for an estimate of the American casualties to come, the American cost to come.

You first, Pete.

Wars are meant to be won eventually.  Eventually, we stabilize the situation...

HEGSETH:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  ... reduce it to some sort of police role, perhaps, over there. 

When it will begin to, say, the level of violence in Korea, where we lose, perhaps, on average since 1953, two service people a year, none—we have lost none in Japan, none in Germany.  When will it get down to simply a police role, where we would basically be keeping the peace, not trying to make it?  When will that happen? 

HEGSETH:  Chris, we‘re much closer today than we were just a...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  When will that be? 

HEGSETH:  Listen, you have asked me this question before on this show, and I‘m not going to give you a time, because we can‘t... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, give me a decade.  One hundred years?  Fifty years? 

HEGSETH:  Listen, people misconstrue McCain‘s comments.  But, clearly, we‘re going to have a long-term...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I‘m asking you what your...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  You just got back from over there.

HEGSETH:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  You‘re an expert.  Tell me, roughly, how many decades, how many years—five years, 10 years—until we can actually say the war itself is over. 

HEGSETH:  Oh, I think, by five years, we should have a great indication of whether or not the Iraqis have stood up enough to defend their own country.  And they‘re already doing that. 

They have had a surge of over 200,000 Iraqis that have joined the security forces in the last 14 months. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

HEGSETH:  That is an incredible—they have really stood up, as we have given them the opportunity.

And it would be a huge mistake for us not to stand alongside our Iraqi allies as they fight al Qaeda and Iranian-backed militias. 

MATTHEWS:  Would you stay any longer than five years?  Would you continue a war that lasted another five years, beyond another five years?  Let me ask how far you would keep the commitment.  How far would you keep a war going over there? 

(CROSSTALK)

HEGSETH:  Chris, if we‘re not using the right strategy, then we should bring them home. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

HEGSETH:  But we‘re employing the right strategy, and it‘s being successful. 

(CROSSTALK)

HEGSETH:  And it doesn‘t make any sense to go back to strategies that were failing.

And you know what?  John and others use 2006 talking points.  They talk about the civil war.  The civil war is over.  They talk about al Qaeda not being there.

(CROSSTALK)

HEGSETH:  They weren‘t there in ‘03.  Al Qaeda is there now.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What do you think?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the United States can get out of there with no major losses to us?  Are we smart to get out of there within a year or so? 

SOLTZ:  Look, Americans should get out of there, because the McCain-Bush policy is a policy of retreat against Osama bin Laden and the people that attacked our country on 9/11. 

You have 90 percent of the Army stuck in Iraq.

HEGSETH:  That‘s a lie. 

SOLTZ:  If you had put the surge brigades in Afghanistan, you would have doubled your force structure on the ground in Afghanistan. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, it‘s better to fight al Qaeda in Afghanistan? 

SOLTZ:  Absolutely.  It‘s better to fight them where they attacked our country from.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... very much, Pete Hegseth.  We will continue this.  Jon Soltz.

Thank you, gentlemen, for serving your country.  I mean that.

Up next:  Hillary Clinton is touting her commander in chief credentials by telling supporters she dodged sniper fire and ran with her head down to safety after landing in Bosnia back in ‘96.  But there are serious questions about whether her claims are at all correct.  We will get to the bottom of it.  It looks like it never happened. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

So, what else is new out there in politics?  A lot.

Back to the big screen?  Now that he‘s out of the presidential race, what will Fred Thompson do next?  Well, it looks as if he‘s going back to acting.  The former Tennessee senator just signed with a big talent agency, which could very well mean some big roles in the future.  After all that time in the national spotlight of a presidential campaign, on top of his filmography of big-shot roles like those in “The Hunt For Red October” and “In the Line of “Fire,” he could be ready for something great. 

Break a leg, big boy. 

The Eliot Spitzer scandal has legs.  It runs out that, back in November, a lawyer for Republican political operative Roger Stone sent a letter to the FBI alleging that the New York governor—quote—“used the services of high-priced call girls while in Florida.”  Stone said he picked up the information, including some intimate details, from a social contact in an adult-themed club—I love that reference—details like the odd fact that Spitzer engaged with a prostitute while wearing knee-length socks. 

So, now we have got at least a strong clue as to how Spitzer got caught, always an intriguing question in these cases. 

Speaking of seediness, Larry Craig‘s day in the U.S. Senate are now officially numbered.  The embattled senator, who said, at one point, that he intended to leave the Senate, but then, realizing the Senate didn‘t have the standards to bounce him, said he would stick around until the end of his term, has not filed for reelection.  The deadline was Friday. 

And, while we are talking Larry Craig, “The Washington Post” held its annual marshmallow peeps diorama contest, which drew more than 800 entries.  Take a look at this semifinalist, which shows Larry Craig in action, if he were in fact made of marshmallow. 

Now it‘s time to keep tabs on who‘s telling the truth and who‘s been caught not telling the truth.  In touting her foreign policy experience, Hillary Clinton has talked about her dangerous 1996 trip to Bosnia. 

Here she is at a speech at George Washington University on St. Patrick‘s Day. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I remember landing under sniper fire.  There was supposed some kind of a greeting ceremony at the airport, but, instead, we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Does Hillary‘s account square with the facts? 

Well, here‘s the actual video of that landing in Bosnia, which, by all appearances, does not seem to be under fire. 

“The Washington Post”‘s review of 100 news accounts of her visit shows none indicating any sort of security threat.  And regarding Hillary‘s claim that the trip was too dangerous for the president, President Clinton in fact visited the same Air Force base in Bosnia two months earlier. 

It all led “The Washington Post” to give Hillary four of a possible four Pinocchios.  That‘s what they give for not telling the truth, Pinocchios.  Howard Wolfson of the Clinton campaign said today that Senator Clinton may have misspoken. 

In other words, what she said happened, that she went into Bosnia under sniper fire, didn‘t happen. 

And now it‘s time for the HARDBALL “Big Number” of the night.

All eyes today are focused on Iraq, where 4,000 U.S. service people have been killed since the beginning of the war.

In case you forgot, here‘s the president on May 1, 2003.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, MAY 1, 2003)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Major combat operations have ended.  In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What percentage of U.S. military deaths, KIAs, occurred after the president made that declaration?  Ninety-seven percent.  Ninety-seven percent of the U.S. deaths in Iraq happened after the president‘s celebration that we had achieved our mission.  Mission accomplished—not—tonight‘s “Big Number.”

Up next: Eliot Spitzer caught hiring a prostitute, and now Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick indicted for lying under oath about a sexual relationship with a top aide.  Should a politician‘s sexual, well, involvements outside of marriage matter politically?  We will debate that hot one—next. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARGARET BRENNAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I am Margaret Brennan with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Stocks ended a volatile week with big gains and started off Monday‘s session with another triple—triple-digit rally on the Dow, which closed up 187 points. 

On the Nasdaq, we also saw a gain of about 20 -- about 68 points, the S&P 500 up 21, thanks to positive news on Bear Stearns and the housing market. 

Oil prices fell 98 cents today, closing at over $101.  J.P. Morgan Chase approved its takeover deal for Bear Stearns, upping it to $10 a share from $2 a share.  Bear Stearns‘ stock as well, up more than 50 percent on that news. 

Existing home sales unexpectedly rose almost 3 percent last month.  It‘s the first gain in seven, and it‘s the biggest jump in a year, as buyers take advantage of falling prices. 

And the Justice Department approved Sirius Satellite Radio‘s $5 billion buyout of rival XM Radio.  The Federal Communications Commission is still considering the merger, which is opposed by some consumers. 

That‘s it from CNBC, America‘s business channel—now back to Chris and HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, close your ears if this stuff bothers you, but welcome back to HARDBALL. 

The mayor of Detroit, an admitted adulterer, is now facing criminal indictment related to statements he made about his affair under oath.  But the scandal has raised the question once again of whether sexual conduct outside of marriage, obviously, should count or matter when it comes to public governance. 

Our recent political history is filled with leaders who have fallen short morally and ethically, if you will, if that‘s your standard.  And some of them have lost their careers.  Others have only lost their reputations. 

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster has the honors.  Here he is.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Facing 12 counts of perjury and obstruction of justice, today, Kwame Kilpatrick, the mayor of Detroit, said he‘s not guilty of any crimes. 

KWAME KILPATRICK (D), MAYOR OF DETROIT, MICHIGAN:  I look forward to complete exoneration once all the facts surrounding this matter have been brought forth. 

SHUSTER:  The charges stem from a civil lawsuit last year involving a government whistle-blower who alleged corruption.  Under oath, the mayor and his chief of staff hid they were having an extramarital affair. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Were you and Mayor Kilpatrick either romantically or intimately involved with each other? 

CHRISTINE BEATTY, FORMER KILPATRICK CHIEF OF STAFF:  No. 

SHUSTER:  Steamy text messages and e-mails undercut the pair. 

KYM WORTHY, WAYNE COUNTY PROSECUTOR:  Honesty and integrity in the justice system is everything.  That‘s what this case is about. 

SHUSTER:  It‘s also about sex and when private conduct becomes a public issue. 

Kilpatrick‘s case is reminiscent of Bill Clinton‘s affair with Monica Lewinsky.  Clinton‘s legal jeopardy started not with the affair, but when he lied about it under oath in the Paula Jones lawsuit. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AUGUST 1998)

BILL CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  It depends upon what the meaning of the word “is” is. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  In many cases, simply getting caught is considered a public betrayal.  Two weeks ago, Eliot Spitzer was revealed to have been client number nine with this $4,000-an-hour prostitute. 

ELIOT SPITZER (D), FORMER NEW YORK GOVERNOR:  And I cannot allow my private failings to disrupt the people‘s work.  For this reason, I am resigning from the office of governor. 

SHUSTER:  There years ago, the bombshell came from former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. JIM MCGREEVEY (D), NEW JERSEY:  And, so, my truth is that I am a gay American. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  McGreevey admitted an affair with an unqualified male staffer he named to direct Homeland Security. 

The American landscape is littered with politicians whose careers have been ended by sex scandals, former presidential candidate Gary Hart, former House Speaker Bob Livingston, former Congressman Wilbur Mills, former D.C. Mayor Marion Barry. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARION BERRY, FORMER D.C. MAYOR:  That (EXPLETIVE DELETED) bitch tricked me into getting me up here.  Son of a bitch.

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

SHUSTER:  Some politicians try to hang on.  Louisiana Republican Senator David Vitter admitted last summer having dealings with prostitutes. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, JULY 2007)

SEN. DAVID VITTER ®, LOUISIANA:  I want to again offer my deep, sincere apologies to all those I have let down and disappointed. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  Vitter said he and his wife had worked things out, and, therefore, he would stay in office. 

Last fall, after Idaho Republican Senator Larry Craig pled guilty to a misdemeanor stemming from actions in an airport men‘s room, Craig pledged to resigned, but he added:

SEN. LARRY CRAIG ®, IDAHO:  I am not gay.  I never have been gay. 

SHUSTER:  And, a month later, Craig changed political course, and is now serving out the remainder of his Senate term. 

Like Craig and Vitter, Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick has pledged to stay in office. 

(on camera):  It‘s not unheard of for a politician to stay in office even while facing a criminal trial.  The question is, where should the line be between private misconduct and violations of public trust?

I‘m David Shuster, for HARDBALL in Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David.

Should sex matter in politics?  And is anything in the life of a public official really private?  That‘s the better question. 

Joining me now is radio talk show host Heidi Harris and E. Steven Collins. 

Heidi, thank you very much.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What is your view?  Let‘s take out the legal aspects of criminal perjury and obstruction of justice.  Those are crimes.  Let‘s take out prostitution, which is a crime, a more serious crime than a lot of people thought it was, especially interstate prostitution, than a lot of politicians apparently thought it was.

What about the simple matter of infidelity, straight, gay, whatever?  Should that be a matter that takes a person out of public life? 

Well, you know what? 

HEIDI HARRIS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Well, you know what?  Listen.  Let‘s be honest hire.  Nations had fallen over zippers long before there were zippers.  So, this is nothing new, this kind of behavior.

I think it all comes down to what you expect in your politician.  I do think it matters if a person cheats on their spouse, because, frankly, they have made vows to that spouse, and more so than they make to me as a constituent.  So, it seems to me, if they can‘t even keep those vows, it speaks to their character and whether or not they‘re fit to serve the people honestly. 

MATTHEWS:  E. Steven Collins, sir, your view.  The simple question:  Should adultery of any form—in any form, be a matter for the public decision-making?  Should people decide against politicians who behave in that fashion?

E. STEVEN COLLINS, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  I think, first of all, we recognize that we worship to a God, most of us, as Christians in this country, who is a forgiving God. 

But I think that, when you get into this whole sordid mess of—of extramarital, and what happens in all that, and lies, and concealing it, and everything else, and the sordid details, Chris, think about it.

Your 15-year-old daughter asks you, what is oral sex?  It‘s just inappropriate that that question comes as a result of what the president of the United...

MATTHEWS:  Well, whose fault is that?

COLLINS:  The president of the United States, and what he did and what he—and the way in which he did it, in the White House, at the Oval—in the Oval Office.  You have got to look at those aspects of it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, he denied it was sex, first of all.  Bill Clinton has an amazing way with definitions. 

COLLINS:  But you and I know—

MATTHEWS:  That‘s not the problem area.  I don‘t want to get too kiddie about this, but it is a serious matter, because people argue about this at parties.  They argue about it at taverns; should a guy—it‘s usually a guy in public life—who gets involved with someone outside of marriage, usually a woman, if it‘s a guy, usually—is that a matter for expulsion from public office?  Should they have to walk if they‘re caught?  Yes or no?  Should they have to walk if they‘re caught?

COLLINS:  It almost always goes to a lie and then another lie and now there‘s possible black mail.  Then there‘s lawsuits, which the tax payers have to pay.  Look at Kilpatrick‘s situation.  How much is it costing the people of Detroit because he decided to have an indiscretion like that.  I mean, don‘t we look up to the president?  Isn‘t he the leader of the nation? 

MATTHEWS:  It sounds like you two agree.  We have put up a mismatched debate here.  I thought you were going to debate.  Heidi, it sounds E. Steven is saying what you‘re saying, that‘s it verbotent.  Politicians, if they can‘t do the time, don‘t do the crime.  If you get caught, you‘re nailed.  Right?  You both seem to agree. 

HARRIS:  Ultimately, I think the voters are going to have to decide.  I don‘t know if you should throw somebody out of office for that.  Obviously with Spitzer, he resigned.  They threatened to impeach him.  But that should be something the voters decide, if they‘re going to reelect you or not. 

If you do something criminal, as you mentioned, that‘s entirely different.  But adultery between a husband and a wife, I think it‘s repulsive.  A lot of people do.  But the voters should decide whether or not they‘re going to reelect you. 

COLLINS:  I think it‘s a matter of being honest.  If you‘re going to lie, you‘re going to lie to everyone.  Look at the war we‘re in right now.  It‘s all based on a lie. 

(CROSS TALK)

COLLINS:  Four thousand 000 people are dead today because of that decision. 

HARRIS:  Let‘s go back there then. 

MATTHEWS:  No, it‘s a really serious subject.  We just did it in the last segment.  Let me ask you this, Heidi, should we warn people, men—it‘s mostly men‘s business, politics—or women, both—it‘s getting to be increasingly even handed in terms of numbers.  But if we tell people going into politics, if you have a problem maintaining your faithfulness to your partner, don‘t go into politics.  Should that be our admonition or should we say, take your chances if you think it‘s worth it.  What‘s the message to politicians when they decide to be politicians?  What should be our public message? 

HARRIS:  You know what I think it is, Chris?  A lot of politicians, just by virtue of their DNA, can be very arrogant people.  They think the rules don‘t apply to them.  Eliot Spitzer didn‘t think he was going to get caught.  I don‘t really think—they function in a different world than the rest of us.  So maybe they‘re just going to continue to behave that way.

MATTHEWS:  You think do think a pol who has a problem shouldn‘t be a pol? 

HARRIS:  No, I don‘t think they should. 

MATTHEWS:  What is your thought, Steven?  Should a guy out there who has a girlfriend on the side think about running for office, yes or no? 

COLLINS:  I agree with her that they have strong egos, but at the same time, I think we forgive people to some extent.  If he‘s doing a great job in the nation with the economy and foreign affairs, I think there‘s some latitude there.  It is a tough situations, because it is separate, but it goes to the heart of the character of the individual, who is leading our state, our city or our nation. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the nicest way I have ever heard it put.  There‘s some latitude—

COLLINS:  But that‘s where we are, because I think all of us are changing as these stories evolve. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s why we‘re debating this.  But it sound like both of you advise against mixing politics with extramarital stuff of any kind. 

HARRIS:  Your can forgive one occurrence, but not a lifestyle of bad decisions.  That becomes a pattern of behavior.  That‘s different. 

COLLINS:  That is.

MATTHEWS:  OK, well, you‘re great.  Thanks.  Happy Easter everybody on this sordid subject.  Thank you, Heidi.  Thank you, E. Steven Collins. 

Up next, the politics fix; what‘s Bill Clinton up to when he says that Hillary and John McCain love their country?  Well who‘s that excluding from that little duo?  Does that exclude the other character in this story?  Anyway, this is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Now for the favorite part of the show of many, the politics fix.  Chuck Todd is NBC‘s political director.  He knows all.  Eugene Robinson is a “Washington Post” columnist, who is one of the best columnists.  It may be decided soon, the best columnist in the country.  And Norah O‘Donnell is MSNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent.  Thank you all for joining us. 

I want you all to pay close attention to this, and to the extent your ability allows you, decide what you think, based upon your reporting, would be the favorite option and the least favorite option and the ones in the middle for Senator Clinton at this point. 

Number one, Senator Clinton wins the nomination of the Democratic party and then goes on to win the general election.  Is that the best scenario for Senator Clinton?  Probably. 

Number two, Obama wins the nomination, but McCain wins the general election. 

Three, Clinton wins the nomination and McCain wins the general election. 

Or four, Hillary Clinton—Obama wins the nomination and the election.  Keep that board up there while we each go through it.  Please hold that up there.  Gene Robinson, for Hillary Clinton, what‘s the worst-case scenario for her?  Is it number four, that Barack Obama becomes the greatest Democratic president in modern times, and everybody forgets her husband and forgets she ever ran? 

EUGENE ROBINSON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  It‘s the worst case for her chances of ever being president.  If he she wants to be president, that‘s the worst thing for her.  If she wants to be remembered as a great Democrat and a great figure in the party, then, you know, an option in which a Democrat wins is that. 

MATTHEWS:  You threaded the needle here.  I want to go—before I get to Norah, I want to go to chuck.  Can we look at that again?  I think people will forget this interesting bit of graphics we have.  We should all watch it again.  Look at that, hold it up there, please.  Obviously, Hillary Clinton would like to win the whole shebang at this point, even, when it‘s really a long shot at this point.  I think we would all agree.  But would she be happier having a McCain win the presidency ultimately or the man she‘s fighting hardest right now, because she keeps saying McCain is qualified to be commander-in-chief.  He‘s another lover of the country, another patriot, seemingly to the exclusion of the other guy, Barack.

Does she really prefer Barack over John McCain to be the next president? 

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  She is in a fight for the nomination, a heated fight.  We have gotten to the point where the two sides now hate each other more than they hate the eventually enemy.  And right now she is in an alliance, whether they have formed it officially or not—McCain and Clinton are in alliance because McCain knows how to run against Clinton, has been preparing to run against Clinton in a general election. 

Running against Obama is trickier.  It‘s harder.  It‘s difficult.  It‘s not something he‘s ready for. He would love to run against Clinton.

Clinton, of course, wants to prove that Obama can‘t beat McCain, so needs to make McCain a stronger and stronger nominee.  It is her path to nomination.  I think we can‘t read her mind and sit there and say, gee, she certainly hopes Obama doesn‘t get—does she want to be president? 

MATTHEWS:  If he wins, she‘ll never be president.  He‘ll get the nomination four years ago. 

ROBINSON:  Apologies to the guy who called the Davidson game yesterday before the game.  He called Davidson over Georgetown.  Chuck does know all.  However—

MATTHEWS:  Tar Heels all the way.  Let me go to Norah.  The Tar Heels will win the national championship, as they should.  Let me ask you—

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  Georgetown has won many championships.  Let me ask you this, Norah: when you look at this, do you go with Gene‘s theory that Hillary Clinton would like to be president someday, if she can‘t win it this time, she‘s still hopeful, and therefore, would really, deep down, prefer that the door be kept open by the election of John McCain who will only serve, perhaps, four years and certainly will be vulnerable to an attack from the Democrats four years later. 

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, the answer to your test, Chris, is choice number two, which is that she would rather have Obama win the nomination and have McCain win the general election, so that in 2012 she can come back and run against McCain.  That clearly would be the second-best-case scenario other than her winning the whole thing. 

MATTHEWS:  That also fits into the strategy.  By the way, this is not idle discussion, because I have been looking at the performance of the Clinton campaign, and I completely understand why they‘re doing it, if this is her ambition.  They‘re very tough an Obama.  They‘re not cutting him much slack.  I detected a little cutting of slack today, but they‘re really going after him this week, saying he‘s the one running the dirty campaign.  He‘s the one trying to destroy her character.  When they‘re out there really being tough with Obama. 

I mean, I‘m looking at how they excluded him from the cotilian (ph) of loyal Americans.  That‘s a pretty mean—This is President Clinton talking Friday about Hillary and McCain facing off in the general election.  He‘s almost at a dating service here now.  Look at this, he‘s putting them together. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATE:  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:  What‘s that, e-Harmony?  Norah, is he putting these people together?  They seem like a perfect match and he‘s one of these people with the computer, saying, you know, you‘re both loyal to the country; you both love America; you‘re both qualified to be commander-in-chief.  Why don‘t you two run against each other. 

TODD: Look, the Clinton campaign will argue that last Monday she actually did criticize McCain.  But there hasn‘t been a lot of criticism of McCain of late from the Clinton campaign.  But read more carefully into what Bill Clinton was talking about.  I don‘t think he was trying to question Barack Obama‘s patriotism.  I think he was talking about the race issue, because the audience was older white men.  This was at a VFW hall. 

MATTHEWS:  You don‘t have all this stuff. 

TODD:  All this stuff was code for—no, no, all this stuff means you won‘t have to deal with this extra issue that will come up in the general.  He‘s almost apologizing for it.  He‘s not saying that he wants it to be that way.  But you won‘t have to deal with this other stuff. 

MATTHEWS:  When it comes to the size of the baggage load, you don‘t go with Clintons.  When they have to put their stuff on that scale at the airport, it‘s heavy.  We‘ll be right back with the round table with more of the politics fix.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with the round table for more of the politics fix.  I want everybody to watch a bit of tape from last Friday‘s “Fox and Friends.”  That‘s the early morning program on the Fox Channel, where the news host, of course, Chris Wallace, our colleague, chastises the hosts of the program. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR:  I love all you guys, but I want to take you to task if I may respectfully for a moment.  I have been watching the show since 6:00 this morning, when I got up, and it seems to me that two hours of Obama bashing on this ‘typical white‘ person remark is somewhat excessive. 

And, frankly, I think what you‘re somewhat distorting what Obama had to say.  I just was unhappy with what you were doing today. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, in all fairness to the “Fox and Friends” show, you did 20-some-odd hits and obviously you missed a lot of our dialogue. 

WALLACE:  Well, I heard enough of it. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  I have to say, this is one of those rare moments, Norah and you guys, that I have seen in politics or journalism where somebody really says, I don‘t like the way this is going.  It is not that I don‘t like a remark.  I don‘t like this whole programming.  I think this is bashing of Barack over something that‘s arguable, controversial.  It is not the subject of a denunciation or shouldn‘t be.  What did you make of it? 

ROBINSON:  I‘m a columnist so I can say yes, Chris, good for you.  I‘m sure we can find exile for you, sanctuary somewhere, if it gets too rough. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean he might be chased away from Fox. 

ROBINSON:  Yes.  But, you know, I think he was absolutely right.  It was, you know, a fiesta of Obama bashing over that comment.  And, you know, I thought it was great that he came out and said it. 

MATTHEWS:  He said three hours of bashing for saying his grand mother was typical. 

TODD:  Look, I think we have hit a tipping point in the campaign on all—where everybody is hyper-sensitive now to everything on both sides.  I get—the amount of e-mails I‘m getting from viewers or people that are watching our programming, claiming bias of both sides, or three sides—I think we have hit this tipping point.  Peoples‘ heels are dug in on everything.  I just think there is a sensitivity level that has gotten to the point where everybody is thin-skinned about what they are watching on television right now. 

MATTHEWS:  I was impressed that Chris Wallace stood up and said that he didn‘t like the tone of a whole conversation.  I have never seen that done before.  Norah, your thoughts watching our colleague over there at Fox? 

O‘DONNELL:  Well, I think Chuck is exactly right, especially on the Democratic side.  You have more people engaged in this race than any other primary in history, where have you more small donors, people who have been watching our coverage.  I had someone say to me the other day, I can‘t stand watching you guys.  I can‘t stand that this goes on any longer.  This was a Barack Obama supporter.  They said, if Hillary Clinton wins, I‘m not voting in November. 

Those numbers and that anger that‘s going on, as people are so invested in these candidates, fuels this.  We just saw a Pew Poll that suggested the divisions in the Democratic party of Clinton supporters who may not want to vote for Barack Obama and vice versa. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Norah O‘Donnell, for joining us.  Thank you, Chuck Todd.  Thank you, Gene Robinson.  Congratulations to Chris Wallace for standing up to those around you.  I always lake somebody who is willing to take on others around them.  I sometimes try it.  Anyway, it‘s time for the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE right now 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.

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