Guests: David Gregory, Howard Fineman, Pat Buchanan, Margaret Brennan, Mike Allen, Ari Fleischer
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Finally, the whole dishonest case for war in Iraq and the Cheney-led cover-up. Can we handle the truth?
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. Welcome to a HARDBALL special report, the selling of the war and the attack on its critics. When I first heard the disclosures in Scott McClellan‘s new book, I thought of the scene in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” when that corrupt senior senator runs onto the Senate floor yelling, Everything he says is true.
For months and years now, HARDBALL told the two-party story of how the Iraq war was sold under the false pretense that Saddam Hussein posed a nuclear threat to the United States and the people in the Bush administration sought to destroy those who unmasked the plotting. Here is Scott McClellan writing in “What Happened” about Bush‘s, quote, “lack of candor and honesty in selling the Iraq war.”
Quote, “What drove Bush toward military confrontation more than anything else was an ambitious and idealistic post-9/11 vision of transforming the Middle East through the spread of freedom. This view was grounded in a philosophy of”—catch this phrase—“coercive democracy, a belief that Iraq was ripe for conversion from a dictatorship into a beacon of liberty through the use of force and a conviction that this could be achieved at nominal cost.”
McClellan said Bush and his neo-conservative supporters in and out of the administration downplayed this motive and instead emphasized the threat of WMD and the possible link between Iraq and terrorism.
Quote, “The decision to downplay the democratic vision as a motive for war was basically a marketing choice. Bush and his advisers knew that the American people would almost certainly not support a war launched primarily for the ambitious purpose of transforming the Middle East.” Quote, “Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were evidently pursuing their own agendas. President Bush, however, bears ultimate responsibility for the invasion of Iraq. He made the decision to invade and he signed off on a strategy for selling the war that was less than candid and honest.”
Having described how the Bush administration sold the Iraq war on a dishonest basis, that Iraq posed a nuclear threat to the U.S., Scott McClellan describes how the administration then acted to protect the dishonest argument. He tells how top White House officials, including Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, leaked the CIA role of Joe Wilson‘s wife, Valerie, then how both men denied their actions to his face—that‘s Scott McClellan‘s face—allowing him to tell that lie to the press and the public.
McClellan writes, “The worst aspect of the whole story was the failure of the press to see through to the real horror of the Iraq war and the CIA leak case.” So that‘s the real horror exposed by Scott McClellan in the new book today, that an American aversion to foreign entanglements passed down from George Washington himself was so easily and tragically overturned by George W. Bush.
In a few minutes, we‘ll talk to former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer. But we begin with NBC‘s David Gregory, who covers the Bush White House in addition to hosting MSNBC‘s “Road to the White House” at 6:00 o‘clock every night here, and “The Politico‘s” Mike Allen, who broke the McClellan book story.
First my colleague, David Gregory. Thank you so much for being here this special night. What‘s the impact to you, who covered this story day to day, the build-up to war, the case made for war, that now one of the real inside political players is saying the real motive for the war wasn‘t WMD, it wasn‘t the threat of a nuclear threat from Iraq, it was this motive, this deep mission to democratize the Middle East through coercive action?
DAVID GREGORY, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, a couple of points. First of all, I think what is shocking about this is the source. Scott McClellan is somebody that we knew and covered and did not know that he held these kinds of strong views. It certainly was not within the context of his job to break ranks like this, and he didn‘t do it. He didn‘t do it with a wink and a nod. He didn‘t do it privately. He didn‘t do it publicly.
This is the first time that a Bush insider, a loyalist from the days back in Texas—remember, his brother worked for the administration, too, Mark McClellan—has broken with this administration and so sharply criticized the president about the war, the driving policy of this administration, the driving policy that will make up the Bush legacy. That‘s significant. And it says that not everybody who was close to the president was on board with the direction that he was setting.
But I think we need some context in all of this, too, Chris, and that is Scott McClellan did not formulate war policy. He was an observer. He was up close, although in the run-up to the war, he was an assistant to Ari Fleischer, who will be on in a few moments. He was pretty far away from the action when it came to developing policy for the war.
In some respects, this criticism is derivative, derivative of other critiques of the war offered by critics of the administration, whether they‘re conservative Republican, Democrats and Republicans, or liberal. He‘s making judgments, which he‘s certainly entitled to make, but it‘s also worth pointing out that he was not up front in formulating this war policy.
MATTHEWS: Let me go back to the question, then, of the revelation here. Here‘s a person who was in a professional but political capacity inside the White House, and all that experience led him to believe that the motivating force for the war was not a fear of a nuclear attack, as sold by the administration as the reason for the war, but an ideological imperative to democratize the Middle East by force. You don‘t believe that he had exposure to the personnel of the top to have formed that on his own, that it was derivative from other sources outside the White House experience?
GREGORY: I‘m just saying that it‘s consistent with criticism that we‘ve seen outlined in other books by journalists or other criticism of the war since it has unfolded. I‘m not diminishing that it‘s a real point of view and that it‘s his point of view, as we understand it from this book. And again, to underscore the significance of that, that somebody who was in the business of making the argument for the war, whether he was an assistant to Ari Fleischer or later as press secretary, would believe that, in fact, propaganda was relied on to sell the war, that the president was out of touch, that he was believing his own spin, that this was, in effect, an attempt to reshape the Middle East under the guise of creating this sort of gathering threat.
GREGORY: But I just think for context...
MATTHEWS: Yes, but isn‘t the context here very parallel to that of someone inside the tobacco industry that points out that they were doctoring the cigarettes to make them more addictive? Isn‘t the information the fact that it come from the inside more potent?
GREGORY: Yes. I agree. I think there‘s no question about that, and I‘m not making a different argument. I do think because it‘s from an insider, somebody who was part of this, it is important. The point I‘m trying to make is that he was not an insider who was actually formulating policy. So one shouldn‘t get the idea that he was inside there, sparring with those who were making the policy, saying, Hey, this isn‘t right, we‘re relying on propaganda, we‘re doing the wrong thing here. He wasn‘t really engaged in that argument at the time.
GREGORY: He‘s making judgments a little later on.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Mike on the question of the cover-up, the whole question of how they dealt with attacking—the fact that this book on three different occasions said the vice president of the United States was leading the charge in terms of discrediting Joe Wilson and his wife, Valerie Wilson in the CIA, in order to destroy their credibility. What do you make of that charge? From the inside.
MIKE ALLEN, POLITICO.COM: Right, Chris. And that‘s a classic example of why I have an alternative title for this book, which is “Now They Tell Us.” And Scott McClellan says in here that he was, at best, misled by both Karl Rove and the vice president‘s chief of staff, Scooter Libby.
Now he largely leaves it to fill in what happened at worst. But he makes it clear that he knew—had it in the back of his mind from the very beginning, that he was not getting the full story. He talks about how he chose his words carefully in an effort—unsuccessful, he admits—to protect himself and his credibility when out there. And he paints this picture of these very awkward meetings, where he‘s still out there taking the bullets for them and defending them when it‘s becoming more clear day by day from the news coverage that what they told him was just not right.
And you know, David talks about the source of the information here being powerful. The other great power of this book is that it validates, as David said, these criticisms that have come from the liberal and left-wing bloggers...
ALLEN: ... most especially, his point that the White House press corps was too deferential to this administration. David and I have fought back about those charges over the years largely because of the work of people like David Gregory. It just isn‘t true. But now the left can say, Even Scott McClellan says you guys were too easy on the Bushies.
MATTHEWS: Well, let‘s go right now...
GREGORY: Yes, I mean, but you know...
MATTHEWS: Go ahead, David.
GREGORY: I‘m sorry. I need to say a couple points. I mean, this notion that somehow we were too easy on him or in the run-up to the war—
I mean, it doesn‘t jibe with the kinds of things he was saying at the time, or you know...
GREGORY: It‘s the idea that he, you know, was on a completely different plane during that whole time, when you got—you got no sense of it. I think that‘s a separate discussion, but I don‘t think that‘s a credible charge.
MATTHEWS: Hold on, fellows. Hold on, David. Hold on, Mike. Let‘s go right now to Ari Fleischer, who was President Bush‘s White House press secretary. Ari, thanks for holding on here. David makes the point that there‘s a separation between the policy makers and those who have to sell it to the public and present it to the public, a role you played in all that primary function all those years. Is that correct? Is it true that there‘s a separation between you, so you wouldn‘t know the motivating force of this war?
ARI FLEISCHER, FORMER BUSH WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, Chris, you know, if you think that the press secretary sits in on the NSC meetings where they‘re looking at military plans, no press secretary...
MATTHEWS: No, I‘m talking about the motivating force...
FLEISCHER: ... does or should do that.
MATTHEWS: ... not the details. Did you feel that you knew why we were fighting the war in Iraq when you were a spokesman for the president?
FLEISCHER: Sure. Absolutely. I was...
MATTHEWS: Would Scott McClellan know why we were fighting the war?
Was he in that role?
FLEISCHER: I was—well, let me—let me answer. I was press secretary when that took place. Scott was my deputy. So I sat in on the meetings, particularly international summit meetings, where the president was explaining to foreign leaders what he was thinking and what the future might hold.
FLEISCHER: I heard all that firsthand, so I had a very good understanding of what the president was doing.
What troubles me about this book and Scott‘s allegations, as my deputy, I never once heard Scott privately come to me, who helped brief me for the briefings I gave...
FLEISCHER: ... and say he had any misgivings or any doubts about it, and particularly when he...
MATTHEWS: But he‘s free now to speak. He‘s in a different role now. He can speak the truth. He‘s not an agent anymore. Isn‘t that a difference?
FLEISCHER: Well, it could be, Chris, but I find it inconsistent because I would have thought...
MATTHEWS: Well, it is, of course, inconsistent...
FLEISCHER: ... if he harbored these doubts...
MATTHEWS: because if he said this when he was there, he‘d be fired.
FLEISCHER: No, if he had come to me and harbored doubts—he would often help me prep...
FLEISCHER: ... for the briefing, and he would say, Tone this down, Don‘t say that.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me get...
FLEISCHER: He never did that.
MATTHEWS: Let me get to the point David Gregory raises. Was Scott
McClellan in a position to take a judgment or have a judgment as to the
true motivating force of this war? Was he close enough to the principals -
the president, the vice president, the top deputies—to know why they were fighting this war?
FLEISCHER: Well, I think that Scott knew the reason was because Saddam, we were told, had weapons of mass destruction. I don‘t think that Scott...
MATTHEWS: But he said that‘s not the reason you were fighting the war.
FLEISCHER: Well, that was what we all said and Scott heard that...
MATTHEWS: Is that what you believe?
FLEISCHER: ... loud and clear.
MATTHEWS: Is that what you believe?
FLEISCHER: Oh, Chris, I don‘t think there‘s any question that the CIA did not tell us that he had weapons of mass destruction...
MATTHEWS: No, is that why you believe the war was fought? I‘m just asking you, Ari.
FLEISCHER: Well, of course. Yes.
MATTHEWS: Oh, you believe—OK, let me...
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about this whole question of the vice president‘s role.
MATTHEWS: I watched you in an earlier broadcast on MSNBC. The president—and by the way, the book really doesn‘t very (ph) point to the president, but it does include the vice president on three separate references, where it said he oversaw the effort to discredit Joe Wilson and his wife in their role as critics of the war. Is that true?
FLEISCHER: Chris, I wasn‘t there at that time, so that I can‘t speak to. I do think that Scott is on justifiable grounds feeling that he was misled in that section of the book by a couple staffers, particularly. But I don‘t think...
MATTHEWS: By Scooter and by Karl.
FLEISCHER: That‘s correct. But I don‘t think that that gives Scott license to go after the president about the war in Iraq.
MATTHEWS: How about the vice president because...
FLEISCHER: That‘s where I disagree.
MATTHEWS: No, well, let‘s go over—I know this is trickier business, but three different times—let me read you a citation. “Under the cloak of anonymity, the vice president and trusted aide Scooter Libby soon began an effort to discredit Wilson with selected journalists.”
Let me read you another. This is over and over in the book. “To defend itself against the accusations of a deliberately dishonest—deliberate dishonesty in the case for the war leveled by Joe Wilson, Vice President Cheney and his staff were leading a White House effort to discredit Joe Wilson himself.” Vice President Cheney—again, later in the book, “a larger campaign led by the vice president to discredit Wilson publicly and thereby diminish the”—is that your assessment...
FLEISCHER: But Chris...
MATTHEWS: ... that the vice president was Scooter‘s boss, that Scooter was doing the work of the vice president?
FLEISCHER: Chris, I wasn‘t there at the time, and I don‘t think it would be responsible for anybody who wasn‘t there to answer that question about what took place on the inside with that allegation. I couldn‘t tell that you.
MATTHEWS: Well, knowing how the White House worked—when I worked there years ago, the chief of staff to the vice president got access to all the paper flow going to the president, including the State of the Union, certainly the State of the Union. The question of the 16 words, the questions about his overlying (ph) responsibility for intelligence gathering—I mean, it seems to me you would know the role of the vice president in this regard. You would know his institutional role, having worked there. The vice president was the chief of intelligence. He was G-2, as they say in the military. He was the president‘s chief intelligence guy. And he was also in charge of making the case for the war, wasn‘t he or not?
FLEISCHER: Chris, when your filibuster is over, I‘ll answer.
MATTHEWS: No, no. You don‘t have to be sarcastic, Ari.
FLEISCHER: Well, let me get into it. As I said, I think it would be irresponsible for somebody who was not there to answer that specific question. I do think that on the things that I was there for, Scott has said things about manipulation of intelligence to lead to an unjust war, about manipulation, propaganda. This is where I very strongly disagree with Scott. It doesn‘t even sound like the Scott that I know. And if he had thought these things, I would have hoped he would have come to me privately and expressed some doubt. I never saw any evidence of that.
MATTHEWS: He says that he—in the book—I can only—I don‘t know him. You know him. He was your deputy. He said in the book that he came to this understanding over time, that he didn‘t fully grasp the situation or the motivations of this war while there, but after thinking about it, or whatever, surmising it, whatever, he came to the conclusion that the war was fought under dishonest purposes, that in fact, it wasn‘t about WMD, it was about this effort to spread democracy by coercion in the Middle East, that that was the driving dream of the president.
FLEISCHER: Well, I‘m sorry to say, I think for Scott, it was a lot of time because one year ago, Scott was still giving interviews on Bill Maher, of all places, where he was defending the president and defending the war. So something more recently changed that has led Scott to these conclusions. And I had breakfast with Scott about a year-and-a-half ago. He told me the book was going to be a very favorable book for the president...
FLEISCHER: ... less so for Karl Rove, he told me, but a favorable book for the president. Something more recently changed.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe that Scooter Libby was justly convicted on the charges he was convicted of? Because that‘s another point in the book.
FLEISCHER: I do.
MATTHEWS: Because you believe that he did lie under oath and he obstructed justice. You believe that.
FLEISCHER: I do.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe he did it at the behest of his boss, the vice president, or did it on his own?
FLEISCHER: I don‘t know, and I wouldn‘t try to guess a question like that.
MATTHEWS: Does the vice president today play a major role in the White House I described, he described? Is the vice president extraordinarily influential over issues of intelligence, war and peace?
FLEISCHER: Chris, if you‘re trying to, again, get me back on that same question, I‘m not going to do something that I think is irresponsible, which is to answer a specific question, a leading question, about something that I don‘t know about.
MATTHEWS: But earlier this afternoon, you excluded the vice president from your denial when you said the president himself wasn‘t nailed, that the vice president, Scooter Libby—you put them all in a separate category.
FLEISCHER: Because I think we‘ve all learned that the facts as pertaining to Karl and Scooter were that they did pass information...
MATTHEWS: And the vice president.
FLEISCHER: ... on. We don‘t know that about the vice president, and I wouldn‘t say.
MATTHEWS: But in the earlier interview with Norah today, you left the vice president in that group.
FLEISCHER: No, I left him off.
MATTHEWS: No, you left the president off.
FLEISCHER: That‘s correct, too.
MATTHEWS: Which is it? The president and vice president were both excluded from the conspiracy or just the president?
FLEISCHER: Norah read to me a passage in which she said that Scott was saying the president deliberately deceived him.
FLEISCHER: And if you keep reading, Scott makes clear that he feels...
MATTHEWS: Right. I agree with...
FLEISCHER: ... the president himself was misled.
MATTHEWS: I accept that assessment and that reading of it.
MATTHEWS: But you put the president in the same penumbra of not being involved as the president—the vice president.
FLEISCHER: Well, I just continued with Scott Rove (ph).
FLEISCHER: It was a half a quote, and I filled out the rest of the quote from what Scott said about the president..
MATTHEWS: Is this a story of revelation or betrayal?
FLEISCHER: You know, I‘m not going to use words like that about Scott McClellan.
MATTHEWS: Well, you were using the word “betray.”
FLEISCHER: Scott was my deputy. I disagree.
MATTHEWS: You were saying—the White House is putting out terms like “puzzled.” They don‘t know him. You don‘t know him. All the...
FLEISCHER: ... and I don‘t think this sounds like Scott. But my point here is that this does not sound like Scott McClellan. And if Scott harbored these doubts, if he had any nagging questions inside him, the principled thing to do would have been not to accept the press secretary job. That‘s why I find this book myself to be puzzling. I think there‘s a lot in here...
MATTHEWS: That‘s the White House talking point, Ari!
FLEISCHER: ... that doesn‘t hold up to scrutiny.
You‘re using the word “puzzling.” That‘s the White House talking point.
FLEISCHER: Chris, I just agree with what Dana said. What‘s wrong with my agreeing with what somebody said? I think it‘s an accurate observation. I mean, it shouldn‘t surprise that you people might agree with this.
MATTHEWS: But the exact lingo you‘re using is coming out of the White House right now.
FLEISCHER: Because you just said it and I just agreed with it.
Chris, what‘s wrong with my agreeing?
MATTHEWS: I just find that there‘s amazing synchronicity of reaction to this that sounds like it‘s regimental...
FLEISCHER: Chris, I just copied what you said and Dana said.
FLEISCHER: I think it‘s an accurate word.
MATTHEWS: So there‘s nothing—there‘s no value in this book.
FLEISCHER: No, I think people should read it. They should buy it, if they want to, come to their own conclusions. I‘m going to read it. I told Scott that yesterday when I spoke to him. I‘m looking forward to seeing it in its entirety and in full context. But there‘s a lot I can tell you already I disagree with, and I disagree strongly with. It does not sound like anything that Scott ever harbored or thought about privately or had any shadow of a doubt about privately. And when he took podium, I think nobody thought that Scott didn‘t believe the things he was saying.
FLEISCHER: On the one hand, he said it then, and now he‘s saying opposite now.
MATTHEWS: Well apparently, he‘s changed his mind.
MATTHEWS: Ari Fleischer, it‘s great having you on. Thank you, sir, for taking the time.
FLEISCHER: Sure, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Coming up: McClellan says—that‘s Scott McClellan—that President Bush relied on propaganda to sell the Iraq war. When we return, we‘ll look further at that propaganda campaign with David Gregory and Mike Allen. I guess it‘s Scott free now, no longer Scott, the press flack. And McClellan‘s charge that the media was complicit and deferential to the White House in the run-up to the war in Iraq.
And later, what the McClellan book means for the 2008 election and John McCain‘s continuing support for the war that Scott McClellan says was sold to us under bogus arguments.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up: How will the new bombshell from former Bush insider Scott McClellan play in this presidential race? I would think a lot.
HARDBALL returns after this.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
We are back with NBC‘s David Gregory, who covers the Bush White House, in addition to hosting MSNBC‘s “RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE,” which will be on right after this program, at 6:00 tonight, political Mike Allen, who broke the McClellan book itself.
Let‘s take a look at what McClellan had to say here about the media.
Here he is, faulting the press. He wrote—quote—“If anything, the national press corps, was probably too deferential to the White House and to the administration in regard to the most important decision facing the nation during my years in Washington, the choice over whether to go to war in Iraq. The collapse of the administration‘s rationales for war should never have come as such a surprise. In this case, the—quote—
‘liberal media‘ -- close quote—didn‘t live up to its reputation. If it had, the country would have been better served.”
DAVID GREGORY, HOST, “RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE”: I think he is wrong.
He makes the same kind of argument a lot of people on the left have made. I tried not to be defensive about it. I thought a lot about this over a number of years. And I disagree with that assessment.
I think the questions were asked. I think we pushed. I think we prodded. I think we challenged the president. I think not only those of us the White House press corps did that, but others in the rest of the landscape of the media did that.
If there wasn‘t a debate in this country, then maybe the American people should think about, why not? Where was Congress? Where was the House? Where was the Senate? Where was public opinion about the war? What did the former president believe about the pre-war intelligence? He agreed that—in fact, Bill Clinton agreed that Saddam had WMD.
The right questions were asked. I think there‘s a lot of critics—and I guess we can count Scott McClellan as one—who thinks that, if we did not debate the president, debate the policy in our role as journalists, if we did not stand up and say, this is bogus, and you‘re a liar, and why are you doing this, that we didn‘t do our job. And I respectfully disagree. It‘s not our role.
MATTHEWS: OK. Let me go to—let me go to Mike Allen.
Same question. Is this a decent shot at the overall media, critics, commentators, straight journalists, reporters, whatever? Was there enough turmoil, when there should have been some?
MIKE ALLEN, CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, POLITICO.COM: Of course.
For someone who wanted to know full information, the information was there.
This is a ludicrous charge.
People who make it are not paying attention to what was being written, to what David Gregory was asking, to what David Gregory was putting on your air.
And I think this reflects the sort of alternate reality that Scott portrays in this White House. He paints an amazing picture, where Ann Compton of ABC comes to him in his office in the third month of the war. They‘re talking about weapons of mass destruction.
And Scott says, he‘s giving the White House talking points that they‘re going to be found. And Ann Compton, according to his book—and she confirmed to me this is right—said, “Scott, they‘re not going to be found. If they were going to be, they already would have.”
Scott says in the book, he got kind of a sick feeling, like the reality was setting in. But then he admits, the moment she walked out of his office, so did the reality. And he went back to the talking points.
MATTHEWS: OK, let‘s take a look at...
GREGORY: Can I just add one other thing?
MATTHEWS: Yes. I didn‘t—I don‘t—go ahead, one quick thought here.
GREGORY: Go ahead.
MATTHEWS: Because I want to get into this history of how they did manipulate the press here, because it‘s, I think, well-founded here.
GREGORY: Just one quick point.
And that is that, again, the power of this book, the power of the charge is that it is somebody on the inside who knew Bush well...
GREGORY: ... who knows Bush well, who is validating some of the criticism from the outside.
But I think we should also be clear that you could governor that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction and should be stopped, and that, in a post-9/11 world, you know, you can‘t allow somebody like that on the chessboard, and also believe that the best way to reshape the Middle East after 9/11 would be to try to impose democracy in that part of the world.
You could hold both views in your head at the same time. Clearly, McClellan, who advocated that position for years within the White House, either didn‘t believe it then, or doesn‘t believe it now, or both.
But he certainly advocated for it, and did his job, and did it nearly every day.
MATTHEWS: Yes, the only thing is, though, it seems to me we get into this argument, if you have a really good case for war, you don‘t need a second one.
Let‘s try this. This is something we handled—“Huffington Post” gave us credit for this a while ago, a couple years ago, because we spent a lot of time on this very issue here. This isn‘t press criticism. This is pure press manipulation.
On September 8, 2002, Michael Gordon and Judy Miller reported in “The New York Times”—quote—“More than a decade after Saddam Hussein agreed to give up weapons of mass destruction, Iraq has stepped up its quest for nuclear weapons, has embarked—and has on a worldwide hunt for materials to make an atomic bomb, Bush administration officials said today.”
Now, that ran in a Sunday “New York Times,” as I said, on September 18, 2002. The very day that it appeared in “The New York Times”—funny thing—all the White House people, led by Dick Cheney, had been scheduled to appear on the Sunday talk shows. Bush administration officials echoed the “New York Times” story on the Sunday shows, and Bush reinforced it in speeches.
Let‘s listen. This is manipulation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: ... the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.
RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: That he is in fact actively and aggressively seeking to acquire nuclear weapons.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: So, you get Scooter Libby, the vice president‘s chief of staff, briefing Judy Miller of the “New York Times” and Michael Gordon. They get that in “The New York Times” timed to a certain date. It is an allez-oop play from the playgrounds of basketball.
You put the ball near the basket, and then the three people come on the Sunday shows and bang it right into the basket, like a dunk shot. That is manipulation. And it has been talked about. We have talked about it on this show for years.
David, what do you make of that? What do we say when we realize “The New York Times” was used, in sequence used—and other media were used as well?
GREGORY: We got it wrong.
MATTHEWS: No, you didn‘t get it wrong. You were manipulated, weren‘t we?
GREGORY: Well, I mean, if you believe that our job is to try to get it right, and to...
GREGORY: ... sort of pierce past that manipulation, the press, the body politic of the press, wasn‘t able to do that in this particular case.
You know, Judy Miller has her own background, Mike Gordon, a very accomplished correspondent, who has covered the war. This was information that came out of the administration and came out of the intelligence world as well. And I think the facts speak for themselves.
There were no WMD in Iraq. The basis of the congressional resolution was based on the nuclear threat that was presented by Saddam Hussein.
GREGORY: A lot of people believed that, Democrats, Republicans, and the White House, and reporters who were trying to report the story as best they could.
GREGORY: You know, we didn‘t get it right. The facts are what they are. And the press didn‘t get it right.
So, yes, the question of manipulation, the administration did what it did.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Mike, about reckless salesmanship. They sold the aluminum case—tubes case. They sold effectively this mushroom cloud notion, and also part of, of course, the uranium yellow cake purchase from Niger. All created the notion that we were about to be threatened by a nuclear weapon. And they also had a delivery vehicle they cooked up to sell us.
There was a lot of salesmanship here, a lot of propaganda.
ALLEN: Well, there was, Chris.
And I think that a question that Scott‘s book doesn‘t answer, but I think that he should be asked when he is out doing shows, including “The Today Show,” starting tomorrow, is the degree to which this information was propagated knowing that it was sketchy, or if they completely believed that it was true, which is quite a different matter.
MATTHEWS: Well, when you drive recklessly, you don‘t do it on purpose, but you are reckless.
Thank you very much, David Gregory.
Thank you, Mike Allen.
We will be right back with much more on McClellan‘s memoir and how it will play in the 2008 campaign later in the show.
And, tomorrow, Scott McClellan is Keith‘s guest on “COUNTDOWN.”
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Up next, much more on Scott McClellan‘s bombshell memoir. What kind of effect will it have on the presidential campaign? Is this thing going to hurt McCain?
Plus, McClellan‘s revelation of a secret meeting between Karl Rove and Scooter Libby when both were under investigation during the CIA leak case.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MARGARET BRENNAN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT: I am Margaret Brennan with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”
Stocks rose for a second straight day, with the Dow Jones industrial average gaining some 45 points, the broad-market S&P 500 and the Nasdaq both posting about five points in gains.
Oil prices rebounded today, with crude rising $2.18 in New York‘s trading session, closing at $131.03 a barrel. That‘s still well below last week‘s record high, over $135 a barrel.
Factory orders for big-ticket items dipped a half-a-percent in April, but the decline was much smaller than many economists expected.
The Ford Motor Company will reportedly cut up to 12 percent of its salaried work force, or about 2,000 jobs. That news comes less than a week after falling sales prompted Ford to announce that it does not expect to return to profitability by 2009.
And the latest cost-cutting move by the U.S. airlines? U.S. Airways says it‘s going to stop serving free snacks in coach on all domestic flights starting June 3.
That‘s it from CNBC, America‘s business channel—now back to Chris and HARDBALL.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
So, what effect will Scott McClellan‘s new book, this barn burner, have, and what—and the disclosures in the book about the reasons we really went to war, what will they have—will they have an impact on the war in Iraq? Will the book tarnish John McCain, for example, who has to support the war? Will it help Obama?
Let‘s bring in two MSNBC political analysts, Howard Fineman, who is also with “Newsweek,” of course. And Pat Buchanan has a new book called “Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War.”
I want to go to Howard on this.
It seems to me what he has in here is sort of the inside man‘s case against the war. Maybe it‘s not a new case, but he says that, basically, the war was fought for a philosophy—we can call it whatever he wants—he calls it coercive democracy, that we can take our firepower into the Middle East and create democracy, that WMD really wasn‘t the reason for the war.
Does that give a lot of Republican moderates or anti-war an excuse now to say, I‘m voting against this party; I was never for this war; it turns out they were lying?
HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it may well do that, Chris.
I was talking to one of John McCain‘s people just a little while ago. And they dismissed the notion that it would have much effect, because—and this is obviously kind of simplistic—that John McCain never—never spoke to Scott McClellan, doesn‘t know Scott McClellan.
But, obviously, the big point is this. Anything that makes it even more clear that the war was sold for misleading reasons strengthens Barack Obama‘s hand, and, simultaneously, assuming Obama is the nominee, weakens McCain‘s, because one of McCain‘s beg arguments is going to be, as he did the other day, was to attack Barack Obama for lack of foreign policy experience, for foreign policy and military experience.
FINEMAN: But Obama can answer back, as he did yesterday and today, hey, don‘t lecture me about foreign policy experience and defense experience. You were sold this war, and you bought it hook, line and sinker, on propagandistic, misleading arguments.
FINEMAN: And that‘s exactly what—that‘s exactly what Obama is saying.
MATTHEWS: So, going back to some Watergate history, Patrick, is this John Dean speaking? Is this an insider betraying the fold, but, at the same time, giving us some revelation as to what it looks like inside?
PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it is not that big. I do think it causes the American people to say, look, these people deceived us or misled us or they lied to us about the real reasons going into this war, which we don‘t like. And it will cause American to say, look, let‘s get that whole crowd out of there.
And it does taint McCain in a sense, because the cause for which the war was caught, McClellan is saying, was Democratic imperialism. This was the driving motivation. Now, how he knew that and why he took the job to promote it on other grounds, I don‘t understand.
MATTHEWS: Maybe he‘s a slow learner.
BUCHANAN: The real question is, when the Bush administration talked about weapons of mass destruction, clearly they were using this as the prosecutor‘s strongest argument or case. Did they know it was untrue? Scott McClellan did not say they knew it was untrue. There is no doubt they were using this as cover for a real cause, which they knew the American people would not support. If we‘re sending guys to die to create some democracy in Baghdad.
MATTHEWS: Pat, you and I are closer on this than most people think. When you ask someone to give up their life, certainly risk it—we‘ve lost 4,000 lives and a lot of people maimed, loss of limb is clear now at Walter Reed. Anybody who walks around America sees it. You should tell them the reason, shouldn‘t you? Isn‘t that fair?
BUCHANAN: Well, Bush did tell they will.
MATTHEWS: He gave them a reason. Did he give them the reason.
BUCHANAN: His speeches are saturated with this Democratic imperialist idea that the only way America can be safe is end tyranny on this earth, Democratize the world.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s take a smaller piece of this. This has to do with the CIA leak case, which we covered on this program for months, and we will forever remember, because it had so much to do with the selling of the war, dishonestly as has been argued in this book, and the way it was covered up, if you will. Joining us now, David Gregory, my colleague. He and I have been working this case. David Shuster, rather, David Shuster for years now.
David, this must bring back a lot to you, in terms of what role Scooter Libby played. He should have gone to prison. He was convicted of four felonies. He got his sentence commuted by the president. Here McClellan says he was guilty as charge. Ari Fleischer just on this said Scooter Libby was guilty as charged. No question there. A cloud, however, still over Karl Rove and the VP.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: And keep in mind that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald said Vice President Cheney had brought a cloud over the White House. And there had long been some argument between Democrats and Republican or whoever about Vice President Cheney‘s role.
What Scott McClellan has done, without getting it the weeds here, he has backed up every argument that has been made that Vice President Cheney was at the heart of this thing, that Vice President Cheney led the conspiracy that some will allege. And the other part about it, Chris, is remember, it came at a trial that Vice President Cheney wrote out those talking points with Scott McClellan. He adds new level of detail to that, which raises even more questions. Why were the prosecutors handling Dick Cheney in sort of a soft fashion? And should they have been more aggressive?
MATTHEWS: That‘s a great question. Howard, you were covering this case. “Newsweek” you did such a great job on this, you and Isikoff. How come the vice president, smiling on his way into the courtroom there, is fingered in this book by the White House press secretary as the leader of the ring, the one who oversaw the whole effort to discredit the Wilsons and yet no charge.
FINEMAN: That‘s the question. One of the key questions begged by the book; McClellan describes Cheney as the magic man, the man who can make thing happen in the White House, almost with no strings or visible means of doing so. And I think Scott felt personally burned, which he was, by having to go out there and say what he had to say on the podium. He wasn‘t told the straight story in any detail by Karl Rove or Scooter Libby. And I think, ultimately, McClellan blame Dick Cheney for that, for basically ruining his reputation for truthfulness. And a lot of these books are payback, Chris. We learned a lot from payback. But this was big time payback here.
MATTHEWS: Dick Cheney had a meeting with the president. He gets the call from the White House. Andy Card, chief of staff, says you have to exonerate Scooter, directly after a meeting with the president and vice president. He knew where he got his orders from.
BUCHANAN: Look, this—what you‘re getting at here is the real motivation of this guy, McClellan. His credibility was put out there. It was used to cover up falsehoods. And he transmitted what he believes were lies. He was made a fool out of. He leaves the White House as something of a joke. And he is saying, I came in to do the right thing. This bitterness, that is the motive, the real motivation behind this.
MATTHEWS: What is wrong with a whore escaping the whore house? Is something wrong with it?
BUCHANAN: There is nothing wrong with it. No, but when you discuss it, you ought to say, what was the lady doing?
MATTHEWS: That‘s right. We think we know it because he tells us in the book. He admits his misdeeds here and he has come clean. I see this as a parallel to the insider in the tobacco case, somebody comes out and tell us how they fixed it.
Anyway, David Shuster, Howard Fineman, this is cutting very close to home this story. We‘ve been covering this things for months, and I thank god we‘re getting some clarity here, even if it come from some one you consider the skunk at the party.
Up next, what impact will McClellan‘s tell-all have on the 2008 presidential campaign? Will it move the Iraq war back to the forefront and hurt McCain? This is McClellan on McCain coming up. This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL and the politics fix. Our round table tonight, MSNBC senior campaign correspondent Tucker Carlson, MSNBC political analyst Michelle Bernard, and Bob Herbert of the “New York Times,” who sits directly before me and gets the first opportunity, which always come with being here.
This impact of this book, will it last into November?
BOB HERBERT, “THE NEW YORK TIMES”: It will last, but I don‘t think it will have that big of an impact on the presidential campaign. I would really be surprised. Obviously, it doesn‘t help McCain. But I think Iraq is only going to be a powerful influence if something—if there is a real downturn in U.S. fortunes between now and November. I still think that the main issues in this campaign will be the economy, oil prices, housing prices and that sort of thing.
MATTHEWS: Do you agree with that, Michelle Bernard?
MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: I absolutely agree with him. I mean, what we are hearing in this book is shocking because it comes from a, quote/unquote, insider and somebody who was allegedly very loyal to President Bush and other members of the Bush administration. But it is old news. A lot of the allegation—I have not read the book yet, but based on the excerpts that I have seen, a lot of the information that we‘ve been given in this book, we‘ve already heard before from different sources. It has been in different newspapers and in the blogosphere. It is old news.
MATTHEWS: OK, Tucker.
TUCKER CARLSON, MSNBC SENIOR CAMPAIGN CORRESPONDENT: A lot in the book we already sort of new, as Michelle just said, that Bush hires and promotes people based on their loyalty to him rather than their competence. McClellan‘s own career is an example of that. The one truly interesting nugget I have seen so far is the allegation that we went to war in Iraq primarily to establish a beachhead of democracy in the Middle East and thereby inspire the rest of the nations in the region to come to peace with each other. This is such a profoundly un-conservative idea, such a Utopian idea, truly.
Only an intellectual could have thought this up. Only an intellectual could be dumb enough to believe it would happen. That really is revealing of their mindset.
MATTHEWS: I thought it was the most important thing in the book, Tucker. You and I agree. What was important about it was this: that American history, all the way back to George Washington, has been founded on an instinct, don‘t get it involved in foreign entanglements if you can avoid them. They are dangerous, risky and they end up hurting you in the long run. Keep free. Keep self-defense as your primary mission. Don‘t go off into some foreign mission that has to do with some kind of nation building.
Be humble, as George Bush said he would be coming into office. And even in the book, Scott can‘t understand why the president shifted from that humility about the ability of U.S. force, with all the fire power we have, the inability to make—we can‘t get the violence gone from Philly where there are 400 murders a year. We‘re talking about cleaning up Dodge City over the other side of the planet. We can‘t clean up our own cities and we‘re going building the power grid in Baghdad and Basra.
What are we doing? This is a case of, what is it, hubris? I think he is very profound. You and I agree, Tucker. This was fought on an inarguable position that we can take U.S. firepower and make other countries like ourselves.
HERBERT: We took our eye off Afghanistan, which was our real fight post September 11. That‘s where the enemy was. And we took our eye off of nation building right here in the United States. We can‘t rebuild our infrastructure. We can‘t take care of crime in the streets in Detroit, in Baltimore and Philadelphia and that sort of thing. This war has had a profound negative effect.
MATTHEWS: How about a surge in West Philly? How about a surge in north Philly? Go into some tough neighborhood, you probably would reduce the murder rate if you had 140,000 troops there. That doesn‘t mean your policy was going to work when you leave. Go ahead, I‘m sorry.
CARLSON: You could eliminate crime in Detroit in an hour and a half.
You just violate a lot of civil liberties in the process.
MATTHEWS: It would be illegal. Crime will return. That‘s the problem. Democracy will last as long as we got guns pointed at people‘s heads.
CARLSON: Can we just agree that this is not a conservative move.
This is not a conservative president. It is a Utopian move.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Tucker, do you want to review the thoughts
I‘ll ask you all to review your conscience here. Will the issue of how this war was sold rebound to the benefit of Barack Obama, for example, who questions the war and the whole mindset as he calls it.
BERNARD: Barack Obama already came out with a statement about the book today, and he is trying, and maybe successfully, to continue to tie Senator McCain to President Bush, and hereto the argument, if you elect John McCain, you‘ll be setting up for a third term. I think we‘ll continue to hear this from Barack Obama. We‘ll continue to hear it from Senator Clinton. But I really think that economic issues will be at play, a very, very important role in what happens in the general election.
MATTHEWS: I think that is a powerful, fricking, hereto. Go ahead.
CARLSON: He shares the same assumptions that Bush does, the same mindset, that democracy is a panacea around the world. The Obama people have said that. Susan Rice, his foreign policy advisor, has said that exact thing. We need more democracy, she has said. And two, that we have a moral obligation to increase the living standards around the world. We have a moral obligation to go into Darfur, for instance. That‘s a neo-conservative notion.
MATTHEWS: I think it‘s gunpoint democracy. We‘ll have more with Bob Herbert when we come back. More with the round table, the politics. Coming back, you‘re watching it, HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s go to Michelle. Do you think the White House and its establishment will do to Scott McClellan what they did to Joe Wilson and his wife? Crush him?
BERNARD: Well, I‘m thinking that Scott McClellan might end up selling Christmas ornaments, the way Linda Tripp is now doing with her husband in Middleburg, Virginia. I hope that he makes a lot of money on this book.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Tucker. Do you think this man will be crushed in the old Soviet system? They‘re using the word puzzled now, almost like, he is not the same, like put him in an asylum.
CARLSON: You don‘t have to take the Bush administration‘s side. You can believe everything he writes—and I‘m completely open to his side. I take everything he writes at face value—and still think it‘s a pretty remarkably sleazy move to do this, especially since, you know, he was in a position where he actually could have had some influence. If he had come out two years ago and said, you know what, I‘m resigning. I don‘t buy any of this crap, I‘m out of here, he would be rich and respected.
MATTHEWS: Why don‘t you apply that to Colin Powell as well.
CARLSON: I do.
MATTHEWS: I think Colin Powell‘s great and I wish he had stood up.
HERBERT: If they hadn‘t treated him the way they treated him when they shoved him out of the administration, it‘s hard for me to believe any of this would have happened. This is nuclear retaliation. The thing that strikes me about the information we‘re hearing from the book is what‘s new? We know the war was sold like a Cheerios brand or something like that. So he‘s getting religion late, but I think it‘s pretty clear, I think we understand why he got religion when he did.
MATTHEWS: So you think there‘s an interior to this story?
HERBERT: Oh, he‘s outraged. He‘s like the spurned suitor and this is what I think of as—
MATTHEWS: Sometimes the only way we get truth—
HERBERT: His reputation was in shreds when he left the White House.
MATTHEWS: The only way we get truth is from the inside, unfortunately. Yes, Tucker?
CARLSON: He may have been pushed out, but the fact that he had a job as press secretary at all is pretty unbelievable.
MATTHEWS: I think the editor of this book pushed this book to fruition strongly. It‘s a hell of a book. Anyway, thank you Tucker Carlson, Michelle Bernard, Bob Herbert. Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 eastern for more HARDBALL. Now it‘s time for RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE with David Gregory.
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