updated 6/3/2008 10:48:38 AM ET 2008-06-03T14:48:38

Guests: Andrea Mitchell, Howard Fineman, Andrea Mitchell, Jeff Zeleny, Scott McClellan

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  The Democrats head for the Wild West.  Let the battle of South Dakota and Montana begin.  For one candidate, it could mean Mt. Rushmore, for the other the Little Big Horn.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Welcome to HARDBALL.  The one question everyone wants to know now is, Is it over?  Will tomorrow‘s South Dakota and Montana primaries help give Barack Obama enough delegates to go over the top?  Will Hillary Clinton suspend her campaign, or will she keep on fighting to the all the way to the credentials committee, all the way to the convention?

After her big win in the Puerto Rico primary yesterday, Senator Clinton now has, according to NBC News, a very slight edge in the popular vote, just under 3,000 votes.  That vote count includes Florida but not Michigan.  But in the delegate math, it‘s still all in Obama‘s favor.  He now needs only 40.5 delegates -- 40.5 delegates—to win a majority and to win the ball game.  And he‘s hoping to win the primaries and win over enough superdelegates, new superdelegates in the next two days to end this race by tomorrow night.

For those of us looking for signs of what Hillary will do, we may have gotten one from Bill Clinton, the former president, just today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I want to say also that this may be the last day I‘m ever involved in a campaign of this kind.  I thought I was out of politics until Hillary decided to run.  But it has been one of the greatest honors of my life to be able to go around and campaign for her for president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, so will she stay or will she go?  We‘ll pick apart this amazing Democratic race and look over all the possibilities from outright concession tomorrow night to all-out war in just a moment.

And later, we‘ll talk to the biggest newsmaker of them all lately, former White House press secretary Scott McClellan, about his new book, “What Happened.”  That‘s the name of the book, “What Happened.”  And by the way, stick (INAUDIBLE) tonight watch what happens tonight.  It should be interesting.  Does he think that the criminality of the Valerie Wilson case was inspired from the top, from the vice president‘s office and from the Oval Office itself?  Stay tuned for this baby.

And remember, tomorrow night, Keith Olbermann will join me for full coverage of the Montana and South Dakota primaries beginning at 6:00 o‘clock Eastern tomorrow night and going well into the night because, it is, after all, South Dakota and Montana.  Could be a big night for the Big Sky country.  Could be an upset in South Dakota.  We don‘t know yet.  If it is, Hillary Clinton could go either way on that one.

We begin, by the way, tonight with the Democratic race for the nomination.  (INAUDIBLE) Howard Fineman, my pal for centuries now, is an MSNBC political analyst.  And my other pal, going back to 1974, when she once covered me in a radio show...

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  It was very good year.

MATTHEWS:  ... NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell, has been covering the Clinton campaign.  And Jeff Zeleny, one of the print guys, is with “The New York Times.”

Well, here we are, once again together, as DeGaulle once said.  And here we are once again trying to figure out—I really don‘t like this topic—what the hell are the Clintons thinking tonight?  This is right out of “Camelot”—I wonder what the king, in this case, and queen, or queen and king, are thinking tonight?

Here‘s what Bill Clinton said today about the popular vote.  Let‘s listen and try to figure out the biblical scholarship.  This is Senator Clinton, rather.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  I‘m ahead in the popular vote.  Senator Obama‘s ahead in delegates.  Senator Obama two months ago said that this will come down to who has the popular vote and the delegates because they‘ve never been separated before.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Former Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, a huge supporter of the Clintons—he‘s national co-chair of the Clinton campaign—said today quote, “It does appear to be pretty clear that Senator Obama is going to be the nominee after Tuesday‘s contests.”  That‘s tomorrow night.  “She”—

Senator Clinton—“needs to acknowledge that he‘s going to be the nominee and quickly get behind him.”

You‘re starting to hear these things.  Let me start with Andrea, my pal.  You‘re starting to hear these little twinkles of good-bye from the big guys, Eddie Rendell, the governor of Pennsylvania, the other day, now Tom Vilsack.  We‘re starting to get the message, even from the former president, Bill Clinton, that the curtain may be coming down.

MITCHELL:  Well, a couple of hard facts.  Right now, Tom Harkin, another Iowan, an uncommitted delegate, is on the Hill at the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, meeting with other uncommitted senators and acknowledging that they have to meet quickly.  Howard Dean said today on MSNBC that it has to be done quickly.  These superdelegates have to commit, certainly by the time the last voting tomorrow or by Wednesday morning.

At the same time, Harold Ickes within this hour is on the phone, Tina Flourney (ph), the other Clinton staff person on the Democratic Rules Committee, calling House supporters, House members, trying to stop them from defecting.  There are meetings going on all around Capitol Hill, as well as on the phone, among these both committed and uncommitted superdelegates.  And it‘s all coming together.

We at NBC News now know that there are at least 34 House members who are prepared to endorse Barack Obama by tomorrow or Wednesday.  So by tomorrow night after the polls close, and certainly by Wednesday morning, it‘s all going to be over.

Two other quick facts.  Harold Ickes in his interview with me today said that it is symbolic that it began in New York and it will end in New York.  New York is where she‘s having her rally tomorrow night.  And advance teams—despite denials, advance teams have been told to stand down because the Clinton team will not need them after tomorrow night.  As they put it, the general election won‘t have started already.

MATTHEWS:  So the hard reporting suggests a curtain close tomorrow night?  Can we say that or not?

MITCHELL:  (INAUDIBLE) tomorrow night.  Perhaps—I would say that it‘s going to—that tomorrow night is definitely the last campaign event.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

MITCHELL:  She may have another—she will most likely have another event on Wednesday, perhaps as soon as Wednesday...

MATTHEWS:  OK...

MITCHELL:  ... perhaps with Barack Obama Wednesday.

MATTHEWS:  OK, while you‘re on...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  While you‘re hot here, I want you to tell me what was in your voice because you said—you‘re reporting some concern on the part of these people, that if they don‘t move now, something bad will happen.  Will there be the large perception, if people don‘t move fairly lickety-split after the final primaries tomorrow night, that they‘re really putting the shiv into this guy, Barack, that they‘re really being adversarial to him, not just slow?

MITCHELL:  Well, if he has...

MATTHEWS:  Is that you mean by—what is, You have to move fast, all about?  What‘s that all about?

MITCHELL:  Because—that is about Pelosi, Reid, Harry Reid, and Howard Dean, the party leaders, telling them, Enough already.  It is time to come together.  We are losing time.  We are losing against Republicans.  Do it for the good of the party.

MATTHEWS:  Well, discipline is the hardest thing for me to believe in, in the Democratic Party, Howard.  I mean, I know that they have leadership there, and it does matter whether you‘re on good terms with the leadership, like certainly Pelosi, who does remember, right?  And Harry Reid maybe less so, but certainly Nancy Pelosi remembers.

But is there this other concern that once—it seems to me the members—the superdelegates, the members of Congress—the last thing is they want to do is vote.  Politicians hate to vote because every time you vote, you offend maybe 40 percent of your people permanently, so you try to avoid it.

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK,” MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  As you know, Chris, from the dynamics of the floor of the House or the Senate, when the call goes up to vote, you‘ve got to vote.  Now, don‘t forget that Tom Daschle, who used to be Democratic leader in the Senate and knows the psychology of legislators very well, is a close-in adviser to Obama.  And he and David Plouffe, who used to work for him, say, You‘ve got to move now.  You don‘t want to leave any time.  You don‘t want to leave the interpretation you‘re talking about, that maybe people are being reluctant.  You‘ve got to strike and you‘ve got to strike quickly.

My understanding is that the House leadership is going to go as a group.  And one reason they‘re going to go as a group is because Rahm Emanuel...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m just hearing, by the way, through the magic of my ear, that Jim Clyburn, the great Civil Rights leader and South Carolina leader, the U.S. congressmen down there, the key guy in that state, who said he wouldn‘t decide until later in the primary season—he just declared for Obama.

FINEMAN:  Well, there you go.  And I think he wanted—we would go separately because he has a separate significance as an African-American leader.  I think all the rest of the leadership on the House will follow and will surround Rahm Emanuel, who was cross-pressured here as both an old Clinton person and an Obama guy from Chicago.  They‘re all going to endorse together...

MATTHEWS:  OK, looks like...

FINEMAN:  ... probably tomorrow night.

MATTHEWS:  ... the train moving, Jeff.  Can “The New York times” report tonight that the train‘s moving, that these 30 or so members are going to move over, the superdelegates, and allow Barack to declare victory coming out of South Dakota or Montana tomorrow night?

JEFF ZELENY, “NEW YORK TIMES”:  The train is definitely moving, but the question is, as Andrea said, is it going to be Tuesday or Wednesday morning.  The Obama campaign is just fine, sources and aides say, with declaring victory Wednesday morning because essentially, this draws out the story.  We sort of all knows what‘s going to happen.  You can see the end game of this.  And despite, you know, the braking news of Congressman James Clyburn from South Carolina endorsing, we all knew this was going to happen.  So it just depends, at this point, if it‘s Tuesday or Wednesday.  They‘re fine with Wednesday, but we‘ll see.

MATTHEWS:  Is there any chance of getting the two candidates together for a victory unity picture, one of those magical pictures where one person holds the other person‘s hand in the air, or is that too fanciful, Jeff?

ZELENY:  I think the picture could absolutely happen, but beyond the picture, I think, is what‘s more important.  How much is Senator Clinton actually going to work for Senator Obama in these coming weeks?  What is she going to instruct some of the supporters who were at the rules committee meeting on Saturday, who were, you know, saying, We‘re voting for McCain?  So beyond the picture, which I would expect to happen at some point, you know, in the hours following this, whenever it is...

MATTHEWS:  Wait a minute.  Not rules committee members.  No, nobody at the rules committee membership said they‘re voting for McCain.

ZELENY:  The people who were at the meeting.  The people who were at the meeting.

MATTHEWS:  The wacky—the zealous people, yes, the picketers.  Yes.

ZELENY:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t want to get confused here.  Regular Democrats will vote for the regular Democratic candidate, most likely.  Let me—what do you—do you think that‘s the way it‘s working out here?

FINEMAN:  Yes, I agree with that.  I think it doesn‘t matter if it‘s Tuesday night or Wednesday, but they don‘t want it to drag on a few more days.  You know, they‘ve been dolling out one at a time, day by day.  They got to move now.  They got to move now.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me have some fun here because I was thinking of one of my favorite cartoons all the years, the comics, of course.  My dad read them.  I read them.  We all—our parents all read them.  “Peanuts”—every year, Lucy would hold the football for Charlie Brown.  And every year, Charlie Brown would come running down the field, and Lucy said, This time, I promise to hold the football up so you can kick it for a touchdown, or whatever, for a field goal.  And every year, Lucy would drop that football at the last minute.

For weeks now, Andrea—I‘m going to give this to you.  For weeks now, Barack Obama has said, I‘m going to do this tomorrow.

MITCHELL:  (INAUDIBLE)

MATTHEWS:  OK!  We‘re going to do this tomorrow.  We‘re going to get the 20 we need tomorrow.  And people have said to me, Wait a minute.  I‘ve been hearing that since God knows when.  Is tomorrow the day it will probably happen now, or does Hillary still have some oomph left in her just to call 20 or 30 people up and say, Hold on for a couple more days?

MITCHELL:  I don‘t think a couple of more days.  I think when the polls close tomorrow—that‘s the respect that is due her.  This candidate has gotten more than 17 million votes.

MATTHEWS:  I agree.

MITCHELL:  She is owed the respect, they believe, of waiting until the final primaries.  Now, one more little fact that I should mention.  There is going to be a meeting in Chicago on June 16, a dinner meeting with Barack Obama and a meeting the next day.  It is all the Democratic governors, 28 democratic governors have been called by the Obama forces and they‘re coming for a planning meeting to Chicago to meet with the candidate and talk about the general election.

MATTHEWS:  And do you think those governors will able to tell Barack Obama how to solve a couple of his problems, the ones we know so well?

MITCHELL:  I think—well, we know already that there are a few problems in places like West Virginia.  So Governor Mansion (ph) there might have a few things to say.

MATTHEWS:  No, I think he‘s got problems more wide than that.  I think Hillary Clinton did expose not just her ability to campaign well, but his exposure on the problem of just working white people.  I mean, she said it badly, but—a little too graphically, perhaps, he does have that challenge.

FINEMAN:  Can I say that two of the governors and former governors who have been Clinton supporters who‘ve come out and said it‘s time to get behind Obama, Ed Rendell in Pennsylvania and Tom Vilsack of Iowa, are two people who I think have the idea of being on the list of Obama potential vice presidential picks in the back of their mind.  In other words, not only are they saying it‘s time for Hillary to quit, but they‘re saying...

MATTHEWS:  (INAUDIBLE) over the wall.

FINEMAN:  They‘re saying, Hey, look at me.  Look at me.  I‘m telling Hillary to quit.  And that‘s noticed in the Obama camp.

MATTHEWS:  Jeff, what do you think is moving here?  Do you think there is already that movement towards the real unifiers who will be the VPs—I mean, on both sides of the aisle, the VP is going to be the statement of unity on both parties.  You know, John McCain has to figure out how he gets the rest of his party excited, and Hillary Clinton has already created a tremendous vacuum for—or I should say, cavity, for Barack Obama within the Democratic Party.  Indiana, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, all across the country, working white people, if you will, have been holding out.

ZELENY:  I think if we see Senator Evan Bayh making some kind of statement, we‘ll have three.  We‘ve had Rendell...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

ZELENY:  ... Vilsack.  So I mean, one of the things really going on here, if it‘s this week or next week, there‘s going to be a look by the Obama campaign of all the top supporters of Senator Clinton, and they‘ll be on the VP list.  But you know, the Obama campaign likes to talk a lot about this voter registration project.  They‘re registering new people to vote all over the country, and they say Georgia could be in play.  North Carolina could be in play.  So I think that‘s going to be sort of interesting to watch in the next month to see how much is really going on in these places.  The Obama campaign, you know, says one of the good things about this long campaign is that they‘re really well organized.  Well, we‘ll see exactly how much of a running start they have.

Senator McCain is up on television in a lot of battleground states.  Senator Obama is not.  So right now, in the next couple weeks, we‘ll have to get through the Democratic side of this.  But Senator Obama is beginning to plan a biographical tour that‘s going to begin from—at Punchbowl (ph) cemetery in Hawaii, through Kansas, all across the way.  So he‘ll have some of that.  But it‘s not that far off until the convention.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  I think the one good thing going for him, Andrea and Howard and Jeff is that the people who are angry with him right now in the Democratic Party—older women, perhaps, is the main group, but also labor people—they will not lie to pollsters.  There will be no Bradley effect among that crowd.  They will move over and you‘ll see them moving over, or they won‘t move over.  They won‘t play any games.

We‘ll be right back—some other voters will.  We‘ll be right back with much more on the Democratic race with Howard Fineman, Andrea Mitchell and Jeff Zeleny as we await the results of tomorrow.

And later in the hour, former White House press secretary with a humdinger of an interview, I believe, with Scott McClellan, coming up.  It‘s my hope it will be.  He‘s author of the new book, “What Happened,” which is a great question, rather than an answer.  He says the president‘s mentality of a permanent campaign, which he led in the White House, led to Scooter Libby‘s criminality during the CIA leak case.  It‘s all connected.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  She has been a great senator for the state of New York, and she is going to be a great asset when we go into November to make sure that we defeat the Republicans.  That I can promise you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  That was, of course, Senator Barack Obama yesterday in Mitchell, South Dakota, the home of George McGovern.  We‘re back with Howard Fineman, Andrea Mitchell and Jeff Zeleny of “The New York Times.”

Jeff, I want to run by you the three options because it‘s always fun to project, since we don‘t know the answer.  But they are a critical set of options.  Senator Clinton could blossom tomorrow night as the greatest booster of Barack Obama he‘s had since Tom Daschle.  I mean, she could go out there and campaign for him like the dickens, deliver the women of Pennsylvania, the women of Ohio, the working folk of West Virginia.  She can campaign side by side with him with gusto and love and devotion.  That‘s one option.  What are the odds of that happening, based upon what we‘ve seen up to this moment?

ZELENY:  I think it‘s a new moment beginning, you know, whenever this beginning is.  I mean, I think she has no—Senator Clinton has given no indication that she‘s going to damage the Democratic Party or other things.  So you know, who knows how much she‘ll actually campaign with him, how much he‘s going to want exactly her at his side?

But look, I don‘t think she is going to want part of her legacy for there to be any sort of questions on the Wednesday morning after the election day in the fall that she did not do everything she could for this.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

ZELENY:  She is going to also at the same time, be trying to repair her standing among African-Americans in the Democratic Party.  So there are things they can do for each other.  So I really do expect her, if she—you know, if he becomes the nominee, you know, in the next 24, 48, 72 hours, whatever...

MATTHEWS:  Right.

ZELENY:  ... to campaign at his side when she feels comfortable.

But her people also say she‘s going to need a bit of a break.  And Senator Obama is going to, I think, respect her privacy, respect her distance.  But I think we will see them together sooner, rather than later. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think she has a temperamental gift—I mean, very few of us do—to pivot that dramatically, to—to be that professional, where you like—it happens in sports events all the time.  You end up playing with another team.  You end up making adjustments.  You end up adjusting to the new field of play. 

Can she adjust to the fact that she‘s a fellow Democrat with—with Barack Obama, to the point where they‘re allies, I mean, true emotional allies?  Is that—I have seen a bit of it—we all have—during the debates, where occasionally you—I wouldn‘t call it love, but real close to high regard between the two of them. 

Can that reemerge, based upon what you have seen? 

ZELENY:  I think it can.

MATTHEWS:  Or is it too late in the game? 

ZELENY:  I think it can definitely reemerge. 

And she was campaigning for him when he was running for the Senate in 2004.  And she‘s been—was a bit of a mentor to him in 2005.  Sure, this is going to be a painful, but not probably as painful as it would have been had he won New Hampshire, for example. 

This has been a long—a long campaign.  She‘s had a while to think about it.  This is bit sort of anticlimactic, if you will, at the end of this. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I know.

ZELENY:  So, look, she‘s very professional.  She‘s very skilled.  And she will do what she needs to do for her own—own politics as well. 

MATTHEWS:  Andrea, can she do it? 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  It takes a real gift to switch like that, if you have to. 

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT:  I think she has that gift.  I think she is dedicated do to the Democratic Party and dedicated no not having a Republican in the White House. 

I know that some might disagree with that.  But I really think that she does not want to be blamed for the defeat of Barack Obama, if he turns out to the nominee. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

MITCHELL:  And that does now seem very, very likely indeed.  I think that she will be an absolute team player.  You‘re going to see a lot of graciousness—graciousness from her. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I‘m waiting for.

Let me ask you, Howard, graciousness?  A gift?  It takes a gift to—she must have a real problem with this guy at this point. 

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  I think—I think she can do it.  I think that he‘s got to give her time.  She will take a little time.  But she will come on board.  And so will Bill, by the way. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s interesting. 

FINEMAN:  Yes.  I think they both will. 

MATTHEWS:  A hell of a team. 

Anyway, Howard Fineman, Andrea Mitchell, Jeff Zeleny.

Thank you, Jeff.

Thank you, my colleagues of many years past. 

Up next: the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

And, later, my interview with former White House Press Secretary Scott

McClellan—by the way, he‘s making more noise now than he did back then -

author of the new book “What Happened.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  I love that Cheney one. 

Anyway, welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Time now for the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

Well, there are a lot of challenges in running for president.  Here‘s one you might have missed: catching flying pancakes. 

Here, for example, is Gary Bauer falling flat backward back in 2000. 

Wow. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  All right.  Whoa!  Oh, no!

Oh, no!  The candidate is missing in action.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  And who said this wasn‘t going to be an exciting event?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Wow.

But, this past weekend, Barack Obama passed with flying colors.  Take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  All right. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Here we go.

OBAMA:  I‘m ready.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You might have to help (INAUDIBLE)

OBAMA:  I will take—three is enough.  Three is enough.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Three for three.  Better yet, he let it end there.  Say this for Barack.  He knows to quit when he‘s ahead. 

Speaking of endings, NBC‘s first read—that‘s our in-house political tip sheet here—reported today that Obama is looking for his movie ending moment Tuesday night, after the results of the final pair of primaries, Montana and South Dakota, are in. 

Well, we know Senator Clinton is heading back to New York tomorrow night.  And “The New York Post” has their own movie prediction—look at that—for Hillary Clinton, which doesn‘t surprise me, given the way the Murdoch-owned paper has been going after her.  Here it is on today‘s front page, “Home Alone.” 

And after months on the campaign trail, Cindy McCain is clearly having a good time.  Last month, she posed for this spread in “Vogue.”  Pretty classy.  And now, in a new interview with “U.S. News & World Report,” she reveals that she feels the need for speed and rolling in high-performance driving lessons.  McCain‘s instructor says she‘s a gung-ho student, even learning the swerving style of street-racing.

Are we watching the super Americanism of Cindy McCain, you know, fast cars and rock ‘n‘ roll?  Hey, John‘s not so old after all, is he? 

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

As you all know, the DNC Rules Committee made its decision on Florida and Michigan this Saturday.  And the Clinton campaign is acting very unhappy about that 69-59 Michigan split in her favor.  Here‘s a look at the reaction.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HAROLD ICKES, SENIOR CLINTON CAMPAIGN ADVISER:  I am stunned that we have the gall and the chutzpah to substitute our judgment for 600,000 voters. 

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) 

TERRY MCAULIFFE, CLINTON CAMPAIGN CHAIRMAN:  I have never seen a party take away votes from someone who earned them.  And that has been our complaint coming out of yesterday. 

HOWARD WOLFSON, CLINTON CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR:  Senator Clinton hasn‘t made a decision about whether to appeal this or not.  She says she deserves the right to do that.  And we do reserve the right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  So, what‘s all the ruckus over? 

Well, the Clinton campaign wanted a 73-55 split, instead of 69-59.  It would have netted them an additional four delegates. 

And that‘s tonight‘s HARDBALL “Big Number.” 

According to the dead-enders, seriously, on the Clinton campaign, led by Harold Ickes, four delegates would have made all the difference in the world.  They would have been happy if they got four more delegates.  They‘re ripped about the fact they didn‘t get those four.  This is how it‘s gotten to end in this campaign.

Up next: my interview with former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan.  His book is “What Happened,” “What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington‘s Culture of Deception.”

We‘re going to hear a lot about inside the war, how it was made, Scooter Libby, what he did to earn that criminality, and how the president and the vice president led to all that mess.

And, tomorrow, at 6:00, Keith Olbermann joins me for coverage of the final primaries, Montana, big sky country, South Dakota. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

REBECCA JARVIS, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I am Rebecca Jarvis with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Major losses this Monday—the Dow Jones industrial fell 134 points. 

The S&P 500 lost 14.  The Nasdaq dropped 31 points. 

Stocks tumbled after Standard & Poor‘s lowered its credit rating on three of the major securities firms, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch, and Lehman Brothers, saying they will be forced to report more write-downs.

Meantime, Wachovia‘s board ousted its CEO.

Also putting pressure on stocks, construction spending fell again in April, as new homebuilding dropped for the 26th straight month. 

Oil edged higher.  Crude gained 41 cents in New York, closing at $127.76 a barrel. 

And Ford completed its sale of Jaguar Land Rover to India‘s Tata Motors for $1.7 billion.  Ford paid a total of $5.2 billion for the two iconic British brands.

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Let‘s get right to it.

Scott McClellan was White House press secretary for President Bush.  He‘s the author of the new book, I must say, the bestseller, “What Happened.”

Scott, thanks for joining us today.

It‘s a sad day in Washington today.  The president awarded the Medal of Honor to the family of Ross McGinnis of Pennsylvania.  He‘s the young man who, at the age of 19, gave his life by jumping on a grenade, and saving the lives of four of his buddies. 

You worked—this has nothing to do with politics or policy.  I want you to give me a firsthand reading.  What are the feelings of the president in days like in this? 

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Oh, I—the president is very moved on days like this. 

I mean, he—he is truly someone who appreciates the sacrifices of our troops.  I remember walking with him into Walter Reed when he would visit the wounded.  And they are very moving moments.

The president knows he‘s the one who made the decision to send these troops into harm‘s way.  And he does truly appreciates all that our troops do, as do we all.  They have made tremendous sacrifices, more than they ever should have been called on to do in the first place.  But he is particularly moved.

And you mentioned the Medal of Honor today.  That was a remarkable—remarkable ceremony today.

MATTHEWS:  You said something remarkable—you wrote something remarkable in your book, that you think that the president would not have taken us into Iraq had he known the calamitous number of casualties, the 4,000 dead, the, oh, endless number of people who have been maimed and lost limbs, the 100,000 dead Iraqis. 

How do you come to that surmise, that he wouldn‘t have taken us into this war had he known how bad it would get? 

MCCLELLAN:  Because I know the president very well.  I traveled the world and country with him.  I worked for him for seven-and-a-half years. 

And I know that he also understands the realities of a situation.  And knowing what we know today, even though know he might say otherwise, there is no way that he—and he knows it—could have gone in there and had the support he needed to move forward as quickly as we did on the rush to war in Iraq, nor, looking forward and—or looking ahead now, and seeing how many—how much, how long, how big the cost is to—in terms of troops, in terms of Iraqi civilian lives, do I think he would have taken this step. 

I really believe that, knowing him.  But I recognize he cannot say that.  He‘s in a tough situation. 

MATTHEWS:  I understand.

MCCLELLAN:  And it‘s hard for him to look back and admit that maybe we were off course on this. 

MATTHEWS:  He was taking the counsel back then of people who—they‘re called neoconservatives.  They‘re hawks, war hawks, in the Midwest context especially.  They had Chalabi, the former—former Iraqi who wanted us to go in there. 

Was he getting a lot of advice along the lines, not just the ideological argument you talk about in your book—we‘re going over there to push democracy in that part of the world, effectively—but people telling him that this would be pretty quick; it would be like one of those things that happened in Romania, where they just overthrow Ceausescu; they knock over the statues; the whole thing is over with?  Was he getting that kind of preview of what was coming?

MCCLELLAN:  Yes, I think absolutely.  And some of that is all—in the public record already. 

I think that he thought that this would be at a much lower cost and in a much quicker time frame.  And I think that is the way it was also portrayed.  If not directly stated to the American people, it was certainly implied that it would be much quicker and at a lower cost than it is today. 

I don‘t—I think there was reports that General Franks had estimated that the number of lost would have been in the 1,000 range.  And now, of course, we‘re over 4,000, 30,000 wounded, and tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians who have lost their lives as well.

So, I think, absolutely, he believed that this would be much easier than it has been, and despite the fact that our troops have succeeded in every way that they have been called on to do so. 

MATTHEWS:  Sure. 

Did he believe mission accomplished was mission accomplished? 

MCCLELLAN:  Well, that was...

MATTHEWS:  Remember, you said at the time that major combat operations had been completed.  It sounds like somebody had told him major combat operations have been completed; there wouldn‘t be the fight for Fallujah; there wouldn‘t be 3,000-plus guys killed subsequent to that. 

MCCLELLAN:  Well, that‘s true.

General Franks did tell him and wanted him to say that major combat operations had ended at that time.  And, so, he got part of his advice from him.  But, certainly, it was a little optimistic, if not rosy, at that period, as we have seen what has happened since that time frame. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

But I‘m talking about the politics, the sense that Iraq would come together, that it would be like one of those Eastern European countries after the fall of the bad guys; they would become democratic; they would hold elections; they wouldn‘t come apart.  Did he believe that? 

MCCLELLAN:  Well, as the vice president...

MATTHEWS:  Did he believe the politics would be—yes, go ahead. 

MCCLELLAN:  As the vice president said, that we would be greeted as liberators just before...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MCCLELLAN:  ... just before the war. 

So, I think, yes, the president thought that.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

MCCLELLAN:  I don‘t think—I don‘t think there was a careful thinking-through of the post-invasion occupation period, as—and I think that‘s evidenced by the facts that have come out since then. 

MATTHEWS:  You talk about the people that share his notion of a democratizing effort by us.  We would go over there in force, and we do something you called coercive democracy.  And you mentioned the deputy secretary of defense, Paul Wolfowitz. 

I had about a three-and-a-half-hour lunch with him about that time, in early—I guess it was 2003, before the war started.  And he gave me that whole line, too, how we‘re going to democratize, liberalize. 

He said to me: “You were in the Peace Corps.  You must believe in liberalism and democracy and all that.”

And I said,”Yes, but this is a war you‘re talking about.”

And he kept talking about this dreamy notion of, we‘re going to turn the Middle East into democracy and freedom-loving people. 

Was he was on the key guys that convinced the president that this was doable, this fairly easy overthrow of a bad dictator and the creation of a fairly benign democracy? 

MCCLELLAN:  Chris, he was certainly one of the...

MATTHEWS:  Who sold the president on this? 

MCCLELLAN:  Yes, he was certainly one of the influential ones, as was the vice president and the secretary of defense.  I think Secretary Rice, who was the national security adviser at the time, was supportive of the president‘s decision. 

You know, the president is the one that makes the decisions. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MCCLELLAN:  And he tends to do that from instinct and do it early on.  And then he expects everybody to figure out, how do we implement this decision?

And I think that‘s what happened in this case.  In terms of the coercive democracy, I absolutely think that that was the driving motivation of—and I know that—or believe that because I have been in the meetings with the president when I was press secretary. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MCCLELLAN:  And he talked so passionately about spreading freedom, and that Iraq would be the—Iraq and Afghanistan would be the linchpin for really the broader Middle East becoming a democratic region and a more peaceful region.

And it‘s an idealistic and ambitious reason, but it‘s not the reason that we were told we were going into war in the first place. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think, if he had not been surrounded by the vice president—in this case, Dick Cheney—and by Wolfowitz and the others, the intellectuals, as you talk about them, he had been surrounded by pragmatists, like James A Baker, like Colin Powell, people like that, do you think we still would have gone to war? 

MCCLELLAN:  I think there probably needed to be more diversity within those top ranks of the foreign policy team.  That may have made a difference.  Certainly people like Brent Scowcroft and Colin Powell, as you mentioned. 

MATTHEWS:  Was it critical?  I guess you‘re the first insider to come out of that political matrix inside the White House.  Do you believe that ideological overlay, that catalytic force of these intellectuals, not just in the White House, but out writing for the op ed pages of the “Wall Street Journal,” writing for the “Weekly Standard,” you know, I hear them.  I read them all the time.  Were they critical for the decision to go to war, the intellectual fire power of the intellectuals? 

MCCLELLAN:  I think it certainly influenced things.  The president has to bear responsibility for the decision.  He made the decision and he accepts that.  But certainly you had this post 9/11 environment.  A lot of those people that you mentioned knew that it was an opportunity to try to implement some of the vision that they had previously, even prior to to 9/11, for the Middle East.  That meant going in and removing a regime that they thought could be easily taken down in a country easily turned into a democracy.  That didn‘t happen. 

Some day it may.  Maybe history will vindicate the president.  We‘ll have to see for that. 

MATTHEWS:  The vice president was very hawkish going into 2002, the end of 2002, talking about a nuclear weapon.  He modified that to say it was a nuclear weapons program that had reinstituted.  There was talk by Condi Rice about a mushroom cloud.  Did you ever fear that Saddam Hussein had nuclear capability or was about to have one that could threaten us? 

Did you ever fear, Scott?  Did you ever fear, know when we‘re going

war and you were working at the White House, did you ever fear that Saddam

Hussein might strike at the United States?  As an American, did you ever

fear that

MCCLELLAN:  I thought we were rushing awfully quickly into this.  I don‘t know that I personally felt like we were about to be attacked or anything.  We never said it was imminent.  Some people slipped I think slipped and said—

MATTHEWS:  No, no, no, but the vice president and Condi were talking about mushroom clouds.  They were making people scared into the belief that they had to act or we were threatened.  I‘m just asking you, did you feel threatened as an American by Saddam Hussein?  You say no. 

MCCLELLAN:  I don‘t think I felt directly threatened.  But I gave the team the benefit of the doubt.  You‘re right, they packaged this nuclear threat in there along with the terrorists threat, and made it sound more grave and more serious and more urgent than it was. 

MATTHEWS:  Was it propaganda? 

MCCLELLAN:  That‘s what I call it in the book.  It was a political propaganda campaign. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll be right back.  Scott, we‘ve got to get back.  We‘ve got a couple more short segments coming back.  More with Scott McClellan.  His book is “What Happened?”  It‘s a best seller right now.  People want to know what‘s in that book.  You ought to buy it.  We‘ll get into it more.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with former White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan, author of the best new seller “What Happened?” Scott, you write in your book, I think it‘s the biggest thing in your book, about how the real motive for the war in Iraq was really this goal of democratizing the Middle East, which you call coercive democracy.  Yet, the way to get the American people to go along with it at the beginning was perceived to be this nuclear threat from Iraq, weapons of mass destruction threat. 

How do you account for the fact that the 2003 State of the Union included the words, 16 words, the infamous 16 words that said that Saddam Hussein of Iraq was trying to get ahold of nuclear materials from Africa when we subsequently learned that the vice president knew or had no confirmation of such a deal and in fact had checked it out and had not come up with anything, and yet, let the president put those words in this speech. 

MCCLELLAN:  Well, the intelligence only said that they were seeking uranium from there.  George Tenet had actually previously told Steve Hadley not to include it in the speech back in October of 2002 when the president was in Cincinnati.  I talk about this in the book.  It was an interesting moment when we were trying to deal with that controversy that was stirring, and we had a discussion in the chief of staff‘s office, where Steve Hadley said, this was really my fault and I blew it, and felt that he should have resigned over it. 

Condi Rice had previously been talking about it, not realized that her own staff maybe should have corrected that.  It should have never made it in there. 

MATTHEWS:  The vice president was in charge of gathering intel.  He had all these staff people working on, Scooter Libby, his chief of staff, going over to CIA all the time.  I think he had a half dozen visits over there.  He was on top of all of this.  He had raised the question of that possible purchase of uranium or attempt to purchase it from the government of Niger.  He was all over that, the fact that they couldn‘t that one down. 

Yet, he and his chief of staff let that language stay in the president‘s State of the Union.  How do you explain that?

MCCLELLAN:  I don‘t know the back story behind that.  You point out a very interesting thing, and that‘s something that should be explored.  I don‘t know that we‘ll ever learn the full back story. 

MATTHEWS:  Did he have a thumb on the scale?  Was he pushing the war so strong that he would let something go in the State of the Union that hadn‘t been checked out?

MCCLELLAN:  He was certainly pushing the intelligence for it.  Another example of that was certainly the Mohammed Atta intelligence meeting with the Iraqi official in Prague, which he continued to hold onto for a long time.  And none of us—no one else in the administration was talking about it.  But he continued to push this link to 9/11 for quite a while. 

MATTHEWS:  This brings up the whole question, what was your role in all of this?  I was trying to cover it.  We got no access.  Were you feeding a lot of this propaganda to favorable commentators on Fox or “The Weekly Standard” or op ed pages of the “Wall Street Journal?”  Did you play a role in this propaganda campaign? 

MCCLELLAN:  Yes.  At times I was involved in it.  I was a deputy press secretary, so principle deputy press secretary.  I was more focused on domestic issues.  But at times I did fill in for my predecessor.  I did participant participate in WIG meetings, White House Iraq Group meetings, which were set up to market the war to the American people.  I did participate over about a 10 day, 12-day period, where my predecessor was on his honey moon, sitting in on meetings with the president, world leaders and others. 

There were other times traveling with the president where I certainly participated in this effort.  It‘s one of the problems I talk about, the whole permanent campaign culture in Washington, D.C., when it gets transferred over to the war-making process.  Then we see how troubling that can become.  You really need to talk about the truth of the situation when it comes to war with the American teem to make sure we know exactly what we‘re getting into and what‘s the motivation behind that.  That didn‘t happen. 

MATTHEWS:  See, motivation.  You say in the book that it came to you later, although I did realize it at the time.  Sometime since the time you worked at the White House, you realized that the war was being fought under false pretenses, that the was really not about nuclear threats from Iraq or any other kind of threat militarily.  It was really an ideological campaign to try to rebuild the Middle East along Democratic lines.

Some people realized that back at the time.  What was your attitude towards those people?  I was one of them.  I was a small player, I admit.  But I was one of those people that always thought this war was really geopolitical.  It really wasn‘t about a weapons threat from a small country.  What was your attitude towards, for example, Joe Wilson when he came back and wrote that article for the “New York Times?”  He said, wait a minute, the vice president knew better.  I got sent over because he raised the question about that nuclear arms deal, nuclear yellow cake deal in Niger.  I knew that the White House wasn‘t being square on this. 

Why were you so tough at the time on people that believe then what you now? 

MCCLELLAN:  We‘re caught up in the politics as war mentality.  Those that were against us were viewed as our enemies.  That‘s a destructive part of what the culture in Washington, D.C. right now.  But we were out there seeking to discredit those who were criticizing us and questioning the intelligence.  We now know in many ways, they were right about the intelligence. 

MATTHEWS:  Were you at a war with the CIA?  I have information that the White House believed at the time that the CIA was leaking all over the place, blaming the war on the vice president‘s office, on the failure of Scooter Libby and the vice president to adequately convey to the American people the true nature or lack of it of any nuclear threat from Iraq.  That was coming out from the CIA, obviously, going to Walter Pinkus, going to Kristoff and people like that.  Did you at the time see not just the media as your enemy but the CIA as your enemy. 

MCCLELLAN:  There was certainly that attitude within the White House.  There‘s an attitude that the CIA, the analysts, were trying to undermine the policy makers.  I think in retrospect, looking back, when I reflected on that, we should have been listening more to what some of those doubters or dissenters were saying about the intelligence? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, can you confirm that Karl Rove saw Valerie Wilson as fair game? 

MCCLELLAN:  I can‘t confirm that.  I think that‘s actually something that you confirmed, if I remember correctly. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m trying to get additional witness to this.  Just to put it in context, you believe, as the press person for the White House, that the CIA was seen as the other side of this fight in terms of this press war and getting out the—winning the fault game. 

MCCLELLAN:  Well, some within the CIA, certainly those involved in that area, to some extent that was happening.  I think—

MATTHEWS:  And you have the vice president leading that fight in your book.  You say he was the guy running the fight to discredit Joe Wilson and his wife. 

MCCLELLAN:  I think that‘s been pretty well documented.  We‘re never going to know the full back story, I don‘t believe, because you‘re not going to hear anything from the vice president.  You‘re certainly not going to hear anything from Scooter Libby now that he‘s been given a commutation and likely a pardon by the end of the administration. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he was promised all that when he went and lied about his conversation with Tim Russert about me?  Do you think he knew he was going to get protection at the end and that‘s why he was willing to take the wrap for perjury and obstruction? 

MCCLELLAN:  I have no idea.  Patrick Fitzgerald is the one that said that when Scooter Libby lawyers said that he was trying to put a cloud over the vice president, he said, no, Scooter Libby put the cloud over the vice president.  We just don‘t know those facts and we‘re never going to.  The vice president won‘t ever talk about this, I‘m sure. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s an interesting case.  We‘ll be right back.  A little more on this with Scott McClellan, in his hot new book, “What Happened?”

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Scott McClellan, author of “What Happened.”  Scott, I worked in politics for 15 years.  It always seems to me that the atmosphere, the attitude of the office comes from the top.  Scooter Libby took the bullet here, the vice president‘s chief of staff.  He took felony counts, five of them, four of them convictions.  He ended up having to get his sentence commuted.  He had to pay a big fine.  He‘s disbarred, in many ways humiliated.  What would drive a man of his ability to do that in the interest of the White House cause? 

MCCLELLAN:  Well, he‘s someone deeply loyal to the vice president and deeply loyal to the White House, probably too loyal we know now.  But he was willing to put it all on himself.  I don‘t know why.  We don‘t know who he was trying to protect or what he was trying to protect.  It might have been that he was just concerned about how embarrassing this could look politically if it was known back then.  Or it might have been something more serious.  We don‘t know that.  That‘s something that the American people deserve to know because it‘s an important public policy issue.  It‘s an important matter of governance. 

MATTHEWS:  Didn‘t it strike you as suicidal the claim that he heard something about Valerie Wilson from Tim Russert, knowing that Tim Russert would deny it, knowing that people would believe Tim in any Grand Jury situation.  Didn‘t it strike you as odd that he would lay on the grenade like that, that he would do that to himself, knowing that the vice president, best he could do, would get him a pardon later?  He couldn‘t protect him.  Why would he do this? 

MCCLELLAN:  I don‘t understand it, Chris.  I don‘t know.  I think at the time he really believed that nothing would come of it, that he could get away with it, I really do.  The day he was sitting across from me—the day he was indicted, he was sitting across from me that morning in senior staff, as he usually does.  His assistant walks in with a pink slip with a message on it.  He gets up and walks out.  He was on crutches because of a skiing accident.  The room was silent, watching him walk out.  We all knew what was happening.  I don‘t get it.  I don‘t know why he thought he could away with it. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m oddly impressed by this man and his loyalty.  Let me ask you this, this is the key to your book, this atmosphere of permanent campaigning, we have to win, the other side has to lose.  Did that contribute to his idea that he had to take this final fall, that he had to behave the way he did?  It took the White House into criminality.  Is there a connection? 

MCCLELLAN:  Probably.  There probably is.  He certainly viewed everybody on the outside that was criticizing us as enemies.  That‘s the vice president‘s mentality.  The vice president is very that way as well.  I think it did reflect the top of vice president‘s office as well. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think the vice president should have taken some of the blame in that, not just his chief of staff? 

MCCLELLAN:  I think the public deserves to know the truth.  That‘s why I try to give them, at least form my standpoint in this book.  All I could do was tell exactly I knew.  I wasn‘t involved in the lead up to the exposure for identity.  I was deputy press secretary at the time, but I had to come in and defend these two individuals and was given assurances that turned out to be false.  I was knowingly misled by those individuals. 

MATTHEWS:  I think it‘s an important book.  We‘re going to be talking about this book like Raymond Mulley‘s (ph) and other inside books for years to come.  Thank you very much, Scott McClellan.  The book‘s called “What Happened.”

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