updated 12/22/2008 4:56:38 PM ET 2008-12-22T21:56:38

Guests: Rep. Jim Moran, Rep. Duncan Hunter, Joe Conason, Dominic Carter, Steven Waldman, Joe Solmonese, Ron Brownstein, Perry Bacon, Ron Lurie

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  The horrors of Abu Ghraib.  How high did the orders come from?

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Leading off tonight, torture in the Bush administration.  We‘ve spent a lot of time on HARDBALL these last two nights talking about Vice President Cheney and whether the Bush administration is guilty of condoning torture.

Today‘s “New York Times” lead editorial makes the following argument. 

Quote, “Now a bipartisan report by the Senate Armed Services Committee has made what amounts to a strong case for bringing criminal charges against former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and potentially other top officials, including the former White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales, and

David Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney‘s former chief of staff.“

Should members of the Bush administration be charged with condoning torture?  We‘ll have much more on that in a moment.

Plus, if Caroline Kennedy is going to become New York‘s next senator, she‘s going to need fewer press-avoiding scenes like this one yesterday in Syracuse.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION:  What can you say to New Yorkers that says that you‘re qualified?

QUESTION:  Are you ready for this, Mrs. Kennedy?

QUESTION:  Mrs. Kennedy?

QUESTION:  You‘re not going to answer questions?

CAROLINE KENNEDY, DAUGHTER OF PRES. JOHN F. KENNEDY:  I‘m following the process laid out by the governor.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  She went a long way towards playing nice with the press when she met with Al Sharpton today in Harlem.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KENNEDY:  I feel like I‘m a—you know, a Kennedy Democrat, a Clinton Democrat.  Chuck Schumer, Barack Obama, I mean, these are all leaders whose values I share.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  The question tonight is not just whether New York is ready for Caroline but whether Caroline is ready for New York.

Next, gay leaders are outraged that President-elect Obama has invited conservative evangelist minister Rick Warren to give the invocation at his inauguration.  Why?  Because he supported the anti-gay marriage Proposition 8, which passed in California.  Was Obama wrong to invite Warren, or are gay activists just itching for a fight?

Plus, we have a story about a Washington newspaper reporter who goes to jail for refusing to reveal her source.  Sound familiar?  It should, if you remember the case of “New York Times“ Judy Miller in the Scooter Libby/Joe and Valerie Wilson saga.  Now it‘s a movie.  But are modern audiences ready to feel sympathy for any journalist?  We‘ll see.

And if you think government‘s a circus sometimes here in Washington, check out this scene from South Korea.  We‘ll explain this on the HARDBALL “Sideshow“ tonight.

But first, torture in the Bush administration.  U.S. Congressman Jim Moran‘s from Virginia.  He‘s a Democrat.  And U.S. Congressman Duncan Hunter‘s a California Republican.Gentlemen, I want to read to you the “New York Times” lead editorial today.  It‘s entitled “The torture report.“  It says, quote, “a bipartisan report by the Senate Armed Services Committee has made what amounts to a strong case for bringing criminal charges against former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, his legal counsel, William J. Haynes, and potentially other top officials, including the former White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales, and David Addington, Vice President Dick Cheney‘s former chief of staff.  The report shows how actions by these men led directly to what happened at Abu Ghraib, in Afghanistan, in Guantanamo and in secret CIA prisons.“

Congressman Moran, that‘s a strong editorial.  It‘s a strong report by the bipartisan committee in the Senate.  Where is this headed?

REP. JIM MORAN (D), VIRGINIA:  It‘s an important issue.  I doubt that it‘s headed anywhere because I don‘t think the Obama administration wants to revisit this.  They want to move on.

But the—what troubles me more than anything is not the personal culpability, it‘s the damage they did to our reputation throughout the world.  These kinds of actions were more damaging to our side in the war on terrorism than anything al Qaeda has been able to achieve.  That‘s what troubles me.

Waterboarding is torture.  Torture is illegal in terms of international law.  It‘s ineffective.  You don‘t get reliable information.  And in fact, what we do will be done by others against us when our troops are captured.  And you know, it does set us back in this war of values and principles and ideals.  Our strongest weapon in the war on terrorism is our Bill of Rights, our Constitution, our values and principles.  And we violate them, we lose that moral high ground.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Hunter, “The New York Times” lead editorial backing up a bipartisan report by the Senate Armed Services Committee taking responsibility for Abu Ghraib and all those abuses we watched here on television all those weeks back in ‘05, takes them right to the top, to the secretary of defense.  Your reaction?

REP. DUNCAN HUNTER ®, CALIFORNIA:  Well, Chris, I think it‘s left-wing rubbish.  And let me tell you why.

MATTHEWS:  By the bipartisan committee?

HUNTER:  By “The New York Times,” and I think all—the bipartisan committee, the folks who signed off on that, must not have read it very well because it has huge holes in it.

And here are the facts.  Three people were waterboarded.  Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the guy who participated in killing 3,000 Americans in New York, Abu Zubayda, who was one of the people that led, after he had been waterboarded, he talked about a plot, he revealed a plot to strike the United States a second time.  He, in fact, led us to Khalid Shaikh Muhammad.  He led us to a number of other operatives.

When we got Khalid Shaikh Muhammad, not only did he say, yes, indeed—after he had been subjected to waterboarding, not only did he admit that he had, in fact, had masterminded the attack on our New York buildings and on the Pentagon and that plane that went down in Pennsylvania, he also pointed out a plan that he was starting to put into effect in which he was admonishing his terrorists, his subordinates, to make sure they bombed American buildings at a high enough height so that they would trap our citizens inside it with the flame and the fire.

Out of the thousands and thousands of people that we detained, there were three people, and I‘ve named two of them, Zubayda and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.  And contrary to what Jim says, we, in fact, got—after this procedure, we got enormously valuable information that saved American lives.

So you know, you‘re a hardball guy.  Throw a hardball out there to left field and say—and ask some of these people, Would you—if you had a chance to save American lives, would you use this procedure, which, in fact, we use on ourselves—OK.

HUNTER:  --because we use that to train our Navy SEALs with?  So we didn‘t do anything to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed that we don‘t do ourselves in our training to toughen our guys up.

MATTHEWS:  What do you make of the fact that all these weeks we watched those trials of those lower-ranked service people in Abu Ghraib for abusing the prisoners over there—Lynndie England got three years, this fellow, Sergeant Frederick, gets eight-and-a-half—a lot went for lower sentences—sorry, Specialist Simmons (ph) gets a year, Roman Krol gets 10 months, and other people, a lot of them get lower charges, obviously plea deals, certainly, by the looks of them, to keep quiet.

It seems to me that now we‘re getting the report that this stuff that happened at Abu Ghraib came from the top, all the way up to the vice president‘s office, all the way to the secretary of defense.  Does that bother you—

HUNTER:  OK—

MATTHEWS:  --that these lower-level people paid the price from instructions and guidance coming from the top?

HUNTER:  OK.  OK.  Chris, it is very serious, and I hope you‘ll hear me out because I‘ve looked at all the records.  I followed the trials.  And here‘s what we discovered.  At, like, 2:00 o‘clock in the morning at those cell blocks, you had that enlisted lady and her boyfriend and their associates doing things to the prisoners and to each other which were remarkably nasty, dirty things.  And I think you saw the pictures of the underwear on the heads, the goat‘s head, and all the other very objectionable things that happened.

The lawyers initially said, We‘re going to link this to the top.  This was a directive from Don Rumsfeld.  There are thousands of pages of transcript.  And in not one word did the defense lawyers, who had a real incentive—and they had lots of discovery—not one word in those transcripts and in the thousands of pages in the numerous official reports that were done by very honest people in the United States Army and our other services—did they ever say that the enlisted lady who went in at 2:00 o‘clock in the morning with her boyfriend and did those things to themselves and to the prisoners—that somehow, they got—this was some kind of an interrogation.  There was no interrogation done at Abu Ghraib in those situations.  Those were criminal acts done against prisoners and against each other, if you look at some of the very lurid testimony and transcript.

Now, let me tell you, I read my friend—my friend, Mr. Levin‘s, report.  And his staff says this is all linked to Don Rumsfeld.  They start off with that.  And then they make very broad, general allegations about how somehow, interrogating Mr. Kayani (ph) in Guantanamo made that—somehow migrated across the ocean and compelled this specialist or corporal and her boyfriend and their associates to do the things that they did.

There was no link whatsoever, even by the defense lawyers, who had obviously an incentive to put out any link that they could, because they initially said, if you recall, We‘re going to prove that this was all part of official policy.

It‘s left-wing rubbish.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Moran, the problem with that argument is that the Geneva Conventions, we‘re told, were basically written out of order here by the administration.  They said, They don‘t apply to these prisoners.  The guidance given to all of our service people is these are not prisoners of war, they can betreated differently.

MORAN:  Well, that‘s absolutely right.  And that‘s what Nuremberg was all about, that the buck has to stop at the top.  And these folks—granted, they didn‘t have orders to do the despicable things they were doing, but they had the sense that anything goes, that they weren‘t going to be held accountable.  That‘s the problem.

Let me just mention one thing, Chris, because I find it to be a very telling example.  There‘s a place, Fort Hunt, along George Washington Parkway.  It‘s right here in the Washington area.  And during World War II, it was an interrogation camp for Nazi officers.  It was called P.O. Box 1142, top secret, just released.

They brought in the Nazi officers.  They had to find people who could speak German and that they could trust, so they recruited German Jewish men, who had every reason in the world to abuse these Nazi officers because their parents were being exterminated over in Europe.

There was no abuse that took place.  They befriended them.  They played checkers.  They went on walks with them.  And they secured more information that was more valuable than any interrogation project in the history of the military or our intelligence agencies because they were serious about it.

The problem here is that our intelligence and military people really weren‘t, as far as I‘m concerned, serious about it.  They watched “24.”  They think this is the way to go about it.  And the professionals will tell you it‘s not.  I don‘t care what they do to Khalid Shaikh Muhammad.  I do care how much they torture him, frankly.  I do care about what we do to the security interests of the United States.

And when we act in this fashion, it allows al Qaeda to recruit—it‘s a rallying cry for the enemy, for the opposition.  And that‘s why it‘s so serious, not what we do individually, but the way we violate our principles and our ideals for short-term, expedient purposes.  As I say, we lose the moral high ground.  And if that happens, then we will lose this war of ideas and principles that we have led for the last 200 years.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Hunter, you said there‘s no direct connection between what happened at Abu Ghraib and what came down from the very highest levels.  But wasn‘t there a shift of methodology from Guantanamo Bay over to Abu Ghraib?  Weren‘t there people at the mid level, at the civilian level of the Defense Department, who brought over that information of what was working, supposedly, in Cuba and using it over in Iraq?

HUNTER:  Once again, Chris, the defense lawyers for the enlisted folks who did those things at 2:00 in the morning said initially they were going to prove that connection, and there is no evidence whatsoever that—for example, the interrogation of Mr. Kayani.  He was the 20th hijacker.  He got to the airport in Miami and Mohammed Atta didn‘t pick him up because Customs pushed him back through.  We interrogated him severely in Guantanamo.  That was a classified interrogation.  The specialist, the E-4 6,000 miles away in Abu Ghraib knew nothing about the Kayani interrogation.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

HUNTER:  So was there—well, now, you‘ve asked me a question, let me answer this one.  You said, Well, was there a general policy that somehow was communicated that anything goes?  They could not come up in those trials with a single statement in a policy coming from Mr. Rumsfeld that, quote, “anything goes.”  It‘s thin air, Chris.  And you know—

MATTHEWS:  I have the report.  They didn‘t have it in hand, though, did they, Congressman, the report of the—the bipartisan report of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Had they had this document in that courtroom with them, it seems to me they would have had the very evidence they needed to make that case.

HUNTER:  Here‘s the problem, Chris.  I‘ve read the report.  Now, take the report and read it.  The report doesn‘t say—just like—they have the same problem that the defense lawyers had for the folks that did those things at Abu Ghraib.  They don‘t say that there‘s any connection.  They don‘t say, Here was a communication from Guantanamo.  Here was Mr.  Rumsfeld‘s directive to us in Abu Ghraib to do these things to people.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

HUNTER:  They claimed they were going to say it, they were going to prove it.  They didn‘t.  And let me tell you, I‘ve sent a letter to Senator Levin and I‘ve asked him, Please show me in the thousands of pages of court transcript and the thousands of pages of reports in Abu Ghraib where you have the connection between Don Rumsfeld and what those corporals did.  I think he‘s going to come up with nothing, but let‘s stay tuned.

MORAN:  The problem, Duncan—you know how we disagree on this particular issue.  You know, basically, these are technicalities.  They may be true, but the reality is that the impression that we leave, that perception, becomes its own reality.  And the fact is, if we don‘t hold people accountable for the abuses that took place, then we are not the nation that the rest of the world needs us to be.

HUNTER:  OK.

MORAN:  That‘s the problem.  We are not that nation.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me just read this again.  Congressman Hunter, I have to read the line at the end.  The report by the Armed Services Committee, the bipartisan report, shows how actions by these men at the top—that includes Secretary Rumsfeld and the people in the vice president‘s office—led directly—those are the words—to what happened at Abu Ghraib, in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay and in secret CIA prisons.  That‘s the accusation of the Senate Armed Services Committee—

(CROSSTALK)

HUNTER:  Great conclusion.  And I‘ve asked them to show me the evidence that makes that connection—

MATTHEWS:  OK.

HUNTER:  --because 10,000 pages of report haven‘t done it.  And they don‘t have it, or they would have put it in the report.

MATTHEWS:  Apparently, they have it to the satisfaction of the members of that committee on the Senate Armed Services.

HUNTER:  And Chris, let me ask one question to Jim here because you asked me these tough questions here.  Here‘s a good hardball to the left.  If you had a chance—if you had a chance—and I‘d ask Chris the same question.  If you had the chance of saving American lives and you had to waterboard a leader like Mohammed Shaikh—Shaikh Muhammad to get that information, would you do it?

MORAN:  Duncan, I‘d let a professional make that decision, and I wouldn‘t talk about it.  And I certainly wouldn‘t have the vice president of the United States and Addington going through all this legal legerdemain trying to cover themselves.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNTER:  Rumsfeld didn‘t talk about it.  Rumsfeld did not talk about it.

MORAN:  He clearly—Duncan, he gave signals that, You do whatever you feel you need to do, and we will cover you.  Well, that‘s—the fact is, the professionals tell us the way we acted is not the most effective way to gain information.  That form of interrogation generally doesn‘t work, and you need reliable information.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  --U.S. Congressman Duncan Hunter of California—

HUNTER:  In this case, it did work.

MATTHEWS:  OK—

MORAN:  To be continued.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Merry Christmas.

(CROSSTALK)

HUNTER:  Hey, Jim, good to see you.

MATTHEWS:  Up next: Caroline Kennedy is pushing for that Senate seat up in New York, talking to Democratic bigwigs about the state.  Is Caroline ready to be Hillary‘s replacement?  Is she ready to run what could be a very—well, running from a private life into a very public life?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION:  What can you say to New Yorkers that says that you‘re qualified?

QUESTION:  Are you ready for this, Mrs. Kennedy?

QUESTION:  Mrs. Kennedy?

QUESTION:  You‘re not going to answer questions at all?

QUESTION:  Mrs. Kennedy, you‘re avoiding questions!

QUESTION:  Mrs. Kennedy?

QUESTION:  Mrs. Kennedy, you‘re avoiding questions.

KENNEDY:  I‘m following the process laid out by the governor.

QUESTION:  The governor told you not to talk to us?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thanks, guys.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

That was Caroline Kennedy, of course, getting initiated into the rough-and-tumble world of New York media and politics.  Caroline has grown up before our eyes, but she‘s one of the most famous women in the world, but also has kept herself very private.  That‘s about to change, as we just saw.

Kennedy wants Hillary Clinton‘s seat in the U.S. Senate, but is Caroline ready for the type of media toughness that we just saw there with anyone running for public office. 

Joe Conason is with “The New York Observer.”  And Dominic Carter is the senior political reporter for New York 1.

Dominic, you were up at Sylvia‘s today up in Harlem.  What was that like, with the Reverend Al Sharpton hosting Caroline Kennedy?  I noticed there was not sound.  We could look at the picture of the meeting together, apparently, but not hear. 

DOMINIC CARTER, SENIOR POLITICAL REPORTER, NEW YORK 1:  Well, first of all, Chris, happy holidays. 

I thought that I had seen...

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  Same to you. 

CARTER:  I thought that I had seen a media circus before, in terms of covering media here in New York for 25 years, but I had never seen anything like this as far as Caroline Kennedy.  It was a complete media circus out there. 

Is she ready to deal with going from being a very private person to this media circus?  Too early to tell, but I can tell you this.  She has hit the ground running, and she seems to be ready and very serious, Chris, about this.  She was very comfortable as I got the opportunity to chat with her for a couple of minutes.  And she showed a lot of personality. 

MATTHEWS:  Did you get her on the record? 

CARTER:  It was not on the record.  It was off the record. 

But let me make this crystal clear.  Since she has shown interest in this Senate seat, she has pulled, Caroline Kennedy, all of the oxygen out of the room.  What her folks need to do, Chris, is to avoid what the McCain folks did with Sarah Palin, in terms of overly sheltering her from the media.

And, then, when she‘s released, Palin was fairly articulate—you may disagree—but when she was finally released, the world was on her shoulders.  It helps Caroline Kennedy‘s case if New Yorkers get to know her. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I hope we have tape of her talking.  Here is a picture of her talking, but we can‘t hear it. 

Let‘s go to Joe Conason.

Joe, your sense of this rollout of Caroline Kennedy for Senate and the way it‘s being handled? 

JOE CONASON, COLUMNIST/POLITICAL EDITOR, “THE NEW YORK OBSERVER”: 

Well, it seems like a hasty decision, actually, on her part to go for this. 

I don‘t think she seems prepared for this process at all, although what the process is isn‘t—isn‘t exactly clear.  She says she‘s following the procedures set forth by the governor.  I can‘t imagine what those were.  I—I doubt he told her not to talk to the press. 

So, you know, she doesn‘t have a political identity.  It‘s not clear.  She says she‘s a Clinton-Obama-Kennedy Democrat, which is fine.  But she hasn‘t been a passionate advocate of anything, except public schools, which is very good.  But there‘s a much broader spectrum of issues than that, that you have to deal with as a senator or a Senate candidate. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that‘s curtly put, but what‘s your view of this?  Do you believe that she‘s ready or not?  You‘re a columnist. 

CARTER:  I have my doubts that she‘s ready to be a Senate candidate. 

But, then again, she doesn‘t have to run for two years if she‘s appointed. 

So, she might be able to get ready for that. 

I think she‘s probably well prepared to serve in the Senate.  You know what will happen, Chris.  If she went to Washington and—as a senator, there‘s a—a very sophisticated, competent apparatus that surrounds her family, and especially her uncle Ted, that would certainly prepare her to serve in the Senate. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, that‘s right.  I think she would have the best staff on the Hill, next to Ted Kennedy...

CARTER:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  ... probably.

CARTER:  Absolutely.

MATTHEWS:  Within a matter of hours, they would all be dying to go work for her. 

Let me ask you, Congressman—I mean, Dominic—why did I say that?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Dominic Carter, I just thought of you in that illustrious official sense.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about this new poll out.  It seems like one way this is going to get judged, whether anybody likes it or not, is through the usual means, polling. 

I noticed that Andrew Cuomo edges her out a bit in this new poll that just popped out there.  Is this going to be Governor Paterson‘s defense device, that he can say, you know, her name floated out there, we talked, but I‘m looking at the polls, and the polls seem to support someone else; she hasn‘t really lit up any fires? 

Does that polling protect him from, well, snubbing a Kennedy, to be blunt about it? 

CARTER:  To be blunt about it, no, it does not. 

I agree with Joe that she does not have a political identity as of this point.  But in terms of inexperience and so on, we have been down this road with a person called Hillary Clinton.  And, at the end of the day, her poll numbers—look at how well she did in this state. 

In terms of Governor Paterson, what I‘m hearing, Chris, is that this is, the bottom line here, a done deal, that it‘s hers if she wants it.  She‘s going through, if you will, this tour of the state. 

As far as that poll you mentioned, Andrew Cuomo, the state attorney general of this state, he may be up at this point, because he has the advantage, because he has actually been out there before New Yorkers as the state attorney general for almost two years. 

And I—I would venture to say that her numbers might be higher if New Yorkers knew more about her.  But, from what I‘m hearing, this is a done deal.  It‘s hers if she wants it. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, Joe, last thought here.  Kevin Sheekey, one of the smartest political operatives in New York—he‘s a top aide to Mayor Bloomberg—he‘s out there pushing her on the telephone.  Could he be her top aide?  Could we be seeing the formation of a Kennedy operation already in New York State? 

CONASON:  Well, the thing about Kevin is that he‘s been in Washington, as you know, with Senator Moynihan.  And I think he would be a superb aide to a Senator Kennedy, if there is to be one. 

And far be it from me to contradict Dominic Carter, who knows much more than I do all the time.  And if he says it‘s a done deal, I would have to think maybe it is. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, the fact that Caroline Kennedy has said, if she doesn‘t get this appointment this coming year, these coming weeks, she will run anywhere in 2010, that‘s a bit of a charge.  That‘s quite a commitment.  That is what Golda Meir used to call a new fact.  And it is a serious political fact. 

CONASON:  Well, she has to—but she has to—she has to say that, doesn‘t she?  I mean...

MATTHEWS:  Well, she did. 

CONASON:  That shows she wants it, so...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  That‘s true. 

Joe Conason, sir, have a happy holiday. 

You, too, Dominic Carter.  Thank you for joining us, both, from up there.

Up next:  Yesterday, it was Mexico.  Today, it‘s South Korea.  Take a look at this shoving match in the South Korean parliament.  This isn‘t democracy, like ours, of course, a little more, well, frisky, you might say.  What are those guys fighting about?  Well, that is—actually, it‘s a trade bill, a U.S. trade bill they‘re talking about, or fighting about. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Back to HARDBALL.  Time for the “Sideshow.”

First up, tonight‘s edition of “Final Daze,” D-A-Z-E, our daily look at President Bush as he bids the nation adieu. 

Today, at the American Enterprise Institute, President Bush gave us his stance on the U.S. automaker bailout.  Note here:  It‘s not exactly a profile in courage. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION:  Isn‘t the Detroit bailout an example of interest groups thinking they can get a better deal from the executive branch than from the Congress? 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  That‘s an interesting way of putting it.  First let me take a step back.  I haven‘t made up my mind yet, so you‘re assuming something is going to happen. 

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What‘s with that body language? 

Anyway, “Haven‘t made up my mind yet; something‘s got to happen”? 

Hey, how about a little sense of urgency here? 

Moving on: democracy in action.  Get a load of this scene in South Korea earlier today.  Lawmakers discussing a free trade agreement with the U.S., barricaded themselves into a meeting room, while the opposition used a sledgehammer to push their way into the office.  They were trying to stop the legislation from advancing to the floor of parliament for a final vote.  By the way, the attempt to kill the U.S. trade billion got nowhere. 

But back to our own great and sometimes hard-to-figure democracy.  Remember this messed-up ballot in the Minnesota Senate recount?  The voter checked off Democrat Al—Al Franken and then went ahead and wrote in the words “Lizard people.”  The vote initially went to Franken.  Then, Senator Coleman‘s camp challenged it as a spoiled ballot.  Today, the state board reviewed the ballot and rejected the vote for Franken. 

So, whoever voted for Franken there and then screwed around with it cost Franken a vote. 

Time now for tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

In the wake of Illinois‘s tales of pay-to-play corruption, here‘s one scenario for you.  Suppose you could pay a governor to get a job that pays over $100,000 a year, and there‘s a guarantee that you wouldn‘t get caught doing it.  Would you do it? 

Well, according to a very unpleasant new study, 62 percent of Americans would do just that, pay off the governor to get the high-paying job, as long as they were not—they were guaranteed not to get caught doing it.  That‘s 62 percent ready to pay to play. 

Can we agree that‘s not a good sign for our self-governing democracy?

tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Coming up:  Why are gay leaders so upset that Barack Obama invited Pastor Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church to deliver the invocation at his inauguration next month?  We will tell you why this dustup may or may not be bad for Obama. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Stocks tumbling for a second straight day, with the Dow Jones industrial average closing 219 points lower, the S&P 500 lower by 19, and the Nasdaq lost about 27 points. 

One factor putting pressure on stocks, Standard & Poor‘s lowered its credit outlook on General Electric because of the concerns about GE Capital, its finance arm.  Standard & Poor‘s says that GE has a one-in-three chance of losing its AAA credit rating in the next two years.  GE shares fell 8 percent following that news. 

GE, course, is the parent company of MSNBC and CNBC. 

New claims for unemployment benefits dropped more than expected last week, but the number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits also took a surprise drop last week. 

And oil prices tumbled again, with crude oil falling $3.84, closing at $36.22 a barrel.  That‘s the lowest level in four-and-a-half years. 

That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to Chris and HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Barack Obama is drawing fire from gay-rights groups for choosing evangelical minister Rick Warren of the Saddleback Church to deliver the invocation at the inaugural next month.  Warren supported California‘s Proposition 8 this year, which banned same-sex marriage, even though it had legal in that state.

Here‘s what the president-elect said today when asked why he chose Warren for such a prominent role. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT-ELECT:  What I have also said is that it is important for America to come together, even though we may have disagreements on certain social issues. 

And I would note that a couple of years ago, I was invited to Rick Warren‘s church to speak, despite his awareness that I held views that were entirely contrary to his when it came to gay and lesbian rights, when it came to issues like abortion. 

That dialogue, I think, is part of what my campaign‘s been all about, that we‘re not going to agree on every single issue, but what we have to do is to be able to create an atmosphere when we—where we can disagree without being disagreeable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Steven Waldman is editor in chief in BeliefNet.com.  And Joe Solmonese is with the Human Rights Campaign, which battles for the rights of people of every sexual orientation. 

Let me start with you, Steven Waldman.

How did this thing develop, as far as you understand, this decision to bring in Rick Warren as—to give the invocation at the inauguration? 

STEVEN WALDMAN, EDITOR IN CHIEF, BELIEFNET.COM:  I—I don‘t really know the behind-the-scenes of how the decision was made in the short term. 

But the broader political strategy here is that Obama has been trying to reach out to moderate evangelicals for a long time.  And, secondly, as you saw in that clip, he‘s been trying to make the case that he wants to reach across ideological lines. 

In the campaign—you know, it‘s funny—apparently, neither liberals, nor conservatives thought he actually meant it.  So, when he‘s actually been doing it, it‘s come as a surprise. 

MATTHEWS:  Would you class Rick Warren as a moderate evangelical? 

WALDMAN:  Politically, no, but, in two particular ways, yes. 

He has tried to get the evangelical community to care more about poverty, both here and in Africa, and he‘s cared more about global warming.  He‘s mostly very conservative in—in other directions, but, in general, he‘s tried to turn down the volume and tried to convince his—his brethren in the evangelical community to be less angry and less hostile, and be more about the faith and less about the politics. 

MATTHEWS:  Joe, thank you for joining us as well. 

Do you believe this is a hostile act by Barack Obama toward—well, I think—I think it‘s fair to say that probably an awful lot of gay people, millions of them perhaps, endorsed him, supported him at the polls, and financed, to some extent, his campaign.  Do you think this is a—a hostile act? 

JOE SOLMONESE, PRESIDENT, HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGN:  I don‘t think it‘s a hostile act, Chris.  I think it‘s a—an insensitive and a politically shortsighted act. 

I mean, I agree with a lot of what president-elect Obama said.  I think it defined his campaign and what I think his administration will be like.  And I admired him when he went to the Saddleback Church, when he engages people like Rick Warren in this sort of dialogue. 

I just think, at this moment, when we are going to be turning a page, and the eyes of the world will be watching us, from one of the most divisive administrations in modern history, to a unifying time, as Senator Obama has talked about, when the eyes of the world are on us in that moment, to have picked a man like Rick Warren to open that ceremony, someone who in the midst of the Proposition 8 fight likened the relationships of same-sex couples to incest, polygamy, to just a whole range of divisive rhetoric that he let unfold, I think is not hostile, but it‘s certainly insensitive and politically short-sided on the transition‘s and the inaugural committee‘s part. 

MATTHEWS:  Is it because of his open position supporting Prop 8 out in California, which basically outlawed same-sex marriage?  Is it because of that overt action, or is it because of his beliefs?  What is your concern here, or your opposition here? 

SOLMONESE:  It‘s not just because of his support for Proposition 8.  I mean, both President-Elect Obama and Pastor Warren do not support marriage.  But President-Elect Obama has said it‘s a matter for the states to decide.  He opposed the passage of Proposition 8.  Rick Warren supported the passage of Proposition 8.  It really, more than anything, was his rhetoric.  It was the language he used, the divisive words that he used, the incendiary arguments that he made, that say to me this is not somebody who is the right person to kick off such a symbolic moment of change in our country, as we‘re going to see in just a few weeks. 

MATTHEWS:  How is this going to come down, this—what is the point of view of the political center, if you will?  I mean, not everyone is going to be concerned about Rick Warren.  People who care about gay rights, and that doesn‘t just include gay people, would be concerned a bit.  But putting this in perspective, is this a Sister Soldier moment?  Is this where Barack Obama is showing his independence of a group that may have been very supportive of him?  Does it have any beneficial advantage here?  Is it all negative? 

WALDMAN:  I don‘t think that was the primary goal.  It may have that effect.  I think the primary goal is to put some teeth into the idea that he‘s reaching out to moderate religious people.  Remember, this cuts the other way as well.  There‘s a real concern in the conservative religious community, anger at Rick Warren for doing this.  They‘re saying now, you‘re taking Rick Warren‘s reputation and essentially sprinkling holy water on Barack Obama‘s presidency.  And it may have been part of Obama‘s calculation. 

MATTHEWS:  I have to say one thing in defense of Rick Warren.  He‘s not a Roman Catholic.  I don‘t think he believes in holy water.  I think we can agree on that one.  Gentlemen, thank you.  Joe, good luck with your concerns here.  I do share generally your concerns, obviously.  It‘s great to have you on.  Thank you very much, Steve Waldman.  Maybe this is a kumbaya moment of the most difficult kind.  We‘ll see. 

Up next, the politics fix.  What does Caroline Kennedy need to do to prove she really wants to be the next senator from New York?  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.  Time now for the politics fix.  We‘re joined by the “Washington Post‘s” Perry Bacon and Ron Brownstein of “Atlantic Media.”  We‘ve got to get to the passing of Paul Weyrich.  Let‘s do quickly the passing of Paul Weyrich.  A lot of people don‘t know how powerful this one man was. 

RON BROWNSTEIN, “ATLANTIC MEDIA”:  Paul Weyrich was a former Congressional aide, who was instrumental in building the modern conservative movement.  Saw what the left had built in the late ‘60s, the environmental groups, the native groups, Common Cause, went out, helped form the Heritage Foundation, the Free Congress Foundation and later the Moral Majority, really helped build the infrastructure of what someone later called the counter establishment of the right.  Many of the groups today that are so influential can trace their roots back to what Paul Weyrich did three decades ago. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll talk more about that tomorrow.  Here‘s some of what Caroline Kennedy told reporters today up in Harlem about why she wants to be a U.S. senator from New York. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Ms. Kennedy, why do you want to be senator? 

CAROLINE KENNEDY, DAUGHTER OF FMR. PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY:  You know, I come at this as a mother, as a lawyer, as an author, as an education advocate and from a family that really has spent generations in public service.  I feel this commitment.  This is a time when nobody can afford to sit down.  I hope I have something to offer, and I plan to work hard on the issues that affect New York, if I were to be chosen.  There are many qualified candidates in this race.  It‘s up to the governor. 

But this is a commitment I‘ve made over many years.  I‘d love to take the skills and relationships that I have to Washington to fight for the people of New York. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Does that have enough crackle to it, Perry Bacon, for a news helper?  Does that help the story along, a family committed to public service over the years?  Does that have enough starch in it, that commitment to running? 

PERRY BACON, “THE WASHINGTON POST”:  I think she gave a lot of reasons, in terms of being a mother, her family.  She gave a lot of reasons that candidates typically give, minus being a Kennedy, I guess.  Otherwise, gave a lot of reasons candidate typically give to run for office.  I don‘t think that was an insufficient answer. 

BROWNSTEIN:  She had one good line in there, though, I thought, that might be something that could play well as it goes on, which is this is not a time for anybody to sit out.  In other words, don‘t disqualify me because I am famous.  It is telling that in this modern era that the other major competitor for this seat right now is named Cuomo.  We are in a period where the name I.D. of coming from a famous family is valuable, monetarily valuable.  You are known by everybody.

In a state like New York, for an individual congressperson to run for this office, how much does it cost to become known across the state?  Caroline Kennedy, like Andrew Cuomo, like Evan Bayh, like many of these second-generation politicians, start with that name I.D.  It really is a very tangible advantage.  But you do have to answer the question of why this isn‘t just a legacy pick. 

MATTHEWS:  Does she have to have a gut passion, Perry, to be a credible candidate in this regard for appointment?  It seems to me you need the bug, as we call it in politics, to really go out there and spend a couple of years running.  Here is a person who can basically apply for the job and have probably a first in line chance to get it.  Why do we—I sense there‘s a lot of reporters out there looking for that passion and they‘re not seeing it yet. 

BACON:  I think that if—she can get appointed without the passion at all.  The question will be can she win in two years and can she win reelection, because she has never ran before and then you‘ll be able to see, does she enjoy going to town halls and things like that when she‘s running for reelection.  The test will be then.  For now, Bloomberg has talked very positively about her work in New York schools.  Right now, she has probably shown the passion needed to get appointed for a seat.  It‘s all about one person‘s vote, Paterson‘s, the governor‘s.  I think she has shown that kind of passion. 

MATTHEWS:  What about the issues?  It‘s like no one has even ventured in that direction; where do you spend on abortion rights, gun rights, stem cell, federal support for stem cell, the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, what should we do with Iran?  Where are you on card check?  She hasn‘t been hit with any of those question.

BROWNSTEIN:  It is very telling.  Again, it‘s reflective of a larger change in our politics.  In many ways, the main question we ask of Senate and House candidates today is which jersey are you going to wear?  Are you going to wear the D jersey or the R jersey?  If you are a senator from New York, a Democratic senator from New York, there are a certain set of expectations.  As you went through that list, I‘m assuming that both of us imagine we know the answer on virtually all of those questions. 

MATTHEWS:  If not, it‘s a big story. 

BROWNSTEIN:  Basically, that her main function now as a junior Democratic senator from New York would be to provide another vote for the Democratic majority, more than to set some individual course.  That is a mode of politics we‘ve been moving towards.  It‘s been harder for the Republicans to win in Democratic-leading states and Democrats to win in Republican.  Basically, the question voters asked above all, which jersey are you going to wear?  It may be enough. 

MATTHEWS:  Red or blue? 

Thank you, Perry Bacon.  Thank you, Ron Brownstein. 

Up next, one of Hollywood‘s real political story tellers, writer/director Rod Lurie on his new movie “Nothing But The Truth,” a thriller inspired by one of Washington‘s biggest scandals and a recent one, Scooter Libby, Judy Miller, Joe Wilson, Valerie Wilson.  All the characters are somewhat similar to the characters in this movie.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You went there on a fact finding mission to determine if this government was responsible for the assassination attempt on President Lyman.  You determined it was not, and you informed your bosses of this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This is the stupidest BS I have ever heard.  Wait, wait, wait.  Can you—how do I know that you‘re from the “Sun Times?” 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  The White House ignored your findings and launched an attack anyway, still claiming retribution for the assassination attempt.  I‘ve been on the national desk for five years.  I have a column every Tuesday on the editorial page. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  That was a clip from the new film “Nothing But The Truth,” a political drama about a reporter who goes to prison to protect a source.  The film stars Kate Beckinsale and Alan Alda.  Rod Lurie wrote and directed “Nothing But the Truth.”  In the interest of full disclosure, Mr. Lurie is in the process of writing and directing a movie based on my book, “Kennedy and Nixon.”   

Rod, thank you for joining us.  This is a tricky bit of business right now.  Journalists are not beloved right now.  Yet, the hero of you film—it‘s a good film, a very good film.  You‘ve got a reporter, played by Kate Beckinsale, who stood up to incredible pressure, a year in prison, took the heat of society against her, for not disclosing her source in a case that really was in the national interest, which she was reporting.  Yet, she didn‘t get the heroic treatment you would expect. 

ROD LURIE, “NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH”:  That really is the state of journalism today.  We say at one point in the film that journalists used to be the white knight, but now they‘re viewed as the dragon.  I think a lot of it has to do with the corporate ownership of newspapers and television stations and networks, and the direction that a lot of the news has taken.  But we are going back to the days of Woodward and Bernstein and Hirsch, where journalists—and I with his one of them for a long time.  They really were heroes.  When done right, journalism is a very noble profession.  Right? 

MATTHEWS:  In this case, she defends her source.  It‘s quite a Hitchcock twist at the end.  Everybody should be prepared for at the end.  I‘m not going to give it away, obviously. 

LURIE:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  This idea that a reporter really owes it to the source.  This was tested in the Judy Miller case.  What was tricky in that case was a lot of people thought Judy Miller sympathized with the political point of view of those people who had leaked to her.  There she is there.  She‘s a friend of mine, actually.  Her point of view was part of the story.  In your movie, the reporter is not sympathetic to the people—she‘s sympathetic to the person she got the story from, but not sympathetic to the politics involved, the neo-conservative or right-wing politics involved. 

LURIE:  Right, I think what she‘s really sympathetic to is the First Amendment.  More than sticking up for a source, she‘s sticking up for the notion that the government shouldn‘t have a right to willy nilly throw reporters in jail if they won‘t give up a source, because once they start ratting out their sources, that‘s it for whistle blowers and for anybody that wants to come forward and give information that could be—as I‘m sure you have experienced many times, Chris—you probably have had many people probably give you stuff not off the record, but not for attribution.  You probably would never give them up.  The minute you start doing that, those sources dry up for you and for all journalists.  Right? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, and I think the interesting story about this was that when she gets the story from somebody, it‘s not clear.  It was one of those things where you say this is off the record or this is not for attribution to anyone but a general source.  But she did feel responsible to her source, and to keeping it private in a very serious way.

LURIE:  That‘s what the ending is all about, obviously.  The ending is a thing that obviously people leave a movie talking about and the reason why they want to see the movie a second time.  We liked them to go see it a third time, actually.  But, you know, everything you saying is absolutely correct.  In the end, I would say this really is a thriller that is nurtured by current events. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think we ought to have a—do you think we ought to have a shield law?  Do you think we should have a shield law that protects reporters legally, so they can break a story that really is a tough story, like a Pentagon Paper story or something that nobody in the government wants printed?  They print it.  The government is out to nail that leak and this reporter, whoever this ideal person may be, says, no way am I giving them away.  Is that a person that should be protected by the law, do you think? 

LURIE:  I think they absolutely should be protected by the law.  If

they‘re not, then the very people we‘re trying to cover and the very people

I say we, because I used to be a journalists.  The very people that journalists are writing about then have power over them to find out who their sources are, and that is simply too much power to give to any one person or to any one organization.  The press has always been checks and balances over the other three branches of government. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Rod Lurie.  The film is called “Nothing But The Truth.”  It is coming out soon.  It‘s a heck of a movie.  Right now it‘s time for “1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE” with David Shuster.

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