updated 3/6/2009 10:34:46 AM ET 2009-03-06T15:34:46

Guest: Steve McMahon, Todd Harris, Bud Cummins, Michael Isikoff, Will Saletan, Ken Blackwell, Mike Isikoff, Karen Tumulty, Howard Fineman


Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Leading off tonight, just answer the question.  Was this whole Rush Limbaugh jamboree a concoction of the Obama White House?  Did Paul Begala and Carville get Rahm Emanuel to gig the radio man?  Did the smart guys deliberately gin up a battle with Rush Limbaugh?  And was this a brilliant use of the invisible hand, a disastrous detour into the world of the deranged, or is it too early to put a verdict on this rhubarb of the grapefruit season?  Just answer the question.  Please. 

Here‘s Paul Begala, trying to not answer that question when asked it

by his colleague, Anderson Cooper. 


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR:  But clearly, clearly, if you‘re talking to Rahm Emanuel every day on the phone, and this light bulb has gone off in your head and James Carville‘s head, I find it hard to believe you didn‘t say to Rahm Emanuel, “Guess what?  Look at these poll numbers.” 

PAUL BEGALA, :  I don‘t know.  I don‘t keep careful notes of these things.  I keep private conversations private, Anderson.



MATTHEWS:  Whoa.  “I keep private conversations private, Anderson.” 

So let‘s get to the bottom of this.  This week‘s Rush versus the White House battle may seem like a case of spontaneous combustion, but in fact, it‘s been months in the making.  Tonight, HARDBALL will look back round by round at this partisan donnybrook, and our HARDBALL strategists will score the rounds for you. 

Yes, Bush‘s brain and Bush‘s lawyer, Karl Rove and Harriet Miers, will now testify under penalty of perjury before the U.S. Congress about the firing of those U.S. attorneys.  So now that Rove and Miers cannot protected behind executive privilege, will this set a precedent for blasting them out into the open, out where they can be examined and be, to use a political term, “middled”?  Placed in the uncomfortable middle position between two loyalties, in this case, forced to choose between loyalty and the truth?  The whole truth.  And nothing but the truth, which as my friend Jay Leno says some politicians believe are three different things. 

Also, President Obama wants to end the culture wars.  William Saletan of Slate recently wrote that the president can do it.  But first, he‘ll have to tell both conservatives and liberals truths they don‘t want to hear, especially about the most explosive cultural issue of our time: abortion.  Can President Obama do it?  Will he?

And President Obama said today if we want to fix the economy, we‘ve got to deal with health care.  But can he get enough Republicans to face the same—or will he face the same resistance that stopped Bill Clinton? 

Late this afternoon, he got a big emotional boost from the man who‘s fought for decades on the behalf of affordable health, Senator Kennedy. 


SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS:  I‘m looking forward to being a foot soldier in this undertaking, and this time we will not fail.  Thank you very much. 


MATTHEWS:  More on Ted Kennedy and health care in the “Politics Fix” tonight. 

And finally, I‘m going to give a big HARDBALL award tonight.  I realize that making the award, nothing we can say about his moxie, which is what we‘re admiring, can match the grandeur with which he has adorned already himself. 

But first, as promised, our strategists are here to score the White House fight between Rush Limbaugh and his enemies, all Democrats.  We‘ve got Democrat Steve McMahon here and Republican Todd Harris.  Gentlemen, are you ready to score this?



MATTHEWS:  In October, a poll by Stan Greenberg and James Carville.  It found that less than half of Republicans, about 40-some percent, and only about a fifth of all voters like Rush Limbaugh.  Was that a smart, decided beginning to this whole fight?  Was this good for Obama or for the president to begin this fight?

MCMAHON:  I think—actually, I think in some ways it was good for both.  I mean, remember, they have different objectives.  The president wants to align himself with middle-of-the-road voters who don‘t like Rush.  Rush wants to drive his ratings.  And some...

MATTHEWS:  But to find out that Rush Limbaugh is unpopular and to publicize that, was that smart?

MCMAHON:  In a relative manner, yes it was. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that smart for the White House to put out the word, Rush Limbaugh‘s not liked?

MCMAHON:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Let‘s take a look at this.  Right before inaugural day, Rush Limbaugh declared, “I hope he fails.”  Was that smart?

HARRIS:  I think it is a good move for Limbaugh, absolutely.  As Steve said, you know, they have different audiences here, and Limbaugh‘s audience, he represents the base of the Republican Party and the base of the Republican Party is vehemently against these Obama policies, and they don‘t want them to succeed.  And Rush has established himself as the leading voice. 

MATTHEWS:  Calling for the brand-new president to die in his crib, basically, infanticide of a new president, was that good for the Republicans?

MCMAHON:  That was good for President Obama.  At the same time he was doing that, 81 percent of Americans were optimistic about the future under President Obama.  That‘s a loss for Rush Limbaugh. 

MATTHEWS:  Rush Limbaugh.  Let‘s take a look at this: in his meeting with Republican leaders, however, in January, late January, on the 23rd of January, to be precise, President Obama told them, quote, “You can‘t just listen to Rush Limbaugh and get things done.”  So was he smart to tag Rush Limbaugh as his No. 1 opponent?

HARRIS:  This was a rookie mistake by the president, someone who was more accustomed to being a United States senator than president of the United States.  If he wants to communicate something like that, that‘s what Robert Gibbs has a podium for. 

MATTHEWS:  You agree?  Big mistake?

MCMAHON:  I don‘t think it was...

MATTHEWS:  Can he bring him up?

MCMAHON:  I think he brought him up by suggesting more Republicans listen to him than actually do. 

MATTHEWS:  As the great Pat Buchanan, and as he learned at the knee of Richard Nixon, never fight down.  Fight up.

MCMAHON:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, last Saturday, Rush stole the show at CPAC.  Let‘s listen to the big man as he rolls in thunder. 


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  President Obama has the ability

he has the ability to inspire excellence in peoples‘ pursuits.  He has the ability to do all this, yet he pursues a path, seeks a path that punishes achievement, that punishes earners, that punishes, and he speaks negatively of the—of the country.  Ronald Reagan used to speak of a shining city on a hill.  Barack Obama portrays America as a soup kitchen and some dark night in a corner of America that‘s very obscure. 


MATTHEWS:  Was he smart to talk like that?

HARRIS:  Look, the fact that the CPAC conference every year is like the playground for presidential wannabes, and a week later, we‘re talking about the Limbaugh speech.  So it‘s very hard to score this and say that Rush didn‘t come out of that speech exactly where Rush wanted to be. 

MATTHEWS:  Dominated the weekend. 

MCMAHON:  First of all, he‘s dressed in all black like a mortician. 

HARRIS:  A Johnny Cash thing going on. 

MCMAHON:  The news that comes out of the conference...

MATTHEWS:  You‘re against his clothing attire?

MCMAHON:  It‘s not—it‘s not the wonderful ideas and the great presidential candidates the Republicans have.  It‘s Rush Limbaugh dressed in black. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  You say it was a mistake for him to put on that show, but the very next day, on Sunday, Rahm Emanuel on CBS on “Face the Nation” said this to Bob Schieffer. 


BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS:  Who do you think now speaks for the Republican Party?

RAHM EMANUEL, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF:  You just named him.  It was Rush Limbaugh.  I mean, he has laid out his vision, in my view, and he said it clearly.  And I compliment him for that.  He‘s been very up front.  I compliment him for that.  He‘s not hiding. 


MATTHEWS:  We‘re going to get that to where Rahm got that idea.  Did he get it on his own or did he get it by watching this little tussle between Begala and Carville, going after Obama [SIC], or did he come up with it on his own or what?  What do you make of that, purposely again tagging a radio guy as the No. 1 leader of the opposition.  Was that a smart move?  Was that good for the White House?

MCMAHON:  Yes.  And where he got that...

MATTHEWS:  You agree that was smart for them?

HARRIS:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  It‘s interesting when you guys agree. 

So let‘s get to this last one here.  Here is, as I called it yesterday, the preposterous level of pomposity.  Our radio guy challenging the president, getting in his private airplane, which he‘s offering up, and flying down to his radio booth in Palm Beach and actually debate him.  And only ditto heads believe this is on the level, I think.  Not all of them.  But here he is.  Is this smart?  Let‘s watch. 


LIMBAUGH:  If these guys are so impressed with themselves, and if they are so sure of their correctness, why doesn‘t President Obama come on my show?


MATTHEWS:  Hah!  Was that smart?  Who won on that one?

MCMAHON:  Do you remember Zell Miller challenging...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, yes, I think it helped.  Whoever has been showing it like I have for ten years. 

MCMAHON:  Zell Miller challenging the—challenging him to a duel. 

It‘s utterly ridiculous.  The president won.  He looked foolish. 

HARRIS:  Look, it‘s silly, but it gets people paying attention to Rush Limbaugh when he does things like this. 

But we have to draw a distinction here.  Rush Limbaugh is not the Republican Party. 

MATTHEWS:  He‘s not?


MATTHEWS:  Obama‘s wrong?

HARRIS:  He‘s not the Republican Party. 

MATTHEWS:  Does he know that?  He said that, I guess. 

HARRIS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s the tally, guys.  I‘ve got to come to the tally here.  McMahon—Steve McMahon, Democrat, has got 5 to 1 for Obama.  No big surprise.  The ratio is interesting.  And you‘re much more measured. 

You give it to Limbaugh. 

Now what do you make of the intramurals in our own business?  At least it‘s my business, media, television, political punditry, bloviating, whatever you want to call it.  The other night, we showed that clip of Cooper, Anderson Cooper being very tough on his colleague.  “Did you or did you not give this advice to the White House?  Did you, Paula, this smart, good guy, did you bring the idea of going after Rush Limbaugh to your close friend, Rahm Emanuel?”  And he wouldn‘t answer the question.  Why wouldn‘t he answer the question?  That‘s the obvious question. 

HARRIS:  Very simple question.  Because...

MATTHEWS:  I knew the answer. 

HARRIS:  We know what the answer is. 

MATTHEWS:  Because then the president of the United States has to admit he‘s working with these two guys?  And every time they say something, he‘s got to take responsibility for them. 

HARRIS:  It starts getting even an added layer of intrigue when you add the fact that George Stephanopoulos also was involved in these morning calls.  Now I will say that I think George is very fair on his show, but a lot of conservatives are very—how about that?

MATTHEWS:  You got that in.  Anybody else you want to take down?  Is this a shooting gallery here you come on?  Anybody—any other—let‘s take a clip.  Here‘s a clip.  We love clips. 


COOPER:  But clearly, but clearly you‘re—talking if you‘re talking to Rahm Emanuel every day on the phone and this light bulb has gone off in your head and James Carville‘s head.  I find it hard to believe you didn‘t say to Rahm Emanuel, “Guess what?  Look at these poll numbers.” 

BEGALA:  I don‘t know.  I don‘t keep careful notes of these things.  I keep private conversations private, Anderson.



MATTHEWS:  Begala waffling like mad there.  Here we go.  Here‘s the defender.  For the defense. 

MCMAHON:  For the defense, first of all, he‘s a friend of Rahm Emanuel‘s.  Has been for a long time.  Why would he reveal on national television what he‘s telling him?

MATTHEWS:  Because he‘s...

HARRIS:  Just answer the question. 

MATTHEWS:  Just answer the question.  Yes.  Let me give you my (UNINTELLIGIBLE) imitation.  Just answer the question please.  Give me the answer. 

MCMAHON:  But whether or not it was his idea or Rahm‘s idea is something that we‘ll never know. 

HARRIS:  When we‘re off the air, it will be a private conversation. 

MATTHEWS:  But it‘s not a—look.  We have a—we‘re going to have a discussion later in the show about executive privilege and Karl Rove and Harriet Miers, executive privilege.  Do you get executive privilege if you call somebody at the White House?

MCMAHON:  He‘s not under oath.  He‘s not being subpoenaed.  If he were...

MATTHEWS:  Would he be proud to give advice to the president of the United States?

MCMAHON:  I think he is proud of giving advice... 


HARRIS:  He gets it both ways here.  Because he doesn‘t admit it, yet everyone watches that and knows where it came from. 

MATTHEWS:  I just think it‘s interesting when the president of the United States—this will go down as a small item in the history of this administration, small item, that early on in his administration they decide to pick a fight with a radio talk show host who is a minority in terms of public opinion.  Most people don‘t like him. 

Those who do love him.  Traveling sales people have to listen to him all day.  They want to listen to him.  He‘s enormously influential with a group of people.  What percent do you think?

MCMAHON:  Fifteen percent. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  A lot.  Right?

HARRIS:  A lot. 

MATTHEWS:  So why did the president do it?  And was it smart?  Bottom line from both of you.  Why did the president do it?

MCMAHON:  Because more people dislike him than like him.  And Rush Limbaugh doesn‘t represent the middle of the road or people who win elections.  He represents...

MATTHEWS:  Here he is today.  Here he is today.  Before you go in here, Todd, here‘s the—because I have a theory that the middle, if this economy keeps tanking, will move over and become much more capitalist and angry about what‘s going on.  Here‘s Rush. 


LIMBAUGH:  Barack Obama believes in policies that will return the nation‘s wealth to its, quote unquote, rightful owners.  What does that mean?

I believe that Barack Obama has grown up thinking the old canard and believing the old canard that the wealthy, that the upper middle class, the rich have all gotten that way by unfairly taking more than their share of the economic pie.  They have either stolen it, or they have screwed little people to get it, or they have done something that is not legal.  They have done something that‘s unethical.  That nobody should have as much money as some of these people do except if they‘re Democrats, of course. 


MATTHEWS:  It‘s a wonderful calculation.  Are people mad at the rich right now because they think they screwed the economy?  Do they hold the rot at the top responsible or the poor people responsible?

Rush‘s counting on the fact that people blame poor people and they‘re not angry at the top people.  I think he‘s wrong this time.  He may not be wrong generally.  Right now, the rot at the top is driving people crazy.  The Bernie Madoffs, the Twains.  All these guys we‘re learning about on Wall Street with the bonuses and all the crap they‘re getting, and they screwed the American economy royally.  And they‘re the bad guys.  I think Rush has got the wrong heroes here.  Do you agree? 

HARRIS:  Well...

MATTHEWS:  Do you agree?  Answer the question. 

HARRIS:  I don‘t think that‘s what Rush is saying. 

MATTHEWS:  It is what he just said.

HARRIS:  He‘s talking about the pursuit of the American dream, the pursuit...

MATTHEWS:  It‘s theory. 

HARRIS:  The pursuit of wealth. 


HARRIS:  Hold on, man.  I want—I want to answer the question you asked Steve before, why Obama is doing this.  No. 1, because...

MCMAHON:  Not to change the subject. 

HARRIS:  No, no. 

MATTHEWS:  You believe the American people are more mad at poor people now or rich people?

HARRIS:  No, of course.  They‘re mad at executives and their excesses. 


HARRIS:  That doesn‘t mean that there‘s suddenly a desire to accumulate wealth in this country has gone away. 

MATTHEWS:  Is there a sense the people at the top got there unfairly, and they‘ve proven it in the failure to lead the economy successfully?

HARRIS:  Got there unfairly, no?  No. 

MATTHEWS:  That the bonuses they‘re getting and all the money they‘re getting is unfairly gotten?

HARRIS:  That‘s a different—that is a different issue.  Getting to become wealthy, the drive to become wealthy in this country is a strong...

MATTHEWS:  Well, what we‘re determining now and looking at these numbers is people every night, these people at Merrill lynch getting higher salaries, higher bonuses in the worst of this.  It‘s driving people crazy. 

HARRIS:  I agree.  I agree. 

MCMAHON:  Here‘s what I think happened.  I don‘t think people begrudge them their success, but they became gluttons at the table of success, and they took money they weren‘t entitled to.  They took money for doing things they shouldn‘t have been doing. 

And I agree with you, Chris.  I think you‘re absolutely right.  He‘s picked the wrong villains. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think he‘s wrong to try to run for king of the pigs? 

No, really.  Is this the time to defend the pigs?

HARRIS:  I don‘t think he was defending the Bernie Madoffs of the world.  He‘s not defending...

MATTHEWS:  Who‘s he defending that‘s being attacked unfairly?  Who‘s being unfairly—who‘s being attacked unfairly right now, really?

HARRIS:  American...

MATTHEWS:  Anybody. 

HARRIS:  I would say American taxpayers.  People who...

MATTHEWS:  Paying tax is not a punishment.  It‘s a responsibility. 

And let‘s face it, nobody‘s getting punished for making too much money. 

Somebody‘s got to...

HARRIS:  I would say paying—paying half your income to the federal government to watch them waste their money and squander their money...

MATTHEWS:  That‘s an argument?

HARRIS:  ... that is a punishment. 

MATTHEWS:  ... responsible.

HARRIS:  Finally, to answer the question that you asked Steve, why is the Obama White House doing this?  Because all of the attention that is being paid to Rush Limbaugh right now and the silly little fight between Obama and Limbaugh, meanwhile, a budget filled with pork and earmarks galore is gliding its way through the process.  And people are...

MATTHEWS:  Well, you heard me last night.

HARRIS:  I know.  I know.  People are not paying the amount of attention. 


MATTHEWS:  All right.  Because I think this fight is something of a distraction but I think it teaches us something.  Depending on how bad things get, and they got really bad again today.  I‘m watching that market like everybody.  It‘s getting really scary.  I don‘t even want to look.  I think it does any good just to look at it, because it‘s really bad.  And maybe we need a little distraction.  But this has been horrific.  And the question is, who you blame, is going to be the issue. 

MCMAHON:  I think people blame Wall Street.  They blame bankers.  They blame the former president. 

MATTHEWS:  The deregulation regime of the last 10 or 15 years, of letting the guys do what they want to do.  Look what they‘ve done. 

Steve McMahon, Todd Harris, thank you.  Serious conversation here. 

Coming up, Karl Rove and former White House counsel Harriet Miers will now testify before Congress, and they will be subject to perjury charges if they get caught not telling the truth.  The topic on the table, to start with, the firing of those U.S. attorneys, but you can count on more topics coming on the table, now that this pair is available for examination. 

But will their testimony lay the groundwork?  That‘s the question. 

More questions to come.  We‘ll be right back with that topic. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Karl Rove, the brains behind former President Bush, if you will.  And Harriet Miers, the former Bush aide and lawyer, will now testify before the U.S. Congress about the firing of those federal prosecutors back in the Bush era.  So now that Rove and Miers are no longer protected by executive privilege claims, will this pave the way for further insight into the Bush administration? 

Mike Isikoff is an investigative correspondent for “Newsweek” and an MSNBC contributor.  And Bud Cummins was one of those U.S. attorneys who got sacked. 

Bud, I want to bring this up to you, because you‘re close at heart to this.  The fact that you‘re now going to get some kind of testimony, and it is going to be subject to perjury charges from Karl Rove and from Harriet Miers, what are we going to learn here or what should we be able to learn if they get tough questions?

BUD CUMMINS, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY:  Well, I don‘t know what they know, Chris, but I—I predict that you are going to be a little bit disappointed, that it‘s not going to be too dramatic. 

I think they‘re going to be testifying about some fairly pedestrian matters about how discussions came about to—that—to suggest firing U.S. attorneys and what they were seeing from their side of the equation.  I—I believe these are not stupid people.

MATTHEWS:  I think you are being too modest here.

Let me ask you about Timothy Griffin, who replaced you briefly.  He was a political crony, or associate, if you will, of Karl Rove‘s.  Do you believe they will never have evidence—they will not be able to testify; this fellow we‘re looking at right now isn‘t going to tell us that he squeezed you out to squeeze in his buddy?

CUMMINS:  I think there‘s going to be...

MATTHEWS:  We‘re not going to get that on the record, not that it‘s illegal, but aren‘t we going to get that little sugarplum?

CUMMINS:  I think that we‘re going to see a little bit more about how those discussions went behind the scenes and—and things that Tim told him or—or he said to Tim that—that led to the discussion to ask me to move, sure. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, why won‘t we hear about the decision to fire you? 

CUMMINS:  Well, I think that that‘s all balled up in one—one discussion. 

I mean, I had to go for him to get the job.  He wanted the job.  He worked for Karl Rove.  He had worked for Karl Rove for a long time.  You know, I don‘t really take issue with the fact that Karl Rove wanted to help Tim.

And I‘m not sure how much this really could have been on Karl Rove‘s radar screen.  It is really not—at the time they made the decision, was not that big a deal.  I think, if he thought that they were stepping off into dangerous ground, he would have expected somebody at Justice to push back and say, wait a minute, this is not going to work right this way.

And that didn‘t happen.  I have always thought the real failures were with Kyle Sampson and later with Alberto Gonzales, when they failed to fix it. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, who was carrying—who was carrying the president‘s water in terms of dumping the prosecutors that were troublesome who were going after the wrong people or not going to after the people they wanted to tag in terms of prosecution?  Who was doing the president‘s bidding here, making this happen, firing people, putting in the right people?

CUMMINS:  I think it is pretty clear...

MATTHEWS:  Who would you like to get under oath? 

CUMMINS:  I think it is pretty clear, at the White House, between Harriet Miers and Karl Rove and Sara Taylor and some others, that they were receiving information from Missouri and from Washington and—and from New Mexico and other places that maybe that there was a problem with the U.S.  attorneys, political problems. 

They‘re political people.  And a lot of them aren‘t even lawyers.  So, I don‘t necessarily have a problem with them calling over to justice and saying, hey, can we get rid of this guy?

But somebody at Justice, who had accepted the responsibility for preserving the integrity of Justice, should have pushed back and said, wait a minute, that‘s going to open a whole can of worms. 

That didn‘t happen. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, here‘s something that Karl Rove said on FOX the other day.

“I understand that Miers and Josh Bolten may be the hors d‘oeuvres, but the main course is me.  Some Democrats would love to have me barbecued.”

Michael, Michael Isikoff, it sounds to me like he thinks he is ready to be served up to John Conyers of the Judiciary Committee, and they‘re going to feast on this guy, and they‘re going to ask him tough—I think Tim—I mean, I think, Bud, you are missing some of the point here.  I know you‘re a party to this and you lost your job. 

CUMMINS:  That‘s entirely possible. 


MATTHEWS:  But I think you are missing the politics. 

We have been watching Karl Rove in this town maybe sharper—more sharply than you have.  Karl Rove is sitting next to President Bush on every political call. 

Go ahead.


Also, Chris, it is worth pointing out that the evidence we have so far

shows that Rove was rather significantly involved in all this.  In a way,

he was the catalyst.  The first mention of firing U.S. attorneys in the

documents that have already come out is January 5, 2005, e-mail in which

it‘s mentioned that Karl Rove stopped by Harriet Miers‘ office and wanted

to know whether all the U.S. attorneys were going to fired or some were

going to be fired.  How was the U.S. attorneys going to be—issue going

to be handled/

That‘s the first mention of getting rid of the U.S. attorneys.

MATTHEWS:  In fact, let me read the e-mail right now. 


MATTHEWS:  “Karl Rove stopped by to ask you how we planned to proceed regarding U.S. attorneys, whether we were going to allow all to stay, request resignations for all, and accept only some of them, or selectively replace them, et cetera.”

ISIKOFF:  And, by the way, what—what congressional investigators, the ones who are going to be questioning him about this, are going to be focused on is, what‘s significant about the timing about that discussion of firing all U.S. attorneys?

It‘s about two months after Rove himself has been subpoenaed to testify for the third time...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

ISIKOFF:  ... before a federal grand jury by one of the U.S.  attorneys, Patrick Fitzgerald.

And he discovers for the first time that he is in trouble because of his conversations with Matt Cooper, which he had been previously denied having.  This was in the CIA leak case.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

ISIKOFF:  So, at the time that Rove is talking about firing all of the U.S. attorneys, he knows he is in potential jeopardy from one of those U.S.  attorneys.

So, one of the theories of congressional investigators all along has been, did Rove—the whole U.S. attorney purge begin as a way to cover—cover the fact that Rove and others at the White House wanted to get rid of Patrick Fitzgerald?  That eventually became too hot to do.  But that was the timing.

MATTHEWS:  So, he wanted to get rid of the guy coming after him. 


MATTHEWS:  Isn‘t that illegal? 

ISIKOFF:  At the time that e-mail was written, that—it was certainly higher on Karl Rove‘s radar screen. 

MATTHEWS:  This is where I challenge—changing you, Bud. 

MATTHEWS:  I think there‘s at least a reason to investigate whether Karl Rove was trying to obstruct...

ISIKOFF:  ... that—that there was a U.S. attorney targeting Rove. 

MATTHEWS:  ... by getting rid of the guy coming after him. 



MATTHEWS:  You are an attorney, Bud.  If you are trying to get a guy fired who you believe—or know to believe—is prosecuting, and you‘re using your political muscle to dump him, is that obstruction? 

CUMMINS:  Well, it might be, but, Chris, you‘re—you‘re making assumptions here. 

Number one, you may or may not be a fan of Karl Rove, but I don‘t think anybody think he‘s stupid. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m just asking the question.

CUMMINS:  And if that is what he was thinking, that would have been stupid. 

He created a huge appearance of impropriety by raising the question.  But I think it‘s just as likely or more likely—and what we will hear in this testimony is that he was responding to inquiries of by Tim Griffin or others that worked for him, am I going to have a chance to be a U.S.  attorney? 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CUMMINS:  And he was just following up on that. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

CUMMINS:  I think it is going to be as simple as that. 


ISIKOFF:  It could well—I mean, Bud could be right.  You know, we are going to find out...

MATTHEWS:  You know...

ISIKOFF:  ... because, for the first time, I think what‘s significant is not what Rove is going to testify in the—in these closed-door depositions, by the way.  It‘s going to be, what‘s in the documents that have been sitting in Gregory Craig‘s office in the White House...


ISIKOFF:  ... left over from the Bush—from the Bush White House. 

MATTHEWS:  You mean they left behind some paper? 

ISIKOFF:  They left behind five boxes of documents that have been sitting there.  That‘s what this fight is going to be.


MATTHEWS:  The trouble with all these investigations is...

ISIKOFF:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  And, Bud, I agree only with this.  The problem with this and the problem with a lot of these are dry holes—dry wells—because the best conversations are the ones we will never get privy to. 

ISIKOFF:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  ... the conversations involving the president, Karl Rove, Cheney, Scooter Libby. 

ISIKOFF:  That‘s why the documents are key.

MATTHEWS:  When they sat in those rooms with nobody listening and no bugging devices, God knows what happened.


MATTHEWS:  And you could only assume deep politics. 

Anyway, thank you, Mike Isikoff. 

Thank you, Bud Cummins.

CUMMINS:  My pleasure.

MATTHEWS:  Coming up next:  The HARDBALL Award will go to the man who has just dominated the debate with the White House these last few weeks, a very big shot, in every sense of the word. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  


MATTHEWS:  Tonight, as promised, we‘re giving out a HARDBALL Award. 

As in the past, the standard is not goodness or badness, nor is it permanent.  We have seen already how an awardee can show the moxie in one situation, but soon lose his or her touch. 

That said, one American has filled the political stage this week as have few others.  He took a modest mention of his name by the president, and spun it into media gold.  Not since the golden calf of the Bible and Cecil B. DeMille has there been such a frenzy of wild self-debasing adoration. 


CHARLTON HESTON, ACTOR:  And the people had sinned a great sin, for they had made them a god of gold.  And they brought him upon their shoulders and rejoiced, saying, “This be our god.”



MATTHEWS:  To Rush Limbaugh, the HARDBALL Award. 

We know, when making this award, that our humble offering is small, when compared with the writhing self-approval it competes—there it is—as I said, this is not about good or bad, believe me, as this week‘s awardee proves so well. 

The HARDBALL Award is completely and deservedly amoral. 

Up next: the culture wars.  Where will the battle lines be drawn in the red-hot debates abortion and gay marriage, Prop 8 in particular? 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  


SHARON EPPERSON, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Sharon Epperson with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

The markets finished the day at 12-year lows.  The Dow lost 281 points, falling below 6600.  The S&P 500 fell 30.  The Nasdaq declined 54. 

Citibank led the decline, falling almost 10 percent, to dip below $1 a share, this on a week when Citigroup received no new capital, after three government bailouts attempts in the past six months. 

Meanwhile, General Motors shares plunged today after an auditor raised

quote—“substantial doubt” about the company‘s future.  They say GM may have to seek bankruptcy protection if they can‘t carry through on a massive restructuring plan. 

The Labor Department reports a surprising decline in the number of newly laid-off workers last week.  This news comes ahead of tomorrow‘s monthly jobless report.

The nation‘s largest retailers performing better than expected today.  Wal-Mart was one of the only two gainers on the Dow, with sales climbing more than 5 percent.  And Target reported a smaller-than-expected month-to-month decline. 

That‘s it from CNBC, first in business worldwide—now back to


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

President Obama wants to put an end to the culture wars, he suggests.  And William Saletan—Will Saletan of “Slate” says, in order to do that, the president must get both conservatives and liberals to face certain truths about hot-button issues, starting with abortion, and getting on to gay marriage.

But are conservatives and liberals willing to face the music to get together?  And can President Obama actually bridge the divide he promised to? 

Let‘s bring in “Slate,” their national correspondent, William Saletan, and Ken Blackwell.

Buddy, thanks for joining us, Ken. 


Good to be with you.

MATTHEWS:  He‘s chairman of the Coalition for a Conservative Majority.

He‘s a senior fellow of the Family Research Council.  He‘s a conservative.

How would you describe yourself? 


MATTHEWS:  OK, moderate.  I will live with that, until we find out further information here.


MATTHEWS:  I rarely read a column, Ken—and this includes right-wing, left-wing, middle-of-the-road—that—that moves me and makes me think. 

You wrote a column which suggested—and I want you to put it in your words—take a minute—how we can possibly find some common ground on the goal I think we all share of dramatically reducing the number of people who choose abortions in this country, in other words, who choose it, who have abortions because they choose to have them, from whatever circumstance they‘re confronted with. 

What‘s your answer?  How do we reduce it dramatically, given the law, the way it is? 

SALETAN:  Well, the idea is, we want to a pro-life end, which is a reduction in the number of abortions in this country, by pro-choice means.

And you do that by focusing on contraception, but not just sort of the liberal way of talking about contraception, handing out birth control.  Birth control is a practice.  It requires moral responsibility.  It requires people making the right choices, the kind of thing that conservatives talk about. 

So, we want to teach kids, we want to teach everybody to make responsible choices.  And that is, to—when you have sex, and you are not prepared to become a...

MATTHEWS:  If you have it. 

SALETAN:  If you have sex.

If you are not prepared to become a parent, and you do not want to have an abortion—and we do want to discourage abortions—then, you need to take responsible precautions.  That means using birth control reliable bring. 

Availability of birth control is not enough.  People have to make the right decision.  And, so, we want to teach people that and promote that through sex education in whatever way we can do that, through schools, parents, churches, clinics, whatever works. 

MATTHEWS:  Under the argument that, no matter what your religious belief, birth control is far the lesser evil? 

SALETAN:  Yes, absolutely. 


MATTHEWS:  Far the lesser evil. 

Ken Blackwell, your thoughts...

BLACKWELL:  Well, I...

MATTHEWS:  ... about this attempt to try to find a way to reduce dramatically the million-plus abortions we have in this country.  Who knows the exact numbers? 

BLACKWELL:  Well, I think that it‘s—that it‘s important that we continue to walk down that path to ending abortion, because abortion takes an innocent life.

But I really think...


MATTHEWS:  Right.  We got that.  That‘s what we‘re talking about. 

BLACKWELL:  Well, I think it‘s—I think it‘s—I think it‘s fascinating that we sometimes say, look, we want to teach people, culturally, that what differentiates us from a lot of other species is the human will. 

So, we tell young people, look, we don‘t think you can control yourself.  Therefore, use a contraceptive. 

How is that enforcing the human will?  That‘s—that‘s the issue that I think we have to continue to discuss. 

Chris, you have framed this as a cultural war.  There are those of us who have been engaged in this—in this struggle for 30, 40, 45 years.  And we don‘t see ourselves as bomb-throwers.  We see ourselves as reasonable people...

MATTHEWS:  I know.

BLACKWELL:  ... who advocate the protection—the protection of life.  So, we will engage in this—in this conversation, but we are not going to put one hand behind our back.

MATTHEWS:  Well, look, I respect both sides in terms of your right to have these positions.  This is an American debate that goes on. 

Right now, we have a law.  The Supreme Court recognized the right to

choose an abortion, to have an abortion in very late term.  And, depending

on the circumstances and the amount of regulation that goes on, it becomes

it is easier to have an abortion early in term.

But the problem we have is that we have a lot of abortions, a lot of them, in cases where...

BLACKWELL:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  ... it‘s simply a matter of the person having sex, and not doing anything to prevent getting a pregnancy that they have no intention of taking to term.

What do we do about those people who have sex and have no intention of taking the baby to term? 


MATTHEWS:  I‘m just asking you, do you see a middle ground here?  And, if you don‘t, just tell me, because then I will find somebody else who does, because I think there‘s got to be some way to begin this discussion. 


MATTHEWS:  Fine.  If you don‘t agree with it—if you think it‘s an absolute issue—because your side is not winning this argument. 

BLACKWELL:  Chris—Chris, as a matter of, we are winning this argument.  Medical technology and other advancements have in fact shown that human life begins at conception, whether it‘s brain wave, fingerprint, you name it.  We are winning this debate.  We have changed the nature of the discussion. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s why you want to reduce the number of abortions. 

That‘s why you want to reduce the number of abortions. 

BLACKWELL:  Chris, we want to reduce the number of abortions.  But the ultimate goal that we want to end abortions as a practice in this country. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s going to work, right.  That‘s really not going to work, but go ahead. 


MATTHEWS:  It doesn‘t work. 


SALETAN:  What the historical evidence shows is, first of all, on the question of will—mating is the engine of history.  It‘s how we all got here.  There is no evidence that abstinence-only programs, for example, have prevented young people from having sex or people from having sex premaritally.  It has had no affect. 

Sex education programs, some have worked, some have not.  I‘m open to discussion of what we need to be doing and where we need to be doing it, and what the message needs to be.  But it needs to be a frank discussion, because we can‘t—even Bristol Palin just admitted what everybody knows, which is you cannot stop everybody from having sex.  But you can influence more effectively whether they choose to take responsible precautions about whether the sex leads to pregnancy. 

BLACKWELL:  Well, a bad decision should not lead to the life of an

innocent baby being taken.  So that‘s where we have this discussion.  Look


SALETAN:  No.  There‘s disagreement about that. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this.  Ken? 

BLACKWELL:  Then we are winning the conversation.  We‘ll continue to advance our arguments.  

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you this.  I agree with you people are concerned

about abortion.  They don‘t like the number of abortions.  They do however

most people believe, in the end, when the decision has to be made, the government shouldn‘t make it.  The person should make it.  Most people believe that, Ken, whether you like that or not.  Here‘s the question I put to you, ten years from now, if we are still on the air here, and you come back on and Will comes back on, we‘ll have the same argument, and you will take the same position of abstinence and all this stuff, and there will be 10 million more abortions by then.  And we will have the same discussion, while having accomplished nothing.  That‘s my concern.  It‘s gotten nowhere.  Nowhere. 

BLACKWELL:  Chris, you‘re trying to frame it as if we have not saved millions of babies‘ lives by—


BLACKWELL:  -- making abortion—well, we‘re starting to win the argument. 

SALETAN:  Every year—gathers on the mall and talks about the millions of babies who have died.  What has been accomplished? 

BLACKWELL:  Our job is not complete.  If, in fact, we were not having

direct action, if we were not fighting in state legislatures, in the

courts, and in conversations trying to change the hearts of our fellow

Americans, we would, in fact, see millions of more babies.  You know, don‘t

this is the argument, Chris, that you just put forth.  In the Underground Railroad, this was—this would have been the argument.  You know, we can‘t continue to just to take 100, 200 people off the plantation until we can free all of them. 

You know, so you frame the argument the way you want to frame the argument.  I‘ll tell you right now, I got—I‘ve done counseling.  I‘ve done street corner counseling.  I‘ve fought in the courts.  I have fought in the legislatures.  And I have had conversations changing the hearts of men and women.  I know that our efforts have saved the lives of millions of babies. 


MATTHEWS:  All right.  Fair enough, Ken.  The reason I liked your

article is it pointed out something I had never thought through.  Something

like 90 percent of the situations that lead to abortions—and you made it

it‘s the person‘s choice under the law.  An abortion because somebody chooses they figure that‘s what they‘re going to do, and that‘s their decision.  And in every one of those case, 90 percent, it‘s the person who just didn‘t both to take any precautions.  They just didn‘t both to think about it, do anything about it, do anything to protect themselves.  They got pregnant and then they decide to have an abortion. 

I want that decision to be made in the first instance, before conception.  I want people to think.  I want people to be grown up, even if they‘re young. 

BLACKWELL:  We agree on that, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  We disagree on this. 


BLACKWELL:  We agree on that, Chris.  But I‘ll tell you, where the cultural discussion continues to go is that we cannot allow unwantedness or inconvenience to take the lives of a—

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, you just keep threatening people with the law and you‘re getting nowhere, because every time your side says, we‘re going to outlaw it or throw people in jail, every time you do that, you lose the argument.  When you tell a person you don‘t respect their decision, they‘re not going to respect your power. 

BLACKWELL:  You can tell me all day we‘re losing the war.  We are not losing the war. 



SALETAN:  Never mind the three of us.  If President Obama can embark

on an agenda of real abortion reduction and can, through some kind of sex

education, some combination of sex education or programs, through the

media, churches, schools, doctors, clinics, everything, if we can actually

if he can achieve a reduction in the number after abortions, will pro-life Americans, who have been voting Republican, say, you know what?  That‘s a better agenda than all this abortion banning the Republicans have been talking about. 



MATTHEWS:  I think you‘ve got a good cause, but I like this guy‘s news cause.  I think this is getting somewhere.  Thank you Will Saletan.  Thank you for joining us, Ken Blackwell.  As always, I respect your opinion.  I think this guy‘s got something new here.  I want to reduce the number. 

Up next, President Obama convenes a summit at the White House to fix the sky rocketing cost of health care, with the help of the Lion of the Senate, Sir Ted Kennedy.  If you‘re a Brit, you call him that.  Anyway, can Obama get done what President Clinton couldn‘t?  The politics fix is next.  This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.


MATTHEWS:  We‘re back.  Time for the politics fix with “Newsweek‘s” Howard Fineman, who is an MSNBC political analyst, and “Time Magazine‘s” Karen Tumulty, who has the cover story of this week.  It‘s titled, “So You Think You‘re Insured, Think Again.” 

I read your piece, Karen.  It is scary.  It reminds me—I know you may not like this comparison—on a somewhat different level, Michael Moore‘s movie, “Sicko,” where you think you‘re insured and then, all of a sudden, you have these experts whose job it is to tell you how you‘re not.  Quickly, what‘s your thought?  what did you learn?  What‘s your main report here?

KAREN TUMULTY, “TIME MAGAZINE”:  This is a story of actually what I went through in my own family when my brother, who had insurance, got ill.  I have been covering this subject for 15 years.  I thought I understood the ins and outs of health care policy.  It was a real eye opener for me.  We decided to write this story and to put it on the cover not because what happened to my brother was so extraordinary, but really because it‘s becoming so common. 

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the heart of this?  You think you‘re covered because you‘re paying premiums, but what do you find out when you get a serious illness? 

TUMULTY:  What you find out often is that your insurance company is not going to cover it, or that the coverage that you have bought is very far insufficient to pay for what is actually wrong with you.  That is happening to Americans around the country by the tens of thousands. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at what the president had to say today on this. 


OBAMA:  I know people are skeptical about whether Washington can bring about this change.  Our inability to reform health care in the past is just one example of how special interests have had their way and the public interest has fallen by the wayside.  And I know people are afraid we‘ll draw the same old lines in the sand, and give in to the same entrenched interests, and arrive back at the same stalemate that we‘ve been stuck in for decades.

But I‘m here today, and I believe you are here today because this time is different. 


MATTHEWS:  Health care, uninsured people, underinsured people, people with real problems.  They go to the emergency room.  Are we going to get this solved this year?  Howard Fineman? 

HOWARD FINEMAN, “NEWSWEEK MAGAZINE”:  I think we‘re going to make progress.  I mean, I think Washington is going to make progress, because I think the stars are in alignment here.  A lot of corporate America has decided that the system that exists is completely insupportable, and that‘s new.  And I think a lot of the stake holders in the health care business realize that they‘ve got to change, because we‘re spending too much money in this country for too little care, as Karen‘s cover story dramatically points out. 

I think in Obama, with a Democratic majority, you have the possibility of a deal, because Obama is smartly doing this without laying the plan out on the table.  And he‘s going to try to move things along through consensus, which he has a chance to do. 

MATTHEWS:  Consensus.  I love the word.  Karen, I want to ask you a question.  This can‘t be a push from the left.  That always fails.  It never makes it to the center.  It never gets 60 votes in the Senate.  Pushing from the left doesn‘t work.  You need an Inchon Landing, like MacArthur.  You have to go over the middle and you‘ve got to cut a deal with somebody in the middle of the Republican party, a Voinovich, somebody who carries the water for you in the middle. 

You need to get Tom Donahue, head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 

You need business on your side.  You need a chunk of the Republican party. 

Or you‘re wasting our time again.  Is that going to happen? 

TUMULTY:  You know, I was in the east room today and I was really struck.  The three of us were around in ‘94 when all of this fell apart for Hillary Clinton. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

TUMULTY:  It was the exact same cast of characters.  You would have recognized just about everybody in the room.  But what never happened in ‘94 was seeing all those people in the same room.  So is this going to hold together?  Are these people going to keep talking together?  Are they going to keep moving in the same direction?  I don‘t know.  But it does seem to be a more promising start.

And you are absolutely right.  You have got to hold all these pieces of the coalition, or at least enough of them together if you‘re going to have any—

MATTHEWS:  Pharmaceuticals, hospitals, nurses, doctors, the works, everybody but the insurance companies.  You have to deal with them too.  We‘ll be right back with Howard Fineman—if you want to win that is.  If you want to lose gloriously, we have a route for that.  It‘s been done.  We‘ll be back with Karen and Howard, the best in the business.  Right back in a minute on HARDBALL.


MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Howard Fineman and Karen Tumulty for the politics fix.  We‘ve got to get to this one.  Karen, your thoughts.  I am amazed that somehow the Barack Obama White House has been hijacked into this Clintonian war with Rush Limbaugh.  It‘s so Clintonite, this fight with somebody who is way below you in stature and position and everything, and yet they seem to be relishing this fight.  Rahm Emanuel seems to have picked up from this from Begala and Carville.  Why are they fighting with this person—person? 

TUMULTY:  Chris, I think they‘re loving every minute of it. 


TUMULTY:  Rush Limbaugh has a big audience.  He is beloved by a—a narrow section of the population. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

TUMULTY:  But he is a figure that most Americans don‘t like.  And if they can have their bad guy be somebody who is only beloved by a small segment of the population, that is the best thing. 

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t think you‘re putting it—here‘s how I put it together.  You would have been right four months ago when I took the poll.  Here‘s my position, with the economy tanking, capitalism in trouble, here‘s a guy defending capitalism, defending money, defending the right to try to keep your money.  And these guys come off as lefties in this fight.  It‘s the only ground in which they‘re strong, taxes.  They‘re strong on taxes and he‘s grabbed onto it.  My thought.  Your thought, Howard? 

FINEMAN:  Well, I‘m more inclined to agree with you. 

MATTHEWS:  They‘re fighting on the wrong ground.

FINEMAN:  I just think Barack Obama, we have a new “Newsweek” poll that is going to be out.  It is going to have astronomically high approval ratings for Barack Obama.  Concern about his policies, you know, but the American people basically love this guy.  And he should be taking, as far as I‘m concerned, the high road, being the statesman, being the guy who brings the stuff together. 

MATTHEWS:  He never fought with Hillary Clinton. 

FINEMAN:  Do it on the health care thing, do it on the other stuff.  As soon as I heard this, as soon as I saw Rahm Emanuel on the Sunday show, doing his too cute by half number -- 

MATTHEWS:  Why are they doing this? 

FINEMAN:  I said this, the Begala.  I‘ve been through this movie before.  The Clintonites did this when to protect Bill Clinton, when Bill Clinton needed protecting on cultural grounds.  Barack Obama doesn‘t need this kind of protection.  It‘s the last thing he needs at this point. 

MATTHEWS:  I thought we were post-partisan, Karen, and we‘re fighting with this guy? 

TUMULTY:  The other option, however, is to fight with the Republicans in Congress. 


TUMULTY:  And he needs them. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, I know.  Karen, thanks for joining us.  Good piece on the cover of “Time.”  Howard Fineman, Karen Tumulty, join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 for more HARDBALL.  Right now it‘s time for “1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE” with David Shuster.



Transcription Copyright 2009 CQ Transcriptions, LLC  ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED.

No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research.

User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s

personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed,

nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion

that may infringe upon MSNBC and CQ Transcriptions, LLC‘s copyright or

other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal

transcript for purposes of litigation.>

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


Discussion comments