updated 3/17/2009 10:04:22 AM ET 2009-03-17T14:04:22

Guest: Austan Goolsbee, Rep. Keith Ellison, Rep. Darrell Issa, Joe Trippi, Joe Trippi, Suraya Pakzad, Roger Simon, Michelle Bernard

High: The White House looks for ways to keep bailed-out insurance giant AIG from paying out millions of dollars in bonuses.  Former vice president Dick Cheney says some of President Obama‘s decisions make the American people less safe

Spec: Politics; Economy; Dick Cheney; Terrorism

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Bonus backlash.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews.  Leading off tonight: Rot at the top.  When you watch what Wall Street‘s done to America lately, do you feel like yelling three cheers for them, great job, keep it up?  Do you feel like paying a little extra in taxes so that you can chip in on some bonuses for these characters?

Well, guess what?  This weekend splashed across the front pages of the newspapers came charming news that AIG, the company that pocketed a quick $175 billion in government bail-out money for screwing up, is handing out $165 million in bonuses to the guys who ran that company, AIG, into the ground.

This afternoon, President Obama tapped into the growing outrage.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  Under these circumstances, it‘s hard to understand how derivative traders at AIG warranted any bonuses, much less $165 million in extra pay.  I mean, how do they justify this outrage to the taxpayers who are keeping the company afloat?


MATTHEWS:  Well, the president said he‘s asked Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner to, quote, “pursue every legal avenue to block these bonuses and make the American taxpayers whole.”  That‘s what the president said.  Well, why can‘t these executives simply forego the bonuses?  Isn‘t it time for them—maybe this is a stupid question—to sacrifice a little for the taxpayers who‘ve already sacrificed so much for them?

Plus: Former vice president Dick Cheney—that‘s how he pronounces his name—just can‘t help himself.  Once again, he‘s accused President Obama of making this country less safe by rolling back Bush administration national security policies.  He also declared the war in Iraq a success, adding—get this—that democratizing Iraq is what the administration wanted to do.  It‘s what it, quote, “set out to do.”  We set out to democratize Iraq?  Really?  Then what was all this talk about weapons of mass destruction—I thought that was the reason for the war—about the nuclear threat to the United States from Baghdad?  There‘s more, a lot more, from the former vice president and his continuing quest to justify his conduct and that of his chief ramrod, Scooter Libby, also who he does still want to get a pardon for.

Also, our hard war in Afghanistan.  How are we ever going to get out of that country?  If we don‘t cut a deal with the Taliban, we may be stuck there in an endless war, but if we do, does that mean it‘s open season for repression?  What a tough choice, especially for women.

And talk about the permanent campaign, the Democratic National Committee‘s now using the Obama campaign e-mail list of 13 million names to generate support for the president‘s budget proposals.  That‘s coming up in the “Politics Fix” tonight.

And finally, Will Farrell reprised the voice, face and persona of George W. Bush for one final curtain call this weekend on HBO.


WILL FARRELL, “GEORGE W. BUSH”:  And my dad‘s, like, Why are you the only one in this family that speaks with a Texas accent?


MATTHEWS:  That‘s in the HARDBALL “Sideshow,” where it belongs.

And we begin with AIG‘s bonuses for boneheads, if you will, and what, if he can President Obama‘s going to do about it.  Austan Goolsbee‘s an economic adviser to President Obama.  Austan, bonuses for boneheads.  Is that badly stated?  You‘re chuckling.


Doesn‘t seem too badly stated to me.

MATTHEWS:  Well, what are we going to do about it, as the American people—it looks like $165 million are going to these characters who had a big hand in the failure of that big insurance company that‘s supposed to insure against, well, the banking failure we‘re suffering from.  What‘s going to happen?

GOOLSBEE:  Look, it doesn‘t just seem like that, that‘s exactly what did happen.  That‘s why the president was so outraged and it‘s why Secretary Geithner was so outraged.  I mean, the president told them—and I‘m not a lawyer, so I‘m not going to give you the legal lowdown, but the president said, Look, get in there and look into this and let us take every means we have without breaking the law to put a stop to this.

And that means, A, as you said in the run-up, intro the show, why is there not public pressure on them to give their money back?  That means looking at, if this is in the contracts, why did it get put in the contracts?  Who put it in the contracts?  When did they put that in there?  Let‘s prevent this from happening again.

I mean, I just cannot understand what they‘re thinking.  They‘ve cost the American taxpayer hundreds of billions of dollars and they‘re giving themselves multi-million dollar-bonuses?  I mean, as I say, I don‘t see why these guys can order dinner in a restaurant, much less be getting these bonuses.

MATTHEWS:  Well, is it like they guys are in a fire in some building and they‘re grabbing for all the loot they can and running out the door with it?  Is that what‘s going on here?  That‘s what it looks like.  The house is coming down...

GOOLSBEE:  I really don‘t know.

MATTHEWS:  ... it‘s burning down, and they‘re grabbing every piece of money they can grab so they can get out the door rich.

GOOLSBEE:  Yes.  Look, I don‘t know what it is, but it certainly doesn‘t sound good.  And as I say, the president today—I mean, in the context of the president outlining a multi-billion-dollar effort trying to restart the credit markets for small business—I mean, imagine if we had some of the billions of dollars that we‘ve had to use to prevent the collapse of AIG to use for small business to expand their credit.  I mean, these AIG guys are really looking pretty cheeky at this moment.

MATTHEWS:  What is it like dealing with the president?  Without giving away what he says to you in private, do you get a sense of his attitude about the people on Wall Street?  I mean, he‘s never been a Wall Street lawyer.  He could have been.  He chose not to go after the money.

GOOLSBEE:  I don‘t know.

MATTHEWS:  What does he—what does he feel...

GOOLSBEE:  I won‘t say...

MATTHEWS:  ... about these people?

GOOLSBEE:  I don‘t know about these people, but I know about the people, AIG people.  He was really pretty ticked off, you know?  And he expressed his displeasure to the secretary, who was himself pretty ticked off.  I mean, and this is a case where you can‘t help but feel like somebody‘s gaming the system.  And we got to get to the bottom of this to try to put a stop to it because, look, it‘s not just outrage, it‘s also bad policy.  I mean, the free market system is supposed to reward success and punish failure.  And so I don‘t see why—after the year this company has had, why are these guys getting multi-million-dollar bonuses?  It doesn‘t make any sense.

MATTHEWS:  OK, let‘s talk about what can still happen.  I‘m still pushing this point with you, Austan.  The New York attorney general, the well-known Andrew Cuomo, son of the former governor, sent a letter to the CEO of AIG today, asking for records.  Cuomo said, quote, “We have requested a list of individuals who are going to receive these payments under this retention plan, as well as their positions at the firm.  It is surprising that you have yet to provide this information.  Covering up the details of these payments breeds further cynicism and distrust in our already shaken financial system.”  And late today, Cuomo said subpoenas are on the way.

Do you understand the law here, Austan?  Is there a way to nail this company for passing out this money as it was going down?  Is that a breaking of the law?

GOOLSBEE:  I don‘t know.  As I say, I‘m not a lawyer.  You don‘t want my legal advice.  But I completely agree, and the president has made clear he wants us to look into this in great detail.  Who got the money?  Why did they get the money?  And then, even more than that, why was this in their contract, and when did they put it in?

As you know, the bail-out occurred under the Bush administration.  Is this stuff that they put into the contracts after they got their bail-out?  Were they trying to cement the bonuses, no matter how badly they did?  I mean, we need to know the answer to that.

MATTHEWS:  Are you fellows worried at—and women—worried at the White House about the possibility that in directing fire at the people we call the boneheads up on Wall Street, that it‘s going to be harder next time around if you have to get another bail-out bill through?  Are you worried you put too much fire on these guys and they‘ll be untouchable?

GOOLSBEE:  Look, I don‘t know the answer to that.  It‘s a bit of a political judgment.  My view is, on straight policy grounds, what they‘re doing is bad policy.  This isn‘t what you‘d—you can get into a situation where, unfortunately, you have to prevent the collapse of the financial system...


GOOLSBEE:  ... but that doesn‘t mean guys should be taking big bonuses.

MATTHEWS:  Austan Goolsbee, I like you already.  Thanks for coming on HARDBALL tonight.

GOOLSBEE:  Good to see you, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Democratic U.S. congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota is a member of the Financial Services Committee and Republican congressman Darrell Issa of California‘s been on the show before.  He‘s with the Oversight and Government Reform committee.

I want to start with the new kid on the block, Keith Ellison.  Sir, what are we going to do about these boneheads or bandits or whatever you want to call them?  They‘re passing out the money even as the house is crashing.

REP. KEITH ELLISON, (D-MN), FINANCIAL SERVICES COMMITTEE:  Well, what we‘re going do is we‘re, first of all, going to let the public know and let them know that this is unacceptable.  It‘s outrageous.  It‘s the kind of greed that...

MATTHEWS:  Well, they know that!  Don‘t they know that?  Do you think these people are subject to shame?

ELLISON:  Chris, if they knew it, they wouldn‘t be doing it.  And so I think that it‘s very important that they know it, that we know it.  But what are we going to do next?  We‘ve got to investigate these contracts and see if there is a way for us to get back some of his money.

The fact is that the—from what I‘ve read, these contracts were perfected before the whole financial unraveling began, but that doesn‘t mean that these contracts cannot be examined.  It seems to me that these so-called retention bonuses are for people who probably shouldn‘t be retained.

MATTHEWS:  Well, you know, they‘re benefiting from our belief in the free enterprise system, Congressman Issa.  Are these people traitors to capitalism, or captains of capitalism, people that are this greedy to grab the money even as the country suffers?  What would you call these people?

REP. DARRELL ISSA, (R-CA), OVERSIGHT & GOVT. REFORM COMMITTEE:  Well, Chris, what I‘d say is you‘re calling the wrong people boneheads.  The boneheads are the people in the previous administration and this administration who gave out over $170 billion of our money and did not, in fact, do what anyone else giving money does, which is ensure that the money is not a conduit for simply paying out bonuses.

Every takeover, every debtor in possession financing, every bankruptcy, these are questions that are asked.  So certainly we pay a lot of people who should ask those questions and answer.  So as Keith is saying, of course we want to make sure that these contracts that allowed them to get these bonuses are studied to see if there was any way that they should not have gotten them.

But at the same time, we‘re got to look at both the Bush administration under Paulson and under Geithner, under the Obama administration, and say, What were you thinking when you gave out the first billion or the last billion, not to ensure that you got these kinds of concessions?  And understand...


ISSA:  ... if they‘d been forced to file bankruptcy, these concessions would have been drawn away from them on the first day of a Chapter 11.

MATTHEWS:  But Congressman Ellison, I see in this behavior the kind of fast and loose, grab the money and run mentality, the gold digger, whatever you call it mentality of the last 20 or so years on Wall Street, which is take what you can.  If you don‘t gate 30 percent return, you‘re a chump.  Grab it, make as much as you can.  Have as many tricks as you can up your sleeve.  It doesn‘t matter what‘s at the bottom of it.  And everybody‘s happy because there‘s so much money floating around.  It was a loosey-goosey atmosphere, highly immoral, or amoral.  Isn‘t this just part of that?

ELLISON:  Well, I think we lit a fuse back in 1999 that exploded on us in September of this year.  The fact is, when we said the credit default swap market was not going to be regulated, we‘re going to have an opaque market with no regulation whatsoever...


ELLISON:  ... this thing ripened into a situation where we have—where if we didn‘t do anything, anything at all to forestall the financial crisis, we‘d even have more of a catastrophe than we have right now.  The reality is...

MATTHEWS:  Well...

ELLISON:  No, wait a minute, Chris.  The other big piece of news that came out is that the counterparties to all these contracts have just been revealed.  Not each and all of them, but we know now about 80 different counterparties have been revealed—the state of California, the state of Hawaii, the state of Virginia, not to mention Merrill Lynch, Bank of America.  All these people got money—Goldman Sachs.

And so you do nothing, the problem could be worse than it is.  But I agree with Darrell‘s point.  We‘ve got to make sure that, as regulators, we don‘t commit legislative malpractice and that we dig into this stuff and make sure we cut as good a deal as anybody—as any business person would.

MATTHEWS:  Congressman Issa, as I understand it, AIG had this notion that they could insure basically against this—any of these defaults.  They basically insured the secondary loan market dramatically, said, We‘ll insure it all.  The trouble is, when there‘s a fire in that market, every tree burns down, every house burns down.  Everything goes.  The company cannot afford to meet all its losses.

What‘s the—is there such a thing as this default market?  Is there something—credit default market.  Is there really a logical market here where you can insure against the whole banking system, like they did?

ISSA:  No, of course not.  But you know, Lloyds of London has been around for centuries and they understand they can only take so much of a particular market.


ISSA:  In this case, AIG took all they could get and asked for more.  And ultimately, because it was the most profitable part of insurance, essentially being the insurer of last resort, they said, Well, the risk is low.  The truth is although risk was low, they took the entire market...


ISSA:  ... and that‘s what cost us.

MATTHEWS:  Right.  And they could never back up what they promised to insure.

ISSA:  Right.  Exactly.

MATTHEWS:  It‘s such a sad story, and it‘s so understandable, if you spend some time thinking about it.  This is something we‘re all going to learn to our chagrin and anger.  Anyway, thank you, U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison...

ELLISON:  Thank you, Chris.

ISSA:  Thanks, Chris.

MATTHEWS:  ... and U.S. Congressman Darrell Issa for coming on


Coming up: Dick Cheney is back.  The former vice president actually out there saying Barack Obama‘s made us a little bit, well, exposed to our enemy, is a nice way to put it.  He‘s also out there defending his former chief of staff again.  He‘s covering up for the war policies, rebranding them, reexamining them and reoffering a whole new—I should say, a whole new case for the war with Iraq.  Wait until you hear this new one.  He‘s man who likes to spread democracy now.  We‘ll see that.  We‘ll be watching HARDBALL.  Come back in a minute and watch that, Dick Cheney on parade again.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Former vice president Dick Cheney cooked up an “all you can eat” buffet of quotes with CNN‘s John King on Sunday.  Here to graze with us is MSNBC‘s Pat Buchanan and Democratic strategist Joe Trippi.

Let‘s start with Vice President Cheney‘s assessment of the old—well, I was going to say his boss, but that‘s a tricky assessment—his assessment of George W. Bush.


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR:  Do you believe the president of the United States has made Americans less safe?

DICK CHENEY, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I do.  I think those programs were absolutely essential to the success we enjoyed of being able to collect the intelligence that led us to defeat all further attempts to launch attacks against the United States since 9/11.  I think that‘s a great success story.  It was done legally.  It was done in accordance with our constitutional practices and principles.  President Obama campaigned against it all across the country, and now he‘s making some choices that, in my mind, will, in fact, raise the risk to the American people of another attack.


MATTHEWS:  Of course, that was about the 44th president, not the 43rd.  Patrick Buchanan, your thoughts about his defense of torture and his attack on Barack for not using it?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, I think when Vice President Cheney said that the president of the United States, George Bush, made us safer after 9/11 -- there were no attacks after 9/11.  Has the closing of Guantanamo, the changing of the definition of these folks as enemy combatants, has the ending of waterboarding—will that make us safer?  Chris, we can‘t say right now, but we‘re certainly going to find out.

MATTHEWS:  Well, certainly, Abu Ghraib made us enough enemies out there, Joe Trippi.  The world hated us for that one, the way we humiliated Islamic prisoners, men especially.

JOE TRIPPI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  I think that‘s right.  I think that what the—what Obama‘s done is open up the door so we have a different kind of face, a different kind of policy now to the rest of the world, which is what we needed to do to try to shut down what the Bush administration had done to make us less safe, to make more enemies out there.  So I don‘t think this worked.  And I think Obama—what Cheney said was true.  Obama campaigned on this.  He made the case.  He won.  The American people want these changes.

MATTHEWS:  And he won the election.  Here‘s the very buttoned-down...

BUCHANAN:  Chris...

MATTHEWS:  ... Robert Gibbs speaking for the president.  Here he is, Pat, then you.



ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  I guess Rush Limbaugh was busy, so they trotted out the next most popular member of the Republican cabal.

The president has made quite clear that keeping the American people safe and secure is the job—is the most serious job that he has each and every day.


MATTHEWS:  Well, Pat, there he is, sticking back at him, calling him a part of the Republican cabal, which seems to be the White House describes the opposition now, not as an alternative governing party but as a bunch of crazies.

BUCHANAN:  I think Gibbs is a good fellow, but I think that was very demeaning.  I think it was disgraceful from the podium of the White House to be speaking about a former vice president in that kind of cheap manner.


BUCHANAN:  But Chris, look, a lot of that alumni association from Guantanamo has been showing up in Yemen, blowing up people in Iraq, showing up in Afghanistan.  They‘re very horrible people down there.  And we all agree torture‘s outlawed.  We may not agree on waterboarding.  But I‘ll tell you, the vice president has a point.  They kept us safe, and people do wonder whether what Obama‘s going to do is going to keep us safe, but the jury is out.

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s take a look at Dick Cheney here, the former vice president, on Iraq and the war we‘re still fighting. 



guess my general sense of where we are with respect to Iraq and at the end of now, what, nearly six years, is that we‘ve accomplished nearly everything we set out to do. 

Now, I don‘t hear much talk about that, but the fact is, the violence level is down 90 percent.  The number of casualties and Iraqis and Americans is significantly diminished.  There‘s been elections, a constitution.  They‘re about to have another presidential election here in the near future.  We have succeeded in creating in the heart of the Middle East a democratically governed Iraq, and that is a big deal.


MATTHEWS:  It‘s always interesting to watch the former vice president, Dick Cheney, as he runs out onto the field pretending he‘s wearing a referee‘s costume, and acts like he‘s passing judgment on his own success.

But does it with that sort of avuncular manner.  And sounds like he‘s so dispassionate, when he‘s in fact he‘s defending his own behavior. 

JOE TRIPPI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  That‘s right.  And we will see.  You know, it is the same thing.  We will see here whether what he just said was true or not. 

I mean, we have got the Obama campaign—the Obama presidency taking the troops out now.  And we will see whether it‘s a sustained democracy.  I hope so. 

BUCHANAN:  Chris, let me agree with—I agree with you.

MATTHEWS:  Pat, they‘re offering up a new—go ahead.  Go ahead, because...

BUCHANAN:  I agree with you.

MATTHEWS:  ... they‘re offering up a whole new definition of why we went in. 

They can‘t defend DMZ.  Or what do you call them?


MATTHEWS:  Weapons of—WMD anymore.  They can‘t defend a connection to Iraq. 

They‘re not—the arguments used to get us in the war have been forgotten and displaced.  Now they have a new argument, which—we fought for democracy over there.  If they had tried to put that flag up back in 2001, 2002, the American people would have moved on and said, no, we don‘t fight wars like we‘re little Napoleons running around the world—well, you call it democratizing. 

It‘s—you‘re the guy that created that term, democratists.

BUCHANAN:  Well, exactly. 

And—and let me—I agree with you, basically, on this, Chris.  We would never have gone to war and we should never go to war to really—you know, go to—launch an invasion of Zimbabwe to get rid of Mugabe. 

But let me tell you, the vice president, what he overlooked is the price of this war.  It‘s not only 4,000 dead Americans, 30,000 wounded, more and 100,000 dead Iraqis, hundreds of thousands of widows and kids without fathers, four million refugees, the Christian community cut to pieces over there, half of them driven into Syria. 

It has been a horribly costly thing.  I think they would have been better off, those people, if had left them alone.  And, B, I do not believe we have a right to attack a country that doesn‘t threaten us, want war with us, or attack us, in order to deprive it of weapons it does not have. 

TRIPPI:  I agree with him.

I mean, this—we were just in—in rapid—rabid agreement here.  I mean, this is—the whole thing was, the war never should have been fought.  Obama opposed it from the beginning.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here he is.  Here he is. 

And you pick up on this, Joe. 

Here he is, the former vice president, still fighting the war.  He‘s got his tail gunner uniform on.  Here he is now. 


CHENEY:  If you hark back and look at the biggest threat we faced after 9/11, it was the idea of a rogue state or a terrorist-sponsoring state with weapons of mass destruction—say, nukes, for example—and providing those to terrorist organizations. 

What happened in Iraq is we‘ve eliminated that possibility.  We got rid of one of the worst dictators in the 20th century.  We got rid of his government.  There is no prospect that Iraq is going to become a place where once again they produce weapons of mass destruction or support terrorists.


MATTHEWS:  And we removed the only buffer against Iran. 


TRIPPI:  They never had weapons of mass destruction. 


TRIPPI:  I mean, all the—you know, somewhere in this interview, he

says that the Obama administration is playing fast and loose with the facts

with the facts on the economic crisis to get their way on all their policies. 

This was an administration is—who is he kidding? 


TRIPPI:  This is the guy who played...


MATTHEWS:  Fast and loose. 


MATTHEWS:  I—some time—as you know, sitting in this desk, this side of the desk, Joe and Pat—you have tried to do this—we have all tried to do this—we try to catch everything that goes past us, so we can act in real time. 

Sometimes, people say things on this show so fast, that they come out of left field or right field, and I don‘t even hear them.  But a friend of mine called me up and said, pay attention to what Frank Gaffney said on your show on Thursday, and we went back and looked at the tape. 

Here‘s a charge, a claim for going to war with Iraq, another reason to go to war with Iraq from the neoconservative side from Frank Gaffney that I have never heard before.  I want your reaction to it, gentlemen. 


FRANK GAFFNEY, FOUNDER & PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR SECURITY POLICY:  Well, as I said, he kept saying that he was going to try to get even against us for Desert Storm.  So, it wouldn‘t be unreasonable for people to conclude maybe that that is what he was doing.

There‘s also circumstantial evidence, not proven, by any means, but, nonetheless, some pretty compelling circumstantial evidence of Saddam Hussein‘s Iraq being involved with the people ho perpetrated both the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center and even the Oklahoma City bombing. 


MATTHEWS:  The Oklahoma City bombing...


MATTHEWS:  ... McVeigh and Nichols...

TRIPPI:  My God.

MATTHEWS:  ... is now being laid out as the—as the work of Saddam Hussein. 

These people, they use anthrax.  They will use—“The Weekly Standard” has reams of arguments why we should go to war.  They won‘t quit, Pat.  It is funny, but it‘s horrible. 

BUCHANAN:  But it—it is.

MATTHEWS:  They would use any case to get us into a war with Iraq, and they did.  And they won.  They got us in. 

BUCHANAN:  Chris—Chris—Chris, you know, in 1991, Saddam Hussein had Scud missiles and chemical weapons.  He didn‘t fire the chemical weapons at us in Saudi Arabia.  He didn‘t fire them at Israel.  Why? 

Because Jim Baker said, you use that junk on our soldiers, and all bets are off what we‘re going to use on you.  He was deterred.  He was in a box by 2001.  He was no threat to the United States of America.  If he were a threat, why didn‘t the Jordanians and Turks and the others want us to do it?  Nobody over there wanted this war. 

MATTHEWS:  What about the charge, Joe Trippi, that Saddam Hussein should have been fought, we had to go to war in Iraq because he bombed Oklahoma City?  That is so close to fringe argument, Laurie Mylroie stuff, nutcase stuff, I should say.

TRIPPI:  I‘m really sorry that the Obama administration is not fulfilling its duty by—by tracking that one down.  That‘s insane.

MATTHEWS:  Gaffney was—was reaching...


MATTHEWS:  Because he is a good guy, but he was reaching for the crazy stuff. 

TRIPPI:  They have been reaching since the beginning.  That‘s the whole...


MATTHEWS:  Oh, OK.  I don‘t know where they—where they drink this stuff. 

TRIPPI:  And not only that. 


TRIPPI:  All the spending on this war, and what that‘s caused, what—we‘re getting some of that to come back home, too. 

MATTHEWS:  Frank, keep working up your paper on the Oklahoma City attack by Saddam Hussein.  I want the full paper on that baby. 


MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Pat Buchanan. 

Thank you, Joe Trippi.

Up next:  Will Ferrell brings back his spot-on impersonation of Cheney‘s boss, George W. Bush. 

And, on the eve of Saint Patrick‘s Day, just how Irish is President Obama?  Wait until you catch this.  We‘re all Irish now.  That‘s ahead in the “Sideshow.”

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  


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

First up: the return of George W.  Comedian Will Ferrell reprised his spot-on impersonation this week on HBO, “You‘re Welcome, America: A Final Night With George W. Bush.”



WILL FERRELL, ACTOR:  So, let it be known here now, I‘m a Texan through and through, a Texan who was born in Connecticut...


FERRELL:  ... went to boarding school in Massachusetts...


FERRELL:  ... and college at Yale and Harvard. 


FERRELL:  It all began with my V.P., Dick Cheney, a guy so charismatic, he could shoot a man in the face with a shotgun...


FERRELL:  ... and have that guy apologize to him. 


FERRELL:  I want you to raise your hand, tell me your name and your occupation, and I will give you a cool nickname. 




FERRELL:  Jenae (ph)?


FERRELL:  You‘re a student?  Are you in college? 


FERRELL:  I‘m going to call you, “Good Luck With the Job Market.” 


FERRELL:  Savannah (ph)?

And what do you do? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m a Shakespeare scholar.

FERRELL:  You‘re a Shakespeare scholar. 


FERRELL:  I‘m going to call you “Scholar of Unnecessary Subjects.”




MATTHEWS:  Question:  Is imitation still the sincerest form of flattery? 


MATTHEWS:  Next up:  Make no mistake.  Philly takes its cheesesteak seriously.  Just ask John Kerry, who made a bit of a gaffe back in 2003, when he ordered Swiss cheese on his sandwich, instead of the traditional Cheez Whiz. 

Anyway, it‘s no wonder that President Obama this afternoon ribbed the owner of a health food restaurant trying to make it in Philadelphia. 


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I don‘t know if people heard properly here, but this is an all-natural health food restaurant in Philly. 


OBAMA:  So—so, I asked him, what was the equivalent at his shop for a cheesesteak?


OBAMA:  And he described for me—what was it?  A chicken...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s our chicken Italiano.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s a chicken cutlet, spinach Florentine, sharp provolone, all on an Italian ciabatta bread. 

OBAMA:  Right.


OBAMA:  So, I wanted to know if there was Whiz on that. 



MATTHEWS:  Yes, are we talking cheesesteak or hoagie? 

Anyway, now for tonight‘s “Big Number.”

In case you forgot, it‘s Saint Patrick‘s Day tomorrow.  And here‘s the president at last year‘s celebrations having a little fun with his roots. 


OBAMA:  It turns out that I have Irish heritage.  I have...



OBAMA:  I do.  No, this is true. 

It never hurts to be a little Irish when you‘re running for the presidency of the United States of America. 



MATTHEWS:  How true.  Over half of the country‘s four presidents -- 44 presidents have some Irish heritage in them. 

So, how strong a link does President Obama have to the Emerald Isle?  Well, not too much -- 3.1 percent.  It comes from Obama‘s Irish great-great-great-grandfather, named by the wonderfully New England name of Falmouth Kearney, or Kearney, depending on how you pronounce it.

Obama‘s 3.1 percent tie to the Irish—that‘s tonight‘s “Big Number”

actually, small number. 

Up next: talking to the Taliban.  Do we deal with some of the more moderate Taliban members, or does that mean accepting Sharia, Islamic law, repression of women, especially, over there in Afghanistan?  We have got a woman who‘s been on that fight over there.  We‘re going to have the real story here. 

Should we deal with what we think are the bad guys, as President Obama weigh his options on what he calls the central front of the war, what do we do over there to protect women and the plight of women in that country?

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 


JULIA BOORSTIN, CNBC CORRESPONDENT:  I‘m Julia Boorstin with your CNBC “Market Wrap.”

Wall Street hoped to expend—extend gains for a fifth straight day, but a rally fizzled, as stocks closed lower.  The Dow Jones industrials fell seven points.  The S&P 500 shed two points.  And the Nasdaq dropped 27. 

Oil prices rose, despite OPEC‘s decision yesterday not to cut production further.  Crude gained $1.10, closing at $47.35 a barrel. 

Industrial production fell in February, for the fourth straight month.  Meantime, factory operating rates dropped to the lowest level in more than a half-century of record-keeping. 

And as Chris has been discussing, President Obama says he intends to recover the $165 million in executive bonuses handed out over the weekend by troubled insurance giant AIG.  New York‘s attorney general is also issuing subpoenas to get the names of those receiving bonuses.  AIG has received $170 billion in taxpayer bailout money. 

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

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Violence in Afghanistan is rising sharply.  Just today, a suicide bomber in a police uniform detonated explosives that killed 11 people and wounded 29.  Nine of those killed were police officers, as were most of the wounded.

And to get a grip on the situation there, President Obama announced an additional 17,000 U.S. troops to be deployed to Afghanistan this spring and summer.  He also left open the possibility of negotiating with moderate members of the Taliban. 

Will any of this work? 

Joining me now is Suraya Pakzad, executive director of the Voice of Women, a charity that helps Afghan women flee domestic violence and become literate, and MSNBC political analyst and radio talk show host Michael Smerconish. 

I have you on, Michael, because I know you care so much about catching bin Laden. 

I have you on because you‘re a courageous woman who has fought against the excesses and the repression of women by the Taliban.

And the toughest question for us Americans right now is, in order to eventually leave Afghanistan, eventually, we‘re going to have to cut some kind of a deal with the people we‘re dealing with over there. 

Where you do you stand on us cutting a deal with the Taliban, any elements of the Taliban, Suraya? 


From my point of view, I think, when the U.S. should leave in Afghanistan to promote democracy and freedom for the people of Afghanistan, when, unfortunately, still, we are—day by day, the security is getting worse and worse and poverty is increasing—increased in Afghanistan. 

If they can—the—the goal will be achieved if they have a very clear direction to support people of Afghanistan in economic development ways. 


PAKZAD:  I think that will help Afghanistan.

But that‘s not only one way.  There‘s many, many other things that should be connected to each other.  You cannot go only for economic development. 


PAKZAD:  We have to go through diplomacy to...


MATTHEWS:  Well, is there anyone—Suraya, is there any element of—we think of the Taliban as the bad guys in America.  Mullah Omar protected bin Laden and al Qaeda, who killed 3,000 Americans.  They‘re the bad guys. 

Are there any people among the Taliban who we can do business with? 

PAKZAD:  Yes. 

I think—I really appreciated the negotiation, you know, the welcoming for negotiation with the Taliban.  But there is lots of ways that we have to deal with them before.  Al Qaeda is the most important group.  They‘re feeding Taliban.  And narcotic trafficking is another issue.


PAKZAD:  These are the root causes.  If you do not go to solve the root causes, talking with Taliban won‘t provide peace in Afghanistan.

MATTHEWS:  So they‘re making—Taliban are making a lot of money on drugs? 

PAKZAD:  Definitely.  The money is coming from that.  And al Qaeda is the big supporter of Taliban.  We have to deal for all of them.  That‘s not just Taliban, or part of that. 

MATTHEWS:  Michael, how does your thinking get in there?  You talk to the American people every day on the radio.  It seems to me, we have about a three-part problem here.  We have the people that live over there, a lot of them are Taliban, very conservative Islamic people.  We have drug trade over there, just like we have a drug trade in Northern Ireland.  It always seems to come with the terrorist situation.  People with guns end up getting drugs and they end up selling them.  And then you have got the problem, we have to catch bin Laden.  How do we put it together and get out of there some day? 

SMERCONISH:  I would like to see us wipe the slate clean and redefine what the mission is, because I‘m not sure what the mission is right now.  I think the mission ought to be to go after those directly responsible for the events of September 11.  We got way off track in Iraq.  Let‘s learn from that lesson.  Let‘s go kill those who killed 3,000 Americans and come home.  That‘s what I think we should do. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Suraya, can we find, as you‘re an Afghan person—you lived your life over there.  Is it possible that we can find the people who attacked us on 9/11?  Still find those people involved with planning that over there? 

PAKZAD:  Definitely they‘re in outside of Afghanistan.  They‘re not in Afghanistan. 

MATTHEWS:  They near Pakistan? 

PAKZAD:  They‘re in Pakistan, which is a hot bed for them to grow.  That‘s why I say that we have to talk with the neighbor.  The negotiations should not be only with the Taliban.  It should be with the neighbor, where they are growing, where their resources continue fight and war in Afghanistan and conflict. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about how bad—how bad is it under the Taliban for women? 

PAKZAD:  Yes.  This is really the difficult time for woman in Afghanistan, women who are restricted from any type of movement.  And there was no right, no choice and no—no hope for the future for woman.  But the only things that women in Afghanistan—everybody in Afghanistan had that time was a security.  But today, we don‘t have security.  We have a little freedom. 

For my point of view, peace without freedom is meaningless.  Security

freedom without security is meaningless.  We have to struggle for both, to have freedom and security.  That time we had security.  We hadn‘t freedom.  And now, unfortunately, we don‘t have security in Afghanistan. 

MATTHEWS:  When we went in to Afghanistan with the Northern Alliance, at the end of the 2001, we saw scenes of women wearing western dress.  We saw people going to the movies again.  We saw a lot of western activity.  Is that good for Afghanistan or is that just our idea of what‘s good?  Do the people of Afghanistan want to live like westerners?  Do they want to live in a modern way or do they want to live in a traditional Islamic way? 

PAKZAD:  Yes.  Unfortunately, the war—the conflict, the three

decades conflict put Afghanistan 100 years back.  We had—women had lots

of freedom back to 1920 to 1970 to 1978, when the Russia regime took power

in Afghanistan.  And after that—even that turned the center of the city,

they enjoyed their freedom.  Only the relative security was not good. And

women—I think woman issue in Afghanistan is a politics game.  It is not

it is—I can briefly and very encouragingly say that is not a cultural issue.  The woman in Afghanistan is not based on culture and religion.  It is politics.  Sometimes we have some rule of law in the society and sometimes we are denied from access to education, from any type of movement. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much.  Great to have you on.  You‘re a great woman. 

PAKZAD:  Thanks. 

MATTHEWS:  Very courageous woman.  What do you think of that, Michael?  This woman has been fighting the evils of repression against women over there.  It‘s a common concern we have.  And we also have the concern that eventually we have to get out of there, do our job and come home.  We can‘t stay in Afghanistan. 

SMERCONISH:  I‘m sympathetic to what I just heard, but that‘s not our fight.  There shouldn‘t be American men and women in harm‘s way so as to win equal rights for Afghanistan women.  If that‘s our standard, let‘s go to Saudi Arabia.  Last week in Saudi Arabia, two guys in their 20s baked bread for a woman in her 70s and she was given lashes and jail time. 

I mean, the world‘s nuts over there, Chris.  Enough of it, though. 

Let‘s kill the people that killed us September 11 and come the hell home. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, dear.  Thank you very much for coming on.  We have a little difference of opinion here.  It‘s always going to be here.  Thank you very much.  Thank you, Michael Smerconish. 

Sad news about a friend of this program and anyone who cares about American policy, foreign policy.  Ron Silver, the actor and political activist, we all got to know him over the years during our endless debates over the war in Iraq.  And I disagreed with him, and I loved hanging out with this guy.  He was a good guy.  You can like a guy that you disagree with. 

There‘s Ron Silver, great actor.  He did great performances like “Reversal of Fortune,” where he played Derschowitz.  An amazing character.  He sometimes played the bad guy, but he wasn‘t the bad guy.  He was the good guy.  Thank you very much.  A real character from “West Wing” and everywhere else.  He was a patriot who cared about his country deeply.  Although, as I said, we disagreed, I very much respected his opinions and loved his company.  One of the smartest people at the intersection of performing arts and politics, a founder of the Creative Coalition, Ron Silver, died at 62. 

Coming up, we have a lot more coming up with the politics fix.  Let‘s get back in a minute, with more to talk about Dick Cheney and what he‘s up to, and this craziness we‘re hearing about why we went to war in Iraq.


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Time for the politics fix.  Michelle Bernard is president of the Independent Women‘s Voice and an MSNBC political analyst.  Roger Simon is chief political columnist for “Politico.”  Let‘s take a look right now at former Vice President Dick Cheney and what he said about his former top kick, Scooter Libby.


DICK CHENEY, FMR. VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  I believe firmly that Scooter was unjustly accused and prosecuted and deserved a pardon.  And the president disagreed with that. 

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR:  Angry, tense, shouting? 

CHENEY:  Those kinds of details I think are best left to history.  Maybe I‘ll write about it in my book.  I was clearly not happy that we, in effect, left Scooter sort of hanging in the wind, which I didn‘t think was appropriate.  I think he‘s an innocent man who deserves a pardon. 


MATTHEWS:  “Maybe I‘ll write about it in my book.”  Was that like putting a machine gun on the table or what?  What did you make of that, Roger? 

ROGER SIMON, “POLITICO”:  I think he‘s worried about what Scooter Libby is going to write about in his book. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s what I think. 


SIMON:  Wasn‘t me, Scooter, don‘t tell all those stories. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you describe to my cabal theory that everything Cheney says now about Scooter is to let Scooter think that he was on his side in those inner meetings, that he was always fighting for Scooter? 

SIMON:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  It may be true.

SIMON:  The amazing thing is that there is at least one thing George Bush did right in eight years; he refused to pardon Scooter Libby. 

MATTHEWS:  Michelle, it seems to me that he is trafficking in this argument, that he is dying for Scooter, so that Scooter won‘t kill him. 

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Absolutely.  We have seen it time and time again; people leave an administration that they‘re happy with and they write a book, usually a tell all.  More often than not, it appears that they‘re telling the truth.  If you pay really close attention to what the former vice president said, “we left him hanging in the wind.”  It‘s a sort of collective guilt complex.  I think no one wants to see—

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t think Scooter Libby did anything that Dick Cheney didn‘t know about.  I think he was not out robbing gas stations.  Whatever he was doing was in the line of his political duty to Dick Cheney.  That was a close relation.

Let‘s take a look at Frank Gaffney.  This show always surprises me.  This is the latest argument for why we really, really should have gone to war with Iraq.  I‘ve never heard this baby, but I heard it here. 


FRANK GAFFNEY, CENTER FOR SECURITY POLICY:  As I said, he kept saying he was going to try to get even against us for Desert Storm.  So it wouldn‘t be unreasonable for people to conclude maybe that‘s what he was doing.  There‘s also circumstantial evidence, not proven by any means, but nonetheless some pretty compelling circumstantial evidence of Saddam Hussein‘s Iraq being involved with the people who perpetrated both the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center and even the Oklahoma City bombing. 


MATTHEWS:  I don‘t know what to say.  We blame Saddam Hussein for bombing Oklahoma?  I thought Timothy McVeigh and a couple guys were executed—


SIMON:  We have to believe that Timothy McVeigh went to lethal injection rather than rat out Saddam Hussein, and that Kerry Nickels (ph) is sitting in a prison cell, serving 161 consecutive life terms, rather than spill the beans about Saddam. 

MATTHEWS:  Michelle, I will set up you, because this is why I‘ve always been very skeptical about the reasons we went to war with Iraq, because they kept trying new ones.  If Anthrax couldn‘t sell, they would try to find WMD.  If that didn‘t sell, they would say something about democratization, or geopolitics, or the road to Jerusalem.  They always had a new reason.  That‘s why I thought, if they had a really good one, they‘d stick to it.  But they kept trying new ones.  Anything—what they had was a desire to get us to go to war with Iraq, these guys. 

BERNARD:  I think probably the vast majority of the American public would agree with you, regardless of what the outcome in Iraq will eventually be. 

MATTHEWS:  Say it for my ears to hear one more time.

BERNARD:  They would—I think the vast majority of the American public would agree with you, with regard to the fact that the reasons we went to war in Iraq kept changing.  It was a moving target.  Many, many people wanted to know if the Iraqis and Saddam Hussein didn‘t kill us on 9/11, why are we there? 

MATTHEWS:  It was like the drugstore again.  My image of the drugstore that says sundries and notions.  We always wondered what they were.  Michelle Bernard, we‘ll come back, Roger Simon, to talk more about the latest from Dick Cheney.  You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.



OBAMA:  All across the country, there are people who are working hard and meeting their responsibilities every single day, without the benefit of government bail outs or multimillion dollar bonuses.  What they ask is that everyone, from Main Street to Wall Street to Washington, play by the same rules.  That is an ethic that we have to demand. 


MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Michelle Bernard and Roger Simon. 

Michelle, you first.  Can he, the new president, very popular fellow—can

he direct the fire of anger from this country that‘s growing right now

about the economy to the rod at the top, to New York, the bad guys, not

just Bernard—whatever his name is—Madoff—I love that name.  Madoff


BERNARD:  Made off with your money, yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Or is he going to get hurt by the fire, because he‘s focusing so much anger up there himself? 

BERNARD:  I think he‘s untouchable on this issue.  I don‘t think he‘s actually doing the guide work.  I think he is reflecting the sentiment of the American public. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, when it comes time for him to try to get more bailout money, should that day ever come, is he going to have trouble getting money from the guys he‘s pointed to as the bad guys? 

SIMON:  His worry is—there‘s one side for him to be on.  That‘s the side of the American people, against plutocrats on Wall Street.  If he‘s accused of class warfare, let him get accused of class warfare. 

MATTHEWS:  What about the 13 million people?  Can he galvanize his army who got him elected, the people he has email addresses for?  David Plouffe, the former campaign manager, is putting out word to help him with his fight on the budget.  Is it useful, regular people, in a fight so complicated as the budget? 

SIMON:  It‘s useful.  It all gets wiped out by things like the AIG bonuses.  Wall Street is selling this president down the river by its behavior.  The only difference between Bernie Madoff and AIG executives is that Bernie Madoff is in prison and AIG executives should be in prison. 

MATTHEWS:  For what? 

SIMON:  For—you know, the president has accused him of greed and recklessness.  Maybe it was because I was a criminal court reporter for a long time.  But the third element in this is usually criminality.  I found very few crooks who aren‘t greedy and reckless.  I can‘t believe—

MATTHEWS:  What condition did they break the law? 

SIMON:  I think we should take that bonus money and use it to investigate them on criminal charges.  I‘m deadly serious about this. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.  A lot of people are.

SIMON:  You don‘t believe this was on the level.

MATTHEWS:  I don‘t understand how complicated their gamesmanship is.  But I would really like to see what it‘s about.  Andrew Cuomo of New York is looking for this.  We‘ll be back.  Michelle, thank you.  Please come back.  As always, Roger Simon, thank you, who is with me on this, at least.  I think he may have been beyond me.

Join me again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  I‘ll have a comment tomorrow night about the Northern Irish situation.  Until then, Happy St. Patrick‘s Day.



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