updated 4/15/2009 10:02:10 AM ET 2009-04-15T14:02:10

Guest: Gov. Tim Kaine, Bob Shrum, Lynn Sweet, Jim Warren, David Corn, Frank Gaffney, Michelle Bernard, Chris Cillizza

High: A Minnesota appeals court rules unanimously that Democrat Al Frank won the Senate election.  Disgraced former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich pleads not guilty to a 19-count federal indictment.

Spec: Politics; Al Franken; Rod Blagojevich

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  The honorable Al Franken.

Let‘s play HARDBALL.

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews in Denver.  Leading off tonight:

From “SNL” to the U.S. Senate.  A bipartisan Minnesota appeals court has ruled that, quote, “The overwhelming weight of the evidence is that Al Franken”—author of “Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot”—was elected senator, quote, “fairly, impartially and accurately.”

So what‘s this mean to a Congress that one Republican member has just called “stacked with 17 socialists”?  Will the pink lists and the red scares grow louder?  Will Rush now have to cover the legislating of a man who now sits where Eugene McCarthy, Walter Mondale and Hubert Humphrey once sat?  I‘m talking about a guy who stands for everything Rush hates getting to vote on matters that old Rush can only ring his bicycle bell over.  I‘m talking about this guy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL FRANKEN, “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE”:  I‘m good enough, I‘m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  As I said, it sure looks like he‘s got it.  Norm Coleman can keep appealing, like anyone else who loses a case, but based upon that overwhelming weight of the evidence, it seems to have fallen on Franken‘s side.  It sure looks like he‘s going to become the next U.S. senator from Minnesota.  Much more on that in a minute.

And speaking of politicians in court, out in Illinois, Rod Blagojevich pleaded not guilty to corruption charges today, including the allegation that he set up a “pay to play” scheme to sell Barack Obama‘s Senate seat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), FORMER ILLINOIS GOVERNOR:  I‘m innocent of every single accusation.  I know what the truth is as it concerns me.  I‘m glad that this day has started because now we can begin the process of getting the truth out and I can clear my name and vindicate myself.  And I have great respect for the court system.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  What a guy.  But the collateral damage of this case is

spreading way beyond Blagojevich.  “The New York Times” reports today that

investigators are now looking very closely at Representative Jesse Jackson,

Jr., and whether he had initiated any deals with Blagojevich and whether he

knew anyone was working on his behalf to secure that Senate seat left empty

by President Obama.

Also: Should Spain—I‘m talking about the government of Spain—a

number of whose citizens and residents claim to have been tortured at

Guantanamo, be able to try American officials who OKed their treatment?  We

have fresh news today that prosecutors in Spain are likely to decide this

week whether to recommend a full investigation of former Bush

administration officials.  At risk are people like former attorney general

Alberto Gonzales and former undersecretary of defense Douglas Feith for

allegedly sanctioning the torture of suspects at Gitmo.  A lot of people

hear that and say it‘s about time.  Others say this is nothing more than a

form of legal warfare against the United States—“lawfare,” they call it

and want nothing to do with it.  We‘re going to debate that hot issue coming up on HARDBALL tonight.

Plus, economic commander.  A new poll by the Politico Web site finds people trust government—meaning this government—not corporate America, to do the right thing, and they trust President Obama more than anyone.  Obama said in a speech today at Georgetown U. that he‘s building a, quote, “new foundation” for America‘s economic health.  Will that be the signature of this new administration, following FDR‘s New Deal and Jack Kennedy‘s New Frontier?  We‘ve got to find ourselves (ph) today whether that‘s the new name they‘re going to peg for themselves.  We‘ll get to that in the “Politics Fix.”

And when John McCain was asked last night by Jay Leno on the “Tonight” show who the leaders of his party, the Republican Party, are, guess which Alaskan governor did he leave lost and forgotten in the frozen tundra?  That‘s in the HARDBALL “Sideshow.”

Let‘s start with that election that a bipartisan panel of appellate judges out in Minnesota have ruled it‘s time to stop, who ruled unanimously in favor of Al Franken over Republican Norm Coleman.  We‘ve got Virginia governor Tim Kaine, who‘s chairman of the Democratic National Committee.  Governor Kaine, Mr. Chairman, why haven‘t the Minnesota government, meaning your colleague out there, Governor Pawlenty, a Republican, signed a certificate saying this game is over?

GOV. TIM KAINE (D-VA), DNC CHAIRMAN:  Chris, you know, it‘s a mystery, but I got my thoughts about it.  Norm Coleman lost on election day.  He lost the recount.  Now he‘s lost a stinging rejection in court.  My sense is the only way—only reason anybody is prolonging this is they‘re trying to delay putting somebody in the Senate who will be willing to vote with President Obama to accomplish what‘s right for this nation.  It‘s time to stop disenfranchising Minnesotans, put a second senator in for that state, and set this behind us.

MATTHEWS:  Well, the court ruling was overwhelming.  It was a three-judge panel.  Quote, “The overwhelming eve”—in fact, “The overwhelming weight of the evidence”—this is their ruling—“indicates that November 4th and—November 4th, 2008, election was conducted fairly, impartially and accurately.”  What more is there to say, Governor?

KAINE:  There is nothing more to say.  It was a stinging loss.  The court even ordered the Coleman camp to pay some costs and attorneys‘ fees.  There was a full hearing, as full as could be, and the court found that the election was fair.  It‘s time for Norm Coleman to set aside his ambition and let Senator Franken be seated, and that‘s what Governor Pawlenty and the Minnesota secretary of elections should do.

MATTHEWS:  You‘ve got some wild charges out there already—I mentioned in the opening—against your party by the Republicans.  You‘ve got a member of the Congress out there whacking away at the Congress, saying you‘ve got, what, 17 socialists in your party, who know who they are and admit who they are.  Have you any idea what he‘s talking about, people who call themselves socialists?

KAINE:  I have no idea, and it‘s the kind of thing we‘re seeing from these guys, more and more desperate behavior at a time when Americans, in the midst of a difficult economic circumstance, want to get business done.  We‘ve got to put a hundredth senator in so that Minnesota‘s fully represented so that we can keep making progress on these issues—economic recovery, smart strategies in dealing with nations around the world.  The president‘s making progress.  The Republican Party should not block that progress by delaying seating the second senator from Minnesota.

MATTHEWS:  Well, here they are.  Texas senator John Cornyn, who‘s head of the campaign committee for the Republican senators, sent out a fund-raising e-mail today.  Here‘s part of it.  “It‘s frankly shocking”—these are his words—“that many of the same Democrats who so loudly decried voter disenfranchisement during the Florida recount in 2000 have so quickly run away from that principle when it no longer fits their political agenda.  Nonetheless, Republicans and the NRSC”—that‘s the campaign committee—

“in particular remain committed to a full and fair resolution of the election contest and stand firmly behind Senator Norm Coleman.”

Are you saying, Governor, that they‘re not trying to get this thing resolved, they‘re just foot dragging, they know it‘s over?  Are you saying they don‘t have hope, that a smart lawyer like Ben Ginsberg doesn‘t think he‘s got something up his sleeve here?

KAINE:  Chris, I think that they absolutely know it‘s over at this point.  They are going to delay as long as they can because they don‘t want another senator to sit in that seat and support President Obama‘s agenda for getting this nation back on track.  It‘s interesting to see.  They‘re using it for fund-raising letters.  They‘re using it for all kinds of political purposes.  What they need to do is focus on the business of the country, rather than being the party of no ideas and, No, we won‘t seat a fairly elected U.S. senator.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Governor Tim Kaine, chairman of the Democratic National Committee.

KAINE:  That‘s Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Thanks for joining us on HARDBALL tonight.

Pat Buchanan‘s a political analyst for MSNBC and Bob Shrum is a Democratic strategist, two of our smartest people around here.  Patrick Buchanan, is this a foot drag, or is this a real appeal, what the Republicans are up to, what Cornyn‘s up to?

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think Ben Ginsberg, as you suggested, is a good man.  I think it is a real appeal, Chris.  But I must say, this ruling was unanimous.  It was with prejudice.  They required Coleman to pay the court fees.  It looks to me like his case is hinged on these 4,000 absentee ballots, which apparently must have been postmarked or something after the election or too late.

It doesn‘t look to me like a strong case, frankly, but they‘ve got a right to make it to the full supreme court and (INAUDIBLE) equal protection issue.  I wouldn‘t be surprised if they go to the supreme court.  But I‘m inclined to agree with you that it doesn‘t look to me like a case that has much hope because the final count came out with Franken adding about 100 votes to his 200-vote total.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, Bob, I started this show by calling him the honorable Al Franken because I look at a court ruling as clear as this, as overwhelming in its language and bipartisan in its nature by an appeals court, what else is there to say except what anybody on death row says, Give me another shot at this?

(LAUGHTER)

BOB SHRUM, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST:  Well, actually, that‘s where—

Coleman is on political death row right now, and they‘re going to wait a week, go to the Minnesota supreme court, try and drag that out.  I‘ll bet that supreme court rules pretty quickly.  They then may go to federal court, instead of the U.S. Supreme Court, hoping that they can drag that out.  And Pawlenty, who doesn‘t care what people in Minnesota think about him anymore—he‘s trying to play to the right-wing political base so he can run for president—won‘t sign a certificate of election.  I don‘t know when it‘s going to happen, but I‘m absolutely certain now that we‘re talking about Senator Franken.

MATTHEWS:  I think so, too.

BUCHANAN:  Chris, I don‘t know...

MATTHEWS:  Here‘s Al Franken—go ahead.  Go, Pat.

BUCHANAN:  Sure.  I don‘t know—if the governor really is not supposed to sign that letter of certification until all the appeals are heard, as I understand it, I don‘t know that Governor Pawlenty would be benefiting if he were perceived up there in his own home state and the neighborhood as deliberately holding this up simply to deny Minnesota a U.S. senator.

SHRUM:  Well, the open question is whether or not he should sign when the appeals are exhausted at the state level or whether or not you have to go through a whole federal process...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  OK, I‘m going to take this to the next level.

SHRUM:  The preponderance of legal opinion is that it‘s the state level.

MATTHEWS:  This—I love to take shows to the next level here.  Here‘s Al Franken last night.  I want to ask you what it mean to have him sitting in the U.S. Senate.  And he‘ll be making the—he‘s been very careful not to get a lot of noise on television nationally.  He stayed local.  It‘s probably smart politics.  But he‘s going to be all over these shows once he gets in there, I would expect.  And what‘s that going to mean to have a very loud, very well-known, somewhat difficult to take, at times, comedian-turned-politician on the Democratic side?

Here‘s Al Franken last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

AL FRANKEN (D), MINNESOTA DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE:  Franny and I couldn‘t be happier because today, after a lengthy and careful trial scrutinizing our lengthy and careful recount, the three-judge panel has declared a winner in the 2008 Senate election here in Minnesota.  I am honored and humbled by this close victory, and I‘m looking forward to getting to work as soon as possible.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  You know, Pat, he‘s my cup of tea, but he‘s not everybody‘s.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And he is so smart, he‘s thinking on 20 different channels at the same time.  And some of them are smirking, I think.  What do you think of how he‘s going to be received when he gets to the world‘s greatest deliberative club, what used to be called the world‘s greatest men‘s club in the old days?

BUCHANAN:  Well, Chris, like you, I knew a number of United States senators from Minnesota, Gene McCarthy fairly well.  I knew Paul Wellstone.  And I barely knew Hubert Humphrey.  But these were figures of real prominence.  Wellstone was a partisan liberal, but a lot of grit, a terrific little fellow.

I think Al Franken is the kind of Democrat that Republicans like to see on national television, to be very candid.  I think he‘s too partisan a figure, too much of a wiseacre.  And I think the image he brings the United States Senate—it is not Gene McCarthy and it is not Hubert Humphrey, both of whom had real cross-party appeal as intellectuals...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

BUCHANAN:  ... and men of character and conviction who stood up for their beliefs.  And of course, with Hubert Humphrey, it was civil rights.

MATTHEWS:  Well, is it David Durenberger or Rudy Boschwitz or—who else out there?  Does he measure up to the usual mediocrity, at least?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Pat?

BUCHANAN:  No, I think he‘s...

MATTHEWS:  You‘re comparing him to the—you‘re comparing him to the greats.  Go ahead.

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  Well, I just think—I think...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... a single Republican senator from Minnesota!

BUCHANAN:  ... a comedian, for God‘s sakes!  Well, they were—they were solid guys, Rudy Boschwitz and Durenberger.  But I mean, this guy...

SHRUM:  Look, there have been other...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How about Rod Grams?  How about Rod Grams?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Pat, you want to defend him, too?  Come on.  You got a few weak cases there yourself.  Go ahead, Bob.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead.

SHRUM:  There have been other comedians in the United States Senate, it just hasn‘t been their profession.

(LAUGHTER)

SHRUM:  I think the speech we heard just now from Al Franken is the most boring speech we‘re going to hear from him in the next six years.  He‘s been very careful and very self-contained.  Now, I know him, Chris.  I think you know him, too.  And Pat, if you knew him...

MATTHEWS:  I do.  I like him.

SHRUM:  ... you‘d like him.

BUCHANAN:  I know him.

SHRUM:  He‘s very engaging, very smart, loves a good back-and-forth. 

And I think he‘s going to turn out to be an outstanding senator.

MATTHEWS:  Bob, as a great speech writer and rhetoritician, both of you guys, does sarcasm work in politics?  I know he‘s good at it.  Does he have to drop that completely?  Bob first.

SHRUM:  I think it works sometimes.  You know, FDR knew how to deploy it.  Ronald Reagan knew how to deploy it.  But it has to be done in a very genial way.

MATTHEWS:  Yes.

SHRUM:  I assume there will be moments that will come when he‘ll do it.  If that is the way he talks all the time, I don‘t think it‘ll help him.  But I think he‘s shown a lot of judgment in this race, and I don‘t think he‘ll do that.

BUCHANAN:  I think...

MATTHEWS:  He called Rush Limbaugh—Pat, he called Rush Limbaugh a “big fat idiot.”  That made him a best-seller.  Now it‘s made him a senator.  What does that do to Rush?

BUCHANAN:  I think Rush is probably delighted.

(LAUGHTER)

BUCHANAN:  But look, that is—I don‘t think that‘s terribly witty, to be very honest.  I mean, I think the fellow who had real wit was—I thought Gene McCarthy did, and I liked Jack‘s droll wit, Jack Kennedy‘s wit.  I like Obama‘s wit, quite frankly.  He‘s very funny when he‘s—in a number of cases, I just find myself laughing out loud.  It‘s sort of a laid back humor.

MATTHEWS:  You just...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... always go with the Irish guys.

BUCHANAN:  What?

MATTHEWS:  You just go with the Irish guys anyway.  Thank you, Pat. 

You know, O‘Bama?

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, thank you.  Thank you very much, Pat Buchanan, Bob Shrum.  Great guys.

MATTHEWS:  Up next, disgraced ex-governor Rod Blagojevich—can we lay another one on him there? -- of Illinois pleads not guilty.  He‘s still talking at his arraignment today and says he fully expects to be vindicated.  I can‘t wait for that show trial this summer, B-Rod‘s, in court.  Will Congressman Jesse Jackson be in there next under the klieg lights?  He‘s getting looked at, too.  We‘ll be right back with two experts on Chicago law and order.

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.  Big news today out of Chicago.  Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges.  The 19-count indictment accuses B-Rod of everything from using his office to get kickbacks and campaign contributions to trying to sell President Obama‘s Senate seat.

Lynn Sweet is the Washington bureau chief for “The Chicago Sun-Times” and Jim Warren is an MSNBC political analyst.  Lynn, you first.  Is this going to be a big show trial?  Is this guy going to go into court, demand all kind of big-shot witnesses, try to drag everybody he can into this case and dominate the TV coverage for weeks?

LYNN SWEET, “CHICAGO SUN-TIMES”:  Well, you just summarized it, yes.  And if there‘s collateral damage, I don‘t think that will matter much to the former governor.  We already have a preview of how he wants to work this case in the public eye by all the media blitzes he did.  He is a serial media blitzer, as we know.  And he, I think, set the tone today when he walked into the federal courthouse with his head held high, no trying elude the press, and this is just part of his strategy to make his case that he is not guilty.

MATTHEWS:  Well, backing that up is the statement he put out today.  Quote, “Now we can begin the process of getting the truth out and I can clear my name and vindicate myself.  I have not let down my family or the people of Illinois.  I am innocent of every single allegation.”

Jim Warren, your thoughts about what‘s to come?

JIM WARREN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  Well, my thoughts about what‘s to come not only involve now the governor—the former governor of the state of Illinois, who was very much in character today, said nothing one would not have expected, but what might be some of the collateral damage here, notably with Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., who is under, you know, increasing scrutiny for a whole lot of reasons.

I mean, I really do think that if this goes to court, it‘s a pretty open-and-shut case, particular in these days of a lousy economy, with the suspicion of many public officials, with some of the “pay to play” stuff that will come out, even though I think, Chris, that this is going to be a wonderful primer on how American politics play out every single day.

SWEET:  Right.  I—Jim...

WARREN:  The problem was, this guy got caught.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Well, look, you say open-and-shut case...

SWEET:  I don‘t think it‘s...

(CROSSTALK)

SWEET:  I disagree.

MATTHEWS:  O.J....

SWEET:  I don‘t think it‘s that open and shut.

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Go ahead, Lynn.

SWEET:  I don‘t think so because...

MATTHEWS:  Well, O.J. was open and shut, by a lot of people‘s lights.  And it wasn‘t open and shut because the jury bought—they sympathized with the defendant.  They just sympathized, and they didn‘t like the police.  So they had a different attitude coming into that courtroom.

How do you know Blagojevich isn‘t going to grab a couple of those jurors, just perhaps ethnic people that have been voting for him for years and love him, Jim?

SWEET:  Yes.  And—and I—that‘s why just think they‘re...

WARREN:  Yes, I mean, I...

SWEET:  I‘m sorry, Jim, go on. 

WARREN:  No, no.

I mean, you‘re absolutely right.  I mean, I—I don‘t want to be too dogmatic here.  All you need is one person.  And that‘s it.

Lynn, I‘m sorry.  Go ahead. 

SWEET:  Well, my point here is, is that he—he—he is a charismatic figure, in his own way, Rod is, and he can make this into a trial of how politics are done in Illinois and where is the line that got him in trouble.  What, so, they move the goalposts back two feet, so he gets indicted, and everyone else who does pay-to-play in Illinois doesn‘t?

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

SWEET:  I think that‘s an argument that you could make, if you call people up there and you say, so, what‘s the legal crime?  What is the crime here?  Oh, so you appointed somebody to a commission, and then you asked them for a campaign contribution?

Well, let‘s name 10 people who also have.  Let‘s go through every list of board and commission in the city, state and federal level and look at appointments, and see who is connected through fund-raising. 

WARREN:  Yes. 

SWEET:  And what you‘re going to find is...

(CROSSTALK)

WARREN:  Lynn, Lynn...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Jim, I want to get to both of you.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I want to get to Jesse Jackson Jr. 

SWEET:  Yes.  OK.

MATTHEWS:  There‘s a new story today in “The New York Times,” a very tough story...

SWEET:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... heavily reported, with a lot of insight from somebody, who is telling them that—that Jesse Jackson Jr. is being investigated right now for possibly playing a role in a pay-to-play here with regard to that Senate seat he had his eyes on. 

What do you think, Lynn? 

SWEET:  Well, first of all, a lot of that “New York Times” reporting was built on my “Sun-Times” colleague Natasha Korecki‘s reporting in “The Sun-Times.”

He is somebody who needs to clear his name and get out his story, because, certainly, it looks like he was asked to raise at least $5 million, either directly or indirectly, for—for Blagojevich.  And this came at a time where Jackson was the most active person in Illinois looking for the appointment from Blagojevich. 

So, he is under the scope of congressional ethics investigators and the federal prosecutors.  And the Blagojevich...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I wouldn‘t worry about Congress on this one. 

SWEET:  No. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me talk about the criminal investigation.

(CROSSTALK)

WARREN:  A couple things.

MATTHEWS:  You have got this guy, this Indian—Indian-American guy, Nayak, who apparently had conversations with people who were coming from Blagojevich.  And he was coming from Jesse Jackson as well, Jesse Jackson Jr. as well. 

That‘s the connecting rod, right, him? 

SWEET:  Yes. 

WARREN:  Right.  This...

MATTHEWS:  They have got him now, giving him—they have given him immunity.  If he—if they squeeze this guy, and he says something about Jackson having any conversation with him about his ability to raise money with Blagojevich in exchange, loosely or tightly, to get that Senate seat, isn‘t Jesse Jr. in trouble? 

SWEET:  Well, he‘s—he‘s the most...

(CROSSTALK)

WARREN:  Possibly.  I mean, what you do know...

MATTHEWS:  I‘m sorry.  Jim now. 

WARREN:  What you do know is that—that—what you do know is this guy, who runs a series of surgical centers around the Chicago area, has made a lot of money, talked big talk, along with some other Jackson sympathizers, about raising $5 million initially.

That was the figure they talked about, $5 million, which Lynn‘s colleague reported the other day.  They scaled back to $1.5 million.  Then, in early December, in this very same week that Patrick Fitzgerald would come out with this criminal information, that very same week, they were going to have a fund-raiser, raise $100,000. 

That‘s a fund-raiser at which Jesse Jackson Jr.‘s brother Jonathan also appeared.  The governor—then Governor Blagojevich appeared.  They ultimately raised 20 grand for him.  That was all.

But the—then—the—fast-forward then three or four days to the day of December 8.  We‘re not sure exactly where the meeting was.  We don‘t know whether it was taped.  But we know that Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.  had a lengthy meet with the governor of Illinois. 

And was it just coincidence that, a few hours later, at 6:00 a.m. the neck morning, Patrick Fitzgerald, the federal prosecutor, felt compelled to go to Blagojevich‘s home and arrest him? 

Clearly, something had happened in previous days.  Was it that meeting?

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

WARREN:  Was that taped?  That led him to say, uh-oh, the Senate seat is now in jeopardy.  I have got to arrest this governor.

MATTHEWS:  Lynn Sweet, what about this fund-raiser that he did—held?  This—this friend of Jesse Jackson Jr. did hold a fund-raiser, apparently in compliance with a deal with Blagojevich to do some fund-raising for him in exchange for the seat, according this “New York Times” piece today. 

SWEET:  Well, this is—right, but listen to how it might be to a jury, Chris, that won‘t be—things aren‘t that explicit. 

And, unless they really have it very explicit on a wiretap, I think that a jury...

MATTHEWS:  I see.

SWEET:  ... you could plant reasonable doubt with a jury, because the argument of, this is how business is done, it means that you just want to show political support for somebody who is going to show political support for you. 

This is the indictment of Illinois politics, but it isn‘t necessarily a crime, if that‘s what the defense is. 

Now, I‘m not defending it at all.

WARREN:  Lynn...

(CROSSTALK)

SWEET:  It‘s a rotten system.  But that‘s what you are going to hear at the trial. 

WARREN:  Lynn—Lynn and Chris, just a reminder, too.

You do have—what we do know is on tape is a comment about that time by Blagojevich about having been approached on pay-to-play.  Now, was that meaning that he was approached and perhaps bribed, solicited, involving the Indian man on behalf of Jesse Jackson Jr.?

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

WARREN:  That‘s one of the things that‘s most curious. 

And, if I can also just add something, in talking to a couple of lawyers close to the case, which is something, Chris and Lynn, that has totally undermined my prevailing assumption that Patrick Fitzgerald took it easy on then candidate Obama, then president-elect Obama, now President Obama, in fact, now I can only attribute this to sources very close to the case.

It turns out that Patrick Fitzgerald and his guys were very aggressively questioning a host of witness, including the notorious developer, now convicted, Tony Rezko, even when he was in solitary confinement a few blocks from here, aggressively questioning him about the involvement of Barack Obama in any of this, and came away, apparently...

MATTHEWS:  So...

WARREN:  ... with nothing. 

So, my notion that they took a passive attack toward Obama for a variety of reasons, I now have to admit, according to my sources, is simply wrong. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me rephrase that for you. 

SWEET:  But one of the...

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me rephrase that for you, let you—did they try to nail the president-elect? 

SWEET:  No, no, no.  I think they had to follow the string.  They...

WARREN:  They aggressively—they...

(CROSSTALK)

SWEET:  Jim...

(CROSSTALK)

WARREN:  They aggressively questioned a host of folks, including Tony Rezko.

SWEET:  Yes. 

WARREN:  And the fact that you see virtually nothing about Obama, even indirectly, smelly, either in the criminal information revealed on December 9...

SWEET:  Right. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

WARREN:  ... of last year or recently in an indictment, is not apparently because they took a pass because they were spineless or cutting him some slack. 

SWEET:  Right. 

WARREN:  It was because, to this point...

SWEET:  Well, I don‘t—I don‘t know necessarily...

WARREN:  ... they have come away with zilch. 

SWEET:  Hey, I don‘t...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  Well, we will see.

SWEET:  I don‘t necessarily think no one thinks that Fitzgerald wouldn‘t have followed any trail...

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

SWEET:  ... that he had, including up to the White House.  I think if it was...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, look, I think this is going to be the—this may be a doubleheader, is what I‘m thinking now, on the trials.  It may be Jesse Jackson Jr. with a trial subsequent. 

This could go on all summer.  This is going to be a show trial.

SWEET:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And it‘s going to be on TV, because you can bet the lawyers for Blagojevich will be demanding television cameras.  And they will want us in that courtroom.

WARREN:  Chris...

MATTHEWS:  And we will be glad to oblige them. 

Last word, Jim. 

(CROSSTALK)

WARREN:  Chris, how much—how much...

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  OK. 

WARREN:  ... would you play for them to play all the tapes of Rahm Emanuel and Rod Blagojevich?  Oh, my gosh, I would do anything to hear that.

MATTHEWS:  Yes, I think...

WARREN:  And if there wasn‘t a little bit of potty talk there...

MATTHEWS:  I think that will be on television as well. 

WARREN:  ... boy, would I be surprised.

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, Lynn Sweet.

Thank you, Jim Warren. 

Thank you very much, both of you.

SWEET:  OK.  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Up next:  John McCain talks up the leaders of the Republican Party, but guess who he left out, left her in the snow again?  Sarah Palin.  That‘s next in the “Sideshow.” 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

First up:  Is silence still golden?  Last night, on “The Tonight Show,” Senator John McCain offered up his thoughts on the future leaders of his party, and left out—guess who? 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”)

JAY LENO, HOST, “THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO”:  Who is running the Republican Party?  Is it—is it Rush Limbaugh?  I mean...

(LAUGHTER)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  We have, I am happy to say, a lot of voices out there, Bobby Jindal, Tim Pawlenty, Huntsman, Romney...

LENO:  Right. 

MCCAIN:  ... the—Charlie Crist. 

There‘s a lot of governors out there who...

LENO:  OK.

MCCAIN:  ... are young and dynamic.  And there‘s—Mitt Romney did a great job, and he continues to.  There‘s a lot of good people out there.  And I have left out somebody‘s name, and I‘m going to hear about it. 

LENO:  Right.  Right. 

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN:  Right. 

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN:  But that—that is what we need.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTHEWS:  Well, I wonder who he thinks he might have overlooked in that list of young dynamic Republican governors?  Well, could it be the governor he left behind buried in the snow, Sarah Palin of Alaska, who just, six months ago, whose name was—not only could he recall; he picked her as his vice presidential running mate?

Well, last week, Alabama U.S. Congressman Spencer Bachus told “The Birmingham News” that he believes socialists in Congress are pushing the agenda too far left. 

When pressed, the congressman said that, by his count, there are exactly 17 socialists who serve with him in the U.S. Congress, which brings us to tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

So, in the past week, when asked for details on this list, how many lawmakers has Congressman Bachus actually named as a socialist?  Just one, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont.  No revelation there.  Senator Sanders calls himself a socialist. 

So, who else is on the list?  Sorry.  Congressman Bachus has just one name to share with us.  That leaves us 16 members of Congress out there socializing without their uniforms—tonight‘s “Big Number.” 

Up next:  Spanish prosecutors are deciding whether to investigate and possibly prosecute internationally whether Bush officials approved torture of terrorist suspects in Guantanamo.  Should Americans be subject to Spanish law?

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Stocks tumbling, after an unexpectedly weak report on retail sales.  The Dow Jones industrials lost 137 points.  The S&P 500 shed 17, and the Nasdaq dropped 27 points. 

Retail sales plunged 1.1 percent in March, following two straight monthly increases.  It‘s a troubling sign, considering the largest part of the economy, consumer spending. 

Meantime, in a major speech on the economy today, President Obama warned, we‘re not out of the woods yet, despite some positive signs recently.  He warned about more pain ahead, including more job losses and foreclosures. 

And, after the closing bell, the world‘s largest microchip maker, Intel, reported first-quarter profits fell 55 percent.  But earnings beat lowered Wall Street expectations.  Intel shares are lower in after-hours trading. 

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

HARDBALL. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, here is a hot one. 

Welcome back to HARDBALL.

Should six former Bush administration officials be investigated and possibly charged for allegedly giving legal cover to torture at Guantanamo Bay?  That‘s a decision expected this week by prosecutors in Spain. 

Among the six officials are former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, and former Vice President Dick Cheney‘s chief of staff, David Addington. 

What is the implication of this investigation for each of those individuals?  And should the U.S. surrender its autonomy to this extent and be subjected to this kind of law?

David is chief of the Washington bureau for “Mother Jones.”  And Frank Gaffney is the president of the Center for Security Policy and a former assistant secretary of defense. 

Frank, you first.

I don‘t know the law on this.  I know that the case they have, the standing is that these were residents of Spain, or citizens of Spain, and they‘re basically defending them by prosecuting our officials, potentially. 

What‘s your sense of the legal ground standing they might be standing on here, the Spanish? 

FRANK GAFFNEY, FOUNDER & PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR SECURITY POLICY:  Yes. 

Look, the word you didn‘t use, Chris, but that I think is important is really paramount importance here is sovereignty.  The idea that the United States is going to have administration officials, people who didn‘t actually, according to anybody, actually engage in torture or authorize the use of torture, if any torture took place at all, it certainly wasn‘t as a result of their direct actions, and, yet, you have got the government of Spain—or at least a judge in Spain—beginning the process of prosecuting people for the advice they gave the president of the United States in the course of their official duties. 

I think this is an affront to our sovereignty.  I think it would be, frankly, a nightmare for the Obama administration, and, for that matter, any administration of this country, were we to accede to it. 

And I hope that Spaniards will get an awful lot of pushback from the United States government, today‘s government, not just the previous one, over overreaching...

MATTHEWS:  Well—well...

GAFFNEY:  ... and ... and violating or sovereignty. 

MATTHEWS:  Frank, Frank, suppose, on that line, that we had citizens tortured by some other country.  Wouldn‘t we want to go after theirs—their officials who possibly ordered those tortures?  Wouldn‘t we want to do it? 

GAFFNEY:  Well, again, Chris, we‘re talking about the United States of America.  We‘re talking about a process which is in place...

MATTHEWS:  Well, yes, but we‘re part of the world. 

GAFFNEY:  ... to prosecute people. 

Well, here is the point.  And I‘m so glad you brought that up. 

(CROSSTALK)

GAFFNEY:  You have got an awful lot of people who think, we‘re part of the world, and, therefore, the world‘s policies or prescriptions...

MATTHEWS:  Oh, no, no. 

GAFFNEY:  ... or judgments or...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  No, no, no.  I‘m just talking...

(CROSSTALK)

GAFFNEY:  ... ought to tell us what to do.  I think that‘s a terrible mistake.

MATTHEWS:  I‘m just talking mutual—I‘m just talking mutual respect for the law.  that is all I‘m saying. 

(CROSSTALK)

GAFFNEY:  I thought you were going exactly where this is headed, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead.

DAVID CORN, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, “MOTHER JONES”:  No, but, Chris, Chris, Chris...

MATTHEWS:  No, no, I‘m not going anywhere.  I‘m asking if you think that the justification for not being prosecuted is that it‘s our nationals against their nationals. 

(CROSSTALK)  

MATTHEWS:  It could just as easily be their nationals against—our nationals against their nationals.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And then you say, well, that doesn‘t count. 

GAFFNEY:  No, I‘m saying I think this is an infringement on our sovereignty.  We should reject it, period. 

(CROSSTALK)

CORN:  It‘s—yes, well...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, then the Spanish could reject what we say. 

Go ahead.  Go ahead, David.

CORN:  It‘s not just a sovereignty issue—issue. 

We—we have signed international agreements that govern our own behavior.  We have signed them voluntarily.  We are not just—you know, the United States does not stand just on its own in the world.  It is governed in its actions, at its own—by its own assent, by international laws such as the Geneva Conventions. 

In this case, what you have is the Spanish government investigating—they haven‘t indicted anyone yet—whether Bush administration officials, not that they conducted torture themselves, but that they wrote legal opinions that they knew were not well-founded in order to give the cloak of legality to criminal behavior.  That‘s the charge. 

Now, whether that ends up being proven in a Spanish court or any other court remains to be seen.  That‘s what the Spanish prosecutors are, indeed, examining. 

Chris, I think you have a good point.  If a foreign government had acted in this way about American citizens, we‘d want to see something done about that.  And Spain, they went after Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean dictator, and they got an international warrant against him and they had him arrested in London.  Only because Jack Straw, the British—I think he was foreign minister or minister of the interior at the time—decided that he was too feeble and in ill health to be taken back to Spain.  That‘s the only reason he didn‘t go. 

This is a model that has been recognized by other governments around the world in extreme cases of genocide and torture and war crimes. 

GAFFNEY:  You just heard very well elucidated the position of people like Harold Koh, the man that President Obama intends to put in, if he‘s able to, as the State Department‘s senior legal adviser.  It will be very interesting to see whether Mr. Koh, who has been one of the great champions of transnational jurisprudence, of having these international courts and jurists and confabs tell us how our laws ought to be interpreted or mutated, how he will behave when he gets into that job if he does. 

(CROSS TALK)

CORN:  Frank, should we not have had the Nuremberg Trials because they were an international tribunal?  I take it that your position is that the U.S. shouldn‘t sign any treaties that might ever restrict U.S. actions or that might ever lead to the U.S. being held accountable for any actions. 

GAFFNEY:  No, you‘re putting words in my mouth, David, and they‘re not terribly elegantly phrased. 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  What‘s the state of play here? 

GAFFNEY:  -- in the course of their duties, doing their job, advising the president of the United States in a system—

CORN:  Just doing my job.  Just following orders. 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  Gentlemen, I‘m going to disentangle this. 

GAFFNEY:  That‘s where you and I disagree.  I believe the Constitution of the United States is supreme.  Where we enter into treaties consistent with it, fine.  But if they are inconsistent with it, the Constitution should prevail. 

CORN:  The Senate gets to decide that when it ratifies treaties. 

GAFFNEY:  It does. 

CORN:  And it has ratified a host of treaties over the years that you don‘t want us to abide by. 

GAFFNEY:  And in some cases that has been a mistake.  In other cases, they have imposed self-executing and non-self-executing provisions on it.  This is a very complicating business.  I just think the principle of our sovereignty ought to be supreme. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the principle you have, Frank.  And I think I might agree with you on this one, by the way. 

GAFFNEY:  I‘m rethinking my position, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  I know.  What about Milosevic?  What about the former president of Chile?  And what about these cases where we do have international fugitives and we do have international justice?  Are you saying that American exceptionalism is paramount?  We are unique in this world.  Nobody messes with our people.  Is that your principle, we are unique? 

GAFFNEY:  You and I, when we were—

MATTHEWS:  In other words, we are entitled to a different approach than the rest of the world?  It‘s fine if that‘s your position.  It may be mine, too. 

GAFFNEY:  Let me tell you what my position is.  You and I in government and everybody else takes an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States.  Where you have people who are saying, you know, we‘re going to actually change the Constitution of the United States, not through the process that is provided for by the Constitution, by the way, but by having some international jurist or some international convention or some international treaty, that we haven‘t necessarily subscribed to, imposed on us by judges. 

In fact, Harold Koh makes an interesting point.  He says that today there are four and sometimes five members of the Supreme Court of the United States who took that oath, by the way, Chris, but who nonetheless feel that we need to internalize international law in ways that are not subscribed by our Constitution and our laws.  That‘s wrong. 

(CROSS TALK) 

GAFFNEY:  That‘s an infringement on our sovereignty. 

CORN:  No, it‘s not, Frank. 

GAFFNEY:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, gentlemen.  I think it‘s a hot issue. 

CORN:  They look for cues.  And if they want to see it in transnational law, they can apply that if they find a reason to apply it. 

GAFFNEY:  Yes, it just doesn‘t happen to be our Constitution, that‘s all.  Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?  That‘s a kind of small problem.  The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. 

(CROSS TALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let me tell you my view, Frank, buddy.  I tell you my view of this.  We‘ve crossed that line and that West Point speech by President Bush, George W. Bush, up there in 2002, when he said we‘re going to go into other countries and we‘re going to kick ass, because they don‘t have democracy in those countries.  That‘s when he said we‘re going to go kill people internationally because we don‘t like their form of government.  That‘s when we crossed the line, Frank.  That‘s when we broke the—

GAFFNEY:  That‘s quite an interpretation of the Bush statement.  I‘m sure he didn‘t say any of that, Chris. 

(CROSS TALK)

GAFFNEY:  That‘s kind of red meat for MSNBC, baby, but he didn‘t say that.  What the president said is when we have people who are threatening the security of the United States, we are going to defend ourselves.  We‘re not going to wait to—

MATTHEWS:  That‘s not what he said.  He said we‘re going to fight for democracy in the world and kill people who get in our way.  And that‘s what he said. 

GAFFNEY:  Absolutely right in saying so. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s the problem.  He was going to do mass killing. 

(CROSS TALK) 

GAFFNEY:  If he wanted to do mass killing, we could have done mass killing. 

CORN:  Frank, you‘re a great center of the Constitution when it‘s on your side.  

GAFFNEY:  I‘m a believer in the constitution. 

MATTHEWS:  Thank you, gentlemen. 

CORN:  Let me finish.  John Yoo and others wrote memos saying that the president was actually above the Constitution, that he was in essence king when it came to what he wanted to do—

MATTHEWS:  Thank you.  David—

GAFFNEY:  Go to the facts. 

MATTHEWS:  We wish we had an hour for this.  David Corn, Frank Gaffney, thank you.  We‘ll be right back with more about that three-judge ruling in Minnesota.  Back in a minute. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back and it‘s time for the politic fix with the WashingtonPost.com‘s Chris Cillizza, and MSNBC political analyst Michelle Bernard.  Well, that court ruling by that three judge panel out there, a bipartisan panel in Minnesota, in St. Paul, has ruled.  It‘s overwhelming evidence that this guy has been elected fairly.  Is that the end of this fight for all practical purposes, Michelle Bernard? 

MICHELLE BERNARD, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think for all practical purposes, it‘s over.  Obviously, Norm Coleman is represented by a very good lawyer, Ben Ginsberg.  It‘s his right to appeal this to the Minnesota Supreme Court.  I think they said that‘s what they‘re going to do, and he‘s going to do so.  But if you read snippets of the court‘s opinion, it looks almost as if the court was looking ahead to the possibility of an appeal and answered all of the possible questions that could come up on an appeal. 

Basically, what they have said is that they could not find any evidence of any systemic problems with how this election was carried out on November 4th

MATTHEWS:  And as an attorney—I‘m asking you as an attorney, you know this case, this kind of situation.  It‘s very hard to overturn an appellate decision when it‘s that clearly written, right? 

BERNARD:  Absolutely.  It is a three-person panel, a unanimous decision.  Very difficult to overturn.  It doesn‘t mean that it doesn‘t happen.  But it‘s very difficult to see this, especially the opinion that was so well written, to be overturned. 

MATTHEWS:  Chris Cillizza, in your writing today, your reporting on this, you‘ve been hesitant to declare a winner yet.  Where are you on this in your reporting? 

CHRIS CILLIZZA, WASHINGTONPOST.COM:  I agree with Michelle, Chris.  For all intents and purposes, this race is over.  Again, I am not a lawyer and I am always careful not to predict things that might or might not happen in a legal setting.

But look, Norm Coleman brought this election contest believing that he could overturn this 225-vote lead that Al Franken had after the recount.  What happened?  A unanimous decision against him and a 312 vote deficit. 

That‘s obviously not what Norm Coleman was going for. 

Can they keep pushing up?  Absolutely.  I do think, however, you will start to see Republicans, who are unified generally, not totally, but generally behind Norm Coleman; if he loses the state supreme court appeal and tries to take it federal, I think there‘s going to be some real consternation. 

Keep an eye on Tim Pawlenty.  He wants to run for president in 2012.  See what he does.  He‘s the crucible here.  If he signs the election certificate, Al Franken is in the Senate. 

MATTHEWS:  Michelle, is that you‘re reading?  That the governor won‘t want to go nationally if this doesn‘t look like it‘s going anywhere? 

BERNARD:  Well, if you look at it from a publicity or PR perspective, given what happened in 2000 with the Florida recount, no one, Republican or Democrat, ever wants to go through that again.  If Pawlenty really has an eye on 2012, running for president, he‘s going to want to put this behind him.  He does not want to be any of the people that became famous during the Florida recount back in 2000. 

He‘s going to want to put this behind him.  And I think that‘s exactly what‘s going to happen.  I don‘t have a crystal ball, but I cannot imagine under any circumstances that the Minnesota supreme court is going to overrule this unanimous decision. 

MATTHEWS:  We‘ll come back with Chris Cillizza and Michelle Bernard with some hot new poll numbers.  They are amazing new numbers we have got for you, just out tonight.  Back with HARDBALL in just a minute. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  We‘re back with Chris Cillizza and Michelle Bernard for more of the politics fix.  But, first, let‘s take a look at this.  Let‘s look at right here.  Let‘s look at what we talked about a minute ago.  Here‘s what the President Bush said at West Point in 2002.  I was arguing about that with Frank Gaffney. 

Here‘s what the president said back then: “our cause has always been larger than our nation‘s defense.  We fight, as we always fight, for a just peace, a peace that favors human liberty.  We will defend the peace against threats from terrorists and tyrants.” 

That was the rational for going into a country, attacking and over-taking a country that had never attacked us, Iraq.  Never forget that point.  Gaffney was wrong.  That‘s when we internationalized our attitude towards the world. 

Let‘s look at these new political polls right now.  They‘re from the “Politico.”  They found that big government right now beats big business two to one on the question of who is more trusted to do the right thing.  That‘s a switch.

The poll also found President Obama to be the most credible economic spokesman on his own team?  And CNN‘s new poll, that‘s the CNN poll, finds nearly six out of 10 think the president has a clear plan to address the recession, which is doubled the number of people who believe the Republicans have a plan. 

Chris Cillizza, these numbers, I know you love them.  What do you make of them? 

CILLIZZA:  I do. 

MATTHEWS:  You love the fact of any number. 

CILLIZZA:  The empirical evidence is, I think, always interesting.  You know, what you‘re seeing here is the fact that Barack Obama is using his personal popularity.  He has significant personal popularity.  Look at just his favorable numbers.  They tend to be in the mid-to high 60s.  He‘s using that to leverage against the economy. 

A lot of people have doubts about the economy on its own.  But, because they like Barack Obama, they trust Barack Obama.  He‘s using that to say, look, I‘m out here.  We are doing things on the economy.  We are moving.  And you‘re seeing those numbers move up. 

One other interesting number to look at, Chris, is during the end of the Bush presidency, the right track, wrong direction, the number of people who believe the country is on the wrong direction versus right track, was very skewed towards wrong direction.  It is still a majority saying wrong direction, but it‘s moving up.

Again, that goes to Barack Obama‘s using that optimism, trying to use that change message to pull over to the economy.   

MATTHEWS:  Right.  Michelle, they don‘t think Republicans have a plan, the public? 

BERNARD:  You know, for a long time now, it would appear that the Republican party is on defense rather than running on offense. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

BERNARD:  At the end of the Bush administration, President Bush disappeared.  Who did we see every day?  President-Elect Barack Obama going out and explaining to the American public what he was doing and how it was going to work.  And that‘s what he did today in a very professorial mode.  And people liked it.   

MATTHEWS:  Thank you very much, Michelle Bernard.  Thank you, Chris Cillizza.  Join us tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.  Right now, it‘s time for “THE ED SHOW” with Ed Schultz.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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